If you’re on your way to Darjeeling, Kalimpong or other such tourism biggies nestled in the Lesser Himalayas, consider visiting a small village in the vicinity named Lamahatta, that’s slightly off the beaten track. Largely still, a part of unvisited India, it remains free from the sheer numbers that throng the more popular destinations. It’s just the place to go to, when you seek the refreshing company of nature.
There’s no shopping to be done here, and no historic monument that tells a significant tale, but there are nature trails to be enjoyed, tea gardens to walk through, and wildflowers to stop and admire. There’s also Kanchenjunga in the distance, and its majestic snow-capped peak may be viewed from this little village along with the all the other mountain ranges that frame this picturesque secret, waiting to be discovered.
The recent development of Ecotourism in the village has earned it a well-deserved spot on the traveller’s map, and a few houses in the hamlet have been converted to provide comfortable home-stay facilities. But the most beautiful part of Lamahatta is, undoubtedly, a perfectly manicured garden dotted with colourful flowers and adorned with hundreds of Buddhist prayer flags billowing in the breeze.
The prayer flags, bearing benedictions in block-printed text, signify special blessings that are carried across the land through the wind. The colours – blue, white, red, green and yellow – represent the elements, and are arranged from left to right in a specific order of hue.
A narrow trekking trail begins at the edge of the garden and winds its way up the mountain through a thick forest of pines. The tall, stately trees brought to mind the giant sequoias we saw in California, although those trees had trunks wider than my outstretched arms! But the forest looked enchanting with floating mists that made everything seem a little more mysterious, and packed with unknown adventures. Of course, most of the adventures were, in fact, misadventures that involved my slipping on moist ferns and undergrowth a lot, thereby keeping a small audience vastly amused with my accidental, impromptu dance-like moves.
That’s my li’l brat, way ahead of us on the climb up. We followed valiantly, though, fighting gravity with each laborious, yet exhilarated breath.
A sacred water body lay at the end of the climb. We don’t know why the lake is considered sacred, but our guide did tell us that it was an important landmark during the time of the British Raj. The entire lakeside was mesmerizing, shrouded in a heavy mist and fringed by shadowy trees.
We found these strange mushrooms growing by the lake. They looked bright and unusual, so I assumed they were poisonous – if in fact they were mushrooms.
We stuck around at the top for a bit, soaking in the surreal beauty of the pine forests and the crisp mountain air. And then it was time to head back. The climb down was relatively faster, and it seemed as if the clouds had rolled down the mountainside with us, to say goodbye.
Whenever I close my eyes and think of Lamahatta now, this is the image my mind brings forth…of dense woodlands enveloped by cool, floating mists, stretching out endlessly in front of my wandering feet.
And I’m reminded once more, of these beautiful lines from one of my favourite poems by Frost, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ –
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Altitude: 6,500 ft.
Location: Darjeeling District, West Bengal, India
Connected by the Darjeeling-Kalimpong State Highway