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Old 1st December 2018, 12:38   #1
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Post North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu

Some teasers before we begin

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An Eternal Conundrum

Despite being born in Bengal it’s been a misfortune that I could not enjoy the grandeur of Durga Puja in Kolkata for the last 7 years. Last two years, although there were chances to stay in Kolkata after I got shifted here, the longing mind for a road trip to hill always put me in a predicament of making a firm decision whether to stay here in Kolkata or to embark on a road trip utilizing the so-called and rare long holiday during this time. This year the dilemma was ended quite before the Durga Puja, that we were NOT staying in Kolkata. Rather this time, I myself determined not to miss Durga Puja after so many years fighting with my mind poking me for travel. But alas! in fact, what is thought or dreamt doesn’t always see the reality. During August, I got the news that my aunt, uncle, and my sister are coming to Kolkata during the festival after a long time. Although they went to the ghats of Maharashtra they never have been to the Queen of Hills, Darjeeling. They wanted us to accompany them. I tried to sway them away from this plan and offered alternate destinations as I was not that eager to visit Darjeeling again for having been there just 3 months back, and that too missing Durga Puja again this year! But they were quite fixed on their destination, nor they were ready to drop us from their trip. So, as an obvious choice, it had to be a road trip and it must be even if they didn’t want initially as no train tickets were available from Kolkata to Jalpaiguri during this festive season. So, they had to accept the trip to hills by car in lieu of my hesitant acceptance of the recurring destination, Darjeeling. Needless to say, once everything was fixed, I didn’t look back to Durga Puja; rather I was happy to revisit Darjeeling again because going to the beautiful hill station for umpteen number of times cannot even bore any hill-lover.

However, before we start for the hills, I managed to squeeze some time and visit some of the Durga Puja Pandals nearby.

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The link to my previous travelogue for Darjeeling and West Sikkim
https://www.team-bhp.com/forum/trave...thar-alto.html (Twin-Trip to Darjeeling and West Sikkim with a Thar and an Alto)

Last edited by Blooming Flower : 2nd December 2018 at 15:32.
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Old 1st December 2018, 12:47   #2
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Post Re: North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu

The Planning and The Twist

So, a quick itinerary I prepared. As they had their return journey to Mumbai from Kolkata on the very next morning of Dussera, I had to be very careful in planning a tour covering POIs around Darjeeling and its nearby places as many as possible, that too within a time span of 3 days including the to and fro journey.

So, the initial plan goes like this.

Day Zero: Start from Tamluk /Kolkata by evening and reach Kalimpong by next morning.

Day 1: Sightseeing and stay at Kalimpong.

Day 2: Way to Darjeeling via Peshok Road. Visit Tinchuley, Lamahatta on the way. In evening roaming around Darjeeling mall.

Day 3: Visit Rock Garden and return Kolkata by late night via Mirik.

Day 4: Morning Journey to Bombay from Kolkata (for 3 of them)

Yes. The plan may seem very tight but I knew it was doable provided my aunt et al are also quite acclimatized to travel long distances by car.

But as the date of our travel came nearby, a news broke out which put all of road-tripper to Siliguri during this festive time into a dire uncertainty. To reach North Bengal and even North East India one must cross the Ganges and that either by Farakka Barrage in Bengal or Vikramshila Setu in Vihar. But both were on repair work. The usual route to Siliguri in recent days for us and public transport is through Farakka Barrage only. In normal time also, Frakka is dreaded for huge truck traffic and the news of truck traffic closure on Farakka Bridge from 7 am to 5 pm everyday set me into a tizzy. I assumed how appalling the traffic situation will be at night time when the trucks stranded for day-long will be released after 5 pm jostling to enter the bridge. It just spilled the initial plan into the water. Before me, some other bhpians like PapaBravo, gearhead_mait etc. were also ready to undertake the journey to Siliguri and I was in constant touch with them before the journey. But I couldn’t let everything be so ad hoc as it was a family trip that too including my little sister. At any cost, within the short time frame of our travel, nothing was falling in place. Finally, after lots of A-B-C-D plan, I discussed with the members of this trip and decided to start in the morning instead of the usual night journey. So it warranted a night stay at Siliguri.

Last edited by Blooming Flower : 1st December 2018 at 19:45.
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Old 1st December 2018, 12:56   #3
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Post Re: North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu

Hitting The Road

16th October, at 8 am we started from Tamluk. 6 of us with our Thar. I planned to start at 6 am sharp as Tamluk, my hometown adds 90km extra distance in the usual Kolkata-Siliguri route. But once I started to load the luggage the first problem was perceived. I think, my aunt utilized the entire 15x3=45kg luggage allowance packed in several bags and placing them in Thar along with ours (I and my parents) seemed to be nearly impossible. Although, I loaded all the luggage they were not so organized to accommodate 6 of us into the Thar. Finally, I tried n-number of times to re-arrange them in various ways, but finally I failed!

This was already 7 am. Meanwhile, my Dad intervened and played the role of the savior. He is quite adept in organized packing. Finally, we were on road by 8 am. And the Thar had no room left to bring in a single 1-litre extra water bottle!!

