After a wonderful 2 days in Kalimpong, I took a shared taxi to Darjeeling. I was keen on staying for 2-3 days in Darjeeling and therefore tried finding a reasonable homestay online but whatever options I found either looked too shady or were too expensive. I walked from my homestay in Kalimpong, and reached the shared taxi syndicate at 9 am. I am overjoyed to get a front seat and the shared taxi is ready to leave at 930 am. The breakfast options around the shared taxi stand look unappealing and I am quite hungry already!
The shared taxi stands in this part of the world are called Syndicate! Remember the famous Bipul Chhetri song, Syndicate (Kalimpong to Siliguri song). I’ve decided to keep Darjeeling as the last destination on my trip and therefore take a ticket for Kurseong. Kurseong and Darjeeling both lie on the same route and the road bifurcation for Kurseong comes at Ghoom, before reaching Darjeeling. The ticket prices for both Kurseong and Darjeeling are the same.
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The locals informed me that shared taxis to Kurseong were also available, but they were few and I was better off going in a Darjeeling bound taxi and get down at Ghoom from where another shared taxi would have to be found. So with Kurseong (and not Darjeeling) as my ultimate destination in mind, I sat in the shared sumo. The weather is quite sunny and humid in Kalimpong when we leave.
The shared taxi stand in Kalimpong is surrounded by nice looking old and pretty buildings. I asked the locals about their history and they told me that most of them are owned by Rajasthani businessmen.
Kalimpong to Darjeeling
At first, the road descends endlessly and we reach Teesta Bazaar; a bustling town with the river flowing beside the market. It is very dry, hot and dusty here when we cross the town. I am overjoyed to look out of the window and enjoy the fresh air of the forest. The route is very scenic after crossing Teesta Bazaar when we begin our ascent. The shared taxi stops near Lopchu for breakfast and we are in the midst of tea gardens.
It was still sunny as we approached Lopchu, and the greenery of the tea gardens was alluring with the mountains visible in the far distance. A brief layer of mist blows past us on the road as we get down from the sumo! The eateries all look identical in Lopchu Bazaar and most probably even have the same menu for breakfast! It seemed to be a popular and fixed stop on this route to Darjeeling. Thats how it usually is in the mountains, the shared taxi stops are fixed for specific places.
I am super hungry and choose to go to a small eatery where there are only 4 tables and the menu is a simple poori sabji for breakfast. The vegetable was a curry of potatoes in a tomato gravy and the lady was happy to fry some fresh pooris for me! The elderly gentleman in the shared taxi also chose to eat in the same eatery and we relished our food and complimented ourselves for a good choice of place!
Just after crossing Lopchu Bazaar, the road and surroundings started getting misty and foggy and the entire landscape started getting covered with clouds. We pass by the stunning Tukdah forest and I noted down the name in my memory to come back someday. The road was surrounded by towering pine and deodhar trees and the shades of greenery around were pleasing to the eyes. After all, we are in the middle of the monsoon in August and the views are bound to be stupendous.
As the road climbed higher, the surroundings kept getting prettier. Views of the far off mountains were visible as we crossed a town by the name of Lamahatta. I could spot a few signboards indicating homestays and also the Lamahatta Eco Park. The locals suggested that if I had the time, then the park is highly recommended for a hike which ends at a surreal and misty lake with great views. Others also chimed in and said if I don’t have a fixed plan, then I must surely come and stay at Lamahatta for a few days as the homestays are nice in the region.
A glimpse of the snow clad mountain range of Kanchenjunga is also visible from Lamahatta and while I contemplated about altering my plans, I kept this region in mind for a visit next time. The shared taxi business sounded complicated and I decided to just stick to visiting Kurseong and Darjeeling this time! It started raining as we were nearing Ghoom, from where the road to Kurseong bifurcated. It is a surreal sight as the misty road, fog, rain and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHE) came into view.
