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Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Kolkata, India
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for Darjeeling, Sikkim, Meghalaya
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Offbeat places around Darjeeling

While most of us complete a traditional trip to North Bengal and Sikkim by visiting places such as Gangtok and Darjeeling, here is a glimpse of some pristine places that nature lovers may like to try out .......

It has been a while since we ( our family includes my wife and our 6 yr old son) were planning to visit the hills of North Bengal, but seriously wanted to avoid the hustle-bustle of the busy hill stations, gain some fresh clean air to fill up our lungs, and also save some precious money by avoiding these costly places....

So after some deliberations, we finally zeroed in on 3 places - Loleygaon, Reshyap and Kurseong, and decided to make this trip during the Christmas holidays in 2006.

We arrived at New Jalpaiguri Rly Stn early in the morning on Dec 22nd and hired a vehicle to drop us at Loleygaon - a distance of 136 kms. There is a prepaid taxi booth at the railway station which offers all sorts of vehicles as per your team size and budget ( Tata Sumos, Indica, Maruti van, Bolero, Toyota Qualis etc) at reasonable rates. We decided to take the more picturesque route thru Damdim and Gorubathan that runs thru several tea estates. Luckily, we had confirmed booking at the cottages run by the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation - which is by far the best place to stay at Loleygaon ( room rates ranging from Rs 770/- to Rs 990/- per dbl bedroom).

Loleygaon ( in local dialect, this means a happy village) is a small little village, housing quite a few hotels and a few tiny shops and hamlets. One can cover this place on foot in barely 10 minutes !!! As we enterered Loleygaon, we were greeted by the giant statue of Lord Buddha in the Eco Tourism Park. It was chilly cold and we could see tufts of clouds and fog fleeting by -- it was an experience to savor !!! As the clouds approached us, it suddenly became pitch dark and visibility was reduced to a bare 10 ft -- the clouds had our dress all wet -- we spread out in the park and shouted each other names and tried to locate one another in the park -- and lo !!! The fog had disappeared and out came the bright sunshine !!!

Early next morning, we hired a vehicle to take us to the sunrise point at Jhandidara. This was about 4 kms from out hotel and the road was atrocious. However, we were high in spirits and reached the desired spot well ahead of the scheduled sunrise time of 6.17am. There was a healthy crowd of visitors all waiting eagerly for the sunrise -- almost everyone had their own versions of stories about the sunrise -- and someone even suggested that Everest would be visible from this point !!!! However all the chirping soon died away as we were greeted with the majestic view of the sunrise -- from a tiny little diamond into a majestic red ball of fire all in a matter of minutes !!! And we soon turned our heads 180 degrees to witness the first sunrays on Mt. Kanchendzonga. At first the tip of the mountain turned golden -- and soon the hue spread out and engulfed the entire mountain range covering peaks such as Kabru North, Kabru South, Kabru Dome, Mt. Pandim, Mt. Narsingh, Nathula etc.

On our way back, we visited the canopy walk -- it a a dense forest with a walking trail and part of the trees have been joined together to form a 750 mtr long canopy. It was a lovely walk through the forests - the chirping birds, buzzing insects and fleeting butterflies, the shades of dark and light as the sun barely made its way thru the dense forests and above all the smell of the jungle -- all added an aroma to the situation.

The next day, i.e. Dec 24th, we left Loleygaon for Reshyap. The road leads us thru Lava ( at a distance of 24 kms from Loleygaon) , where we spent a couple of hours and visited the lovely Lava Monastery and the Neora Valley Nature Interpretation Centre. Lava also has beautiful cottages run by the Forest Development Corporation, but the small town was too clumsy and densely populated - so we decided to travel to Reshyap, a further 11kms ahead. One more point to note is that the last 4 kms of the road to Reshyap is still unmetalled and full of boulders -- so you definitely need a strong 4 wheel drive vehicle to enter Rishyap.

Reshyap is a pristine little village of about 100 to 150 huts and about 15 hotels ( most of which are little huts modified into hotels). All the hotels are pretty basic and the best place to stay is undoubtedly Hotel Sonar Bangla, which has 8 well furnished rooms priced at Rs 1000/- and Rs 1200/-. Electricity has made its way into this village less than 2 years ago, and this place still owns her virgin charm. There is nothing much to do, but play with the clouds all the time, and watch the majestic Kanchendzonga ranges on a clear day. Don't expect to find grocery and medicine shops and restaurants -- however expect yourself to be kissed by the clouds and inhale tons of fresh unadulterated air !!!

