Kolkata to Tinchuley: To the mountains
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My daughter had just turned 1, handing the family an excuse to come together. Everyone trouped in from different parts of the country; parents-in-law from Santiniketan and sister-in-law from Bengaluru. The family reunion was to double up as the first holiday together for three generations.
It was not difficult to settle on Tinchuley, or three chulahs (traditional fire stoves). It is a hill destination, far from the maddening crowd—ideal for April. Opting for a home-stay with my daughter, a toddler on all fours going about her business in someone else’s drawing room, or waking up others with her night-time crescendo, was the only thing I felt nervous about.
“Journey is more important than destination”—whoever said this must have had in mind the drive from Siliguri to Tinchuley. It is one of the most scenic road journeys you can make in India. While leaving the plains, you have for company the dark and deep forests of the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. The magnificent Teesta river is a companion for the greater part of the journey, flowing alongside the highway. In the upper reaches, one meets the cottony clouds, pine trees and tea gardens under the gaze of the snow-clad mountain range, presided over by Mount Kanchenjunga.
We arrived in Tinchuley to a warm welcome from our hosts, Sumitra and her husband Nagen Gurung, the patrons of Gurung Guest House, part of a quiet hamlet of 11 homes. Ours was the last but one—newly built and brightly coloured, though modest—before a stretch of pine forest. The panoramic view of the snow-clad mountains was breathtaking.
After settling in, our longish walk on the first day took us to a local football match. Applause echoing through the mountains guided us to the field where the Lamahatta and Kalimpong football clubs were in the midst of a gruelling final. Everyone from the hills around had converged to cheer. They milled about on the slopes, tucking in momos and fries. The banter was a mix of cheer and curses. Village seniors flocked around the trophies. The ambience was that of a village fair.
We left a little early to settle into our cottages, with silence for company.
Early next morning, most of the family woke up to witness the spectacular sunrise.
After a leisurely breakfast, we drove to Mungpoo, an hour’s drive away, to visit Rabindra Bhavan, the cottage Rabindranath Tagore used to frequent. It is now a museum, zealously looked after by Shishir Rahut, the caretaker. He gave us a short tour of the house, looked after meticulously but in need of proper conservation. Through a collection of rare photographs and objects, including customized wood furniture made by his eldest son Rathindranath, we got a sense of Tagore’s life in this idyllic place.
We also had time enough to drive to Darjeeling, which is just 35km away. After a short walk around the bustling mall area, a bit of shopping and lunch, we set out to Siliguri to make our way back to Kolkata.
Before we left, I learnt about the treks and trails that we could have tried. A heritage walk of the British-era bungalows, an orchid centre, tea garden visits and rafting on the Teesta—I was ready to book a trip again. Perhaps when the little one is old enough to join me on those treks.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @NuraRadha.