Kalimpong morning was tranquil, and I could hear the breeze flowing into the silent atmosphere. And our resort Alkananda is located in the posh area of Kalimpong town facing the magnificent Mt.Kanchendzonga and its green surroundings. By its vantage point location, it is free from air and noise pollution. It was a bright cold day with a clear sky & bright sunlight, a day to explore Kalimpong. But I wanted to enjoy the majestic Mt.Kanchendzonga and its sister peaks from my resort lawn. Hence I sat down beside my Granny with a cup of tea.
Kalimpong has much meaning as per historians, as per the original name is ‘Kalenpung’ which in the Lepcha language means “Hillock of Assemblage”. However, the name was distorted over time into ‘Kaleebung’ and later into Kalimpong. Another meaning of Kalimpong is “Ridges where we play”. But the Tibetan translation of the word, Kalimpong, is “The Stockade of King Ministers” from the two Tibetan words ‘, Kalon’ meaning Kings and Ministers and ‘Pong’ meaning Stockade or assembly. But The hill people also call Kalimpong’ Kalibong” or the Black Spurs. However, the meaning that has been found the most favourite is “Ridges where we play”. It is said that Lepcha tribespeople used to organize field sports here when not engaged in agricultural pursuits.
The “The Stockade of King Ministers” is more apt as Kalimpong was once a trade hub between India and Tibet. It dates back to when merchants would ferry trade goods on mule caravans that would run over the Sikkim-Tibet border pass. Kalimpong was a part of the Sikkim Raja’s domain until the early 18th century than the Bhutan kings took over. Kalimpong was annexed to Darjeeling in 1865, after the Anglo-Bhutan War.
In the late 19th century, Scottish missionaries came to the area; hence Kalimpong is well known for its educational institutions. This small hilly town is ornamented beautifully with well-manicured gardens, natural lakes and majestic mountain ranges. And it is located on a ridge overlooking the Teesta River. Hence without any further delay, I had a quick bath & ate breakfast before heading out.
We started driving to Lepcha village Lava, a 21 KM drive from Kalimpong to this tiny hamlet. Lava translates as ‘Heavenly Abode of the Gods’ in Bhutanese. Located at the height of 7061 M, Lava remains chilly in summers too. It is a heavenly abode of mist-wrapped Dhupi trees cradled by mountains. The longlining of tall Pine trees decorated the roads beautifully, and the sun plays hide and seek with you as you rise higher. It was a beautiful sunny day; hence we took a walk, sat by the roadside under the shed to trees to have a cup of tea.
Our first destination was Lava Monastery (Jamgyong Kongtrul Monastery). It is a specimen of Tibetan architecture named after one of the prominent Tibetan Buddhist monks of the 19th century. Upon reaching, I saw a beautiful monastery painted in red stands in front of me. The monastery’s main attraction is the golden statue of Lord BuddhaMcLeodganj.-The Little Lhasa In the mountain town called Dharamshala (seen in a meditating posture), and multi-coloured murals and frescoes painted on the wall. The monastery offers a great view of the surroundings, with the Lava village below and mountains as a backdrop. Spending some time in the monastery & clicking few pictures, we drove towards Rishop.
Later we drove to Rishop 11kms uphill motorable road, or you trek for 4km through the trekking trail. Rishop is an integral part of the Neora valley at the foothills of Tiffindhara. Rishop means-” Mountain peaks & forest, and as the name suggests, this virgin spot is surrounded by a forest of pine, birch, fir, rhododendron & orchids; along with the captivating view of Kanchenjunga. While driving my way to Rishop, I felt the clouds fleeting in my window and the cool breeze touching my face. The greenery all around was so soothing. The mesmerizing view of Kanchenjunga dumbfounded me. I stood in front of the Sonar Bangla Hotel for a while, watching the floating clouds below the snow-capped mountains, hearing the chirping of birds and soaking the silence.
Since it was an excursion day to Rishop- Lava & Lolegaon, I decided to visit the eco-park in Lolegaon since I was excited about the canopy walk. Therefore we drove further to Lolegaon, a small hamlet that means happy village in the local dialect and located at the height of 1675 M. We went through the Dhupi, cypress and pine forests, and the mist also the mist started to cover the trees. It’s indeed a place where you can blissfully enjoy days spent lazing, interspersed with leisurely walks and admiring the views of the mountains.
