The road less travelled – Kolkata to Kaluk

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” – Hilary Cooper

Kanchendzonga Range

Kanchendzonga Range

That was the beauty that took my breath away on my first morning at Kaluk, a tiny village atop Himalayan range in West Sikkim. It is only a week that I am back from my compulsory one week summer vacation in the hills and could not wait to share my travel experience with my fellow Ghumakkars. I do not remember when or from where I came to know about Kaluk. But I am happy that I am among the very few people who know about this tiny sleepy village tucked in a corner of the Himalayas and hemmed by the Kanchedzonga Range.

Reaching NJP

It was a hot sultry day in Kolkata. I was counting hours to board the Darjeeling Mail leaving from Sealdah Junction at 10 p.m. Packing was in progress. Meanwhile, Kaushik (my better half) made arrangements for pickup from the station by calling up Mr. Chaman Gurung, the manager of Ghonday Village Resort where we would be staying in. Mr. Gurung also informed us that the temperature at Kaluk was around 16 degrees Celsius. Sweating profusely at 41 degrees Celsius, 16 degrees seemed like heaven to me. We reached Sealdah Junction at 9p.m. and at 10p.m. we were finally enroute the great Himalayas.

The first bad news that the tea hawker provided us with, the next morning was that, the train was running more than 2 hours late. Kaushik was getting restless. I said to him, ‘It is the journey and not the destination that is more important’. I do not know if my comforting words did any good to him, but sitting idle on a Monday morning in a train was fair enough for me. On reaching NJP without wasting a moment we grabbed a quick bite and dialled up Mr. Tara Chhetri.

Meeting Tara Chhetri
We were standing outside NJP Station. Sun was glaring at us. A fair and charming young guy came forward with a smile on his face. He was Tara Chhetri, our cabbie. It was 11.30a.m. and quite late to start. He asked us to quickly hop on to his red Bolero car. The first thing Kaushik asked him- ‘Bhaiya Kaluk me weather kaisa hai?’(How is the weather at Kaluk). He answered with a cheerful grin, ‘Sir, natural AC hai waha pe’(The weather is like AC). We could wait no more to reach there. Tara however warned us that a major stretch of the road is undergoing expansion and is in a bad shape. We were ready to bear anything to be in ‘Natural AC’. After encountering the city traffic we were riding past the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. Velvety road coupled with a slight drop in temperature signalled that we had left city life. The mountains could be seen at a distance. I visualized myself at the top of one of those ranges in a few hours time.

Meanwhile Tara kept us engaged in conversation. He expressed his detest of travelling to plain land because of heat and pollution, but said that his profession makes him come down to the plains at least 21days a month. Next I got curious, as usual, about how much he makes per month by driving. He said that during peak season, i.e. for 6 months a year he earns a whopping Rs.70-80K per month!! Rest of the year he stays back at home and does some kheti-bari(Farming) and enjoy. Kaushik and me looked at each other and sighed. We did not speak a word. It was better to avoid letting him know the kind of slavery we undergo to earn our living on the plains.

Reaching Jorethang
In a couple of minutes we were moving uphill. Below we could see the Teesta River making its way through the foothills of the Himalayan ranges. It was pre-monsoon and already the Teesta was flowing with all its might.

Teesta River

Teesta River

At about 1 p.m. Tara took his first halt at Teesta Valley. Very near to this place is the point of White Water River Rafting on Teesta. The area is dotted with a few small eateries run by the local villagers. Tara took us to one named Tashi Restaurant. All the eateries here, as this one, are very basic. I am a bit apprehensive about eating at small joints as the hygiene factor is low, but had no other alternative here. However, the good food coupled with the beautiful Teesta flowing beside the eatery made me set all thoughts aside for a few moments. Had it been some other place, such a beautiful locale would surely have been commercialized and turned into a Mc Donald’s or KFC with the wealth again going to the rich hands.

Our car moved on towards Jorethang. Tara was true. The stretch from Malli to Jorethang was in really poor condition. Although it was for wider and better roads in coming days, the ride was extremely stressful for us. Clouds of dust engulfed us at short intervals. We are much more impatient than our counterparts residing at higher altitudes.

Road expansion work in progress
Booking.com

Road expansion work in progress

The dust coupled with lack of vegetation kept the temperature quite high. Kaushik was getting restless. Tara assured us that bad roads would come to an end in a few more minutes. When we finally reached Jorethang it was 4p.m. Despite our unwillingness, Tara insisted for a 5mins halt. We were only an hour away from Kaluk, but there was no respite from the maddening heat as yet. We were completely exhausted. Kaushik had started losing all hopes of finding any ‘Natural AC’ at Kaluk. I too was getting doubtful now. Tara returned back in 10 minutes. Meanwhile it was getting dark. Thick clouds had accumulated in the sky above. It had already started drizzling.

