Kalimpong things to do: Should you visit Kalimpong in the Summer Months?
Kalimpong is one of the places that is facing the brunt of global warming. None of the resorts have air conditions. This makes it very uncomfortable during the summer months. If you are planning a mountain getaway this summer, you should certainly give Kalimpong a pass. Having said that, it is still a place worth visiting in cooler weather.
Pelling to Kalimpong Roadtrip
After 3 days in Pelling, we hit the roads once again for our next destination, which was Kalimpong. The road from Pelling to Kalimpong is a 100Km stretch that involves getting off one mountain (in Sikkim) and getting up another (in West Bengal). The former part of the journey takes you through rugged mountains with nary a soul or vehicle along the way for a majority of the route. Personally I find this absolutely blissful. I can drive along these desolate mountain roads for days on end. There is something therapeutic about driving without crossing another soul - totally blissful & oozing gratitude for the solitude!
At some point you pass a board welcoming you into West Bengal. This is totally redundant, since the traffic any which ways is an indication of the switchover. One saving grace is the improvement in the quality of roads. Unfortunately, this is offset by the higher number of vehicles on the road. Nevertheless, it is quite an enjoyable drive. The roads are very well - paved (surprise!). They meander through dense forests as they ascend through twisting turns and hairpin bends, onwards to Kalimpong.
Kalimpong is at an elevation of around 1300 Meters. That's way lesser than the 1800 meters for Pelling, yet, the ascent here seemed far steeper. That is because we were gaining more altitude over a shorter distance.
Summit Barsana Resort & Spa, Kalimpong
Kalimpong town is like any other hill / mountain retreat in India. Or at least it's main town is - congested, polluted, over - crowded and a bit of a mess. Strangely, that has a charm of it's own! We crossed the main town and headed to the Summit Barsana Resort and Spa, which is on the upper cart road. This is a quaint little resort, away from the hustle bustle, overlooking the main town.
The property comprises of a new double - storied block with modern rooms, and a heritage bungalow at the other end of the property. Our excited group instantly decided to check out the heritage block, which is quite beautiful. We summarily rejected it and opted for the modern block. This is simply because the heritage rooms seemed great for the winters but downright claustrophobic for the summer months, which is when we were there.
The new block rooms are spacious, around 500 Sq.Ft each. They're each equipped with a king sized and queen sized bed, respectively. In addition, they all have largish balconies to boot, with half - decent views of the valley below. All in all, the property has an old - world charm which is quite endearing. The staff, most of who are originally from Darjeeling, are quite hospitable and friendly. Overall, this is a great choice to stay at if Kalimpong falls on your chosen path.
Having said this, we were in for the shock of our lives when we got here, which had nothing to do with the hotel or it's management. Like most Himalayan hotels, the rooms didn't have air - conditioners. This is simply because the weather in summers is cool at worst, negating the need for any contraption to bring the temperature down below what it already is. Same was the case with the Summit Barsana (and pretty much all other resorts at Kalimpong). Unfortunately, what with global warming and it's accompanying effects, Kalimpong wasn't cool. It was downright hot!
The rooms were nearly unbearable to be in during the afternoons and we'd wait for evening to arrive. In the interim we'd be panting in desperation for the bloody temperature to come down. Of course the fact that the rooms had just one fan rotating with helpless monotony in the centre of the room didn't help matters either. Unless you were sitting directly under the fan, which was a bit of an impossibility since the fans were directly over the spot BETWEEN both beds! A rather sorry state we've reduced our mountains to and a shame for the world we're leaving behind for future generations!
Like I said, Kalimpong is a crowded, polluted etc. etc. hill station. Still, it has it's charms that it's desperately trying to hold onto. Not unlike a dowager queen maintaining a tenuous, yet slipping grip over her realm. Having said that, the town has some interesting places to visit and explore, which helped fill in the time over the 3 days were here. Here's a list of things to do in Kalimpong
1 - Pradhan Cactus Nursery:
Built by a naturist, MR. BN Pradhan sometime in the 70's, this place is a 2Km walk from the Summit Barsana resort. It has several nurseries housing cacti of all shapes and sizes, besides other flora and certainly merits a visit. I have never seen cacti of such shapes, sizes and colours, let alone know of their existence! They also have a little open air cafe that serves milky sweet machine - dispensed coffee, with some interesting homemade sandwiches. Not bad at all to kill an hour or two.
