Solo trip to the Himalayas from Kolkata within 4K budget

14th Sep 2019

Mountains inside a lensball 

Photo of Solo trip to the Himalayas from Kolkata within 4K budget by Santanu Das

I was thinking to write about my first solo trip for last few days and finally it's time !! Sep 13th, 2019 was my last working day in my previous organization and I've planned to join the new organization on 23rd. I thought to utilize this 9 days time without any pressure, stress, calls or meetings. I wanted to spend 3-4 days completely alone and the remaining days with my family and friends before moving to a new city. I just had booked train tickets to and from NJP (New Jalpaiguri) and apart from that I didn't plan for anything else.

Day 1 : I Reached NJP station from Sealdah at around 7 o'clock in the morning and started searching for shared cabs to Manebhanjan. I came to know that I have to go to Siliguri bus stop to get shared cab so I took an auto for Rs. 20 to reach Siliguri and took a shared cab to Sukhiapokhri and then to Manebhanjan for Rs. 180 and Rs. 40 respectively.

Rain couldn't stop me to explore this beautiful place.

Photo of Mane Bhanjang, West Bengal, India by Santanu Das

After reaching Manebhanjan at 11 o'clock I was looking for a guide to go to Tonglu by trekking but unfortunately I came to know that only from the next morning it's allowed as the govt. will allow trekking from 15th Sep. So I had to stay in a home-stay in Manebhanjan for that day. Already it was raining heavily. I was exploring few nearby places wearing poncho, tasted chicken thuppa in a small restaurant and somehow managed to take few pictures. After lunch I was enjoying the rain with a cup of coffee sitting by the open window and didn't know when I fell asleep. Later in the evening I had my dinner and slept peacefully. During the whole day I've noticed something unusual. I couldn't go to Tonglu due to permission issue, weather was bad, couldn't take photographs properly and still I wasn't feeling bad, I was calm, I was happy and stress-free. I was enjoying the nature and my own company.

Day 2

Day 2 : After a deep sleep in the cosy home-stay, here comes another fresh morning with some excitements about the journey to Tonglu. Breakfast was ready by the time I was getting fresh. Around 7:30 in the morning I met the guide to complete the formalities and at 8 o'clock I've started trekking from Manebhanjan to Tonglu along with my guide. So many people on the way were asking something to the guide in their language (Nepali) and he was answering them with a smile. I was only able to understand a single word 'opening' in their conversation. Later I came to know from him that they were all asking if this was the opening trek of the season. Basically trekking in that route was opened for the season on 15th Sep and I was the first one to start.

My guide to Tonglu

Photo of Mane Bhanjang, West Bengal, India by Santanu Das

I was so happy to trek after six months though it was about only 10-12 KM and just for a single day. Weather was pretty good, temperature was low but after few minutes I felt lack of motivation. First 2.5 km ascent was very stiff and only at that moment I felt that trekking is easier when accompanied by other like minded people. Unlike my previous treks this time I was taking frequent breaks on the way. After walking for few kilometers we took the motorable road. I could feel the excitement graph was falling as we were walking through the road and weather started becoming bad again.

Somewhere near Tonglu

Photo of Tonglu, Singalila Forest, West Bengal by Santanu Das

Before completing the last 2-3 km we've decided to take any local cab on the way. The first cab we got was carrying some food items for the local market and that was having a single seat available. I somehow managed to seat in the cab and my guide was waiting for another random cab on the way.

I'm not a selfie freak but this was needed

Photo of Tonglu, Singalila Forest, West Bengal by Santanu Das

When I reached Tonglu, the place was totally filled with clouds and literally I wasn't able to see anything. There was no one whom i can ask about the home-stay I was searching for and in that situation I could hear distant growling of a dog (yes, that wasn't like barking). Well the dog stopped after a while and it took another 10-15 minutes for me to finally get to the home-stay.

The beautiful home-stay at Tonglu in a gloomy morning.