As we reached Eco Park, it was already noon, and we were the only tourist around. I could hear the sound of our steps as we walked past the park. The park is made amidst the forest; hence there is ample sitting areas, benches and pathways to spend time at the park. It serene place to sit and enjoy the mists flow past you! Walking around the park, we reached the canopy walk- a hanging wooden tree-top bridge 180 M long that takes you through dense fern and pine forests. As I walk along this bridge, you will find yourself rising in height and moving from one tall tree to the next. We walked the bridge to reach the other side and venture into denser forests. But the mist was making it impossible to move further inside the woods, so we walked back to the park out gate.
Before driving back to Kalimpong, we walked to the Tibetan Buddhist monastery close to the park. Though small in stature, the monastery is a marvellous architectural specimen. There is a decorated garden in front of the monastery, where there is also a giant Buddha statue.
On the way, we stopped at the weekly market, which was spread along the roadside. They sold all local stuff from vegetables, cheeses, pickles, noodles, clothes and many more. It was past lunchtime, but I was lucky was get some hot homemade veg momos to satiate my hunger. Spending some time around the weekly market, we drove back to our guesthouse.
I wanted to end my day visiting the cactus nursery, which was 10 min walk from my guesthouse. It had a great collection of ornamentals and cactuses. Numerous national and international prizes glorify the greenhouse for growing varieties of cactuses. And trust me, the magnificent display of these cactuses which is a delight to the eye. I walked around the place, adorning the cultivation.
The night was cold; after having a hot meal, I went to my room. My bed is super comfortable with a soft blanket, and I slept like a baby at around 930 pm. The following day was bright and blue. And it was our last day in Kalimpong as tomorrow we were leaving for Kolkata. So I have to cover rest places today, therefore without wasting any time I took a quick shower, had my breakfast & left to explore Kalimpong.
We drove towards Gaden Tharpa Choling Monastery, situated at the hilltop in Kalimpong. We went through the national forest, along the twisting road and amongst the mist-wrapped Dhupi trees. It was a mystical journey; all I could hear was chirping birds, the engine’s sound & the breeze flowing around us. Rest all was quiet, calm & composed. We drove to the monastery in silence. Domo Geshe Rinpoche Ngawang Kalsang founded the monastery in 1912. And it is a Gelugpa monastery that imparts educations to monks and is followed by the yellow hat sect. It was built in 1937 that houses many old Buddhist manuscripts. I took a round of the monastery & saw classes were going on for the monks.
After spending some time, I walked up to the Thongsa Gompa, another monastery located nearby. It is also known as the Bhutan Monastery, built-in 1962 and one of Kalimpong’s oldest monasteries. As I walked in, I saw a sea of pigeons feeding in front of the monastery. I walked past them to reach the monastery, looked around & clicked some pictures before leaving for our next destination.
Graham’s home is close to the Gaden Tharpa Choling Monastery; we decided to visit that first. Located on the lower steep of Deolo Hill, Graham’s Home was built by Sir Anderson Graham of England in 1990. The home started as a missionary school for orphanages & the destitute Anglo Indian children. It began with only one cottage, accommodating up to 35 kids. Over a period, it has grown over the years as a well-known multi-religious and co-educational school. It was now ranging over 500 acres of lush scenery and having some 50 cottages.
Walking further up the school, the Katherine Graham Memorial Church appeared out of the blue and in the misty surroundings; it felt unreal! Built-in 1925, a Scottish style chapel in memory of Dr Graham’s wife, Katherine. I walked around the Church is closed, where colourful flowers grew in the vicinity of the Katherine Graham Memorial Church that provided an excellent frame. I wait for a while to take a perfect click of the Church.
Later, we drove to Delo Hill, located at a staggering height of 1700 m is labelled as the city’s highest point. The tourism department has built a lush parkland of 8-acre with groomed flower gardens, along with particulars with fantastic views over Kanchenjunga, Durpin Hill, Kalimpong Township and the river valley flowing through them. Three important reservoirs originate from this hill and meet the water requirements of the entire town. The mountain is otherwise known for its unusual height that offers spectacular views of the lower valleys around.
Wandering around for a while & clicking few pictures, we walked towards the small rock garden near Deolo. The park has a beautiful statue of Lord Buddha sat in a lotus position. It’s just a quick stopover point and a great place to click a photo. The statue’s colours and vibrancy are appealing.
The watershed that’s right under the statue of Buddha, from where you get beautiful views to both north and south. It is the Sherpa Viewpoint. It would be best to see through Binoculars; the locals charge Rs 50 per person to show the excellent views of the North Sikkim hills and Mount Kanchenjunga. To the south is the beautiful scenery of a valley and the Relli river that flows through it. Unfortunately, the point of view isn’t well maintained.
