Siliguri - Darjeeling - Mungpoo - Siliguri Round Trip Cycling

On the way to Rong Tong. Pic by Sumanta Gupta


21st April, 2019: Darjeeling Himalaya is one of my most favourite areas in India since my college days. I went to this hill station first in 1985 (Darjeeling is the town and Darjeeling Himalaya means the entire region around that town). Completely alone. I took a bus from Siliguri and rode on its roof top to reach there. That ride was real fun. Ever since I have been there umpteen number of times. By bus, shared jeep, hired taxi, self-drive. Literally almost every single means of travel by which one can reach there except the train journey. I know all the major routes that go to Darjeeling from Siliguri. Via Hill Cart Road, via Rohini, via Pankha Bari Road, via Mirik. I also know fluent Nepali - the lingua franca of the area.

So it was but natural that when I decided to start bicycle touring (at the tender age of 54+ :-)) , I chose to go to Darjeeling as my maiden trip. It was a self-supported ride with my cycling friend Sumanta (Rana) Gupta that lasted six days between April 14 and 19, 2019 and covered a distance of about 150 kms. And we did it overcoming all our self doubts, fears and apprehensions. To top it all we had no mishap, no puncture, no nothing. Even the weather gods were fair to us and spared us any rain during our rides. It rained almost every day but only after we reached our destination.

If you want to read about the cycle I used click here

Although we could stick to our original day to day plan another major reason why I would recommend this trip as a first multi-day mountain ride for a beginner like me is that while on the Hill Cart Road you can cut your trip short at virtually any point. There are home stays all along the way. Although it's a beautiful part of the country you are never far from the civilisation.

Here I will give a detailed account of this ride so that anyone with a reasonable amount of fitness and a decent cycle can undertake this journey. 

Before the trip, I tried to read up as much as possible on the route from a cycling point of view but realised there was hardly any literature available online. I am sure many touring cyclists go up the hill on a regular basis but very few have bothered to write down anything for others. I found only two credible write ups on the route. One was by a foreigner. The other was by a Bengali gentleman who rode up to Kurseong. Both these accounts were fairly old but very well written, particularly the account of the Bengali gentleman who went riding back to his school in Kurseong, re-living his childhood ride by Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR). Since not much has changed on this route, these two accounts did in fact help us. 

Here I must say, many Indians, when they write about their adventure trips, make it sound like an extremely difficult task that they have accomplished. All they try to do is impress others and end up being digital junk that help no one. In my account I will try to be as truthful about my experience as I can be. The idea is to help you plan your trip and know in advance what to expect on this route - not to glorify myself by making it sound like a very difficult thing to do. 

Please remember and take heart from the knowledge - if I can do it, you can do it too. I am not super fit. I get cramps every now and then. I am not super strong. I am a very average cyclist. I am not very courageous. I was quite scared whether I could finish this trip. All I have is an attitude that says - let's go and see. Adventure is about overcoming your own self doubts and fears. My only advantage is that I weigh only 62 kg and at 5 feet 8 inches, that's really an advantage when you are a cyclist - particularly on uphill climbs.

Our Journey In Brief 




We took our cycles to Siliguri by bus from Calcutta packed in cardboard boxes. A colleague from our Siliguri branch offered to help us by keeping our boxes in her house till we came back from the trip.  We spent the first day in the Siliguri hotel preparing our bike and generally getting mentally ready for the trip ahead next day.

From Siliguri on day 1 we went to Kurseong - a journey of 44 km. Day 2 we reached Ghum after cycling for 27 km. We could have gone ahead to Darjeeling from there, as it is just a downhill 5 km ride but we chose to stay back in the small and homely Ghum and go to Darjeeling as a day trip the next day. So, on day 3 we went for a day trip to Darjeeling. We took a circular route to go via Alubari and came back via Hill Cart Road. Day 4 saw us cycling down to Mungpoo from Ghum. This is a distance of only 15 km through a beautifully quiet forest but it's a very, very steep descent that can burn your brake shoes and test the power of your forearms, particularly the last 3/4 kilometers. On the 5th day we stayed on in Mungpoo taking rest and generally just lazed around. On the last day we climbed down (another extremely steep descent) from Mungpoo for about 7 kms to Rambi where you hit the highway that connects Siliguri to Gangtok. From here we turned right towards Siliguri - total distance of 47 kms. The bit from Rambi to Siliguri is a mix of minor uphills and downhills and entirely flat for about 25 km after Sevoke railway level crossing. So our total ride was of around 150 kms out of which around 70 kms was straight up and 25 kms straight down. Only the section from Rambi to Siliguri was a mix of up and down. Rest was either continuous up or a continuous down hill climb.

To look at our day by day activity on Strava or Map My Run click here . It will give you an idea of what to expect and form an idea about what time it will take you to cover this distance.

