Wandering the Clouds: An Unplanned Adventure to Tumling

An Unexpected Twist: Journey to the Unknown

Every great adventure begins with a bit of uncertainty, and ours was no exception. Our plans to visit the beautiful Sikkim were abruptly derailed when we learned that NH10, the highway leading there, was closed. Despite this setback, we were too excited about our holiday to simply turn back. So, with a mix of excitement and a dash of nervousness, we boarded a bus to Siliguri, the gateway to the northeast.

The bus journey that night turned into an impromptu adventure planning session. With the original plan scrapped, we huddled around our phones, scouring maps and calling numerous hotels, exploring where fate might lead us next. The thrill of not knowing where we'd end up the following day added an exhilarating sense of freedom and spontaneity to our trip. However, as it grew later, the challenge of reaching hotel receptions became more apparent, and our list of potential destinations had to be put on hold until morning.

Sleep was fitful, filled with dreams of unknown roads and hidden destinations. But as dawn broke, a sense of relief washed over us. We received a welcoming confirmation from a charming homestay in Tumling. Although it was not our initial choice, the small village promised new sights and experiences. With a destination finally set, our spirits lifted, ready to embrace the serendipity of travel. Little did we know, Tumling was about to offer us much more than we could have imagined.

Racing Against Time: A Dash to Tumling

Our journey continued with renewed energy after a refreshing breakfast and a brief stop to freshen up in Siliguri. Little did we know, our adventure was about to shift gears dramatically. As we sipped our last cups of tea, we learned that reaching Manebhanjang before 2 pm was crucial to gain access to Singalila National Park, where Tumling is nestled. Time was not on our side, and the race against the clock began.

With urgency propelling us forward, we quickly hired a cab. The road to Manebhanjang was picturesque, weaving through the lush landscapes that define this region. Our spirits were high as we made an impromptu stop at a beautiful tea garden. The verdant fields were a photographer's dream, and the local tea was a delightful treat that seemed to pause time for just a moment.

However, our tranquility was short-lived. We soon encountered a roadblock—literally. The direct route to Manebhanjang was closed, forcing us to take a longer, more arduous path. This detour was not just longer; it was also marred with poor road conditions and ongoing construction that halted our progress entirely at times. Each minute felt precious as we navigated this unexpected obstacle course.

The tension was palpable in the cab as the clock ticked closer to our deadline. We were caught in a nerve-wracking race, with the possibility of missing our entry into the park looming over us. But fortune favored the bold, and we pulled into Manebhanjang at 1:45 pm, just in the nick of time. We hurriedly booked a sturdy Bolero 4x4 for the steep climb to Tumling and managed to secure the last entry permit of the day.

The drive up to Tumling was nothing short of spectacular. The road, a concrete serpent, twisted and turned through the dense green forests, with the cold air providing a refreshing contrast to the summer heat we had left behind in Kolkata. The engine's roar as it battled the steep inclines added an exhilarating soundtrack to our ascent. When we finally arrived at our homestay in Tumling at around 3:30 pm, the relief was immense.

Surrounded by serene nature and the adventure of getting there still pulsing through our veins, we were ready to soak in the beauty and tranquility of Tumling, a place that almost slipped through our fingers.


Settling into Serenity: An Evening in Tumling

After the excitement and rush of our journey, arriving at the homestay felt like stepping into a peaceful haven. Nestled amidst the stunning backdrop of the Himalayas, the homestay was as welcoming as it was picturesque. The owners greeted us with warm smiles, instantly making us feel at home. Our room was cozy, providing a perfect blend of comfort and charm, exactly what we needed to unwind.

After a brief rest to shake off the weariness of travel, we indulged in a delicious lunch prepared by our hosts. It was a delightful array of local flavors that refueled and readied us for an afternoon of exploration. Eager to stretch our legs and discover the beauty of Tumling, we soon found ourselves wandering through the village.

