The Enchantment of Kalimpong – Monila De

Dear Readers,

Apologies for the long delay in posting Ms. Monila De’s articles. She was very gracious in giving us access to a bunch of her articles. However since these articles are all hard copies (typed) I have to re-type them out in order to post them here. Which means I can only put them up when I get the time to transcribe them. Which means there may be substantial time gaps between these postings. 🙂



The Enchantment of Kalimpong

One gets a perfect, clear view of Kalimpong from Peshok on the opposite mountain. it looks like a giant tortoise sitting in the middle of the high himalayas. in the distance is the Homes mountain with the outline of a reclining elephant’s head and back. The low lying trunk joins the tortoise. Two rivers run at the base of these mountains. The mighty Teesta in the west and a smaller gurgling Relli in the east.

Only 4500 feet high, Kalimpong is blessed with the pleasantest and most equitable climate compared to all the hill stations on this part of the HImalayan range. Mild winters and summers make it possible for me to live here throughout the year very comfortably.

Being low, wide and rather flat steep climbs are nor encountered. Houses built, long ago, were on acres of land with tennis courts, terraced gardens and large flat lawns. The old schools all have more than one enormous play fields. Kalimpong is not hemmed in. It is full of wide open spaces with a clear view of the mountain ranges all around, the 180 span of snow peaks and the domed sky above.

Trust the British to have discovered this obscure little place long ago. They set about developing it. They encompassed the hump if the tortoise with roads of gentle gradient, excellent for pleasant, long, fatigue free walks.For the energetic there is a labyrinth of narrow foot paths leading to all the villages clinging to the mountain side, to the Relli and Teesta, to the highest point Delo on Homes hill and Durbin Dara from where one can get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding mountains, plains and river.

The long narrow 70km road from Siliguri to Kalimpong hugs the Teesta making it one of the most picturesque journeys. There used to be a toy train too from Siliguri to Gale Khola. It stopped short before a steep climb to Kalimpong. The train chugged along the Teesta river bed, a sheer delight. UNfortunately the tracks were totally destroyed in the 1950 disaster.

On account of the benevolent climate, gentle gradients and wide open spaces, the rich, famous and genteel were the first to come and live or retire here. They built huge mansions with enormous gardens. The old British houses, still standing, bear testimony to that age of luxurious, lavish living. Kalimpong was, of course, made famous by Dr. Graham who established the Homes over a 100 years ago to educate and shelter orphans in the atmosphere of a proper home. The children educated inthe Homes have spread out all over the globe. Nostalgia still brings some of them back to Kalimpong. Such is the magnetism of Kalimpong that those who have lived here at some point of their lives, always come back for a visit or to live here permanently.

What makes Kalimpong so special. The sheer beauty of Kalimpong hits one like a sledge hammer. Kalimpong, which means “Playground on the Ridge”, is nature’s playground. The mountains, millions of years old, are stationary, a stage for the sun, moon, wind, clouds and mist to give them life, to display them in their finery and various moods. The change of scene is never ending. Each day is different, exclusive.

The houses in Kalimpong are well spread out. The tall houses are only in the market area standing cheek by jowl. This area is over crowded with people and taxis jostling around but the most interesting gourmet’s delight is the ‘haat’ every Saturday and Wednesday. The fresh organic fruits and vegetables come from the nearby villages as well as hot weather vegetables from the plains. The choice is great.

The best ready to eat are bamboo shoots, wild mushrooms, skimmed milk ‘paneer’, tofu, foot long dark green cucumbers, round red ‘dollay’ the most expensive, nose watering and tongue blistering chillies. Kinema, foul smelling but tasty fermented soya bean, tender green corn, broccoli, tree tomatoes, ling green winged peas and a host of others. Rai ‘saag’, the king of all greens, being the staple food plus a great variety of other greens. Fruits are seasonal too; passion fruit, peaches, plums, avocados, pears, mulberries, persimmon, loquat and plenty of oranges.

There are no polluting industries in kalimpong. There is no air pollution, it is exhilarating to breathe in pure ozone. There is no noise pollution either.

Occupation here is nature friendly. Schools, hotels, guest houses, hostels, restaurants, flower and cacti nurseries, farming, taxi services, tailoring, shops, contractors and noodle making are the main source of income. There is no desperate hurry to do things, it is leisurely and laid back no rat race for survival.

For me the enchantment of Kalimpong starts at dawn when I am woken up by the greatest soloist, the blackbird. She trills out pure, clear, sweet lengthy notes of an exclusive, delightful raga to welcome the dawn. I rush to the window and draw the curtains to get a darshan of the magnificent, majestic queen, Kanchenjunga.

If I am lucky I see the first rays of the sun kiss her pale white cheeks. She blushes a deep pink. As the run rises higher, she is bathed in gold by his amorous embrace. This coquetting does not last long, it is over in minutes, leaving me gratified to have witnessed the greatest show on earth.

As the sun rises higher, she appears in a pristine wedding gown of dazzling white, along with a chain of bridesmaids of smaller peaks on either side.

The rivers of fluffy white clouds are still fast asleep cradled in the deep river valleys of the Teesta and Rangeet, watched over fondly by the deep blue mountains. The rays of the morning sun brushes each mountain in turn. The tiny huts with tin roofs dotting them, gleam, glint and wink. When the rays touch the clouds, they yawn lazily in its warmth, start rising from their comfortable beds to reach for the skies, their home, obliterating Kanchenjunga from my view on their way up.

Whether it rains or shines Kalimpong is glorious in all its moods. Each brand new day brings a surprise, unique and exclusive, of sheer beauty and joy. I give myself up to its whims and fancies with gay abandon.

