If you are the type who loves to find a quaint, tranquil place in the hills, away from the hubbub, enjoy nature’s stunning offerings, are curious about the life of rural people in the mountains, enjoys farm-fresh organic food, and likes to get engrossed with activities where nature, people, flora and fauna all come together in wonderful harmony, then a short visit to ‘Bara’ or ‘Chota Mangwa’ surely has many treasures in store.
I am one such person who tends to break away from the crowd every once in a while and tries to soak in nature in its most serene form. Imagine sipping your morning cup of tea sitting in the sunlit front yard of a small wooden house at a moderate altitude of 4,000 ft, in a remote village with a few households, in the middle of an orange plantation in a thick Himalayan forest.
This is the farmhouse of M K Pradhan, on a little ridge overlooking the hamlet, with the majestic Kanchenjunga range in front. You wake up to the smell of fresh oranges being crushed for your breakfast juice and the sound of birds chirping to the tune of a new day. If you want silence, and an area where you have more flowers and butterflies than never ending concrete boxes typical of big hill stations, then Bara Mangwa is the place for you.
An uphill hike of a few kilometres or pony ride on cobbled pavestones away from the nearest pucca road then takes you to Pradhan’s resort in Chota-Mangwa – another village overgrown with oranges. Chota Mangwa is a relatively new destination located on a ridge at the top of the Mangwa hill in Darjeeling district.
True to it’s name, as the road turns towards the village, all you can see on both sides are entire hills and valleys filled with orange trees, which are heavy with oranges. A unique sight you will remember for a very long time. It’s a quiet village with some excellent views of the meandering Teesta river and magnificent Kanchenjungha peak on a clear sunny day, as well as distant tea gardens and valleys.
With the nearest big town being Darjeeling about an hour away, this little hamlet has most of it’s resources sourced from there. Pradhan, the local homestay owner and a senior in the village, has his own farm on the slopes of his hill, which also houses cattle, pigs, some poultry and home grown fresh organic vegetables.
Set against the jaw-dropping gorgeous backdrop of the snow-covered Himalayas and surrounded by phenomenal forests and streams, Bara and Chota Mangwa villages have a community knit together by strong cultural values, that have made it a model of sustainable growth, without losing sight of the health and long-term preservation of their local environment. All of this is particularly important given the adjacent forests, whose resident birds like the flycatcher and wildlife such as rhesus monkeys, barking deer, red panda, and Himalayan flying squirrels, know no borders.
Your wish to remain here forever increases as you tread down the village to watch the sun with its first rays light up the sky. In the evening, come back to your cozy home and enjoy the ethnic, cultural music & dances organised by the villagers around a bonfire, as you have a glass of homemade beer. Most amenities here are meant to blend with the setting but are enough even for luxury class travellers.
Most won’t provide in-room TVs and internet access to break the peace chain. You can combine your Darjeeling visit with one such offbeat place to soak in nature in a state of tranquil bliss for a couple of days before returning to your busy life. It’s a great energiser. All you need is a sense of adventure and a little money.
Ever mindful of protecting nature, local farmers in Chota Mangwa have also started harnessing the power of community-based tourism as an opportunity for additional income. Pradhan’s place, Darjeeling Blossom Ecotourism Complex, runs on solar power. All food is organically grown and cooked. Alcohol is not available and needs to be carried. Smoking is not encouraged. Mr Pradhan is in his early sixties.
He has been driving these initiatives in this region for the past few years now. Local farmers use natural fertilisers and rice is the primary crop along with vegetables like squash, bitter gourd (not the kind we usually eat). Lemons are also grown here, and orange orchards are almost everywhere. An early morning walk through the village is a must to breathe in the scent of the oranges.
One can get to see the vivid orange hue during high season, from October to February. Don’t go in the monsoons as you won’t get the marvelous view of Mt. Kanchenjungha and equally wonderful sunrise. Chota Mangwa is settled just beaneath Tinchuley in Darjeeling Hills and a four-day trip comprising of Tinchuley, Chota Mangwa & Bara Mangwa is ideal. Chota Mangwa is an eco-village with a population of 150 families, living nearby in the Mangwa hills.
The Himalayas and the people who inhabit them have long been powerful magnets for adventurous travellers. Chota Mangwa is one and half hours drive from Darjeeling and can also be reached via Teesta bazar from NJP/Bagdogra. From Darjeeling, it took us about 40 minutes to cross Ghoom and then take a left turn from Jorebangla. Drive up to sixth-mile and then take a right turn to proceed down towards Takdah which is about eight kms from here.
Takdah is a small little town with lovely tea gardens. Here you can stop for a cup of tea and then proceed towards Tinchuley, which is three kms from Takdah. After about 20-minutes drive from Tinchuley, you will reach a diversion where a 1.5 km stretch of boulder-strewn road will take you to Chota Mangwa. The main road from Tinchuley continues all the way up to Teesta Bazaar.
You should ideally take a larger vehicle like a Bolero or Scorpoio to Chota Mangwa as the roads are not in good condition here and the last 1.5 km stretch is all boulders, so small cars can’t usually handle it.
The entire vegetation and forests in the area come under the Senchal range. You get to see the tall coniferous Cryptomaria (locally called Dhupi) throughout the drive. Chota Mangwa’s eco-friendly resort with extremely friendly and down-to-earth Nepali people to welcome you, is the highlight of your visit. The hospitality is above par with lovely and helpful staff who make it a home away from home, as do the true warmth and hospitality of the local people living nearby.
While we missed out on clear views on most days, we enjoyed the serene, tranquil atmosphere, with occasional rains and mist. The complex is full of flowers and it’s a viewing point by itself. The flora here on this lovely ridge is amazing. You get to see many varieties of plants, trees and flowers.
The room tariff ranges from Rs 1,200 to Rs 2,500, depending on the cottage.
The cheapest ones are log huts. Food packages are offered for Rs 600 per day per person. This includes morning tea, breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and dinner. Food served is tasty and is mainly Nepali cuisine. Packaged drinking water needs to be bought.
This is an ideal place fora two-night retreat. Try out self-discovery techniques on offer at the retreat. On request, and at an additional cost, they can also organise bonfires, barbecues, cultural shows by local villagers, camping, birdwatching, etc. The idea is to offer tourists some intimate insight into the challenges of daily life in this agricultural community. Hosts encourage their guests to participate in community activities during their stay.
For example, travellers with an interest in agriculture can lend a hand on the farm by harvesting organic produce and learning about permaculture. Others can enjoy cooking tasty traditional dishes with the family with delicious, fresh organic vegetables, or teaching English at the village primary school.
Still more options abound for those who wish to take in the scenery, do yoga classes, swim in the local streams or go fishing, take local hiking trails or enjoy downtime amongst friendly faces. Traditional village homes and farmstays here give you an intimate glimpse of the local lifestyle and culture.
Nearby attractions include Tinchuley village, Monastery, the Teesta Valley, Rungli Rungliot Tea Garden in Takdah and Durpin hill. It’s a birdwatchers paradise and has homestays. You are allowed to pick up the oranges that fall to the ground.