Both Charkhole and Icchey Gaon (also spelled as Echey Gaon) being one of the newest destination in Eastern Himalayas, North Bengal, I always had this urge of visiting these destinations before they become touristy. Charkhole is a pristine destination, overlooking the green valley with panoramic view of Kanchenjunga, stuck within deep forest of Pine, Oak & Rhododendron, situated around 15KM from Loleygaon and around 30KM from all the hustle bustle of Kalimpong. Whereas Icchey Gaon on the other hand, is another small Himalayan hamlet, located around 15KM from Kalimpong and is one of the perfect place to relax, sitting in a wooden cottage, within the lap of mother nature over-viewing the glorious Kanchenjunga. Destinations like Sillery Gaon, Aritar, Mankhim, Pedong, Reshikhola are located nearby Icchey Gaon. Nowadays most of the like minded tourist have shifted their base from Sillery Gaon to Icchey Gaon or Ramdhura (another nearby destination to Icchey Gaon) while starting their trip to Silk Route.
Planning : Even though I clearly had plans to visit Charkhole and Icchey Gaon, but at the preliminary level, I was very much confused with halting at Icchey Gaon or Ramdhura. Ramdhura is another newly found gem in North Bengal situated just few KM before Icchey Gaon. Ramdhura too offers magnificent view of Kanchenjunga on a clear day and is surrounded with Pine and Oak forest. One can even take up a short trek to Icchey Gaon and Sillery Gaon from Ramdhura. After trying to collect more and more information from Google and various Travel Blogs, I still failed to fix on one. Later on a verge I fixed on Icchey Gaon, hoping for the best.
Train tickets and accommodations were booked early during January in order to avoid any mishaps due to the long weekend rush. Even though previously me and my colleague turned friend Dilip Da planned for this trip together, as our another partner in crime, Avik, was about to move abroad with his new opportunity. But later few friends of Dilip Da showed their urge to join in with us and we happily agreed as we thought it’d have been more fun together. Later around February, unfortunately Avik’s plans got postponed for some official reasons and he too joined in. I still remember chasing the hotel owners several times due to constant change of our group!! But things were just fine and each time, we found the rooms to be still available!! Needless to say, our group was now of 12 people i.e. 6 families with one young kid, but later one friend of Dilip Da backed out at the last moment due to some personal reasons.
Day 0 – 28th April 2017 : To tell you the truth, we all were highly anxious and waiting for this day to arrive. Needless to say, the warm summer has already set in at Kolkata by then and we were really looking forward to escape the heat. We all joined in at Sealdah Railway Station after office hours. Dilip Da took the pain to introduce all of us with his friends and vice-versa. The journey was mostly uneventful as we opted for Padatik Express as usual to incorporate any unplanned late night meetings or requests from our managers!!
Day 1 – 29th April 2017 : Our train was late by 1 hour and reached NJP at around 10:30 AM instead of scheduled arrival at 9:35 AM. I called up Babai Da (our driver), who was already waiting at NJP for us but our another car was still about to arrive. Babai Da called him up and informed us that he’s on his way and will be here within next 5 mins. We thought of utilizing the time to take out the necessary cash from ATM and buying some snacks and cold drinks for the journey. Our another driver Pappu Da, arrived soon and they both helped us packing the luggage and we left for our first destination Icchey Gaon. As per our request Babai Da gave us a halt nearby to arrange the liquors on the way.
After a brief journey till Sevoke, we took a break for having breakfast at the most infamous Hotel Goutam at around 11:30 AM. This was our 2nd time there and we knew, it’d be late till they serve the food. And as expected, it took us around 1.5 hours there.
While proceeding through Kalimpong, it looked congested and full of crowd which made us think about how common tourists like these kind of places more and more. In-fact Lava too has become a mini Darjeeling nowadays. On the other hand, we thanked god that destinations like Icchey Gaon and Charkhole are still unknown, and that’s the reason we get to enjoy this kind of charming destination away from the crowd.
