5 Lesser-Known Getaways near Darjeeling
For someone who loves the old-world, slow-paced charm of Kolkata, the prospect of travelling to Darjeeling in North Bengal was rather exciting. While planning a trip to the hill station, as part of an assignment for SaffronStays, I imagined it to be a smaller, less populated and greener version of the capital city. Once there, however, its bustling streets didn’t charm me enough. I wouldn’t say I was entirely disappointed though. I warmly remember the day I walked into the highly recommended bakery, Glanery’s, only to find it empty, and took up a seat by the window. I sat there for a long time, unhurriedly sipping a cup of hot chocolate, paying divided attention to my book while watching the rain beat down on the tiled roofs on the streets. I also remember it for the few ambitious, bighearted people I met.
That said and done, however, if you’re looking to really soak in the sight and feel of North Bengal, I suggest you hire a car or board the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and spend a few days in its lesser-known and unspoilt neighbourhoods instead.
Once inhabited by the Lepcha community, Lepchajagat is a village that has now been taken over by the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation and marked as a reserve forest area. Surrounded by forests of oak, pine and rhododendrons, it’s the perfect place for long leisurely strolls or some quiet introspection in the woods. Birding enthusiasts can go for guided walks as well. There are a number of view points at short distances from each other, all of which provide a stunning view of Kanchenjunga.
Shadowed by a vast and beautiful Pine forest, Lamahatta lies on the way from Darjeeling to Kalimpong. Fluttering prayer flags that stretch across its length and a manicured garden, which was built and maintained by the Government, distinguish Lamahatta from other villages that lie en route. The inviting pine forest is home to a number of regional birds, a scenic lake and meditation spots for those looking for some solitude. And if you need some company, the locals here are always up for a friendly chat.
Characterised by its orange orchards and organic farms, Mineral Spring is a small village that lies in the outskirts of the small town of Lebong. Here, as you hike through the village, past chilli plants, small streams, and woods that suddenly clear to reveal stone-tiled pathways, stopping at the scattered homes of locals who happily chat about their lives, you’ll be tempted to slow down and soak it all in. A number of small home stays and the beautiful Tathagata Farm allow travellers the opportunity to do just that. You can sit back and enjoy some delicious organic meals here or learn about the local culture from the friendly villagers. If you want to step out, a gushing river and the dense evergreen forest are only short treks away.
Makaibari, the 677 hectare tea estate in Darjeeling, is known for producing the finest quality of organic tea. It has opened its gates to travellers who can accommodate themselves with the tea workers and learn about their way of life. While here, you can opt for tea-tasting sessions, try your hand at tea plucking, and keep yourself busy by learning about the production of tea in the factory. Sharing a delicious Nepalese meal and the local rice brew, Jaad, with the chatty locals is a great experience too.
With a bird’s-eye view of Teesta river, Mahanadi, Siliguri and the neighbouring towns on one side, and a dense and misty juniper forest on the other side of the road, Chimney is one place that is definitely going to be etched in my memory for a long time. Located at a higher altitude and comparatively colder than both Darjeeling and Kurseong, the village owes its name to a 23 feet tall abandoned chimney that dates back to the British era. If you’re looking for some place to escape to and spend simple, fuss-free days in, then Chimney, with charming houses exuding so much warmth, is just the place for you.
This story was orginally published in Travelyaari.
Note: All photographs, unless mentioned otherwise, have been captured by me.