Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway

Tripoto
16th Sep 2016
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Day 1


Fasten your seat belts guys as this time we are going to explore the pine forests of Neora Valley National Park. Yes, we are about to start our travel that will include the serene destination of Kolakham, Jorpokhri and the English summer capital of India, Darjeeling. We were a group of four friends who could manage sometime of their busy schedules and deliverables and decided to spend a little time amidst the virgin forest of Himalayas only with the aim of listening to the sound of dew falling on the grass, observing a colorful bird who just landed herself on the nearest branch from your window and sing you a song, listen to the Good Morning greeting from the snowcapped peaks of Shivaloka as you open the window in the early hours of the morning, walking through the forest roads and recollecting the poem,

"Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep
  But I have promises to keep
  And Miles to go before I sleep
  And Miles to go before I sleep".

 Not getting too much Poetic and coming straight back to tell you the main story, four of us have planned our trip to this part of the nature on the end of September 2016. We boarded the night train to New Jalpaigudi and by cab travelled straight to Kolakham. There were multiple halts on the road for Breakfast, Lunch and photography. Investing a lot of time and spending time with ourselves, we reached Kolakham in the evening and to our splendor found the cottage we have booked at Kolakham was right at the heart of the forest of Neora Valley. The hotel owner does not stay there, she will provide us dinner by 7:30 PM and will leave for the day, from there we will be on our own, isolated in the forest. Before I share any of my experience, let’s give you an idea of the place.

The tiny hamlet Kolakham amidst the lush green coniferous forest in the fringes of Neora Valley Nation Park, one of the most unspoiled forest in the eastern Himalayas and overlooking the panoramic view of various snow clad peaks of Eastern Himalaya including the 3rd highest peak of the world, the mighty Mt. Kanchenjunga in an average altitude of 6200 feet from the sea level is located around 38 KMs from Kalimpong ( one of the popular hill stations in Eastern India) is also an ideal place for the bird watchers, star gazers, travelers having inclination towards soft adventure or solely to disentangle from the hustles and hassles of the otherwise routine life.

The bungalow we occupied was a duplex and entirely made of wood. A slight movement you make will create an amplified sound, the doors on opening and closing creates sound those we hear at a haunted house of a horror movie. This added to the ambience and since we were in a group, we were not scared and were thoroughly enjoying it. There was no electricity and the mild luminance that you will have will be provided by a couple of candles by which you have to continue till the next morning. It was pitch dark outside and the visibility was zero, it was cold too, so we closed all the windows and ensured the door is locked well, which will separate us from the wild world outside. Yes the forests here are manifested with bears and leopard. Although tough to find out during the day, it is advisable to prevent the slightest chance of their proximity in the night. Four of us gathered together and chatted on our favorite topics over some nice hard and soft drinks which we carried from home. If you wanted to have the drink of your choice, it is better you carry them to Kolakham considering the remoteness of the place. When friends sit together, it seems time flies. We had a late dinner that day and had a nice sleep.

Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Day 2

Next morning, we woke up with the good morning call of Kanchenjunga and later with the hotel staff with a tray of tea. We had our tea and started for the Changey falls. It was a natural treasure and you have to trek a steep downhill and on the return journey an uphill of the same gradient, which can be a tough call for a non-trekker. It was a natural treasure and a must visit if you are visiting Kolakham. The Sun Rays through the canopy of trees creates a rainbow over the mist created by the steep fall of the water. I have tried to support my statement with some photographs of the place. We spent some time here enjoying the sound of the falls and the water droplets as they strike through our faces.

After we are back from the falls climbing a steep gradient, we are already hungry and had a heavy breakfast there. Unfortunately, it was a single day stay at Kolakham for us and we started for Darjeeling our next destination right after breakfast and with no intentions of leaving the spot.

All through the way to Darjeeling we were enjoying the beauty of Kanchenjunga at our left, whereas to our right, there was the dense forest of coniferous and ferns of different nature. Extraordinary, as it had to be, being created by the creator. The road though rough within the forest, we did not quite feel it as all the attention was at the beauty that the nature had to offer all around us.

As the lush green tea estates started revealing themselves on both sides of the road we knew we were at the outskirts of Darjeeling and the city revealed itself within the next 20 mins.