We reached Ramdhura view point at around 3:20 PM and took a long break to soak ourselves in to lap of mother nature before proceeding towards Icchey Gaon.
I must say, roads in this regions are still in it’s worst shape and may be this is one of the reason, main stream tourists stay away from these regions. Shortly after we left Ramdhura, it started drizzling in the beginning and then gradually it started raining heavily. It took us around 30 minutes to drive to Icchey Gaon. We halted for few minutes under a shade nearby waiting for the rain to hold up. Luckily after few minutes the rain went to halt and soon we were approached by the staff cum porters, as we had already informed Mr. D K about our arrival while in Ramdhura. One needs to walk a bit on steep uphill road to reach the Homestay. Khawas Homestay, run by Mr. D. K. Khawas and his family is one of the most famous in this region. We noticed 3-4 more homestays around the valley.
Upon our arrival, we came to know Mr. D K is in Kalimpong due to some election duty and it’d be late night for him to return. They allotted us the entire set of cottage with 3 rooms for us 10 pax. Each room have provision for staying 4 pax with attached washroom. The rooms and washrooms were quite clean and well maintained, but due to the monsoon, we were informed that, electricity is not there. Even though it was around 4:30 PM, but our lunch was ready, as we already reminded him while we were at NJP. We were really hungry like hell and each and every dish served by her felt delicious to us!!
Shortly after our lunch, rain came to halt and we proceeded towards a short hike along the valley. Even though Kanchenjunga was behind the clouds, the view of the valley from top of the hills didn’t failed to impress us. The strong cold breeze blowing through our face and hairs made us felt welcome to the lap of mother nature with open arms.
Around the evening, we were served Tea and Pakoras. This kind of meal set is somewhat common throughout the destinations along Silk Route. She also gave us few candles and match boxes for each rooms in case the electricity is not fixed by the time it turns dark. In the mean time magnificent Kanchenjunga played hike and seek with us through the clouds which we failed to capture in our cameras.
As it again started raining heavily, we all were seated in the balcony, watching the sunlight gradually fading away with occasional sounds of croaks. (Un)Fortunately the electricity was still not there. It was an amazing feeling, staying away from all the hustle bustle of the towns, enjoying the calmness with sounds of rainfall, far from mobile connectivity amidst the lush green forest.
Later around in the evening, we all joined together in a room with our alcohols and snacks. After sometime, the power was back as the rain halted briefly and we ran to put our mobiles on charge. Rest of the evening we spent enjoying our drinks and chit-chatting among ourselves. Later at around 9 PM we were called for Dinner. We were served, Rice and Chapatis as per our preferences, Dal, Sabji and Chicken. Shortly after having dinner and having a smoke together on a chilled night, we called off the day and hit the bed!!
Day 2 – 30th April 2017 : We woke up a bit early around 6 AM which is a lot earlier than our stipulated time back home. Soon we were served Tea. Avik, Sushmita, Dilip Da & Boudi went ahead for a short hike along the village. I wish, I would have joined too!!
Mr. D K Khawas was there by then and came forward to welcome us and asked about our whereabouts. He felt sorry that he couldn’t meet us last night due to the election duties and informed us that he’d leave for Kalimpong within next few minutes. Even though he asked me to clear out all the bills with his wife, but we sat together for some time and cleared out all the bills with him only, before he left. Finally, we were served Puri & Alu Sabji (Potato Curry) at breakfast around 8:30 AM. After having our breakfast we packed our luggage and left for our today’s destination Charkhole via Sillery Gaon and Loleygaon, bidding goodbye to Khawas family at around 10 AM.
I must say, the road to Sillery Gaon is in awful state and one must re-think twice before planning for these regions. If one is not a ardent nature lover and have urge to travel anywhere for his/her love of nature, travelling around these regions can be a daunting task for them. After driving through the gravel roads for around half an hour, we reached Sillery Gaon at around 11:30 AM. We hiked up to Ramitey View Point and noticed few kids from Kalimpong came for picnic. The hike took us about 30 minutes and was fairly easy. Ramitey View Point offers a spectacular view of Kanchenjunga on a clear day, but we were out of luck. But still the view of layers of mountains from hill top didn’t failed to impress us.
