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gearhead_mait 18th December 2018 19:02

An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
Many say traveling is easier than writing about the same. True, isn’t it? It is so difficult to jot down the feelings, the emotions, the happiness and the excitement in a few words or sentences. Still, sitting down to write one’s experiences gives an unhindered exposure to beautiful memories which usually takes a back seat during the normal course of day to day life. That’s why we travel, to explore our inner selves, to take some time out of our daily chores and get involved with things which usually remains locked in our subconscious self.
Out comes the binocular which was getting draped in dust overtime or that DSLR which probably forgot if it would ever get out of that cupboard. During the packing episode, many lost woolens (at least from memory) get discovered or in some cases unpacked for the first time. Whatever be the case, be it the late night packing or some “Where’s this, Where’s that” coupled with some loud noises, the pre-travel episode has its own charm as well. After all, it’s the preparation for the beautiful times ahead!

After every travel to the mountains, I feel next time surely it would have to be a seaside holiday. But on each occasion, only mountains and in some cases forests only comes into picture in the discussion table. As usual, this time it was no different and when we discuss about mountains in the Eastern region, inevitably Sikkim and North Bengal comes into picture. It would be a family road trip and my elder brother for the first time would venture in the Himalayan roads in his own car. So, choice of destinations had to be made accordingly and with aging parents accompanying us, it shouldn’t be hectic. Considering all scenarios, the itinerary was finalized :

Day 1 (13th October, 2018) – Kolkata to Siliguri (Stay in Siliguri)
Day 2 (14th October, 2018) – Siliguri to Ravangla, Sikkim (Stay in Ravangla)
Day 3 and Day 4 (15th and 16th October, 2018) – Around Ravangla and West Sikkim (Stay in Ravangla)
Day 5 (17th October, 2018) – Ravangla to Namchi via Temi and Samdruptse (Stay in Namchi, Sikkim)
Day 6 (18th October, 2018) – Namchi to Lamahatta, WB (Stay in Lamahatta)
Day 7 (19th October, 2018) – Around Lamahatta, Visit Darjeeling (Stay in Lamahatta)
Day 8 (20th October, 2018) – Lamahatta to Kalimpong (Stay in Kalimpong)
Day 9 (21st October, 2018) – Around Kalimpong and then drive down to Siliguri
Day 10 (22nd October, 2018) – Siliguri to Kolkata

With the itinerary finalized, the hotel booking was done within a week. As it was the Durga Puja season, so it is always recommended to get the bookings done in advance. Booking for the overnight stay in Siliguri was done a week prior to our trip.

gearhead_mait 24th December 2018 18:41

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
3 Attachment(s)
Day 1 : Kolkata to Siliguri

About 3 weeks prior to our journey, Sherdil had his regular service done as before any long trips. With the collapse of Majherhat bridge (related news here), the journey to office and back had already become a nightmare and number of famous Durga pujas at vicinity made Behala all more congested. As a result,we returned home around 10:30 P.M the day before our travel leaving us a little time to load the boot of our cars with luggage and then had some much needed sleep.

We started around 5 A.M from our home and stopped at Shaktigarh for a tea break. With the news of Farakka bridge repairs and congestion due to it, we had decided to keep the breaks short. The morning was drizzly due to onset of the cyclone Titli but weather improved as we approached Moregram. Till then it was smooth cruising through Durgapur Expressway and SH7 through Burdwan. We chanced to meet TBhpian Subhayan at Moregram BP, who was returning from his Darjeeling trip. He advised us to take the opposite flank from Umarpur till Farakka as trucks were not being allowed to cross Farakka bridge during day time and left flank was being used as truck lay-by. TBhpian DriveTrain was also travelling to North Sikkim and suggested the same. Many thanks to them for their suggestions!

A micro TeamBHP meet at Moregram!
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With little congestion around Farakka and surprisingly smooth Malda Town traffic, we reached Raiganj around 3:30 P.M and decided to take the Dhantola Botolbari route.

Family snap during tea break at Raiganj
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The Dhantola Botolbari road is almost in good shape barring the last few meters re-joining the NH34 which was nightmarish for a low GC vehicle.

We reached Siliguri around 9 P.M. My 7 year old nephew was brimming with energy and kept me flooded with questions on whether we would find snow or exactly how many streams/waterfalls he would be able to spot! We had our dinner and called it a day.

Route taken:

The entire Kolkata to Siliguri route update is already shared in this post

Map link here

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Next day, the thrill of driving in the hills, beckons! :)

gearhead_mait 24th December 2018 19:13

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
14 Attachment(s)
Day 2 : Siliguri to Ravangla

When it is about driving in the Himalayas, no matter how tired you are or how late one goes to sleep, waking up early to hit the road is the only thing that matters.
Before the trip, I consulted Himadri da (Tbhpian himadrimondal) about the route to take for Ravangla. Being a regular in this route and considered a master about the roads in Sikkim, he suggested the route through Kitam Bird sanctuary.

We checked out from our hotel around 7:30 AM next morning, re-filled the fuel tanks and started our journey. In no time, we were driving through the beautiful Mahananda Wildlife sanctuary. This is the place that seems to take away all the tiredness of mundane city life and no matter how many times I might drive through, it never ceases to mesmerize. As usual, we stopped here for a photography break and to soak in the silence.

Serene and calm Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
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How can we miss the chance for a snap together!
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Now, one with our steeds
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Soon we crossed Sevoke and was happy to see a familiar WB number plate behind me whom I had met on my first road trip to mountains (Kaluk, West Sikkim in 2015). It was Tbhpian DriveTrain and his family on their trip to North Sikkim. We stopped for a while and had a brief chat. After a quick selfie together, the AWD Duster moved on towards the challenging terrain, while we discovered a beautiful spot with majestic view of R.Teesta meandering across the mountains, right after Sevoke.

A selfie with Angshuman da aka Drivetrain
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After crossing Sevoke, we stopped for breakfast at a roadside stall, a few kilometers before Teesta Bazaar. A simple bowl of Maggi cooked with the local spices and chutney tastes supremely delicious combined with the cool weather and majestic views of mountains and R. Teesta. But this time it was a little different in terms of the taste buds, rest was as expected. Wrong choice of food stall, may be. Nevertheless, after a much deserved break, especially for my elder brother who was on his maiden trip to Himalayas, we moved on.