The Preparation 

There were three essential preparations to make. Of the body, of the cycle and of the luggage. In terms of body - soon after deciding on the journey, I signed up for Zwift and rode my indoor trainer regularly for two months. Real life road cycling in Calcutta on a daily basis is difficult for me. Because I cannot wake up early enough and even if I do go out early with my bike I need to take a nap after I come back. That's not feasible, given my daily routine. Here you can take a look at a typical day for me on the Zwift.



If you check my Strava account you can see that I did only one 60 km plus ride with Rana on the real road on a Sunday before the trip. On this day we climbed a bridge in New Town some 5 times from both sides. I am not sure how much these practice rides helped but I think I should have spent longer hours just sitting on the saddle. On the hills it was not the pedal pushing that was so hard. It is the burning bum that makes it even harder. I would recommend a few 5/6 hour rides (at whatever speed you can) before any long journey. You just need to devote the time and add the hours to your bum.

Apart from this I did a lot of core exercise, particularly with the Swiss ball. I could not unfortunately go for any runs as I am still nursing a bad plantar fasciitis. Regular runs and skipping would have helped for sure. But in the mountains I hardly ever felt out of breath. I did not carry my heart rate monitor so I cannot say what my maximum BPM was. But I doubt if it ever crossed 140.

Actually I never pushed myself. I paced myself slow but steady. Just smooth gentle pedal pushing. I wasn't in a race. I was touring.

Cycle Preparation 

Before the journey I chose to upgrade the tyres and brake shoes. For tyres I chose Schwalbe Marathon Tour Plus 1.75 for both front and rear. I am happy to inform that I did not get any flat on this tour. I must add here that the tyres I bought came from Ozone Ventures in Pune. They sold me old stock tyres. Of course they didn't fail or anything on the road but they were clearly old tyres - not used though. Also the packing was really bad and the tyres were twisted a bit.

I also upgraded the brake shoes from the stock Tektro to Kool Stop dual compound. On the steep descent when my rims were getting hot from continuous hard braking I think the brake shoes got fried a bit. Otherwise the brakes performed superbly. I had no problem whatsoever with the brakes. They stopped the cycle when I wanted them to. But I must admit that I hardly ever allowed the cycle to reach anything above 20 km per hour. On the highway, on a relatively safe and easy gradient I allowed it to go at 40 kmph. Even there the brakes performed just fine. By the way, I have the basic cantilever brakes on my bike.

I bought a carrier from Decathlon and three bottle cages. Surly, famously has the bosses for 3 cages. However, what I realised is if you have a mud guard then the third cage becomes useless. It fouls against the mudguard.

My other additions/upgrades on the cycle like the pedals, mudguards and saddle were done much before this trip was even conceived. So I am not counting them.

Luggage 

I think I was a little overloaded with various items of luggage (much to Rana's amusement if not derision). I carried them in as many as five different bags of various sizes !!! Starting from the front I had a handlebar bag for the emergency essentials like first aid and flash light or Electral packs etc packed in a small Lowepro dry sack and on the back side there was a small saddle bag for the tools. Then I had most of my clothes in a Sea to Summit dry sack rolled inside a plastic carry bag. This bag was tied to the rear pannier rack with two bungee chords. On my body I had a 20 litre Deuter back pack that had my bulky synthetic jacket, couple of spare tubes and finally I had a small belt pouch which had my power bank, wallet, pens etc. I kept my raincoat shoved under the rain cover of my handlebar bag. This would make it easy to pull it out in a sudden shower.



I must say that except for the belt pouch, nothing else caused me any inconvenience anywhere. At no point of the journey did I ever feel that I could do with anything less than what I had. On my next trip the belt pouch - an otherwise favourite item - is definitely NOT going.

Did I use everything I took? Of course not. I am glad that I didn't have to use the tyre or puncture repair kit or the cotton wool or the tube of Borolin or the second cycling jersey. But I was prepared for the worst case scenario. 

I agree this was an overkill. I was carrying not only all that is necessary but also all that might be necessary. Rana, my friend, had just a small back pack with virtually nothing in it. He had no warm clothes, no full pants, no bicycle lock, no light. No nothing, as they say. I was relatively more lavish and wouldn't call myself a weight weenie by any means.

My only defence is - with all my luggage my total weight on the bike is perhaps less than Rana's - because I weigh a good 10 kg less than him :-)

I will give a more detailed account of the items I carried in a separate post and will give an honest comment on what was used and what wasn't. Here is the link

Day One - Siliguri to Kurseong 


The journey starts from here 
We wanted to start very early but ended up starting at 6.35 am because of a bad night's sleep and a heavy rain overnight that led to a bit of water logging in front of our hotel. Since we were close to Darjeeling Morh, we soon reached Sukna which is a flat 8 km stretch. Sukna is the first station on this route. We took the customary selfies and photographs and proceeded towards Rong Tong - our next stop.