While on the way, I called up Mr. Adhir Halder, the caretaker and manager of Blue Pine Resort at Charkhole, to inform our whereabouts and to order Barbecue. He informed us that he can only provide us 2KG of chicken whereas we were looking for 6KG considering the number of people in our group. After a brief discussion, we proposed to buy and carry the same ourselves as we were crossing Algarah market at that moment and he agreed. The same made us wait for around 30 minutes. Shortly after that we started for Loleygaon which comes on the way to Charkhole and took a short break at Lava – Loleygaon diversion to enjoy the beauty before proceeding further.
People were really hungry by then as it was bit late. Finally we reached Loleygaon at around 4:30 PM. The road to Loleygaon never failed to impress us with the clouds stuck in amidst Pine forest.
After having our lunch at a nearby restaurant, Sunakhari Inn which also have lodging facilities, we proceeded towards Canopy Walk. Even though it was 2nd time for us, but it was 1st time for the remaining people in our group. The whole area was covered with clouds such that we cloud barely see anything within next 100 meters. After a brief halt and photo session at Canopy Walk we started for Charkhole without wasting much time.
As it was too late by then, it started getting dark. Suddenly it started drizzling and the dense fog covered up the road in front of us. It was really a thrilling experience travelling through the dense Pine Forest, covered in clouds, on a gravel road with fog lights turned on. It felt so natural to us. Unfortunately anyone with a different mindset, would have promised of never travelling on such roads again.
Finally we reached Charkhole at around 7 PM. I should again repeat that, the road to Charkhole is in awful state or should I say there’s no road at all for some patches. Anyone with a different mindset than ours, may not feel the same and may not like the charm of Charkhole. Upon noticing us, few staffs came forward with their umbrella and helped us getting in to the reception. (Un)Luckily, the power cut followed us here too due to the monsoon obviously. Even though April & May is peak season in the hills, but we noticed that monsoon to be set in this year earlier.
Mr. Adhir Halder came forward and asked us about our whereabouts for being so late. He informed his staffs to immediately start marinating the chicken. We gave the dinner order there only, as suggested by Babai Da, otherwise it’d have been very late. We were shown our cottages shortly after that and was handed over some Candles and Matchboxes too.
My vocabulary would fail to explain such an amazing as well as thrilling evening, experiencing the impulsive lightning, accompanied by heavy rains, sitting in the balcony of our cottages. It seemed perfect. Everything was so perfect. We wished we would have planned for one more night here.
Soon, they started generator and we all joined together to celebrate the evening. We called up Babai Da and Pappu Da too to join us. Soon we were served the Barbecues. As it was raining heavily outside, we cancelled the Bonfire. It was finger licking, I must say. Rest of the evening we all enjoyed chit-chatting among ourselves, with the drinks and Barbecues.
Later we were called up for Dinner around 9:30 PM. The silent dark night, post monsoon, with no mobile connectivity to divert us, felt amazing to us such that I can’t describe.
Later Me, Suparna, Avik, Sushmita, Dilip Da & Boudi sat together for a brief chat as we were not in mood to call of the night. But at around 2 AM, the generators were turned off and we went to sleep as the electricity was still off the grid.
Day 3 – 1st May 2017 : Technically we had no plans for today and thus our day started a bit late. Although we all woke up once around 5 AM to check if Kanchenjunga had any plans to appear before us after raining heavily through last night. But I think Kanchenjunga had no such plans for us on this trip of ours.
Later around 8 AM in the morning, we all woke up and few of us went ahead for a short hike with a trail marked as Gomphu Dara. The trail did offered us splendid view to die for.
On the way we found 3 locals, and upon inquiring we came to know that the view point is still a long way to go and that if we keep walking through this trail, we’d reach Kaffer. Kaffer is a picturesque village nearby Loleygaon. But as our breakfast was planned at around 8:30 AM, we thought of returning back.
