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Old 26th October 2010, 23:10   #1
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Default Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1548.jpg

As we started to loose momentum, on first gear, full throttle, on the steepest section the Ikon 1.6 has been through till date, that too with 5.5 passengers on board and a trunk full of luggage, flashes of the recent past, not exceeding 30 minutes came to our mind and those seemed to have been from a different era altogether. Up until a few minutes back, we were enjoying the ascent through the hillcart road, taking the corners at a relatively enjoyable pace. Each time I honked at a bend, there wasn't a reply from the other side. The hill cart road seemed pretty smooth and almost devoid of any traffic. That should have given us the indication. As a matter of fact, we were so casual in our approach, we did not even execute the customary asking routine while starting from Siliguri. We chose to think, that most tourists have given the hills a miss, anticipating local trouble, as a result we find this smooth wind to set our sail on. We were so wrong!

As mentioned, the hill-cart road from Siliguri was butter smooth, the 1.6 was happily gaining altitude in third and fourth gears. Some corners were being taken at 60kmph without getting the Eagle F1 GSD-III's to howl in protest. This lasted till about 2-3 kms of crossing Tindharia.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-dsc05296.jpg

That is where the reality dawned on us, pretty suddenly. The road ahead had vanished. There was a buffer created just ahead of the point from which the road ceased to exist anymore. beyond that point was a drop, a steep one. The uphill traffic to Ghoom/Darjeeling was actually taking either the Mirik or the Pankhabari route. Thats the reason we found the going smooth till that point.

Although the thought of having to take the full downhill run to Siliguri and take those routes wasn't very displeasing. We had enough time on our hands. We still asked a local if we could find a way to Kurseong. He asked to drive a kilometer or so down and take a road on right that will go to Kurseong. Could not really figure out then, if there was at all any road/fork that we crossed on the left while coming here. Yet drove down and indeed just about a kilometer down, there was a road.

There was a lady standing by it and she smiled and confirmed that this road indeed goes to Kurseong.

Upon entering this road initially it seemed, its just narrow, usually a walk in the park for someone who lives in one of the oldest areas in Howrah/Calcutta. But soon we reached a wide open field and it did not seem there was any outlet from it. A local boy, pointed to a "trickle" and said Kurseong. All we had on our mind was a few exclamation marks. My Dad almost controlled himself from getting into the captain Haddock mode at the small boy. I thought to myself, I have done this sort of slope, if not more at the 4x4 gymkhana conducted by Uday Bhan Singh. Atleast here I have two distinct advantages.
  1. Adequate take off space to build momentum.
  2. The road surface, although isn't anything to write home about, was even without craters.
Dropped the clutch and gunned for it. The 6 yr old car took to the slope, but not with the aplomb I expected it to. I realised that as I benchmarked the Gymkhana, I did not factor in the load. Those jeeps were unladen, this car was loaded to its brim. So one of the advantages atleast was nullified by one big disadvantage.

Yet we managed to reach the first hairpin (left), surprisingly the slope at the hairpin was lower than that before it. But being a hairpin, and a narrow one at that, the going had to be slow and there was an equal slope waiting ahead of us. So now, we do not even have advantage number one of momentum building.

At this point another disadvantage I have not mentioned deliberately is that only the front paws of this Panther help in climbing. So neither does it have 4 wheel drive nor the advantage of extra torque of the low ratio gearbox. What it has is a mighty torquey 1.6 litre petrol engine.

Revved up, carefully slipped the clutch progressively instead of dropping it. The Panther Black car leaped initially, spinning the front wheels in the process. As the wheels stabilised the car accelerated for a bit. We could see the next hairpin right around 80 metres away. The revs climbed for a bit even after having let go of the clutch. But around 40 metres from the hairpin the revs began to fall. This is where the thoughts mentioned in the starting statement in this travelogue started to occur. This mountain lured us in.

The last time, I changed the cluth, was at 47k and have down around 40k on the second clutch since then. So wasn't too enthusiastic about slipping that clutch to gain more revs. As a matter of fact, coincidentally, the Ikon's second visit to the Darjeeling district was also plagued with an "end of life" clutch. Although, this I felt while taking the initial slopes from Siliguri and unlike last time, there wasn't tell tale signs of clutch aging prior to that. But still, I expected "Ganges Ford" to remind me about it.

So we just pressed on, throttle pinned to the floor as the speed-o-meter and the rev-counter, maintained its steady descent as the car was on its ascent. Thankfully we made it to the hairpin before the rpm could drop to stall levels. But is the job done? No.

We take the right turn, this time rev harder upfront, release clutch a little more slower and the car makes it to the next hairpin without shredding momentum as much.

By three hairpins, we had made quite a bit of climbing and we could see the point we started from was around 20 storeys (as it appears) below. The story repeated on the next hairpin. Thankfully beyond this the road wasn't as steep (or did not seem so).

