Seeking Kanchenjunga around Kalimpong Part 1: Deolo Hills and Lava

Both my wife and I have almost a lifelong love for the mountains, and we make a conscious effort to frequently travel to locations close to the Himalayas, multiple times in a year. Our friends often question whether this gets repetitive and boring, but only a lover of mountains will understand what the snowcapped peaks, hilly roads, altitude, clouds, and mist bring to you.

The weather was just starting to get a bit chilly when we reached Deolo Hills from Bagdogra airport on a November afternoon. The journey itself was mesmerizing following the course of river Teesta and stopping at different points to admire its beauty. En route, a satiating lunch was at Abhinay Restaurant, Lohapul which was strongly recommended by our cab driver. The fare was a simple thali, with options of Kosha Mangsho (Rs 200) or Rui Macher Jhol (Rs 170). I would call it a mixed thali and not pure Bengali food with dal, Kabuli chana, and alu gobhi accompanying the rice.

Deolo Hill is only about ten km away from Kalimpong, and it is the highest point around the town (around 5500 feet). The hilltop has been developed by the tourism department and forms part of a standard Kalimpong day tour. We had been here earlier, but this time we wanted to stay, mainly for the spectacular view of Kanchenjunga that the hill is known for. The Deolo Tourist Lodge here is right on top of the hills, close behind the viewpoint with a few rooms offering a look at the magnificent mountain range from the balcony itself. While the best room 201 is perennially locked for government officials, we could manage to book the next best 202. Please note that the tourist lodge does not have online booking, so if you want to book directly you must have someone visit the Gorkhaland administration office in Kolkata or Siliguri.

The campus of the Deolo lodge is really curated well with a variety of flowers all around. A short walk outside can give you access to a number of small shops that sell stuff from tea to momos. While the view from the balcony was good, an even better look can be had from the higher viewpoint a couple of hundred of meters away. Sunrise is a must-do here as you can see the first rays of sun from your right falling on the tallest peak, and then the red tinge spreading to the rest of them. We stayed for two days here, while we had a clear view for one day, the other was a bit cloudy. In the mountains, one has to always ride on his luck. The lodge serves average food, mostly from the Bengali cuisine. The service from the staff was decent for the two days we stayed, which was a pleasant surprise as the Tripadvisor reviews said otherwise.

From Deolo on the third afternoon, we set out for Lava, a destination within the Neora forests. Lava is only about twenty km from Deolo, and the hired car charged us Rs 1700. The journey through small villages and lush green forests is a treat, you can stop en route for some tea, and buy some local churpi cheese blocks to enjoy on the way. Lava is at a height of 7200 feet. We soon reached the West Bengal Forest Department tourist huts which are located at a height from the town surrounded by tall pine trees. The small huts were clean and had some beautiful flowers blooming all around the place.

A short downhill walk takes you to the main market, and from there to the monastery which is one of the major attractions of Lava.  We had some excellent Alu Chops on the way and some refreshing coffee at the monastery, which provides a great view of the surrounding area. The canteen at WBFDC Lava serves basic meals, including a very dilute version of khichuri which we tried for dinner. The staff, however, are pretty apathetic to work, which dampens the spirits a bit.

The next day our morning walk took us to a small grocery shop cum restaurant down near the market, which was making the first momos of the day. The fresh momos stuffed with chicken, ginger, and onions were served with chicken stock and Dalle chutney, and we followed this up by sharing a huge bowl of thukpa for our breakfast.

Many tourists ignore Lava and prefer to directly proceed to Rishop. But, I strongly advise spending a day in this quiet village within nature. Long walks down the roads, spending time in the monastery as well as living in the midst of the jungle on the hilltop can be an unforgettable experience. We were glad that we stayed here for a night before moving to Rishop at around noon.

Continued: Rishop, Kolakham and Morgan House

Some useful phone numbers:

Deolo Tourist Lodge: 7001204618
WBFDC Forest huts, Lava: 8972000278
Taxi from Siliguri to Kalimpong: Subhas 7679134151

#Kalimpong #Kanchenjunga #Deolo #Lava

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