Our exploration led us to a small but enchanting Buddhist monastery perched atop a nearby hill. The climb was gentle and gave us a chance to truly absorb the serene surroundings. A friendly local dog joined us, seemingly out of nowhere, and playfully escorted us to the top. At the monastery, the tranquil atmosphere was palpable, with prayer flags fluttering in the wind and a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.

As the day wore on, the sunset cast a golden glow over the landscape, marking a perfect end to our first exploration in Tumling. However, the mountain evenings brought rapid darkness, and we found ourselves navigating back to the homestay under the soft glow of our phone flashlights. This simple journey back, guided by the stars and the dim light from our phones, felt like a fitting close to our day—a reminder of the beauty and mystery of Tumling that awaited further discovery over the next two days.

Forest below Tumling

A Secluded Escape: Connectivity and Calm in Tumling

Tumling's unique location in Nepal adds an intriguing element to its charm, standing as it does right on the border. Interestingly, despite crossing into another country, we didn’t need a passport or visa to enter; our Aadhar cards were sufficient at the two checkposts along the way. This ease of entry made the journey smoother and less bureaucratic than international travel typically demands.

Once settled in Tumling, we faced a new kind of isolation—digital disconnection. The village, wrapped in its serene and undisturbed ambiance, was beyond the reach of regular phone networks, severing our ties to the outside world. This disconnection was both a challenge and a blessing. On one hand, it initially felt unsettling to be unreachable; on the other, it granted us a rare chance to truly disconnect and immerse ourselves in our surroundings without the constant buzz of notifications.

Our attempts to find connectivity led us to the nearby hill, where we occasionally caught a fleeting network signal that teased us with brief moments of connectivity. These efforts, however, were largely unreliable and underscored the remoteness of our location. Despite these challenges, our homestay provided a lifeline in the form of Wi-Fi. Although slow, it was sufficient to send updates to our families and check important messages, ensuring we were not completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Tumling Homestays

This blend of isolation and intermittent digital contact created a unique experience, allowing us to engage deeply with the natural beauty and tranquility of Tumling. The digital disconnection fostered a greater appreciation for the present moment, encouraging us to focus on the here and now—breathing in the fresh mountain air, enjoying the quietude, and truly connecting with each other and with nature. This aspect of our journey in Tumling highlighted a profound, often overlooked aspect of travel: the opportunity to unplug and find peace away from our everyday lives.

A Cozy Evening Amidst the Chill: Experiencing Tumling's Warmth

As the sun dipped behind the mountains, the temperature in Tumling took a steep dive, introducing us to a chill that was both refreshing and a bit daunting. Despite layering up and cocooning ourselves under two thick blankets, the cold seeped through, leaving us shivering and bundled up.

In response to our discomfort, our hosts introduced us to a local remedy that soon became a highlight of our evening—tongba. This traditional Himalayan drink, made from fermented millet, was a new experience for us. We prepared it by soaking the millet in hot water, letting it steep for a few minutes, and then sipping the warm, mildly alcoholic brew through a straw. The warmth from the drink spread through us, its comforting embrace banishing the cold almost instantly.

Dinner at the homestay was a homely affair, featuring local dishes that were both hearty and delicious. It was a perfect end to a day full of unexpected adventures and new experiences. After dinner, nestled in our cozy room, we listened to audiobooks, the stories weaving through the quiet night, lulling us into a deep, restful sleep. This peaceful end to our day underscored the simple pleasures of travel—good food, warmth, stories, and the feeling of contentment that comes from a day well-spent in exploration.

A Morning Amidst the Clouds: Sunrise at Tumling

Our second day in Tumling began while the stars still speckled the pre-dawn sky. Eager to witness the splendor of a Himalayan sunrise, we woke at 4:30 am and made our way up the hill to the Buddhist monastery. We weren't alone in our quest; several other visitors from different homestays had the same idea, though we managed to secure what we thought was the best vantage point.

