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Old 14th January 2019, 20:59   #1
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Default Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!

Now that the summer is raging in its full fury and its a long six months to go before we finally enter the ‘celebratory’ phase yet again, I thought perhaps it will also be a great time to recollect the winter that has passed by.

The period from Durga Puja to mid-March, for us, also happens to be the favourite time of the year. And it also brings back memories of the Deity, of great lunches and dinners, of Christmas Plum cakes or the Koraishuti Kochuri Sundays. Of dew soaked vegetables that were picked up from the fields earlier in the morning. Of mustard fields ripening to yellow. Of fog. Of Pitchers hanging from Date Palm trees. Of layers of smoke from the ovens. And of evenings, when a creepy chill, hits the bone.

But now, with the fearsome heat raging, all of that seems to be washed grey. But recollecting these, especially the travels, creates a happy feel that is hard to replicate.

* * *


The Last Week of The Year



So, it was sometime in 2018. August.
August, when it was raining. August, when it was hot. And a deja vu decision was made.

Some places leave an overwhelming feeling. A ‘hangover’ of sorts. In 2017, when we had visited Pelling & Darjeeling, we were overwhelmed with the experience. And we decided to visit the exact places yet again in 2018.


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On the way to Pelling.

So, in the last week of December, we, in our Red Devil were breezing across the Durgapur Expressway, well before daybreak subconsciously fearing, what lies a few hours ahead - the dread that was the Farakka bridge.

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Darjeeling town.

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Glenarys.

Through mist and mustard fields, we rolled, stopped, sped and rollicked over to the breakfast joint: BP Morgram. The car for its share of fuel; us for the share of Aloo Paranthas. By evening, we had reached our shelter for the night - Marina's Motel glittering with Christmas lights, where the sizzlers and beverages for dinner has become next to routine.

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At the Sanga Choeling Monastery.

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A long, arduous and bone rattling drive followed the next day - after a long breakfast - broken by a 'hole in the wall momo shop' break. It was evening and dark when we finally checked in our rooms at The Elgin Mount Pandim, Pelling.

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A cup of tea and sandwiches later we felt that we were 'home' for three days, looking into the twinkling lights reflecting across the valley, which were at times overwhelmed by the lights burning in the room. Took a hot bath and got the child ready and headed for dinner.

And for the second time in the trip, felt that it was Christmas.

Christmas Eve.

The Gold and Silver boxes that adorned the trees and bouquet creating lights that were wrapped around them created a festive mood. Warm glowing lights. Candle lit dinner. And the restaurant was buzzing with diners and cutleries: that hit the plate after slicing through a piece of roasted chicken or the grilled fish. Glasses of wine were served too. After a long dinner, when the restaurant was almost empty, we returned to our rooms.

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Sanga Choeling Monastery

The next morning reminded me of Santa Claus. Of School Days. Kindergarten and a few years past those days. Of Christmas gifts. Innocence. I wonder why? But really dont have an answer and dont spend time thinking over it.

We drove to the Sanga Choeling monastery and for my limited driving skills in my modest car the road presented a 'steep' challenge, which I somehow managed to negotiate. Next, we went to the Dentam Cheese factory and returned in the evening with cheese balls.

That evening is slightly subdued - the candle lights have disappeared from the table. But the food remains as good as ever.

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View of the valley from hotel room at Pelling

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Lunch break

I sleep very well in the hills. And the fact that there is nothing to disturb you apart from the birds in the morning is highly desirable. Mornings, usually the kid and the lady of the house are sleeping and I brew a cup of coffee for me and drawing the curtains aside, that lets in slices in sunshine, look deep into the valley sipping coffee. Light travel and relaxation that’s the purpose of the trip, which we precisely do. During the day we drive towards a few waterfalls and while returning visit the Pemayangtse Monastery. Lunch is Chowmein and Chili Chicken.

Pelling is a small hill busty, with the main thoroughfare lined with hotels, stacked and packed like sardines – resembling unplanned, spiral growth.


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On the way to Dentam

The next day we reached Darjeeling with a break at another 'hole in the wall maggi shop'. The weather, that was cloudy for the past three days, worsened as we reached Darjeeling - thick mist restricted visibility. At night we went to Glenarys for dinner and slept like logs again till late - almost as breakfast time started to get over.

