Monkey travel diaries – Road trip to North Bengal!

What happens when Monkeys have been too bored lazing around and 15th August falls on a Monday?

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Getting past Mountains of work

– Can we bunk office on Tuesday?
– Not sure 😦
– We are missing another long weekend this year?
– Damn! Let’s do it!!

Monkeys make a super fast plan to hit the road and plan for a road trip!!!

Where to go?
– Mandarmoni: No, too crowded and what will we do for 3 days?
– Puri: Too many times already
– Ranchi/Koderma: Umm.. ok, but..
– Agra/Benaras/Lucknow (oh the kebabs) – Too far, aren’t they?
– Hmm, What about Good old Darjeeling – Brilliant!
– North Bengal during monsoon? – What about rains, landslides? Who cares!
Think of the mist, fog, less crowds, and Keventers! – (That sealed the deal).
– Maybe we can try our luck until Tumling on the road to Sandakphu?! – When do we start? 😀

What follows next? An impromtu road trip to North Bengal, a real haunting experience at Morgan House and even an off road adventure on the way to Sandakphu! Follow the travelogue in the next few posts of the Monkey travel diaries. It will be more pictures and less talking, and we promise that the pictures will be worth the money!

Skipping the planning!

Our plan was to keep keep it simple – Classic North Bengal,  Kalimpong  and Darjeeling (& if possible, a day trip to Tumling). Why Kalimpong among so many places? It is a bit of a childhood secret! Ever since I had visited Kalimpong around 15-20 years back, the image of the ivy covered Morgan House had been etched to my memory. I tried to get a booking several times earlier, with no luck. This trip is going to be a childhood dream come true!

We tried online bookings pronto, and what luck, we managed to get rooms in Morgan House in Kalimpong and the government  tourist lodge in Darjeeling. (Since we were taking our own car, getting a secured parking was of utmost importance).

We planned to leave on Friday evening and be back in Kolkata by Tuesday night. Planned itinerary: One night stay in Kalimpong, 2 nights stay at Darjeeling (Friday night – Drive to Kalimpong and stay, Saturday – Drive to Darjeeling and stay,  Sunday – Stay at Darjeeling, Monday – Drive back to Kolkata).

All things done, car essentials checked, route map discussed with veterans we were all set, when on Friday morning, another fellow Monkey couple could muster up the courage to kick their schedule astray and jump in with us! Another frantic mobile internet session, and we could manage rooms in Darjeeling tourist lodge but unfortunately not in the fabled Morgan House. (However rustic the West Bengal Tourism booking site may look, do not be apprehensive, it works!)

(I am skipping the usual melodrama and emotional blackmail by parents which had run their course after we announced our quick road trip to the mountains) 😀

Hitting the Highway!

Office backlog and crawling city traffic played the usual villain and we found ourselves waiting at the Jessore road crossing at 11:30 PM 😦 We had no viable option other than taking the entire stretch of the dreaded NH 34, as the preferred route via Burdwan was out of bounds. The State Highway 7 from Burdwan to Moregram had been closed due to flooding.

And, of course, this is not a technical driving travelogue, so I will skip boring route and road details (interested people may contact us for trip logs and other technical details and yes, we have around five years of road tripping experiences across India!).

So after we had been able to cross the moon scaped crater land between Barasat and Baharampur it was almost dawn. Thankfully, after Moregram, 4 laning of the NH34 is mostly complete and we could open up the throttle.

But not for long, apparently! This was the first time we were taking the NH34 to North Bengal and did not now the tricks. Just when we could almost see the Farakka bridge,  we found ourselves entangled in a standstill truck traffic. We managed to get past with some luck and some venture off-the-road thanks to the capability of the car. This was the first time we actually saw the famous bridge in broad daylight. Almost every train ride crossed Farakka at night. Progress across the long bridge was, however, slow – trucks moved slowly and road  surface was full of craters.

We tried to make fewer stops to make up for the delay and were at Raigung for a quick breakfast by 9:30 AM. (anyone who is stopping at Raiganj, kochuri and dal at this place is fabulous – ping me for coordinates)

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(Caption: Breakfast at Raiganj – excuse the poor quality on my old mobile!)

Road trips can be dangerous and risky – we had received news about two of our friends who were travelling on bikes on the same route (In fact, they had informed us of flooding and road closures) had met with an unfortunate accident, thanks to the crater filled roads. We caught up with them and thankfully found them safe with minor injuries. They stopped for repairs at Malda and we moved on.

A couple of hours of Sunday Suspense later we got closer to Siliguri. We avoided the dreaded Dalkhola jam by taking the Botolbari bypass and crossed Siliguru by 1 PM. Rains gave way to crystal clear sky and we started hoping like all pure blooded Bengalis do – “Could we manage a view of the Kanchenjunga?”  🙂

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(Caption: Just before Bagdogra)

We had a quick dose of Maggi energy at a roadside joint after crossing Sevoke and we were ready to climb up the hills. By 3 PM we had reached Kalimpong and the quaint little English cottage greeted us with all her charm. It was so beautiful that I almost forgot the errie stories it is famous for! It was right at the top of the hill and overlooked the milirary golf course.

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(Caption: Morgan House)

Unfortunately not all of us had been able to manage a booking here, even in a non peak season. The apparently unfortunate Monkey couple stayed at the equally pretty, but younger, Hilltop hotel. (They were later thanking their stars!)

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(Caption: Hilltop Lodge by WB Tourism)

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(Caption: View from the balcony at Hilltop Lodge by WB Tourism)

After sun down, and a mandatory trip to the market (busy, dingy and crowded – avoid at all costs!), we had a sumptuous dinner at Morgan house (the food is one of the very best among all the WB Tourism guest houses), we signed off for the night.

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(Caption: An evening in Kalimpong)

This is the route given by Google Maps and is the best route to take.

What happened the following morning just before dawn, still gives me goose bumps. Stay tuned for the full story.

                                                                                                                                             ….to be continued

Next on Monkey travel diaries:

A haunting at Morgan House!

Please note:

  • We do not encourage or support any supernatural beliefs, neither do we wish to hurt any personal sentiments or beliefs. The account described here is a personal experience and we make no official claim to verify it.
  • This post is not intended to encourage high speed driving, dangerous driving, highway driving, offroading or night driving on the highway for inexperienced drivers. These should not be attempted without enough experience and skill and can prove to be dangerous and even fatal.
  • The route and road details mentioned here are not complete and should not be used for actual trips, please get complete information before planning any trip. You can write to use at honuman.shongothon@gmail.com and we can give whatever info we have after (after 4 years of road trips 🙂
  • All pictures are copyrighted and should not be reused without conscent
  • We are not promoting any hotel/establishment here
  • References
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalimpong
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darjeeling

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