Updated: Apr 12, 2021
It is no longer Working From Home, but Living At Work now. To break this monotony, I decided to travel and work from another remote location, which is not home.
Given the travel restrictions and rising Coronavirus cases. It was difficult to find a place which was peaceful, had decent network connection, didn't have much travel restrictions and was safer than the rest of places. Let's be honest, there's no place where this pandemic hasn't hit.
So after a lot of research, a couple of my friends and I decided to head to the Himalayas, in North Bengal. Our plan was to spend a couple of weeks at a place which met the above conditions.
Our trip was divided into 3 parts.
Part 1 : (Bagodgra - Siliguri - Mirik - Pashupati Market - Simana - Mane Bhanjang - Sukhia - Mirik)
So we met at the Kolkata airport and took a flight to Bagdogra (Siliguri). We had booked our vehicle in Bagdogra. We drove to Mirik stopping at Dudhia on the way.
The road was very good and beautiful with tea gardens on either side. Once we started driving upwards, the temperature dipped and there was fog as well. By the time we reached our hotel, it was already dark.
Although our room was already sanitized, we sprayed the surface sanitizer that we took with us, all over the room. We then freshened up and checked our email and pings from the day. Once that was done, we headed out to explore the streets of this small town.
Mirik is known for it's lake. Though our hotel was just a 3 mins. walk from the lake, we decided not to go there at night and instead headed to a restaurant to eat.
After filling ourselves up with some delicious, hot food (and not so good momos) we searched for ice cream and luckily, found a shop. Then, we went to sleep for the night.
The next morning we got up early, hopped on our vehicle and headed towards the Singalila National Park. We decided to take the route which Maps was not suggesting, through Pashupati Market. According to Maps, that route requires crossing an international border (India-Nepal) hence it was not suggested. However it turns out, that's the regular route. Also Maps shows that there is 'Golpahar View Point' which we also wanted to see but turns out it's nothing. After crossing Golpahar, we reached the border town, Pashupati Market and decided to have breakfast there. It was so cheap and tasty. Especially the extra spicy 'jhaal' (red colored chutney).
After having the hot and spicy Wai Wai with tea, we continued towards Mane Bhanjang (from where we were supposed to get our tickets to enter Singalila National Park). Now, a very important lesson that we learnt on this trip, started here...
NEVER TRUST MAPS IN THE MOUNTAINS!!
Upon entering the town of Simana, the Maps showed a left turn, and we turned. After just 50 mtrs., we were on a steep, downhill, broken road just wide enough to fit 1 car. It was supposed to be just 2 kms. according to the Maps and the couple of local people whom we asked. Those 2 kms. seemed to be forever, but we survived. That downhill road met another road at a junction, which seemed to be the main road into the town of Mane Bhanjang. However, that road was not on the Maps! So we asked a local couple in the roadside shop and they told us that it was indeed the main road.
Confused and cussing Maps, we went to the ticket booking office of the Singalila National Park. However, we were told there that it is at least a 2 days affair. So when visiting the National Park, you need to either book their jeep or hire a guide who would travel in your personal vehicle. You then drive inside the forest up to Sandakphu, spend the night there and come back the next day.
Since we didn't have that much time and had our hotels booked for the whole duration, we decided to skip it. We returned and upon reaching the junction, took the road more traveled. It was indeed a better road. Although not a smooth one but definitely not a steep uphill climb with big boulders. We didn't know where it would take us (as it was not on the Maps), but we still drove on it for more than 30 mins., to reach Sukhia. We rested for around 5 mins. there before finding our way back to Mirik.
Now if you see in the Maps above, it suggests a different route. However, we took the same route that we took to reach Simana. We did make a stop at the Simana View Point, had a bowl of Maggi and some tea looking into the valley as the fog made way to clear weather and sunlight. Then it was all a smooth downhill road to Mirik.
Upon reaching Mirik, we parked our vehicle at the hotel and made our way on foot to the Mirik lake. It's a beautiful place with the town of Mirik on one side and a jungle walk on the other.
We walked around the lake, shot some photos and headed back to rest in our rooms. At night we had dinner at the same place.
The next morning we got up and headed to the Monastery at Mirik only to find that it's closed to visitors due to Covid-19. However we did see it's beautiful architecture from outside and the Sleeping Buddha (mountain range) on our way back to the hotel.
Upon reaching our hotel, we packed our bags and headed to the Part 2 of our WFH.
Part 2 : (Mirik - Darjeeling)
We drove towards Darjeeling, taking mostly the same route as the day before. After crossing Simana, we took a short detour to Jorepokhri.