Beautiful landscape just after crossing Sevoke
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Rail Bridge surrounded by Mountains
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R. Teesta in full glory. Approaching Teesta Bazaar
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We crossed the Teesta bridge and followed the trunk road till Melli. From here we took the Melli bridge by taking a right side hairpin from the trunk road while the road went towards Gangtok. The Melli bridge serves as an entry for West Sikkim, so security checking is in place on the other side of the bridge. Answer to a few questions was all that was required by a couple Sikkimese Police on duty to allow us entry, that too with warm greetings for Durga Puja. Feels special!

Just after crossing the bridge the road bifurcates with the right side going towards Namchi via Tarey bhir (more on this route later) while the left side goes towards Jorethang. As per the route finalized, we followed the road towards Jorethang till the exit for Kitam Bird Sanctuary. From this junction, we took the right turn for the suggested route. The entry didn’t look promising with gravel road with no tarmac, but after about 500 meters or so, a wide road with fresh cover of tarmac came into sight. It was wonderful to drive upwards through the twists and turns with pines and spruce trees giving us company all the way. The traffic was less dense than other routes. We stopped at number of places to take photographs or at times just to feel the silence, the chirping of birds, or the ringing of bells at a distant temple. Sikkim never fails to enchant me with its beauty. Indeed it was one of the most scenic routes to Ravangla. Later it was found that the route I had taken to Ravangla in 2015 during my West Sikkim trip i.e. through Singtam-Tarku-Ravangla is in tatters now. I cannot thank Himadri da enough for the excellent suggestion!

Scenic route through Kitam Bird Sanctuary
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Myself at a beautiful spot enroute
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Our cars were enjoying the journey as well
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My wife, my nephew and my father - All were enjoying the tranquil time
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We reached Namchi around 12 pm and went through the bazaar to take the Damthang route to Ravangla. The condition of the road from Namchi to Damthang was not good with road widening work going on in several places. The progress was slow due to this. After crossing Damthang, a beauty of another kind engulfed the route. The road condition was good surrounded by dense pine forest all around. A haze of mist covered the pine forests and the road rendering a surreal feeling. That increased the stopping frequency and photography breaks. While our parents wanted to reach the hotel quickly, the rest of us including my nephew enjoyed every break that we took.

Misty pine forests on the way to Ravangla
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A group of bikers from Malda and Raiganj doing the Himalayan trail
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We reached Ravangla around 4:00 PM. We had booked our stay at Hotel Chu Lyang which is about 1.5 Km from Ravangla main market place. After a late, yet hearty lunch the ladies wanted to visit the market for some shopping. My mother decided to stay back at hotel when remaining 6 of us headed towards market. We roamed around the market and bought few souvenirs and decided to go back as it was getting mistier. The mists felt like tangible water droplets that touched our faces and felt like it was drizzling. That was an amazing feeling indeed.

As expected, the first day in the mountains recharged our souls. Next day we had plans of visiting Tathagata Tsal (The Buddha Park) and nearby places. We had our dinner at the hotel's rooftop restaurant and retired for the day.

Route taken for the day:

GoogleMap Link here

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gearhead_mait 24th December 2018 19:49

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
25 Attachment(s)
Day 3: Ravangla and nearby places

Before starting for the trip log for the day, our hotel deserves a few lines. Chu-Lyang, our stay at Ravangla, is strategically located about a kilometer off the Ravangla market. Of the few places where the hotel staff make you feel special with their kind gestures and nice attitude, it was one of them. Only downside of the hotel is the approach from the road. It is located behind the Ravongla Star hotel and as a result the entrance to the hotel from the main road is by a staircase downwards beside the Ravongla Star hotel. Leaving aside this issue, we liked every other aspect of the hotel. We were upgraded to mountain view facing rooms. Although the entry to the hotel is narrow, the rooms and balconies have beautiful view of the valley. In fact the hotel is built on the valley side. A peek out of the window from the rooms and you are looking right down the valley. Beautiful location, helpful staffs, nice food and amenities in the rooftop restaurant. :thumbs up

It was a very cold morning at Ravangla with mists covering the valley. Ravangla, being situated at the base of Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary, itís a heaven for birdwatchers. Different species of Himalayan birds are found here and we didnít want to miss the opportunity to see them. So, in spite of the cold, we woke up around 6 am. Just a few hundred meters from our hotel, a serene place with a lot of tree cover was filled with chirping of the birds. We were mesmerized by the variety of birds and their color. My elder brother tried his hands at bird photography in his DSLR while my nephew, my wife and myself had our eyes on the branches watching the beautiful species engrossed in their daily chores.

Some pictures of the beautiful species found during our morning walk around Ravangla (Some identified, others not so) Picture Courtesy - My elder brother Prasenjit Maitra:

Whiskered Yuhina
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Golden-breasted fulvetta
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Black Drongo
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Snowy-browed flycatcher
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After a nice experience, we returned to our hotel, freshened up and after a nice cup of tea and sumptuous breakfast, started for our first destination of the day - Tathagata Tsal.

Tathagata Tsal or the Buddha Park as called by the local people is a must visit in Ravangla and is located about 1 KM from the main market place. After crossing the Ravangla market, the road passes through local villages with twists and turns slowly revealing the Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary. The greenery gradually overcomes the congestion of the town area and the big Buddha statue comes into view. We reached Tathagata Tsal around 11 AM. The place has a monastery and a big statue of Lord Buddha perched at the top. The place looks marvelous being surrounded by tall mountains in the backdrop and nicely manicured park. The serenity of the place is the first thing one will notice and with "Om Mane Padme Hum" - the prayer song being played around the monastery, it added a magic in the air.

It was a partial sunny day with clouds playing hide and seek with the sun and revealing a truly wonderful spectacle over the Big Buddha statue. One could spend hours just gazing at the beauty of the Nature. We spend almost 2 hours roaming around the park soaking in the beauty of the place. There were few souvenir shops in the complex where the ladies vanished and were not visible for another hour!