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Misty Darj - just before the snowfall

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Village hut on the way to Morgram

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A chandelier at the Elgin Darjeeling

The day was spent shopping. Nathmulls. Keventers. All along again cloudy. Then we went on a visit to Tiger Hill in the evening. Heck, who cares its evening!

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Darjeeling town - we were returning home

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Around 6ish in the evening we walked to the mall - when suddenly it felt that the same woolens which were sufficient cover till the last day were inadequate. Cloud, mist and wind all around - the cold was numbing and a wave of darkness descended.

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At Keventers - quality has slided down the years. But still worth a visit

And as we stood on the mall, feeling numb, up from the sky fell something soft and powdery. Initially it looked like rain in slow motion. But then we realized it wasn't rain - it was snow. What a lovely moment to be in!

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That night's dinner. Plus the next - we dedicatedly spent at Glenarys. Music. The Cold. Good Food. Warm People.

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On the Pankhabari road

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Lunch at Khanna Hotel, Bagdogra

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Bengal's winter beauty

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Mango Orchards near Malda

Two days later, under a bright sun, with the Kanchenjunga range forming the backdrop of a busy cluster of red,blue, yellow, orange and purple roofs interspacing the conifers we drove back home.

Last edited by sayakc : 15th April 2019 at 11:20. Reason: Subject of thread changed
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Old 2nd April 2019, 21:19   #2
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The Second Weekend of January


The moon had risen high in the sky and through the recess of the Sonajhuri trees, extending much further its reflections shimmered and rippled over the slow-moving Kangsabati river. We were munching on hard, bony chicken pakodas, seated around a bonfire, when the wind that came far off the from river chilled us to the bone. A lantern hung from the bamboo gazebo, flickered wildly and somewhere far away, but visible through the forests, one could see a row of yellow lights of the huts.

We were at Doladanga, Purulia. Basking in the moonlight. Our faces glowing in the lights of the bonfire.

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Mustard fields beside the Kangabati river.

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Palm trees

A relaxed (late) start from Kolkata and a leisurely breakfast at Azad Hind Dhaba ensured that we were quite delayed. We were travelling in an Innova and the back seats were occupied by my friend and me, the kids were chit-chatting in the middle row and the ladies.

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Tea break

The route towards Doladanga is through Durgapur. Sometime later we stopped for a tea break. Till then we were dependent upon Google maps for navigation and watched how the roads became narrower with every mile. From four lane highways in the Durgapur Expressway, we were now cruising on single lane carriage ways in the rural heartlands bordering Purulia and Bankura. But the road conditions were excellent - highly commendable development as far as the road situation is concerned.

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The evening had started to descend with barely a few minutes of daylight remaining, but we still hadn't found the way to the Doladanga Backpackers Camp.

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And then the road vanished and we hit a huge mass of Palash trees. Going further we found a few huts here and there existed, but no one could tell us the way.

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Communicating with the villagers was a problem because even though the villagers were speaking in Bengali, the dialect was so different that we had to enquire a few times before understanding what they meant.

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But whatever it was, the sinking sun, empty roads and forests did create an exciting last mile journey. And it was around 5 that we finally managed to reach.

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Deep fried brinjals - served for breakfast. Piping hot!


The accommodation was in mud huts - basic would be an understatement. And as darkness fell, we asked the caretaker to lit a bonfire. A few chairs were arranged and then the stories continued late in the night - an experience not to be missed. We had a dinner of Roti and Chicken and by the time we went off to sleep it was late in the night - the kids having slept off much earlier.

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The next morning was nice and bright. And we went on a walk to the river side. Mustard fields had bloomed yellow, bees and butterflies had huddled across the flowers, ducks were swimming in the slow moving river.

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Breakfast in the bamboo gazebo

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The undulating plains.

Our short excursion was cut short by the call for breakfast. Under the bamboo gazebo, where we saw a kerosene lantern lit the previous night, we munched onto a breakfast spread of Deep fried brinjals, Puris, Aloo Subzi and loads of tea.

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Fairy land - Doladanga.

And then it was a long journey home.

Last edited by CrAzY dRiVeR : 15th April 2019 at 22:55. Reason: Thanks for sharing. Typo corrected.
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Old 2nd April 2019, 21:25   #3
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Baranti, Purulia


It seems Purulia remains the district that has proved to be most elusive for us.

Like, we have never been able to visit to Purulia in March to see the Palash and Simul trees flame red. Similarly, a visit to Murguma has never been successful despite having booked accommodations a couple of times. So, when we had booked our accommodation at Baranti, we were optimistic, yet skeptical because it too was in that ‘elusive’ list.