Reaching Kaluk
It was while leaving Jorethang we came to know that it is situated at a height of only 1300 ft above sea level whereas Kaluk is situated at 5600 ft above sea level. We were to cover 4300ft of height in an hour. That quite explains the elevation of the road that leads to Kaluk. Within minutes the temperature dropped sharply. It started pouring heavily. The road was without any guards on the side and it was as wide as to only accommodate one car properly. Tara braved his way through the hair-pin bends and we clutched each other’s hand tightly to control our thumping heart beats. The heavy downpour resulted in reduced visibility. Yet, we could see another car coming from the opposite direction. Tara parked the car at the edge of the cliff to exchange greetings with the other driver!! I did not have the heart to look down the cliff. Tara guessed our panic. He asked us if we were feeling afraid. I answered in short, ‘Yes’. In reply he only laughed and said that he enjoys such drives. ‘That was quite a form of enjoyment’, I thought. When we reached Kaluk it was 5.30 p.m., raining incessantly and the ‘Natural AC’ could well be felt.

  • The road may be less traveled, but it provides sufficient to persons like Tara Chhetri, and especially against the life style they lead.

    Delightful shots, but only 3!…..Good to read you :)

    Bring continuing part soon and cool breeze of ‘Natural AC’!

    Thanks

    • Sharmistha Dan

      Thanks Anupam for taking time to read the post. I had taken a couple of shots on the way but they did not come out very good. However, the continuing part of the trip is coming very soon and it has quite a number of photographs which I suppose everyone will like.

  • Avtar Singh

    Hi Sharmistha

    First of all congrats for the title which immediately lured me to read your post as it recalls the famous poem of Robert Frost, ” The Road Not Taken” which says in his last two lines-

    ” I took the one less traveled by
    And that has made all the difference”

    Now, come to the post. It is nice and crisp supported with beautiful pics. I never been to there but wish to visit some day.

    Thanx for sharing and keep traveling and keep writing.

    • Sharmistha Dan

      Thank you Avtar Ji. You know in the last few years I have purposely travelled to off-beat destinations and they are much more beautiful than the common ones. I had been to a place called “Kolakham” in Neora Valley Forest of North Bengal and was smitten by its untouched beauty. Robert Frost was so right in saying – “…and that has made all the difference”. Kaluk is an equally enchanting location. You can explore it when the continuing post comes up.

  • Pat Jones

    Good read, waiting for the real thing.

    Monsoon has its other-worldly charm in the hills as we found out in our recent trip to the Himalayas.

    Pat

    • Sharmistha Dan

      Yes Pat!! You are true. Monsoon in the hills is a complete different experience…it is thrilling…the greens are at their greenest possible hue. I am sure you will like the continuing post also.

  • Abhay

    I am also visiting Sikkim next month. Excited to read such wonderful description. Anticipating further experience. I want to post my Sikkim experience on Ghumakkar this time.

    • Sharmistha Dan

      Hey Abhay! Please do post your travelogue on Sikkim. Which part of Sikkim are you visiting? I am yet to visit North Sikkim which is the most beautiful of all.

  • Hi Sharmistha,
    I have never been to east but enjoyed reading your post which is nicely described. Though pictures are few but they are beautiful. Picture of Teesta is magnificent. one question .By NJP you mean New Jal Paiguri ?

    • Sharmistha Dan

      Hi Naresh! You are correct. By NJP I meant New Jalpaiguri Station. Sorry for not providing the full form.

  • Abhay

    Hello Sharmistha, I would be visiting Pelling, Namchi, Ravangla & Gangtok and I hope the escape proves memorable. I would certainly try to write a travelogue this time.

  • Pingback: The street much less travelled Kolkata to Kaluk | Posts()

  • It is a FOG (first on Ghumakkar). Never heard about it, till I read your log.

    Overnight train + 6-7 hours of drive which probably makes it a difficult destination for a ‘weekend outing’. Do people also drive directly from Kolkata or would that take even longer ?

    The story does make your wait for the log on Kaluk. Thank you Sharmishta for sharing this unknown gem with us. I would visit the place via your eyes and log. :-)

    • Sharmistha Dan

      Hi Nandan,
      Actually Sikkim is not a weekend destination from Kolkata. You need to have atleast 4-5 days in hand including travel. Many travellers/tourists visit Pelling for Kanchenjungha view. For that purpose I found Kaluk is a much better place in terms of stay. It is very near to Pelling and yet unexplored and you can get an equally beautiful view of the range from Kaluk.

      Yes, many people drive to Sikkim from Kolkata. It is quite hectic but doable. Infact, it is one of my targets to make an on-road trip to North Bengal/ Sikkim sometime.

  • Jayabrata mukherjee

    Hi,
    nice writing. May i have the number of Mr Tara Chettri?