A Love Affair with Kalimpong

After spending a relaxed night at the Our Guest Homestay in Lingtam, it is time to say goodbye to the rest of the group. We have our breakfast as it continues raining, to make full use of the few more hours of perfect monsoon weather in Sikkim. We know that it will be hot and humid once we leave the greenery of Lingtam behind. I am supposed to be travelling alone hereafter to Kalimpong and other adjacent parts of West Bengal.

Welcome to Kalimpong at the diversion at Melli.

My supposed assignment with a tea estate has been called off and therefore, I have a week to go wherever I want!

Tom & Jerry Door spotted somewhere in Kalimpong!

Most of the members of the group that travelled around Sikkim with Our Guest Travels have their trains/flights from New Jalpaiguri / Bagdogra. The cars depart from Lingtam in the order of their train/flight departure timings. I leave in the last vehicle since my flight is booked for 1 week later.

It is a cultural delight to roam around the streets of Kalimpong and spot these hand painted designs.

I have given the 4 bottles of homemade wine (procured from Dzongu) to the driver Vijay asking him to keep the bag with one of his trustworthy contacts near the airport in Bagdogra. I told him I can pick them up when I get back to Bagdogra to catch my return flight. It is a well thought out decision and leaves me lighter by about 3 kilos for the rest of my backpacking sojourns.

Kalimpong has a very cosmopolitan vibe courtesy of the different communities that call it home.

Once we start descending from Lingtam to the main road, the air conditioner in the car has to be turned on to combat the pollution and traffic on the road. We have our brunch at Singtam at one Marwari restaurant. We feast on the usual comforts of chole bhature, aloo paranthas and have other refreshments and say our goodbyes to the group.

Kalimpong is home to some very good schools that were all established during the British era.

I spot a few shared taxis to Kalimpong in Singtam but the Our Guest team with me say that they will drop me at a diversion of Melli that is much closer to Kalimpong. Just after crossing Singtam, the route to Bagdogra/Gangtok bifurcates. We continue till Melli from where Kalimpong is only 12 kms away. I say my goodbyes to everyone and get down at the diversion in Melli.

Gaden Tharpa Choling Monastery, established in 1912 and one of the most beautiful monasteries of Kalimpong.

It is super hot as the sun is beating down on the road, there is no shade at the diversion point. It is around 1 pm and there is no sign of shared taxis to Kalimpong! I can see the Melli check-post from where I am and share my meagre sitting space with a hawker selling freshly cut pineapple and watermelon.

Kashi Nath & Sons, Kalimpong – A bookstore that stocks rare books on Kalimpong.

A wandering snack seller also arrives looking at me with hope but I am too pre-occupied with searching for any vehicle heading to Kalimpong to bother!

Walking on a foggy day in the premises of Dr. Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong.

An empty Maruti Van arrives and halts at the cut. The driver asks for 50 Rupees per seat. I think it is way too expensive for a shared taxi for only 12 kms but decide to wait for other passengers to fill up in the Van. I keep my backpack on the pavement itself and look around to see if I can try hitching a ride with any other vehicle heading to Kalimpong. There’s a ‘Welcome to Kalimpong’ gate just a few paces on the road and that makes me feel better in the intense heat.

Clicked from Misty View, where I stayed on my second visit to Kalimpong.

The Van is unable to gather the required number of passengers and decides to leave! A sumo comes and has only 1 vacant seat. I quickly sit in the empty seat and the driver hauls my backpack on top of the sumo. We start ascending on the steep and winding road to Kalimpong.

I notice that the road to Kalimpong is a bit different (similar to the Hill Cart road of Darjeeling originally built as a mule track). I assume the reason for the same is to provide traction to the tyres of the vehicles on the road.

Momo art in Haat Bazaar, Kalimpong!!

I am pleased when a cool breeze greets me on turns on the winding ascent to Kalimpong. We cross a few old looking churches on the way; the area names are denoted by 10th mile, 8th mile. The air is ripe with the lush greenery of the monsoon and the hillsides are dotted with a few nurseries too. Kalimpong and the nearby regions are known for flowers and the greenery.

Thats me, trying a Lepcha hat!

The shared taxi is nearing Kalimpong and I notice that it feels quite hot and humid when the sun is directly upon us; and nice and cool when we are in the shade. My iPhone battery is almost dead and I’m unsure whether the power bank holds any charge at all! We roll into Kalimpong and I am not certain where I want to get down.

The deadly Dalley Khursani chillies!! As harmless as they may look, they are really hot.

Anyhow, the shared taxi drops me at the main chowk of Kalimpong that is also the last stop where everyone else gets down too. I have no idea where and for how many days I will stay in Kalimpong. In my mind (courtesy of Anita Desai’s – The Inheritance of Loss) I had always thought of Kalimpong as a small town. The market looks sizeable though and is teeming with people, with roads leading in all four directions making me even more confused!

Street art in Kalimpong.

Luckily, my power bank is charged and I begin looking for secluded homestays in Kalimpong. I can spot sad looking hotels and cheap guest houses in the main market. Online travel portals come to the rescue and I am able to find 2-3 affordable homestays that I like. I’ve read much about Kalimpong and want to spend 3-4 days here and want to find a nice, open, airy and homely place to stay.

