We had completed our tour of Darjeeling and were on our way back to NJP. Our driver suggested that we can cover a place called Mirik and a few other spots on our way back if we choose to go on a different route. The drive however would take a couple of hours extra to cover. Our return journey was supposed to be a simple drive as we had already stoped over on any available tourist places, that happens to be on the route between NJP and Darjeeling.
The prospect of getting to explore few new places on our return, made us jump to the idea. The extra time was to be compensated by leaving early, which was the only bummer in this whole thing. We did a Tiger Hill trip the day before, which had compelled us to wake up at 3:30 AM, and now again we had a wake up call at 5 AM. Well, I guess that is why they say ‘you got to let go of somethings if you want to get somewhere’.
We packed all our stuff the night before with minimal clothing left out to be packed/worn before we leave. It’s a known fact that if there is anything that hurts more than waking up early is to wake up and pack. So after the usual motion of alarm snoozing and dragging myself out of bed, I left my room at 5:30 AM.
I could see quite a few of us already lined up, still sleepy, around the hotel lobby. We were not sleepy enough to quality as zombie (like they were on our early morning Tiger Hill drive), but sleepy nevertheless. After gathering everyone we came down to the parking lot where our car was waiting for us. Thereafter began the toughest activity we had undertaken in the whole trip: tying to cram all 12 of us and our luggage in two six seater cars.
It might sound exaggerated, but trust me, fitting everything in the car took some really meticulous planning. From which bag could fit on top of which one to who would occupy which seat, everything was fiercely debated. We had come in the same cars to Darjeeling and back then it had felt comfortable. We however went a bit overboard on shopping, and this extra stuff resulted in a lot of swollen bags, which was now causing the space crunch. Finally after plugging every possible corner of the car with bags and people, we left Darjeeling.
The Best Drive
One we exited the hustle and bustle of the main Darjeeling town, we were welcomed by a sleepy road with almost non existent traffic. We had reached the detour that would take us to Mirik, brushing along the Nepal Border. The road was wide and smooth with dense pine forest all around. The gradient and hairpin bends were also much less aggressive. It’s a pro tip, if you want to drive to Darjeeling on your own, this is the route you must take.
As the sun rose in the sky the route became even more pretty with the faint light making its way through the sliver of space between the trees. Their dew laden eaves sparkling when sunlight hit them. It felt like someone went crazy on their crafts project and sprayed glitter all over the place. We saw some amazing flowers hanging from tall trees, some of them familiar and others complete stranger. These flowers were adding a lot more colors to the otherwise splendid green canvas.
The black asphalt on the road was completely blemish free, a rare sight for roads in India. Our car was moving smoothly from one hill to another, crisscrossing Indo-Nepal border at many places. Travelling on that road that day was a sheer joy, one of the best I have ever had in life.
As we were starving, we would jump whenever we saw an eatery alongside the road, but our driver told us to be patient and claimed that he was taking us to some awesome place for breakfast. After crossing a lot more turns and trees, we reached a patch of road where the forest was less dense, we also spotted a few white flags hoisted on the side of the road. Going by our experience on the hills, looked like we had reached a place of significance. The car slowed down and stopped to a halt. Was it a viewpoint of breakfast time?
The Simana View Point
Our driver told us to have breakfast in any of the eateries lined up by the side of the road. We came down from the car and went to the very first one that was there. It was handled by an old Nepalese women and two assistants. We ordered the usual Magii, Bread omelet and Tea, no breakfast is truly complete without tea. While waiting for the spread to be served, we decided to look around. The place had quite a few shops selling woollens, souvenirs and locally made chocolates. This was not just a breakfast joint but a small shopping complex.
After spending a few minutes we realised that this indeed is the famed Simana Viewpoint. The road here falls on the Indian side of the border and the shops on the Nepal side. So technically we had crossed over to Nepal to have breakfast! As we crossed the lines of shops we reached the place which justified why it’s called a view point.
Standing at the edge of the hill we could see uninterrupted view of Mt. Kanchenjunga, its surrounding mountains and distant towns. We witnessed a brilliant mix of colours while the blue sky created the perfect backdrop. The sky was so flawless that looked like someone has painted it on canvas. We could also see the famous Sandakphu trail, endeavouring a splendid panorama of Maneybhanjan.
