A holiday in the hills with only three days of leave in your kitty need not necessarily spell Darjeeling, I told myself after failing to get accommodation at my favourite destination in north Bengal. I was desperate to get away and it had to be somewhere close.
A thorough online search later, I zeroed in on what looked off the beaten track and yet attractive — a homestay in Kalimpong.
Kalimpong, nestled at an altitude (1250m) lower than that of Darjeeling town (2134m), has its own charm, even if you are not staying at the much-sought-after Morgan House. My stay at this Tibetan homestay, called Holumba Haven, proved me right.
On reaching Holumba, I found myself not just among orchids and morning glories, but also several animals, fishes and birds.
The property owned by the Pempahishey family dates back to 1935. Initially there was just a single cottage on the grounds. Over the years, the family has built six chalet-type cottages (with a total of 19 rooms) around an extensive two-acre orchid farm and a natural spring.
On a clear day, you can feast your eyes on the elusive Mount Kanchenjungha right from your room. I was not so lucky, but did not mind it. Spending three days in an idyllic ambience, breathing fresh air, browsing through a well-stocked library and sharing the space with six dogs, cats, guinea fowl, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigeons, fishes and hundreds of different species of orchids had taught me to be less demanding.
According to the owners of the place, there are about 350 varieties of orchids found in the Darjeeling district, of which more than 50 per cent are grown on the grounds of Holomba (named after a village in Nepal).
The meals here are a simple affair from the family kitchen and eaten in the family dining room. However, in winter, when there are not many guests, the family serves some Tibetan delicacies.
Though life in Holumba Haven looked complete, I did force myself to venture out of my paradise and check out the town.
Kalimpong is saddled between two hilltops — Delo and Durpin and overlooks the beautiful Teesta river that flows through the valley below. Durpin, about 5km away from Kalimpong, is an ideal destination to walk around.
I walked through the cantonment area to the Buddhist monastery on the hilltop. The view from Durpin is breathtaking. Kalimpong is home to four schools of Tibetan Budhhism — Sakyapa, Nyingmapa, Kagyupa and Gelugpa — with several monasteries dotting Delo and Durpin.
Watching an evening prayer at a Durpin monastery was a novel experience. Walking back, I took a break over hot tea and pastry at the cantonment coffee shop before heading towards the main town.
The picturesque Delo is around 8km away but worth a taxi ride. As you climb towards the hilltop, you pass the sprawling grounds of Dr Graham’s Homes. At Delo, more flowers and beauty awaits you. You can get a panoramic view — from the Teesta to the Kanchenjungha — from the hilltop, if the weather permits.
There is also a must-see cactus garden in Kalimpong.
For those who can afford a few more days here, they can make day trips to Darjeeling, Lava and the nearby areas. The roads may offer you a bumpy ride, but when you know there is steaming tea, snacks and an interesting adda waiting for you at the Pempahishey parlour, you wouldn’t mind anything.
Take a train to New Jalpaiguri and then a car to Kalimpong. It takes around three hours to reach Holumba. Tourists coming from Bagdogra airport also take around the same time.
Kalimpong has several accommodation options — from budget hotels to premium properties. Holumba Haven can be booked over the phone (03552-256936, 09332414999).