The Darjeeling colonial tea estates are always quite alluring; Debarshi & I decided to spend a few sunny afternoons in Chamong Chiabari near Darjeeling one long weekend. We have earlier travelled and stayed in the Glenburn Tea Estate and Whew ! quite an opulent experience.
Drive from Kolkata to Chamong
We departed from Kolkata at 8 pm ; an overnight drive to Chamong planned with a pitstop at Naxalbari to meet some folks. Our onward journey was on the NH34 directly till Karandighi after Raiganj , then a right turn towards Sabdhan and then the NH31 before Kishanganj via Chakulia. This bypass from Karandighi helped us avoid the nasty traffic snarls in Dalkhola.
Some useful Driving tips to reach North Bengal
It is NOT recommended to avail NH34 directly from Kolkata till Moregram. The road through Burdwan, reaching Moregram through the Badshahi road (SH 7) is a better drive. Do read about that route when we drove to Sikkim. NH34 at night is an incredibly stressful drive; the blaring blinding oncoming trucks with the ghastly traffic at the Krishnagar bottleneck.
I had first mentioned the Dalkhola bypass in my article in team-bhp way back in 2012. This time we tried a different detour to avoid the Bagdogra and Siliguri traffic. We caught the Goalpara road from Kishanganj; then the NH31C through Bahadurganj (Bihar) and to Naxalbari via Thakur Ganj and Panitanki (Nepal border).
After our pitstop at Naxalbari, we drove through an inland road to Panighata towards Mirik. This is a shortcut picturesque drive through the tea gardens. A word of caution – no gas stations along this road so fill up the tanks way earlier. We refueled on reaching Mirik.
Do remember to take the Mirik bypass road and then towards the Thurbo tea factory. For Chamong, we did a right turn from this Thurbo tea factory. The road is narrow descending rapidly through several hairpins reaching the river in 6 kms downhill. The consistent gradient of the road was 12-13 degrees. Soon after the river we started our ascent to Turzum or Pokhriabong. This road is equally narrow, and the gradient was often more than earlier. At a few turns, I recorded a gradient of 18 degrees. A left turn to Chamong ; there is absolutely no road for the last few kms just a gravelly muddy trail.
Our journey was 16 hours to reach Chamong including an hour at Naxalbari and an hour of rest in the car.
Chamong Chiabari – the Resort
After the hair-raising ascent to Chamong, the friendly faces of the Chiabari estate stewards were a warm welcome. The weather was very pleasant in the mornings and we were taken to one of the two bungalow suites, downhill from the main rooms and the dining areas. Our room overlooked the valley and the evenings were cold yet mellow with the bonfires they lit in front of our villa.
We trekked in the tea gardens through the next few mornings, returned for breakfast and then trekked the other side of the estate.
We made a few canine friends there who would escort us right from the gate of Chamong Chiabari till our trek brought us back. Once we realized that there was a pair of pheasants hiding in the tea bushes and we were treading cautiously. Our friend in his enthusiasm barked and lurched towards them scaring the poor birds away!
The chef and his team were quite adept churning out Indian, Chinese, Tibetan and Continental delights and even a barbeque one evening. The breakfast is a good spread and the tea of course is exquisite.
Our good friends – Abhijit & Somrata who were in Darjeeling for the weekend came down to meet us for lunch one afternoon and we had a jolly good time with them.
As happens in our travels, we forged a new friendship with a lovely couple and their son – Ayan & Kasturi. We did some splendid morning walks with them through the estate in the mornings and then Debarshi decided to take us for a joy ride through the tea gardens one afternoon which was quite a heaving and rocking drive amidst a few close shaves and some scratches (albeit for the car) with some hairpin turns through the estate till the river .
Do see the video and decide for yourselves the roller coaster ride.
Our return was a 15-hour journey via our old route through Badshahi road and Burdwan enroute to NH2 packed with oodles of new memories and humming with cases of the Chamong Darjeeling First & Second Flush Tea.
These grabs of sunlight in our lives keep us going till we get bit by the travel bug and set out -Lock Stock & Barrel!