Resplendent Bindu: Feeding the Soul with the Music of the Green Hills
The pristine stream flowing through a rough bed of rocks nestled in the green hills presents a picturesque frame as I lean at the railing outside a small restaurant. The soft murmur soothes the mind and the fresh air urges to take deep breaths and renew energy. Spending a few hours at the graceful Bindu, a small village at the Indo-Bhutan border, I have arrived at this restaurant to gorge on local dishes.
When I started my journey from Suntaleykhola in the morning, the road looked promising. Soothing greens all around in the backdrop of playful clouds on the skies as the wheels rolled on the clean roads in the lap of the hills, is a feast to the eyes. This region of the Darjeeling district is still lesser known and less explored, and hence offers an untouched beauty of nature. I peeped outside the window like a crazy one and inhaled the fresh air. My dear driver exchanged a glance through the looking glass and smiled. The pervading silence and tranquillity, occasionally interrupted by the chirpings of various species of birds and insects create an inexplicable balance to feed the senses.
The car halted at Jhalong. Guided by my local driver, I walked to a view point that offers a panoramic view of the Jaldhaka river, embedded within the surrounding hills of India this side and Bhutan on the other side. The Jaldhaka hydel power project, the first hydel project of the country, is visible from this point and it is interesting to note that how the river is divided among the countries by a marker in the middle of the riverbed.
In and around this point a number of hotels, guest houses and restaurants have popped up, promising a cool view of the Jhalong valley and riverbed. The road takes a left bend from this point towards Parren, a beautiful small village lending a wonderful opportunity to have a look at the local rustic life. After taking a brisk walk around the spot, I resumed my drive within an hour on the beguiling route.
By this time, the clouds turned intense, grave and greyish. ‘It’s going to rain. We need to speed up’, said my driver. ‘During the monsoons, the hills turn more beautiful here. It is lush green everywhere and numerous streams flow down the hills. Come once again in the monsoons,” he continued, his eyes shining bright and his cheeks blushing with pride. ‘Of course I will come, but only if you take me to unexplored locations’, I replied and smiled. He laughed back and started sharing his stories of various tourists, including a hilarious experience with a pug that was left behind in the car by its owners. My dear driver was so good at enacting the pug scene that I literally rolled with laughter on hearing the pug episode. After some more laugh riots, I concentrated outside the window to catch the glimpse of the thick green hills against a slaty blue sky. What a beauty!
It was almost 11.30 am when we arrived at this restaurant, a sole eatery standing in the middle of Jhalong and Bindu – nearer to Bindu. My driver suggested that food served here is good and we can have our lunch here, taking time to chill out and enjoying the scenic beauty rather than having a hurried lunch at Bindu. With nothing to disagree on, we stopped there to check out the place and menu. I have an inclination towards tasting local cuisines wherever I travel to and given the chance, I happily opt for it. Two ladies run the restaurant while a male helps them bring groceries from Jhalong. The location is so impressive that I requested the ladies to arrange my table outside when I am back – right beside the railing facing the stream. “Barish hone wali hai, bheeg jayenge. (It is going to rain; you will get wet)”, said the aged lady with a concern and warmth in her voice. “Barish nahi hui to bahar pakka (If it doesn’t rain, then surely outside)”, I replied with a smile. The lady gleamed, nodded and smiled back.
Getting on the car, we started the journey again towards Bindu. I was touched by the warmth of the lady. Her eyes were so motherly, enough to make one feel at home. The car slowed down at a bridge. At the side of the road rests a monstrous rock, almost of a height of a two storey building! A stream runs down the road cutting through rocks and boulders. I got off the car and went ahead to get a clear view. Mountain goats were grazing and jumping from one rock to another, bleating intermittently. The cloudy weather has turned the area seem greener and more captivating. By the side of the stream, a grassy path with a steep inclination moves up to a small hamlet. It was an amazing sight!
And just when the natural beauty begun to transude the senses, the arrival of a little local girl child along with her father multiplied the charm manifold! They were coming down the inclined grassy pathway. The father, loaded with an empty woven basket, locally known as ‘doka’ on one shoulder and his cute little princess holding his other hand and practising all sorts of hanging and jumping skills down the hill was such a delight to watch. On reaching the road, the child halted, looking at me curiously. As I went up to her and said ‘hi’, she gave a bright smile and went back to her playful mode. She readily agreed to pose at the camera while her father was shy. It was such a delight to capture the moments of the father-daughter duo with a striking contrast – the shy father and the frank little child bubbling with innocence. Before resuming the journey, I gave her some chocolates and a hug as a parting gift. I waved back my hand to her as the car moved ahead in the opposite direction. I was smitten by the innocence and simplicity of this place and its people!
