Palmajua is a hidden gem and a secret paradise amidst the Singalila National Park unknown to mainstream tourists. Palmajua is a destination within the lap of mother nature where you can plan to spend a day or two to rejuvenate yourself. Palmajua being bird watchers paradise though, is popular amongst the bird-watchers community. Palmajua being nestled within the Singalila National Park and being a completely calm and quiet region attracts a lot of rare species of birds.
We were on a lookout spree for a new unknown destination where we can unwind ourselves up for a day or two within the lap of mother nature. Me and Avik were checking out various destination, right at that moment, my wife, Suparna suggested me a new name which was unknown to me. A quick Google search glued me to the images and I kept searching more and more. And the low number of results by Google made us fix upon this destination immediately.
This offbeat pristine destination – Palmajua comes in between Dhotrey and Srikhola, which are popular halt destinations amongst the trekkers returning from Sakdakphu & Phalut. Most trekkers to Sakdakphu and Phalut returns via this route and generally halts at Srikhola and/or Dhotrey before proceeding to Maneybhanjan. Obviously, mainstream tourists generally don’t ply on the trek routes and thus Palmajua is still a hidden gem you are looking for if your idea of spending a day or two rejuvenating yourself within the lap of mother nature.
Singalila Jungle Lodge run by Mr Avinash Rai & family is the only homestay at Palmajua. I immediately called him up to fix our dates and paid him the advance for booking. As all these happened just 2 weeks in advance, we couldn’t secure confirmed train tickets considering the rush for NJP bound trains. However, we went ahead with the WL tickets and kept praying such that we can at least score a RAC!
Regarding the pickup and drop from NJP, Mr Avinash quoted us Rs. 6000/- (one way). Generally, the fare from NJP – Maneybhanjan is Rs. 5000/- (one way), so considering that Rs. 6000/- seemed to be justified up to Palmajua, which is another 25 – 30KM from Maneybhanjan. However that was getting quite costly for us, and thus we thought of taking shared vehicles to Sukhia / Ghoom. Upon asking Mr Avinash he quoted us Rs. 3000/- from Ghoom and Rs. 2500/- from Sukhia. There are no sightseeing point as such in Palmajua, however, you can go to Srikhola, which Mr Avinash quoted Rs. 3000/- for a round trip.
Well, to be very frank, we were on a tight budget and we didn’t wanted the budget of the trip to go beyond Rs. 15k – 16k per couple. So we thought of connecting with our reliable and trusted friend in this region – Babai Da. Luckily Babai Da quoted us Rs. 3300/- per day. So going by the quotation of Avinash Ji, it’d have cost us 6000 x 2 = 12000 (for Pickup & Drop) + 3000 (for Srikhola Sightseeing) = 15000/- whereas Babai Da was charging us, Rs. 3300/- x 3 = Rs. 9900/- only. Thus, we confirmed Babai Da immediately.
We knew Babai Da since our Trip To Icchegaon & Charkhole and since then we have developed a great bonding amongst us. Also, I could never forget what he did when my mom fractured her legs during our Trip To Jayanti. He is like a friend to us. Also, having a private vehicle with us means we would be having more freedom in terms of halts and clicking pictures en-route. And Palmajua being birding destination and Avik being an avid bird-watcher would definitely be benefitted immensely. And having Babai Da with us meant we won’t have to take any headache and it also gave our parents peace of mind as we planned an off-beat region during pre-monsoon in North Bengal hills!
Well, if you are on a tighter budget than us, then here are few ways to reach this place via shared cabs :
1. From NJP / Siliguri (Darjeeling More / Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand) you can take a shared cab to Mirik (Rs. 150/-). From Mirik you have to take shared cabs to Sukhia / Maneybhanjan depending on availability (Rs. 100/-). From Sukhia / Maneybhanjan you have to take another shared cabs to Rimbik / Srikhola (depending on availability) and get down at Palmajua (Rs. 150/-). This is the shortest route.
The Route is like NJP / Siliguri > Mirik > Pashupati > Simana > Sukhia > Maneybhanjan > Dhotrey > Palmajua > Rimbik > Srikhola
2. From NJP / Siliguri (Darjeeling More / Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand) you can take a shared cab to Ghoom or opt for any Darjeeling bound vehicles and get down at Ghoom (Rs. 150/-). From Ghoom you have to take shared cabs to Sukhia / Maneybhanjan depending on availability (Rs. 100/-). From Sukhia / Maneybhanjan you have to take another shared cabs to Rimbik / Srikhola (depending on availability) and get down at Palmajua (Rs. 150/-). This is a longer route than above.