Somehow, it looked like this with my best effort!
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Our first stop was at Shaktigarh, Misti Hub for a late breakfast. Then we continued to Moregram via SH-7. The lunch stop was at BP COCO, Moregram and there I met Sushil da of Mad Metal who just had lunch and were off to Tinchuley with his family in his heavily modified Esteem.

At Shaktigarh, Misti hub (spot the Force One, a rare breed on road)

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At BP Coco, Moregram

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Just after the lunch, we hurried towards Farakka and just after 10kms of Moregram, civic police asked us to continue through the wrong lane. We witnessed 22kms long queue of trucks parked in the left lane up to Farakka Barrage. Without much glitches, we entered the bridge well before 5 pm. We took Malda Bypass which is still not opened officially. But it saved us at least 2hours from the heavy city traffic of Durga Puja. Next, we stopped at K.C.Mitra Raiganj for refueling. Then I drove non-stop through Botolbari-Dhantola stretch and reached our hotel in Pradhan Nagar, Siliguri at 9.15pm. Yes, it was quite a good timing to reach Siliguri given the Farakka situation. We had our dinner and slept asap as we all got tired by the day long journey.

Sunset @ Malda Bypass

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At KC Mitra, IOCL Fuel Station, Raiganj

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:27   #4
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Post Re: North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu

Next morning, we all woke up early to begin our journey to Kalimpong. The most enthusiastic was my Sister who was to witness The Mighty Himalayas for the first time. But repacking all the luggage properly into the Thar was quite a chore in the morning hour and this left all the males of our team into a sweat. However, we started by 8 am from Siliguri.

At Guest House, Siliguri

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:30   #5
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One by one we crossed Coronation Bridge and was moving towards Teesta Bazar through Sevoke road. The flowing Teesta along with our road and the green, lush mountain just mesmerized my Sissy and she shouted ‘My dream comes true now!! Yeee.!’

The twists, the curves, the steepness and the scenery of Himalayan roads cannot be matched to any other mountain. My uncle who was coming for the first time to this place was also awestruck at the exquisite beauty of hills. He was sitting at the front seat beside me.

Some clicks on the way to Kalimpong.

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:35   #6
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We were at our hotel at Kalimpong by 11.15am. Having completed the check-in formalities and lunch with the minimum time we left for sightseeing in and around Kalimpong. Our first target was Deolo Park.

At Hotel, Kalimpong

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At Deolo, the weather didnít favour us. It was misty with bare visibility. The garden was not blossoming as it was in March when we visited last time. But still, for the new 3 members, it was quite beautiful as they saw it for the first time. They also witnessed some repeatedly failed paragliding activities due to bad weather.

Some photos @ Deolo Park

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:38   #7
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While coming down we stopped for a while near the Buddha statue and started for Morgan House and Golf Course.
I always hate Kalimpong traffic. The Navratri festivals aggravated it more and the small hill-town traffic was at standstill. But as usual, Google thinks itself so clever than anybody and it rerouted us through some internal roads. Once we were into it there was no way to back. It was very steep and very narrow. I hurriedly tried to end up to the main road as an oncoming car would mess up everything. Once we were into the main road Gmap again tried to route us to a very narrow lane with sharp left with a downhill slope. The Thar could barely fit its width into it and I didn’t even know how was the road further. I stopped and asked a local driver for direction. He was kind enough to rescue us and asked me to follow his car. He indicated the entry to Golf Course and Army Cantonment and left. But after all these, we indeed bypassed the main town-traffic.

Sun had just set and it was just getting dark when we reached Morgan House. Visited the nearby Monastery, Durpindara viewpoint and the army cantonment. We had some coffee at the Army Cafeteria overlooking the beautiful Golf Course and soon after we came back to our hotel. Like most other hill station Kalimpong also sleeps mostly by 8 pm.

Morgan House

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The Army Cafeteria overlooking the Golf Course

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We ordered dinner and had some chatting and discussed the plan for the next day and slept early.

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:43   #8
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Next morning, we started at 7 am for Darjeeling. From Teesta Bazar, we took Peshok road which has its own charm to drive on it. The first stop was Lovers' Meet viewpoint where the confluence of Teesta and Rangeet can be seen from a cliff. We stopped there for few minutes and started for Tinchuley.

At Lovers' Meet Viewpoint

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:45   #9
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We didnít want to reach a homestay in Tinchuley rather our target was to reach Gumbadara viewpoint. The condition of the narrow access road to Tinchuley from main Peshok road has deteriorated recently than I saw last time. Itís much broken at places. We reached the viewpoint but could not see much from there as weather was not that clear.

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:48   #10
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Thereafter, we stopped next at Lamahatta Park. Parking here was a pain as it was bustling with a huge crowd. Somehow, I managed to park my car near the gate and we enjoyed the beautifully decorated Lamahatta Park.
After 20mins of spending there, we headed for Darjeeling.