We entered a small cluster of houses and there was a half broken culvert and three men around it. Upon asking they said they will put in a slab to let the car through. In return, we have to do "samaj seva" by paying them something. We asked them to put the slab first and show us that they have the ability to get the car through. They agreed, they put the slab and careful placement of the both right wheels on this slab (the culvert was also on a bend) was also tricky, but we got across and then hit the throttle!!

These guys tried to catch up but gave up after a few meters. So stopped the car, smiled and waved the "Samaj Seva" for one of them to come and get from me. Although, Dad played the spoilsport by asking him the road ahead.

The next few kilometers was spent climbing and climbing, hairpins after hairpins. Soon we caught up with a white tavera belching black smoke carrying a load of three people. The driver wasn't being able to make the hairpins in one go. Each time he would make it a three point turn. Necessitating us to stop and hang on before the hairpins and then do a hill start each time. We decided that we will take a phased approach. We will not start a section unless the Tavera has cleared it, till the next hairpin. In this process even if it rolls back at any point, it will not run into our nose.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-dsc05319.jpg

Anyway, apart from the steep slope, tavera, "Bashi Bazouks", culvert and the samaj sewa, this narrow road had beautiful tea gardens surrounding it. It was in a different world all together. Seemed like going from the Earth to the skies with tea gardens sloping from above to down below, nothing else cluttered the view. However, although all of us enjoyed the beauty of the place, photography wasn't much of a priority then. Things were uncertain. The overall destination did not matter, we needed to see Kurseong soon for that uncertainty to rest. But then, whats adventure without uncertainty.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-pa110274.jpg

Soon we were at Kurseong. The odometer suggested we had done the climb from Tindharia to Kurseong in just 7 kms or so! The single digit distance was a dampener, even the elapsed time wasn't more than half an hour. But the experience, incomparable. The steepness was more than previously taken rockgarden slopes. Additionally the car was also loaded with luggage. Most importantly, we did not know this route.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-dsc05386.jpg

But, what the heck, we were right in being wrong.

We were going to a place called Gurashey in Darjeeling District.

The travelogue will start soon!

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-dsc05250.jpg
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Old 26th October 2010, 23:25   #2
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Bring it on! And let's see the route plan too, if you can put it up.
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Old 26th October 2010, 23:36   #3
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Great start Anirban.

Does this route emerge in Kurseong near some school buildings?
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Old 27th October 2010, 08:34   #4
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Dear Anirban - thank you for your PM due to which I could log on directly. This is THAR COUNTRY INDEED. .

Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
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Old 27th October 2010, 09:13   #5
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What behram saab? This is just road - BEAUTIFUL but still ROAD

Thar starts where the car stops!
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Old 27th October 2010, 11:47   #6
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Superb pictures Anirban da. The first and the last pictures almost took my eyes off - very much wall paper material

at 89000kms - she is still young!!

5 Stars.
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Old 27th October 2010, 15:58   #7
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Awesome Pics Anirban da.
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Old 27th October 2010, 22:45   #8
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Quote:
This lasted till about 2-3 kms of crossing Tindharia.

Attachment 444394

That is where the reality dawned on us, pretty suddenly. The road ahead had vanished. There was a buffer created just ahead of the point from which the road ceased to exist anymore. beyond that point was a drop, a steep one. The uphill traffic to Ghoom/Darjeeling was actually taking either the Mirik or the Pankhabari route. Thats the reason we found the going smooth till that point.

Although the thought of having to take the full downhill run to Siliguri and take those routes wasn't very displeasing. We had enough time on our hands. We still asked a local if we could find a way to Kurseong. He asked to drive a kilometer or so down and take a road on right that will go to Kurseong. Could not really figure out then, if there was at all any road/fork that we crossed on the left while coming here. Yet drove down and indeed just about a kilometer down, there was a road.
Hi,
Can you give some more details on this road. Not being able to place it. You turned right when coming down or going up?

Regards
Sutripta

Last edited by Sutripta : 27th October 2010 at 22:48.
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Old 27th October 2010, 23:25   #9
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Originally Posted by SS-Traveller View Post
Bring it on! And let's see the route plan too, if you can put it up.
I dont have a route chart, but have a very old map that I use, just in case I need reference, will try to scan it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post
Great start Anirban.

Does this route emerge in Kurseong near some school buildings?
Thanks Saurabh-da. No this route does not emerge near any buildings. It just merges with the hillcart road almost 2 kms ahead of the Kurseong Junction point. From the point where the road merges, on a casual glance its almost impossible to tell that there is a road that merged into the hillcart road, almost looks like the edge of the road.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DHABHAR.BEHRAM View Post
Dear Anirban - thank you for your PM due to which I could log on directly. This is THAR COUNTRY INDEED. .

Best regards,

Behram Dhabhar
Thar country? Well I was savouring the macho-giri of these beasts.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1650.jpg

I always liked the pickup and always wondered why we do not see one with a front differential. But in these parts these dudes rule!

