Mungpoo: a beauty of nature and its Orchid Park

Mungpoo

Mungpoo, a calm and quiet Himalayan village at an elevation of more than 3,500 feet in the Kurseong district, was calling me for long ……. Rabindranath Tagore is the reason. The poet came to stay here four times between 1938 and 1940 with his friend Maitreyee Devi, a renowned author herself.  So, the place itself has an importance to all Tagore lovers.

We started from Kalimpong in a cab through the meandering hilly path. It is 42.3 km away from Kalimpong and takes near about 1.5 hours to reach  Mungpoo. From Kalimpong it is a downward journey along with Teesta then crossing the coronation bridge it is an upward journey through the forest of Sal. In the mid-April, Sal trees were blooming with flowers. Our Driver said that at this time sleeping in the forest is prohibited.

Sal Forest in full bloom
Then at a higher altitude, we saw a few rubber trees from which liquid rubber was being extracted. Cinchona plants are abundant on the way. The tree with a mixture of red and green leaves looks attractive amid the bushes.

Chincona Plant
Things to see in Mungpoo

There are not many things except the lush beauty of nature to see here. Among those few –Rabindra Bhavan, Govt. Quinine Factory, Mungpoo Bazar, Monastery and the most attractive place here is, of course, the Orchid Park.

Well, the first two things I could not see. Rabindra Bhavan was under complete renovation and was, therefore, closed. As I knocked the gate of the quinine factory on a Sunday, it did not open for me.

Saptaparni Flower
Saptaparni : Seven leaves together

Mongpoo Bazar was booming with the crowd for the Sunday Haat. From tree saplings to Pani puri, readymade garments to sweets, vegetables to electronic goods, even mouth-watering Achaar of several types were present in the Haat to fulfil the demand of the people of this small village.

Sunday Haat at Mungpoo
The Dichhen Sherap Chhoeling Gompa,  a Buddhist monastery, perched on a hillock at Shanti Chowk (near the bazar) glistens in the bright yellow colour to capture the attention of tourists.

Mungpoo Monastery
Mungpoo Cymbidium Orchid Park: The Orchid House

A village hut at Mungpoo

Palden Sherpa, our driver, was very enthusiastic about taking us to this Orchid house and was eager to make us taste lunch there. I thought it would be something like the Pine view nursery of Kalimpong but it is totally different in its untamed natural beauty. It takes about 30mins from the Mungpoo Bazar to reach The Orchid House. Houses with beautiful flowers on their window-sills or at the balcony along the road will surely entertain a tourist on her way.

Orchid Park
The Cymbidium is on the top of the Mungpoo Hill with a terrific panoramic view of other hills around it. This plantation is an initiative of the Govt. Cinchona Plantation. It was set up in 2012 as an Orchid House and was open to the public for visiting. Every day it is open for the visitors (from 8 am – 3.30 pm) against a nominal entry fee. They arrange simple veg and non-veg meal for the visitors on order except on Sundays. 

Lily and Orchid

At present, there are total 161 varieties of orchid as well as a large number of lilies.  Three big tent-like plant houses have orchid, lily and bulbs, kept with utmost care. They take part in different horticultural shows in West Bengal and sell flowers in bulk on order.

Orchid
This cymbidium has another wing (further a little top from the orchid house) for Kiwi fruit farming.

At the Orchid Park
Though there are a few cement seats are made as watchpoints, every corner of this place will offer a wonderful view of the hills and valleys. It will be simply awesome to spend a night amid this terribly beautiful nature and the authority have thought of it. A picturesque hanging wooden bungalow with a small comfortable bed room, an attached wash room and a very romantic balcony overlooking the valley below, is a must destination for silence lovers.

The cottage at the Orchid park
Room tariff(Rs. 1500 (per night) + Food (extra).

 For booking, Contact:

 Mahendra RaiPh. No. 8436560481,

                                             7001612543

Palden Sherpa may be contacted from Kalimpong for tours. He is an experienced and helpful driver, driving in the hills for 14 years (presently owning a Bolero). Contact No: 9647826406.