Those who are unfamiliar with Siliguri - if you are coming from the city, find out the Hill Cart Road which is the main arterial road. On the northern end of this road where the city ends there is a place called Darjeeling Morh. On Google map this point is marked as Tenzing Norgay Statue. It might be hard to locate the actual statue but if you are using Google map then you can come to this point. From there you can see the above signboard and go straight ahead towards Sukna.

Pic: Sumanta Gupta
Hill Cart Road now starts its climb which would continue throughout the day till Kurseong and the next day also till Ghum. There is literally not even a 10 meter stretch that is flat. It is a relentless up hill climb till Ghum. It might sound depressing but we kept pushing the pedals fairly happily. Perhaps it was the sunny weather or the pristine foothill forest or the two months of Zwifting that made it happy for me. It might also be our enthusiasm that kept us happily riding up. Honestly the ride didn't seem too arduous. It was a Sunday and I saw several local birders with long lenses trying to spot their prey in the forest. They were mostly on scooter or motorcycles. Not even for a moment did I miss my long lens. I also saw some local cyclists climbing up the hill. They said they would go only as far as Rong Tong. There was a lone teenager boy also on his cycle. He said he had earlier climbed up to Kurseong.

At Rong Tong we had a small breakfast with Wai Wai and tea from a street side shop just in front of the railway station.


After Rongtong our next destination was Tindharia. You have Chunabhatti before that but there is no station there. We stopped near Chunabhatti for some selfies and then proceeded towards Tindharia. Before the station there is a loco shed here. The famous film Sagina Mahato was shot here on location. I took a customary selfie here. Tindharia station came soon enough. It is a full fledged functioning station with a station superintendent. He obliged us by taking our photograph at his station.

Here we had another small meal consisting of two boiled eggs and a couple of bananas and some ground pulse in water (chhatu sarbat). I had all these three with me. I was carrying four boiled eggs without taking the shell off and a mix of chhatu in a bottle.

After about a half an hour break we pushed off from Tindharia. Here I suddenly started feeling weak and thirsty. My bottle was only half filled with water. I stopped at a sleepy shop and ordered a Wai Wai with egg. Drank a lot of water and filled up my bottle. I think I just got dehydrated. But after this particular rest I started feeling strong again and set off on my journey once again.

Gayabari

Almost all homes in Darjeeling hills have cute little gardens
Our next destination is Gayabari. I cannot remember when I reached Gayabari but it was without much fuss. The Gayabari station has unfortunately been destroyed by militants in the name of political protest and agitation. We proceeded towards Mahanadi. Rana found a delightful little momo shop in an abandoned shed kind of place where we had a wonderful plate of momo (or was it two for me?) and tea.

Filled our bottles and pushed off again. Next stop is Kurseong. Here I started feeling a little pain on the right of my right knee. I started putting less pressure on the right knee and didn't stop. It was just a small pain. We kept pushing. Somewhere along the way came Pagla Jhora. It means Crazy Stream. This is a huge landslide zone. It has been a pain for DHR ever since the line was built. This stretch is the reason why Hill Cart Road is not allowed for traffic going from Siliguri to Kurseong. We crossed this stretch in dry condition. In fact here I saw the first train of our journey. It came chugging from the opposite direction, going towards Siliguri.

The sky was getting dark with clouds. But we reached the observation tower of Giddha Pahar at around 2 pm. This is just before Kurseong town where (I think) the steep Rohini Road comes and meets Hill Cart Road. We made it at last. I felt relieved. I felt reassured that yes I can do it.

After some photography and a tea it was time to look for our hotel. Rana had organised a free stay in a five star kind of resort called Alita. It's just above the St Anthony school. We happily turned towards the resort from this school but the narrow lane seemed like a very very steep local road. Pushing pedal on this road would be impossible. We both started pushing our bikes up the road. To make matters worse it started to rain. After about half an hour's drudgery and with the resort nowhere in sight Rana had a brainwave. He saw a Maruti Omni parked by the roadside and asked the driver if they would give us a lift up to the resort. They agreed to do it for Rs 300.

Had to rent a taxi to go to Alita from the highway
We had to take off the front wheels of the bikes to fit them in. But we reached the resort in comfort and style. In fact without the car I would have possibly abandoned the idea of staying in the resort even though it was free. It was one of those vertical village roads that has been paved to make it drive-able. Cycling up that road is impossible.

I think the best place for a cyclist or anyone for that matter to stay in Kurseong is the West Bengal Tourism guest house. It is right on the highway just outside the town.

Anyway, hospitality at Alita was very good. We were allowed to stay in the owner's room. The view from the huge window was something worth all the trouble. Our cycle was parked safely in a place that was a bit far from our room. But that was not an issue as safety was never in doubt. I realised that the pain in my right knee was now really bad. Climbing down the stairs was getting difficult. I did a lot of hamstring and calf stretches not to speak of the glutes. The pain subsided a bit. Every time I folded the legs from the knee it was hurting.