Mr. Adhir Halder and his wife served us finger licking Puri & Sabji as per our order for breakfast last night with Tea and Omelette / Boiled Egg as per our preference. Later we went ahead to get freshen up. We has plans to leave after having our lunch due to shortage of such options on the way. After packing all our belongings we went ahead to take a stroll around the property.
Later we were served lunch at around 1:00 PM and let me tell you, Mr. Adhir Halder and his wife prepares finger licking Bengali cuisine. Each and every item was delicious and heavenly!! Unfortunately, shortly after our lunch as we were about to leave, the weather changed drastically and it started raining heavily. We had to wait for around 20 minutes due to the same.
Finally we left Charkhole bidding everyone goodbye with wishes to stay back for one more night in our hearts.
Our first stop was in Chuikhim. Chuikhim is a virgin destination along this route and is yet to be famous. There are few homestays around the village. Chuikhim can be a perfect destination for anyone looking for tranquil get away from the main stream tourist of Darjeeling and Kalimpong situated at around 13 KM from Bagrakote.
On the way we halted at various picturesque areas for a smoke break before proceeding to Bagrakote, leaving the hills.
On our way we noticed several landslides.
Our next stop was Teesta Barrage driving through one of the finest roads through the Tea Estate and Dooars.
After a short halt at Teesta Barrage, we proceed towards NJP. We reached NJP at around 7 PM. We left shortly for our scheduled departure via Darjeeling Mail after bidding goodbye to our new friend Babai Da with tears in our eyes and promises to be in touch as always.
Useful Facts :
- Please note that in these region, most part of the road is in awful state or should I say for some patches there’s no road at all. So if you are making a plan for these region, please make sure you can really bear the same due to your love for nature.
- Electricity can be a huge issue in these regions specially during monsoons or if it’s raining. So make sure to work out on necessary alternatives such as carrying a power bank.
- Most of the time, there would be no Network Connectivity throughout these regions. We noticed Aircel and Idea to work fine anyway. And at some specific zones, Vodafone and Airtel just worked fine on 2G. But please don’t expect Mobile Internet to work. Reliance Jio did work at some specific zones though. But I think, people who are looking forward to these destinations would love to get disconnected though!!
Breakfast at Hotel Goutam, Sevoke : 1150/-
Khawas Homestay, Icchey Gaon : Rs. 800/- (per head per day including fooding & lodging) x 10 (pax) x 1 (night) = 8000/-
Lunch at Sunakhari Inn, Loleygaon : 1050/-
Blue Pine Retreat, Charkhole : Rs. 2000/- (per cottage) x 5 (cottages) = 10000/-
Barbecue at Blue Pine Retreat, Charkhole : Rs. 600/- (per KG) x 6 (KG) = 3600/-
Fooding (Dinner – Breakfast – Lunch) Cost at Blue Pine Retreat, Charkhole : 4683/- (For 10 pax)
Misc. Snacks and Mineral Water at Station and On Road including Dinner at NJP : 3068/-
Vehicle : 3200/- (per vehicle per day) x 2 (vehicle) x 3 (days) = 19200/-
Train Tickets of SDAH – NJP & NJP – SDAH : 1400/- (per family) x 5 (families) = 7000/-
Total : Around 12000/- per family with misc. expenses
NOTE : This should give you a fair (indicative) idea of expenses. Please note that I have omitted some personal costs like Liquor and Cigarettes.
NOTE : The rate (as of May 2017) of Blue Pine Retreat for the Rooms are Rs. 1800/- + Tax and for Cottages it’s Rs. 2000/- + Tax which comes to Rs. 2200/- per cottages. But while casually checking with my old friend cum philosopher cum guide, Dipankar Da, I got it for Rs. 2000/-. So I got an instant discount of Rs. 200/- (per cottage) x 5 (cottages) = Rs. 1000/-.