Christmas Day saw us getting some magnificent views of the sunrise on the mighty Kanchendzonga mountain ranges -- and no !!! this time we didn’t have to travel to any sunrise point -- it was from the comfort of our hotel rooms. After a quick breakfast, we decided to undertake a small trek upto TiffinDara mountain top, which is approx 3 kms from our hotel. Our guide was a small kid studying in class 5, who was back home on Christmas leave. On further interrogation, we were informed that the kid's father was a local hotel owner and his mother a doctor in Singapore. And he was carrying a giant kukri ( the local name for a dagger) presumably as a security - should we ever encounter a wild bear !!!

This was a fascinating trek through the dense forests, as we trudged our way up towards the mountain top, deftly negotiating the bushes and boulders and fallen trees enroute. We stopped at times gasping for breath, only to be mesmerized by the enchanting beauty of the woods. We could feel the silence and taste the freshness, as we heard the wind blow. It took us about an hour and 15 mins to reach Tiffindara, from where we could get a 360 degrees view all around. However, just as we approached Tiffindara, there were thousands of trees that were felled ( not sure if this was done legally or illegally) - however since no aforestation was in sight, it appeared to be the job of the land sharks, who, with their unholy nexus with the local headmen have done even more damage to the ecology in such small places, than what they have done in the larger cities !!! After a brief halt at Tiffindara, we retraced our steps back to the hotel - all that we carried back was the sight of the giant pine trees against the backdrop of the magnificent snow capped mountain ranges - sights that were firmly etched in our memories.

We spent a couple of days in Reshyap, lazing around the villages, meeting the villagers and getting a feel of their lifestyle. On Dec 27th, we hired a vehicle to drop us to Lava bus stand , and from there we boarded another vehicle to travel upto Kurseong.

Kurseong, once again is a slightly offbeat place, which is enroute to Darjeeling, and most tourists stop by for a cup of tea before proceeding to Darjeeling. It is also a place that houses some of the most famous Christian Missionary schools of Eastern India. Being on the lookout for some unconventional place to stay in, we luckily came across Makaibari Tea Estate, one of the most respected names worldwide for Darjeeling tea. ( infact Makaibari tea holds the world record for the costliest tea @ Rs 22,000/- per kg in 2005). Makaibari is one of the three tea estates to introduce tea tourism and they have at present, three cottages with 6 double rooms that are being offered on rent. Normally the cottages are occupied mostly by foreigners who stay here on a longterm basis with some research work etc. Luckily all of them had gone home on Christmas and hence I could get the necessary bookings done in advance, after interacting with Mrs Srirupa Banerjee, the owners wife.

Dec 28th was a memorable day for us as the manager of the tea estate, Mr. Ghosh took us around the tea garden plantations in his own vehicle, stopping by at various places to share the vast wealth of his experience. We also visited the Makaibari factory, and were explained about the tea manufacturing process. Makaibari is one of the first bio organic tea gardens of the country - which means that no chemical fertilizers are used. Out of the total area of approx 1000 acres, approx 650 acres are kept as forests. Wildlife is encouraged, and the tea estate even employs 12 forest rangers to monitor the progress of its wildlife !!! Incidentally the plucking season is set to begin in April, and during this time all visitors are welcome to visit the Makaibari factory. This visit is free of charge and you do not need to stay in their guest house to avail of this once in a lifetime opportunity. We also had the rare honour of attending a tea tasting session which was specially organised for us. And on our way back, we did buy plenty of boxes of Makaibari tea from the factory outlet, just outside the main gate.

As we are all aware, the Darjeeling Himalayan railway is now a UN Heritage property - but almost all the trains ( from Siliguri to Darjeeling ) are hauled by diesel engines -- and therefore they have lost some of the charm. The only train that is still hugged by a steam loco is that toy train that departs from Kurseong at 6am to arrive at darjeeling at 8.45 am. At my son's insistence, we took this joyride for a paltry ticket of Rs 10/- ( can you believe it). It was a tiny little 3 bogied train that huffed and puffed its way by the side of the Hill Cart Road, gaining maximum speeds of 15 km per hour. As the train whistled away, school going kids came right out of their houses and hopped onto the running train, took a joyride and hopped down once their school approached !!! As the train reached Ghoom railway station we alighted and reached the famous Batasia loop, just in time to catch this train make two picturesque 360 degree turns and chug on towards Darjeeling.