A view from the top of the park
I hope to spend a starry night in the Orchid Park on a full moon night very soon……listening to the sound of hills.

Unknown Darjeeling

Unknown Darjeeling: Differently delved Darjeeling

Darjeeling, “the queen of hills”, with long traffic jams, congested dwellings, cacophonic mall and narrow lanes through the markets has an enchanting appeal to people who come here again and again. This is the fourth time I visited Darjeeling and felt the same excitement that engulfed me 9 years back.

The zoo, the pagoda, the Tiger Hill, the mountaineering institute, the ropeway are among the most common itinerary of Darjeeling. But this time I decided to visit only a few places that we have not covered before. Our favourite stay at Darjeeling is Maple Tourist Lodge, snacks at Glenary’s, our new venture at Darjeeling was Happy Valley Tea Estate tour and we acquainted ourselves with the Heritage Toy train ride, yes for the first time.

Maple Tourist Lodge

IMG_1300_marked.jpg
Maple Tourist Lodge

Maple Tourist lodge is not one of the very common accommodations. It is a lodge with a homely feeling in a complete quite corner of Darjeeling, crossing the mall, down the way, just beside the SDPO office and bungalow.

History: This was built in 1934 as the villa of  Bahadur Shamsher Jang Bahadur who was associated with the royal family of  Nepal. His Majesty of Nepal late Veer Vikram Shah had made this a residence during his schooling days at St.Joseph’s School which is internationally renowned.

Then this lodge was used as the office of the District Magistrate and then was handed over to the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation.  Finally, it is taken under the administration of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration(GTA) and is presently a tourist lodge.

20170413_144634_marked.jpg
Room No.9

 

There are 14 rooms along with a common lounge on the first floor. The wooden stairs, wooden floor and old wooden furniture lend it a heritage status worthy to be won. Rooms are spacious, bright and airy with wooden framed glass windows.

wooden stairs_marked.jpg
Wooden Stairs

 

A peep through the window will unfurl the valley dotted with houses and the Kanchenjunga with its head held high in the cloudless sky.

20170415_112740.jpg
Room No 6

 

A well maintained small garden enhances its beauty.20170414_081226_markedIMG_1173_marked.jpg

They provide hot and fresh breakfast from 8 am. Milk and Corn Flakes along with bread, butter and omelette and tea or Big Poori with Aloo Sabzi and tea are usual breakfast, served in the dining hall downstairs.

20170414_081321.jpg
Dining Room

 

A knock at your door every morning, a sturdy, short, smiling Dilipji with a hat on his head is there to let you know, “Breakfast is ready”. Dinner is served at 8.30 pm in a hot pot at your room. Both veg and non-veg are available and the quantity is more than sufficient.

IMG_1265.jpg
A view of  the Darjeeling Town from our room at Maple

Only a few things need improvement: upholstery is old and needs immediate replacement. Towels should be of better quality. The management should take initiative to renovate such a wonderful property.

I like this place as it is a far cry from the modern hotels. The wooden floor, furniture and the architecture coordinate well to make a medieval romantic ambience which I am in love with. The roof has a panoramic view of the Darjeeling City surrounded with hills and mountains. Happy valley Tea estate is 30 mins walk from here.

IMG_6521_marked.jpg
Darjeeling at night: from Maple

 

Within the brackets: I spent a stormy and rainy night at this villa and the mysterious feeling I treasured will surely help me in future to write a unique ghost story !!

Mr Dukpa is the very helpful and enthusiastic manager of this heritage pride of Darjeeling. He helped me a lot to write this article.

 

IMG_6381_marked.jpg
At the Glenary’s

 

Glenary’s is probably everybody’s favourite. So is ours.

IMG_6387_marked.jpg
Grilled Chicken-Pork Sizzler at Glenary’s

 

Happy Valley Tea Estate Tour

‘Tea” like Wine has a very sophisticated and aristocratic lineage in its processing and tasting. Happy valley guided tour will give an essence of this culture. Yes, I said culture because I think tea is not a drink only, it is associated with colonial culture and history also.

