Kolakham: A Lesser Known Rustic Respite and Steep Trail
A small stretch of land cutting down the slopes amidst a breath-taking waterfall, views of Mt. Kanchenjunga and panoramic green valley constitute Kolakham, the paradise of birds. The greatest attraction of this small mountain village is its magnificent views of nature and the warm welcome of its simple rustic people.
Kolakham is located in the buffer zone of the Neora Valley National Park, West Bengal, India. A cloudless azure sky, a nature canvas displaying diverse shades of green, cardamom plantations and various species of birds – this village is a retreat from all the bustles of city life.
Sitting in the balcony, sipping smoking hot tea and looking at the snowy peaks of the Kanchenjunga, Kabru, Pandim and more – what else do one need to unwind and get back to life in its true sense?
This was my first visit to Kolakham. As the road led towards the village, the place induced an inexplicable charm. Though the road was bumpy, sometimes gnarled and full of screes giving a jerky drive, but the serenity, untamed nature around was giving an unworldly feeling.
Kolakham is located only 8 kilometres from Lava, a popular small hill-town in the Darjeeling district. It takes only about a few minutes to leave behind the crowd at Lava and get soaked into this other world. As I arrived at this lesser known and less explored place near Darjeeling, it was already nine in the morning. Taking half an hour to check-in and dump my luggage in my hotel room, I headed towards the waterfall.
Hike to Changi Falls or Changey Falls
One of the major attractions of Kolakham, this 100 feet waterfall located about 6 kilometres from the village is worth visiting. Formerly explored only by trekkers, now roads have been built to take the tourists up to the hill top from where the walking expedition has to begin. This steep trail did not have any properly cultivated track before, but now the trail has been given a shape of a narrow lane to make this spot tourist-friendly. However, the trail isn’t smooth, it is quite steep and some may find it difficult to keep balance while moving downwards to the waterfall.
My local driver was very enthusiastic when we reached the hill top. On arriving, the sound of the falls permeated the air and it was so loud that I had to speak quite loudly to reach out to his ears. I couldn’t see the falls from the hill top and asked, “Where is the falls?” He replied, “Only 10 minutes walking from here”, pointing to the trail. I was so relaxed thinking it was so near and started walking through the trail. After a small distance, the trail takes a bend and then plummets downwards. At first glance it seemed a bit difficult because it was steep and narrow.
The trail is sometimes broken mid-way – inconveniences created by fallen trees and landslides. Some broken places are inefficiently patched up with stones and rocks giving little spaces to place your feet. Keeping close towards the left side while getting down is suggested because the other side of the narrow trail is the gorge. I moved downwards with all the enthusiasm I had, to capture the falls whose sound had already started to win me. The steep path automatically increases one’s speed downwards and at times it gets difficult to stop your own feet. However, as I moved ahead, the hills offered amazing views with the blue sky in the backdrop and the sound of the falls became louder and more hypnotic.
I could see a few tourists stopping by the small roofed seating areas built throughout the trail for resting. Most of them were running out of breath. I could also see some people who gave up mid way. The sight was a bit intimidating and there were some people who were discouraging others to continue the hiking. But I decided to move on till I reach my destination. And when I got the first glimpse of the waterfall, I knew that it’s worth it!
There are three tiers of viewpoints built – the first one offers the view from almost half the height of the falls, the second one offers a more elongated view of the falls from a level lower and the final one is at the foot of the waterfall.
Stopping by each tier seemed a good idea to catch the Changi waterfall at all angles of its beauty. Shutter sounds were too frequent and aggressive all around. As I reached the foot, the view was mesmerizing. The sun was shining bright right above the fall creating a breath-taking spectrum. People were enjoying the sprinkles and dipped their feet in the water while some took refuge in the resting place beside. The selfie marathon was on and I too couldn’t ward off the greed to fit myself in the same frame with this enchanting beauty!
Spending some time and playing with the sprinkles, I walked to the other side to see that the flowing water falls through a cave down the hill. More visitors were arriving by now and before the place started to get over-crowded, I decided to take my way back.
The steep trail now seemed even more difficult while getting upwards. At intervals, I was running short of breath. Moreover, it was getting hotter and the cardio exercise was bringing on the perspiration. I quickly took off my hoodie as it was getting unbearable and I remembered that my dear driver had warned me before I started my expedition. While I stopped at times to get some breath, I used the opportunity to catch myself in the frame.
It took double the time to get up. As I reached the starting point, my driver was waiting with a warm smile and I could just say, “Water!” He cheerfully passed me my bottle and asked if I liked the place with a proud smile on his face. “Amazing”, I said and I knew it was not enough. We quickly moved back to the hotel to spend the rest of the day.
What More to See and Do in Kolakham
Cardamom plantations are common here and can be seen in the farms of the local people. Various species of birds can be seen like Verditer Flycatcher, Rufous Sibia, Scarlet minivet, Green-tailed Sunbird, Dark sided and gray sided Canary Flycatcher, Kashmir Nuthatch, Red-tailed Minla, Yellow-billed blue Magpie to name a few. Snow-capped Kanchenjunga and other peaks are beautifully visible on clear days. The rustic life, simple and warm local people, local market and the beautiful village are worth exploring. Campfires can be enjoyed in the evening inside hotel premises and market areas.
Kolakham is perfect for nature lovers and tourists who look out for less crowded places. I left the place next morning for another destination but I wished if I could stay here for some more days. Next time I will. Have you visited Kolakham yet?