A view of Tathagata Tsal
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We, before the Buddha Statue
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Our family snap (I was the photographer)
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Buddha, Up close!
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Alignment of prayer wheels. Picture courtesy : My wife Monosree
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Parents were enjoying as well
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Calmness redefined
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Some local children in jovial mood
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After the souvenir shopping spree was over, we had a hot cup of coffee together inside the park.

The weather was dicey with clouds floating in and blocking the entire statue of Buddha at times. This also meant that there was high chance of fog engulfing the area thereby reducing the visibility, even before the sunset. With the visit to Ralong monastery and Borong in our minds and already past 1 pm in the clock, no more delay would have been feasible. We started for Ralong monastery continuing on the road beside the Tathagata Tsal parking.

The road again climbed upwards along a few hairpins. Here we saw a beautiful view of the Buddha, this time from behind and a few hundred metres above the statue.

The mystical view of Buddha statue enroute Borong
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There are two monasteries at Ralong - the old and new one. Google map confuses the location in this case. As per Google, the old one is the first enroute whereas in reality the new one comes first. MapMyIndia device correctly pointed out the location but even without it, its hard to miss. A road climbs up on the left from the trunk and arrives at the premises of the New Ralong monastery. Built with ample space for parking and a huge courtyard, the beautifully designed monastery is one of the best I have seen till date. Nestled amidst the green mountains and being not so popular among tourists, this monastery provides a serene atmosphere where one can relax and unwind. Ours were the only two cars in the parking lot that could accommodate around 30+ cars.

The new Ralong monastery
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There was a upcoming festival in the Monastery due to which we were able to see the dance rehearsal of the Buddhist monks. Never before I witnessed anything like this. We enjoyed each and every moment inside the monastery.

The Buddhist monks rehearsing for the festivity ahead
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We wanted to stay here a bit more, but the time was against us. It was already past 2:15 pm and daylight was already fading. Within a few kilometers from the new Ralong monastery towards Borong, the old Ralong monastery is located on the left side of a hairpin bend. After a quick photo break, we moved on towards Borong.

The old Ralong monastery
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Sherdil at the entrance gate of the old Ralong monastery
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From here, we started our last leg of our journey for the day towards Borong. The tarred road gave way to a bit of rough surface with occasional gravel road as well. Nevertheless, the drive was awesome with the forest cover increasing with every turn. Along the road, one bifurcation to the left goes to a village whereas the road straight goes to Borong. Our MMI lost track here and I took the other road from the junction. But within a few meters google map revised the route for us and we were on track again. We reached the Wildflower Retreat at Borong at around 3 pm. This resort
is being run by our beloved Himadri da (TBHP handle himadrimondal) from Team BHP Kolkata chapter and is one of the best hotels in the area with appropriate mix of comfort and earthiness. With cottages surrounded by trees and gardens, being one with Mother Nature is as simple as it can get.
This time, due to our itinerary, we could not stay here. But everyone in our family promised to come back here for a stay. Such was the ambiance!

Although the lunch time was over, the hotel staff made delicious maggi and omelettes for us followed by a hot cup of tea. My nephew had the best time playing with Simba, a cute St Bernard puppy and a newcomer to the resort.

A child overlooking the window at the resort
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The cottages at Wildflower Retreat
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My nephew Archisman playing with Simba
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We at the hotel entrance
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After a nice journey to Borong, it was time for us return to our hotel at Ravangla. It was already dusk and the visibility was reduced. The descend to Ravangla was made difficult by sudden occurrence of heavy fog. The visibility was less than 3 feet and it was difficult to even spot the railings beside the road. With careful driving and taking the help of MMI path tracking. we were able to descend safely and made our way back to our hotel.

Route taken for the day:

Google Map link here

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Another wonderful day spent on the lap of the Himalayas. A lot of new places seen and some memorable time spent with my family. Special thanks to Himadri da for his guidance.

We spent the rest of the evening in our hotel chatting among ourselves. It was a very cold evening and we ordered Momos and Tea for snacks. We also had our dinner early and retired for the day.

gearhead_mait 31st December 2018 01:26

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
24 Attachment(s)
Day 4 : Towards West Sikkim - Tashiding, Phamrong Falls, Kanchenjunga Falls, Pelling

Morning at Ravangla has a charm. With mountains and vegetation covering the small hamlet, its common to wake up to the beautiful song of the birds.
We woke up at sharp 6 am in the morning and decided for a walk around the area. My wife and myself went out to see that my brother was ready with his camera and lens kit as well. Parents were awake but decided to stay back at the hotel. My nephew was sleeping comfortably until we decided to wake him up and, somewhat against his wish, made him to join us.

It was a cold morning and few meters down the road, it seemed like a ongoing festivity with different notes of birds coming from every direction. Wherever one looks there was a group of birds hopping from branches of one tree to another singing their hearts out. It was magical experience. Only deterrent was an occasional vehicle passing through the road creating a noise in the symphony, but the drivers were very sensible and didn't honk a single time when they passed us. Instead they slowed down to a crawling speed as they crossed us. My elder brother was busy with his camera whereas the rest of us enjoyed looking at the beautiful birds. We ran around, took a lot of photos and videos and enjoyed our hearts out. We didn't miss a single opportunity to live the life we always wanted, even for a few days. As they say, moments are more precious than any belonging and the best of memories always brings out the smile even on a bad day from the darkest corner of our minds!

Few pictures of birds (Again, some of them identified, some not) taken during our morning walk. Picture Courtesy : Prasenjit Maitra

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Rufous sibia
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Rufous-bellied niltava
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Blue-winged minla
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Red-billed leiothrix
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We returned to our hotel to find that the rest of the group already dressed and waiting for us for breakfast. We got ready in a jiffy and after a hearty breakfast (special thanks to the hotel staffs, they were amazing in preparing variety of foods as per our request) we started for journey to explore parts of West Sikkim.

The road from Ravangla to West Sikkim passes through the beautiful villages of Legship and Geyzing. I already traveled on this route during my travel to Kaluk in January 2015 and I knew the route is scenic but at the same time had some sharp hairpins during the initial few kilometers. We were enjoying the drive through the beautiful narrow road lined with pine and deodar trees. On a particular hairpin, there was an artistic tree just at the corner on the way to Legship. During my trip to Kaluk, I stopped and took a picture of that particular tree. This time too I couldn't resist myself from clicking a picture.

