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  • Writer's pictureSaptadeepa Bandopadhyay

Kalimpong - Unknown journeys that lead you home

We had arrived in the quaint hill-town of Kalimpong on a winter Sunday morning with no pre-planned itinerary in mind. It was a last minute change of mind to stay in Kalimpong instead of the tourist commercial hub of Gangtok. With no prior research, our minds were tabula rasa (John Locke's definition of blank slate) that was yet to be painted with the beauty of this Himalayan town!

The Sunday we arrived, my partner was sulking about the internet connectivity scenes and the noisy neighbourhood around the homestay that he had booked last minute! He was even contemplating moving to a nearby town like Gangtok in Sikkim or Darjeeling. He, after all, had plans to work throughout the week. It was not a vacation for the corporate bee who had found some relief in occasional remote work post the pandemic hit!

Kalimpong Upper Cart Road
Admiring the hills of Kalimpong

It was almost noon and the cook who was busy in the kitchen informed us that the lunch would be ready in an hour. While the pressure cooker whistles blared from the kitchen, we stepped out to stroll around the vicinity of Upper Cart Road!

Walking in the direction we had arrived, we noticed a few advertising contact information for other homestays nearby. We started calling them to enquire about rooms and internet connectivity provision for a week-long stay! Of the few places we had dialled in, the owner at Duke’s Home reciprocated with the warmest of conversations in just a few seconds. The host invited us to see her place instantly and check if it suited our requirements.

Discovering Duke's Home -

Duke's home in Kalimpong
Duke's home in Kalimpong

Duke’s Home sits on top of an uphill narrow road amidst other private properties. We were hiking up the road when we noticed Aunt Duke waving from her terrace! She came down running through a flight of stairs to open the gates. She had seldom got guests without prior bookings and thus she was a bit puzzled about us calling her up on a random Sunday in the non-touristy season of February. She was the warmest of hosts I have met in a long time. We liked the place and the welcoming host who took us around and made us comfortable in the very moment we met. We planned and promised to move there the next morning!


Duke's Home Kalimpong
Aunty Duke walking uphill to the entrance of Duke's Home

Aunty Duke offered us some tea and snacks and we had a friendly conversation about the homestay and her family! She very passionately spoke about this homestay that her ailing husband had envisioned before he passed away a few years back! After she retired from a government job in Gangtok, she settled in this family home and brought her husband’s vision to life! Today, the homestay is flourishing and her terrace is a garden of Eden with blossoms of many flowering plants! A special corner is dedicated to stands lined with orchids because orchids were her husband’s favourite and he took care of them until his last.


On the terrace of Duke's Home
Little Orchid garden of Duke's Home

Next morning after our breakfast and settling our bills at the current stay we called up Duke Aunty. She helped us find a Van which agreed to drop us and our luggage at Duke’s home! We were introduced to this new acquaintance in Kalimpong - Laal Babu, the Bihari old man with a white van!


Duke Aunty was getting our room ready when we arrived. Her housekeeping staff was on leave as they had no intimations of any guests arriving for the next couple of days! The cook had agreed to come back when he heard of our arrival! We were surprised to see this 60-something retiree running up and down the flight of stairs and managing the homestay! Not even a bit of tiredness showed on her face. Her enthusiasm and zeal were everywhere around the homestay!




The next few days were spent lazing around the common areas of the homestay, browsing books, listening to chirping birdies, and soaking in the warmth of the morning sun on the terrace! Indoors felt extremely cold. Countless cups of Darjeeling tea were our savior!

After curiously looking at the foggy horizon, in the hopes of clear visibility of Mt. Kanchenjunga, we gave up on the desire to see it for the season we had arrived. Mr Husband spent some really busy days with his work! Some evenings we walked up to the Kalimpong market or some cafes in town after he had done his day's work! We were reminiscing our slow travel experiences from the pandemic and this was a gentle reminder to slow down again! There was no rush to being a tourist, going around all the must-visit places in Kalimpong! Rather we were experiencing life on a day-to-day basis!



Evening Strolls in Kalimpong
Evening Strolls in Kalimpong

One morning I called up Laal Babu, the gentleman with the white van, to take me around nearby locations while the husband was occupied with work. I visited the Durpin Monastery and the Durpin Viewpoint with him. Laal Babu pointed at the distant horizon and told me how Kalimpong was close to multiple state borders of Bihar, Sikkim and the international borders of Tibet and Bhutan. He hailed from Bihar and work brought him to Kalimpong. He settled in Kalimpong a couple of decades ago. He took me across some unpaved roads and showed me some stunning views of the Teesta River and the hydropower plant from a distance. We also visited a cacti park which had human-sized large cacti and succulents.

Views of the Teesta River from Durpin Hilltop
Views of the Teesta River from Durpin Hilltop - Local Finds

Durpin Monastery, Kalimpong
A Tibetan pilgrim at the Durpin Monastery, Kalimpong

Pine View Nursery - Cacti park in Kalimpong
Pine View Nursery - Cacti Park in Kalimpong

Home Cooked Nepali meals -

We informed Duke Aunty about our food preferences. For our extended stay, we did not expect anything fancy but a home-cooked meal! So, throughout our stay at Duke’s home, Aunty and the chef ensured we experienced authentic Nepali delicacies spread in thalis served for Lunch or Dinner.


Over the following days, we were introduced to many Nepali dishes in our afternoon lunch thalis like the Churpi - A curry made of buttermilk to accompany rice, Rai Saag stir fry - A stir fry mustard green leaves, Muloo Ro Achar - Pickled radish, Pahadi Dal - Made of black lentils unique to the region, sides of tiny fried potatoes. The thali was arranged with rice in the centre and all the side dishes circling the rice! I vividly remember a fish curry of small fishes whose gravy was made of crushed melon seeds! Another day we had a curry made of the fiddlehead fern. We were spoilt for choices!!