Photo of Tonglu, Singalila Forest, West Bengal by Santanu Das

It was around 11:45 in Tonglu. After finishing some hot noodles and coffee, I started asking uncountable questions to the home-stay owner just out of curiosity about the place and suddenly we noticed one female voice, "bhaiya coffee milega kya?" (may I get a cup of coffee?). A 56 years old lady was traveling alone. She was coming from Dhotrey and heading towards Tumling. On her way she came to the home-stay looking for a cup of coffee.

I was pretty much impressed after knowing that a lady of her age is trekking alone and started a sweet conversation with her about her journey, why she was traveling alone and so on. I guess it was my Hindi pronunciation which made her ask me, "tumi bangali?" (are you a Bengali?). Well, two unknown Bengali met in an unknown place on the same journey.

We've had a nice journey and conversation

Photo of Tumling, Nepal by Santanu Das

She finished her black coffee and together we started towards Tumling. She was little slower but full of courage and self confidence. On the way to Tumling we shared a chocolate and lots of stories about the mountain, our personal interests, journey and so many things. There was a monestry type architecture on our way. We've seated there for few minutes; the decent sound of the cold wind, the dense clouds, the serenity were trying to hold us for long but she had to go back to Dhotrey and I had to explore more. So she went back through the same road and I moved forward. I've walked another 2 km, took few photographs and again came back to the home-stay at 2:30.

Just another view of the place

Photo of Tumling, Nepal by Santanu Das

While discussing with her I came to know that there's a 6 km jungle trail to Dhotrey. So I thought not to go back through the same road and planned to explore that trail in the next morning. As I had to take the train next day in the evening I knew that I'd have enough time to reach NJP from Dhotrey. Meanwhile my lunch was ready and I was hungry.

A roadside shade/viewpoint

Photo of Tonglu, Singalila Forest, West Bengal by Santanu Das

Already half of the second day was over without any rest and my stomach was craving for food. Lunch was quite good. Post lunch I was spending some time alone inside a roadside shade. Even after wearing 2 layers of clothes along with a down jacket I was freezing because of the cold wind. I was simply seating inside that shade for almost half an hour and then again it started raining heavily. So I had to go back to my room and was thinking to take some rest.

Just before I was getting into a blanket for a power nap, the home-stay owner's son came in and asked, "bhaiya ghumne chaloge?" (wanna go some place outside?). I thought he was joking as there was no sign for the rain to stop but he offered me a ride in his Land Rover. Without thinking for anything else I got ready and we started from there in his car at around 3:30 in the afternoon. I must admit it was frightening when he was driving above 50 kmph speed on the mountain road and that too in heavy rain but I love adrenaline rush and enjoyed the ride anyway. After a while we stopped the car in the middle of nowhere and enjoyed the rain for few minutes and came back.

I enjoyed the ride

Photo of Tonglu, Singalila Forest, West Bengal by Santanu Das

Finally after returning to the home-stay I got some rest and slept for an hour or so and then I've spent the whole evening in the kitchen with the home-stay family and had at least 3 cups of black tea.

Around 8 o'clock at night we were having dinner and a good conversation. Suddenly I noticed the moon in the sky from the small kitchen window and I was shocked by the clarity of the sky. Without wasting a moment I ran into my room and came back with my camera & tripod. It was not the right time to shoot stars when the moon is present in the sky and that too so brightly. Also the opposite side sky was still cloudy. So I decided to take few photos of the moonlit sky and then started shooting a time-lapse.

A dreamy night

Photo of Tonglu, Singalila Forest, West Bengal by Santanu Das

While my camera was set on the tripod in interval mode to shoot the time-lapse, I've experienced something magical which had never happened to me before. I was just lost in happiness after watching a falling star for at least 2.5-3 seconds. It looked like a slow motion video of a star falling from the heaven !! This is how I've ended the day 2 of my solo trip and had a peaceful sleep with a hope for some new excitements in the next morning.

