If it was not for people’s quest to holiday in uncrowded destinations in this pandemic situation, many little-known villages and homestays in the northern hills of West Bengal would have remained off the popular tourist map. Here is a list of some of them. (Note: These places can be visited round the year except the monsoon.)
With only a homestay and a forest bungalow for lodgings, Bagora is secreted within an alpine forest, mostly of pine and oak. It is about 20km from Kurseong via the old Hill cart Road. You may need to walk the last couple of kilometres, especially if you are putting up at the homestay (tel: 08145723177).
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The hamlet is perched on a ridge (a little over 7,000 feet high). If you are lucky, the snow peaks will oblige with a brilliant view. Enjoy the pristine weather, stroll through the village, or go for short or long treks into the countryside. From the market, you may follow the winding road towards the Air Force station and stop short at the watch tower to enjoy the scenery around you. On a fair weather day, when the sky is clear, you may also trek or drive to a nearby village called Chimney known for its mountain-view and heritage garden.
No matter where you are coming from, Sonada (one of the stops on the Darjeeling Toy Train route) is the gateway to this eco-village. The village is about 65km by road from Bagdogra airport or NJP railway station. You have to stop at a forest check post to pay the entry fee for the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary; the road is rough and passes through a fairly dense forest. With a small population and a clutch of homestays, Chatakpur is known for its scenic view and tranquillity.
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Located at nearly 8,000 feet, it can be cold. In fair weather, the Kanchendzonga appears in its powdery white raiment. At other times, clouds come down to earth; an occasional sharp shower cannot also be ruled out. A well laid out but steep pathway ascends the hillside to end at a watch tower. If you are an early riser, may be you can try to catch the sunrise over the hills from here. Another forested path leads to a pool nestling inside the forest. But it is always advisable to be accompanied by a local guide as the forests are home to Himalayan black bears and other animals.
Also called Sitong, the area is known for its orange orchards. But even outside the orange season, it can be a quiet hideaway and a base for exploring the surrounding areas. Sittong is about 55km by road from NJP Railway Station. For accommodation, you will have to put up at the simple but clean and comfortable home stays.
Some of the major attractions which you may visit from here are Jogighat, Shelphu, Ahaldara, Latpanchar (for birding in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary) and Mungpoo. All these places are also connected with Siliguri, which makes onward journey to Bagdogra airport or NJP Railway station convenient. But it is advisable to book a car in advance for the journey to avoid travelling in shared vehicles (which are anyways few and may not run at fixed hours).