The shared sumo driver recommended me to stay on in the shared taxi since my backpack would get all wet if I got down at Ghoom. It was raining quite heavily and the carrier on top of the sumo had all our bags; the sumo guy had put a plastic tarpaulin over it to make sure the bags were shielded from the rain. He reasoned that the shared taxi fare to both Kurseong and Darjeeling was the same and that I could go to Kurseong after staying in Darjeeling.
I considered the circumstances and understood what he was saying had a point and that it was better to continue to Darjeeling in the rain. He also mentioned that Kurseong is closer to Bagdogra and I had my flight from Bagdogra at around 3 pm after 4-5 days so it made more sense to go to Kurseong later. So, with no fixed plan I nodded to the other passengers who were ecstatic that I was continuing to Darjeeling and that they wouldn’t have to wait!
Funnily enough, it stopped raining as we were nearing the shared taxi stand on the Hill Cart Road of Darjeeling. The time is around noon. There was just some mist interspersed with periods of sunshine. I spotted the YMCA Youth Hostel building just before reaching the shared taxi stand and wondered if it was a good idea to stay there. I had no idea where I was going to stay but was aware that it is off season in the month of August. There is no long weekend as such on the days when I am there and I am confident of finding a nice place to stay in Darjeeling.
I google to search some homestays near the main mall road in Darjeeling and start the long walk from the Hill Cart Road to the Mall road. Darjeeling appears to be a city with haphazard construction and I am amazed to notice the crowds. I keep walking and asking the locals for directions to the Mall Road; most of the walk passes through narrow lanes and uphill shortcuts.
I come across various markets along the steep uphill hike. There are shops on the street selling bags, woollen clothes etc. The weather has become sunny and humid after we reached Darjeeling and that doesn’t make things easier for me. I am wearing my jackets and sweating on the walk. I come across a beautiful old Church and reach one corner of the Mall Road. It is about 1 pm, I am already tired and have no idea where I am going to find a reasonable place to stay.
Hotel/Homestay on Mall Road, Darjeeling
The Mall Road is usually a expensive area but since it is the month of August, I am hopeful of finding a reasonable and nice place to stay. I spot some cheap looking hotels but even those have a room price of INR 1500. Upon asking some locals, they guide me to a single room in one of the homes near the hotels. The room is spacious, has a geyser, sitting space but is totally dark and has no source of natural light. The guy is offering it to me for 500 INR but I decide against it.
There are live musical performances currently being held just opposite the hotel lane, collecting donations for Kerala Floods. There is a raised platform and this venue is quite close to the Mahakal Market. There is singing and dancing and it feels so interesting that I stop my search for a homestay and just stand there and enjoy the performance for some time. It also gives me a chance to keep my heavy backpack aside and relax for a bit.
I decide to keep walking and find a hostel online, but they have no rooms available. Their dormitory option is quite expensive at Rs. 700-800 per bed. I walk, walk, walk and reach a circular area on the mall road and come across a tiny lane that leads to a shady looking area. I take the left turn and check out some reasonably priced hotels. The area itself is shady to the core; it is very dirty and smelly on the streets. The street sellers inform me that this area is a cheap staying place for the Bengali tourists.
I have zeroed in on one particular homestay and have turned on the directions in google maps. I cross the very old and heritage building of Planter’s Club to my left. The Darjeeling Planter’s Club was built in 1879 and is one of the oldest clubs in India (or maybe in all of Asia). I check that it has an affiliation with Jai Club of Jaipur (of which I am a member) but alas the Darjeeling Planter’s Club is currently undergoing renovation and is closed. I also cross a taxi counter advertising shared rides to all the various viewpoints in town!
The area that I am walking in seems to be the best part of the Mall Road and I cross Keventer’s, Glenary’s and other recommended places to eat. There is fabulous graffiti on the walls as well and I spot a regal looking Tibetan homestay with traditional designs. I went upstairs to see the rooms and it turns out to be an incredibly beautiful place but is highly priced at 3500 INR. There is also a Tibetan Museum and handicraft gallery on the ground floor and I make a note to visit it in peace later when I have figured my homestay plans.
