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Wish to view ‘The Sleeping Buddha’ of Bengal? Be at Tumling

14 September, 2020 16:36:07
Wish to view ‘The Sleeping Buddha’ of Bengal? Be at Tumling

For someone like me, who stays in Thailand, enjoying the snow-laden peaks and the vastness of the Himalayas is not as easily accessible as it is to travel across and reach out to some of the best beaches of the world. Hills have always been my personal favourite and if it is the snowy Himalayas, then the joy multiplies. Between the lush green and the heights of the pine, fern, deodar, and amidst the world of rhododendron under the blue sky is the place where happiness overflows. Himalaya is the king of mountains, the land of Shiva, the birthplace of Uma, the house of Parvati, the dwelling of saints and sages, the place of heavenly abode, and the shrine of philosophy and meditation. But my intention was to view the hilly tracks of Bengal in a different way.  

Chamong Chiabari

So instead of heading for the Queen of Hills, Darjeeling, we took a different route - a road that took us through dense forests, innumerable villages, and finally to the illustrious beauty of Chamong-Chiabari down the road that leads to Mirikh and Sukia Pokhri. If there is no hindrance or obstacle on the road, one can reach Chamong in less than three hours’ time.  Not much is mentioned about Chamong-Chiabari Mountain Retreat on the map of West Bengal. However, we learnt it is at an altitude of 2,258 meters, i.e. nearly 7,000 feet. The retreat is located on the lower level of Sukia. The temperature of the place ranges from one degree to fourteen degrees. The local dialect is Nepalese - however Hindi, Bengali, English are also common languages in this area. 

Green hillscape

With the Singalia and Sandakphu at a distance, this world-famous tea-producing center started its operation in 1871. Chamong is a small township 17km southwest of Darjeeling. The word ‘Chamong’ comes from the name of a bird that the Lepchas call ‘chamoo.’ During the sunny months, the garden wakes up with the loud chirp of these birds. In the surrounding areas of Chiabari, there are quite a few other gardens as well, some of them are the famous Turchum and Shiok tea gardens. Clad with nature, the beauties of these tea gardens are beyond description --- of which Tumsong and Meribong are exceptionally beautiful. 

Amidst the natural beauty of Chamong Chiabari, right at the center is the 140 years old wooden bungalows of the British owners, extremely well decorated and furnished with all types of modern amenities. Tiredness vanishes while sitting in the lawns of these bungalows. Though the snow-capped peaks are not visible from here, the high hills all around, the dense forests, intoxicating serenity of the tea gardens, wandering clouds, and the touch of chilly breeze fills the mind and body with pristine happiness.

Magnificent peaks

The beauty of Chamong at night is of a different magnitude. Th tranquil charm, the sudden chirp of a night bird, the continuous humming of crickets, and in the midst of that enjoying around a bonfire! The sunrise, as well as sunset, is picturesque from Chamong. The beauty of the dawn can be enjoyed while sipping over a cuppa and enjoying the early hours of the day, the sound of the temple bell rolls into the ears. If one goes a little uphill, there is an ancient temple of Lord Shiva. There is a small viewpoint adjoining the temple. One would definitely love to sit at the adjoining benches and enjoy the nature and the landscape. 

Right below the temple, numerous Tea gardens spread across in steps. Down below flows the Rongbong River and a small forest which is the dwelling of different types of birds. Those who are interested in trekking or birdwatching and ornithology can climb down to the bank of the river. Our time was limited, and we were yet to see the Kanchenjunga and the snow-capped mountains. We had our breakfast finished quickly besides 8:30 am, we started our journey towards our next destination Tumling, a small village on way to Sandakphu. 

From Chamong we started towards Manebhanjan and Tumling is 13km from there. The road to reach Tumling is quite steep and the only way vehicle to reach there used to be few Land rovers which were used during the wars in 1940. These days powerful new Bolero and other 4-wheeler vehicles are used. From the Manebhajan market one can collect the government permit for Tumling, Tonglu, Sandakphu – all famous as a trekker’s paradise. 

Gradually we started ascending upwards. The road is narrow and steep but quite well maintained with the pine, birch, and rhododendrons standing by the road like a wall. Sometimes only grasslands beside us and in distance we could see the prayer flags. The car took a turn and crossed a small village like Chitre, Meghma. Light snowfall started in the meantime which the local people call “Ola”- to us it looked like shreds of cotton. Crossing these heavenly beautiful roads, we reached Tonglu- a place higher than Tumgling in altitude – at a height of 10,130 ft. The entire place was covered with snow- “frosting” as they call it in the western world. Singalia mountain range is one of the highest mountain ranges and is very well visible from this place, but we were not lucky enough due to the weather condition. However, we felt as if we were in the world of Narnia with frosted road and village huts in front of us.

The shades of nature

From Tonglu the road descended and took us to Tumling. Reaching Tumling, the car stopped in front of some shops. Tumling is at a height of 9,600 ft and was first heard of in 17th century. In front of us was nothing except the white snow-clad Himalaya. The view reminded me of Munsiari. (Uttarakhand). The peaks in front are known as “Sleeping Buddha of Bengal” as the shape has a resemblance to it. The local folklore talks about Kumbhakarna also. The Singalia and Kanchenjunga ranges stand in between India, Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim with the formidable Kanchenjunga at an altitude of 28,169 ft being the third highest mountain in the world. 16 peaks are seen from here if the sky is clear- staring with Kumbhakarna, then Kanchenjunga, then Shimbho followed by Kokgong, Ramon, Fre, Kabru, Kabru Forebead, Goche and Pan dim stands among other peaks. The arrangement of the mountains is such as if someone is resting in a turned back posture.

Tumsing Tea Retreat

Climbing a little above Tumling there is a small prayer room or Chaitya from where the sound of prayer floats around in the air. The chill in the weather had frozen the base of the candles as well. The view from the prayer room is magnificent as the entire area is visible from there- even the road that goes upwards towards Sandakphu and Fault.  Someone who has some time can as well spend a couple of nights at Tumling- it would be a lifetime experience if the sky is clear.

The driver was anxious for returning back as the roads become slippery, thus dangerous after continuous snowfall. On our way to Tumling, we expressed our desire to see the monastery at Chitre, hence we were taken there.  Trekkers to Sandakphu halt at this small village for some refreshment. Located next to the road after a sharp bend, this village is famous for its monastery which is popularly known as the Chitre monastery only.  The place has an old chaitya full of prayer flags with a beautiful painting of Lord Buddha inside and eight small chaityas at a little distance. The place has a beautiful view of the landscape and the mountain range. Regarding Chitre, this monastery was built by a Tibetan monk named Nakamura, who later on became famous as Nagthang Tsampa. He had travelled to many places through Yoga and is known to have cured the king of Burma who was suffering from a critical disease. On his way of returning, he settled down at the nearby Gorkhey village and built this monastery at Chitre.

 How to reach:
From Bagdogra airport take a car to Chamong-Chiabari and then to Tumling. It takes around 4 hours to reach Chamong. The roads are pretty steep and for Tumling you need government permits that one gets at Manebhanjan.

Photographs by Anita Bose and Subhankar Bose

Story Tag:
  • Travel, Bengal Destination

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