WORDS AMRITA LALL
Out of Kolkata (625km)
Tucked away high and above Darjeeling, at some 5,800ft, Tinchuley makes for a pretty picture in late winter, despite the blistering cold. Wearing a dense, foggy white cloak and trailing off somewhere near a forest infused with the sweet smell of pine, Tinchuley, or the Three Ovens (so called for the three oven-shaped hills, or teen chulla), seems like it’s popped right out of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. The wee hamlet is home to barely 30 families – an enterprising bunch, who, in addition to learning the ropes of organic farming from the World Wide Federation, throw their homes open to travellers, ensuring a truly rustic experience in the lap of unspoilt Himalayan beauty.
Among the many homestays that lie at the heart of the quintessential Tinchuley experience, Gurung Guest House stands out. Brightly-coloured wooden cottages amid a profusion of green, a garden spilling over with orchids and tall trees, and the Gurung family treating you like a long-lost relative – be prepared for wholesome, no-frills-attached rustic goodness. Rich, home-cooked food in copious quantities is the added bonus. The fiery meat curries and hearty dals work perfectly to combat the chilly weather outside. If you’d prefer to burn off the calories, walk – the surrounding woods are lovely, dark and deep.
The next day, begin with a visit to the Gumbadara Viewpoint from where you will be treated to stunning views of far-off mountains and nearby tea estates with wispy bits of mist floating about. While you’re out and about, do see the sights; there are more tea gardens and orange orchards here than you can count. Head next to Green Lawns, an organic farm and orange orchard, for a leisurely stroll. It’s less farm, and more forest with dense foliage and oranges so fresh and juicy they stain your hands a deep amber when you peel them. If you’d rather meander through the beautiful hills, set out on a drive through the serene Rangli Rangliot Tea Estate.
If you want to venture away from the gorgeous tea plantations, spend some quiet time at Tinchuley Monastery. According to local folklore, there once lived a monk here, who meditated for years on end, emerging one day with no regard for his growing toe-nails or unruly hair. While you might not really be able to test the veracity of that legend, what you will definitely find are some spectacular sights. If the weather cooperates, you can even catch sight of the magnificent peaks in the distance. As you stand staring out at the gorgeous sights in front of you, take a deep breath and let the crisp mountain air course through your veins; you‘ll feel grateful for having decided to get away from the city, for a quaint, quiet break in the hills.
Return to the homestay to indulge in some piping-hot tea and stunning views of the valley from your balcony. And, finally, call it a night in the company of the Gurungs, around a crackling bonfire, as they regale you with wild, mystical tales of the hills.