Among the early risers was an elderly lady, a solo traveler who captivated our attention with tales of her adventures. Her stories of solo journeys were as inspiring as they were fascinating, reminding us of the profound connections and experiences that travel can bring. However, our focus soon shifted back to the horizon, where we anticipated the day's first light.

The morning, however, had other plans. Thick clouds enveloped the sky, obscuring our view and dimming our hopes of a clear sunrise. As the official sunrise time came and went, we remained enveloped in a soft, grey light that seemed to hold the promise of dawn indefinitely out of reach. But patience is often rewarded in unexpected ways.

After a while, the clouds parted momentarily, offering us a fleeting glimpse of the sun's golden rays piercing through the mist. It was a brief but magical sight, soon swallowed again by the clouds. Yet, the dance of the clouds across the mountain ridges presented a different kind of spectacle—one of mysterious beauty and quiet majesty. Despite missing the grandeur of a clear sunrise, the ethereal views of clouds rolling over the landscape provided a memorable experience in its own right.

Sunrise at Tumling

After spending over an hour atop the hill, we descended to the local teashop where we warmed ourselves with hot tea and enjoyed a comforting breakfast of instant noodles. The simplicity of this meal, coupled with the fresh mountain air, was perfectly satisfying.

Returning to the homestay, we embraced a few hours of relaxation, embodying the true spirit of a laid-back vacation. Post-breakfast, recharged and content, we prepared ourselves for the next adventure—a trekking excursion planned for later in the morning. The combination of restful moments and active exploration defined our stay in Tumling, capturing the essence of a truly rejuvenating getaway.

Wandering the Trails: A Trekking Day in Tumling

Our trekking adventure started around 11:30 am, stepping out into the crisp mountain air with the simple goal of exploring the beautiful surroundings without a set destination. As beginners in the world of trekking, our approach was one of carefree exploration, choosing to follow a trail that wound its way down the mountain.

Trekking trail
Trekking Trail

The path itself was a picturesque gravel trail, dotted with rocks and intersected by small, clear streams that added a soothing soundtrack to our walk. Although we had hoped to see the vibrant hues of Rhododendron forests, we had missed the season. Nevertheless, the trail was not devoid of color; other unknown flowers dotted the landscape, their identities a mystery to us, proving none of us were budding botanists.

Small Stream beside the Trekking Trail

As we meandered along, we encountered a local guiding two horses laden with bags, who informed us that the trail led to Chitrey. Despite the option to extend our trek to this further destination, we decided to consult our map and chose instead to head towards Meghma, feeling that it suited our spontaneous spirit better.

Along the way, we crossed paths with other trekkers making their ascent from Manebhanjang. Though we didn't stop to chat, the brief encounters added a sense of camaraderie to our journey. The trail soon opened up to a pastoral scene—a lush green pasture set against the backdrop of the hills, with cows roaming freely. It was a serene and picturesque moment, capturing the idyllic beauty of the Himalayan countryside.

Our trek eventually led us to a small, quaint hamlet consisting of just a few houses. Here, the initial barking of dogs quickly turned into playful greetings as we approached. The few locals we met were incredibly warm, offering smiles and nods that spoke of a genuine hospitality.

As we prepared to continue, the weather shifted dramatically, shrouding the path ahead in thick clouds. The dense fog limited our visibility to barely a meter in front of us, wrapping our surroundings in a mysterious veil that transformed the landscape into something ethereal and otherworldly.

A Turn in the Trail: Navigating Mistakes in the Mist

Our trek through the dense fog of Tumling was a blend of thrill and serene beauty, driven by our enthusiasm to immerse ourselves fully in the natural surroundings. Despite the reduced visibility, our spirits were high as we followed the trail, enchanted by the raw beauty of the Himalayas. The path was dynamic—it sometimes carved through rugged rocks and, at other points, skirted perilously close to steep falls, adding a touch of adventure to our journey.

However, amid our excitement, a subtle yet significant clue hinted that something was amiss. The trail was unusually clean, devoid of the usual signs of human passage like discarded wrappers or bottles. This absence of litter, while beautiful in its own right, raised a red flag about our current route. Were we still on the intended path, or had our adventurous spirits led us astray?