It was a beautiful city, where you will find the proud monuments, buildings, churches and some of the best schools of all times, all built by the English more than 150 years ago and still standing strong and high, whispering with the white clouds amidst the dark blue sky.

We checked in at the hotel and suddenly we were once again amidst the warmth and comfort of the city. Freshened up, we were once again out and straight to the mall. Darjeeling mall, in my opinion was the most beautiful mall that I have seen among all the hill stations of India.

The sprawling part of the mall has a stage for cultural events that the locals have to offer, on one side the kit of Pigeons were feeding on the crops offered to them, People stand in small groups here and there and talking, the northern edge has some cozy benches where you can sit and enjoy the beauty of the Kanchenjunga, which will give you an occasional peep through the clouds. There are mobile tea sellers who will provide you tea with a nice aroma as a trademark of the place. Darjeeling is the producer of the most finest of the tea leaves in the country and some fragrance should be carried back by every traveler who has put their footmarks in this hill station.

The rear side of the mall is accessible by a narrow stretch of road that will be manifested by monkeys, funny will be their activities, but be careful if you are carrying any food with you. The youngest member of the family is still not disciplined enough to prevent his desire of snatching the food packet from you. There were local sellers as well who sells colorful ornaments made of beeds. At the end of the road the rear part of the mall, which is again a sprawling area, but relatively less populated then the front. Here you have the best hotels of Darjeeling, where every traveler will desire to stay for the fantastic view of Kangchenjunga that they offer right from the window of you bedrooms. It is now 6 PM local time and we were sitting in one of the most famous and nice restaurants of English time, The Glenaries. One should definitely try the chilly pork over here, considering you are not allergetic towards the meat. Once we are done with the dinner there is not much to do here as the shops closes early here and the mall will be relatively vacant and dark. We were back to our hotel rooms and planned for the activities the next day.

Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Day 3

Today we gave an early start to the day as there is no point spending time inside the hotel rooms and we took the minimum time to get ready and once again out in the mall area. One of the delicacies of Darjeeling is Keventers, a rooftop restaurant, which will serve you the finest English breakfast and a nice view of Kangchenjunga from its red terrace. The breakfast menu will have a lot of items like Sausage, Bacons and eggs with the most delicious flavors of Coffee. Yes, their breakfast supports the saying, "Breakfast should be heavy".

Having a nice food at the Cafe, we booked a cab which will cover the site scenes of Darjeeling. Special mention will be the Ropeway ride, which will sell over the lush green tea estates and the hills. The roads will reveal themselves under you like coiled threads. Although scary, but we had the feeling of being at the top of the world as the cold wind was blowing across our faces. We reached the station after a considerably long flight where to our delight we find a shop selling beer and momo which were grabbed at the utmost haste and then quick on to the tea gardens over which we sailed just now. A lifetime moment and very hard to forget till you live to have the tasty momo and the cold beer sitting among the aroma of the tea garden as the occasional cable car was flying over our head.

Spending a considerable time here till our desires were satisfied we were on the return trip in the cable car and back to our cab, which carried us to the Darjeeling Zoo, the next destination. Although Zoo sounds to be a place for kids, but the Darjeeling Zoo was an amazing place and a must visit for all ages. The occasional peep of the leopard and the barking deer through the clouds and fog, the rapid movement of the snow leopard over the narrow shoulders with the majestic tail wagging to maintain the balance as, the powerful mating call of the tiger orchestrating the place and living a mild vibration on the ground, the wolf giving back a sly look from its den and last but not the least is the bear, which was among his busy and agitated movements going up and down hill to and fro sniffing the trees and bushes. Overall the experience was amazing and we were mesmerized already.

Returning to our hotels we did a quick packing, arranged the same cab for us and started for the Bungalow of Jorpokhri. We had a heavy breakfast today at Keventers and we skipped lunch. We started for Jorpokhri and the road was entirely through the Pine forest partially concealed with clouds here and there and partially revealing itself. It was late noon and the weather was gloomy and fortunately the roads are smooth this time. Here we had nothing to do but enjoying the flavor of the nature there through the window seat of the car. A cold goes down the spine when the driver suddenly will tell you to keep a close eye at the tree tops as there could be the black leopard and the sighting of it is not a very rare incident here. We could not site one this time and hence could not provide you with the photograph of the majestic animal in its natural habitat. We in no time reached the last village market at Pankhabari, just before reaching Jorpokhri. We accessed the market there to get us some fruits as you will not get anything once you reach Jorpokhri apart from the dinner and lunch that is included in the package.