Different varieties of yak cheese on sale in Kalimpong.

Booking shows 400-500 Rupees for a single room at a local’s home near McFarlane Church and the location seems to be quite nice too. The homestay is around 1.5 kms away from where I am right now. I start walking in the direction of McFarlane Church with my reasonably heavy backpack! It is very humid and I am already sweating in the short distance that I’ve ascended.

At Lord Buddha Statue & Park at Deolo Hill in Kalimpong.

I can spot the beautiful McFarlane Church from afar and decide to keep my bag down for a bit, drink water and gather my breath. I have understood that getting to the homestay is going to be quite a challenge as the entire path is a steep ascent. There are shared taxis galore in Kalimpong but I am unaware of the exact location of the homestay and decide to keep it simple and walk.

Cute signboards outside houses.

I cross a few schools (Convent schools) on the way, bustling with students during the lunch break. They all seem to be old establishments and are housed in pretty buildings. I also spot a plush homestay with oodles of empty space near one of the schools but am certain that it will be quite expensive and don’t even bother to find out. I keep asking whoever I meet for directions and continue walking and reach the mentioned landmark of the homestay after around 40 minutes.

Football stadium with a view in Kalimpong!

The confusion begins after I reach the landmark! I am unable to find the exact place and call the lady of the homestay for directions. She explains the directions and I ask a few schoolboys to guide me. I eat a cream roll with the kids outside the school, it turns out to be okay-ish but does the job of making me feel like I’ve truly arrived in Kalimpong.

Kalimpong is well known for its high quality of education in the old schools.

All said and done, I am still unable to reach the homestay after the best part of an hour. It feels like I’m going around in circles and the backpack feels heavier by every passing minute.

Tibetan Language Preservation Committee information in Kalimpong.

Finally, the lady of the homestay comes to the rescue when she realises that I am lost and am totally unaware of my location. Funnily enough, it turns out I was only a 2 minute walk away from the homestay. I am relieved to step inside the house and sit on a chair, soaked in sweat.

At the Maharaja Tea Store; must buy from the fine collection that they have!

There is a small porch outside the home, surrounded with beautiful flowers. The house is fairly simple and I am pleased to see the room offered to me. It has a table and a chair, a set of windows on the side and a bed on the other side. From the window I can see misty clouds that remind me of my first tryst with Kalimpong – Anita Desai’s ‘The Inheritance of Loss’.

Social messages on the walls; spotted this when the market was closed on a Sunday.

I lie down and relax for a bit. Even though I am hungry, I decide to first take a bath, freshen up and only then head out. I am anyway too tired with the never ending walk to find the homestay! At the home, a lady and her boyfriend live alongwith the lady’s mom. The guy and the lady are helpful & knowledgeable and share recommendations for walks in Kalimpong.

Really liked this bag at one of the shops… Quite expensive though.

Before leaving from the homestay, I ask Binita (the lady) if it is possible for me to have dinner at home? They ask me what do I want to eat and I emphatically reply that I would love to eat whatever they make for themselves. I just ask for vegetarian food and tell them I would honestly prefer the local cuisine.

At the weekly Haat Bazaar in Kalimpong.

I step out of home with a small checklist of places to explore in Kalimpong. There are many churches to see in Kalimpong, many Tibetan monasteries, viewpoints, markets etc. For a small town, Kalimpong has a lot of history attached as it was an important trading centre before the border to Tibet was sealed.

Clicked at one of the monasteries in Kalimpong. Gorgeous door #DoorsofIndia

The sights in Kalimpong are spread over a large geographical area and it is a blessing to realise that shared taxis (Maruti Van’s) ply on almost all the routes. I take a walking shortcut to reach the main market in Kalimpong and get myself oriented with the town. It is already around 3 pm and I rush to the conveniently located 3C Bakery.

Appearing in the mist; the Katherine Graham Chapel near Dr. Graham’s Homes.

Shared Taxis in Kalimpong

All the shared taxis in Kalimpong leave from close to the market area & there are separate queues for different regions. The prices kept are quite high if you consider the per kilometre costs. The shared Vans fill 6-8 people for every trip and the fare per person is anywhere from 10 Rupees to 30 Rupees.

Vintage looking entrance to the beautiful Kalimpong Police Station.

It is easy to ask the local taxi guys about your destination and they direct you to the particular taxi lane and you can just hop in! These shared taxis start plying from early in the morning and run till late in the night.

A meal to remember – dinner served at the homestay in Kalimpong.

3C Bakery – Surely the most popular bakery in Kalimpong, it is prominently located in the main market. On display are super yummy looking cakes, bakes and puffs. It is run by ladies and they confirm that everything at 3C is freshly made. The prices are very reasonable and I have my fill of lunch by eating 2 pastries and 2 puffs!

I do not have any particular plan in mind and just roam around the market. There are many old shops to be seen, and the ones with unique Kalimpong paintings pique my curiosity. The markets in Kalimpong all seem to be connected and even the parallel streets can be accessed via steep stairs that connect the streets.

On the R C Mintri Street, I am surprised to come across Marwari surnames written on buildings. A chance conversation with a local reveals that almost all the businesses in Kalimpong are owned by people from Haryana & Rajasthan, and a few businesses are also run by Biharis and Bengalis.

