Through the hills and forests of North Bengal part 3


“Khola” in Nepali means river or rivulet, therefore the source of the name is quite obvious. On a bright cloudless day, apart from an unobstructed view of the mighty Kanchenjunga, four tributaries of the Rangeet river are also clearly visible from the highest point of the hamlet – hence Charkhola, thence Charkhole. Just about 15 kilometres away from Loleygaon, this tiny, quaint little Lepcha hamlet stands 5500 feet above sea level, neatly tucked in amidst fir, oak, pine, cypress and rhododendron forests. It took us about 5 hours (with an hour stopover at Gautam’s and 30 minutes one at the Panbu Dara View Point) from NJP to reach our destination. As the vehicle took a turn on one of the hilly bends, there stood our “wish” house, looking even more inviting and cosy than in the pictures…and welcoming us there was the couple who had gone ahead for some quality “WE” time.

Although not located at the highest point of Charkhole unlike other homestays, this house still offers the same view. It has been made and converted into a homestay for a year now and is thus equipped with all the latest amenities. The rooms are huge, wooden-floored and sparsely yet very tastefully decorated. The view from the green grass lawn, albeit artificial, provided a mesmerizing view of the rolling hills ahead of us with the picture of the daily lives of the thousands living there etched on them. And though we did not get a glimpse, the presence of the King of the Mountains, was conspicuous in its absence!

But whoever has been able to fully appreciate the beauty of nature in an empty stomach! So, the neat and stylish open modular kitchen cum dining room at the homestay with its steaming rice, dal, veggies and egg curry appealed way more than the hills and clouds! The kids, however, didn’t look like food was a necessity in life. Running around with a football on the green lawn of this cottage nestled along a mountain slope seemed to be the only thing that mattered at that moment. And with the owner’s young son for company, it was a struggle to drag them to the dining room! A little nap post-lunch brought with it typical mountain dusk with lights twinkling all over the lower plains like glow worms blurred by a typically depressing rain. That, however, brought hope too – a clear sky might just give us a glimpse of ‘the’ range!

Although the lawn appeared inviting, there was no way we could sit there, given the weather. So, we decided to have our “adda” in the drawing-room. Meanwhile, in today’s world, can you imagine having your phone battery full and uninterrupted electricity but no network? Trust me the feeling is rejuvenating! And we all felt that way, thanks to the locational advantage of Charkhole! Most importantly, it took the kids away from their phones or tabs to play hide and seek (like actual physically!) for almost 3 hours, if not more! That is what is fashionably known today as “Digital Detox”. We hit bed pretty early with our tummies full of rice or roti, dal and chicken curry and our hearts hopeful – would the morning be bright enough to offer the promised 108° view? Disappointing us all, the curtains remained drawn but the day was not a bad one indeed, albeit a wee bit cloudy. An hour dedicated to simple puri-sabji and omelette (with so little oil, it was a complete surprise!), later we set out to explore Charkhole.

The fun of self-planned tours is that there is no restriction on who wants or even does not want to go anywhere! So for us, one group started walking towards Fatak Charkhole crossing the popular Charkhole Resort while the other went towards the Gamphus Dara View Point. And, two of the six kids decided to continue practising football with the owner’s son. The ones that went to Fatak Charakhole saw the majestic idol of Shiv and Parvati on the top of the highest point, numerous mountain streams and rivulets bending and flowing down the hills and little villages and hamlets on the slopes of the hills extending almost to the horizon. The other group walked through a forest trail, narrow and even precarious in parts to reach the highest point of Charkhole. In a while, the other team too came and met up at this point. Unaccustomed to these terrains, our bodies did need a bit of coaxing and stretching to reach, but the return was way beyond imagination and worth every bit of extra laboured breath it took to reach this point!

Imagine this – the clouds above casting moving shadows over a lush green sea of waves formed by the hills all around laced with the most refreshing smell of the mountain air dipped in the scent of pine, fir and a million other plants! One can live for just this, even if the mighty Kanchenjunga remains obscured! To top it all off, the divine painter seemed to have sprinkled some colours on top of this frame in the form of different colours of hydrangea, azalea, godetia, crown daisy and eastern daisy. Oh, and not to forget the background score – birds, I know not and insects that combine to give any orchestra a run for their money. What else does a nature lover live for!? That’s what we got on top of that hill that day and we call it oxygen, not just for the lungs but for the soul as well!

We were in for another treat as well – network! We never imagined finding a volleyball court (complete with a net) and two sturdy towers that gave us what we didn’t have for almost a day! After calling the families back home to tell them we are safe and sound, we headed back home. We, city folks with a terrible dependence on Google Maps through well-laid roads faltered once on our way back and would have landed in some other hamlet a slope below Charkhole if not for a vehicle coming up to Gamphus Dara through a motor route, a local (living on a solitary cottage en route Gamphus Dara) and a sense of direction and road for some among us! All said and done, we all came back safe and sound and ravenously hungry to the homestay for a satisfying lunch!

Lights glittered all along the hill slopes like on a Diwali night all around Charkhole. Perhaps, there was nothing special about today, perhaps this is how it appears every night and will continue to do so. But for parched city dwellers like us seeking refuge in the arms of the mighty Himalayas for a day or two, it provides a sense of welcome calm and peace to sustain us for our regular grind. A sumptuous breakfast later we set out for the next lap of our trip after bidding farewell to Khagen and Munna and their kids and the still elusive Kanchenjunga. We missed out on visiting the Charakhole Monastery, which is believed to be the oldest on Kalimpong, but missing something so significant can only serve as an excuse to come back for another quiet weekend! For now, let me borrow a few lines from Tagore…

“যাবার দিনে এই কথাটি
বলে যেন যাই–
যা দেখেছি যা পেয়েছি
তুলনা তার নাই…”

Let this be the parting words on the last day
Incomparable are the sights and the gifts received…
(Thought translation)

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