The russet of the sky weaned away, leaving its space to the darkness. The sunset was sudden in the distant hills, when we got down at Lava. Just as we settled in our cottage, darkness knocked at our window panes. Along with it came the chill. As we set ourselves on the dining table at the Rachela (another one is the Nathula) forest canteen in the Lava resort, it certainly started shacking. Instinctively, I looked down. I saw my mother was trying hard to control her trembling legs. So ominous was the chill, it cut through her bone and sinew.
Lava, a small town at the entrance of the Neora Valley National Park, has become a tourist attraction for quite some time now along with two neighbouring villages-Rishop and Lolegaon. Here metaled roads play hide and seek with pine forest. Ferns and mosses are strewn around like banned plastic bags in the city. At 2100 meters above sea levels, this place is converse of the bustle of the twin illustrious cities in its vicinity – Kalimpong and Darjeeling. But the view of Kanchanjanga is no less arresting here. If fog doesn’t play a spoil sport, you are in for a treat from the resort (Nature and Wilderness Tourist Complex of West Bengal Forest Development Corporation) itself. Otherwise you can trek up to Tiffindara early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise.
There are many types of cottages here with different names like Hill Myna, Gorkha, Dupka, Lepcha etc. Log cottages are also available here. It’s always better to book the range facing cottages like Gorkha 3 & 4 or Dupka 1 & 2.
The first evening was for acclimatization. Napoleon brandy came handy. In our log huts tugged inside our blankets, the warmth of the beverage spread over our skin which only hours ago, was perspiring in the October heat of the planes.
The sound the cricket sneaked in from the window sill. Soon, exhaustion got the better of us. The four and half our long drive up the hills plus the overnight train journey took its toll. Within minutes we were like logs inside the log hut.
“La” is the Bhutanese for the Lord and “Va” is presence. Ratnarishi Gumpha is where He is present at Lava. We walked from our resort to the market and then headed for this Lava Monastery, which was set up by the Third Kongtrul Rimpoche (Tibetian Bhuddist Lama). The brick read Viharas have roof top painted in jaded yellow. The inside is no different from other Gumphas at least in the eyes of a commoner like me. Lord Buddha is encased in a glass casing atop a dais. A series of giant prayer wheels and concrete bell like structures stood graciously beside the main building.
The Natural Interpretation Center in the vicinity gives a glimpse of the flora and fauna of the adjoining Neora Valley. We came out a bit more aware of the wildlife. After lunch we hired car for a trip to Changey Falls 10 km from Lava. For the three hour engagement we had to sell out a thousand bucks but it was worth it. The 50 meter high Changey drops gracefully and as we saw it from a metal bridge lying across the road. Lampokhari Lake, locally known as Aritar Lake is also an added attraction in the vicinity of Changey.
Next day the plan of an early morning stint to the sunrise point at Tiffindara had to be aborted as thick fog hovered around. Instead, after breakfast we headed for our next destination- Rishop. The 4 Km trek amid the mountain and woods is more enjoyable than the 12 km arduous journey on wheels as most of the road is in shambles. It’s not steep so anyone who can walk on the planes can take up this trek. We took the hilly trail above the metaled road and entered into the coniferous forest. Birch, Pine and Oak lay chick bye jowl. Their canopies miserly allowing flickers of sun-rays. The perennial damp undergrowth is a haven for leeches. So be careful as you trod. Crickets here sing never ending chorus. Often you see a dog on the trail escorting you if your guide has gone way ahead. There’s a Baretto lane (much to the glee of the Kolkata football fans) on the verge of the entering Rishop. Rhododendrons of myriad colours welcome you from the makeshift (actually benches) balconies of the cottages. Cute girls swathed in woolens smile at you. Their unpretentious parents acknowledge smilingly if you greet their words with toffees. Sometimes you can come across a lama clad in a brick red attire waving passed you. The snob of the city is still unknown here. But for how long?
Rishop gives 3000 view of Kanchenjunga. If you are a city buff avoid Rishop. Here solitude lies by your side just as your pet. Peace as if has found at eternal abode in this hamlet.
We hired a car for Lolegaon, another tourist spot nearly 30 Km away. Cloud wrapped the road intermittently and wipes it from visibility. The tall trees on both sides with thick undergrowth of ferns follow you although. We stopped on en-route to see the Samabeon Tea Estate in the valley below. Green step plantation dotted with colourful cottages is a visual treat. I saw a few tourists stretching their legs. We, on the other hand sat on the rocks enjoying our cuppa. Half an hour later we were again on our way to Lolegaon.
Lolegaon is locally called Kaffer. We stayed at the Dafey Munal Tourist Lodge of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. WBFDC has beautiful cottages (namely Hornbill, Orchid, Berch etc) with rents varying between 600 to 1700 Rupees.
|Hanging Wooden Bridge|
The main attraction over here is the Canopy Walk in the heritage forest. Negotiating a hanging wooden footbridge between the two old Oak trees is an adventure not to be missed. You will be lost in wilderness, enjoying the flora, the orchids and the overall verdant greenery. Here solitude has a voice. Silence here speaks if you are not gaggled by upstart tourists.
In the evening, we invited the Lepcha cook who had a guitar. We lit a fire on the garden overlooking the Ralli Valley in front of the Lodge and started a campfire. Nylon strings accompanied Nepali, Hindi and Bengali songs in tandem. Suddenly, Lolegaon’s chill vanished. The warmth of oneness set in.
Again early morning fog forced us to abort our venture at Jhandi Dara Sunrise Point. After breakfast we headed for NJP Station, via Kalimpong, leaving the century old moss clad oak and cedars, the rustle of dead leaves on the hilly mud topped path. I made it a point to come back once again at this part of the world to savour the sunrise from any of the sunrise point that we missed.
Pics : Courtesy Chandranath Mukherjee
Text : Discover India