The Route is like NJP / Siliguri > Ghoom > Lepchajagat > Sukhia > Maneybhanjan > Dhotrey > Palmajua > Rimbik > Srikhola
3. Direct shared vehicles to Rimbik / Srikhola available from Siliguri Darjeeling More / Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand. However, these vehicles are not much high in numbers and not frequent like Ghoom / Mirik. So depending on availability you can opt for direct vehicles. It costs around Rs. 500/-. The direct shared vehicles takes the route #1 via Mirik as it’s the shortest one.
4. In any case, if you are planning from Darjeeling, then there are direct shared vehicles to Rimbik available from Darjeeling (Chowk Bazaar). You can get down at Palmajua which falls on the way to Rimbik.
NOTE: The cost given above are for your reference. Things have changed a lot now, and they are very well informed that information regarding shared vehicles is available on the internet easily. So shared vehicles are no longer limited to public transport for the locals. Thus, mostly at NJP / Siliguri, they charge differently for locals and tourists. Also, the fare fluctuates depending on the season and availability of vehicles.
Day 0 : 14th June 2019 : SDAH – NJP :
We were glad that just 2-3 days before our journey, the status of our tickets turned into RAC. Although Sushmita & Avik whole-heartedly prayed that it just gets confirmed, as they would be directly coming from their workplace, however, it didn’t. Although we didn’t have to face much problems, as it seemed that a lot of passengers either didn’t boarded the train or missed it. Thus, the ticket checker assigned us confirmed berths later!
The journey to NJP was mostly uneventful except that the train got severely late due to the ongoing agitation and protests related to the medical fraternity at Burdwan Railway Station.
Day 1 : 15th June 2019 : NJP – Palmajua :
Unfortunately due to the last night’s rail-line block by the medical fraternity over the recent protests at Burdwan resulted in more than 3 hours late than the scheduled arrival at NJP. It was around 11 AM when we reached NJP. Babai Da was already waiting for us outside.
Upon meeting Babai Da, we hugged each other and had a smoke before embarking on our journey to Palmajua. En-route we stopped at a nearby ATM to withdraw the necessary cash and also picked up liquors for next 2 nights!
Tip: Withdraw the cost of the trip in cash wherever possible, as there’s no ATM once you cross Maneybhanjan.
This time, Babai Da took a new route via some highway leading to Matigara / Kawakhari (I’m not 100% sure about the route though). We were travelling on this route for the first time and I must say we really enjoyed this route. It was free from any traffic jams and the greenery on both sides of the road cheered us up.
Babai Da drove us to Dudhia and stopped at a roadside dhaba for lunch. Dudhia is a picturesque town and an offbeat destination on its own. There are few homestays at Dudhia if you’d like to stay for a night. The dhaba was really a quaint one overlooking the picturesque Dudhia and we really loved it. We ordered Chicken Thali and along with that Me and Babai Da ordered a Beer.
After having our lunch we proceeded to Sukhia via Mirik. Babai Da approached us a number of times, whether we’d like to stop at Mirik. However, considering the urban development of Mirik which resulted in losing its charm, we asked him to proceed and instead stop by some Tea Garden nearby! We experienced this downfall of once a breathtaking destination during our Budget Trip To Darjeeling last December. However, we loved the drive through the Tea Gardens, as it was quite foggy out there. The route passes through some well-known Tea Gardens such as Thurbo, Gopaldhara etc. Although we have experienced this a lot of time, but, every time it feels amazing.
The route from Mirik to Sukhia often passes through Nepal. Specially in between Pashupati & Simana View Point, you’d be crossing Nepal a lot of times and it’s very common that one side of the road is in West Bengal, India and the other side comes under Nepal. Last time I incurred a lot of charges as I kept my mobile data turned on and somehow it caught International Roaming. This time, I was more aware and turned on flight mode and asked others to do so to be on the safe side!
We stopped for a while at Sukhia and went ahead to the local bakeries. I came upon these bakeries while on my Trip To Lepchajagat during December, and I quite liked the hand-made Muffins and Cookies. We got some Muffins and Cookies for the rest of the journey. Finally, after a short break, we started proceeding towards Maneybhanjan. From Maneybhanjan, we proceeded towards Dhotrey and stopped en-route a number of times whenever we spotted a picturesque place!
As the evening was approaching by, we decided not to waste any more time and started proceeding towards our shelter of the day – Singalila Jungle Lodge at Palmajua. As we crossed Dhotrey, Babai Da requested me to turn on Google Maps so that we can spot the exact place, as he too with us, travelling to this place for the first time.