Driven by a mix of concern and caution, we decided to consult the GPS on our phones. The digital map revealed a stark truth: we had veered significantly off course. The realization that we were not where we were supposed to be brought an immediate shift in our mood. What started as an exploration driven by thrill now turned into a cautious retreat to safety.

With a newfound sense of urgency, we retraced our steps, making our way back to the last small hamlet we had passed. The journey back was tense, marked by our heightened awareness of every twist and turn in the path that we had so cheerfully navigated before. This experience underscored a crucial lesson for all trekkers, especially amateurs like us: the importance of staying vigilant about one's route and the ever-present need to respect the unpredictability of nature.

Trekking trail
Mistaken Trail

Upon reaching the safety of the hamlet, we were met once again with the friendly faces of locals and their playful dogs. Their warm reception served as a comforting reminder that even when adventures don’t go as planned, the kindness of strangers and a safe return can still make for a memorable and enriching experience.

Journey to Meghma: Discoveries Along the Path

Rejuvenated by the brief respite and encouraged by the locals' kindness, we resumed our trek with renewed vigor, now certain of our path towards Meghma. The trail this time was clearly marked, and our spirits lifted as we ventured into new territory, eager to uncover the hidden gems along the way.

One of the more poignant discoveries was a burned-down house we stumbled upon. The remains hinted at a once well-furnished home, evoking a sense of loss and the ephemeral nature of things. Not far from there, we found a small monastery situated close to a burning ghat, an unexpected sight that added a layer of solemnity to our journey. Nearby, a serene spot dotted with stacks of small flat stones offered us a perfect place to rest. We took a moment to add our own stones to the piles, participating in what seemed like a local tradition of leaving a mark of one’s visit.

As we continued, the path took us past a group of construction workers busy installing electrical poles. We carefully gave them a wide berth, mindful of the ongoing work and the importance of safety in such settings. Eventually, the trail led us up to Meghma, where we were greeted by an elderly lady who seemed to instantly know we had come from Tumling. Her warm welcome was a gentle reminder of the close-knit community in these mountains.


In Meghma, we took some time to wander around, soaking in the tranquility of the village. We found a concrete bench encircling a tree in the village center, which proved to be a perfect spot for contemplation and rest. Just as we thought about heading back, we noticed a Buddhist monastery shrouded in cloud. Curiosity piqued, we went inside to explore and were met with incredible beauty. The monastery was not only a place of worship but also a sanctuary of peace and artistic expression, captivating us for a long while.

Meghma Monastery
Meghma Monastery

After a fulfilling visit, we made our way back to Tumling. The trail now felt familiar, and our steps were confident and sure. We returned to our homestay by 4 pm, tired yet fulfilled from the day's adventures. Despite the late hour, the homestay staff kindly prepared lunch for us, their hospitality a comforting end to an eventful day.

This trek not only connected us with the stunning landscapes and cultural richness of the region but also reinforced the enduring warmth and hospitality of its people, making every step of our journey truly worthwhile.

Preparing for Departure: A Rainy Evening in Tumling

As our time in Tumling began to draw to a close, we spent our final afternoon revisiting the local teashop, where we indulged in some nice coffee — a perfect treat in the cool mountain air. With our departure for Darjeeling scheduled for the next day, we faced the practical task of securing accommodation there. However, Tumling's spotty phone network presented a significant hurdle, especially with an untimely bout of rain complicating our efforts.

Undeterred by the weather, we made our way up the nearby hill once more, driven by necessity. It was here, amidst the drizzle and cool breeze, that we finally caught a stable enough signal to book a room in Darjeeling. With this essential task completed, we returned to our homestay, ready to spend a quiet evening before our journey continued.

That evening, we retreated early to our room, creating a cozy atmosphere by listening to audiobooks. The stories provided a comforting backdrop to the sound of rain tapping against the windows—a peaceful end to our adventure in Tumling. However, perhaps due to the anticipation of the next leg of our journey or the lingering caffeine from our late afternoon coffee, I found myself restless, struggling to find sleep amidst the otherwise tranquil night.