Quote:
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
What behram saab? This is just road - BEAUTIFUL but still ROAD

Thar starts where the car stops!
But then, Thar is also a Scorpio in disguise!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by planet_rocker View Post
Superb pictures Anirban da. The first and the last pictures almost took my eyes off - very much wall paper material

at 89000kms - she is still young!!

5 Stars.
Its done much less than that, as I write the odo reads - 85090 - so its a "low-miles" car.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cityvic View Post
Awesome Pics Anirban da.
Thank you

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sutripta View Post
Hi,
Can you give some more details on this road. Not being able to place it. You turned right when coming down or going up?

Regards
Sutripta
Its quite natural not being able to place this road. So nondescript was the entrypoint that it seemed like getting into someone's courtyard. We had turned back after reaching the landslide point so it was on the right on the way down the hillcart road (left on the way up).

Now continueing with the story - pictures in this post will only serve the purpose of breaking the monotony of my ranting.

The time of this hill visit was a bit unusual for us.

Firstly monsoons had not really withdrawn from Bengal. Those familiar with these parts would know that roads are not at its best, far from it, within 1.5 months from the actual departure of the rains. Moreover the weather up in the hills during Monsoons and within the same span of 1.5 months is mostly overcast, cloudy, not really conducive to a clear view of the scenery on offer. Besides, we do not prefer to move out of Howrah during the Durga Puja festivities. Generally we target the November to January timeframe. However, this one was planned by my Sister. She was posted in Bangalore at the time of initial planning and during that time, it seemed that she will not get any leaves during these three months. She was getting a weeks leave during the Durga Puja week and wanted to utilise the time to visit the hills.

Our first target was Lepchajagat, but the only accomodation there, the Forest Dept bungalow was prebooked. We booked the Morgan house at Kalimpong as a safety measure. Continued to look for sites. The destination of interest would have to be between Ghoom and Manebhanjan, close to Lepchajagat. That's where Gurashey came to the picture. Its one Kilometer from Sukhia, around 5.5 kms from Lepchajagat. Situated on a foresty slope, with pine trees standing guard. The only place to stay was Gurashey Forest Resort. Although by "Resort" standards this turned out to be far fetched, but we soon began to look at it as more of a homestay. With that changed expectation upfront, turned out to be quite pleasant.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1773.jpg

But to ensure we do not miss being at home during the Puja festivities, we would be back home on 13th October 2010 Night (Sasthi), back calculating 2 nights at Siliguri and 2 nights at Gurashey, we arrived at the departure date being 9th October, Saturday early morning. So we cancelled Morgan house booking and were all set to

1> eat up the miles on 9th October to Siliguri,
2> Drive up the hills on 10th October to Gurashey
3> Laze up on 11th October around Lepchajagat/Gurashey etc
4> Lazily drive down from Gurashey to Siliguri, by the other route on 12th October
5> Drive back to Howrah (The most painful part!) on 13th October

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-dsc05354.jpg

Day 1 - Drive to Siliguri

As a change from starting at 4 o clock in the morning, we decided giving a little later start, a try. On the Last occasion we happenned to reach Bagdogra (Siliguri almost) at 5pm as the last light of the day was still showing us the way. But that was also the last week of December, when the days are shortest. So we had anticipated that we will have atleast an hour more in the beginning of October. So we started at 5 oclock. 5 o'clock start is much easier to achieve than a 4 o'clock one. Last time (end of December) by the time we reached Panagarh, about 6am, the first ray of light appeared. So the drive to Panagarh was essentially Night driving. This time, although the start was in darkness, just by the time we reached Kona expressway, we had light greeting us. We will be able to achieve higher speeds, we thought. Infact we were able to. So far so good, a comfortable morning wakeup, open roads, clear visibility.


Hardly true! With the daylight making itself visible, the expressway to Panagarh had all sorts of vehicles starting out, in various stages of warming up. The trucks were mostly sticking to the right lane to avoid frequently needing to change from left lane to right to overtake slower moving vehicles, some of which are manually powered (even on the expressway). Although the Ikon was touching 150/160 at times. It took us the exact same time to reach Panagarh as last time, but that time, the speedo did not even cross 100. Moreover, last time, while all these morning warm up was taking place, we were having breakfast at Panagarh. So that time we had been able to utilise the slow duration, effectively. So reaching Panagarh, some amount of energy was drained in comparison. However taking it easier would have lost us around 15-20 minutes, as it turned out, this came in handy later.

Anyway we started from Panagarh, 30 minutes later and so far we were on track to arrive at Bagdogra by 6pm if not earlier (given last time we had been stuck at Dalkhola crossing for an eternity)

The road from Panagarh to Moregram (another 150kms) is mostly a mixed bag of good surface and some not so good ones. Last time had achieved this in 2.5 hours. However since this trip was post-monsoon,we expected much worse road conditions. We had taken a small recce two weeks back (read Messenjore travelogue). The only section that was bad then, was around 10kms from Panagarh and a little section in Siuri. But the passing of two weeks since then, changed the topography of the road surface completely.