Day 2 - Kurseong to Ghum 

Our initial plan was to stay back in Kurseong on the second day. I had thought I would be too tired after the first day's ride and the rest would do me good. But after reaching Kurseong I realised I was good to go to Ghum the next day. We would rest later when the body really wanted to. So next morning we pushed off for Ghum. The knee pain had subsided by this time.

Aditya seeing us off in Kurseong
We came down up to the highway in a car that Aditya brought for us. While going up we had realised that coming down this road would be equally if not more impossible. The same driver - a young boy called Aditya - came back to fetch us and dropped us off near the St Anthony school for Rs 500 and off we went.

At Alita we had a very small breakfast of chhatu sarbat and tea. Our first destination was Tung. Today's ride is a relatively shorter one. About half of yesterday's with just two stations in between. Tung and Sonada. Kept pushing. The pain came back and I was forced to use virtually only one leg. Today's climb seemed a lot more back breaking. You can analyse the gradients from my Strava record. Or you can use any of the various apps that show gradients.

Naturally, I was fairly slow on this section. But I never felt depressed or anything. I had only one mission. I have to reach Ghum. I have to keep pedaling. When the going was getting tough, even on the previous day, I was thinking of my father and his epic ride from Hazaribagh to Ranchi in the 1930s on a single gear traditional bicycle crossing the then dreadful Chutu Palu Up (that's what he used to call it). I was just taking his name with every pedal push. Though Chutu Palu has been flattened now and tiger is the last thing one would expect on this road, I would love to do this route once in his memory and as my tribute to him.

When the going was getting tough, I was also mentally reciting the chant that followers of Lord Shiva use while carrying water to Shiva temples in the month of Sravana to pour on the phallic idol - Bhole Baba, Par Karega (my crazy father will see me through). Believe it or not it was giving me strength. I think it just diverts the mind when you do this - and one can use any phrase to motivate oneself. It does not have to be a religious chant. I am not at all a religious person but I love the rhythm and force of this phrase and the mental image it creates in my mind.

Anyway, whether it was Bhole Baba or whoever, I got seen through to Tung and then Sonada and finally Ghum despite the pain in my knee. I would often stop and stretch my hamstring. In both the stations I had a portrait taken.

Rana being way faster than me went ahead. We met in Tung and then in Ghum. I had momo and tea along the way.

The final few kilometers before Ghum is beautiful with an old pine forest. It's full of very tall and fat pine trees. I love such dark and deep forests. I don't really know what else to say except that I kept on pedaling with adequate stops and stretches of the hamstring and reached Ghum at last in the afternoon.

One thing worth mentioning about this section is that, here traffic is a lot more than on the Siliguri-Kurseong sector. First day was almost like riding on a private road with hardly any vehicles. Second day was not so. We were spared a little of the traffic because this being the election season many vehicles were off the road or were on political campaign duty elsewhere. Even then the traffic was rather heavy, forcing one down from the saddle in several places.

In Ghum 
Urgen's shop in Ghum

Rana being a much faster rider arrived way before me. He found the well known Hub Outdoor store located just across the station on the Hill Cart Road and started chatting with the owner Urgen Sherpa.

I must devote a full section on Urgen Sherpa and his Hub Outdoor. He runs an extremely well stocked bicycle store in Ghum. We saw about 12-15 Merida MTBs in his shop. There was a Trek and various other brands of modern cycles. His store is better stocked than any other shop I have seen here in Calcutta. Apart from selling and repairing bikes, he also rents out cycles and organises group rides in the region. His shop is also decently stocked with spares and accessories. It was a delight to spend an hour or so in his shop.

Urgen in his store
Being an avid mountain biker himself, he spoke very enthusiastically about cycling. With such excellent cycling infrastructure in place, I am sure cycling in this region will boom very soon. If you want to contact Urgen, his number is 9733043630. He also runs a travel agency called Youth Adventure Travel.

From Ghum we had the option to go downhill for around 7 kms to Darjeeling but I decided against it. I reasoned that with excellent homestay now available in Ghum, it's pointless staying in Darjeeling. So we cut our 2nd day's journey short and ended it in Karma Bhotia's home stay called Khang Sang. It is on the road that goes towards Sukhia Pokhari just across the Ghum railway station. Their hospitality was excellent. Food is basic but well cooked and served with love and care.

Parked bikes in Ghum
Ghum homestay
Stay was Rs 1200 for a small double bed room with attached bathroom and a great view. Food cost us another Rs 1200 over two days. I think this is reasonable in the hills. The cycles were kept in the passage on the ground floor level. We were in the basement.

We would go to Darjeeling and Batasia as a day trip tomorrow.