For travellers wishing to make this trip from Darjeeling, there is a diesel engine hauled toy train that runs upto Ghoom station and returns to Darjeeling, covering a total distance of 18 kms in two and a half hours. Tickets are priced at Rs 260/- each.

We proceeded to Darjeeling and spent the entire day at the Mall, chatting with friends whom we met for the first time there and thronging the numerous curio shops all around. We returned to Makaibari by road in the evening ( distance of 36 kms) and the next day we were back in the pile of concrete named Kolkata.

All that we have with us now is fond memories of those 10 days !!!!!

Kolkata, India
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for Kolkata, Darjeeling, India
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1. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Thanks debadatt for an excellent and informative trip report.

Just a note, in case there is no room at Makaibari, Glenburn Tea Estate also offers guest rooms for rent, and some other gardens are also about to start. Tea tourism is catching on I guess.

KUWAIT
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2. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Hi debadatt,

Excellent coverage.Wanted to know from you which is better place to go Kalimpong or Gangtok.I will be visiting these places after my stay in Darjeeling for 4 days in August.

Alex

Kolkata, India
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3. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Hello,

I guess that if one has to make a choice between Kalimpong and Gangtok, then it Gangtok will emerge the winner. However it is important to know the no. of days that you would spend.

Ideally you shud have atleast 3 days to cover Gangtok -- arrive in gangtok the first day by afternoon and spend that day on your own. Spend the second day to do the local site seeing tours inthe city as well as Rumtek monastery. And utilise the third day for a tour to Nathula Pass in the Indo-China border and Tsomgo ( Changu) lake. However you need permits to go upto Nathula, and the trip is done only 3 days a week. So you will have to contact a travel agent immediately on your arrival in Gangtok, bacuse they usually take 1 day to arrange for the relevant permits.

Do let me know if you have any more questions.

KUWAIT
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4. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Hi debadatt,

Thanks alot.Sorry for the late reply.I am still undecided whetether 2 take Gan: or Kal:

Presently what i have in mind is why not after spenting 4 days in Darj. ,travel back 2 Kolkatta & spend the next 2 days in Kolkatta.

Because having this time only of the year as my hol: i don;t know wheteher it is worth travelling from Darj: to Gan: & being there for 2 Days & the 3rd travel to Kolkatta and back from there 2 Cochin in Kerala.

I have only 2 destinations in mind,of which Darj: is decided ,wheteher 2 take Gang: or Kolkatta is my Q?

I will be spending one night in Kolkatta,reaching Kolkatta from Cochin by air,& pref: staying in YMCA overnight and next day flying 2 Bagdogra, from there take the shared jeep or taxi to Darj;

Reg: stay in Kol: do u have any suggestions other than YMCA.

Alex

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5. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Visit Gangtok, its a much more pleasant city to spend your holiday than the crowds of Kolkata. You will be spending one night in Kolkata anyway, so you will get to see some parts of the city.

In Kolkata, whats your budget ? Have you looked through the old posts, there are a lot of hotels in Kolkata discussed earlier in this forum.

Kolkata, India
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6. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Hi Alex,

The other suggestion that I have for you to save some time is that once you arrive in Kolkata by flight from Cochin, you can take the night train ( Darjeeling Mail) which departs Kolkata ( Sealdah Station) at 10 pm and reach NJP station on the next day morning at 8am -- so you can be in Darjeeling by 11.30 am on the next day, and have more than half the day for yourself.

Alternatively, if you decide to stay in Kolkata just for the night, firstly you spend on hotel and local conveyance. Secondly you reach Bagdogra aiport around 2pm in the afternoon on the next day ( I dont know which airline u r taking), which means you are in Darj by 6pm and the entire second day is lost.

So maybe doing the Kolkata to NJP sector by train is cheaper and more time efficient.