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Breakfast at Azad Hind

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Sunset over the Muradi Lake

We started around 7 in the morning and hit the Kona Expressway, then on towards Durgapur Expressway where the road ‘really’ opened. Heavy fog had limited visibility, so, the best was to practice caution: Drive Slow.

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Flowers blooming in the Palashbari resort.

This was a trip with my mom and aunt. After a filling breakfast at Azad Hind, we resumed the journey. Even though it was January, that day was particularly warm.

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Evening descending at Baranti

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We took the left from Chittaranjan Crossing and then on towards the State Highway towards Ajodhya Hills. Observed that the road condition had slightly deteriorated since my last visit. Google maps was fairly accurate and we took another left turn . At places, it was so narrow that it seemed to run through the courtyard of the houses. After a lot of navigation, we finally saw a few hillocks and the huge Muradi Lake.

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Lunch at Palashbari.

We had booked our accommodation at Palashbari and true to its name the resort was filled with Palash trees. After a quick lunch we went to the dam to watch the sunset behind the hill and that was a lovely thing!

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After night fell, a bonfire was lit. The beats of the ‘madol’ came from far. And we sat on the charpoy under an open sky, surrounded by the palash trees – drinking cups and cups of tea. My mother spent a few years of her childhood in Purulia and this visit brought those memories back to her. At night we had Roti, Chicken and Salad and called it an early night.

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The chilly evening at Baranti.

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Burning embers

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Bullock carts

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Village huts.

The next morning was very cold. But then we realized that we had forgotten to bring toothpaste. So, went to purchase it. Then, after having tea, all of us went for a short walk again to see the Baranti village – bullock carts, hand pumps for drawing water, little children running around barefoot, hay stacks, cattle being tended.

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Kids in the fields, early morning.

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Early morning excursion at Baranti.

We checked out around 10ish and went to visit the Panchet Dam – which my mom had visited during her school days. The ‘Garh’ of which she wasn’t aware, has been reconstructed now and we went for a short visit there too. It was teeming with tourists and resorts that have come up too.

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Jaggery making in progress.

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We also made a stop over at Asansol, to visit my sister’s in-laws.Return from Asansol took a quick three and a half hours door to door.But the sound of 'madol' still ringed in the ears.

Last edited by sayakc : 15th April 2019 at 11:41.
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Old 2nd April 2019, 21:37   #4
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A Little Craziness Preserves Sanity: Our Shillong Trip


We were seated at one of the small eateries overlooking the Noh-Kah-Li-Kai falls and sipping the hot Maggi. Thick clouds had gathered around the horizon and in the immediate outside, the sun was shining much like it shines after a rain, within the clouds. We were wondering, what a pleasant surprise Meghalaya proved to be, and how we should have spent more time.

This trip was the result of crazy planning. We were on a 3 day trip to Shillong, having to spend 4 days in transit. And since touring other parts of Meghalaya wasn’t a possibility, Shillong it was for us – for its cafés and rock music.

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On the road to Cherrapunjee.

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Towards Guwahati, Sal forests lining up the road.

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Dhaba break before Guwahati.

This detour towards Cherrapunjee, that I just described, was only an aberration. So much so, that you will see from the photos that hardly there are any photos that speak of the landscape and waterfalls – most of it is foods and flowers. At best, this trip would have been a recce, I had wondered before embarking on it.

But now, when I think and write about it – it was undoubtedly one of the best trips that we, as a family, had.

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Break at Nongpoh

We planned that while going towards Shillong, my wife she and kid will take a flight to Guwahati (wife had some challenges with her leaves), whereas the return will be by car.

The first day I (I was driving solo) reached Cooch Behar (happens to be my hometown) where I spent the night at home. My mom had cooked a dinner of Rice, Dal and ‘Boroli’ fish – a fish indigenous to the Torsa river. The next day I started from Cooch Behar around 8 ish. Google map showed two roads towards Guwahati – one way through South Assam and the other one was slightly north. I wasn’t aware of which one to take – and took the road which was in the immediate path – the Southern that passes through Dhubri.

The entire road was two-lane and whereas 80% of the road was good, another 20% was bad to very bad. Nevertheless, with a lunch break near Guwahati, I reached the ‘Eagle Nest Homestay’ at 3.30 PM. But this route was picturesque – tall Sal forests lining up the road, green fields at the place, railway lines passing just beside the road at many places – it was a very nice drive. In the evening, I went out for a stroll and by 6 I was back at the homestay.