Knee Pain Management And Cure

In Ghum I reasoned that the pain on the right corner of my knee must be coming from a tight Iliotibial Band So I did a lot of stretches for the IT Band. It's a very basic stretch - you cross the legs while standing, with the affected leg behind the unaffected one. Then you bend down and touch the toes and side of your affected foot. This will stretch the side of your affected leg. Very simple exercise but it cured my pain for good. It never came back again. Of course there wasn't any intense up hill climb after this. Even if there was I don't think it would have bothered me.

This is not the only stretch for IT Band. There are other stretches also but this is very simple and most athletes do this as part of their routine stretches.

I am not suggesting that this is a cure all for all knee pains. Pain at different points on the knee have different meanings. But generally when there is a pain around a joint due to athletic over use, the reason is a tight muscle somewhere above or below it.

Day 3 - Darjeeling and Batasia 

Ghum is the highest point on the Hill Cart Road, if not in this entire region. Three roads branch out from here going down in three different directions. One goes straight to Darjeeling. That's the Hill Cart Road. Another one goes left towards Sukhia Pokhari (I intend to go there next). There is another one that goes right towards Peshok, Mungpoo, Kalimpong etc.
Off to Darjeeling 

We chose to go to Darjeeling. However, we took a different side road rather than the tried and tested Hill Cart Road. I never knew such a route to Darjeeling existed. You climb up from Jore Bungalow for a few hundred meters and then start the downhill journey to Darjeeling through a pristine quiet forest devoid of any traffic. It is a narrow road with a few scary slopes but it is really a nice way to reach Darjeeling. If you are familiar with the Darjeeling Mall, it arrives in front of the stable for mules on the Mall (Chowrasta for locals).

There is a small Buddhist monastery and a village called Alubari on this road. Other than these there is nothing else except a quiet green forest with lots of noisy cicadas. I loved riding through this road that was new to me.

As you can see from the accompanying photo, I was wearing my track pants and the warm synthetic jacket. It was quite cold when we started from Ghum. I did not carry any luggage except my red back pack.

Once in Darjeeling Mall it was time to stand for the photograph that I had in mind ever since the trip was initially planned. It was a dream fulfillment time for me. All the doubts and apprehensions about the trip were now put to rest. I made it. Despite my age. Despite the not so strong legs. Despite all the tight muscles and ligaments. I reached Darjeeling astride my own bicycle.

In front of my most favourite spot in Darjeeling Pic: Sumanta Gupta
From the mall we went walking towards Glenary's and Keventer's. I made my smallest purchase from Glenary's so far in life with just two cream rolls for the two of us. After this we just walked down towards Darjeeling station. Here also we spent some time taking photographs. 

The two cycles at Darjeeling station

With the customary photographs taken we cycled down Hill Cart Road towards Ghum, thereby completing the circular trip. This section of the road is really really jam packed with vehicles. It's like a conveyor belt in a factory. Endless queue of vehicles moving slowly. We had to frequently get down from the cycle and walk forward. Sometimes even walking with the cycle was difficult. I had recorded the journey on Strava only as far as Darjeeling. So here it is. Below Batasia Loop we had a wonderful tea and two momos from a street side shop. Rana wanted to go and see the Batasia Loop but when he realised that one has to leave the cycle below and walk up the stairs to see it he abandoned the plan.
A dream come true moment - the two cyclists in Darjeeling Mall


In Ghum we had a lovely afternoon lazing around. The previous evening I had discovered a lovely little samosa shop. We went there and gorged on the warm samosas and retired for the night after dinner at Khang Sang.


Day 4 - Ghum To Mungpoo 

From Ghum station you have to trace back a few hundred meters in the direction of Sonada and then turn left from Jor Bungalow. Your immediate destination is Tin Mile or 3 Miles (if you must ask anyone). It's literally 3 miles or 5 km from Jor Bungalow. In such old roads in desolate places you find many such names. This place I am sure did not have any local name. Hence the road builders named it by the distance from the nearest main town. After tea at 3 Miles we took the right road that goes towards Mungpoo.

The straight road goes to Peshak. Both these roads meet the highway that connects Siliguri to Gangtok 12 kms apart. But the Peshak route being extremely steep we chose to go to Mungpoo. Even Mungpoo we found was extremely steep. The road goes through a beautifully quiet and thick green forest. The road was strewn with fallen pine leaves all over. There were many large fallen trees as well but someone had cleared the path for vehicles to move. Riding on a carpet of wet fallen leaves over a steep slope, we soon realised, is not a pleasant experience.

We got very few vehicles on this stretch of the road. There was one small stream on the way with Bhutanese prayers written on the stones around it. There was a photograph of I think Padmasambhaba. It was a beautifully serene place with tarshoks all around.

Rim cooling stop en route to Mungpoo
We kept climbing down the hill very carefully. The slopes were scary at places. Soon I realised the rims were getting hot. So were the brake pads. So I started stopping more frequently to cool off. Rana's rear brakes stopped working. He blamed it on the wet rims from the fallen leaves, but I thought he just needed to readjust the barrel adjuster because he was often riding down too fast and did a few very hard brakes. He walked down the last 3/4 kms to Mungpoo.