The homestay is located in a narrow by-lane and I climb 3-4 floors to reach it. Phew, I am so tired that sweat is trickling down my brow and my tee-shirt is dripping with sweat. I am therefore, relieved with the generosity of the homestay owner who asks me to step inside the home and sit down for a cup of tea. It is nice and cool in his home and very comfortable in the shade with the fan running. I relax for a bit hoping that he has a room for me. It comes as a surprise when he tells me that his last sleeping space was just booked online.
He gives me a cup of tea, tells me to cool off the sweat and just feel at home. I am very happy with his kindness and tell him I have walked from the shared taxi stand in search of a homestay! He tells me there was a shorter but more uphill way of coming here directly, although it is a good way to see Darjeeling on a walk. I tell him that I needed help with finding a homestay as I really didn’t want to stay in a hotel in Darjeeling. I also told him I’d prefer a homestay nearby since I was utterly exhausted.
Hearing about this, he wracked his brains and came up with a suggestion. One Joshi Homestay that was hardly five minutes walk from his home. He also called the lady owner there (Anjana Pradhan) and told her that I would be coming to her homestay in some time. I was glad even though he had told me that Joshi Homestay might be expensive at 1000-1200 INR per day. His own prices were quite reasonable at 500 INR per person. I shared some Kalimpong cheese (that I was carrying) with him for his generosity and thanked him profusely.
I start walking and spot some pretty graffiti on the walls while walking to Joshi Homestay. The path for the homestay bifurcated from the mall road, and it was a steep uphill 2 minute walk after that. There were other hotels visible to the right side of the path, but I had been told that Joshi Homestay is on the left. I even asked the price at one of the hotels in case the Joshi Homestay arrangement did not work out.
Joshi Home, Darjeeling
I spotted the signboard for Joshi Home and walked inside to meet Anjali Pradhan (a middle aged lady running the homestay) and her husband Hemant Pradhan. The family home was on the lower floor (1st floor) and the interiors are very artistically designed. I see a small kid in the house, he is the grandson and their son Nikhil is a mountaineer and trekking guide. There’s also a cute dog, the name of whom I’ve forgotten.
Anjali ma’m shows me to the room on the 2nd floor, the entire floor is done in beautiful wooden interiors, has a grand bookshelf, and a very pretty and airy room with a cosy bed, cute pillows and stunning bed linen. There was another room and an open terrace while the bathroom was common and spotlessly clean. My happiness knows no bounds when she says the price is fixed at 750 per person including breakfast. I immediately confirm my stay for 2-3 days.
There are porcelain pots and knick-knacks as decoration in the room. I thank my stars for meeting the gentleman and for finding Joshi Homestay. I thank Anjali Aunty and chat with her and Hemant Uncle and present them with a bottle of Timbur wine that I had procured in Dzongu. He thanks me wholeheartedly and keeps it as medicine as timbur wine is meant to be used in small quantities and is extremely good for the body.
The homestay room is a 3 bedded one but belongs all to myself since there is no one else staying in the room right now. There is another guy from close to Kolkata staying in another room. He is also the only person staying there. Hemant Uncle’s room is also located on the second floor and he sits in the lobby. There is 1 bathroom with geyser (common space) and the open air terrace has a cool breeze blowing. It is around 4 pm now and I realise that my endless search has been fruitful!
These words sound true now, ‘Patience is worth it.’ The waiting and trouble throughout the afternoon disappears in the cosy family homestay feels of Joshi Homestay. Tibetan Thangkas, paintings, everything in the Pradhan home is artistic. Anjana aunty hands over a cup of Darjeeling tea which instantly peps me up. I have a shower and decide to go for a walk at about 430 pm.
Hemant uncle draws a simple plan for me after learning that I prefer to take it slow rather than rushing to see the usual sights. I tell him it is ok if I can’t go to Tiger Hill and since I am alone it makes no sense to waste money on taxi rides.