The newly laid out section 10kms from Panagarh had also earned blisters. Blame the fact that its still raining sporadically this year even as I write this. There had been more rainfall in the intervening two weeks than prior to it. Ironically the rural folks were complaining about poor rainfall, during the "official" monsoons.

So going again wasn't smooth. The speedo needle going up and down. The road leading to Siuri, Rampurhat was bad, had some "khatarnak" craters. As a silver lining, the section from Nalhati to Moregram was consistent in being as bad as it ever was and we were able to cross it in the planned duration of 35-40minutes (at an average speed little higher than 30). It took us 3 hours to reach Moregram.

Our next stop after Panagarh was at Farakka around 70kms from there. The surface seemed nice in the beginning, soon we realised, it was deceptive. There were sudden "scoops" in the road. Some sections were washed out and some huge trucks had sufferred axle/suspension failure on some of those sections. Resultant effect was a couple of traffic hold-ups. We reached Farakka at Noon. We were behind schedule by 1 hour.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1802.jpg

Refuelled the car, decided to skip any tea/snacks routine. Set sail for Raiganj, where we would stop for lunch.

Last time, I had complained about the section from Farakka to Malda, a mere 30 kms having taken an hour. As a matter of fact, the average speed we maintained till farakka was so high that this seemed an eternity. This time it took more. 15 more minutes. Inspite of having bypassed the queue of vehicles at that Kaliachowk, driving on the opposite side shoulder.

Also had to drive down from the NH34 to the left Shoulder to cross an unnecessary queue of vehicles, grazing the undercarriage in the process. After crossing Malda, it was absolute pedal to metal, use of gears, making use of every inch of available road width, to reach Raiganj at 3pm. We managed to contain the delay to 1 hour.

Post-lunch, Dad took to the wheel and we made quick progress to Dalkhola. Last time 0.5 km on either side of Dalkhola crossing slowed us down by an hour. This time, though the gate was closed, we reached the crossing without hassles. The gate took time in being lifted, but on the other side, it was a mess again of bullock carts, cycle rickshaws, trucks all jostling for space. One of the rickshaws even grazed the left side of our front Bumper, leaving a long gash.

But in essence, at quarter to 5 we were on the fabulous NH31 pointing to Kishangunj. I took over. 60kms to Islampur was done in 45 minutes, including a couple of breif holdups at Kishanganj. A section of the expressway, a flyover, is still being constructed, since ages, there. The side road has a series of multiple bumps.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1856.jpg

However driving out of Islampur town, the daylight went "phut". It was dark at 5:35pm. In December we still had light at 5pm and it was around 5:10pm or so that the darkness really descended. So the daylight lasts for just about Half an hour more, 2.5 months prior to the shortest days of the year. We have to drive from Islampur, to Bagdogra in the dark.

Some expressway quality sections, Unmarked diversions, road extremeties unmarked was the going order. 15 kms from Bagdogra, the expressway just ended into a drop. We braked hard and came to a halt. I could see that there was a disconnect between the road I will need to take 50 yards on, and the road I was on, looked back and forth to see if I have missed a diversion. Could not see any. Thankfully we saw a couple of headlights approach from behind. The idea was to follow their movement. Those headlights grew bigger and bigger and they just drove past us into the end of the expressway. The idea was to drive over the drop. Everyone was happily doing it, like it was a way of life. But it wasn't just one 6 inch drop, but a completely non existent surface for 50 yards or so. Drove through it. Then realised that the next 15 kms is going to be particularly slow. Lot of secions pretty bad. Around 6:40pm we reached Bagdogra (40 minutes behind schedule).

The next 15 kms from Bagdogra to Siliguri (WB tourism Hotel Mainak),took us around 1 hour through absolutely pathetic roads, interrupted by repair activities and horrible, illogical traffic. We reached hotel Mainak at 7:30pm sharp (1 hour behind schedule)

My initial estimation of the delay was much greater, had factored in worse road conditions. So 1 hour delay with respect to the time taken at the best time of the year wasn't really bad. But then, we did not get held up at Dalkhola crossing this time and on top of that, last time the car was driven with ease, as against pushing it. This time, wherever the opportunity presented itself, the car was driven fast. Stops were optimised.

On a positive note the order for snacks were placed while on the way from Bagdogra to Siliguri, so almost as soon as the car rolled into Hotel Mainak and we checked into our rooms, we had warm snacks and tea awaiting us. A warm shower later, it dawned on us including the youngest and the oldest in the group, that none of us were particularly tired.
The rest of the evening was spent at leisure.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1848.jpg

More coming soon!

Last edited by 1100D : 27th October 2010 at 23:32.
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Old 28th October 2010, 09:21   #10
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15 kms from Bagdogra, the expressway just ended into a drop. We braked hard and came to a halt. I could see that there was a disconnect between the road I will need to take 50 yards on, and the road I was on, looked back and forth to see if I have missed a diversion. Could not see any.
Good going Anirban.
This section of 50 yards is quite dangerous. During my Sikkim trip in Sep 2009, I was doing around 120+ in my Esteem when this section suddenly appeared. It was futile to brake and the Esteem literally flew over this part and landed in a thud.

