Lava is Cool: A Memorable Sojourn in the Cradle of Rustic Hills
The road trip to Lava has been an amazing experience and I am already happy on setting my first foot on Lava. It’s a little hill town in the Kalimpong district of West Bengal, India. Rustic in spirit, tourist friendly in approach, Lava promises a very individualistic destination to find a quiet respite. If you have not yet seen my road trip, you may like to check out here – the road trip to Lava.
Welcomed by alpine fir, pine and birch trees, the hill town appears like a tiny haven carved out from the lap of nature. Situated at a height of 2,138 metres, the main town centre of Lava, marked by a clock tower, occupies a small space and is developed surrounding a majestic monastery that acts as a lifeline of the town. Hiking is the best thing to do in this place and it gives a direct peek into local life.
I had no prior hotel booking done in Lava and it was afternoon when I landed up there. So, the first thing for me was to find a stay and I could find a comfortable one within thirty minutes. However, I would suggest anyone travelling to Lava to have a prior hotel or homestay booking because this is a place that observes rush time almost throughout the year. This is because Lava is also a gateway to a number of destinations in this region.
Having settled my hotel affair and appetite, I was keen to freshen up quickly and visit the monastery which looks bright and beautiful from the road.
The Kagyu Thekchen Ling Monastery & The Rigpe Dorje Institute of Lava is a spiritual hub for higher Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist studies. To preserve the culture and religious tradition, in 1987, on the 15th day of the first Tibetan month of the Fire Hare year, the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche agreed to the request of the local Buddhist community to establish the monastery.
In April, 1988 the building of the monastery was started and it was inaugurated in 1990 by Kagyu Thekchen Ling on the auspicious day of Cho Khor Du Chen (the day the Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma) on June 6th. In 2001, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited this monastery and during His historic 4-day visit, He opened the Mani Lhakhang – a community temple – for the people.
Walking up the monastery, the path leading inside has prayer flags everywhere. It also overlooks the captivating ridges and cliffs surrounding Lava. The monastery premises have varieties of blooming flower plants that enhance the scenic beauty on the hilltop against the backdrop of bright blue sky and green hills all around.
Here the monks at Kagyu Thekchen Ling pursue a 13-year Acharya programme at the Rigpe Dorje Institute, the centre for higher Buddhist philosophy. Inside the monastery, there are various scriptures and figurines of eminent Buddhist religious figures.
The ambience inside is serene, calm and very soulful. It exudes an inexplicable vibe that rests all fragmented energies and eases out the mind. I come out with a fulfilling poise and a calmer, clearer mind with a strange happiness in my heart.
Lava can be best described as a rustic holiday destination. Most of the locality is rustic and the hotels, lodges, guest houses, and institutions that occupy the centre of the town have not overcast the spirit of the locale. It still boasts of preserving the natural wilderness of the place. Hiking around the place brings forth a beautiful rustic picture that can be cherished for a long time.
Local women run open restaurants. The aroma of delicious momos, thukpa, and soups fill the narrow lanes as I loiter. While someone cooks, some other women of the house sit around and knit. Some kids play with dolls, while some wander around; and some daring ones talk mischief and bully the naive. I could come in the vicinity of a group of kids playing cricket. The props, the wicket and the bat, were all hand-made out of planks and twigs and the ball was a tennis ball. Bubbling with energy, these little ones enjoyed their game, often tossed with endearing fury over getting ‘out’ or with the controversy over ‘is it a sixer or a boundary’! However, the most intense moments of the game come in the form of the grime on the ball or the anxiety attached with finding the ball after a sixer – moments that haunt the ball owner so much that he sits with his hand on his head, expressing his sadness and worries in the cutest way every time. Life is so simple! I loiter more with a light in my heart. I realized I can stay here forever.
Places to See
There are a number of places around Lava that are worthy to visit.
1. Lolegaon – About 34 km from Lava, Lolegaon is yet another strikingly beautiful place situated in an extreme end of a Himalayan ridge. The nature’s bounty is incredible and it is even more attractive than Lava. Currently, it has lost its lustre in terms of tourist population only due to the conditions of the road, but the scenic beauty is intact. It is picture perfect and nestled on the lap of the hills ornamented with alpine forests. There is also a long hanging bridge which is a major draw.
2. Neora Valley National Park – Spread over 88 sq. km, this is one of the richest biological zones in the entire eastern region of India and one of the last virgin forests in the country. Known as the haven of the magnificent exotic Red Panda, this national park established in 1986 is also home to leopards, black bear, sloth bear, wild boar, flying squirrel, various kinds of deer, leopard cat, golden cat, clouded leopards, numerous species of birds, snakes and other animals.
3. Rishop – Also known as Rishyap, this picturesque Himalayan hamlet located merely at a distance of 4.7 km from Lava, offers an amazing rustic destination with breathtaking sunrise and sunset, forests, orchids, mesmerising Himalayan ridges and flying clouds. Situated at an elevation of 2,591 metres, trekking to Tiffindara (a sunrise view point) and the Neora Valley National Park are activities that should not be missed.
4. Kolakham – Another captivating hill hamlet overlooking the Himalayan ridges and the majestic Mt Kanchenjunga, Kolakham should be paid a visit. With a plethora of flora and fauna, Kolakham also has an amazing trail leading to Chhangi Falls, a 100-foot waterfall hidden within the hill forest. The distance from Lava is 5.1 km.
5. Kalimpong – A popular hill station near Darjeeling, Kalimpong is situated about 31 km from Lava. The picturesque town, the majestic views of the Kanchenjunga, the hamlets, monastery, hill top views, horse riding, paragliding and other adventure sports, orchid houses, cultivation farms, a huge market – Kalimpong has it all. However, you must stay back at Kalimpong to explore it.
6. Trekking to Rechi La and Jelep La – Lava is the starting point for a number of Himalayan trekking routes of the eastern region of India. Rechi La and Jelep La offer the most untrodden hill forests and the most beautiful views of the Himalayas. You can also trek to Neora Valley, Lolegaon, Rishop and Kolakham from Lava. Hire a local guide from Lava if you are interested in trekking.
How to Reach
Lava is well connected by road. The nearest airport is Bagdogra (105 km) and the rest of the journey has to be covered by road via Siliguri to reach Lava; the nearest railway station is at Malbazar (54 km). You can also opt for New Jalpaiguri or NJP (102 km) railway station and the rest of the road trip can be taken either via Siliguri or via Malbazar – Gorubathan according to your travel plan.
Where to Stay
There are various hotels, resorts, tourist lodges and homestay options available in Lava. However, it is advised to have your booking in advance, especially during the peak seasons of summer (April – May) and winter (October – February).
Best Time to Visit
Lava can be visited all through the year. Every season has something different and beautiful to offer. The best bet are late September, October – February and late April – May. However, during the monsoon months (June – August), the locale and the surrounding places take a drastic change in terms of greenery and rawness, topped with the playful clouds. But it is advisable to avoid because the region is prone to landslides and heavy shower.