While travelling through North Eastern India, an invitation to a local’s house is a good opportunity that one should not pass up.
I had one such opportunity at the house of a family friend who invited me for a meal in the picturesque town of Kalimpong nestled in the Shivalik ranges of the Lower Himalayas.
It is close to the popular tourist haunt of Darjeeling. I took a taxi from Darjeeling. The mist slowed our pace but soon it cleared allowing me a clear sight of the river Teesta flowing powerfully down its majestic course along the valley.
Located at an altitude of 1250 metres above sea level, Kalimpong is reminiscent of the quondam British Raj era. As we took yet another turn, a light, pleasant shower welcomed us. By the time we reached on the other side, the rain had also vanished.
As we drew into town, it had started raining again. Unlike Darjeeling, Kalimpong is one of those places where you don't need to run around at the tour guide's instructions.
You can sit with a cup of coffee and observe the powerful Teesta carving its way through mountains. The splendor of ancient Buddhist monasteries, old churches and temples add to the rich culture of the town and can be taken in without the mad rush that is prevalent in hill stations.
As I entered the house, where I had been invited for a meal, the wooden planks creaked under my feet.
Most houses here are made with wood to insulate them against the brutal cold of the winter.
With Tibetan masks adorning the walls and old wooden furniture decorating the living room, the structure resembled any other house in the hills. The dining table was set and we all sat down to eat.
The meal started with the famous food of this region -- momos, the small stuffed white flour dumplings, steamed to perfection. The ones made for us were stuffed with vegetables and cheese.
Next, we were served puris or luchi (deep-fried white flour pancakes) with piping hot, spicy potato curry.
After lunch, we all sat in the living room, discussing the history of Kalimpong over a cup of coffee to wash down the heavy meal. Kalimpong was part of Bhutan till the British conquered Bhutan and after Independence, it has come to be part of West Bengal in India.
After the Chinese annexed Tibet, many Buddhist monks fled Tibet and established monasteries in India.
They chose terrain and climate similar to their homeland and Kalimpong was a natural choice for the displaced monks. After the chat, my host offered to drive me around the town. It was a usual weekday in a busy town. Businessmen stood outside their shops, smoking cigarettes and talking animatedly about the market trends.
We went to the main market area where my host took me to an ancient curio jewellery shop. Ornaments from ancient times sat behind glass cupboards. An old shopkeeper stood behind the counter flipping through a fat account book.
I picked up a rusty looking necklace with small scary masks hanging from it. The shopkeeper told me that this necklace was a replica of the necklace that belonged to a former Nepali queen. The bazaar had many more attractions and you can spend the afternoon browsing around. Kalimpong is a must visit if you want a break from your hectic routine just to sit back and relax.