I was aware of this the next time, while going to Siliguri for Bhutan rally in Jan 2010. Braked early and crossed it carefully. Joseph was pretty surprised that I knew this section was coming up
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Old 28th October 2010, 20:39   #11
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Originally Posted by 1100D View Post
I dont have a route chart, but have a very old map that I use, just in case I need reference, will try to scan it.




Thanks Saurabh-da. No this route does not emerge near any buildings. It just merges with the hillcart road almost 2 kms ahead of the Kurseong Junction point. From the point where the road merges, on a casual glance its almost impossible to tell that there is a road that merged into the hillcart road, almost looks like the edge of the road.



Its quite natural not being able to place this road. So nondescript was the entrypoint that it seemed like getting into someone's courtyard. We had turned back after reaching the landslide point so it was on the right on the way down the hillcart road (left on the way up).
Hi,
Must sit down with you to work out this route. There is a trail which shortens the giddhapahar/ mahanadi loop by about 7/ 8 km, but obviously this is not it. You also rejoined HC Rd before the Rohini jnc. Do you know the names of the tea gardens you drove through?

Maybe Sir Alec can help.

Regards
Sutripta
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Old 28th October 2010, 22:28   #12
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Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post
Good going Anirban.
This section of 50 yards is quite dangerous. During my Sikkim trip in Sep 2009, I was doing around 120+ in my Esteem when this section suddenly appeared. It was futile to brake and the Esteem literally flew over this part and landed in a thud.
Would have been the same fate for the Ikon, had some daylight remained. Speeds would have been much higher. Since it was dark, I was at the speed that allowed a visible stopping area.

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Originally Posted by Sutripta View Post
Hi,
Do you know the names of the tea gardens you drove through?

Maybe Sir Alec can help.
No, did not note the names, however this road isn't too far from the Tindharia station and a chick on the road, which will either turn into a full grown chicken or curry by the time we go there to verify.

Day 2

This is what happens on every trip, the opening day is planned to clockwork, from then onwards, its a vacation. We woke up, had breakfast. The hospitality at Mainak was nothing to write home about. Although there were no attitude issues.

Tanked up, checked air and soon we were on the hill cart road, aspiring to gain height. The forest sounds, the misty smell, greeted us as the car made its way smoothly and swiftly to Tindharia, thats wherein the opening expereince of this travelogue took place.

Lot has been said, so I will skip to post-Kurseong part. After Kurseong the road started getting from bad to worse. In somecases one was driving on only rocks. The situation was made worse by "Mahindra".

Each one of these beasts in various forms, pick-ups, savari's, either carrying load or passengers were making their way up slowly ahead of us, their exhausts spoiling the misty atmosphere, choking the throat. Overtaking one doesn't help, you'll soon run into another exhaust. If one decides to pull back from the one ahead, there will be another one from behind honking and taking the spot left vacant ahead of you and aim its exhaust at you. I was curious about driving behind a Tata on the same slopes and see the effect it left on the throat. But unfortunately for me, I could not find any. It was Mahindra everything. So we had to unwillingly roll up the windows and breathe re-circulated air from the AC. This was how we went upto Ghoom.

At Ghoom, we said Tata (although the locals would have liked me to have said Mahindra) to the toy train line and the road to Darjeeling on the right and turned left for Mirik. One corner and we were straight into a cloud. After driving for 2-3 Kms the cloud got denser. At one point the visibility was zero. Dad had to get down from the car and guide me through. Thankfully after two turns, the visibility was better. He got on, but by that time we realised it was really geting cold. Hence car stops, woolens come out.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1540.jpg

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1545.jpg

A few kilometers ahead we drove past lepchajagat and 5 kms from there we reached Sukhia. A very narrow road on right, directed by a board to the Gurashey forest resort, lead us into a bazaar sort of thing (surrounded by buildings), but this road too seemed to be culminating at a dead end. But then, right at the end there was a small opening on the right, the car easily made the turn and then the road started descending and within seconds, we had view of the destination.

The road where the car was parked was so steep that the loaded car simply would not stay parked on handbrake, it would drag down. Chocks on the wheel became a necessity.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1557.jpg

When we reached it was around 2:15 pm. The resort that we had expected, turned out to be someone's home instead. The dining hall was cute. Wooden walls, and a semi transparent roof sheeting. But they were not paricularly running a restaurant per se.

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Upon enquiring about lunch, they showed helplessness. We had not called them earlier, they said. But soon, the owners Mother came down and offered to make something for us, looking at the little one. She asked us, if we mind if she made something from whatever they have available, like dal, chawal and some subzi. We happily agreed. She started cooking real time and we could see our lunch being prepared right in front of us. She also asked her son to go get some eggs from a neighbour. Egg curry was added to the menu.

