Sounds idyllic isn’t it? Well, that’s the home of Mr Tilak Rai and his family. A fishing trip down to river is a weekly routine for his children. I got a chance to enjoy the warm hospitality of Rai family for a couple of days, during my recent solo travel to Darjeeling. They have a cozy but not-so-little 3 story house in which top 2 floors are offered to guests like me who want a secluded stay away from the typical tourists circuit of Darjeeling. They call it “Himalayan Vacation”. It is situated in a small village called Lebong which is about 3.5 km from Darjeeling.
Mr Rai, unlike most people of this region (gurkhas / Nepali), is a tall and well built man. Having travelled all over the world, he can keep you hooked with all the stories. His family consists of his wife, 2 school going sons and a 100+ aged grandmother. They are very friendly people who will make you feel like home. Even their cat is very friendly – she might climb into your bed in the middle of the night and cuddle up next to you drawing warmth from your body.
How did I find the place?
In one line the answer is that I am a big fan of serendipity and I relied on it completely.
I had boarded a night train from Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri with no clue of where would I go next morning from the station. I was thinking of going to Kalimpong, for it being less crowded compared to Darjeeling. In the train, a fellow passenger looked like a “Nepali” and I started chatting with him. I told him I wanted to visit a calm place where I won’t possibly bump into other tourists. He instantly suggested that I should go to a place called “Rung Dung Khola*” near his village. I looked up for this place on my phone but there were no traces on the internet. I wrote down the directions that he gave me.
*Khola = river in Nepali
In Darjeeling, I paid a visit to my favourite Glennary’s. With their lively ambiance and delicious-as-always food I felt refreshed. I was told that I should not venture to Rung Dung Khola on the same day, instead take a rest in Darjeeling and head to the river next day. So I started my hunt for a cheap stay in Darjeeling, which I gladly gave up after asking a couple of hotels. One did not have vacancy while the other did not get water since a past few days. I took this as an indication for heading to search Rung Dung Khola. I took another shared taxi for Lebong, which is the closest village on map to this river.
Lebong wasn’t anything like what I had imagined – a picturesque little village basking in afternoon sun – instead it was one of those towns that you pass by on long journeys assuming it to be just a couple of tea shacks. The main market aka Golai, where I got off the jeep was a really dull place. On inquiring with a few taxi owners I got to know that Rung Dung Khola is about 2 hours walk from there.
PRO TIP: When local guys say it’s a 2 hours walk, it is usually 3 or 3.5 for us.
On inquiring about any hotels or homestays in Lebong, people shot me a look as if I had asked to marry their daughters. Finally after pestering a group of taximen for long, I was told that there might be a homestay which was under renovation. I thought of giving it a try (as if I had any other options haha!). As I was about to start my walk, I met a boy, Nikhil who accompanied me to my destin(y)ation. As I came to know during the 20 minute downhill walk, that the owner (Tilak Rai) was his uncle.
Upon seeing the cabin and the view I instantly made my mind to stay there. At least for the night. Well, that’s how I found this place. I must say, I was really lucky to have found their home without any pre-planning or online research.
A lovely Evening & a River Adventure
After settling in my room at this homestay, I took a rather longish nap. When I woke up it was getting dark outside. I hate waking up from the sleep and staying indoors during twilights. There is something inherently gloomy about it. So I decided to take a walk through the surrounding Bannockburn tea estate. Mr Rai’s elder son Avishek accompanied me. He wasn’t much of a talker. Nor am I. So we hit it off instantly. After that walk we returned to home and I sat sipping my black tea in a wooden hut facing the valley where tiny lights could be seen in distance.
शाम भी कोई जैसे है नदी, लहर लहर जैसे बह रही है…
This song was playing in my head on a loop. Soon appeared Avishek with Sangam (Tilak Rai’s nephew) and Kisan (Sangam’s friend). These two guys who were of my age, had come over to this place in their summer vacation to help Mr Rai in his business. Kisan had brought his old guitar along. I told him about my love for Bipul Chhetri’s music and we instantly bonded over this. In the next one hour he played a mix of Nepali songs, English rock and Bollywood classics. By dinner time I was in a state of bliss.
Next morning Avishek and Nikhil agreed to take me to Rung Dung. Avishek was equipped with his fishing gears while Nikhil got Maggi (it wasn’t banned then), eggs, a vessel to cook it and his Khokri. After a really long and tiring walk through the sleepy villages (as I had imagined them to be), where everyone knew these 2 boys and waved at them as we passed, we reached the river.
Before entering the river, we bought a bottle of local beer called Jaad / Chhang. It was warm and did not taste as bad as I remember it from my previous experience in Gangtok. Then we swam in the cold river for hours, followed by eating spicy soup style noodles and fishing.
While returning we were too tired to walk all the way back home. Thus decided to explore a shortcut through a dense forest. 20 minutes off the trail and it started raining like crazy, turning our adventure into misadventure. We had no other option but to retrace our way back to the original route else be prepared to get lost in that jungle. This was when I learned these golden words which I would keep hearing again and again through coming days.
Never trust 3 things in Darjeeling. Weather, electricity and girls.
That evening I was feeling mixed emotions – happy that my first solo trip started on such a high note – and – a bit apprehensive about staying here further as it was really hurting my meager backpacking budget. I decided to leave the next morning on a happy note. Apparently Rai family also liked me as much as I liked them and they offered a nice discount, a parting gift and a free bike ride till Darjeeling.
Stay tuned for next part – “Bhijo Kalimpong Sheher”
Read previous part – “Kolkakata – aami tomake bhalo bashi“