At Lamahatta Park

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From Ghum railway station, the real Darjeeling traffic started to show its form and that was accentuated by huge tourist flow during this Durga Puja time. From Ghum to hour hotel just 5kms needed 35mins time to cover.

The Thar Posing at Ghum Station

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Old 1st December 2018, 13:55   #11
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After reaching the hotel and parking the car properly in hotel parking, we got ready for lunch at Glenaryís. Glenary is just the opposite building of our hotel and very easily accessible. We had a gala time with sumptuous food there and decided to take a short nap before we start our evening outing.

In front of our hotel

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Lunch @ Glenary's

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Old 1st December 2018, 14:01   #12
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By 5 pm we were at the mall of Darjeeling. First, we went to Mahakaal temple. The climb was through an uphill road and needs some effort. We all went up except my Dad who decided to stay back taste some cups of famous Darjeeling tea at the mall.

We came down soon and started roaming around the mall of Darjeeling. Weather was super fine with comfortable yet chilly outside. The entire mall area along with the connecting roads was bustling with tourists during this festive time in Bengal.

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Old 1st December 2018, 14:07   #13
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We started from the mall centre altogether but soon we were moving in a bit strayed format as ladies went into the woolen dress shops while we haunted the newly built eateries around browsing their menu cards along.

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Suddenly, I asked my Dad what about if we could afford an extra day! He suggested it is possible if my uncle's family moves directly from Bagdogra to Mumbai by flight.

After the shopping and hopping around the mall, we got back to the hotel and all came to our room for having dinner. During the dinner, I cracked the idea to all, especially to my uncle and aunt- what about if we include Sandakphu in this trip!; I added, it is all way possible without altering the scheduled daily errand if they cancel their journey to Mumbai from Kolkata, instead get flights from Bagdogra. They were a bit informed about the road condition via West Bengal/Nepal but from their words, I was pretty sure they never saw any pictures or video of the road to Sandakphu. Needless to say, to Gairibus although the road is narrow, I heard, it was converted to concrete and most of the 2wd cars are also making their footprint on the same route much longer than before. I said, you can see Mt. Everest and Mt. Kanchenjunga all at the same time from there. No sooner had I said this, my sister was elated enough and she showed the utmost enthusiasm for going to Sandakphu. My aunt scolded her and there was pin drop silence! While we were about to finish the dinner, my uncle broke the silence and said 'Get us the tickets to Mumbai from Bagdogra' Voila! 50% things already fell into proper place. I didn't utter much about the real scene and I knew this is the first time I am also going there that too driving my own car along with extended family.

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Old 1st December 2018, 14:10   #14
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Next day we reached Mirik by the evening. We started from the hotel at Darjeeling after the breakfast and sissy wanted to see the red panda.

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So, we headed towards the Padmaja Nadu Zoo. But luck was not with us. As soon as we reached the zoo we saw all the roadside shops are closed and we cloud hardly spot any human being around. My uncle got down from the car and went up walking to the ticket counter. He was informed that due to Dussera everything was closed. My sissy's immediate facial expression revealed her mental condition. We consoled, red panda might be missed this time; something better is waiting for all of us. Let's move on. She was silent.

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Our next destination was Rock Garden which is well known for the steep road in this area. But we all asked each other even this would be closed too due to Dussera. My Dad said it's an open garden and we should try it. Let's reach there first.

So, after getting into the main Darjeeling road we took an entry to Bloomfield road from right after some kilometers. This road is steep downhill and very narrow through a busy locality. All the drivers were also feeling the heat of the festive season. One local driver told me he had never seen so much traffic in this road. Giving space to the uphill vehicles at turns were creating long queues of vehicles at both sides of the road. Going down the first few kilometers took almost half an hour. After, that the road becomes a bit wider to accommodate to cars easily while on the move. We reached Rock Garden and the parking lot was infested with uncountable cars. I moved forward skipping some parked cars to find a little place nearer to the garden to park my car. Finally, after an enormous effort, I could barely fit the Thar between two cars.

My gloomy sister until now suddenly got rejuvenated with new vigour as soon as she saw the waterfalls at Rock Garden. She forgot red panda. We went up through the garden road and time elapsed with lots of photo sessions at different spots with different poses!

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North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu-154sdkph1.jpg

Last edited by Blooming Flower : 1st December 2018 at 14:25.
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Old 1st December 2018, 14:32   #15
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Post Re: North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu

Our next destination was Batasia loop. So I hurried them up and started from there. Getting the car out of the parking was a nightmare there. Finally, we were going uphill. This route is moderately steeper. But again, while crossing the last 3 kms through the locality was really painful. The uphill queue of the cars along with the smell of blackish smoke and burnt clutch emanating from most of the cars made some of us nauseated.

A video of the climb from Rock Garden



Some clicks on the way back from Rock Garden

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North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu-19sdkph1.jpg

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Someone Clicking the Thar Posing

North Bengal Reloaded: A Melded Tale of Sandakphu-160sdkph1.jpg

Last edited by Blooming Flower : 1st December 2018 at 14:34.
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