Fresh Kitchen

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Soon we had a warm, freshly prepared lunch to savour and it was too tasty. All initial crib about this not being a "resort" was a matter of the past. But yes, food for the two days will have to be carefully planned. Who cares.

Post lunch, they suggested that we walk to a place nearby called Jorepokhri. According to them, walking would be more enjoyable than driving. It would be only 20 minutes. First walk to Sukhia, then take a road that goes up from there to Jorepokhri. Seemed intersting. But it took us 20 minutes to reach Sukhia. Partly to blame were a couple of local craft, woolen shops that looked attractive to some.

Walk begins
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From Sukhia the distance board indicated Jorepokhri to be 2 kms away. Initially we tried walking, but soon my mother was anticipating trouble climbing. So we came down hired a local Omni taxi. As the car started taking the slope it soon lost momentum and had to roll all the way back to Sukhia!! A second attempt was made with same result, went around 500 metres or so. The Ikon had done a much steeper ascent with these many passengers and luggage. Anyway My Wife, Sister and Me, we decided to walk as the omni happily carried the remaining folks to Jorepokhri.

For us it was a walk in the clouds through pine forests. Feels eerie. But then, we kind of knew that an Omni just passed this place a couple of minutes back into the white. It was like coming from white going into white. The jungle had no beginning and no end.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1616.jpg

At Jorepokhri, there is a small pond on the hill top, and the place is surrounded by the compound of the Jorepokhri Tourist lodge run by DGHC (Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council).

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The bungalow was locked and the whole place did not seem like was being looked after by anyone.

The Bungalow seen through the cloud and Dad's camera
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As seen by my camera
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The unkept look, the locked gate, the deserted atmosphere, the calm, the chill and the clouds was really spooky.

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After spending about an hour there, we were back to the Wooden house. Enjoying snacks that were waiting for us.

The dinner that night in the wooden dining hall was special. It was n't particularly warm, but not shivering cold either. Without any artificial warming at all.

We went to sleep early, with a glimmer of hope that we might see Kanchenjungha in the wee hours of the morning. The cold bedsheet and the warm Lep (quilt) , perfect unwind for the day.


Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1593.jpg
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Old 29th October 2010, 23:49   #13
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Day 3

The alarm was set at 5:30am to check and see if we could see the peak. As the alarm went off, a peek through the window put a little disappointment at first. But then, I realised that at the back of the mind, the desire was to get back under the sheets. So not being able to spot Kanchenjungha due to the cloud cover was partially desirable. Checked back after half an hour, same story.

Right at this point would like to divert attention to the rooms we were put up at. They were wooden rooms, quite recently built. The only accessory to the room, apart from the two beds and the center-table were the lamp shades. No fans, no heaters etc. That simplicity had its own charm. When we went to sleep, it was absolutely calm, apart from the sound of the mountains. As we finally woke up a lingering cold engulfed us. But we woke, pretty fresh. The bathrooms, though quite small were convenient and most of the fittings were new.

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Spent the first part of the morning going up and down the slopes, watching two little kittens play.

This house with tinsheets covering its wooden walls is the stay. The railing (with three pipes) is perfectly horizontal, its the slope of the road that makes it look like rising steeply into the sky.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1656.jpg

Very nearby

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clouds hanging still low

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Soon we boarded the car to start on our way to Lepchajagat.

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As I mentioned the other day, Lepchajagat is around 5.5 kms away. The turn in point at Lepchajagat is quite beautiful, kind of a junction of two hills. A road on left (right from Darjeeling) meanders through pine trees and reaches the Lepchajagat Nature Resort maintained ( not so effectively at that) by the forest department. We enter through the gate and realise that not getting an accomodation here wasn't particularly a bad thing. From the front, balconies with clothes hanging from them, greeted us. As we went around we found patch repair over windows etc.

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The much touted clear view of the Kunchenjungha would be between a couple of Pine trees. Not entirely unobstructed. But overall, the place did not seem as calm, serene and non-touristy as the general perception is, or the travel brochures claim. There were enough evidences of littering around. One word of caution, the pictures in the brochures depicting a few areas when seen in real life appears absolutely ordinary. But then, this resort has covered parking. Although the resort was fully booked, there wasn't even a trace of a vehicle having being parked there recently.
The road leading up to this resort from the main road had its own charm, it was quiet, meandering and surrounded by pine trees.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1657.jpg

Anyway, came upto the mainroad and realised that the mainroad is quite scenic!

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Drove on for Darjeeling.

Reached Ghoom after 6kms and took a left turn there, Darjeeling would be around 8 kms from here. But almost as we crossed Ghoom monastery (around 2kms from Ghoom), we went into a cloud of houses on both sides, each three to four storeys high. We reached Darjeeling and drove through it for Happy valley Tea estate. In the entire stretch from about Ghoom Monastery till about the Tenzing rock, there wasn't a feeling that we were on a mountain with clear views, apart from the slope on the roads.

