The main access to the village is a 13-km road that seems more a rocky riverbed than a pathway. In a way, this has left Chuikhim to languish in a hypnotic time warp. A gentler route is via Kalimpong, but that is longer and less-travelled.
Of course, this sense of delicious timelessness is barely reflected in the daily life of the residents, who wake up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows, till their fields, cook on wood fires and tend to hearth, home and garden.
One of the spidery trails through the surrounding forest leads to the river Juranti, where the Indradhanush Chuikhim Earth Festival was kickstarted last November with the wail of the naumatti, a curved horn-like instrument, the clash of cymbals and devotional songs addressed to Durga. Literacy India, a non-profit organisation started by Indraani Singh, a pilot with Air India, organised the festival not only to showcase the many talents of this quiet land, but also to give the hard-working villagers a few days’ break to watch a game or two of football, and dance.
Children and alabaster-skinned women with petal eyes went dressed in stunning costumes: the brocade silks and jaunty caps worn by the Tamang people from Kalimpong, the gaily-patterned red and black wraparound pleated skirts and sleeved blouses (chobandi) of the Chuikhim lasses were teamed with gold cardboard jewellery. Costumed girls and boys from Mumpel, Barbat, Charkhol, Samthar and Khupigaon streamed in to play instruments like violins, flutes and drums, and dance choreographed pieces such as the snow lion dance and the yak dance.
We also whiled our time away at Lolegaon, 24 km away, with the Kanchenjunga at an arm’s stretch. Chuikhim is an ideal extension to a Darjeeling-Kalimpong holiday especially for those seeking a tranquil getaway without tourists posing Bollywood-style against flaming sunsets. On our way back to Mumbai, we rewarded ourselves with one night in paradise, at the Damdim Tea Estate, embedded in tea plantations as green as a parrot’s wing.
While we enjoyed the guest house’s refined colonial charms, it was Chuikhim that we dreamt of. Lazy dawns, roosters calling across the hills, lowing of cows and the sight of the Lees river, the colour of liquid cement, slipping away to an ocean far away.
We fell off the map, and fell into a wonderland trapped in amber.
Your guide at a glance
Getting there: Chuikhim is located at a height of 3,500 ft, in the Kalimpong hills of north Paschimbanga. The nearest airport is Bagdogra and the nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (NJP). Hire a jeep (fare around Rs 1,500) to Chuikhim. The 13-km uphill road after Bagrakote winds bumpily through a forest.
Best time to visit: October to April
Where to stay: Chuikhim has a handful of home stays that are clean and picturesque. The tariff is Rs 600 per day,
What to see: Chuikhim is dotted with attractive little homes scattered across the hills and lush valleys which have been terraced for cultivation. One can go trekking down to the Lees river or indulge in bird watching in the forest. Sunrise Point is a great spot to watch what the sun in its fiery burst of colours. Drive to Lolegaon (24 km away) to gaze at Kanchenjunga or to Charkole to see more of the Himalaya