Khawas Homestay, Icchey Gaon : First of all the view from Icchey Gaon is something to lust for. The 180 deg view of Kanchenjungha on a clear day will leave you spell bounded. Regarding the homestay, I’d say the rooms, washrooms and the whole property is extremely clean and well maintained. But overall the infrastructure is very basic, nothing fancy, as it should be in homestays. The owner Mr. D. K. Khawas and his family is very humble and friendly in nature. The food served was extremely hygienic and is on par with the same, served throughout Silk Route. One can take up short hikes to a nearby Gumpha or even Sillery Gaon. During power cuts, they would provide you candles and matchbox which is a very common scenario there during monsoon or if it’s raining.
Blue Pine Retreat, Charkhole : This is one of the best property in this region. This you can definitely figure out from TripAdvisor reviews. Preliminary I was on a dual mind between Blue Pine and other properties, but by TripAdvisor reviews, Blue Pine Retreat was a clear winner in this region. And it really was up to our expectation, infact I’d say more than what we expected. When we reached there at around 7 PM, it left us spellbound. We never expected such a great property and so well maintained at such remote region. Though anyone just by checking the pictures would judge it as expensive, but believe me it was really on a budget. There are options for both Cottages and Rooms, we opted for Cottages though, as the Cottages were just Rs. 200/- more than that of Rooms. The rooms and washrooms are extremely clean and well maintained and well decorated to give you the feel and charm of staying in a Cottage. Each of the Cottages were carefully decorated with decoration lights (diwali lights) as well!! Infact the entire property is so well maintained and beautifully decorated. The reception and dining area is just superb. Mr. Adhir Halder, the caretaker and manager of this property is very humble and so is his wife. They both are also a great cook and prepares finger licking Bengali cuisine to die for 🙂 All the other staffs are very friendly and humble. I’d definitely recommend staying here if you are considering staying at Charkhole.
Tip : Try to get the Cottages CT 106 / 107 / 108 which offers great view of Kanchenjunga on a clear day!!
Contact Details :
Khawas Homestay, D K Khawas : +91-86702-42128 / +91-89069-26652 | His Elder Brother : +91-81167-60140 | His Father : +91-89722-87740 / +91-73638-40320
Blue Pine Retreat, Charkhole : Mr. Biswanath Sarkar (For Booking) : +91-96813-53660 / Email : email@example.com | Mr. Goutam Chakraborty (Owner) : +91-94324-06006 / +91-90514-06006 | Mr. Adhir Halder (Caretaker cum Manager) : +91-94320-73035 / Reception : 03552-202688
NOTE : For booking you should call Mr. Biswanath Sarkar who handles all the booking for Blue Pine Retreat. Calling up Mr. Goutam Chakraborty (owner) or Mr. Adhir Halder (caretaker cum manager) won’t help.
NOTE : The rate (as of May 2017) of the Rooms are Rs. 1800/- + Tax and for Cottages it’s Rs. 2000/- + Tax which comes to Rs. 2200/- per cottages. But while casually checking with my old friend cum philosopher cum guide, Dipankar Da, I got it for Rs. 2000/- per cottage. So I got an instant discount of Rs. 200/- (per cottage) x 5 (cottages) = Rs. 1000/-.
Babai Da (Driver) : He’s an excellent and friendly driver for like minded people. He’s really an expert in Dooars and North Bengal region (except Darjeeling) and drives a white Bolero with registration number WB 76 8512. You may call / whatsapp him at +91-89066-72949.
Pappu Da (Driver) : He’s too a great driver, but he mostly drives in Tea Estates. Due to some unavoidable circumstances, he joined us at last moment. Thus I don’t think sharing his number would be of any use, as he’s not aware about the roads in this region and mostly followed Babai Da throughout the tour.
As usual, Special Thanks To (For the discounts 😛 ) :
Mr. Dipankar Roy (North East Tour & Travels) : +91-89722-47306 / +91-94745-94446 / Email : firstname.lastname@example.org