He ultimately mustered up the courage to touch the brakes when we reached Rambi two days later. I can understand this. It is a tough decision to tinker with the brakes in the middle of a forest. But I would have taken a chance with the barrel adjuster. Incidentally, once his brake was tightened he just took off on the Rambi to Siliguri road at a high speed :-)


Rana descending through Senchal Forest

Once we reached Mungpoo's central business district consisting of a medicine shop, a grocery, a sweet meat shop and a few other sundry shops we realised that there was no homestay anywhere in the centre of Mungpoo. Like any other village in the hills it is a spread out place. They said you left the homestays about a kilometer behind.

There was no question of going back up that steep slope. We kept going forward. Someone told us there could be a homestay in Chowrasta - a couple of kilometers away. We continued on our journey. On the way we saw Rabindra Bhavan - the famous home of Rabindra Nath Tagore. There we found two guards one of whom sang a couple of Tagore songs for us. He has obviously been trained in his childhood. But he was completely sozzled by 1 pm.


Among his regrets that he shared with us are two things - the villagers here know nothing (including who on earth Tagore is) and the heritage Tagore house has been repainted blue and white by the present government (there is a lot of political connotation behind this second observation that I am not getting into here).

We reached Chowrasta soon enough and found Quinine Homestay. Believe it or not that's the name of this beautiful homestay. It's brand new and I wouldn't be surprised if we were the first occupants of the room that we were given. It was terribly expensive at Rs 1300 per head per day (all inclusive though) but the owner Solomon is a nice guy. He is an avid adventure lover and he came over from Siliguri just to meet us.

Day 5 - In Mungpoo 

We lazed around Quinine the next day too. I took this opportunity to wash my clothes and they dried in no time in the bright sunlight on the roof top.

It was election day and we chose not to move anywhere. Our original plan was to go to Kalimpong on this day but we decided against it. A. Movement on election day is fraught with certain dangers in Bengal now. B. We didn't want to push our way up once again to Kalimpong and more importantly climb our way down the next day.

There was a polling station just behind our guest house where we saw a small queue throughout the day. Polling was peaceful here. Solomon regaled us with his stories of motorcycle trips in various remote corners of Nepal. He has major regret in life that while Shitong across the valley - which had nothing - is now a major tourist destination, Mungpoo which was more prosperous has no tourist coming. We told him to make his rates more reasonable and reach out to the larger tourist community through participation in various tourism fairs in Calcutta.

Day 6 - Mungpoo to Siliguri 

In Mungpoo the road bifurcates into two. Both of them go to Rambi. While the one on the left is the traditional road, the other one is called Valukhope Bypass. Quinine Homestay being on this road, we took it. This proved to be an even more difficult and sharp gradient than the one we found till Mungpoo. Rana's brake was still not working. He walked down. I rode down carefully taking adequate rest.

When rims get hot they can not only fry your brake shoes, they can even blow your tube out. Because heat expands any gas. Therefore the air inside the tube could expand and burst the tube. Luckily no such mishap took place and we reached Rambi where we had a nice tea. Rana now mustered up enough courage to tighten his brake cable. Now the brake started behaving smoothly and properly and he flew back to Siliguri.

This road follows the fierce and beautiful Teesta. Unfortunately an ugly hydel power station has come up near Kalijhora. Other than that Teesta remains the beautiful river that she was earlier.
Teesta flows smoothly


On the way was the iconic Coronation Bridge where we tried to have tea. Sugar less tea was not available. So after drinking some water I kept pushing pedal and came back to Siliguri. The Salugara jam was terrible. But that which cannot be cured must be endured, we thought and walked through it.

There was a sense of relief that the journey ended. Not jubilation. I felt the sense of jubilation in Darjeeling.

For the first time I had the courage to look at my shoes. The day I started I noticed that the sole had come off. I told only Rana about it, who rightly ignored it. During the trip I never even tried to look at it. I saw a cobbler somewhere on the road to Ghoom but did not bother. Even in Darjeeling I ignored the idea of getting it repaired.
By the end of the journey 

This was my first multi-day, self supported trip. It is certainly not going to be the last. I will come back to the hills again. But this will always take a special place in my heart.

























What I Carried On My Maiden Tour




Beast of burden. Somewhere in Senchal Forest
24th April, 2019: These are the items that I carried with me during my first multi-day self-supported bicycle tour in Darjeeling Himalaya. Read about the trip here . These items were carried in a handle bar bag (inside the handlebar bag the items were put in a LowePro dry sack), a saddle bag, a Sea to Summit Dry Sack rolled inside a plastic shopping bag and tied to the rear pannier rack (we call it a carrier), a 20 litre Deuter backpack with rain cover and a Deuter belt pouch.