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Trees in bloom, Shillong.

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Umiam Lake


The next morning, I woke up, took a bath, settled the bill and left for the airport. Kid and missus were coming!

Now, every motorhead whom I had interacted with, had lavished praise on the Guwahati – Shillong highway – and true to everyone’s word – what a lovely drive it is - smooth, curvy and clean. We had a refreshment break at a Dhaba in Nongpoh and within 3 hours (quick by my driving standards) was in Shillong, where we had booked our stay at Tripura Castle.

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A little history here. The Maharaja of Tripura had come to visit Shillong and liked the place so much that he purchased a piece of land and built his residence. Presently, a part of the residence forms the hotel that has three wings – A Heritage Wing, A forest wing and a Valley wing. We had selected the Forest Wing.

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We checked into our rooms and went out for a walk in the evening. Found that Dylan’s café (a supposedly well-rated café in Shillong) was along the road which they call the ‘Tripura Castle’ Road. The evening was very chilly and so we headed to the restaurant for dinner and cocktails. Tried something called the ‘Maharaja’s Special’ – don’t remember the exact name here – it was nice. The restaurant was very lively. It seemed to have a soul of its own. A tandoor section where they were making kebabs. An open-air section where people were playing pool. And we took a window seat overlooking a part of Shillong. Lights from the houses – so very beautiful. And the behavior of the staff, professional, yet having a personal touch. We spent around three and a half hours at the restaurant. There are certain things which you can hit off almost instantaneously – this restaurant was one was spot – we knew we had found the place to be.

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Momos at Mawkdok

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The next day, after breakfast we went to Cherrapunjee, visiting the Mawkdok view point and the Noh-Kah-Li-Kai falls – the colour of its pool is a ‘seen to be believed’ blue. Thought someday must be there at the pool. When we returned, it was 7 in the evening – Shillong has its share of terrific traffic jams.

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Noh Kah Li Kai Falls.

The next evening, again, the same place at the same restaurant and cocktails and sizzlers. Lip smacking food.

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Kebabs barbecued in Police Bazaar.

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Last edited by CrAzY dRiVeR : 15th April 2019 at 23:00. Reason: Thanks for sharing. Typo corrected. indegenous -> indigenous
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Old 3rd April 2019, 22:53   #5
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The next day was the wife’s birthday and I some plans to be executed. We planned to go light on travel –a visit to the Shillong peak, Elephant falls and the like. The afternoon, we spent in the Police Bazaar for lunch and shopping where we purchased some bamboo and cane stuff for the folks back home.

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Coffee at Police Bazaar

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Chicken Steak.

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After reaching the hotel, we packed all the belongings and it was around 8 we were headed for dinner. There, we had a quiet birthday celebration – again, with the personal touch. I was elated with the arrangements and the missus was clearly surprised. The next morning, the hotel gave us some packed sandwiches and fruits for breakfast and it was a long drive towards our home in Cooch Behar, where we spent the night. This time, I did take the correct road and it was four lane all the way through. And then the next day we reached Kolkata around 10 in the night.

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On the way to Cherrapunjee.

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Rhododendrons in bloom.

Somehow, Shillong took a piece of our heart away. Felt, it was better than Darj – sans the tea and the Kanchenjunga. What remains next is a proper Meghalaya holiday.

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Maggi break near Noh Kah Li Kai.

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Viewpoint.

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Colours.

Last edited by sayakc : 15th April 2019 at 18:38.
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Old 15th April 2019, 22:44   #6
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Moving thread from Assembly Line to Travelogues forum. Awesome food photos. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 15th April 2019, 23:33   #7
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Let me be the first one (hopefully) to congratulate you on a beautiful travelogue and thank you for sharing it with us. The pictures are wonderful to say the least and writing to match. I went through it at one go and it brought back lovely memories of our Meghalaya and Darjeeling trip a few months back. Rated 5 stars!

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Old 16th April 2019, 17:42   #8
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Wow. Awesome travelogue. nice pictures.
You were at Doladanga in backpackers camp?
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Old 16th April 2019, 19:29   #9
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Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!-53423722_2846292392109302_1316505964119064576_n.jpg

If the above pic, pulls the right string in your heart - you are a Bong!