Driving through the Bazaar was a nightmare. Vehicles were not even moving at a crawling pace. Narrow roads, bulging population, long wheelbase Mahindra vehicles and a lot many of them, everything added to it.
But one of the biggest dempeners were the attitude of people. They were so cool about everything. Two vehicles in each others way, but the drivers weren't particularly bothered, they were laughing and chatting at each other. Ofcourse they have all the time in the world to sort it out. A policeman came lazily, smiled and chatted at them for sometime, one of them slowly got into his vehicle, moved it a foot backwards. The otherone still chatting with the policeman and the driver of the other vehicle got into his Mahindra and hasitatingly started driving. Much to his releif, another Maruti omni drove on to the middle of the road with an intention to back up. Some other "thela" walah, blocked his rear. Soon there was chatting again. It was all fine with them, no body was in any hurry to get anywhere and and they are yet to be initiated to words like time-target, schedules, deadlines and the like.

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Reached Happy valley, still pretty happy after all the previous experiences. Shot around, had nice Darjeeling tea, walked around some more had some more Darjeeling tea. From here the plan was to get to the Mall, have lunch at Glenaries.

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Drove into Darjeeling through the same Bazaar, took the steep slope upto the Mall chowk, a policeman directed to a nearby parking area. Otherwise we would have happily gone towards the gymkhana. Later we realised that would have been simpler. However since the policeman himself directed us, we took the chance. But at the area he showed, the syndicate (hired cars) folks would object. The policeman was asking us to park and the syndicate folks saying we cannot. We obliged with the syndicate folks and after much debate, they showed us another parking area to which the Policeman would object. However the policeman seemed more "understanding". Although his interpretation of "Samaj" as in "samaj seva" was "self".

Went into Glenaries, the sizzlers and food was as good as ever, only the waiters were overworked. So lunch too, took more time than planned.

A little walk on the mall and then we decided to head back. The prospect of spending another evening in the wooden rooms was inviting us. But still we did a customary stop at Batasia loop.

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After that, it was an uneventful drive back to Gurashey. Realised that Gurashey was much more friendly to the senses.

Almost as we entered there was a powercut. The rest of the evening was spent candlelit. Not that we had a problem with it. But the plan was to catch a movie on the Laptop, that plan would have to be shelved. Instead we all just huddled together. We were helped in that by fresh warm Momo's served for evening snacks.

The dinner was also candlelit and the musical accompaniment was done by the little housecat.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1561.jpg

We hit the bed early again. Alarm set again at the same time.

This day was eventful, but not as good as we expected. Mostly because two places, one which I used to like very much and another I thought I would like very much, disappointed the senses.

continued
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Old 31st October 2010, 23:03   #14
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Day 4

The Alarm went off as planned, there was an initial reluctance to leave the bed, but the window was just at the corner of the bed. Slid the curtain a bit, cleared the window pane of the dew that had formed on the glass, saw the scenery and went back underneath the sheets, thinking I must be dreaming. Took a couple of seconds to realise that, if this was still a dream, why am I having to work my way into the warm blanket?

Sprang up, and took in the view.

This is what I saw.
Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1740.jpg

Tried to call on Dad's phone. No network. Ran to his room. He says from the closed door, that I should stop playing pranks at this age. A few consistent knocks later, he came out, telling me that he had just checked 15 minutes back, before I even got up and there was nothing. but just as he was about to narrate the story, he simply took back his words.

Mom though did not appreciate the enthusiasm at all. She said, whats so special, we have seen it so many times. Why do we have to be so excited seeing it and get all morose if we dont get to, on one visit. Theres more to these places than just the Kanchenjungha and its siblings. But she spent rest of the morning sipping tea and looking at it.

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For most Bengali's a visit to the North Bengal/Sikkim is incomplete without clear view of this range, irrespective of demographic/social and economic profile.

But then, look at this humble home,

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1796.jpg

When you open the window you see such a view

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1770.jpg

Around 10'o clock it was time to say a reluctant goodbye to the Subba's of the Gurashey Forest Resort. The homely treatment really touched us.

The plan was to drive slowly down to Mirik and then eventually to Siliguri.

The road to Mirik first crossed through some foresty locales as it meandered its way down to Monebhanjan and Pashupatinath (Border with Nepal).

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1806.jpg

From then onwards it was tea gardens.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1812.jpg

Each one
glowing underneath the sun,
as far as you can see,
there's plants and leaves of tea

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Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1821.jpg

But before I get into the SS-Traveller bug, we stopped at Mirik, near the lake, had lunch at Hotel Jagjeet , one of the oldest in the area, has a great giftshop where you could buy tea, toys, chocolates (imported) and the owner quite helpful and cordial.

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The Monastery at Mirik seen from the lake.
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Post lunch it was again a slow and stoppage full drive to Siliguri (Still reached within two hours)

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As we cross the final bridge upon reaching the plains. The heart cries out, wanting to get back into the hills. We know we will, not sure if the Ikon will, as I write this, its quite sentimental, as the car handles/moves like a dream especially in the hills. It climbs effortlessly and allows to make last second adjustments easily while descending. But is not getting any younger.

