Trip to Sittong, an Offbeat Destination

This Holi I made a trip to Sittong, an Offbeat Destination near Darjeeling, with my Mom. Just a long weekend (3 days) was enough. Yet during such a short trip we enjoyed almost all the things to see in Sittong, soaking into the unadulterated nature’s bliss. Haven’t you heard of Sittong? It is a cluster of small villages called Sittong Khasmahal, at 4000 to 4500 feet, located in Kurseong Subdivision of Darjeeling District. Sittong is known for its oranges, tea, cinchona and natural brooms called ‘phuljharu’ in Bengali, besides pristine natural beauty of the Eastern Himalayas.

Mahal Diram Tea Gardens

Tea; as is the drink, so is the site relaxing. There is a well laid pathway through lush green rolling hills. The hills are green and gorgeous with tea plantations. My mom and I sat at the seat by the edge over looking the hills and absorbing the quietude. It was foggy else on a bright clear day, one can see a lot down below, including River Teesta and Siliguri Town. Trip to Sittong is incomplete without visiting the Mahal Diram Tea Estate and there is a home stay at the tea garden. There are a few local shops selling tea, momos, toffees and maggi.

Old Buddhist Monastery

The mud monastery of upper Shittong is beautiful with unparalleled serenity. When it was exactly built cannot be said exactly but some say it is 300 years old and some say it is 500 years old. It definitely is old and the art inside the quaint little monastery is priceless. The frescos are not maintained but appear inspirational even with fading colours. Speaking of colours, the place has numerous colourful prayer flags. When these flags flutter with the wind, they make such a heartwarming sound. There are three chortens and the ground is filled with wild flowers. I found the place straight out of the pages of a book of vibrant happy folktales. The monastery has statues of Padmasambhaba and Buddha. Visit to this old monastery is my best take away from the trip to Sittong.

Namthing Pokhri

Surrounded by Shelpu Hills lies this seasonal lake spread across 10000 square meters. The lake is rain fed; we saw it dry, the bed of the lake blanketed under the grass. Yet it was so magical. It was surrounded by thick pine forests. I took the way through the woods. As I was walking through the narrow passages between the huge pine trees I could feel a certain mystique about the place. Not only because the locals consider the space sacred, there is another reason why the periphery of the lake is a restricted area. Namthing Pokhri is the abode of Himalayan Salamanders, rare endangered species conserved under Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. They are considered a close cousin of the dinosaurs. Namthing Pokri is a significant site seeing spot while taking a trip to Sittong.

Ahal Dara View Point and Tagore Rock

On the top of Shelpu Hills, amidst cinchona plantations, is perched this picturesque view point. 360 degrees panoramic view is available and on clear days the majestic snow-capped peak of Kanchenjunga steals the show. It was really foggy when we climbed the hill top, so foggy that everything around was white. We were unlucky, we had no view. Ahal Dara is generally the most important part of a trip to Sittong. One also gets to see Kalimpong Hills and Teesta River from top on clear days. Besides cinchona, there are tea plants on the hill top. Some rocks form the shape of Rabindranath Tagore and are called, ‘Tagore Rock’. While climbing downhill we rested and had some snacks at a hill shack. A few home stays exist. We had to pay Rs.50 for car parking. If one enters without car, then per head Rs. 10 is charged.

Orange Garden

Sittong is famous for oranges. So you can’t escape a visit to the orange gardens if you are taking a trip to Sittong. Entry fee is Rs.50 per person. The orange garden is like a vibrant picnic spot amidst numerous orange trees. It is a great feeling to see so many oranges on the branches of trees. My earnest request is that visitors must not try plucking them. On request many a times, the owner gives you freshly plucked oranges. For orange garden pictures, credits to nativeplanet.com

