Sometime in January 2019 I had a meeting with Sudipto da to discuss about touring the Darjeeling hills. After the meeting, both of us tried our best to look out for cycling tour related reading materials in the internet just to gather some information of the route, but to our utter surprise, whatever little was there in the net were either not at all helpful or are pretty old ones. At this juncture MapMyRide came to our rescue and the comparing the elevation profile of all the routes we chose the easiest one… Hill Cart Road. It was not the distance actually but this time we decided to challenge ourselves both in uphills and in the downhills. And glad we were, to see and that we took the right decision.
We took the Siliguri Volvo with our bicycle securely packed in the luggage and put up in a hotel near busstop. The day was a busy one for us, for in one single day, we had to take sufficient rest, keep the extra luggage and bike tools at the house of one collegue of Sudipto da and assemble our bikes. This time we had to be extra careful so that the mistakes of Delo do not haunt us again and practically noting was left to by-chance.
RAIN….. Our hearts sank when we saw that it is raining with no sign to stop pretty soon. The very plan of an early start at 05:30 went for a toss. Eventually after the rain stopped we could start but it was already 06:45 by then. We took it easy from the start even though the first few kilometeres were flats and we were already around 02:00 hours behind schedule. Be that as it may, we tried not to think of them much and instead tried to immerse ourselves in the beautiful scenes that surrounds us.
THE CLIMB BEGINS…….
The climb towards Darjeeling starts soon after crossing Sukna Station/village. In this road, one will find that there are localities almost after every 10-12 kms, so topping up of supplies (food&drink) is never an issue. With the entire road, being owned by us 🙂 the only thing we really cared after Sukna was the Climb. It was a relentless Climb of about 35kms till Kurseong with not even one meter of flat section. The gradient of the the climb differed, but flat areas, strict no-no. To counter this, we chose to take it easy and do stopovers in every DHR stations that comes in this route. The picture perfect landscape and the DHR signboards were just enough to keep us energised and going.
Soon around 2:00 p.m. we reached our desired destination for Day 1 i.e. Kurseong and called it a day. After the first day’s climb both of us were oozing with new found confidence and with fresh vigour, we started for Ghum on the next day. We had decided that we shall make it a multi day self-supported tour with stops at Kurseong, Ghum and Mungpoo. The strech from Kurseon to Ghum was however marked different than what we experienced on Day1. The Rohini road mearges to NH55 at Kurseong and as such this portion always remain congested with tourist vehicles. Gone was the silent road of Day1 and it was replaced with traffic, heavy traffic. The Kurseong to Ghum streach being bit less steeper than what we experienced on the previous day, we chose to move ahead as much as we could before the traffic become too heavy with tourist vehicles coming from NJP.
As decided, we put up in a homestay near Ghum and on the next day, chose to go to Darjeeling Mall taking the Jorbunglow detour. The small 6 km detour turned out to be blessing in disguise since we could easily avoid all the traffic from Ghum to Darjeeling. From Jorbunglow crossing, this route took us straight to Darjeeling Mall and not walking but RIDING ALL THE WAY….. past the stables. It was a pleasant surprise…. Among all the people coming to the Mall, we were quite a spectacle 🙂 and we did savour every bit of it.
After Darjeeling, our next destination was Mungpoo, but it was not that easy. After 2 days of relatively clam weather, it started to pour again, and this time it was accompanied with howling winds . For the entire night, both of us were left with the uncomfortable thought of riding steep downhill towards Mungpoo. Sudipto da being a veteran in these parts warned me to keep eyes open for uprooted trees enroute. None of us have ever rode downhill before and especially the Peshok-Mungpoo Road. The fact that I was riding a roadbike was cause for more worry, both for my partner and myself because there were every possibility of fatality with the thin tires skidding on the road or the wet surface (having wet pine leaves all over and uprooted trees in some places). Another challenge was to negotiate the hairpin bends in this route.
Cautious were we in out approach, not for once were we trying to race or to pick up extra speed, but the terrain was such that it was only the brakes that were in use throughout, almost zero pedal required. But negotiating the curves was not easy….. twice or thrice in the last 5 kms I skidded badly and was literally made off-balance. Moreover, the wet surface was also affecting the braking performance with rim getting wet and dirty, the brakes were not working properly.
Took a day break from cycling before going down again to Siliguri …. enjoying the beautiful village. With the break of the dawn we started again… only to stop after the first 3 – 4 Kms… the next 5 Kms towards Rambi Fatak was unmanageable (at least for me) and it came to my mind that prudent it will be to walk down the entire streach. But after Rambi Fatak, with the gradients becoming less steeper, cycling from Rambi Fatak to Siliguri hotel turned out to super fun and it is actually here that I sorely missed not having an action camera of my own. With Teesta flowing freely on your left and you on a cycle racing down the vehicles at speeds of excess 40 Kmph, it was exhilarating stuff.