Please remember I had packed for going to a place that is notorious for quick showers without much notice and also cold climate.

For the bus journey I carried everything in a huge North Face Badlands that I left behind in Siliguri with the transport sector clothing and a spare clean brief for the journey back home (we did the Calcutta-Siliguri to and fro journey by bus with the cycle packed in a cardboard box that was put in the luggage hold of the bus). 

Riding Wear 

Half-sleeve cycling jersey
Cycling bib
Socks (knee length Adidas Tech-fit)
Cycling glvoes
Cycling helmet
Trekking boots
Turkish small hand towel

Usually I wore these while cycling, except on the day we went to Darjeeling and the day we cycled down to Mungpoo. On those two days over and above these I wore my Kappa track pants and the Sierra Design synthetic jacket. 

Other than these, I carried the following items of clothing in my bags 

Half sleeve jersey - 1 (DNN - Did Not Need)
Cycling shorts - 1
Under Armour half sleeve T-shirt- 1
Dry fit material full sleeve - 1 (used once or twice because it was there)
Kappa track pants
Briefs - 2 (DNN)
Slazenger half pants with zippered pockets (DNN except in Siliguri)
Spare socks - 2 (one knee length Adidas Tech Fit and another regular sized Adidas sports socks) - Did not need the second Tech-fit
Marmot Precip Rainwear - 1
Sierra Designs Jacket - 1
Micro-light towel 
Columbia rain pants (DNN)
Cotton boxers for sleeping


I also had these items in various places but mostly in the front handlebar bag

Cotton rag - 1 (next time it will be microfibre)
Medicines (regular plus emergency for acidity, paracetamol etc)
Basic first aid kit (Boroline, gauge, cotton wool, Volini/Relispray, Band Aids, crepe bandage) - DNN
Toilet paper, Rin washing soap bar, toothbrush, paste, Nivea, Suncream lotion, comb (did not use the sun cream - a major mistake)
A spare Sea To Summit dry sack for the items on my back pack - should it rain
My red diary and two pens
Electronics
Head torch
Phone-charger
Powerbank
Topeak gauge (strictly speaking this is a tool)
Cateye Velo 9 Odo
Knight Rider front light for the bike
Knight Rider tail light (DNN)
Two tiny lights for the front and rear

Tools & Spares in saddle bag or elsewhere
Multi-tool
Tyre lever and puncture repair set (DNN)
Chain link - DNN
Pliers - DNN
Box spanner #7 and 8
Knife
Chain lube 
Pair of Tektro brake shoes - DNN
Two Schwalbe tubes - DNN
#4 Allen screws and washers - quite a few - DNN
Two spokes (they come attached to the chain stay as OE with Surly) - DNN
Long and short zip ties (about 6/8 each)
Rubber bands 


Tools that were left behind in Siliguri but used in hotel

Allen key #4 with T-handle (left behind in Siliguri)
Wire cutter
Scissors
Adjustable wrench (for Rana’s pedals)
3M Cello tape
Green electrical insulation tape
Thin rope (DNN) - this was meant to be carried on the trip but I forgot
One water bottle
Attached To Bike

Park Tool half pint pump (didn’t use but borrowed Rana’s)
Combination cable lock
2 bottles

Oh !! I forgot my fat wallet that got skinny by the end of the trip. It was inside the belt pouch :-)

What I Learnt

I carried what I carried because I was going to Darjeeling Himalaya where rain at any point of time regardless of season or month is a real possibility. That it did not rain during our rides is a huge blessing that the cycling God bestowed upon us. If I go to Darjeeling again I will carry exactly these items. But I will not have the belt pouch and two briefs for a 5-day trip is an overkill. 

I need a better pump. I have already ordered it and have put up my Park Tool for sale on facebook. I need better pannier racks and panniers.

I must carry spare nuts as well as bolts. In the Siliguri hotel after the journey I lost a nut from the mud guard. It could have been bad if it had happened on the way.

I did not carry any water filtering system. Must invest in one. We were lucky that nothing happened. But getting an upset tummy in the mountains is very easy.

And after this selfie, I have decided - come what may I am taking my shaving kit in all my future adventure trips :-)


Ten Thinigs I Learnt From My Maiden Cycle Tour

My first multi-day, self supported cycling trip, done in Darjeeling Himalaya (read about it here) was a great learning experience for me. I will write them down here so that a novice, like me, reading it can learn something.