Northwards View from Tumling

Our experience in Tumling, filled with unexpected adventures, serene landscapes, and warm hospitality, had given us a wealth of memories. As we looked forward to exploring Darjeeling, the excitement mingled with a hint of sadness at leaving behind the quiet charm of Tumling, a place that had quickly felt like a home away from home.

Farewell to Tumling: Journeying Onwards to Darjeeling

On our final morning in Tumling, we rose early once again with hopes of catching the elusive sunrise from the hilltop monastery. Despite our optimism, the skies remained stubbornly overcast, more so than the previous day, denying us even a glimpse of the sun. Accepting the whims of nature, we made our way back down to the homestay, a sense of closure setting in as we packed our belongings.

After a hearty breakfast and settling our dues with the gracious hosts of our homestay, we were ready to depart. A Bolero 4x4 arrived punctually to take us back to Manebhanjan, marking the beginning of our transition from the quiet highlands of Tumling to the bustling energy of Darjeeling. The drive down through the majestic pine trees was breathtaking, each turn in the road offering a sweeping view of the lush landscapes of Singalila National Park. Saying goodbye was bittersweet; the natural beauty and the tranquil moments we had experienced there would linger long in our memories.

Upon reaching Manebhanjan, we switched from our private ride to a shared cab destined for Sukhia Pokhri. This part of our journey allowed us to reflect on the days spent in the serenity of the mountains and prepare for the contrasting pace of our next destination. From Sukhia Pokhri, we boarded a bus that would take us through the winding and scenic routes to Darjeeling. The journey was as picturesque as it was exhilarating, with verdant hills and sprawling tea gardens painting a lush tapestry of greens along the way.

As we neared Darjeeling, the familiar sights of this hill station began to unfold. The anticipation of exploring its colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and famous tea estates filled us with excitement, ready to embrace the new adventures that awaited in this iconic town. Our journey from Tumling was not just a change in location but a transition from the tranquility of isolated nature to the lively, cultural richness of Darjeeling.

A Familiar Touch in Darjeeling: A Gentle Exploration

Arriving in Darjeeling, a place we had explored before, we opted for a relaxed pace, choosing to revisit some favorite spots rather than rushing through the more tourist-heavy attractions. Our familiarity with the town allowed us to indulge in its quieter, more intimate experiences, starting with a visit to the renowned Darjeeling Zoo. Here, we particularly enjoyed watching the red pandas, a species famously associated with the region and always a delightful sight with their playful antics and charming demeanor.

Another highlight of our visit was the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, an iconic establishment that not only offers insights into the region’s mountaineering heritage but also inspires with stories of bravery and resilience. Walking through its halls, we felt a renewed respect for the adventurers who had braved the world’s highest peaks.

As evening fell, we strolled to the Darjeeling Mall. This central hub of the town, with its bustling array of shops, eateries and the ever present tourists, offered a perfect backdrop for leisurely walks and light shopping. The relaxed ambiance was just what we needed after our active days in the mountains.

That night, we embraced the comfort of our hotel, catching up on much-needed sleep. Refreshed the next morning, we checked out of the hotel and made our way to Keventer's for breakfast. Known for its old-world charm and delicious offerings, it was the ideal spot to bid farewell to Darjeeling over nice cups of hot chocolate and hearty English breakfast.

Our journey back to Kolkata began with a shared cab ride down to Siliguri, retracing the scenic routes that had brought us to the hills. Boarding our return bus in Siliguri, we settled in for the overnight journey, each of us lost in thoughts of the days spent in the serene and stirring environments of Tumling and Darjeeling. As we reached Kolkata the next morning, we carried back not just souvenirs, but memories of adventures, serene views, and the kind-hearted people we met along the way—a true testament to the spirit of travel.


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E-mail: mondal@agnibho.com