The monsoons call for an escape from the waterlogged streets of Mumbai to a more serene location. While we have many options on that front, Ryan Vaz recommends you plan a trip to Kalimpong which will refresh your mind with its unspoiled calm and beauty
The hill stations of North-East India offered the then ruling class, the British, weather and atmosphere akin to home. Its green, sloping landscapes are carpeted in tea plantations, with wisps of fog adding a hint of mystery. It is a deeply religious region, dotted with monasteries and the sight of monks strolling through the streets is not unusual. It blends culture with commerce, keeping the spirit of its identity true while catering to the needs of tourists. If you’re embarking on a trip to Kalimpong, make sure you book your stay online or at least check out the hotel where you wish to stay. Finding a place through personal recommendation is your best bet.
Relax & unwind
Kalimpong is not a city filled with activity, but visiting a monastery is a must. It doesn’t matter how many times you visit as walking barefoot on uncannily clean tiles with unearthly chants filling the rooms, is a unique and humbling experience. If you aren’t on a packaged tour or with a guide, decide on the places you will be visiting before you arrive. Don’t let the enthusiastic (bordering on pushy) taxi drivers and hawkers influence your choices. There are many pristine picnic spots where you can relax and absorb the natural beauty. So, take your time and make sure you don’t get too caught up in the tourist trap of rushing from one location to the next.
Darjeeling, the most popular tourist destination in the area, is a place bustling with activity and it’s streets are packed with tourists. As long as that doesn’t dishearten you, be prepared to find great deals at the markets, where you will find items from the latest clothes at dirt cheap prices to ancient looking relics that make great souvenirs. Visit Tashi Takgye for items made from bone and masks, knives and other handmade items.
One of my most memorable trips was in October. We forgot to carry winter wear and were greeted by a very cold climate. The weather can be quite chilly all year round, so pack warm clothes no matter what season you’re travelling in. If you’d rather travel light, you can pick up trendy jackets and scarves on the way, at a fraction of what they are priced at in the cities.
Since I eat nearly anything, food was not a big issue for me but vegetarians might have some trouble finding food of their choice and liking. As a foodie, I went on a food tour, eating constantly and fearlessly. I tried the local cuisine and loved the non-vegetarian dishes, especially the Chinese and traditional cuisine. I fell in love with the momos, which are one of the most widely available dishes and taste completely different from what you may be used to in Mumbai. There is a large variety of fillings and I am sure that you will not be disappointed. They are available in a variety of places, from restaurants to people’s kitchens, but I recommend you try them at Gompus Hotel.
When in Kalimpong, don’t stick to just momos though. Try the sha-phale, a delicious Tibetan beef patty, or thukpa, a spicy Tibetan noodle soup that’s served with meat. The lollipop shaped chocolates are also quite unique. If you’re a cheese lover, don’t miss out on Kalimpong cheese. It’s an aged cheese that might leave your hands a bit smelly and it is very sharp.
Something I discovered and grew to love about Kalimpong was that many people in smaller towns actually sold food from their doorways. It felt like an informal setup to me but it seemed to work well. If you are the kind who loves hot and spicy pickles, you will love the pickles available here. The chillies found in the North-East can be compared to none other. The dallae and bamboo pickles are definitely something to carry back home. However, while there, it might be a good idea not to go overboard with the sauces unless you’d prefer spending most of your trip in the bathroom.
Sneak in adventure
Kalimpong is a must-visit if you’re the sort who needs a quick break from city life. Go for picnics, visit monasteries, indulge in some cheap but fashionable shopping or just sit silently beneath the tumbling river valleys. When I visited, I decided to break out of the mould and do a few things differently. And, I’d recommend you do the same. Don’t pass up on the chance to experience adventure sports such as river rafting, paragliding and rappelling. The hilly area also offers hikes, fishing and bird watching for nature lovers; which I am. So, I set off on a 10 day trek and climbed the Sandakphu mountain. It was a beautiful and unforgettable experience. The North-East offers some of the best trails, guides and amenities that I have ever walked through. Encased in the mountains, your mind will begin to feel as though it is a reflection of the surroundings — clear, crisp and sharp.
Travelling here was a great experience, one I would do again when offered the chance. I came looking for an escape and left with my own epiphany. Who knows, you might too.
l Take a Duronto train to Kolkata or a Darjeeling mail train to New Jalpaigiri. You can also catch a flight to both these cities.
l From there you can catch another train which will take you to Kalimpong.
l If you’re in a hurry, catch a plane to Bagdogra in West Bengal and then hire a taxi to Kalimpong.
Don’t forget to visit
l There are many monasteries in Kalimpong. But do visit the Hogmin Ngayab Zangdok Palri Phodang Tsenpo Gompa monastery
l Zong Dog monastery
l Pine view nursery
l Dello Hill
l Hanuman Mandir
l Science City