At the Durpin Dara Monastery / Zang Dhok Palri Monastery.

Kalimpong is a big market to shop for locals in 50 odd kilometre area and the lucrative prospect of having a sizeable customer base meant people from across India migrated to Kalimpong for business.

At the 3C Bakery.

Kalimpong is a hub for the Tibetans, hill people from the nearby areas, and other tribal communities living in this region of West Bengal. It has a very cosmopolitan feel, especially on the weekly haat market day! Historically, Kalimpong lie on the old trade route that passed via Jelep La to Tibet.

McFarlane Church, notice the towers on the ground that fell in an earthquake.

In the past, Kalimpong was also notorious at one point of time as an intelligence hub for India/Nepal and the Britishers. Even the RAW headquarters (Research & Analysis Wing) was headquartered in Kalimpong. Kalimpong has also served as the hub for the Gorkhaland movement.

Graffiti on the streets near the football stadium in Kalimpong.

I am pleased to wander around the streets of Kalimpong and get a basic idea of how to go about exploring the sights the next day. I come across 1-2 Churches, kids playing cricket with ample greenery around. I remember that the impressive looking McFarlane Church was on my way to the homestay and decide to see it. It is around 5 pm and I am pleased with how the day has panned out.

Dr. Graham’s Homes in Kalimpong.

McFarlane Church has an imposing structure and a signboard outside the building informs me that the church was originally built in 1904 by Robert McFarlane and was damaged in an earthquake. The towers of the church that were damaged in the earthquake are lying in the open grounds outside the Church doors.

Notice the first floor which serves as a residence.

There is a young guy at the Church who opens the Church doors for me. It is beautiful from the inside too. I sit on the outside bench admiring the beauty. It is nice and peaceful and I spend some time gazing at the sky. After an hour or so when it is about to get dark at 6 pm, I start the long walk to my homestay. I reach at about 7 pm and am served an early dinner at 730 pm.

A Haryana shop owner settled in Kalimpong shows the collection of Lepcha jackets.

The homestay family is of Nepali descent and dinner comprises of unique dishes and is very tasty. Fresh cucumber, rice, dall, local leaves like spinach type vegetable and a variety of home made pickles. I sit with the family and mom chats with me while I enjoy every bite of the delicacies.

Misty and foggy walking path in the jungle that I took to reach Dr. Graham’s Homes.

She gives me a cup of black tea after the meal, it is a tasty brew and seems to aid in quick digestion. I thank her for the meal and tell her that the food is better than any restaurant in Kalimpong could serve. She is very happy to hear that!

Gorgeous hand made bags in Kalimpong.

I am exhausted and go straight to my room. I lie down on the bed and the atmosphere feels a little humid and stuffy. I open one of the windows and feel nice that a gentle breeze is blowing. The bed is super comfortable with a soft blanket and I sleep like a baby at around 930 pm.

Yummy noodles in Kalimpong. They turned out to be really nice.

I wake up really early next morning, at around 630 am. The weather is totally foggy and misty as I begin to walk. I’m in Kalimpong market and catch a shared van to Durpin Dara. Durpin Dara is one of the oldest and biggest monasteries in and around Kalimpong.

At Renu Pradhan’s famous pickle shop in the main market of Kalimpong.

Durpin Dara is located approximately 4 kilometres from the main market and the shared taxi drops me near the army area from where the monastery is only a short walk away.

Yeast and all the required stuff for Tongba (also called chi). I bought bamboo straws from her.

Durpin Dara Monastery / Zang Dhok Palri Monastery

Hogmin Ngayab Zangdok Palri Phodang Tsenpo is the name of the monastery and it is affiliated to the Nyingma School of Buddhism. I’m standing outside the imposing and grand entrance of the monastery complex at around 830 am.

It is a fabulous start to the day while I gaze at the brightly coloured doors and exteriors. There are a number of chortens in the open space and elderly pilgrims are circumambulating around them with rosaries in their fingers.

Bamboo shoots for sale in the Haat Bazaar, Kalimpong.

I walk around and love exploring the monastery. It is a little cold today since the sun has totally been enveloped by clouds. I come across a small stall outside the monastery on my way back and have a cup of black tea with some biscuits.

Inside McFarlane Church.

Morgan House in Kalimpong

Morgan House in Kalimpong is run by the tourism department (West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Limited) and makes for a charming accommodation option. It is an old colonial building from British times and was built by George Morgan in the year 1930.

A tangy fruit by the name of Kusum.

In the green exteriors of Morgan House, there is an incredible array of flowers growing in almost every colour! The gorgeous scene is even more amplified due to the cloudy weather. The entire building is covered with greenery. Two stone chimneys are protruding on the top of Morgan House, in classic English Cottage style.

Potala Incense is an excellent buy in Kalimpong. The locals said it is made in Kalimpong itself.

I am able to see a few parts of the interiors but the staff isn’t so helpful and doesn’t show me the rooms even if they have no guests right now. The rooms are priced reasonably at around 2000-2500 Rupees per night. Morgan House is truly a place steeped in nature; and the setting in the gardens in immaculate. If you don’t care about the service, I would highly recommend Morgan House to nature and heritage lovers.

