Trek to Tumling from Darjeeling

Darjeeling (2,134 m) was once known as the “Queen of Hill Stations”. If one were to look at photos of Darjeeling from the ‘60s and ‘70s, one would agree that it was well-deserving of this high accolade. However, things have changed quite drastically since then. Now, Darjeeling is a crowded town, its narrow streets packed to the brim with lots and lots of vehicles. The once pristine town with its lovely wooden cottages and pretty gardens is but a shadow of its previous self, with ugly looking concrete structures all over the place. Still and all, Darjeeling still has its cool rejuvenating air and the rolling hills surrounding it are still as green and verdant as ever, thanks to the copious amounts of rainfall the area gets without fail every year. This is why trekking around Darjeeling still retains its charms.

However, before we get to that, here’s how you get to Darjeeling from Kathmandu. You take a one-hour flight to Bhadrapur in eastern Nepal, from where you take a taxi to Kakarvitta on the India-Nepal border. From Kakarvitta, you take another taxi to Siliguri (37 km) where you’ll find a veritable fleet of taxis and buses waiting to drive you up to Darjeeling (78 km). One can say here that you’ll really enjoy the drive to the hill station. Not long after you start from Siliguri, the road immediately begins to climb up, up, and up on a narrow winding road that has hairpins galore. The air becomes noticeably cooler and soon enough you’ll be high above Siliguri, surrounded on both sides by tall pine and eucalyptus trees. Oh yes, you might really enjoy this trip and perhaps remember it for a long time to come as one of the most interesting drives you have ever had.

Now, coming to trekking around Darjeeling—there are short treks such as the one to Tiger Hill (from where you get to see magnificent sunrises on clear days), or the one to Manjitar where there’s a nice lake. Similarly, the longer trek to Sandakphu is also pretty exciting. Just so you know, these three treks are part of the basic adventure course conducted by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute every year. However, this time around, let’s talk about another trek, this one to a place called Tumling. It begins with a drive down to Dhodrey (2, 500 m), some two hours form Darjeeling. On the way, you’ll pass through the eternally fog-shrouded Ghoom (2,225 m) and other small hamlets before reaching Manebhanjyang, from where, Dhodrey, the starting point of the trek, is but a short distance away.

Now, you start hiking through sweet-smelling pine forests and the hike is pretty easy in the beginning. Even when the track takes an uphill route, it’s still a gentle climb. You walk on with confidence, occasionally stopping or a while, more to absorb the lush surroundings than to take any breather, as you won’t really be feeling tired as yet. By and by, you stop for lunch at some grassy clearing among the pine and rhododendron forest. Now the climb begins to get a bit more serious. The next place you reach, after about four hours since you started from Dhodrey, is Tongbu (3,000 m). As you carry on, you’ll notice that there are plenty of short cuts that you can take on the way, or of course, you can stick to the regular route. After Tongbu,  it’s a gentle descent to Tumling (2,900 m) which is located on a ridge right at the border between Nepal and India.

There’s a nice lodge here called Shikhar Lodge where you get comfortable enough accommodation and hot nutritious food. Spend a restful night before returning the next day. Note also that you can walk on to Sandakphu (a popular destination because you get to see snowfall there) from Tumling, in which case, it becomes a pretty longish trek. Note also that if you get up early in Tumling you might be treated to the glorious view of Kangchenjunga (8,586 m), the third highest mountain in the world. It’s actually a matter of luck since, up here in the high hills, the mist and the fog are likely to cover up the mountains faster than you can say “hello”. On the hike back, stop at a place called Megma that has an interesting monastery with a fascinating collection of Buddhist icons.

Next, you trek downwards skirting the Nepal border (discernible due to several border pillars along the way) before reaching Chitray (2, 295 m). All the while, your eyes will be feasting on some really splendid landscape. This, coupled with the cool and invigorating air, makes trekking a really pleasant affair. In Chitray, there’s another monastery that’s also worth visiting, if only to see its rows of fascinating chaityas and the lovely flowers in its vicinity. All such things, added to the mist that seems to cover the area at most times, well, you can picture for yourself in your mind how truly exotic and charming the scene must look. Anyway, all good things must come to an end sooner or later, and so it is with this enjoyable trek. From Chitray, you can either choose to walk back to Darjeeling on the paved road, or you can drive back.

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