The artistic tree enroute Legship. The same tree during our Kaluk Trip in winter of 2015 here
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Our steeds on the Ravangla-Legship stretch
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We did not have any particular destination in our mind for the day. It was planned to roam around the West Sikkim area visiting the likes of Pelling Yuksom, Khecheopalri lake (pronounced Khechiperi Lake) etc. During the planning stage I was inquisitive about a road exiting from Legship and going towards Yuksom via Tashiding. The conventional route goes through Pelling - Khechepalri lake - Yuksom but this alternate route takes the anticlockwise direction arriving at Yuksom first. This route went out of scope during our planning as some suggested the road surface was not good and the huge time suggested by Google Maps being another reason.

But there is a huge gap between planning and execution of a road trip, specially in the Himalayas. :)

At a hairpin just before Legship, I saw a Honda City coming from a seemingly non-existent narrow road. MMI was pointing to that route for Yuksom, whereas Google Map suggested through Pelling. I went down and asked the person driving the Honda City. He said that if we are going towards Yuksom, that route would be shorter but the road is not in good condition. We thanked him and after a moments pause it was decided that a Honda City made through, why shouldn't we? And we started our journey towards Tashiding though a route I have never taken before.

The road condition was really not good with some stretches having slush, boulders and what not. But nothing that would damage the vehicles if properly driven. That being said, the scenic beauty of the route was beyond any words. It was like an unexplored part of Sikkim opened in front of us. No cars, yes you heard it right there were no cars (commercial or private) coming from either direction for long stretches. Speaking of lush green valley adorned by flowing pristine river beneath and an iron plated hanging bridge, yes you get it right here. I even can't name the river I saw, we were kind of lost.

My brother's i20 on the hanging bridge
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In the hanging bridge, only one car is allowed at a time. The bridge is similar in construction to Singshore bridge but way more dated. We stopped for a break just after crossing the bridge. I have no words to explain the beauty of the place. In short, this place reverberates the essence of Sikkim - a beautiful, quaint place full of greenery and without any tourists even during the prime season. Sometimes I hesitate to write about such places or highlight the existence of these places, as the tranquility of the place would be lost. But I couldn't help myself from writing a few lines. I was feeling happy that we took this road.

The beautiful place
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We continued on the road slowly. We were not hurrying at all. All that we had in our mind - the places to visit, the things to do etc, all were erased by the beauty of the journey. Each and every turn along the route presented an unexplored terrain and greenery washed away all the tiredness. One has to keep it slow here to soak in the beauty being served here. There were a lot of waterfalls along the way, the best being situated around 15 kms from Tashiding popularly known as Phamrong falls. The waterfall is visible from far away, like a bright scar over a green mountain side. The weather was typical Yuksom like, misty and overcast.

Sherdil with Phamrong falls in view
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The waterfall branches off and comes down in streams of smaller sizes all around the main trunk of the waterfall. We spent a lot of time around one such small waterfall. Icing on the cake was the fact that there were no tourists or locals here apart from us. It seemed like we had the beautiful place for us alone.

The branched off waterfall from Phamrong
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Sherdil at the truss bridge over the branched off Phamrong falls
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My wife trying to climb up a bit
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The main trunk of the Phamrong Falls
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The sound of the waterfall is audible from far distance. Just by the side of the waterfall, there was a flight of stairs bearing the name of Phamrong Falls. But it was covered with shrubs and outgrowths suggesting minimal tourist influx in this area.

Dilapidated flight of stairs marking the entrance to Phamrong Falls
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After spending a lot of time here, we finally decided to move on.

Enroute Yuksom from Phamrong Falls
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After a few kms from Phamrong Falls, the road bifurcates with one going to Yuksom and the other going towards Pelling. As it was already late, we decided to skip going to Yuksom and instead followed the road towards Pelling. Along this road, our first stop was the "famous" Kanchenjunga Falls. I say famous, not because of the beauty of the place but due to the overcrowded nature of the area. To put it straight, the Kanchenjunga waterfall is not remotely as beautiful as the Phamrong falls. But it has some attractions like zipline over the waterfall, abundant food stalls and other activities. Along with that add the chaos of vehicle parking and pack of tourists disembarking every minute, we thought it was better to spend some more time at Phamrong. Its strange to see the dual situation in two waterfalls, one cared for by nature and the other being adorned by "Us".

A family snap I could manage at Kanchenjunga Falls without the crowd
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It was already past 3 pm and any chance of visiting the Khecheopalri lake, which is a detour of 12 kms from the trunk road, seemed feeble. Instead we decided to visit the Pelling helipad.

At the junction where the road to Khecheopalri lake bifurcates from the trunk road leading to Pelling
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We went straight to Pelling helipad, parked our cars and ordered a very late lunch from a nearby decent hotel. As the food was being prepared we utilized the time for some photo sessions with our steeds!

At the Pelling helipad
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We had our lunch and then started our journey back to Ravangla. This time we took the conventional route back through Geyzing and Legship. The road condition was one of the best ones in Sikkim with freshly laid bitumen layer. Reason was clear why all cars take this route from Ravangla. But we were pretty satisfied with our decision to take the Tashiding route which presented such wonderful scenic pathway and etched beautiful memories to cherish for long.

Route taken for the day
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Google map link here

We reached our hotel around 6 pm and after another adda session we had our dinner and retired for the day.

gearhead_mait 31st December 2018 01:32

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
15 Attachment(s)
Day 5 : Namchi via Temi Tea Garden and Samdruptse

After mesmerizing three days spent at Ravangla, it was time to move to our next destination - Namchi. Ravangla memories would be long etched in our mind due to the quality time we spent here. Such was the attraction that even in the final morning of our stay in Ravangla, my elder brother and myself went for a walk in the morning just to enjoy the fresh air.