Hemant Uncle asks me to go walking along the mall road (again!), visit the Mahakal market and go to the unique temple there. I step out and notice that the weather has improved considerably. I am certain it is also the fact that there is no 15 kilo backpack on me! I am loving the evening walk and come across a few Nepali musicians and singers performing songs and playing the traditional musical instrument Sarangi.
Many places have Gorkhaland written on signboards. I continue my walk and reach the temple at about 5 pm. It is nice and misty now; the Mahakal market is a place for cheap shawls and woollen stuff. I check some of the products and they are all synthetically made. I come across a few vintage-looking colonial cottages on the way to the temple. I think they must be a boutique hotel or airbnb. This entire region has a mysterious feel with manicured lawns, misty trees, tall deodhars.
Mahakal Temple, Darjeeling
There are monkeys galore around the entrance of the temple and signboards informing the visitor to be aware of the monkeys! The message of peace has been inscribed on the temple walls, in different languages. The temple is located on a hillock and the path passes through a dense forest with a sharp inclining path. The temple is unique – sacred for both Hindus and Buddhists. There is a Hindu Pandit and also a Buddhist monk in the temple and the Mahakal Temple is a highly revered place for the locals.
I am loving the weather in Darjeeling. Buddhist Lion and prayer wheel with Tibetan inscriptions on the main temple wall inside the shrine. Buddhist Buddha and Hindu Lord Shiva on wall. Dragons on the wall. There are also paintings of Lord Shiva, Ganesha, Shivling, Lakshmi Ji. Prayer wheels and prayer flags surround the entire Mahakal Temple complex. There are also many Shivling’s scattered all across the temple and give a very pleasing feel.
I start walking back and come across one Tinker Belle’s Cottage; it looks like a wonderful place to stay. The time is about 530 pm and I just decide to walk towards the opposite side from where I came to the mall road. It is an official Government’s residence/office – Raj Bhavan and lies at the end of the Mall Road.
The valley views are incredible and there are homestays galore on the road near Raj Bhavan Road in Darjeeling. The shade of greenery on offer is pleasing and clouds are rising in the valley, and surreal sunset colours are visible at evening time. There are youngsters chirping around, while hawkers sell their snacks on the circular path surrounding Mahakal Market. There are benches to sit and enjoy the views of the valley below.
Darjeeling has historically been home to Lepchas, Nepalese, Tibetans, Sherpas, Bhutanese and Sikkimese. I see people of different ethnicities and wonder at the rich history and heritage of the region. I sit on one of the benches and marvel at the stunning sunset colours; in hues of pink, orange and yellow. It is a memorable time and I start walking back with the aim of finding a nice place for food on the way back to the homestay.
I come across a beautiful yellow church on the way. It looks abandoned though and I don’t exactly remember the name of this Church. I also meet some young kids from Assam on the way here. It is a serene place with a stiff breeze blowing. Next day I also come across the pretty St. Andrew’s Church located on the Mall road in Darjeeling.
On the way back, I step inside to experience the Darjeeling legacy of Nathmulls, and Golden Tips Tea Store. There is also the famous Glenary’s eatery and bakery. I choose to try a pastry but it turns out to be quite ordinary and I am not impressed.
For dinner I go to a lovely little eatery with 4 tables by the name of Kunga. I get lucky as Kunga Restaurant closes sharp at 7 pm but I get there just in time. It is a family run place and serves authentic Tibetan food! The variety is staggering and I eat there for two consecutive days and the food is simply incredible and freshly made. I am also drawn in by the cosy interiors of another restaurant nearby, Dekeling Hotel and eat a small portion of noodles there. The prices are very reasonable.
I am pretty tired with the exploits of the day and head back to the homestay. It is a fun time and I watch motu-patlu on a cartoon tv channel with the grandson of the home! Chat with the family and relax. Thank Hemant uncle for the evening walk idea around Mahakal Temple. He also draws up a walking plan for the next day; of some hidden places in Darjeeling!