  1. Drink enough water and electrolytes while you ride. Carry as much water as possible and keep your bottles filled. 
  2. Test all your equipment before the trip, particularly the shoes. Don't take out a shoe that has been lying idle for months. Their soles come unstuck. I knew this but yet made the mistake. 
  3. Carry enough small hand towels if you are riding in India where it is not biting cold. Carrying briefs isn't necessary if you have cycling shorts/bibs. Invest in good, self-wicking socks
  4. Carry spare nuts and bolts in sizes relevant for your bike. It's very easy to lose them on the journey, particularly when setting the bike up in the hotel room. I carried a few #4 bolts but no nuts. I lost a nut from the mudguard after the tour was over. If it happened on the tour, I would probably have to throw the mudguard away. If you do not use mudguards then you possibly don't need nuts. Also next time I will periodically check the tightness of the nuts and bolts.
    Hardware set of my mudguards
  5. Make sure the hotel you are pre-booked (if at all) in the next town is on the highway or easy to locate/reach. I always do this when travelling by car. In fact I hardly ever pre-book a hotel while travelling. In Kurseong my friend had booked a resort through his client. It was free but he had no clue exactly how far away from the highway it was. I also forgot to bother about it.
  6. We discovered it was at the end of a very very steep winding road where it was not only impossible to climb up, even cycling down could be fatal. We had to ferry our bike in a taxi. 
  7. Best strategy is to arrive early and find a place, provided you are going to a normal tourist destination. Research on available accommodation in a small town in advance but don't book anything. Don't assume anything about availability or existence of homestays or small hotels in a small place. We arrived in Mungpoo thinking it would be a small but touristy village full of home stays. In the central market area of the village we were told homestays were behind us and no one knew if there would be any homestay further down the road. 
  8. Average villagers have no clue about their next town or even what is there in their own small village.
  9. The homestay that is prominently present on google map may not exist. Don't bank on it. Find out in advance.
  10. Take items sensibly keeping in mind the weather, the area and the season. Don't overdo or underdo it. I think I was just adequately equipped for the tour. My friend was not. To him weight was a big issue, something that I completely ignored. Here is a list of items I carried on my maiden trip

Darjeeling Ride Statistics

While on our ride Rana and I used different apps to record our activities. I used Strava. Rana used Map My Run. Here are the screen shots and links which will give you some idea about what to expect in terms of gradient and time. Before analysing remember the following things

Rana is a more accomplished and younger rider than me. So his statistics and mine are not comparable. You decide where you stand and estimate your times accordingly. Also, my Strava possibly stopped working temporarily on the Kurseong to Ghum section resulting in ridiculously wrong data. So don't bank on that.

You might find differences in our elevation gain between Rana and my records. There might be two possible explanations for this - A. the two apps use different technologies to estimate time, distance and elevation. B. We might have started and switched off the app at different places and not exactly from the same spot.

Whatever the case may be - these statistics are meant to help you arrive at a rough estimate, if you ever consider doing this trip.







Here are the links to my Strava ride statistics


The Kurseong to Ghum section is evidently not correct 




Covers Only Ghum To Darjeeling - One Way






The Last Ride Together


My Bike For Darjeeling 2019



I used a Surly Long Haul Trucker for my Darjeeling trip of 2019. It was almost new when I went, with about 600 kms on the odo. I will give here a brief description of the bike, in case you are interested. 

My Surly is almost stock (although I bought it in late 2018, it's a 2014 model as per the frame number) except a few critical components. Let me first give you a brief introduction to the various components that I changed, hopefully for the better. A stock Surly LHT comes with cantilever rim brakes, 9x3 gears and bar end shifters. None of these were tinkered with.  

The first thing I bought for the Surly was a touring pedal. It was a pair of MKS pedals. It's a very famous pedal in the touring circuit. Its all metal construction makes it very durable. I think it will survive a nuclear holocaust. 

My next upgrade was a Probike Griffon saddle. It's made by Shimano. On the Darjeeling ride it performed pretty well. Of course I had burning bums after 4/5 hours on it. But that's not the saddle's fault. I have since switched over to Brooks B17, more for its aesthetics and reputation in the touring circuit. 

Just prior to the trip I changed my tyres to Schwalbe Marthon Tour Plus - both front and rear. Although I was not very happy with the old stock of tyre that they sold me, it behaved pretty well on the road. Touch wood, there was no puncture during the trip. 

I also changed the stock Tektro brake pads and replaced them with KoolStop because I knew there would lot of steep climb downs, particularly the section from Ghum to Rambibazaar via Mungpoo. And if it rains better brakes would be even more critical. Koolstop dual rubber brake pads are reputed to be very good. The brakes behaved pretty well. I have no complaints. I kept the Tektro pads as my spare. 

Apart from these I added a few things like a rear carrier and three bottle cages (had to take off one as it fouls against the mudguard). I bought these from B-twin. I didn't want to invest a lot of money into the carrier because a big brand pannier rack like Tubus or Surly would cost me the equivalent of an entry level bicycle. I wasn't too sure at that time if bicycle touring would suit me. Now that I know it will, I will have to invest in a rack and panniers. 

To add to the look and feel of a touring bike and also to save myself from getting sprayed by mud, I installed a pair of SKS Bluemels mudguards. I cannot say I like them. They are plastic and look very flimsy. I will possibly invest in a pair of stainless steel Velo Orange mudguards.