Kalimpong it was this winter ! When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The Pandemic had really taught us that. We decided to whisk away to the mountains while it was cooler and stay amidst nature.
Brian Chesky inspired us once again ;off we drove to a mountain chalet in Kalimpong aka our work-acation in Pondicherry.
This was once a tiny sleepy hamlet ruled by the kingdoms of Sikkim and Bhutan till the late 1800s. The Anglo-Bhutan War in 1864 and the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865 shot Kalimpong into prominence. The British acceded Kalimpong in the 1860s and developed this as a hill station akin to Darjeeling.
The easy access to the Chumbi Valley of Tibet via the Jelepla Pass channelized the town into a trading outpost for musk, furs, wool and food between India and Tibet. The flourishing trade metamorphosed Kalimpong into a thriving town. The British assigned a plot to the Bhutanese Dorji family and today it is the Bhutan House, an administrative and cultural centre. The Scottish missionaries built several residential schools for the British in Kalimpong.
There are a number of renowned nurseries in Kalimpong and we visited Shantikunj right opposite tThembre. The flora in these nurseries is exquisite .Kalimpong is also major ginger and Black cardamom growing area of India.
Places to see
The Kalimpong town is on a ridge between the two hills, Deolo and Durpin. We used the better part of the weekends to walk large distances up and down hill visiting the following places
Durpin Monastery also known as the Zang Dhok Palri Phodang is a must visit and one of the largest monasteries in Kalimpong. This Tibetan monastery is atop Durpin Dara Hill and contains some rare Buddhist manuscripts on Tibetology presented by the Dalai Lama. It was a Sunday afternoon and the local community had gathered with their families for a lunch together.
Army Golf Club
Once you walk out of the monastery you will walk downhill through the army lands and large green manicured lawns . The Army club is on this hillside with breathtaking views.
MacFarlane Memorial Church
We were quite ravenous after the long walk from the Monastery and grabbed lunch at the Art Café in town and then visited the MacFarlane Memorial Church. The locals built this church in 1891 named after the first Scottish missionary here . Macfarlane Memorial is also unique since it has the service in 10 languages -Chinese, Urdu, Lepcha, Hindi, Bengali, Sanskrit, English, Bodo, Nepali, and Tibetan. On a clear day , you can get an amazing view of Kalimpong town or a magnificent view of Mt Kanchenjunga.
The following weekend it was the season’s first snow in Neora valley and first day of tourist season . Leon , our Airbnb host introduced us to Diwakar ; a knowledgeable travel guide and runs local tours. If you are in Kalimpong , do connect with him to give you a great local tour and show you some of the area’s hidden treasures .
Neora Valley National Park is near Lava, West Bengal, India and established in 1986. It covers about 88 sq km and is the home of the red panda in its pristine natural habitat. The park has two parts – one with inaccessible hilly terrain and the other where several homestays have now mushroomed.
We decided to take the less travelled off road. Diwakar was a little skeptical at first on Debarshi’s driving abilities. Soon his fears were laid to rest as we reached the end of the forest check point
We walked on the snow and ice to reach a lovely viewpoint with the forest guards and right beside the Jelep La.
Diwakar also took us to the ruins of the Damsong Fort a short way from the Sillery Gaon. The walk was a short one with a slightly steep staircase climb followed by a beautiful hike through the forest. Diwakar was regaling us with ghost stories of yore and said that me being present was warding of the witches!
We reached the ruins of Damsang Fort; an important fort for the Bhutanese before the Anglo- Bhutanese War. The fort was destroyed after the war in 1864 ; locals offer their prayers still at the ruins.
Places to Eat
Silk Route Café, Pedong
This was truly the highlight of our stay. The owner, Leon is a super host and ensured the comfort and ease of our stay. We reached about 7pm in the evening after a long drive from Kolkata Leon ensured that the refrigerator was fully stocked and hot piping dinner at our tables .
tThembre is built in the natural landscape and does not jar your senses, it is organically built with local materials amidst the old trees and bamboos with open bricks and wood. The bricks are laid across the walls to create air pockets for better insulation and heat retention. tThembre was inspired by the work of the Gandhian architect Laurie Baker. tThembre locally signifies hybridity. We loved the way the greenery has been re purposed and offers haven to various birds.
We were so fortunate to spot the Asian Palm Civet, White headed laughingthrush, Long Tailed Minivet , Greater Yellownape, Common Green Magpie , Black Magpie , Great Barbet , Blackbird , Blue-throated Barbet.
TINGMO, the resident cat
And of course there was TINGMO, the resident eccentric very temperamental cat, who sought out my warm lap whilst I was working but pawed me if I tried to pet him. He came every morning ate breakfast and lunch with us and then vanished as evening came . The rainy days he chose to sit in front the heater and curl himself.
The cottage comes with a high speed broadband , fully functional kitchen with an induction stove, microwave oven, a big and a small French Press and of course necessary cutlery and crockery. There are fireplaces to keep the bedrooms warm and cozy and the living areas toasty filled and lit by the staff. There is of course a lovely food delivery service- ‘DOORSTEP’ for food from the restaurants in Kalimpong town and allows to pay digitally.
tThembre is an idyllic getaway for remote work or just a few days away from the urban hustle and bustle.