With farmers’ markets, Himalayan views, and flora galore, Kalimpong is West Bengal’s best-kept secret of a hill station.
Darjeeling may be India’s quintessential colonial hill station, but nearby Kalimpong, a onetime Bhutanese trade town, was also developed by the British as an alternative escape—and it remains one today. Straddling the Durpin and Deolo hilltops above the Teesta River valley, it’s an untouristy market town with streets radiating from a clock tower and a claim to fame as being home to Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother and author of the 2015 novel The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong.
View from the Top
Kalimpong is home to several monasteries. Zang Dhok Palri Phodang, the largest, stands atop Durpin Hill, and it’s well worth the hike to see its exquisite murals, beautifully painted woodwork, mandalas, and young monks chanting scriptures. When the weather is clear, the views stretch all the way to the snow-clad peak of Nepal’s Mount Kanchenjunga.
To Market, to Market
The town’s pulse is best felt in the bustling central market or the haat bazaar (open Wednesdays and Saturdays), both on Rishi Road. The latter draws farmers down from their mountain homes to sell their fresh produce and herbal medicines; look for cubes of dried Tibetan cheese and white yeast cakes made of millet, which is also fermented into the local tipple, chaang.
Kalimpong grows India’s best orchids in more than 20 nurseries around town. But a rare botanical experience awaits up Atisha Road at the hillside Pineview Nursery (91-3552/255-853), where Mohan Pradhan has defied nature to create one of the largest cacti collections in Asia, with nearly 1,500 different succulents in multiple climate-controlled hothouses.
Time for Tea
Café fare here comes as fragrant Darjeeling tea grown on nearby estates, hot vegetable-stuffed momos (steamed dumplings) with red-chili chutney, and thukpa, a noodle soup. On the main road near the bus stop, Gompu’s Bar and Restaurant (91-3552/255-818) is a good place to sample these local delicacies.
For an adventure and a photo-op, head to the park atop Deolo Hill. There are activities such as paragliding, horseback riding, and even Zorbing, and benches among flower beds to relax on after. Filled with mountain kids with sunburned cheeks, dogs with big furry coats, and local women in Tibetan costumes, it’s the spot for a slice of local life.
This article originally appeared in the April/May print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Indian Idyll”).