Many references to Lhasa and Tibet can be seen in the market of Kalimpong due to the strong Tibetan connection.

All the walking around has made me very hungry. It is around 1130 am and I am in no mood to go back to Kalimpong market just for the food. I walk out of a side gate from Morgan House and walk on the main lane in the hope of finding an eatery. It is an army area and my joy knows no bounds when I luckily come across a South Indian Army Canteen, overlooking a golf course!

Kalimpong and the sights in a graffiti!

The eatery has an enviable alfresco setting (open air) and is open to visitors. Sunshine is making its way through the fog and the lush greenery of the golf course is a view to savour as I ask for a coffee first.

Portrait in Kalimpong, really like the Nepali hat made from the Dhaka cloth.

The menu has dosa and uthappam apart from idlis and is being made by Army Men from Karnataka/Tamil Nadu (can’t remember). I realise that I should make full use of this godsent opportunity and have a dosa first and then the uthappam. The dosa, uthappam, chutney and sambhar are authentic and delicious. The bill is a measly 140 odd Rupees as I ask for another coffee.

Varieties of banana for sale in Kalimpong Bazaar.

I thank the army guys at the canteen and take my leave after a final look at the golf course! It is a lovely area to walk around and I continue walking back to where I came from, looking for a ride back to Kalimpong.

A priceless smile.

Tall pine trees line both sides of the road and the thin veil of mist results in a fine drizzle. I instantly try looking for a tea stall that are ubiquitous in this part of the world. A steaming cup of black tea completes a fabulous morning.

I get back to the main road and get a shared Van ride back to Kalimpong. The Van guy informs me I would have got a ride at the turn where I was dropped in the Army area as the taxi routes are defined. I keep this piece of information in mind for other parts of Kalimpong.

It is around 12 noon and since I’ve eaten well, I decide to continue my explorations and catch a shared taxi to Dr. Graham’s Homes. The same shared taxi also goes to Deolo area. I am accompanied by school kids and fashionably dressed women in the shared Van. The driver asks me to get down at one turn and shows me a walking path from where I will reach Dr. Graham’s Homes.

I thank him and spot a local close to the walking trail and ask him about the path in detail. All I can see ahead is the trail becoming narrower and going through towering trees. I like the sight of it but want to reconfirm that it indeed leads to Dr. Graham’s Homes! A few school kids join me and they scamper off to leave me in solitude.

I come across a few old structures on the walking trail; it is nice and quiet and is a welcome silent walk in the jungle for me.

The fog and mist is back in the dense jungle that I am in and when I come across a faintly visible tower of a Church, I shake my head in surprise! At first, it appears eerie to see this imposing Church tower which feels dilapidated and not in use. Thats one good thing about not researching before travelling!

Selling the real Kalimpong cheese.

Katherine Graham Memorial Church

The Katherine Graham Memorial Church appeared out of the blue and in the misty surroundings felt unreal! It is a Scottish style chapel built in 1925 in memory of Dr. Graham’s wife, Katherine.

Saw this at the Haat Bazaar, not sure if these products are locally made though.

A few kids walking around make the proceedings less eerie and I walk to see that the Church is closed. Colourful flowers grow in the vicinity of the Katherine Graham Memorial Church and provide a wonderful frame.

Kalimpong Painting for sale at one of the craft shops in the market, they work with an NGO.

I wait for a while to see if the mist might part to make it a memorable frame and instead of clearing, the mist comes back and the fog obscures the church in no time. It makes the greenery look even more denser. I take this as a cue to leave from there and continue to Dr. Graham’s homes since it is already past 3 pm.

Yeast for sale used for making local liquor and Tongba.

I come across a forlorn looking tree with a bell and pretty flowers. Dr. Graham’s Homes is located only a short walk away and I come across a cluster of old buildings. It is a school founded by missionaries and was built in the year 1900.

Sweet karela or gourd of a different variety in Kalimpong.

The buildings look wonderful and I have a glimpse of the British history of Kalimpong. The fog finally clears and a large streak of sunlight peers through the tall trees and falls on the road. I click a memorable frame of school children walking by with the sunlight filtering from the trees.

A memorable frame – Selling Happiness.

After exploring the buildings of Dr. Graham’s Homes from outside, I am lucky to get a ride on a two wheeler. The shared taxi stop is a bit far away from here and I am pleased to cover some distance quickly. I get down when I see a wall with pretty flowers; adjacent to an old cemetery. I spend some time there and come walking to the main road from where a shared taxi to Kalimpong comes in no time.

Local paneer for sale.

My wanderings for the day are still not finished and I instinctively get down at the Tibetan Monastery area near Bhutia Busty. I am at a distance of 2-3 kms from Kalimpong and the Gaden Tharpa Choling Monastery is located on an uphill climb that begins from Sakya Monastery.

Gorgeous looking brooms.

I realise I have had only one meal since morning and take a moment to thank the army canteen (in my mind) once again for a heavy brunch!

At the entrance of the super pretty Kalimpong Art Café.