We spent rest of the evening at Mainak, although we avoided having dinner in it. Sinclairs was at a walking distance across the Highway.

The next day again will be a long one, especially since on the way up, you look forward to the next few days, but on the way back one does not have such motivation. However in this case, our motivation was catching up on Durga Puja upon return. So it wasn't as bad.
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Old 31st October 2010, 23:41   #15
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The Gurashey Forest "Resort!"

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1605.jpg

Day 5 (The Pictures are random taken on other days)

The start from Hotel Mainak was as planned at 5 am sharp and thankfully we found that in the intervening few days, part of the road to Bagdogra was surfaced. The 15 kms from Bagdogra till the start of the 4-lane expressway appeared worse than at night. In the early hours of the morning, one could actually see far forward and seeing the condition, one was extra careful. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the 4-lane. But on reaching the 4-lane, it was extra fast forward to Dalkhola at 7.

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At Dalkhola crossing, overtaking a long line of lorries, we realised we could not proceed any further. Two trailers on both ends of the crossing (right in front of the gate) had broken down. The repair folks were repairing them right there. Two other trailers, one containing the load bay of a dumper and another carrying an escavator, were besides these trailers blocking the way at each end of smaller trucks. So not only the trucks were stuck, even the trains were waiting for the crossing to clear up. It took 30 minutes for the trucks to clear the crossing, some had to drive onto the tracks.

When the train passed we had managed to reach the front of the gate. As the gate opened, we were fast to reach the other end, but a statebus tried to block pass stationary trailer and blocked my way. I was stuck, the bus was stuck so was the long line of vehicles behind me. Had to drive onto a heap of stonechips, to clear the way for the bus, but it was still stuck due to vehicles behind ine, neither I had a clear go ahead. The crossing was again cleared for another train. As the gates opened again, the Bus thankfuly cleared my way, but soon, I was stuck behind another clog. Some vehicles including, Jay Dada Mercedes Benz BUS, were trying to overtake the long line of vehicles, clogged the entire way. A local pointed to an internal "Raasta". This road went through a bazaar and as our car had to take the road, lot of people bazaar vendors expressed dissatisfaction as they had to move their wares to let our car pass!!

But this road soon reached the highway, after some serious 90 degree bends with limited side space. The 1 km Dalkhola crossing did it again, this time it took 1 hour and 15 minutes. We seriously need to find an alternative.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1810.jpg

The going from there till Kaliachowk was great. We had stopped for Breakfast at Raiganj.Kaliachowk again was a disaster. Requireing careful and precise shoulder driving, sometimes on the opposite side. It took us 45 minutes to cross the 5 kms either side of Kaliachowk.

At 2 we crossed Moregram. Moregram to Illumbazar was uneventful, apart from again an mHawk proving its bossy nature on the less than perfect surface. Thankfully, as the surface improved after Illumbazar, we were able to show it that "something else can also do".

But at Illumbazar there was a long hold up, this time the opposition party showing its strength there. But then we were able to overtake the line of vehicles and as we entered Illumbazar the gathering had just come to an end (Thank God).


We reached Panagarh by quarter to 5 and still daylight was left. Had a late lunch/dinner there!

We thought the rest of the journey will be uneventful, on the Durgapur expressway back home. But then, we were able to maintain our track record of finding trouble on the way back.

Firstly, was finding the headlight beam inadequate on the highway, later on it turned out that the battery was the culprit. But soon we saw two low headlights separated by quite a distance approach us quite fast, realised it was the Royal Cruiser Volvo. Happily let it pass, and soon we were doing 100-110 behind it, enjoying the delightful ease with which it was bullying everything in its way, weaving through line of trucks, which even a much more dynamically superior car cant dream of.

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Then Too many police checkpoints. The trucks were held up there, none would be allowed to get into Calcutta due to the Puja's. Just as we were about to cross Palsit, a long queue, a police man guided the vehicle to be driven off the road into the service lane, through the unmetalled median. The service lane curved left leaving the expressway going right. Figured out that this was an inter expressway junction, so soon reached the perpendicular highway, crossed it, got onto its service lane and soon we were back on Durgapur Expressway.

At one such checkpoint, had to cross the median, the bumper grazed the surface in getting to the other side, so here we were driving on the wrong side of the expressway. Lot of comments and criticism, I myself have made about Indian Highways came to the mind, laughed to myself. The right side of the road was chock-a-block with trucks. But leading a long line of vehicles in this condition was not a particularly comforting feeling. But soon we found a switchover point, the bumper grazed the red soil again (blame the limited visibility).

At that point we still had about 70kms to home, and the entire highway only belonged to us. We were the only car on the expressway till we reached Dankuni (two other vehicles accompanying me were MUV's, one xylo and another a Grande Mk-ii).

At 7:45 pm we were home.

Gurashey -Lepchajagat - Pre Puja Escape to North Bengal-img_1783.jpg
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