A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
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This Bengali New Year, we planned a trip to Lava – a charming hill station in the Eastern belt of Greater Himalayas, around 38 kilometres from Kalimpong. It serves as the gateway to Neora Valley National Park, the oldest bio-reserve of India. Though height of Lava is only 7200 feet, yet its climate has a frosty touch round the year. Packing woollen mittens on a midsummer day, we headed to our next trip.
Glimpse of Lava from Kagyu Thek Chen Ling Monastery
Located at a distance of 100 odd kilometres from New Jalpaiguri, it took us almost 5 and half hours by road to reach Lava including short breaks on way. Usually it’s a 4 hours’ drive but due to some road closures near Gorubathan, we had to take a longer route via Mangpoo.
Road trip to Lava via Mangpoo
Due to a landslide at Kalijhora, the road had become even narrower fleeting one way traffic at a time. Untimely rains spoiled it all. Road clearance work was in progress but we lost significant time there. Nevertheless, our driver maintained the highest possible gear till 9th Mile where we took our first break. Time was around 2pm. Being a regular traveller in this circuit, we now prefer to stop at unconventional joints to avoid tourist rush.
Quick break near 9th Mile
Passing through Kalimpong
Another attraction of 9th Mile is an unglamorous lollypop distributor. There’s a small shop near the bus stop which in my views, produces Kalimpong’s best lollypop. They often invite me to visit their main factory which is somewhere down the same hill. But due to time constraints, I could not make it possible yet. Promising every time, next time sure, we leave with a bag of lollypops. The old vendor only smiles.
Kalimpong special Lollypop*
(*Image sourced from internet)
Many do not know there is an indigenous variety of soft candy on a stick, locally famous as lollypop, is produced in this part of north Bengal. It is traditionally made of dense yak milk and natural sweeteners. Both the taste and aroma of this so called lollypop are very unique and I never found anything similar anywhere else in India or abroad so far. Kalimpong may now ponder to claim a Geographical Indication for its lollypop if not done already.
Way to Lava from 9th Mile
From 9th Mile, we took the road towards Lava. We reached in one and half hours. The April weather was pretty cold, seemingly, it may duly receive snow in winter. The greenery also changed with the change in meteorological conditions and altitude. The forested stretch of Lava comprised of Rhododendron, Cardamom, Himalayan Thysanolaena grass (phool jhadu), Sal, Oak, Himalayan bamboo, variety of wild Orchids and Ferns, Pine, Cedars, Fir, Birch and endangered animal species, thus often referred as Dhupi (colloquial word meaning ‘dense leafy forest’).
Jungle drive through Neora Valley forested stretch
There is nothing much in the Lava town except an ancient Buddhist monastery, a small mall road market, Samybiong Tea Estate, Neora valley Interpretation Centre and a Clock Tower surrounded by dense Himalayan forest on all sides. Due to its strategic geographical placement it serves as a very important juncture for the tourists.
Momo break at the fringes of Neora Valley forest
By the time we reached Lava, sun had already started descending. The central Clock Tower needle indicated half past three. Half the market was closed due to afternoon time. A decent halt at Lava Bazaar was a must have as our stomachs were badly craving for food. Therefore, we decided to break for lunch first and then proceed to hotel check-in.
Road drive to Lava
There were only a handful of restaurants around and luckily one of them was open – Hotel Geetanjali. Basically a budget lodge but the signboard read that it also serves authentic Bengali food. Thus we decided to put up for a night here. With an octogenarian Brahmin widow accompanying us in the daring road journey, nothing could have been a better stopover. The manager himself came along as we alighted in front of the gate. The restaurant was closing by then when we arrived but it was very cordial of him to offer us food. A Bengali himself, the elderly manager helped us to settle down after the dusty long drive, carefully took down our rice meal order and offered to take rest in his cabin if needed. That was so kind of him.
Since he had to prepare food afresh, the waiting time would be more than usual. So, he advised us to visit the Lava Kagyu Thek Chen Ling Monastery on opposite side of the road in the meantime. With no snub, we accepted his proposal at once. Leaving the senior citizens in his custody, we carried on.
It was hardly fifty steps away from the hotel on the fringe of Neora Valley National Park. The road through the Lava marketplace was very steep for a walk, falling sharply down towards the monastery side. The closed market facilitated an easier walk. The weather being cloudy, we thoroughly enjoyed the misty trail.
Steep Roads around Lava Marketplace
Misty trail to Lava Monastery
The main entrance was brightly painted in blue and decorated with traditional Buddhist frescoes. It is located on top of a small hill inside the gate. We had to constantly ascend for fifteen minutes to reach the top. It was such a spiritual bliss. A bright red building richly decorated with golden porticoes and curved facades on all sides. The colourful wall paintings evident even through the clouds soothed our eyes.
Afternoon Walk to Lava Monastery
Biodiversity at Lava
The evening prayer preparations had already started by then. Small children, monks and resident students all dressed in maroon attires were busy gathering at the prayer hall. The ghee lamp inside was burning with its solemn divinity. Spending a short span, we started walking back. We really yearned to spend more time at this holy paradise but time was chasing us hard.
Trek to Monastery
Residential building of the monks
Trek back to hotel
Lunch was ready by the time we came back – hot and fresh. Sumptuous in true sense! We decided to retire for the day and prepare for our onward destination next day.
Sunset at Lava