I knew that BHPian Delix was also having vacation in the same region. We chatted over whatsapp regarding the routes to take. In the morning I got a call from him but the mobile was in the hotel when I went out for a walk outside. I came back and called him and got to know that he was staying at Cherry resort at Temi Tea Garden and wanted to visit Ravangla and adjoining areas that day. I suggested him to visit the Tathagata Tsal and the Borong route and updated him with the details.

We always wanted to visit Temi Tea Garden but till date was not able to do so. With that in mind, we started our journey from Ravangla. We would be taking the same route that we took while coming to Ravangla. Our plan was to visit Temi Tea Garden and Samdruptse enroute Namchi.

The mystical pine forest enroute Damthang
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On reaching Damthang bazaar, I called up Delix to find out that he was still at the hotel in Temi. I asked him to stay for some more time as we were going there. A micro TBHP meet was cooking. :)

From Damthang bazaar enroute Namchi, a road goes to the left and leads to Temi Tea garden. The Cherry resort is located around 2 kms from here and is the only option to stay amidst the tea garden.

Enroute Temi Tea Garden
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We reached Cherry Resort and met BHPian Delix. He was put up with his family here for 3 days. The location of the resort was fabulous with tea garden all around. But we got to know that the behavior of the staffs are bad and the resort is ill-maintained. Overall, fellow BHPian was not happy with his decision to stay here. We chatted with each other regarding our travels and introduced our families. It was already 10 am in the morning and thereby I suggested instead of Ravangla - Borong stretch that day, it would be better if he visits Samdruptse and Char Dham. Both being located near Namchi, it would be quicker and the day after he could start early for places around Ravangla. He agreed to my suggestion.

Few pictures of the Temi Tea Garden from the Cherry Resort
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And our special group picture with our families and our cars
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After a nice meet, we started for Samdruptse. BHPian Delix would also be following our trail till Samdruptse and Namchi, though he was scheduled to start a bit late.
After driving for about 16 kms, a narrow and steep road climbs the Samdruptse hill exiting the trunk road on the left side. We followed the road for another km or so and reached the parking area. From the parking area, it is mandatory to walk for another 200 meters to reach the monastery.
The monastery has a large statue of Guru Padmasambhava offering picturesque views all around. Although we have visited a many monasteries earlier, this one was different is one aspect. The inside of the monastery is full of dry food supplies like cakes, biscuits, chips and packed fruit drinks. I could see devotees offering food to the monks who were carefully stacking them one after the other. Another thing to notice was that the inside of the monastery was full of homeless people. I am not sure but it seems that the trustee board runs a care unit for homeless peoples there. It felt good to see that in spite of religious sentiments, the needy gets the priority. :thumbs up

We, at the entrance to Samdruptse
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Guru Padmasambhava overlooking the region
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Time for some prayer wheel offering
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Some fun in the complex. Not sure how I managed that jump!
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Monosree and Archisman followed suit
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Seasonal flowers adding color to the premises
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Full view of guru Padmasambhava
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After spending quality time here, we decided to move to our hotel at Namchi. As we were leaving, we again met BHPian Delix and his family at the monastery complex.
We reached Namchi around 2 pm and checked in to our hotel. If we could associate a tag "love at first sight" or "hate at first glance" with a place, we would have to place Namchi in between. We definitely didn't like the place. It was a business center for Sikkim with concrete structures all across. The hotels follow similar lines with minimal/no gaps between them. We booked Juniper Residency in Namchi (one of the popular hotels in the town) but truly we were not at all happy with the ambience. Overall, the town of Namchi felt stuffy, may be the environment at Ravangla spoilt us. Nevertheless, we went to the Mall area for late lunch. We were already late and the food joints were on the brink of closure. Again, Mr. Delix and his family came into view and suggested a restaurant which was already "tested" by them. We bade farewell to them as they were going to Char Dham and without further delay went inside the restaurant. It turned out to be a Chinese specialty restaurant but many items were unavailable. We made ourselves comfortable with whatever was on offer.
It was Durga Ashtami and like everytime, the goddess always finds a reason to find us or vice-versa, wherever we are. There was a Durga Puja being organized in the Mall area of Namchi. We went inside and offered our prayers to the deity.

Goddess Durga on a tour of Sikkim along with her family
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We spent some time in the Mall area in the evening. It was strange to see the ladies wanting to return to the hotel even during the prime shopping time of the day. I guess the Mall didn't live up to their expectations. Although, I found what I was looking for. Recently, I am a bit inclined towards the Flora and their care. I was looking for succulents, and I knew there are varieties of them in the Himalayan region. I collected one rare specimen from Wildflower Retreat (Borong) and here I bought another one. Some joy, atleast for me!

Our parents decided to stay back at hotel and have their dinner in the hotel. Remaining of us were looking for a nice food joint for our dinner and we found "Crumbs and Whips". My nephew was super delighted to find a place serving pizzas and burgers at last! We ordered some freshly baked pizza, pasta and burgers and had a sumptuous dinner.
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After our dinner we walked back to our hotel and decided to start early next day. We had booked our stay at Lamahatta and had plans of visiting the Solophok Char Dham and Tarey Bhir en route.

Route taken for the day
Attachment 1835650

Google Map link here

gearhead_mait 31st December 2018 01:40

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
22 Attachment(s)
Day 6 : Lamahatta via Char Dham and Tarey Bhir

This was the day we leave Sikkim but not the Himalayan region. Lamahatta, a quaint and peaceful hamlet in Darrjeeling district, was our ultimate destination for the day. But there were two inviting places in Sikkim which we would visit before making our exit from the organic state - 1) Solophok Char Dham and 2) Tarey Bhir

We checked out of our hotel around 9 am, tanked up our cars at a HP fuel bunk and went straight to Char Dham complex. The engineering masterpiece is located on the Solophok hill in Namchi and has replica of the four sacred dham (Rameswar Dham, Dwarka Dham, Badrinath Dham and Jagannath Dham) sculpted beautifully. There is also a large statue of Lord Shiva in the middle along with 12 Jyotirlingas across the premise. We parked our vehicle in the designated parking space and started exploring the place on foot.