Just before reaching the Gaden Tharpa Choling Monastery, I come across a very pretty door – with Tom & Jerry on the side. The monastery itself is a huge and imposing building and the interiors are also quite pretty. It is about 430 pm and since I haven’t really gone around Kalimpong market, I decide to start my walk back. It has already been a very long day and I’m thinking of maybe heading to Kurseong or Darjeeling next.

Kids would love to walk across these doors in Kalimpong.

Kalimpong Market is colourful and full of delightful stuff. There are Tibetan shops selling handicrafts, Thangkas, incense sticks, prayer flags, tsampa(barley flour), metal crafts, prayer bowls, diya lighting lamps and lots of other things I’m putting pictures of!

The graffiti and street art in Kalimpong is well thought out and portrays social messages.

I also spot a few craft shops with original hand painted thangkas. The designs look fantastic and as much as I think about buying stuff (even with no space in my backpack), I end up buying a few Kalimpong paintings.

Taj Bakery in the main market – another one of Kalimpong’s favourites.

They are painted on black cloth and look vibrant with very vivid expressions on the subjects. Some of them are portraits while most of the paintings have a classic Tibetan scenery with snow peaks and yaks; prayer ceremonies, ladies walking or working in the fields – all with a snow mountain background.

Lark’s Provisions – The original store for buying Kalimpong Cheese and Lollypops.

I eat sel roti (Nepali dish) served with mix pickle at one Renu Pradhan’s shop in the main market for only 10 Rupees. It turns out to be so tasty that I decide to eat 2 more helpings of the sel roti with the pickle. I thank Renu Ji and over a conversation she tells me she’s proud to be of Nepali origin and asks me to check the shop’s variety of pickles!

Kalimpong cheese tastes like cheddar and has a nice, refined flavour.

I am on RC Mintri Street and the lane is full of pretty doors; I also come across a few Rajasthani merchants talking in marwari language. They are sitting and chatting outside their mansions on the road itself and one of them tells me he’s from Churu (Shekhawati) and invites me for chai. I thank them for their graciousness but take their leave since I have to walk around the other streets too.

Kalimpong on a misty morning; as seen from the top of McFarlane church.

I wander around and get to SDB Giri Road which has a number of new age cafés and youngsters can be seen occupying the seats. Kalimpong Bazaar seems to cater mostly for the locals who come from far and wide to both buy/sell. There are shops on the lower floor while the upper floor is used as a residence.

Even the car washing station in Kalimpong has a painted graffiti.

The houses have intricate exteriors and look pretty even though they are quite old. A few tailor shops are stitching bags with Tibetan flags and symbols. Some shops specialise in Thangkas, I have a look and most seem like machine made to me. One of the shops is named Lhasa Trading Centre and sells Tibetan clothes priced per metre, and utensils and religious offerings. Another shop is selling Tibetan jackets for women and dresses too in brocade style cloth.

On a rainy day.

Dusk is fast approaching and I can spot little eateries and bars tucked in corners selling the Sikkimise beer Hit. After it becomes dark, I spot Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant and China Garden Restaurant. I had asked my homestay owner Binita for a place to eat, and she had recommended China Garden. I am hungry and exhausted from the explorations of my nearly 12 hour day. I have a really early dinner of a curry dish which turns out to be quite average.

Entry of the Pine View Nursery.

Kalimpong Cheese & Kalimpong Lollypop

I begin my walk back to the homestay and come across Lark’s Provision in Kalimpong which is the only place to buy authentic Kalimpong Cheese and lollypops. The cheese tastes like cheddar, and is especially good so I end up buying a kilo.

Eateries in Kalimpong have a nice mix of Tibetan and Nepali dishes.

Lark’s Provisions is the only real place to buy fine quality Kalimpong cheese. There is another shop selling cheese in the same lane as Lark’s Provisions but the quality doesn’t taste the same. On my first time the cheese that I bought from Lark’s Provisions was top class and cost around 500 Rs. per kilo. The Swiss Missionaries have taught Kalimpong locals the art of cheese making and it has remained popular ever since and even now only a few locals are engaged in the same.

Must have been built a long time ago.

On the second time around though, the cheese had not aged well and tasted very different. The price had also increased to 600 Rs. per kilo and I am sad to write that almost half a kilo of the cheese slab had to be thrown away because the taste did not improve even after 2 months. Funnily enough the 250 grams of cheese that I bought for immediate consumption tasted well when put on the hup seng crackers.

Interiors of Kalimpong Art Café.

I also come across an old looking bookstore Kashi Nath and Sons with an enviable collection of vintage books and old books about Kalimpong. It is already dark and I am pleased to get a ride in a shared van that spares me the trouble of the long uphill climb.

I was really impressed by the initiatives taken by the cafés in Kalimpong to promote local artists.

At the homestay, I sit and chat with Binita’s mom and she makes black tea for me. I tell her all about my explorations and she listens with rapt attention. I thank her for the wonderful stay and go to my room to sleep.

Greenery in cafés with these cute plants always makes me go wow!

McFarlane Church

Next morning, I take the leave of the homestay family and walk to McFarlane Church. The caretaker is keen to show me around and takes me to the top after climbing the old wooden stairs. I can see all around Kalimpong from the top, the spires of the church are also visible. There’s a huge old bell with inscriptions from England.