2 - Zang Dhok Palri Phodang:
Zang Dhok Palri Phodang monastery is situated right on the top of Durpin hill in Kalimpong. A 4 Km walk (Uphill, all the way) from the Summit Barsana brings you to the Kalimpong cantonment area. The monastery is at one end of the cantonment. It was consecrated by the Dalai Lama himself in the 1970's. This is one of the few monasteries that houses all 108 volumes of the Kangyur (the Buddhist canons).
You can climb atop the highest floor of the monastery, which affords panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. When we got there, the young chelas were studying English out in the open lawns. They seemed quite engrossed in their lessons & largely ignored us! We spent a good hour or so here, taking in the immense peace resonating in the surroundings. Eventually, our rumbling stomachs got us heading to the Morgan House for lunch.
En route, one of the helpful sentries of the cantonment informed us that we could take a short detour of a couple of kilometres to get views of MT. Kanchejunga. So of we went in search of 'darshan' of the elusive '5 treasures of snows'. But I guess she'd decided that we'd had our fill of her at Pelling. Other than rolling clouds, there was nothing else visible!
I in my 'author' avatar, narrating a tale from my book 'Adventures of Biplob the Bumblebee' to the kids as we wait for MT. Kanchenjunga to appear. She didn't.
3 - Morgan House:
About a couple of kilometres from the monastery, bang in the middle of the cantonment is the Morgan House, a heritage bungalow that now serves as a resort managed by WBTDC. Built by a Brit jute baron (called Morgan, obviously!) to commemorate his wedding to an Indigo plantation owner (some sort of a plantation alliance I suppose!). Legend has it that the bungalow witnessed some pretty wicked parties in it's time. Now of course it's just a sleepy old heritage hotel in the sleepiest part of this sleepy town.
A more interesting legend is that the place is supposedly haunted. Apparently, Morgan's wife looked in on the resident guests from time to time! Sounds like fun and we (at least some of us) were sorely disappointed at not being staying here. After all, these nocturnal visits from an erstwhile Indigo plantation heiress sound like fun!
Anyway, we were brusquely informed that we couldn't eat here. The manager told us that they only serve resident guests. After a suitable pecuniary incentive, the chaps running the joint found a loophole in this rule and decided that they could serve us a meal after all. The only caveat was we quietly eat what they served, no questions asked. By then we were ravenous and the nearest meal was a 5Km / hour long trek away. All said, this seemed as good a deal as we'd get!
They served us in the dining hall. The meal consisted of Aloo bhaja, Dal, chicken in unidentifiable brown gravy, rotis by the dozens and rice. All this rounded off with caramel custard that had been prepared as dessert for dinner. The meal was great, home - cooked, wholesome and delicious. Even little Shaurya, our friends Shradha and Aditya's 8 year old who frowns upon anything that isn't dal makhni made do with the yellow dal that was served. Either the dal was truly good, or he was too ravenous to give a hoot. I think it was more the latter. The moot point being that the meal was consumed by all age groups without so much as a murmur of complaint and that's all that matters!
4 - The Elgin Silveroaks, Kalimpong:
Now this isn't really a 'must visit' spot, but I mention it here since we decided to have dinner at their restaurant one evening. Built in the 1930's, this is a beautiful heritage property in true Elgin tradition. The impeccably well maintained stone facade houses luxurious rooms (No A/C - we checked!) and an ornate ballroom that houses the restaurant. The frontage opens up to well manicured lawns that have a panoramic view of the valley below. It seems like a pretty nice place to stay at if you go for that kind of thing. Personally, although the property is great, I found the surroundings too claustrophobic (it's bang in the middle of town) for my taste, and was glad to be back at the Summit Barsana!
The food though was quite good. We had to swing by in the morning and place our order for dinner since they ONLY procure enough vegetables to feed the resident guests. Having said that, the service was great and food certainly above average.
3 days in Kalimpong is about a day more than what one would want to spend. We were honestly glad when our time here was done, more because of the warm weather than anything else. Overall, given a choice I would have given Kalimpong a pass altogether. The only upside was that after the benchmark set by Kalimpong, our next destination would have to try really very hard to disappoint!
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