Day 3

Day 3 : The last day of the trip, "The dreamy night" was over. As soon as I wake up I looked through the window for a quick weather check. It was still gloomy, covered with clouds. After getting fresh and having breakfast in the home-stay I was ready to be on the 6 km jungle trail as decided yesterday.

At around 6:20 just before leaving Tonglu weather brought some hope for me to get a view of mount Kanchenjunga, it started becoming clear. I put my bags aside, pulled out my camera and was readily waiting for a glance of the gorgeous mountain but alas!! Before getting clear again everything was covered in dense clouds withing 5-7 minutes. I couldn't wait any longer and started towards Dhotrey through the jungle.

I was hoping to get a view of mount Kanchenjunga

Photo of Tonglu, Singalila Forest, West Bengal by Santanu Das

This was for the very first time I was walking through a jungle completely alone even without knowing the route. I just knew that I have to follow the trail. The lady I met yesterday was telling that it won't take more than an hour for me to reach Dhotrey as I'm much faster than her. Though I couldn't complete it in an hour, I was trying not to look at my watch and just trying to go with the flow. The trail was totally descending and extremely beautiful. Few very small meadows, complete greenery, chirping of birds and other insects, distant sound of few waterfalls and anything unharmful you can expect in a jungle trail; it was amazing.

In the jungle towards Dhotrey

Photo of Dhotrey, West Bengal, India by Santanu Das

Suddenly I noticed it was morning 7:45 which means already one hour passed and still there was no sign of any locality. Walked for another few minutes and finally I reached Dhotrey at 8:20 and came to know that the cab to Manebhanjan was already left by 8 o'clock. Next cab to Manebhanjan/ Sukhiapokhri will start after 12:30.

Morning in Dhotrey

Photo of Dhotrey, West Bengal, India by Santanu Das

People of Dhotrey were very friendly to me, Pardeep bhaiya (Mr. Pardeep) offered me a cup of tea for free and they were saying they'll help me reaching Manebhanjan in their own vehicle which will start after an hour. I had enough time to reach NJP station from there but while coming through the jungle I thought to visit Darjeeling as well for 2-3 hours. So I couldn't wait so long. I was roaming around with my camera for few minutes, had conversations with few locals and then luckily got a cab to Sukhiapokhri. On the way we've spotted a deer and this was for the second time. Last time I had this experience in Uttarakhand.

We've spotted this deer just before reaching Sukhiapokhri

Photo of Sukhiapokhri, West Bengal, India by Santanu Das

After reaching Sukhiapokhri at 11 o'clock, the driver helped me to get a shared cab to Darjeeling. Before leaving he asked me to have a selfie with him and then my cab started for "The Queen Of The Hills" for a perfect ending of the trip !!

Darjeeling Himalayan Railways

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Santanu Das

Finally such a beautiful journey comes to an end but the best thing is to end this journey from Darjeeling. This is for the third time I'm visiting this place after 2011 & 2015. Darjeeling is always close to my heart as this is the place where I've visited mountains for the very first time; I can still remember those days.

I was in Darjeeling before 12 o'clock and it was really mesmerizing when I was walking through the familiar roads but one thing I must say that this place was more beautiful when it was not so crowded. While walking through the Mall road, crossing the mall market, Bhanu Bhawan and St. Andrew's Church it was again raining. It reminded me of my first visit to this place, walked for around an hour and sat on the same chair with a cup of tea beside the hillside railing where we had taken a picture 8 years back. After a long time I listened to one of my old favorites "khader dharer railing ta.." by Anjan Dutta.

Leaving Darjeeling around 3 O'clock in the afternoon

Photo of Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Santanu Das

Even though I didn't want to leave that place so early, the weather was bad and I had to return to NJP by evening. So I just had my lunch and took a cab to NJP at 3 o'clock. The roads were totally dark even at 3 o'clock in the afternoon because of clouds and rain. I thought to visit few more familiar places and recreate few old frames but it wasn't possible. May be next time, let's see. Till then, goodbye Darjeeling. Ending the trip with a smile on my face...