Serene Escapes: Here's What To Do And See In Kalimpong

The pretty town in the Eastern Himalayas, which evokes memories of the British era, has much to offer
Kalimpong is a popular hill station in West Bengal
Kalimpong is a popular hill station in West Bengal

A Himalayan town rich in cultural and religious heritage, Kalimpong was once an important link along the trade routes linking Tibet with India through Sikkim. The area was part of the domain of the Raja of Sikkim, until the Bhutan kings took over in the early 18th century. In 1865, after the Anglo-Bhutan War, Kalimpong was annexed to Darjeeling. As the tea estates grew in Darjeeling, a large number of labourers spilled over into neighbouring Kalimpong. The late 19th century saw the arrival of Scottish missionaries to the area, which led to the construction of numerous schools. Its population is a mix of Nepalese, Tibetan, Bhutanese and Lepcha communities. Here's what to do on a visit to Kalimpong.

A colonial bungalow, Morgan House today is a state-run tourist lodge
A colonial bungalow, Morgan House today is a state-run tourist lodge Wikimedia Commons

A Colonial Trail

With its Colonial bungalows and quaint hotels, Kalimpong still evokes memories of the British era. Built by British wool traders, most of these buildings are located on Rinkingpong and Hill Top roads. Of particular note are Morgan House, Surya Sadan, Galingka, Tashiding and Ringking Farm. Both Morgan House and Tashiding are now state-run tourist lodges.

Around 2 km from the main town lies St Theresa Church, built by local craftsmen to resemble a gompa. The walls of the church are decorated with wood carvings depicting biblical scenes. However, the sculpted figures curiously resemble Buddhist monks.

Crookety House

This beautiful cottage used to be the residing place for Helena Roerich for the last seven years of her life. After the demise of her famous painter-husband Nicholas Roerich, Helena came to India and stayed in Delhi and Khandala before finally moving to the quaint Himalayan town of Kalimpong in 1949. The Crookety House was built by the British during the 1940s and became a hub of spirituality and philosophical learning. It was converted into a museum and is currently managed by Italian admirers of the Roerich family who established the Himalayan Institute of Ethics and Good Living here. You can check out the many paintings by Roerich that hang on the walls, and also pick up prints of his works.

The School For Natural History Art

This art studio, run by Hemlata Pradhan, is located amidst lush green hills. An award-winning botanical illustrator, Pradhan has studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, the Royal College of Art in London, and is the winner of UK's Royal Horticultural Society's Gold Medal. The studio has high ceilings, and huge glass windows with natural light filtering. It is ideal to host art workshops and pick up basics of botanical art. You can also join their informal weekend classes. Several works by Pradhan and her students are up for sale and you can easily pick them up from the studio.

Deoloo Hill is the highest point in Kalimpong
Deoloo Hill is the highest point in KalimpongIndia Travel

The Viewpoints

Drive to Deolo Hill (at 1,650 m, it is the highest point in Kalimpong) to take in views of Kalimpong town, the surrounding villages, as well as Teesta river and its valleys. En route to the viewpoint, you will come across many attractions. First up is the statue of the Buddha, seated on a lotus set amid rocks and lush green trees. Right behind the statue is a small gompa. After taking a look at the statue, stop at Sherpa Taar, or Sherpa View Point. It offers a stunning view of the hills rolling up to meet the mountains. You can see the Teesta river drawing the natural boundary between West Bengal and Sikkim from here. The views are superb from the viewing gallery as well as the nearby Durga Mandir.

On the southern edge of the town is Durpin Dara Hill, another excellent vantage point from where you can take in spectacular vistas of the Teesta and Rangeet rivers in the valley below. On a clear day, you can see the Khangchendzonga in all its splendour.

Dr Graham's Homes, a home for orphans, is a public school today
Dr Graham's Homes, a home for orphans, is a public school todayTrawell

An Iconic Institution

On the way to Deolo Hill is Dr Graham's Homes, an educational institute spread over an area of 202 hectares. It was set up in 1900 by Reverend Dr JA Graham, a Scottish missionary, for orphaned and abandoned Anglo-Indian children. Today, the institute functions as a public school. The campus is almost like a little town in itself, with its own chapel, hospital, bakery, dairy and even poultry. Tourists can drive into the campus and take a look around the grounds.

The Golf Course

Laid by the Indian Army, the nine-hole Lion's Golf Course offers a grand view of the mountains. It is the highest golf course in West Bengal, and is spread over an undulating terrain, hence making for a challenging course. There is an Army post here, from where you need to seek permission to play. 

Thongsha Gompa s the oldest monastery in Kalimpong
Thongsha Gompa s the oldest monastery in KalimpongTrawell

The Monasteries

Established in 1692, the Thongsha Gompa or the Bhutanese Monastery, is the oldest monastery in Kalimpong. The original structure was destroyed in the inter-clan wars before the British arrived.

Built on the Durpin Dara Hill, Zong Dog Palri Fo-Brang Gompa was consecrated by the Dalai Lama in 1976. It contains the Kagyur in 108 volumes, brought by the Dalai Lama when he fled Tibet. The prayer room is adorned with wall paintings.

A 40-minute uphill walk from town leads to the Tharpa Choeling Gompa. Founded in 1992, it belongs to the Dalai Lama's Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Dharmodaya Vihar, on the Jangalri- Sapkota Road, is a residence for Buddhist monks, and has an excellent library on Buddhism. 

Flower Power

Nurseries are a huge attraction in Kalimpong. Floriculture enthusiasts and businesses from all over India source plants from here. Kalimpong is famous for gladioli, orchids, cacti, amaryllis, anthuriums, roses and many more species of flowering plants. Pine View Nursery, about 2 km from Kalimpong town on Atisha Road, has one of the largest collections of exotic cacti in Asia. Around 3 km from Kalimpong on Teesta Bazaar Road, Universal Nurseries stocks cacti, orchids, amaryllis and succulent flowers. Run by the Forest Department, the Nature Interpretation Centre houses displays focusing on Kalimpong's flora and fauna.

A Dose Of Adventure

Chitray, 14 km downhill from Kalimpong, is the starting point for rafting on the Teesta. The Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council and a few private entrepreneurs organise exciting 3-hour long rafting trips.

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