Regarding your choice between Gangtok and Kolkata, it really depends on what you want -- Gangtok is in the hills and similar to darjeeling -- which In Kolkata you can enjoy the city life with attractions such as Birla Planetarium, Victoria Memorial, Maidan, Millenium Park and a boatride on river Hooghly, Indian Museum, Science City, Nicco Park etc etc - not to mention the numerous shopping malls and eateries.

However ou need to amke the decision -- solitude or city life !!!

KUWAIT
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7. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Hi Debadatt,

Thank you so much 4 ur precise & prompt reply.

I will be reaching Kolkatta frrom Bangalore by air by 6-7pm .In case I take the Darj: mail from Sead: & reach NJP by 8 am next morning,my real problem is how do fresh up (Bath+toilet),before i depart to Darj by road .A sharing jeep or car,of these which is SAFE &convientent & how much does it cost.I already have the Sterling time share so is not wise for me stay in Ghoom where Darj: Sterling is located to save money,i can take the transportation to Mall road & other places of imp: from there.

Regarding Gangtok which do u suggest as a affordable accomadation in the downtown.

I plan 2 be in Darj for 3 nights & then travel to Gangtok ,what i am looking is having come all the way from one part of India to Darj: why not exp: Gangtok in 3 days & then get back to Kol: . Is it possible to cover these places in one day(Birla Planetarium, Victoria Memorial, Maidan, Millenium Park ,, Indian Museum, Science City, Nicco Park etc etc )

Reg: afford: place 2 stay in Kolkatta,which do you suggest,what i look is an quiet,clean & safe place in the downtown,is YMCA or YWCA worth considering & r they located in the down town.

Sorry for so many queries.

Alex

Kolkata, India
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8. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Hello,

Let me try to answer your questions one by one :-

1) NJP is a large and well equipped railway station - so you can carry out emergency freshning up activity in the station waiting room and then proceed for Sterling Resorts. You can reach there by 11am or 11.30 am and then have your bath etc.

2) There are plenty of share jeeps and maruti vans / tata sumos available from NJP station to Darj. There is a prepaid taxi booth in NJP station and the rates per head are displayed on the board. However since you are going to Ghoom Sterling, it might make sense to pay the per head rates of Darj, but get down in Ghoom station and then rent another vehicle to drop you to Sterling. Else you can rent out a car directly upto Sterling from NJP station. I dont hv an idea of the rates but it should be around Rs 1000/-.

3) Yes you are right -- once you hv come all the way upto Darjeeling, it makes sense to drop into Gangtok as well. Brave1 has also advised you of the same. For me MintoKling guest house is perhaps the best location in gangtok -- it is a family run hotel located in perhaps the best settings of Gangtok. You can google it and find its tel no. I also had the same stored in my mobile, but since Iam abroad presently, Iam unable to retrive the same immediately. But remember, MintoKling is very heavily booked...so you need to book months in advance.

4) In Kolkata it is possible to cover the Museum, Birla Planetarium, Victoria Memorial and Millenium Park and the boatride on the river Hooghly in a day. Science City and Nicco park will take another day.

5) I have no idea about the standard of the YMCA guest house in Kolkata, that you hv mentioned. pls ask Brave1 for his inputs.

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9. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

The YMCA have a Guest house in Chowringee, just off Lindsay street near the Indian Museum. I have been there once, its clean but I dont know if they have AC rooms. You could probably ask and find out.

YMCA

25, Jawaharlal Nehru Road

Kolkata - 87

Tel: +91 33 22492192

They have other guest houses as well, but this is the one I would recommend.

If you want other hotel options, let me know.

Kolkata, India
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10. Re: Offbeat places around Darjeeling

Hi Alex,

Makaibari Tea Estate is in Kurseong and approx 60 kms from NJP Station. Travel time by car / jeep is about 1hr 30 minutes.

The cottages in Makaibari, are pretty basic, but in a wonderful location. These are alongside the managers bungalow, and there is a common dining hall. I donot think that there is a fixed rate chart -- it is very homely atmosphere. I remember we were charged Rs 1000/- per night including fooding for 2 persons and a kid. We got the booking by directly contacting the owners wife...Mrs Srirupa Banerjee ( try getting her no. thru Google - I got it the same way, and stored it in my mobile, but the same is not readily avbl with me).

Let me know if you require any further info.