It was around 6:30 PM when we reached Palmajua. It took us around 7 Hours to reach this place from NJP with various stops in between. Upon reaching Singalila Jungle Lodge at Palmajua, Mr Jeevan Rai, brother of Mr Avinash Rai welcomed us warmly and assisted us to our rooms. We booked a Four Bedded Cottage for 2 Nights. We simply fell in love with Palmajua! It was like love at first sight. The place was simply breathtaking. Beautifully decorated garden with various colourful flowers amidst the amazingly designed cottages and lush greeneries everywhere our eye can wander, gave us a quaint feeling. June being pre-monsoon season in North Bengal it was quite foggy which added up to our liveliness. It felt like heaven on earth!
Soon they served us Tea and some Pakodas. Mr Jeevan called us beforehand to check our whereabouts and we already informed him that we won’t be able to reach before evening, thus, we won’t be having our lunch today and instead requested him to provide us with some snacks instead in the evening if possible.
We asked Mr Jeevan if some barbeque and bonfire could be arranged, however, it was already late in terms of local lifestyle and thus he informed us that he’d have to go and prepare dinner for the guests and that barbeque won’t be possible to arrange at this moment considering the time he’d need to get done with the preparation. Thus, we requested him if some sort of snacks can be arranged so that we can sit together and enjoy our drinks. After enquiring at the kitchen, he informed us that he can get us dry chilly chicken, but we’d have to help him go to the nearby market which is around 2.5KM’s from here to get the chicken required. Well as we had our own reserved vehicle we agreed after discussing with Babai Da.
Rest of the evening we enjoyed amongst ourselves over the dry chilly chicken and the liquor we got! Later at around 10 PM, we were called for Dinner. We called off the day shortly after having our dinner.
Day 2 : 16th June 2019 : Day Trip To Srikhola & Birdwatching :
We woke up at around 6:30 AM in the morning. Sushmita Avik & Myself went downhill for a walk. Avik actually planned to capture some birds through his lens, however, the weather being completely cloudy, his plan went into the vein. Jeevan Ji met us en-route and noticing us, he suggested us to go to Momokhola, some 2-3 KM’s down from here, where there’s a high possibility to spot rare species like Crescent Kingfisher, Kalij etc.
Later, once we were back to our rooms, we were served Bed Tea and Hot Water for taking bath. Shortly, after having our breakfast we started for Srikhola. As you proceed you’d first come across a bridge over the Lodhoma River. It’s a nice picturesque place and a breathtaking experience to spend some time by the river. The locals refer to this place as Momokhola. If you are on a birding spree you must walk by this route, as en-route to the bridge you’d spot various species of birds at every step.
Next, we drove straight to Srikhola via Rimbick with a stop at a beautiful village and viewpoint named Gumbadara.
It took us around 2 hours to reach Srikhola. I heard a lot about Srikhola before. Specially about how beautiful Srikhola is and all that. However, upon reaching there, I felt Palmajua is way better in terms of natural beauty. Srikhola is definitely a picturesque village, but Palmajua wins hands-down!
Later after spending some time by the river and the hanging bridge, we started returning back to Palmajua. We were hungry like hell by the time, and considering these regions as completely remote destinations, getting a proper lunch without ordering in advance is not possible at Srikhola and Rimbik specially during the lean season. During peak season though, they do prepare some extra meals for flying customers. However, you can get Momo / Maggie / Wai-Wai though at a lot of food-joints. Thus, considering the situation we had to let go of the urge of having a chicken-rice meal and instead had to settle in for Momo & Maggie!
Sintu Da, from Get Lost Eco Travel who have set up tourism at offbeat destinations like Mousuni Island and GPlot amongst several others, has recently set up a homestay nearby Bansbotey (also spelt as Bansbotte) Bazaar, which is around somewhat 4-5 KM’s from Palmajua. Noticing my whereabouts through Facebook status updates, Sintu Da requested me to pay a visit there. They have named it Ekkabari. To reach this place, you need to drive up to Namla and from there you have to take the diversion towards Bansbotey Bazaar. Both of the routes from this diversion at Namla meets at Rimbik though.
Today, to avoid any last minute hiccups, we had already ordered Jeevan Ji for Barbeque before leaving for Srikhola. And also we informed him that we will be having lunch en-route as we won’t be able to return by lunchtime.
Rest of the evening we enjoyed amongst ourselves! Later at around 9 PM, Jeevan Ji came up and handed over a bottle of handmade Rose Wine, prepared from Rose Petals. I must say, I really loved this small gesture of local touch by them. As nowadays, at popular destinations, most homestays lack this local touch, which makes them close to a lodge instead of a homestay. Homestay is all about sharing the accommodation and meals with the locals getting an opportunity to learn and involve with the local culture. And about the wine, yes it was awesome and tasty. Avik and Sushmita being non-drinkers gulped a peg each!