This fascinating encounter filled the soul with so much happiness and peace that I was already brimming with content. It took about 20 minutes more to reach Bindu. The car glided fast to find a parking area between the gaps at the side of the road. In front, there stands the Bindu dam flaunting a mesmerising riverbed, surrounded with hills. At the site of the dam, three rivers namely, Dudh Khola, Bindu Khola and Jaldhaka meet. Tourists are not allowed to visit the site but can view from a distance. Situated at a height of 600 metres from the sea level, Bindu is the last village at the Indo-Bhutan border. This side of the dam is India and the other side is Bhutan. This dam is also a gateway to Bhutan which is used as a foot bridge. Being a border area, the place is a site for Armed Border Force or Sasastra Seema Bal (SSB) and hence, taking detailed pictures of the dam or the force site is strictly prohibited and is a call for responsible citizens.
During the winters, Bindu offers a rare view of the undulating slopes and snow clad hills of Bhutan. Every Thursday, an open market or ‘haat’ is hosted in Bindu where sellers from Bhutan come and do business. They come along with vegetables, cardamom and oranges. Bhutanese currency, known as, Bhutanese ngultrum can be found at the shops in Bindu. Bhutanese ngultrum can be collected from the shopkeepers on request by paying equivalent amount of Indian rupees. Bindu is so appealing to the eyes that one can spend hours here hiking and exploring.
A number of tourists kept busy taking selfies, enjoying among groups and themselves. Some couples were spotted sitting on selective rocks, either taking photographs or getting mushy. A few furry dogs snuggled down in the road or between the rocks that were nestling bushes. Small and tiny potholes towards the riverbed nurtured tadpoles. The surrounding was strikingly calm and placid.
At a distance, there were occasional chirpings of unknown birds. Bindu is a great place for birdwatching. Various species of birds like Eurasian Wryneck, Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dipper, Slaty-backed Forktail, Little Forktail, Laughing Thrush and local birds like Pheasants, Cuckoos, Minivets, Flycatchers, Mynas, Orioles, Owls, Parakeets, Partridges, Sunbirds, Swallows, Swifts are common here to be spotted.
Walking and exploring the area is the best option. I had some conversations with the local shopkeepers as well to know more about the place and it is a good way of knowing about local life and business. There is a Cardamom Curing Centre at the Godak village, about 15 kilometres from Bindu which is worth visiting, if you have enough time or if you are staying in Bindu. Spending about three hours in Bindu, fully rejuvenated and refreshed, I bid adieu to the peaceful village. It was time to tame my taste buds now that had gone wild being provoked by my appetite! My dear driver geared up and glided through the smooth road fast to reach the restaurant, where my food was waiting.
On reaching the restaurant, the clouds were more composed. I quickly enquired if the food was ready. The lady nodded and asked the helper to put across the table outside. I smiled looking at her and she smiled back with the look, ‘I remember’. While the table was being arranged, I lean at the railing with my newly acquired poise and calm. Within ten minutes, my table was ready with piping hot food that smelled so good that my taste buds started salivating notoriously. Facing the stream, inhaling all the goodness of the fresh air, I started relishing the local preparations of spicy potatoes, pulses, eggs, chicken and salad – probably the best food I’ve had in recent times.
As I wiped my platter clean, the clouds started clapping mildly. It was such a fulfilling experience in Bindu. The captivating charm of the untouched nature and the simple people arrest one’s senses for long. It’s worth staying back for a day or two if you are a nature lover because Bindu isn’t a usual place with well grown and cultivated sightseeing options. I moved along to my next destination, Nagrakata, where I had booked my abode. Jungles calling!
What Else to See In and Around Bindu
Godak village, Gairibas Diascorrea Plantation, Todey and Tangata village, Birdies Nest, Parren village are some of the places to visit and explore. Trekking, excursions and birdwatching are the main activities to expect.
How to Reach Bindu
By Road: Bindu is 106 kilometres away from Siliguri and easily accessible by road. NBSTC Buses, Bhutan Govt. Buses, Mini Buses, ATC Buses, Private Buses, Taxis and private cars are available from Siliguri to Bindu. Journey time is approx. 2 hours 30 minutes. The best option to visit Bindu from Siliguri is by car. Cars can also be hired from Chalsa.
By Air: Nearest airport of Bindu is Bagdogra, which is located 16 kilometres away from Siliguri. From Siliguri, hire a car or take any other public transport.
By Rail: New Jalpaiguri (NJP) is the main railway station in this area. Hire a car to Bindu or take any road transport to Siliguri and plan thereof.
A lot of budget hotels are available in Bindu as well as resorts for a comfortable stay. Tariffs range from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2500 per day. You can also stay in Jhalong or Suntaleykhola and explore Bindu on a day tour.