The top spire of McFarlane Church in Kalimpong.

I walk to the syndicate or shared taxi stand in Kalimpong Bazaar and get a seat for Darjeeling on the next shared Sumo that leaves from the main bazaar. I pay 180 Rupees for the front seat. The shared taxi from Kalimpong to Darjeeling halts at Lopchu which is well known for Lopchu tea estate.

These ladies had come from one of the nearby towns and were so happy and chirpy!

Revisiting Kalimpong

On a second visit to Kalimpong one year later, I am accompanied with two friends and we have first explored a remote trek in Sikkim with Our Guest Travels and then relax in the utopia of Dzongu for 3 days. After that we take shared taxis and arrive in Kalimpong on a balmy afternoon.

Inside the Gaden Tharpa Choling Monastery.

After the initial confusion and trouble with a pre-booked hotel in Kalimpong, my friends take matters in their own hands and book a place called Misty View. It is perfectly located in the outskirts of Kalimpong near Bhutan House and is accessible by shared taxi.

We reach Misty View and are super happy with the rooms and cottages offered to us, it is run by youngsters hailing from Kolkata. The views from the rooms are surreal and we take the rooms that also come with a verandah and a gorgeous sit out.

Morgan House, Kalimpong.

After relaxing for an hour or so, I decide to head out to Kalimpong and get some cheese from Lark’s Provisions and pastries from 3C Bakery. 3C Bakery – muffins, breads, puffs, very reasonable prices 20-30-40 Rupees. It is a happy feeling for me to return to the streets of Kalimpong that I have loved exploring on previous visits and to be aware of the shared taxis so that I don’t always have to walk.

Roaming around in the gardens at Morgan House, Kalimpong.

Shopping in Kalimpong

Maharaja Tea Store – It is located near the shared taxi stand locally known as Syndicate. Maharaja Tea Store stocks an enviable variety of teas and is run by a Rajasthani owner. They have Darjeeling Tea, black teas, green teas and a great mix of tea leaves used for milk tea. Upon asking, the owner recommends us a 500 Rupees per kilo mix of Orthodox Tea Leaves and CTC, that she uses herself. We buy a kilo each and the results at home are spectacular, it is a great mix and has a nice and unique natural flavour. It is well worth the high price because the quantity required is less than the usual tea leaves that we use.

Beware : Spotted this signboard outside the golf course.

Kalimpong Haat Bazaar

Kalimpong Weekly Market Haat Bazaar – Every week on Wednesday and Saturday, the streets of Kalimpong host a proper rural market with an authentic village feel. On offer is dried yak cheese of many varieties, fresh vegetables and fruits (many of which might appear exotic to someone from the plains of India). Variety of greens, squash called iskus, a tangy fruit by the name of kusum, and locally grown avocados too. Different kinds of bananas, fiddlehead fern or ningro, among many other things as well.

Central School for Tibetans in Kalimpong.

There is a separate side lane occupied by old ladies selling fresh bamboo shoots that look yellow in colour. Brown pears of very good quality are available, I buy some and can say they are tasty too. Harmless looking round Dalle Khursani chillies, they belie their looks and are very spicy.

Misty environs at Dr. Graham’s Homes.

There is a separate sub-market for pickles, fish, meat etc. There are shops selling yeast and one shop also sells containers used for drinking Tongba. The containers are in different sizes and are very artistic. Straws made from bamboo are also on sale for 15 Rupees each, the cheap looking straws come for as little as 5 Rupees.

Just as the sunlight peered through the trees.

The yeast shops are located close to the shops selling these Tongba Containers and bamboo straws. The yeast is used by the local women to make the delicious local liquor, Tongba (millet beer). The old woman tells me that her sister’s shop is located in Majnu ka Tila in Delhi and if I go there I should easily be able to locate her as she looks exactly like her! An old lady is selling Timbur – used as a herb for making alcohol and a different looking tomato, called tomarillo.

Entrance of the Gaden Tharpa Choling Monastery.

In the weekly market, we come across a momo seller that has a huge congregation of people clamouring to get the momos. The only variety he sells are veg steamed momos and even though they are making momos at a breakneck speed, there is a waiting time. The momos are sold out even before they are ready! I hear a few local ladies speaking in marwari and immediately ask them if they are from Rajasthan and settled in Kalimpong. They nod in affirmation and confirm that these are the best momos in Kalimpong, thats the clincher!

Crookety House in Kalimpong has a long and illustrious history.

I am able to finally lay my hands on one plate that has 10 momos for only 20 Rupees. The momos are unbelievably delicious and the accompanying chutney is fiery and makes the momos taste even better. After finishing the plate, we realise our folly of ordering only one plate and ask for another plate of momos only to be told there is more waiting time. We have to let go of our desire and continue with our explorations of the Haat Bazaar or Haat market.

Hill Top Lodge in the outskirts of Kalimpong run as a heritage hotel by WBTDC.

In Kalimpong Market, Renu Pradhan Pickles – A very well known pickle shop run by Renu Pradhan; the same pickle is also sold at much higher prices at Biswa Bangla Bagdogra Airport. We end up buying mix pickle and I also procure a small bottle of Dalle chillies pickle. The Dalle chillies pickle is especially expensive at some 600 Rupees per kilo. I instantly recollect that it is much more expensive than the usual varieties of pickles sold elsewhere.