The room and bed is extremely cosy and I snuggle in the fluffy and soft blanket. The weather has become quite cold as it is raining and I am glad to be back at the homestay before it started raining. Sleep comes in no time and I am woken up by Hemant Uncle at 630 am. He is very excited and tells me that the Himalayan peaks are visible and Mt. Kangchenjunga is also visible.
Sleeping Buddha – Mt. Kangchenjunga
We rush to the balcony and I am in awe of the surreal sight. The peaks are all visible and Hemant uncle shows me the ‘Sleeping Buddha.’ This sight is extra special for me because even on my first trip to Sikkim, I didn’t even have a glimpse of Mt. Kangchenjunga. The humongous mountains with a blue sky in the backdrop is simply out of the world. I thank Hemant uncle for waking me up to be able to see this spectacle. The mountain show lasts for around 40-45 minutes and after that the clouds start moving in and shrouding the view.
After finally seeing this sight, I am able to understand what the fuss about Mt. Kangchenjunga sighting in Darjeeling and Sikkim is all about.
Since I am already up and feeling relaxed, I decide to have a bath and get ready for my walk. First it is time for breakfast; there are yummy pooris and chana masala with beaten coffee. It is super delicious and I thank Anjana aunty. I discuss the landmarks of the walk once more with Hemant uncle, just in case I lose the way – and leave at around 9 am. The walk that Hemant uncle has recommended to me is via a route that will end at JoreBungalow and Ghoom by the old walking route.
Misty walk, jungle and forested road as soon as I start walking.
Bhutia Busty Monastery
The monastery has pretty doors and looks quite old. The monk showing me inside the gompa is informative and I am surprised to see the beautiful frescoes.
There are hardly any vehicles that cross me on this road and that is what makes the walk a memorable experience. I crossed local homes and was able to come across the old world charm of Darjeeling in their lifestyle. A few locals guide me to Aloobari Gompa and other small monasteries and shrines along the way.
It takes me approximately 3 hours to cover the around 5 km distance and I reach the road in Jorebungalow at 1230 pm. I continue to Ghoom railway station and visit the museum.
DHR Museum, Ghoom
It is a misty and foggy scene at Ghoom Railway Station. I click a memorable frame while climbing the stairs to the museum. The museum is excellent and details the history of the UNESCO World Heritage – Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR).
I am excited to see a toy train on the road; the train tracks run parallel to the road and it is a nice sight! Although the smoke that the train emits is a little too much. I am told that only one or two Darjeeling Himalayan Trains throughout the day run on steam engines, while the rest of the trains run on diesel engines.
Shop for 2 North Face jackets (Nepal stuff, first copy) in Ghoom for INR 2500 Rupees. The jackets are really nice and excellent for proper cold weather. I also visit a monastery located a short walk away from the Ghoom market. It has a statue of the blue eyed Maitreya Buddha which is very unique. The monk tells me there is a 100 INR photo charge to click the same. I think the monastery is called Yiga Choeling Monastery or Ghoom Monastery. I also try to pay a short visit to Dali Monastery in Ghoom but first decide to go to Ghoom station.
DHR Ghoom to Darjeeling
I check the timings for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway from the Ghoom station and get informed by locals that the ticket for the 3 pm DHR to Darjeeling is only 30 Rupees. Otherwise, the tickets for the tourist oriented DHR are more than 1000 Rupees! I am ecstatic, wear a Nepali hat to feel like a local and am able to get a ticket when the train arrives on the platform!
The scenery is gorgeous; and the train crosses tea gardens, passes by Batasia Loop, foggy and misty scenes. The DHR criss-crosses the road many times and it is fun to see life from this slow train. How the traffic stops when the toy train crosses. The 1100 Rupee ticket is from Siliguri to Darjeeling or the other way and I anyway just want to experience this part of the route so this local train works best for me!
It takes about 30 minutes for the train to cover the 8 odd km distance to Darjeeling station. The whole valley is visible from the Darjeeling station and the sight is stunning. The clouds and sun are playing hide and seek and it has just started to drizzle. I wait for some time in the shelter of the railway station and enjoy the views and start walking when the rain doesn’t stop even after 30 minutes. Luckily, I am carrying a rain jacket and my daypack is rainproof too!