Mongpu

Mongpu, the picturesque Himalayan hamlet near Kalimpong, is a well known name to Bengalis. People visit Mongpu for Mongpu Rabindra Museum which was the house of Maitreyi Devi, the author of the famous romantic novel, ‘Na Hanyate (It Does Not Die)’. Rabindranath Tagore had spent four summers in that house on Maitreyi Devi and her husband’s invitation. ‘Mongpu te Rabindranath (Tagore by The Fire Side)’ is another popular book which is Maitreyi Devi’s memoir on Rabindranath Tagore’s stay at her place in Mongpu. This imperial bungalow belonged to Dr. Manmohan Sen, the director of the cinchona factory. Thomas Anderson of Bengal Medical Service, in charge of Calcutta Botanical Garden, introduced valuable medicinal plants, especially cinchona, in 1860s in these areas; Mongpu and Ahal Dara. This pristine environment influenced Tagore to write several pieces in this house. So the museum today exhibits a lot of his writings and things he used.

Jogighat Bridge and Riyang River

Mongpu must be clubbed with the trip to Sittong. Jogighat Bridge, a gorgeous 74 meter long bridge connects Mongpu and Sittong. I call it gorgeous because, the bridge has innumerable colourful prayer flags, fluttering in air. The awesome hilly River Riyang flows under the bridge, over large boulders making a soothing gurgling sound. We dipped our feet in the cold water and sat for quite some time. The bridge was inaugurated by Baba Ramdev, the yoga master. The old wooden bridge from the British era is still present but is not in a state of use.

Lepcha Waterfall

On the way to Jogighat Bridge from Lower Sittong, there is a trekking path which leads to Lepcha Waterfall. It is a site which is not very popular in the itinerary of a trip to Sittong because it is pretty difficult to reach. Since it requires a long walk for more than half an hour on a steep, dusty, rocky, narrow, secluded path; my mom and I skipped this.

How to Reach

From New Jalpaiguri (NJP) or Siliguri one has to travel 31kilometers, for around 2hours to reach Sittong. On the first day of our trip to Sittong we reached Sittong via Mongpu. NJP to Mongpu is 54kilometers. It is advisable to book a car privately as Sittong is very remote. 4X4 drive is helpful as the roads are steep and not in perfect condition. We had a ‘Scorpio’ for the two of us, mom and me, for travelling comfortably.

When and Where to Stay

There are many home stays all across Sittong which are unable to provide you premium luxuries but are adorned with modern amenities. The home stays are mostly family run and the locals are friendly and hospitable, serving simple yet delicious and organic food. Stay rates range from Rs. 1200 to Rs. 2500 per day per person, inclusive of bed tea, breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and dinner. In the evening, home stays arrange barbecue and bonfire on request and additional charge is levied. The staying cost is extremely pocket-friendly, cost of commuting is high. Pre booking is advisable. We booked our stay with Toryok Ryang, a homestay in the Toryok Village of Sittong. You may contact Sudan (7022315073) for rooms as well as car. It is better to avoid monsoon, else one can take a trip to Sittong at anytime of the year.

Take Away From the Trip to Sittong

Even though our trip to Sittong was extremely short, it was a valuable break. The calm and tranquil village and the simple villagers, far from the madding crowd, were rejuvenating and refreshing. The pristine nature, wonderful flowers including rhododendrons, the birds’ songs and the fresh air influenced creativity. I filled up my travel journal or travel sketch book to my heart’s content and read nature poems. Of course I clicked numerous photos. We enjoyed the full moon in the mountains. Coming back to Kolkata with a fresh bundle of energy and joy is what makes our trip to Sittong so special.
Dipannita Bhattacherya
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12 thoughts on “Trip to Sittong, an Offbeat Destination”

  1. Am planning to go here meyer summer vacation e. But all train tickets full n flights are too costly. Is the volvo bus u availed comfortable for kids to travel? Due to crunch in office leaves this trip sounds good.

  2. Santanu Bhattacharjee

    Excellent description and very nice photos specialy the hanging house in the air (just before take away from the trip) also the paintings blend beautifully with nature.

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