A group photo at the entrance to the complex
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Statue of lord Kirateswara
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Replica of Rameswar dham
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Replica of Jagannath dham
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Badrinath dham replica
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Family picture beside the Jyotirlingas
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Mists covering Lord Shiva while Nandi looks on
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Monosree in traditional Sikkimese attire
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A selfie
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All of us in one frame
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Captivating frame defining "Faith"
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Without us realizing, beautiful two and half hours went by so quickly. We couldn't help but get awed by the engineering masterpiece built at this elevation.

Next on our list was "Tarey Bhir", which was another marvel built over a ridge in the Himalayas. We had to take a different route while descending for Tarey Bhir which merges in Melli that I referred to earlier (the road to the right after crossing Melli bridge). The quality of the road till Tarey Bhir was good and we reached the place around 1 pm. We parked our cars by the roadside and had to walk for 2 minutes to reach the start of the walkway over the ridge of the mountain. A flight of stairs built right over the ridge and continues till one's eyes could see. This marvel is definitely a must visit for everyone.
My parents stayed at the starting point and didn't venture as there was moderate climbs and descends. Four of us and my nephew started the climb. There was feeling of openness about the place with the stairs built right on the top of the ridge with forest cover on one side and steep slope of the mountain on the other. Strong, chilly, misty winds blowing along the slope made the visuals all the more attractive.

Archisman enjoying the bubble toy
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Beautifully designed Tarey Bhir
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Some adventure on the other side of the railing!
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An unending path
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Monosree enjoying the winds in the hair experience
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Friendship and Tranquility
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Flowers along the ridge (macro mode on)
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A beautiful golden tree demarcating the Fall season
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We spent a good amount of time here walking all the way to the third resting place along the way before returning back. The weather demanded a nice cup of tea and the tea stalls around the parking place provided the much needed comfort.

After the Tarey Bhir episode, we started descending towards Melli.

The road quality deteriorates considerably after Tarey Bhir towards Melli. We had to manage at few sections downhill climb to avoid underbody hits. This decreased our speed and by the time we reached Melli it was around 4:30 P.M in the clock. We did not have our lunch and was looking for a place to have something but majority of the shops were closed owing to Navratri. One of the small shops was open and the owner said she had only momos and maggi to provide us. We were super hungry and gobbled up everything in around 10 minutes. After satiating our hunger, we crossed the Melli bridge and within a few kms reached Teesta Bazaar. After crossing the Teesta bridge, we started our climb on the
Peshok road towards Darjeeling.
The Peshok road, although had excellent surface to drive on, was very steep. It was a first gear climb all the way, with controlled driving staying alert of the vehicles coming downwards. Its never recommended to drive in such roads pressing brakes frequently and mandatory to drive in lower gears using engine braking. One such Sumo driver coming down was unaware and resulted in thick fumes coming out of the front tires.

Slow but steadily and more importantly safely we reached our homestay in Lamahatta, the Kanchenjunga Homestay, which is located 18 kms before Darjeeling around 7 pm. There was no parking place in the homestay, so we had to park our cars on the road right beside the boundary walls. The homestay had basic amenities with clean rooms and essentials like geyser in every room. As always, the welcome we received from the homestay owner bowled us over. It was a chilly night and the sleepy hamlet of Lamahatta presented a calm and quite atmosphere for us to experience. We had our dinner early with home made lip smacking preparations. After our dinner, we walked around the homestay for some time before retiring for the day.

Route taken for the day
Attachment 1837883

Google Map Link here

gearhead_mait 31st December 2018 01:47

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
23 Attachment(s)
Day 7 : Lamahatta and evergreen Darjeeling

On our arrival in Lamahatta last evening, we were unaware of our surroundings as it was already dark. This morning we were amazed by the beauty of the place. Then hillside is surrounded by tall pine trees placed in a beautiful pattern. The greenery around the place coupled with the cool breeze coming down from the hills and soothing song of the birds, Lamahatta already won our hearts.

The Green Pigeon
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Grey bush chat
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Nature being the theme, the main attractions in Lamahatta are 1) the beautiful park built right beside the road and 2) the mystic trail among the pine forest leading to a sacred lake on top of the hill.

The three of us including my elder brother decided to walk till the lake. Around 6 am the entry gate of the park was closed and there was no one at the ticket counter as well. As an alternative, we climbed up the gate to enter the park, planning to pay for the tickets once we return. The park was well maintained with landscape garden and two watch towers for bird watchers. There was a walking trail starting right from the park and climbing up through the pine forest. With the forest as well as the trail getting covered with mists every now and then, it looked inviting. Soon we were on it with no one except us in the whole area.

The climb was moderate with stone lined narrow walkway. Care had to be taken to prevent slipping as the stones were wet due to the morning mist. We took many photos but the feel of the place have to be experienced in person.

We, at the Lamahatta Park
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Where the beautiful path are lined with..
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..And the shortcuts are strengthened by the roots of the Pine trees
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The algae growth on the trunk of Pine trees
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As mentioned earlier, there were no one except us climbing the trail in that early morning hours. There were a couple of eerie incidents we encountered here. First one occurred on our way up. We stopped at a place and decided to take a selfie with our our camera. Lens facing towards us, I gently pressed the shutter which locks the focus with a particular sound. After the focus is locked, I pressed the shutter fully and the picture capturing sound was heard. When I tried to preview the image, there was nothing captured in the camera. Thinking it must be a malfunction, I repeated the procedure. Still no image! Now, I pointed the camera in another direction and pressed the shutter. Normal behavior restored with the picture being captured. I turned the lens towards us again hoping to get a selfie this time for sure. Sound of focus lock and image capture all being heard, but to my dismay still there was no picture. After three failed attempts, we gave up on that location and moved ahead. 100 meters or so from the place, I tried one more time and voila! A perfect selfie with the same technique. Not sure what happened earlier, but it was indeed a first time experience for us with the camera we were using for more than 5 years.

After 15 minutes of climb through the trail, we were at the hill top. It was a relatively flat land adorned with a beautiful kidney-shaped lake surrounded by pine trees. The place was calm where the silence prevails. The mists among the pine trees that we saw from our hotel, was actually trapped over the lake before moving down. It was a breathtaking view all around and we were pleased with our decision to walk the trail.