We reached Jorpokhri in the evening and occupied the rooms at the heritage bungalow on the hilltop. The location of the property was excellent and among the pine forest with no major human habilitation around and the fogs around gave it a creepy look, more like the houses that becomes the site of incident in the horror movies of the west.

Let me take the opportunity to introduce my gang here. We were four, Raj, Ranju, San and Joy. I gave the proposal for a short stroll to explore the surroundings as the sun was still leaving the last lights of the day. Raj being the most lethargic person in the World unless you motivated him the right way, straight away declared a denial to my proposal saying he is too tired of the activities throughout the day and he wants some rest. Ranju being Raj's best buddy wasted no time following his footsteps. Not getting enough support I and Saayan decided to go out leaving behind the extended group. We went out of the Bungalow gate and we were immediately among the dark and dense

Pine forest on our both sides. The daylight was almost on the verge of waving us the last goodbye and Saayan wanted an assurance of whether we should really go any further. I who was always in a lust of nature and adventure, replied with an affirmation with the logics that it is the best time to do some low light photography, there is a very rare chance of a wild animal coming close as they are also scared of our presence, we are 2 and not alone and we will not go too far. With all the negotiations done I somehow managed to convince Saayan, who reluctantly accepted and we walked down the forest roads a little more. We were planning to visit the graveyard which was 1 km downhill to check out the ambience.

It was not more than 10 mins that we were walking when suddenly we here some sound very close to the road at the forest on the right. We stopped, tried to here with a keen ear, there were no sounds now, we again resumed our steps and not more than 10-15 yards we went, again we heard the sound among the bushes, Khach.. Khach.. Khach.. it goes again, but, this time more prominent. We again stopped and waited a little longer this time, when suddenly in the faint light the source revealed itself. It was a pair of wild bores who hastily crossed the road 10 to 15 yards ahead of us and entered the forest to the left. Wild bores are animals that can be dangerous once scared, they are immensely powerful with huge tasks and you definitely will not want to negotiate with them at that hour of the day, so we made a wise decision of making a U-Turn this time only to come back the next morning.

During the return journey we did some low light photography before we reached the safe of the forest bungalow. Once it was completely dark at the forest bungalow we were sitting at the terrace which was adjacent to our rooms and stared at the sky to find the entire constellation of stars above us. There are some moments in our life where we should spent some time thanking the almighty to gift us with a pair of eyes, this is one of those moments and we still repent of not to carry a camera tripod to shoot the star trails. Yes, it was the most ideal situation one could ever get to shoot the stars. We stayed there for some time and then as the thermometer was showing a descending trend, compelled to get back to the bungalow room, sit there and again on a chatting mode on the creepiest topics those are our favorites.

We had fruits from Pankhabari and drinks were once again on, the evening was once again illuminated though it was pitch darkness outside. At 8 PM we got the call for dinner, which we managed to postpone to 10 with the condition that we have to go to the Cafeteria which was located at a distance. We accepted to the condition, it should not be a problem as we were carrying torches, though the threat of the wild was always there.

Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Day 4

Last night we had our dinner and came back without any incident and next morning got up early and went out for a stroll, this time in a group of four. The sun was not yet over the eastern hills yet and Kanchenjunga was completely visible at the northern side with its entire sprawling range, which comprises of Kumbhakarna on the left and Lothse at the right, amazing landscape and it will compel the wisest of the photographers to take a 100 shot of the same scene. As the sun rises, the snow peaks took the color of crimson red first followed by orange, gold and finally white. We were spectators of this amazing transformation of complexion and once it is over we started our morning walk on the same route we took the previous evening. This time we managed to reach the graveyard. It was an amazing place with not more than 20 graves scattered among the eternal pine forests that are protecting them from the chaos of the external world. Spending sometime here, we were back to our bungalow had breakfast, packed our bags and on the return trip to New Jalpaigudi via Pashupatinath Market of Nepal and the Mirik lake.

The trip ended with our arrival at New Jalpaigudi Railway station and we have banked some memories for ourselves that will help us survive the monotony of the daily life.

Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
Photo of Kolakham Diaries #offbeatgetaway by Joydeep Bhattacharyya
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