Kalimpong market is closed on Sunday and very few shops are open.

One of the days it is excruciatingly hot in the day in Kalimpong, we sit at an eatery in the market and sip chilled beer. At dinner time, we eat at Hong Kong Restaurant, it is a small eatery with only 4 tables and the food is freshly made on order. We order a variety of recommended dishes that the owner tells us to order and everything turns out to be lip smacking tasty!

I didn’t eat anything at Café Kalimpong but loved the vibe here!

Shopping for Noodles made of rice, egg noodles, without egg noodles, there are numerous small scale industries for making them and they are available as far as Delhi. Fine quality and quite cheap. I buy noodles worth around 500 Rupees to carry back home.

Incense Sticks – Potala Incense, very good quality. Buy 10 packets for 100 Rupees. Prayer flags of different sizes and colours. Colourful bags at specialised bag shops with proper finishing, they are quoted at 500-700 Rupees. The ones that I like are all highly priced and nothing on offer is really cheap. I also spot a few bags that look similar to the Hemp bags from Nepal. The tailors are stitching small bags with Tibetan designs that are priced at only 20 Rupees while the mid size ones cost 40 Rupees. I think for a while of buying them for gifts but give up the idea and end up buying 1 each for home.

Buy local, promote #IncredibleIndia.

In Kalimpong market, I come across a shop that sells a variety of Kalimpong paintings, embroidered paintings, money holder sling bag, Lepcha jackets in different sizes, the cloth for Lepcha jackets (which is currently being used as a table cloth at home). Another shop is dedicated to Lepcha jackets and has multiple designs and varieties of the jackets. I couldn’t find a jacket that fit me perfectly and have to be content with not buying it. The shop owner was from Haryana and made me wear the Lepcha hat to click a photograph! I had seen the locals sporting the Lepcha jacket at a festival in Dzongu and thereby got interested in buying a jacket!

The effervescent Renu Pradhan, famous for popularising pickles in this region.

I am a little disappointed that most of the shops are closed because its Sunday but when I roam around the market, I realise that most commercial shops are closed but the ones that I am interested in are mostly open. A few of the artistic shops that I haven’t been able to visit are closed and I wonder if I will have to visit Kalimpong again!

Bhutan House

This time I am staying close to Bhutan House, it is the home of the Queen and King of Bhutan since historical times. The Indian Army can only be stationed outside the gates. Inside it is the Royal Bhutan Army that guards the Bhutan House. Many Bhutanese officials of high rank regularly visit and stay at Bhutan House. It is a beautiful old building set on a nice hillock with a birds’ eye view of the valley below.

Sel Roti with pickle – only 10 Rs. per serving. Best 10 Rupees ever spent.

Tibetan Language Preservation Committee takes initiatives for Tibetan Language Classes on Sunday.

One particular shop near the main market has a fascinating collection of Tibetan paintings, Thangkas, Khukris, sweaters, woollen garments, bags, paper lamps. If memory serves me right, it is an NGO / or works with an NGO. They work with artisans and even though the products are priced higher than other places, their collection is quite exquisite.

Tibetan Wooden Handicrafts – Great handmade stuff in wood. Little expensive though.

The walking trail where the shared Van dropped me for Dr. Graham’s Homes.

Since it is Sunday and I am roaming around the market, I hear a big roar every few minutes. Upon closer inspection, I understand that the football stadium is just on the opposite side of the market and that I must see a glimpse of the football match since I’m in Kalimpong! The sounds of the crowd cheering are thrilling! 30 Rupee ticket for the football match, full value for money if we consider the picturesque setting of the cloud covered mountains. Beautiful graffiti on the walls outside the stadium. Some are social messages of planting trees, not littering etc. I get stuck briefly in a traffic jam caused due to the football match. Among the crowd, there are youngsters, kids and middle aged people all watching and there is a sizeable section of ladies too cheering.

And all the stairs we have to walk are winding…

I am also aware that Bipul Chhetri hails from Kalimpong and that it is possible to meet him if I get lucky but I don’t even give it a try. I am a big fan of his songs and was glad to have attended the Orange Festival in Dambuk to mainly see his live performance.

Krishna Calico Shop – On one of my walks in Kalimpong Market, I go inside the Krishna Cali Shop. The antique looking signboard had been attracting me and the Haryana owner told me that Calico was one of India’s first textile mills and was based in Ahmedabad. I visited this shop on my first visit and the owner and his daughter recommended me a Bhutanese shawl. It was a beautiful design and the owner helped me choose one shawl. I ended up liking it so much that I have brought more Bhutanese shawls from him on my next visit.

Hup Seng Crackers – Excellent quality crackers made in Myanmar. It is widely available in Kalimpong and tastes good with a slice of cheese on the crackers!

Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel in the fog.

Graffiti in Kalimpong is very nicely done and creative, I especially recommend the walk around the stadium to spot graffiti on the walls around there. If you walk the streets of Kalimpong, there are chances that you will come across a lot of innovative street art.