View of the lake from different angles
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There were benches placed around the lake where the tourists can sit, relax
and unwind. My elder brother got busy with his DSLR while my wife, Monosree, started singing a song sitting on a bench. Everyone was feeling beautiful.
Just behind the lake, crossing the line of pine trees, there was a large rock. Once you see it, its hard to resist climbing it to get a panoramic view of the surroundings. Same happened with me, and I climbed up the rock and started looking around. With the lake at my back side around 50 meters from my location, the second eerie incident took place.

While I was standing on the rock, a mysterious fog engulfed the place. Suddenly, the voice of the homestay owner echoed in my mind - "There are leopards in the area, they pick up poultry and dogs from time to time". Sure thing, there can be leopards here. With visibility less that 15 feet, I shouted at the top of my voice calling the name of my brother and wife. But there were no response. Barely 50 meters away and they still could not hear me? I was scared, not only for me, but also for them and reached for my mobile. No signal! That was it, I gathered courage and literally ran to the lake to find that my brother and wife was sitting exactly at the same place when I left. Stranger was the fact that there was no fog there and on asking they replied they haven't heard my voice at all.
50 meters between thick fog and no fog, and my voice could not reach 50 meters? I couldn't answer my own questions but decided to stay together for the rest of the journey.

After spending a good quarter to an hour or so here, we started descending down. Downward journey took less time and we reached our homestay around 9 am.

A wild flower on our way down the trail
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Sunlight peeking through the Pine Forest
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After having a hearty breakfast, we started our journey to the Queen of the Hills - Darjeeling. Located 18 kms from Lamahatta at a higher altitude, Darjeeling attracts a lot of tourists but still it has charm of its own. Ladies were looking forward to the shopping spree, whilst my elder brother and myself were concerned on the parking place in Darjeeling. Being the peak tourist season during Durga Puja, parking won't be easy specially when we don't have any booking at a hotel in Darjeeling.

The legend of Darjeeling after crossing Ghoom
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Less than a kilometer before Darjeeling, we saw a building on the right hand side bearing the placard of parking. We enquired and found that to be the newly built parking with three floor for parking four wheelers. The first floor is reserved for commercial vehicles only while the upper floors are for private cars. The building was without any lights and no proper marking were present. Being the day of Dussehra, there was no rush of commercial cars and we were allowed to keep our cars in first floor only.

We parked our cars and started walking towards the Mall area.

The Darjeeling Station
Attachment 1832576

Heritage Himalayan Railway
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Shopping started on the way itself and if I had not intervened, we would have lost our appetite for lunch. :)
A brief pause in shopping and we were standing outside the famous Glenary's restaurant and gourmet. Keventer's was closed on the day due to some maintenance work and as a result the footfall at Glenary's increased manifold. We had to enter our name in the register along with our contact and was given a minimum timeline of half an hour. Shopping continued, from the Tea shops to the Tibetan Arts until we got a call around 3 pm from Glenary's. We rushed to the restaurant and got ourselves a corner table away from the chaos around the billing area.

In no time, we glanced through the menu and ordered our food.

We at Glenary's
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A selfie together
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One of the best eateries in the town
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After a hearty lunch, we explored the mall area and the variety of shops around it. We spent a nice evening together sipping on a hot cup of tea in the Mall area. The approach road to the Darjeeling mall is for pedestrians only and that makes it easier to walk around. From the junction of the Mall road, we hired a local Omni taxi to get the ladies, our parents and my nephew to the parking zone. The rate was cheap at INR 150 considering the detour in force in Darjeeling town. My elder brother and myself walked across the town to reach the parking.
The descend from Darjeeling to Lamahatta at night was thrilling with foggy roads and hairpins adding to the driving pleasure. Only deterrent was the stock headlights which were not sufficient and at hairpins I realized the importance of static bending lights.
Nevertheless, we reached our homestay safely, had our dinner and retired for the day.

Route taken for the day
Attachment 1837885

Google Map Link here

gearhead_mait 31st December 2018 01:53

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
12 Attachment(s)
Day 8 : Lamahatta to Kalimpong

The morning at Lamahatta was beautiful. No mists or fog but bright sunshine adorned the hamlet. But with it came the reminder that our trip is slowly but steadily coming to an conclusion. We packed our luggage and had our breakfast. Our stay in Lamahatta will always be remembered for the beautiful landscape as well as the friendly and polite homestay owners who went an extra mile to make us feel comfortable.:thumbs up

Before coming down from the Himalayan region, Kalimpong was our last destination. My elder brother and his family had to go to Darjeeling once more for some shopping, so he asked us to move to Kalimpong and he will join us later directly in the hotel. We parted our ways for the moment and I started the climb downwards towards Teesta Bazaar. Basically, Darjeeling and Kalimpong are located in two different hills with Teesta Bazaar as the mid point as well the lowest in altitude between the two. Descend to Teesta bazaar and again climb up to Kalimpong. The Peshok road was steep and descent had to be done in first gear only with minimal braking.

We at Teesta Bazaar
Attachment 1832586

About 1 kilometer after crossing Teesta bazaar, the road bifurcates with the right side road leading to Kalimpong (the straight road goes to Gangtok).
Kalimpong and the regions of Neora Valley are famous for various species of Succulents, Cactus and Orchids. There are large number of nurseries in the region, but one has to be careful with the pricing as the rates vary between nurseries and some bargaining skills are needed. My advice would be to explore the two nurseries that fall right beside the road 3-4 kms before the Kalimpong town.
I stopped at one of the nurseries and bought a few succulent variety. Next we went to our hotel - The Shire Homestay, Kalimpong. The town of Kalimpong is divided between to hills - Delo and Durpin. Our hotel was on the Durpin hill which was free from the traffic and chaos of the town and tourists. Gmap behaved as expected and we reached our homestay around 1:30 pm.

The Shire Homestay was a beautiful property surrounded by greenery all around and with the privilege of witnessing the great Mt. Kanchenjunga right from the terrace balcony. The owners of the homestay are friendly people with lots of knowledge of the Kalimpong region and its history. On top of that, they were gardening hobbyists and as a result the resort had some collection of rare species of plants I have never seen before. The rooms were cozy and the homestay had an open terrace with dining facility. Utilities like "Rent a bicycle to explore the area", "Learn to cook local delicacies from the chefs of the hotel" , "A punching bag with Boxing gloves to vent out all the anger and frustration" etc are all available in the homestay only. Overall we were very happy with our choice of the hotel at the final destination of the trip in the Himalayas.

