It was around 2 when we reached Lava. It was freezing cold already and we were given shabby rooms without heaters or geysers. So much for cheap travel. But you can learn to put up with anything when your spirit is high. So I took a bath in a pail of freezing cold water and changed into a set of clothes, which I didn't get out of until the next day. At Lava, throughout the nights, without the room-heating, even under the heavy blankets, we slept with all our clothes on including the jeans and the gloves.
After a late lunch, we sauntered down the descending road to visit the Lava Monastery. Our hotel was one of the tiny places along the downwards lane which goes to the monastery from the bus-stop. It was lined with little home-owned shops selling colourful souvenirs and some restaurants.The short winter day was speedily closing up and the last golden lights of the sun were already on the Monastery when we reached it. It was freezing cold. The monastery was on a relatively flat surface on the top of a hill and flanked at all the sides by the hills. As gushes of January winds came blowing to us unhindered from the mountains, I felt my very toes to be freezing and my ears growing red and numb.
In the evening, we had momos at a small street-side home owned place. It tasted nothing special. By 8 at night, every shop and house were closed and when we were returning, the roads were dark and strange, as if lifted from a Gothic novel.
Sudipa and I woke up early in the morning and went for a walk. The day was cold but sunny, and the fog had receded down to the forests. We had worked up a heavy sweat by the time we had reached the bank of an old abandoned water-reservoir which lay further out from the monastery, where we sat down on a bench and petted some fluffy dogs who came wagging their tails to us, hopeful for some breakfast. Then for returning, we asked the local people about a short-cut to the bus-stop because the meandering road we had followed down was no less than a few kilometers and thus could be very difficult when ascending. They pointed us to a rough narrow flight of stairs, very rudimentary, which went steadily up, between the houses and the rooms and through people's courtyards and backyards. We took it and were soon out of breath. We hadn't anticipated how difficult a simple climb of stairs could be. We had to sit down every now and then and ask for drinks of water from a couple of houses. I must express my admiration for the beauty of tiny hill-houses here. They are, almost all of them really small and are inhabited by people who are by no means very well-off. Yet these houses are made of woods painted in cheery colors like read, green and yellow and each and every house possesses a little garden and loads of potted flower-plants adorning their window-sills, verandas and terrace. Many a time you would find a fluffy mountain dog or even a cat reclining lazily on their doorsteps. I always adore these beautiful houses and good taste of their owners.
After breakfast, we started for Lolegaon, which was another small village amidst forests, and boasted of a scenic view of the Kanchenjunga as well as a hanging wooden-bridge in its woods.
Unfortunately at Lolegaon, we could not see the Kanchenjunga because suddenly the day had become cloudy, but we explored the forest nevertheless. The long wooden bridge could only support 5 people at a time and we took turns in getting onto it. I enjoyed the forest immensely, despite it's being slightly gloomy due to the clouds. Every time I have been to a forest, I have felt an incorrigible urge to go further, to its utmost depth and perhaps sit on a tree-log and look at the wild flowers, collect scattered winter leaves, and stoop to find some wild fungi on the tree-barks.
Sometimes, during the Monsoons, these Dooars forests became really dangerous. Even now, when it was winter and much drier, we were told to always carry umbrellas because apparently the leeches could slide down onto you from the overhead branches. During the rains, I suppose there would be landslides and one could always get lost.