Churches of Kalimpong

There are many churches in Kalimpong located in nooks and crannies and if you have a longer stay in the town, it is possible to see some of them.

Kalimpong Art Café – On one of my walks in Kalimpong, I stumbled upon the Kalimpong Art Café that has a very cosy setting and a nice vibe. The outdoor seating has a foggy valley view visible and the indoors feel very warm with the cold winds blowing. The menu suggests prices are a little expensive and since I wasn’t hungry at all, I didn’t try the food. There is a small cloth boutique inside the café and the owner’s wife designs clothes in fine Dhaka cloth. The quality is exceptional and prices are high too.

I have roamed around the market more than a dozen times over my 2 visits. I see that the time is around 230 pm now. I decide to head to Deolo and catch a shared taxi. Deolo is on the way but I tell the Van guy to drop me to the last point where the shared taxi goes.

School children in their element at Dr. Graham’s Homes.

It is foggy and feels nice and cold even in the afternoon as this road is on an incline and is the Algarah-Reshi, Darap road that leads to the protected biosphere reserve in Lava, West Bengal.

Kids are roaming around on bikes and the shared taxi guy is surprised why would I want to be dropped at the last point when I don’t have a destination in mind! I tell him I’m keen on just wandering around. There are 2-3 roads bifurcating from here and two roads are ascending to some cosy looking but expensive homestays.

Memorable frames in misty Kalimpong afternoons.

I am sure the homestays are amazing here since this area is located at a higher altitude than Kalimpong and is peaceful and looks much greener. I start walking back and wonder if I should head to Lava biosphere reserve and stay there for a few days. I try looking for homestays on the map in that region which is denoted by a huge tract of green on the map.

The Pine View Cactus Nursery has an unbelievable collection of cactuses.

Buses go to some place called Algarah. I have already made a rough plan to go to Mirik the next day and think about keeping Lava region for another time.

Deolo hill is nice and scenic. There is a big statue of Padmasambhava in a small park and 2-3 restaurants on the opposite side. I decide to not eat anything and to directly have an early dinner. I enjoy taking a walk in the misty surroundings and come across a few families that are enjoying their day out. The fog lifts after a while and I miss the forest walk which was really dense and foggy.

I loved walking along these trails in the midst of nature.

Where to stay in Kalimpong?

There are a number of nicely located homestays in Kalimpong and most of them come in a reasonable price bracket of 1500 to 2000 Rupees.

Where to Eat in Kalimpong?

The street food and bakeries of Kalimpong are also very good. I recommend asking the locals for restaurants when you visit for the latest hit at that time.

Lepcha Museum

It is the only Lepcha Museum in India and was founded by Sonam Tshering Lepcha. The Lepcha Museum is located on the H L Dixit road in Kalimpong and is surrounded by wonderful views of the mountains. The museum is dedicated to the Lepcha community that presently resides in Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Sikkim, Nepal, and Bhutan. Among the handicrafts and items on display are manuscripts, articles of worship, original Lepcha musical instruments, and Lepcha handicrafts.

Sonam Tshering Lepcha was also given the prestigious Padmashree award in 2007 for his contribution to folk music.

Cute looking cacti.

Hill Top Tourist Lodge

Hill Top Tourist Lodge is an old British Bungalow and is currently run as a heritage hotel by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC). It is located on a hillock and is in the outskirts of Kalimpong and makes for a wonderful place to stay with charming interiors and gorgeously green gardens.

Pine View Cactus Nursery

One fine day, I decided to ask the locals for the recommended list of sights in Kalimpong and Pine View Nursery came on top of the list. This nursery is quite famous for its collection of over 1200 varieties of cactus. The cacti have been sourced from around the world and it has taken around forty years. There is a reasonable entry fee and the nursery has been maintained well.

Another section at the Pine View Nursery.

Crookety House

Honestly, I had not even heard of Crookety House when I was in Kalimpong but over chance conversations with the locals they told me about this place. Crookety House is a beautiful colonial building built by the English traders sometime in 18-19th Century. In the present time, Crookety House has been converted into a Museum. It is managed by Italians, who have established the Himalayan Institute of Ethics and Good Living and work for Agni Yoga foundation.

Street Art in Kalimpong

Best to walk around the stadium where walls have been painted. Graffiti can be spotted on the walls in Kalimpong almost everywhere.

A tribute to Kalimpong!

My backpack is full of stuff brought in the market. Bye Kalimpong. Will return again!

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12 Comments Add yours

  1. kumudrath says:

    Very informative. I am planning to visit Kalimpong by Jan-21 end.

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Happy travels!!

  2. Bart says:

    Wonderful photos of beautiful and interesting Kalimpong. Thank you.

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Thanks Bart for the kind words.

  3. Niranjan R says:

    Comprehensive post, Shubham. Kalimpong is a nice charming hill town.

  4. arv! says:

    Another place added to my list of places to visit

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Absolutely. Kalimpong has so much to see.

  5. earlgreykick says:

    Wow, never knew so much to see. Very good photography and good finds.

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words.

  6. Devendra Basnet says:

    Inheritance of Loss was written by Kiran Desai, Anita Desai’s daughter.

    1. shubhammansingka says:

      Oops, I missed it. Thanks for the correction.

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