We checked in to our rooms and went for a photography session.

We at the entrance of the Shire Homestay
Attachment 1832587

Baba and Ma at the open terrace
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Monosree and myself
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Baba and Myself
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The reception area
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I called up my brother to give him the directions to the hotel and ordered our lunch as they were near.

Two steeds meet again at the Shire parking
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My sister-in-law, nephew and wife in one frame
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Relaxation guaranteed
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Beautiful property - The Shire, Kalimpong
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The lunch was supremely tasteful with hints of local herbs creating an aroma of a different kind. In the evening we went to Kalimpong town ,walked around and did some shopping. After a couple of hours of chatting among ourselves in the night in the terrace, we had our dinner and went back to our rooms.

Route taken for the day
Attachment 1837888

Google Map Link here

gearhead_mait 31st December 2018 01:59

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
20 Attachment(s)
Day 9 : Around Kalimpong

Next morning, we woke up and before having our breakfast went for a walk around the locality. We came to know that the home of Rabindranath Tagore named "Chitra-Bhanu" is located just 500 meters from the homestay and also the famous Pine-View nursery having a collection of Cactus and Succulents found no where else.

A beautiful butterfly bathed in golden rays of the Sun
Attachment 1832597

Monosree at Chitra-Bhanu gate
Attachment 1832598

Next we headed to Pine View nursery. Ticket is available at INR 20 per head but the price of the succulents were 3 times than that we bought from the nursery on our way to Kalimpong.

Collection of Cactus and Succulents in Pine View Nursery

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A butterfly and a Spider in the nursery
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We returned to our hotel, had our breakfast and packed our bags.

A picture from the hotel garden
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Loading up our luggages in the boot, we bade farewell to the homestay owners and the hotel staffs. Their behavious have been excellent all throughout this short stint of ours.
We had time in our hand and that's why we went to Durpin Dara. It is a Military base with a monastery at the top of the hill.

We at the Durpin monastery
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Monosree with the prayer wheels at the Monastery
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View of Kalimpong town from the Durpin Monastery
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Next we went to the Golf Arena of the Durpin hill. It is maintained by the Army and as expected it was spic and span everywhere we looked. Army runs a canteen here where the civilians are also served. We had a nice cup of coffee here lazing by the golf field.

Durpin Military Golf Arena
Attachment 1832611

Just 200 meters from the Golf Arena, is the Morgan House. Famous as a haunted house (though fake), this has been turned into a hotel where the booking can be done through WBTDCL.

The famous Morgan House
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One family photograph with the Morgan House
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After all the visits to nearby places, it was time for us to leave the Himalayas. With a heart filled with joy and little sadness for leaving the wonderful place, we started descending the mountains. On the way down, we stopped again at the plant nursery which we visited on the way to Kalimpong. My brother also took part and bought some more plants from the nursery. The price was quite light on the pocket. Only problem was that my wife, Monosree, had to take all the succulents and pine trees bought from here in the foot well area of the front passenger seat, all the way till Kolkata.

We reached Siliguri around 7 pm and checked into our OYO room in the North Bengal Guest House. The dinner for the night was planned at my cousin's home in Siliguri. We haven't met for years and it was a wonderful get together after a long time.

A picture of the get together at my cousin's home
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We returned late to our hotel and called it a day.

Route taken for the day:
Attachment 1837891

Google Map Link here

Day 10 : Siliguri to Kolkata

We started from Siliguri around 6:30 am and followed the same route as Day 1.
In spite of a holiday-culminating melancholy mood, we were genuinely happy about how everything went during the entire journey. Beautiful places seen, precious moments spent together as a family, "Sherdil" performed fantastic as usual with the uber blue i20 joining in the brigade, my elder brother drove exceedingly well considering his first trip to the Himalayas and my nephew quoted the trip as - "The best trip, ever!"

We reached Kolkata around 9:30 pm. Both Sherdil and I are eagerly awaiting the next trip for more such moments of joy. Till then...

..Goodbye from us!
Attachment 1832614

A video capturing the essence and fun moments from the road trip. Please watch in HD

theMAG 16th January 2019 23:32

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
Mod's note: Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!

Samba 17th January 2019 02:01

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
Wow, yet another stunning travelogue from you! As-usual an engaging write up with a bundle of lively and beautiful pics.

Am sure, you do not have to sell this Eon, Hyundai will someday buy it back from you and keep it at their museum!
Wish you many more such fun filled Himalayan drives in the future and keep gifting us with your wonderful travelogues. :thumbs up

Rated 5*.

sdg4wheels 17th January 2019 11:58

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal

Originally Posted by Samba (Post 4529067)
Wow, yet another stunning travelogue from you! As-usual an engaging write up with a bundle of lively and beautiful pics.

Am sure, you do not have to sale this Eon, Hyundai will someday buy it back from you and keep it at their museum!
Wish you many more such fun filled Himalayan drives in the future and keep gifting us with your wonderful travelogues. :thumbs up

Rated 5*.

This is the same thing Soumyajit da I was telling you last day. You should never ever part ways with Sherdil. Awesomely narrated and the pictures taken were superb in every sense. Thinking about joining you soon!

BlackPearl 17th January 2019 13:02

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
Another fantastic travelogue and superb timing. I finished the whole of it while waiting at the airport for my flight to hometown! Rated 5 stars. You are an inspiration, proving time and again that you need the mindset and not the tool to be adventurous! Who could have thought that the little Hyundai can take you to such places. I am sure even Hyundai had not imagined that a city runabout would be utilised in such a way.

saket77 17th January 2019 15:42

Re: An Autumn Diary : Road trip to Sikkim and the hills of North Bengal
Yet another beautiful story of travel, yet another beautiful location, yet another beautiful set of pictures. Sikkim is almost your second home now :D

Very engaging writing and beautiful pictures to go with. I really like the zeal of your family members to travel to such locations without much qualm. Doubles the joy of such travels. Keep traveling and keep sharing.


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