Later we drove towards the Durga temple, which was near the Sherpa View Point. An old shrine portrayed the stone forms of gods and goddesses. It bought red Chunri from the shops outside the temple to tie at the temple & offer our prays. The rhythmic chanting of mantras was overwhelming, and the heavy smell of incense stick filled my nostrils. The place was quiet & calm; I rested for a while before moving to our next destination.
The next place was the Morgan house, and we drove past the scenic 9-hole golf course laid out and designed by the military authorities. The tourism department now owns Morgan; however, it was an old colonial building from British times built by George Morgan in 1930. And greenery covered the entire building. And two stone chimneys were protruding on the top of Morgan House, in classic English Cottage style.
The staff weren’t helpful as they did not allow me to see the interior despite no guests. Morgan House is genuinely a place steeped in nature, and the setting in the gardens is immaculate. I highly recommend Morgan House to nature and heritage lovers.
Since it was lunchtime, my hunger fangs started to hit me. Since it’s an army area, I luckily come across a South Indian Army Canteen overlooking a golf course! The eatery has an enviable alfresco setting (open-air) and is open to visitors. As the sunshine makes its way through the fog, the lush greenery of the golf course is a view to savour as I asked for a coffee first.
After a good lunch, we drove to our last destination was Durpin Dara Monastery / Zang Dhok Palri Monastery. We went towards the monastery, as it was already beyond lunchtime. I stood outside the imposing and grand entrance of Hogmin Ngayab Zangdok Palri Phodang Tsenpo monastery, the name was affiliated with the Nyingma School of Buddhism. Established in 1972 and locally named after Durpin hill.
It is typically designed in the style of Buddhist construction with frescoes painted on the walls. The atmosphere is calm, serene, and rejuvenating. The terrace offers a magnificent view of Kalimpong town with Kanchenjunga in the backdrop, the valley and plains, down flowing rivers Teesta and Reang, the valley and tables, and flowing rivers with beautiful, beautiful rivers Peshoke area tea estates.
While driving back to our guest house, I stopped at the market since it was Haat day. The narrow street of the market was filled with hawkers from local villagers displaying yak cheese, pickles, rice & egg noodles, incense sticks, Lepcha jackets of varied sizes, vegetables, squashes called Iskus, also Kusum a tangy fruit. Along with locally grown avocados, bananas, fiddlehead fern or Ningro. It was so colourful and all happy faces around.
I bought Renu Pradhan Pickles, quite famous in Kalimpong, some packets of egg noodles, and a Lepcha jacket. While on my shopping spree, I tried the local Sel roti with pickle; it was yum.
I continued exploring the Haat, where a lady was selling yeast and a herb Timbur – used to make local alcohol and a different looking tomato, called tomarillo.
A separate side lane was selling fresh bamboo shoots yellow in colour. I even saw Brown pears of outstanding quality are available.
It was 4 pm and time to go back to our guesthouse, but I wanted to visit McFarlane Church which I noticed from afar while my shopping spree. Though there are many churches in the nook and corner of Kalimpong, the imposing structure of McFarlane Church is quite eye-catching.
Initially built in 1904 by Robert McFarlane, the Church was damaged in an earthquake. I saw the damaged towers of the Church lying on the open grounds. The interior of the of beautiful too; I sat on the bench admiring the beauty. The tranquillity of the place calmed my senses.
I was sitting there for an hour; I realized when my aunt called out for me. She wanted to visit the Pratima Tagore located near the Pine View Nursery. Therefore we drove back to our guesthouse, & walked down to the residence of Pratima Tagore, daughter-in-law of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. Pratima Tagore designed it in 1943 with beautiful gardens, heritage furniture, memorabilia and poet’s words. It was a beauty to be adorned. I roamed around & in the house, amazed at the designs since it was still well maintained.
Finally, we reached our guesthouse after hearty local sightseeing. I took a hot shower to ease out my tiredness & then had my dinner. Before heading to bed, I had to complete packing since we had to leave for the airport quite early. But amidst this, I realized Kalimpong has a vast history, despite being notorious at one point in time as an intelligence hub for India/Nepal and the Britishers. The churches, Tibetan monasteries, Grafitti were spotted on the walls in Kalimpong markets etc., still showcases the solid cultural bond between India & Tibet that started during the trading era.
How to Reach.
The nearest airport is Bagdogra, approximately 76 km away from the Kalimpong. At the airport, hire taxis to reach the city.
The New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railway station to Kalimpong. New Jalpaiguri connects the city in India. You need to hire private cabs or take a shared taxi from the station.
Kalimpong is well-connected via road with Kolkata city & other closeby cities such as Gangtok and Kurseong, Darjeeling. Buses, private cabs, shared taxis ply from these places. Moreover, you can also take a private cab or a shared taxi.