Again, DO NOT TRUST MAPS. According to Maps, there is no road that goes to Jorepokhri. However, to reach there you need to first reach the point where the Maps says it is, move slowly on the side of the road unless you see a well maintained mountain road going up into the forest. Then, keep driving on it for about 15 minutes and there it would be, a beautiful viewpoint with nicely maintained small lake.
There was a tiny eating joint there where we had our breakfast, Wai Wai with 'jhaal' and a cup of black tea.
We then took a different route (no points of guessing that even that route wasn't on Maps) to reach Sukhia Pokhri and onwards to Darjeeling. On the way, we stopped at the Yiga Choeling Monastery and saw the Ghoom toy train station (Operations of toy trains were closed due to Covid-19). Finally, after going round and round in Darjeeling due to one ways and wrong navigation, we reached our hotel. It was a great place. We were happy that we had to spend the next 5 days working from there with the epic views of the Himalayas.
Over the next 5 days, we stayed here. We used to work in the day time and go out, explore Darjeeling in the evening. Except the breakfast, we ate at a different place every time. Out of these, some of them stood out.
Biryani Baar : Amazing biryani. Only place that we repeated.
Subba Restaurant : It's next to Hotel Mahakal (I'll get to it). Serves delicious momos.
Chopstix : Small & cozy restaurant. Great food, staff and service.
Shangri La : Right at the Mall Road, good food and service.
Glenary's : Except for the view and rum chocolates, we found it highly overrated.
Keventer's : We had softy ice cream and hot chocolate here. Both were very nice.
Hotel Mahakal : I didn't eat here. But one of my friend did upset his stomach after eating. Wasn't very hygienic as well.
The sunset view from Glenary's is really worth a mention, though.
We also visited quite a few places and the local market as well. We visited the Peace Pagoda and the Japanese Buddhist Temple, Batasia Loop, Mahakal Temple and the Kanchenjunga view point (it was right behind our hotel), Darjeeling Mall, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and Museum and the Zoological park.
After spending a whole week, exploring Darjeeling, we headed to Part 3 of our WFH.
Part 3 - (Darjeeling - Kalimpong)
For the final part of our WFH, we left Darjeeling and headed towards Kalimpong. On the way, we stopped at the Lamahatta Park. There was a lake too, after a short hike.
The final part of our WFH was supposed to be a tiring and hectic one.
This was what our plan was... ...this is how it turned out.
All because of the room and the view that we got from there. We decided to stay at Kalimpong, and relax instead!
After reaching Kalimpong, we went to the Durpin Monastery and the viewpoint. However, we weren't allowed by the military guard to go after a certain point. These 2 places are inside the military area and were closed to visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So we obeyed the rule and turned back. We had some more time left till dark so we decided to head to the other side of the town, to Delo. It was well worth it and beautiful!
We saw a local football match in play, with the locals sitting around the field and cheering on for their teams. Seeing the game with such an energized at a beautiful location and at 5600ft. above the sea level, was an amazing experience.
Afterwards, we came back to our hotel and rested for a while before going out for dinner. One of my local friend and her brother joined us as well. We had a great time!
The next day we headed to Lolegaon. Instead of taking us through the smooth main road, Maps decided to prove us correct again as it took us through the not so good village roads. Anyway, we did reach Lolegaon but only after seeing deforestation first hand. It was sad!
“We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés. This is the last decade in which we can bring the climate change under control [ https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/ga12131.doc.htm ], and prevent any irreparable damage to our Climate. Cutting down trees and trimming down the forests is a step back!
Lolegaon was not as interesting as we had hoped. So we headed to Bidhyang river valley, as suggested by my local friend. Maps disappointed us again and took us to the opposite side of the mountain. So with phones in our pocket, we decided to use the old way of navigation... asking the locals. Finally, we reached the place through well maintained roads (by the way, these roads are not on Maps). The place was amazing! So beautiful and peaceful. We spent a good hour and half there lying on the rocks in the river, watching the sun set slowly in between the valley.
The next day we explored the Kalimpong market and the local food, which included - Phambi, which is basically Jelly of lentil soup and Laphing, sort of a noodle that looks like spring rolls. It was pretty confusing, as you would see from my reaction in the video below.
We really liked Kalimpong. We found it better than Darjeeling. It is a small town with sweet people, narrow lanes and a peaceful atmosphere.
The next day we went back to Siliguri, stopping for a while at the Coronation Bridge, where we took our group photo.
These 2 weeks of Working From the Himalayas was a much needed break that we all needed from being at home for the past 6 months. We took all the precautions at all times and as of now, have successfully completed the 2 weeks of self quarantine after the trip!