Dinners were one-pot meals but equally interesting. We didn't miss the opportunity of asking for thukpas (a soupy pot of noodles, veggies and meat) often had as comfort food in the Himalayan homes! So thukpas were a staple for two nights, and another day we enjoyed bowls full of Kawri soup - Kawris are shell-shaped pasta of white flour made at home which is served along with veggies in a bowl of watery soup! We had the most delicious chicken momos for dinner one night!


The local life of Kalimpong -

Waking up to this view in Kalimpong
Waking up to this view in Kalimpong

When I spent the days on the terrace of the homestay, conversations with Duke Aunty were related to our families, the local way of life and knowing the neighbourhood of our homestay! I learnt that ladies around the locality would spend a lot of time fetching water from a nearby stream and dreaded if the water dried in the summer months. Much to my disbelief, water was a major issue in the region despite being closer to the Himalayas which happens to be the source of so many rivers in India. Also, bathing is not an everyday ritual in these regions and rather a weekly one! We as guests need to be careful about the water scarcity of the region! I loved looking at the houses in the vicinity for kids playing around, little puppies napping in the sun, a neighbour busy making fodder for his cattle, or dozens of pumpkins stocked in a verandah! Chirping sparrows were the sweetest chaos one would want to be around.


Play Dates with Vidisha -


We met Vidisha in a few days, the granddaughter of Duke Aunty! When we arrived, she had been out of town for a routine medical check-up in Siliguri! In her absences, we had heard so much about her already! Aunty’s eyes sparkled every time she spoke of her. But, only when she arrived, we could relate to how Aunty had described her! She quickly came and introduced herself when we were on the terrace! Such a cheerful extroverted kid she was!


Few mornings I sat with Vidisha when she took her English and Hindi lessons! Her session for the fifth grade had started recently, and Hindi was introduced to her for the first time. I had a good time going through her lessons while helping her out on the subject! Vidisha was being homeschooled.


Her ailment restricted her movement beyond the home and thus she was being coached by her mum. But the lively little girl missed kids her age to play with! So I joined her as a playmate whenever I could! On her insistence I shot a dance reel, she taught me the steps of course! I didn’t know dancing reels were so much fun, I must have tried it earlier! Hide and Seek is her favourite game, she never gets bored of it until there are no more hidden corners to look for! The grown-up in me often wanted a little break from all the running and jumping, so I bartered for a sit-down kinda play! She lovingly dragged me to her room where she would lay down all her art, drawings, and paper crafts that she had made over the years! One afternoon we both sat and played the business board game, a refreshing reminder of my childhood days!


Friendships and goodbyes
Friendships and goodbyes

Spending time with Vidisha was the closest I could have ever imagined myself to be around a child leukaemia warrior! In between study and play she expressed how lonely a fight it was for an extrovert bubbly kid. Some days, her curly hair (that had grown after her chemo) disturbed her while studying, and other days she wished to be visited by her friends! She missed her dog who was probably given away to a relative to avoid any potential infections to her body fighting a battle of its own! One afternoon, she casually asked me if I knew what an IT was or if I had got it ever. I was clueless about what she meant. She pulled out a bag of unused syringes, the length of my palm. These were pushed into her lower back during her treatments, she said! I had never had an IT injection but I could feel how much that must have pained the little girl! Pain is something I couldn’t share. I had been a caregiver to a cancer patient in the past year. I had known how difficult it could get at times, but pain is something that is so lonely! The best I could do was to lend a listening ear! Perhaps, I can be good at it.


Every evening whenever I went out to the market, it broke my heart to hear Vidisha mumble, ‘I too want to go out, but my parents won’t allow me!’. Sometimes little kids like her teach us patience, resilience and hope!


The host family at Duke’s homestay - Duke Aunty, Vidisha, Saroja and Vinod (Vidisha’s parents) were some of the warmest people we met during our travels! We had arrived in Kalimpong as travellers but left with the warmest familial bonds to cherish for a lifetime!

A happy memory with the Duke's Home Family, Duke Aunty missing in Frame

Little Vidisha pressed this handmade cute faced envelop in my purse when I left! I opened it on the flight back home! It had fake dollars of the business game!

My best travel souvenir from Kalimpong!

Lil ones give the best gifts

If my story makes you want to stay at Duke's Home in Kalimpong, find them here

3 Comments


akanksha pandey
akanksha pandey
Apr 19

"Great read! I found this article really informative and engaging. It's always fascinating to learn more about topic. Looking forward to more content like this in the future!"

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Shubhika Arora
Shubhika Arora
Mar 19

What a beautifully written account of your time in Kalimpong! Your story truly captures the essence of travel - unexpected discoveries, genuine connections, and moments of profound insight. Thank you for sharing such a heartwarming experience! ✨


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Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
Saptadeepa Bandopadhyay
Mar 20
Replying to

Thank you ♥️ it's a beautiful town with a close knit community! Perfect place to slow down!

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ABOUT
Me

Hi, I am Saptadeepa, an Indian travel  enthusiast.

My curiosity to explore the unexplored, has led me to some offbeat destinations across India and a few neighbouring South East Asian countries.


Seeking Happiness Diaries is a travel inspired lifestyle blog where I share my adventures, stories, experiences and life lessons  through my journeys.

In leisure, I finds solace in reading books or writing about travel and life experiences on this blog.

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