What a winter you had! You were definitely on a roll. What people dream to do, you just did it! So many back to back road trips!
The trip report on Meghalaya was the icing on the cake.
Awesome pics and lovely narration. Rated 5*

Last month i managed to enjoy the clear Kanchanjungha from Tiger hill to Palashified Purulia!

Kanchanjungha from Tiger Hill

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Purulia red with Palash (Ayodhya hills)

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I just love the diversity Bengal offers.
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Old 16th April 2019, 20:03   #10
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Default Re: Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!

Stunning photographs
Let me guess, you write & click for a travel magazine or something. If not, you should.
Rural & off beat destinations are always a fascination & challenge together. On one hand, there's the peace, calm, quiet & the satisfaction of having seen something new & relatively unexplored. On the other, there's the danger of getting lost in the middle of nowhere (although all those who wander are not lost...eh?).
Congrats & gratitude for sharing a wonderful travelogue.
Did I mention stunning pics?
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Old 17th April 2019, 09:57   #11
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Default Re: Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!

Great report Sayak. Was waiting for this one. Like Samba said, you were on a roll this winter. How was the solo experience till Guwahati ?

Don't stop traveling & keep writing such logs.

Cheers,

Pawan
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Old 18th April 2019, 17:04   #12
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Default Re: Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!

Thank you BlackPearl.
As we had discussed on your Meghalaya thread, we took the Malda Bypass this time and I found that the it is 90% completed. This time instead of taking the Botolbari - Dhantola (which I find too stressful), we took the gravel laid stretch of Dalkhola bypass. The distance (when compared to Botolbari route) is more by 8-10 kms, but overall felt it is worth recommending in the coming few days.

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I went through it at one go and it brought back lovely memories of our Meghalaya and Darjeeling trip a few months back.
Yes, Souvik (found out your name from your Kumaon travelogue )- we stayed at the Doladanga Backpackers Camp. My review below - in short not acceptable. Take your own tent and camp. Much better.

https://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Rev...st_Bengal.html

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Wow. Awesome travelogue. nice pictures.
You were at Doladanga in backpackers camp?
Thank you Samba. Despite its traffic jams, pollution and crowded streets, Darj is close to the heart. And, I have never managed to see the "Palashified" Purulia, which I want to visit, may be next year.

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If the above pic, pulls the right string in your heart - you are a Bong!

Thanks for the nice words superbad. Glad that you have liked. The writing isn't really up to the mark and I guess I need to work on it.

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Stunning photographs
Rural & off beat destinations are always a fascination & challenge together. On one hand, there's the peace, calm, quiet & the satisfaction of having seen something new & relatively unexplored.

Thanks Pawan - your travels always are inspirational for me (and I know I have said that earlier too )
There..you caught me on the "Solo Drive" part. The solo drive was boring, but since I keep going to Cooch Behar (my hometown) 1-2 times in a year solo, it is something well rehearsed.

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Great report Sayak. Was waiting for this one. Like Samba said, you were on a roll this winter. How was the solo experience till Guwahati ?

Don't stop traveling & keep writing such logs.

Cheers,

Pawan
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Old 18th April 2019, 17:36   #13
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Default Re: Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!

Sayak,

I was waiting with bated breath for this travelogue to come up ever since you discussed your plans for travelling to Meghalaya with me. Charming narration punctuated with top notch photographs makes it such a wonderful read.

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Somehow, Shillong took a piece of our heart away. Felt, it was better than Darj – sans the tea and the Kanchenjunga. What remains next is a proper Meghalaya holiday.
Cant agree more to this statement. Meghalaya is mesmerizing. Would love to go back again and again. Rated a well deserved 5 stars. Cheers.

Last edited by Safedriver76 : 18th April 2019 at 17:40.
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Old 18th April 2019, 17:58   #14
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Default Re: Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!

Great write-up. Savoring your story whetted up my appetite and I really must plan a visit to Glenary's.

It was lovely seeing the vibrant pictures and it was almost like I was transported there.

Do keep posting such beautiful stories.

Cheers.
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Old 18th April 2019, 22:47   #15
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Default Re: Winter wanderings - Rural Bengal & Meghalaya!

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Attachment 1865441
Darjeeling town.

Attachment 1865446
Glenarys.[/center]
.
Stunning photographs and amazingly beautiful place. I just returned from Darjeeling last month and still haven't got over from the hangover of the beauty. Glenary's and Kunga still lingers....
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