Tucked inside the misty pine forests that dot the lower ranges of the Darjeeling Himalayas is Lamahatta, perched at 5,700 feet. Apparently, the place was an abode of the Buddhist monks or lamas. Today it offers a string of homestays for those who want to explore its pine-scented countryside. Here time is measured by the movement of the sun across the sky. Night creeps in quietly on foggy wings.
On clear days, you can see the snow peaks of Mt Kanchenjunga ruling the azure sky. Take a round of the Lamahatta Park in the middle of the village if you are not keen for a hectic holiday. The watchtower here offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The Peshoke tea gardens are within easy reach from Lamahatta. A brisk uphill walk through the pine forests will take you to two holy lakes. The upper lake is home to a large number of frogs. Another trail through the forests of pine and cryptomeria trees leads to the Orchid Centre in the neighbouring village of Takdah. Since all trails are unmarked, it is better to take a local person as a guide.
A former cantonment, Takdah is also connected by a motorable road to Lamahatta. The town is surrounded by a host of tea gardens. Some of the old buildings here have been converted to heritage homestays.
The balmy climate of Takdah (at 4,000 feet) is ideal for many varieties of orchids. However, the Orchid Centre is usually open between February and April. A rough-hewn ascending stone path leading away from the market area and a steep flight of stairs thereafter will take you to an old monastery. If possible, pack a Thursday into your itinerary because that is the weekly market day for Takdah. People from small hamlets tucked within the hills turn up at the weekly market both as buyers and sellers, and of course to catch up on the latest happenings and gossip.
Tinchuley, perched at 5,800 feet, is a small hamlet encircled by tea gardens and fruit orchards. On one side rises the mighty snow peaks and on the other lie the river valleys. The place takes its name from the three (‘tin’) hill tops that look like ovens (‘chulha’). You may visit Tinchuley on a day trip from Lamahatta or Takdah.
And if the place catches your fancy, there are a few homestays in and around the village. Hardy travellers trek to Gumba Dara, a scenic view point up in the hills and marked by a series of caves.
You may continue to Darjeeling at the end of the trip.
Getting there: Lamahatta, Takdah and Tinchuley are located well within driving distance from Darjeeling. Or you can travel directly from Siliguri/New Jalpaiguri. Lamahatta is about 23km from Darjeeling and 75km from Siliguri. You may also start with Takdah, travel through Tinchuley and conclude your trip at Lamahatta. Mountain roads can be tricky and it is best to hire a local driver if you plan to have your own transport. Otherwise, there are local buses and shared jeeps connecting these places. These places can be visited almost round the year except for monsoon. Winters, especially after sunset, can be very cold. So carry adequate warm clothing. April/May is the flowering season, especially rhododendrons.
The homestays offer comfortably furnished lodgings but do not expect finesse of urban resorts. Since accommodation is limited, advance booking recommended. The hill people are excellent hosts and will try to accommodate most special requests. But do remember these are remote locations and not everything is available on the spot.
Respect local customs and traditions, and always ask for permission before entering monasteries and/or photographing people. Also, do not throw plastic packets, bags and bottles or litter the places in any way. Also remember, since the trails through the hills and forests are unmarked, there are chances of getting lost. So taking a local person as a guide is recommended. Your homestay can help you to secure the services of a good guide.