OF CLOUD, MIST AND MOMO
After the completion of every holiday that we (my husband and I) take in the Himalayas, we vow to go to a sea beach in our next. And yet invariably, helplessly we land up again in the Himalayas. The mountains call, at least to us, time and again. However this time’s short break had to be in the hills. We went to Siliguri to visit family. Being located so near to the hills, it was but obvious that we head off to the hills.
A short break, we divided our itinerary as:
Kalimpong- 2 days.
Lava- 1 day.
Day 1: (May 29) We hire a car and start for Kalimpong at around 8 in the morning. It had been raining for days and the morning of the journey too started under an overcast sky. But as we began climbing up the hills from Sevoke, the skies cleared up. We stopped at a small restaurant by the roadside to grab our breakfast- a plate of piping hot momos (dumplings). Nothing better to fill one's hunger in this part of the world. We resume our journey and reach Kalimpong early in the afternoon. We checked in at the Breathing Stone Hotel, located at Eight Mile, a kilometre before the Kalimpong town. The hotel rooms overlook the hills and the River Teesta snaking down the hills. We freshened up and ate a hearty lunch. One of the hallmarks of this hotel is their hospitality. They will feed you and treat you as though you were their private guest.
In the afternoon, we hired a taxi and set off for local sight seeing. It had started to drizzle. Kalimpong is a congested little town in want of urgent road repair. Drives are invariably bumpy and bone rattling. Our first stop was the Pineview Nursery. Nurseries normally house blossoms. This one was different in the sense that this was home to a wide variety of cacti. They came in various shapes ranging from drums to gourds. Like everything in the hills, this nursery too is neatly manicured and pretty well maintained. This too faces the hills and one gets to see the enchanting view of the hide and seek of mist and sunlight, a common phenomenon here.
From the nursery we headed to the golf course. Clothed in verdant green, that looked all the more green after the showers, this sprawled across a swathe of land. Interestingly, in spite of the undulating topography, this made for a picture-perfect golf course. Inaugurated in 1973, it was conceived by Maj Gen Dalbir Singh.
From the golf course we set off for the Durbin Monastery. This is a three-storied monastery. Like all other monasteries this one too had a similar architecture with the customary prayer wheels at the entrance. However the view from the top was beautiful, more so due to the cold breeze and the floating mist-like cloud.
From here we went to the Nature Interpretation Centre. This was more like a museum with huge life-size photos of animals and birds.
That evening we went for a walk around our hotel. We had walked just a few steps along the highway when we got to witness one of the most beautiful sunsets ever. There was a clearing along the trees and bushes that lined the road. The clearing overlooked the Teesta snaking down the Himalayas. The clouds had just about enveloped the mellow evening sun, when the sun beams struggled to shine through the cloud cover. It was such an ethereal sight that it seemed as though God had drawn the curtain of clouds open just a bit so heaven could bless the earth.
Around 8 that evening it started raining accompanied with strong gusts of wind and thunder showers. This too was my first experience of a thunder shower in a hill station, though I had experienced many a shower before in hills. Kalimpong became cold that night. Dinner, an unlimited buffet, was a sumptuous spread that night. The dining hall faced the twinkling lights of Kalimpong. Each glimmering light resembling a diya of deepavali.
Day 2: (May 30) Early in the morning, after a wholesome breakfast, we headed to Graham Homes, the famed, British era school of Kalimpong. Being a teacher, this was high on my priority list. But as luck would have it, when we reached the premises, we were told tourists weren't allowed to enter the school campus during school hours. Our driver informed that this was a new rule started only a week back. Hence he too was unaware about the same. All I got to see was the Principal's residence. An English-styled cottage, the quaint two-storied house came complete with a chimney. The Graham Homes campus is sprawling. Not only the school, it has separate quarters for staff as well.
From here we drove towards Deolo. The sun on this day shone gloriously. On the way we also halted at a Hanuman temple to offer our prayers. The Hanuman statue here was gigantic. However the premises is maintained nice and clean.
When we reached Deolo, it was teeming with tourists. Apart from the guest house, Deolo has nicely manicured gardens. Flowers in hues of violet, magenta and pink greeted us. Horses, with playful children as riders, trotted along the concrete pathway that cut across the bed of green grass. The boundary of the campus is lined with swaying pine trees. We seated ourselves in a gazebo built along the boundary. The place was quiet and offered us a good view of the hills.
From here we headed to the hotel. After lunch we retired for a siesta. Around 3 in the afternoon we headed to the local market. It was again crowded with tourists, school students and locals. I can never have enough of momo. So again, for the umpteenth time, I ate momos. Rather I devoured them. Its heavenly taste lingered in my mouth till the evening.
Day 3: (May 31) We started for Lava in the morning. We drove through the tiny but picturesque village of Algarah. The Algarah Road is a birder's paradise' a little watchful and one would be lucky to spot many a specie. Lava is a tiny, congested hill town. Buildings jostle for space in the Lava market area. It was in this market that our hotel was located. This was our second visit to the pace. Hence we had no plan to do the usual tourist sights. Instead we trekked along the path that leads to Rishyap. However if one is interested one can always visit the Neora Valley National Park. The clouds were looming dangerously, threatening to pour any moment. But we wouldn't be deterred. This path is a haven for bird watchers. We spotted verditer flycatcher, red-billed leothrix , laughing thrush and many other species. When the clouds had cleared a little bit we walked to the Lava Monastery. Though situated barely a few metres away the walk can be tiring due to the road being uphill. This monastery is a beautiful structure. It has a cafeteria in its campus and a curio shop. As one enters the premises of the monastery, one is greeted by banners in hues of indigo, crimson, yellow and green fluttering in the breeze. But this time we also got to see something magnificent here. Afar in the hills, the clouds had cleared and lo and behold, the Kanchenjunga was peeping through. Bengalis close this mountain close to heart. Soon word spread and tourists poured in droves. Parents lifted the little to show the majestic sight, others wallowed in the moment. Amidst the chirrup of birds and the animated chatter of tourists evening descended with its curtain of darkness. Just across the road was a tiny eatery. We drank hot cups of tea and ate a steaming hot plate of momo before returning to our hotel.
Day 4: (June 1) We left for Siliguri. We took the Gorubathan way and I would suggest other tourists to do the same. Not only are the tea estates picturesque, its the newly laid asphalt that makes for a lovely drive. As we descended, it gradually became warm that reminded us of the end of our short vacation. But the unforgettable taste of momo still lingers, as does the dream-like sight of floating mist and cloud.