A road trip to north bengal with a 35mm

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Its not everyday you get to go on a road trip with your childhood friends. I dont meet them everyday but once or twice in a month. A plan for roadtrip was long due which seemed to be fading as the time passed.

I wasn't sure if they were comfortable with long road trips. So I planned something which wont be too hectic. But to reach Siliguri you have to cross entire Bengal which is around 500 km. I usually cover this stretch at night because the traffic is minimum. But there's also a risk in driving at night. You cant stop anywhere because the entire stretch is empty. Some parts are even more deserted. So I dont stop until there's some light in the sky.

Last year during Easter I was in Scotland. We had a massive roadtrip and I drove like anything. You can read more of that here- Scotland - Driving thorough the mountains, lakes and sea. As I work for a british client I get this holiday even if I am working in India. 4 days including the weekends was a good opportunity to go on a road trip.  After doing some research Lava and Loleygaon sounded to be a good destination. I havent been to either of them before. They are also not very far from Siliguri. The hotels were booked asap from West Bengal Forest Department's website.

On a Thursday night we started around 10pm. We took all the food we can and didnt stop the entire stretch. On the way met a friend who was also going to Gangtok with his family. We reached Sevoke on the next day at 8:30 and had our breakfast at a roadside dhaba.

Lava is a small town in north Bengal's Kalimpong district. Lava is the entry point of Neora Valley national park. Its a small town which has been a prime tourist destination for years.The route to Lava isnt in good condition but very scenic. There are 2 routes to Lava, one via Kalimpong and the other one via Gorubathan. We took the second route becase I didnt drive on this route before. There are lots of tea gardens on the Gorubathan route.

We reached Lava before lunch. The forest lodge is on the top of a mountain. It is surrounded by pine trees and spread across a large area.

The cottages are small in size and green in color. The surrounding will make you feel you are in a forest. The large pine trees doesnt let all the sunlight touch the ground.  It was actually a jungle few years back and then people decided to make this a tourist spot. Neora valley has become a favorite tourist spot for bird and animal lovers. Even we saw a deer roaming around in our hotel campus next day. The forest department lodge is clean and they provide hot water.

The food was homely but you have to order in advance to get chicken. Because very less people come here so they dont store non veg items, which is actually good and you get fresh food every time you order.

In the afternoon we decided to walk. The weather was soothing. One more reason to visit the mountains is the weather. We were staying at upper Lava which has a small market. The market is very small and solely depends on tourists. Most of the people here are drivers. I tried to capture the daily routine with my 35mm. With the short time we had I could only manage few shots. We had a cup of tea and a bowl of wai wai in a small tea shop. How can one miss wai wai in North Bengal and Sikkim ?

Lava is also famous for the Lava Jamgon Kongtru Monastery. We planned to visit the monastery the next day. Next day we had our breakfast early and went to visit Rishikhola. Rishikhola is in Sikkim or rather on the border of Sikkim and WB. Reshikhola derives its name from the river Reshi.

In the morning suddenly the entire place was covered with dark clouds and started to rain. The clouds and the rains changed the looks of the place. Which was dry and yellow yesterday its green today. Clouds were passing us and we could feel the moist. Due to rain the road condition deteriorated rapidly and I couldnt take my car to the water of the river Reshi. Instead we walked the last 500 meters and enjoyed the view.

While coming back from Rishikhola we had our lunch at Pedong. There are very few options in Pedong. And for those who doesnt eat beef it would be difficult to find good food in Pedong. After looking here and there we found only one restaurant where they had vegetarian meal. After having lunch we came back to Lava and we hurried towards Lava monastery.

Lava Monastery has a large complex with 2-3 buildings. Beautiful view of the surrounding mountains can be get from the Monastery. The place is calm and serene. The main building has a large Buddha. The inner walls and pillars where very colorful. The monastery also has a building for Tibetan teaching and hostel. We were allowed to sit with the young monks during on of their learning sessions.

“Living in a monastery, even as a guest rather than a monk, you have more opportunities than you might have elsewhere to see the world as it is, instead of through the shadow that you cast upon it.” 

I sat with these young monks for an hour. They had their unique way of studying, they moved their hands as they were reading from a transcript in front of them. There were 3-4 monks who were blowing trumpets periodically. The entire thing was very spiritual. I could have sat there the entire day and listen to their chants but we are bound to time. The day ended with some positive thoughts.

After staying at Lava for 2 days we left the place with good memories. We went to Rishop which was very close to Lava. Rishop was only 5-6 km from Lava but the road is very steep. The steep road went through pine forest. That track is meant for walking and I think walking is better than driving here. You will get closer to nature if you walk through a pine forest. It was so silent that we could hear our own foot steps, some birds chipping here and there and leaves falling from the trees.

Rishop is a himalyan hamlet from where Kanchendzonga can be seen properly. There are no obstacle between the Kachendzonga and Rishop. But when we reached Rishop, the peak was already covered with clouds. We had a cup of tea and came back.

View from Rishop
The next plan was to go to Lolegaon and see the 100 meter hanging bridge. We had our hotel booked in Kalimpong, so after visiting Lolegaon we would return to Kalimpong. As usual we followed our trustworthy google map and drove towards Lolegaon.

The route shown in google maps is wrong. So DO NOT FOLLOW GOOGLE MAPS TO GO TO LOLEGAON. Instead ask the locals. The one and half hours journey took us 4 hours because we were just lost. If you are coming from Lava there is also a very scenic route. But we took the Kalimpong route which was also not in a very good condition.

When we reached Lolegaon it was already 1pm. We were damn hungry, so instead of seeing anything we had our lunch first.  After having lunch we went to visit the famous hanging bridge. And I was so disappointed. I had seen pictures of this bridge before and they looked so natural, like the bridge was made for natural purposes, to cross rivers, or to reach to a certain destination. To my utter surprise the bridge was only for show. It was like the bridges in amusement park for kids to hang around.

We drove towards Kalimpong as soon as we finished walking the 180m foot bridge. Theres nothing else to see in Loleygaon.

I always book the last hotel in a city. Cities usually have good restaurant, and at the end of any roadtrip good food is a necessity. We found a good bar cum restaurant - King Thai restaurant. The food is cheap and of good quality. Kalimpong, despite being a city closes down very quickly, so if you are here please plan accordingly.

I have crossed Kalimpong many times but this was the first time I was staying here. Wish I had more time and explore this little city in the Himalayas. I am definitely coming back here and spending more time.

Why the name is "A road trip with a 35mm" ? Because I have only used the 35mm 1.4 lens to take all the shots. The 35mm isnt made for such photos but this time I forcefully used that lens. And the result was magical. It proves you can take wonderful landscapes even with a lens which is made for portraits.

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