Spring bursts in Kalimpong with tender light green leaves. Lillies and plants, buried deep, languishing all winter, shoot up through the dry earth and don their finery.

The white plum blossoms adorn the branches, vying with the pink peach blossoms to steal the show. The slightest breeze flicks off a few tiny petals which float down gently as a feather and carpet the ground below. The incessant hum of bees working overtime fill the air. Birds get busy feeding their clamouring nestlings. Soon they are old enough to perch nervously on rooftops and branches for their first flying lesson. The dry grass, shrubs, shake off their drab brown winter garb and dress in fresh green.

Most often in March a single hailstorm pelts the earth mercilessly with naphthalene balls of ice. They beat down on the tin roofs with deafening clatter and bounce off the green grass like frying pop corns. A delight for children and despair of farmers.

Years ago, so much hail fell one year that it turned the hillsides and roads white choking the gutters. I was delighted and set about collecting them to set jelly crystals for pudding, adding them to cold drinks and preserving them in thermos flasks. There were no fridges then. We didn’t need them.

The blistering attack of hail and rain demolishes all the dust and haze that had covered the mountains, leaving them clean, bright and sparkling. The crocuses spring up overnight, turning the grassy slopes into shades of pink and yellow.

April showers bring April flowers, delicate, lacy white sprays cascade down while hegdes of azaleas turn into a bank of colour. Seasonal flowers turn well tended gardens into a riot of colours. It is a paradise for flowers, they grow easily and happily in this climate Kalimpong is famous for its orchids and gladioli, they are exported to various countries. The cut flowers to Indian cities.

Strong winds, thunder, lightning and dark nimbus clouds pregnant with rain, herald the advent of the monsoons. I love to watch she sheets of slanting summer rain as it comes thundering down to drench the parched earth. The dark clouds obliterate the blue sky, and go rumbling over the mountains purposefully for greater conquests.

It is unusual to have continuous rain. It comes and goes. When it stops for a while swirling, white, gossamer mist envelopes the tall trees into ghosts and inquisitively floats in through my open windows caressing my face with its moist fingers. The sun manages to peep out from behind the clouds, and the whole lush verdant green world smiles at me.

The terraced fields in the valley are ready for planting paddy. The gushing ‘jhora’ water channelled into them are pools of mirror. Soon a brilliant green carpet of paddy covers them. The green patches stand out between the dark green foliage, a patchwork quilt.

The different shades of green spill over in abundance and cover Kalimpong. In the distance the deep blue mountain ranges appear and disappear as thick quilts of nimbus clouds play hide and seek with them. Kanchenjunga appears dark and sombre, bereft of all colour.

The monsoon rains bring their curtain down with a monumental parting display of resounding thunder and lightning that shake the earth.

The sun sets behind the tall mountains, their contours vividly etched on the backdrop of a flaming sky. The last rays of the sun catch the clouds painting them with a kaleidoscope of breathtaking colours, flaming orange, red, muave, delicate shades of pink and green. No two fiery displays in the western sky is ever alike. The morose and grim Kanchenjunga catches the last rays and turns pink.

The October sun is bright but mellow. There is a nip in the air. The azure sky is filled with balmy winds. The monsoon gloom has disappeared and the whole world is a brilliant crystal ball. Kanchenjunga rules once more. The bands of butterflies of vivid colours flit around the gold and yellow marigolds.

I come alive, exhilarated, my spirits rise and soar to reach heights of ecstasy. It is a joy to live and I would happily die on such a day as this.

The nights turn to day in the shimmering moonlight. Kanchenjunga majestically presiding over this world of enchantment in all her splendour, bathed in celestial light, turns it into a fairyland.

We used to go for moonlit picnics, long walks or just sit on the lawn enjoying Rabindra Sangeet. Baba used to throw the biggest tea party on Lakshmi Puja evening with the golden disk of a moon above. Late at night I would hear the wo, wo, of the Goddess Lokhi’s owl as he circled Monjula. Moonless nights with glittering star studded black skies are equally delightful.

Winter creeps in quietly on tender feet. I see the signs long before it arrives in full force. The cheery blossoms adorn the leafless branches in various shades of blushing pink. The green tops of poinsettia plants starts turning red. The air is cooler and still, Kanchenjunga dazzling white. Early morning, the window panes shed tears of dew. They roll down leaving crazy patterns on the blurred surface of the glass and come to rest in rows od sparkling diamonds at the bottom of each pane.

The hillsides are attired in vast patches of brilliant yellow sunflowers. Millions of little suns nod, sway and smile at their lord and master, the sun. asses of blood red poinsettias appear everywhere in great abundance.

As the nights get colder, I sit in front of a roaring log fire sipping the warm local brew, chang, through a bamboo straw, out of a long bamboo container. I am ready for bed but the show is not over. Forest fires are raging in interesting shapes in the distance. A child’s scribblings on the vast canvas of dark blue mountains.

All this glorious beauty is balm for my mind and soul. I have suffered much, lost much but who can take away the enchantment of Kalimpong from me?

Monila De

3 thoughts on “The Enchantment of Kalimpong – Monila De

  1. Jeffrey

    Perhaps the daily punch in and punch out has taken it’s toll on me and I long for the life that has been so vividly captured in her work. Truely a fine piece that brought a breath of fresh air to my otherwise monotonous day in the office. Thank you for taking the time to transcribe them and hope you have time for more…


  2. Amit Ray

    It’s wonderful relive the days Ms.De narrated.
    I could see she lived in Monjula which I visited number of times with my parents .Ms De’s parents used to come and stay in their house.I spent my childhood in this picturesque town.
    It would be nice if I could exchange mail with Ms.De.


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