Later, we chit-chatted for a while with Jeevan Ji before heading over for our Dinner. Shortly, after having our dinner, we called off the day.
Day 3 : 17th June 2019 : Palmajua – NJP :
We kept sleeping till Babai Da woke us up at around 8:30 AM. We were very upset as we’d have to go back to heat again, leaving this pleasing weather behind. However, life has to go on! After having our breakfast, bidding brief goodbye to Jeevan Ji, we started for NJP at around 12 O’ Clock in the afternoon.
The return journey to NJP was mostly uneventful except we made several stops en-route at Rimbick and by the Tea Gardens near Mirik. We also stopped for a while at Sukhia, as Avik loved the cookies and muffins from the local bakery and he wanted to pack some for his home. We stopped by the same restaurant at Dudhia again for lunch. It was already 5:00 PM by then.
The return journey from NJP – Sealdah was mostly uneventful and unfortunately this time we couldn’t score confirmed berths, thus, we had to spend the night at RAC seats 🙁
Singalila Jungle Lodge, Palmajua : Singalila Jungle Lodge, a privately run homestay by Mr Avinash Rai & his family is the only accommodation option at this pristine calm and quite destination Palmajua. They have 5 Rooms in total, out of which 2 are double bedded cottages and 2 are deluxe rooms built above the dining area and 1 four bedded family cottage. Standard Cottages costs Rs. 1200/- each and Deluxe Rooms are for Rs. 1500/- each while the Four Bedded Cottage costs Rs. 1800/- (As of June 2019). For Fooding, they charge Rs. 600/- per person per day for all the meals. Avinash Ji’s brother Mr Jeevan Rai, a very nice and co-operating person, looks after all the guests.
The rooms and washrooms are very clean. The property is very well maintained and beautifully decorated with colourful flowers in the garden amidst the cottages. It’s lush green everywhere your eye can wander. The food is really awesome and tasty. They can also arrange Barbeque & Bonfire. I have done Barbeque at a lot of places and Singalila Jungle Lodge at Palmajua is one such place where I loved it most amongst few others like at Rishyap, Shivakhola and Mousuni Island. With most of the homestays, the issue is they over-roast the chicken which results in a bitter taste. However, this was not the case here and the chicken was properly cooked and roasted!
Regarding the destination, Palmajua, well, I’m short of adjectives here! Palmajua is still an offbeat destination, unknown to mainstream tourists, situated within Singalila National Park. Palmajua is a quaint, calm & quite destination where you can listen to your heartbeat other than hearing the chirping of birds. I would categorize Palmajua as a hidden gem and a secret paradise right within the lap of mother nature where you can rejuvenate yourself. It was simply a breathtaking experience at Palmajua.
Singalila Jungle Lodge, Palmajua : Lodging – 1800/- x 2 Night = 3600/-. Fooding – 600/- x 5 (Persons) x 2 Nights = 6000/-. As both the days, we didn’t have our lunch, upon requesting Mr Avinash Rai and Mr Jeevan Rai they lessened Rs. 200/- per day person (i.e. Rs. 2000/- in total) for lunch.
NOTE: Considering our relation with Babai Da, we asked him to stay with us. However, if you are hiring someone unknown, they charge Rs. 500/- per day for driver’s accommodation and Rs. 600/- per day for fooding. Although, you might not have to bear this cost separately, as Driver’s TA / DA is included with their per day vehicle costing.
Dry Chilly Chicken : Rs. 250/- x 3 Plates = 750/-
Barbeque: Rs. 700/- x 4 KG = Rs. 2800/-
Vehicle : Rs. 3300/- per day.
Our Total Cost Sealdah – Sealdah was Rs. 24,750?/- which is Rs. 12,375/- per couple / Rs. 6,200/- per person.
NOTE: I have omitted other costs like Train Tickets for both onward and return journey, Meals at Train, Mineral Water, Lunch at Dudhia, Buying Cookies & Muffins at Sukhia, Lunch at Rimbik, Whisky & Ciggerrate etc. Which, however, is included in the Total Cost I mentioned above.
Singalila Jungle Lodge, Palmajua : Mr Avinash Rai – +91-96351-09201 (Booking needs to done through Mr Avinash Rai) / Mr Jeevan Rai (Brother of Mr Avinash Rai. He looks after the guests) : +91-86708-91574.
Babai Da (Driver) : +91-89066-72949 / +91-99325-64080. Babai Da is our reliable person in Dooars and Hills region of North Bengal. This is the third time we were travelling with him. Very helpful, trustworthy, soft-spoken & co-operating person.