Our hostess called out to us as breakfast was served. After spending a good half an hour devouring the food, shopping some more, and soaking in the atmosphere, we boarded our cars and started off. The pine trees kept company with us for quite some time with oscillating density before giving way to a small settlement which started appearing on the side of the mountain.
Our car stopped again in what appeared to be a busy stretch of road. There were people in army uniforms, some Indian and some Nepalese. We seem to have reached the border crossing also known as Simana.
Simana, the border crossing
It was a tri-junction, where a road leading into Nepal branched out from the main road we were on. Indian citizens don’t need visa to visit Nepal, besides we had already visited the country for breakfast a few minutes earlier, so we thought why not take a stroll inside the border. An ID verification was done at the checkpost and we were allowed inside.
There is a small market that is present on the border and lots of cabs. It’s quite common for people to stop over and visit a few nearby places inside Nepal while travelling from Darjeeling to Mirik. One such popular place here is the Pashupatinath temple. We had time crunch so we were forced to give it a pass.
Are borders overrated! We crossed an international border but it didn’t feel like a different country, same people, same language. The distinction sort of fades out when you are at a border town, and realized nothing really is different on both sides apart from a line drawn by politics. This stands true for almost all land borders in the world.
Gopaldhara Tea Estate
A few minutes later we started our descent further from Simana and soon the trees and forest gave way to large tea estates. The round green hillocks formed by dense tea plantation presented a beautiful landscape. Crossing from one tea mound to another we landed up at Gopaldhara Tea Estate, a shop on the other side of the road looked nice with tea (both cooked and uncooked), snacks and some crockery on offering. Time for another cup of ‘chai’ and a photo stop.
The Gopaldhara tea estate is huge, covering a few hills here. The tea trees were of all uniform height and looked fantastic. You might be wondering why I address those as tree, when these are at best shrubs. Well that is because tea is actually a tree that if left to grow in the wild can grow up to heights of 15 feet. These plantations are pruned and kept at this height for easy picking.
So after clicking a few pictures, having a second round of tea we left the spot.
The more distance we were covering the hotter it was becoming in those heavy woollens we had wrapped ourselves in. Not sure if it was because of us loosing altitude as our trip now was going downhill. Our next and final destination was Mirik, which is a small town, at an altitude of 5000 ft, for a comparison Darjeeling is at 6700 ft.
After about an hour, we reached a place that had a beeline of parked cars. There was a narrow road leading inside, a huge board on the side saying ‘Mirik Lake’. We seemed to have reached our destination.
The entry of the complex had a plethora of food stalls and shops selling the same stuff we encountered at Chowrasta Mall & Simana View Point. We crossed those to find ourself land up in a huge open space, with construction work going on in one side and a lake on the other. There were huge trees on the far side of the lake.
The top attraction of Mirik is the Sumendu lake (aka Mirik Lake), it had a garden on one side of its bank and tall trees on the other. Both the banks were connected by an arching footbridge. The entirety of one side of the lake had a concrete platform with benches, horses (yes horses) and dustbins built along the garden. This platform was being constructed when we reached the place, which soured things up for us.
With the construction going on there was cement, sand and gravel lying everywhere. The regular plying of heavy construction vehicles had made the soil wrinkled and infested with loose, slippery mud right at the entrance of the complex. After carefully navigating through the mud and loose sand, we reached the newly constructed concrete platform leading into the bridge.
Once we were on the bridge, things looked a lot better. The trees on the other side looked inviting. The lake however had stagnant water which smelled a bit foul. We went for a stroll along the lake among the trees. It was an okay-ish experience.
We learnt that there is a temple inside the forest, which one can either hike or take a horse ride. There is also a monastery in the vicinity. We would have tried those if we had more time, unfortunately we had a train to catch, so we left after spending some moments on the bridge.
Soon after we left Mirik the mountains gave way to plains. We knew our trip has come to an end and we were nearing Siliguri. All that is left is to board our train for home. All in all I had bitter sweet experience of the day.
The fact that Mirik had nothing much to offer except the lake was underwhelming, the route however made up for it. The perfectly aligned pine trees, wild flowers and tea estates that seemed stretched till eyes could see, and a traffic less road. This definitely proves, journeys are sometimes better than the destination.
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”— Arthur Ashe.