When the pandemic struck, Riddhi’s life of content creation and exploring the world came to a halt. While it took her a couple of months to get over that, she soon realised that travelling within India was a great opportunity to revisit her favourite childhood memories, and also to discover the hidden gems. A classic road-trip was on the radar, considering the safety during pandemic as well as the flexibility it brings in.
RiddhiDebh is a widely featured travel photographer and a technology entrepreneur from Bangalore, who grew up in Kolkata. She goes by Rids_Goes_Places on Instagram. When the lockdown was lifted, she decided to explore the road less travelled in her own state, by getting on a long road-trip in North Bengal.
The chilly Himalayas, the sublimity of the green Teesta river, the sprawling tea gardens, and the warmth of the local community- all of these transported her to an immersive mountain sojourn, that she longed for, further enriched by the excitement of a road-trip.
The journey started from Kolkata by an overnight train to a small station, called New Mall Junction. Riddhi was greeted by a friendly face - Love Subba, a ‘Savaari’ chauffeur in a beautiful sunny morning, who, while exchanging many road-trip stories, took her to the first destination, Rishap.
“Within an hour of the drive, with the cool breeze on my face, while waving at the kids and the ladies from the scenic tea gardens, and crossing the gorgeous mountain bends; I realised how much I have missed travelling on road in my own country”, reminisced Riddhi Debh, Travel Photographer and Blogger.
Rishap – 114 km from Bagdogra airport, is a quaint village at an altitude of 2600 metres, near the Neora Valley National Park. On her arrival at Rishap, Riddhi was welcomed with a nip in the air, which made her fetch the jacket; locals playing cards in the sun as if the time had stopped; and the snow-capped peaks of the world’s third highest mountain, Kanchenjunga.
To her surprise, there was more to Rishap - a bumpy but picturesque drive through Neora Valley National Park, an hour’s trek to Rishap’s highest point Tiffindara, experiencing the magnificent Changey falls, hiking down to a village called Seoul that epitomises religious harmony, and spending time with a sustainable tourism community in Kolkakham village
After the rustic beauty of Rishap, Kalimpong, with its many espresso serving cafes, music nights at the pubs, and afternoons spent in balconies, overlooking the mountains of Sikkim, felt like a true home away from home. Driving through the winding alleys towards the lofty mountains and breathtaking landscapes, Love Ji chimed in, “Madam Ji, if we take the next right turn and travel 2 km, there is an amazing photo stop not many people know about. It is a mesmerizing canopy of pines, like they show in the movies”. Oh! Her love for the offbeat. Riddhi could not contain the curiosity. They stopped the car at the charming forest with tall pine trees, for a few beautiful clicks.
She recalls, “I had fond childhood memories of Kalimpong, sitting in a balcony, and watching the tiny houses afar in the mountains”. While that definitely happened again, this time she spent a few days at a homestay, run by Duke aunty, gorging on the local delicacies – ring-shaped Sel roti and hot momos.
Riddhi also took her chauffeur Love Ji’s recommendations for offbeat outings, and visited the experiential Tribeni camping site by Teesta river, Kalimpong’s highest spot Deolo for a sunset, and Munsong, a place beyond clouds near Sikkim border. This part of the trip was a soul-satisfying mix of the old memories and new discoveries.
“My interest lies in discovering the road less travelled, and hence I was sceptical about visiting Darjeeling after almost a decade”, Riddhi shares. But the memories of this cozy hill-town, once the summer destination of the British, and her mother’s insistence on phone, made her revisit this Himalayan town, endowed with the backdrop of Kanchenjunga.
The journey to Darjeeling on a cloud-filled rainy morning, while sitting in a comfortable car, with the raindrops on the windshield, made for a surreal experience. Love Ji was an entertainer, “Madam Ji, rains could often be a nuisance on these roads. But when you forget about it and enjoy the beauty of nature, it is nothing but magical!”
On the way, she stopped to explore Lamahatta Eco Park, to walk up to the pleasing foggy and slender forest and finally reach a sacred lake. To satiate the offbeat traveller in her, Riddhi chose an organic farm-stay, Suma Aavaas, 7 km from Darjeeling, in a place called Lebong. Having a car at her disposal proved to be very useful, as she could roam around in Darjeeling during the day, while coming back to the quietude in the farm.
Darjeeling visit could not be complete without a ‘toy train ride’, a world UNESCO heritage site, a leisurely walk in the mall area, and trying scrumptious pastries at Glenary’s. After all, her decision to visit Darjeeling added a completely different flavour of familiarity to her rustic exploration in Rishop and home away from home in Kalimpong.
10 days on the road with her trusted ‘on-road partner’ Savaari, and it was time to move to her next explorations in Sikkim. “I am so overjoyed to have made this decision of exploring my state of birth, that it reinforced my love for travelling in incredible India”, concludes Riddhi.
At times, a road-trip in your own backyard can rejuvenate your mind-scape and add a different dimension to your travel urges.