IMG_6460_marked.jpg
Happy Valley Tea Factory

 

Happy Valley tea garden and factory is nestled in the quiet lap of the Himalayas. Located at an elevation of 6400ft, it is the only tea garden in Darjeeling town. They provide with a guided tour within their factory to witness the process of tea manufacturing. We were guided by a decent lady named Jaya.IMG_6441_marked.jpg

I came to know from her that Darjeeling tea is made from Camellia sinensis, a shrub with small leaves. Assam tea is prepared from camellia sinensis var. assamica that has big leaves.

IMG_6435_marked.jpg
Darjeeling Tea Leaf

 

Tea plucking begins in mid-march and closes at the end-november. The factory has both old and new machines for Withering (1st step). These are called Rolling Machines. In older dayes the Chinese people used to wither tea leaves with their hands. Withering helps to remove moisture from the leaves upto 62-70%.

IMG_6436_marked.jpg
Withering Machine

 

 

IMG_6437_marked.jpg
Old Withering Machine

 

Next, the leaves are segregated in the segregating machine.Then leaves are rolled in the motor mechanised  machine to release the sap which gives the tea its unique flavour.

20170429_174015.jpg
Different Tea Leaves

 

After that tea is dried at a temperature of 220F and is 97-98% dried. Then tea leaves are cut in an Ornate machine into 4 different grades- whole leaf, broken leaf, fannings and tea dust.

IMG-20170429-WA0031
Different types of tea for tasting

 

Then she took us to the tea tasting section and it was really a wonderful experience tasting the first flush or the second flush (Supremo) standing amid the lush green tea garden.

IMG_6459_marked.jpg
Happy Valley Tea Garden

 

They have a sales counter and provide with a free membership form which earns a certain percentage of the discount while purchasing tea from them. Happy Valley Tea is internationally famous and is known as SFTGFOP( Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) and is sold by Harrods in London. This factory outlet is the only place in India where you can buy this tea.

IMG_6454_marked.jpg
Sales Counter: a place which attracts tourists

 

Heritage Toy Train Ride

IMG_6481_marked (2).jpg
Steam Locomotive: Toy Train

“I told you many a time to book the ticket online. Now see…no ticket is available until coming week.” my voice rose high. My husband, standing like the warrior prince in front of the Darjeeling Railway ticket counter, uttered only one word, “Excellent!!”. Actually, we tried to book the ticket online just the previous night; six tickets were available on IRCTC; but the system did not allow us to book the ticket online saying, “booking or cancellation for this train is not allowed”. I cannot say what was the reason. But it really turned out to be ‘Excellent’ Joy Ride for us. Our car driver listened to everything and took us to a tour operator and we got 3 tickets!! Darjeeling-Ghum-Darjeeling: a 2-hour tour costs Rs.1300/- per person. We had to pay extra Rs.200 to enjoy the Joy Ride and we set out for our much-awaited journey. After all, UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed DHR as a World Heritage  Site on 5th December 1999 and who does not want to cherish such a glorious ride?

IMG_6487_marked.jpg
Toy train …ready to start

 

The shrill whistle of the locomotive is surely enthralling. Though the train runs mostly through the town along the road full of traffic, its slow and swinging movement will give a child-like enjoyment. 10 mins stop at the Batasia Loop fetches scope for capturing photographs. Then 30 mins stop at  Ghum to have a look at the Railway Museum at Ghum. IMG_6503_marked.jpg

IMG_6504_marked.jpg
DHR Museum at Ghum

 

The museum a has lot of photographs, machineries and relics , only a guide is very much needed to explain the history of DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway). The way back from Ghum via Batasia Loop to Darjeeling is a memory worthy to be preserved in the hard disk of your heart.

IMG_6473.JPG
Diesel Engine: Toy Train

 

……Still I have not finished the story of unknown Darjeeling. Please wait for my next post to know more.

IMG_6388 (2)_marked
Sunset from the Glenary’s

 

Disclaimer : The information in this article is true and complete to the best of my knowledge. All recommendations are made without guarantee on the part of the author. whatever is mentioned here is done with the good intention of the author and no one requested me to write it as a review. This is written solely from personal urge. All the photographs are captured by me.Thanks.