Someone points me to a walking path from where I can reach the Gandhi Road near Mall Road. It is an uphill ascending path and first I see St. Columba’s Church built in 1870. It looks beautiful from outside and is pretty from inside as well. Union Church built in 1869 came next; here mass is apparently held in Nepali language. I tried to walk as much as I could in the shelters to avoid getting wet in the rain. Come across a cute Hemadrie Hotel on the walk. Rain almost stops and turns into a drizzle. Shop for socks with a flip-flop like bottom. Utility product.
Reach Glenary’s open air terrace at 620 pm and am dazzled by the surreal twilight colours. The sit out feels very romantic and many couples are clicking photographs. The tables are chić and decorated with flowers and with the lamps and lights make for a stunning setting. Many locals and youngsters are enjoying the surreal views after the rain. The best part is that one can just come here for the evening sights; there is no need to order or eat as such. At around 645 pm, it is dark and I step inside the regal interiors of the restaurant.
Colonial and charming setting, white interiors and warm lights. Eat one dish, turns out to be ok. Nothing special. The staff is helpful and friendly. Reasonably priced, and a touristy experience for outsiders.
Start walking back to Joshi Homestay. The mall road is lit up and there are very pretty sights. Heritage Book Stores, Chai Chun store. At the homestay, the kid is watching cartoons and I also watch Chingam sir with him. Anjana aunty shows me a room that is being made and also a painting that she is currently making. It is very artistic and classy. There was a German traveller on a motorcycle who came for one night when he was super tired, Anjana aunty mentioned.
Chat up with Hemant uncle, show the jackets and get a sign of approval from him! He gives a thumbs up to both quality and price. Sleep late today, sharing experiences with Hemant uncle and the other traveller staying at the homestay. Wake up in the morning. Feel very relaxed. Everyone’s chilling and I am sleepy so I have breakfast and go back to zzz and sleep again.
I head out to Keventer’s for brunch after a leisurely bath. Epic breakfast. It is a favourite with the school kids who call it Kev’s. It is a simple place and has an open terrace. Cold coffee too.
Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI)
Endless walk to reach the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. There’s a museum and a museum shop too with an excellent collection of winter wear. Souvenirs from the Everest climb are showcased in the museum. There’s a canteen as well where outsiders can also eat. It is a nice environment and must visit if you are in Darjeeling.
My first visit to a zoo in what feels like forever. Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park. Famous for Red Panda and Snow Leopard. Felt sad to see such a majestic animal in captivity. Red Panda is cute and seems to be eating all the time. There is another separate section with many exhibits.
I continue walking after visiting the Zoo and go on the way to the Happy Valley Tea Estate; and am super surprised to come across Alexander Csoma de Koros Avenue. He is a Hungarian traveller with a Zanskari connection. His memorial and tombstone is here, he died on the way to Lhasa in 1842 AD. He was a great scholar and translated the Tibetan dictionary from Tibetan to English.
Happy Valley Tea Estate
It took a nice 20 minute walk for me to reach these fabulous tea gardens, amidst tall pine trees. Tea gardens spread over acres and acres. Lovely walk to the busty (homes of locals) through narrow walking path. Fantastic time. Then take the long walk back to Joshi Homestay. Eat an early dinner at Kunga Restaurant.
At the homestay, watch motu patlu with the grandson and share the travel stories with the family. Meet their son, Nikhil who is a trek guide. Invite for a trek! Hemant Uncle mentions he had the old Land Rovers but he sold them!
Sleep well. It rains all night.
Morning, Hemant uncle wakes me up very early. Crazy amazing view of Mt. Kanchenjunga from the room. I click a memorable photograph from the window of the washroom. Quick but filling breakfast at the homestay. Thank the family and say goodbye. Hope to return again.
Downhill walk to shared taxi stand in Darjeeling. Shared taxi to Kurseong at around 9 am.