Icche Gaon is a serene village in the lap of pristine Himalayan hills located in North Bengal, near Kalimpong. The village is surrounded by cloudy bluish-green hills, pine trees, and chirping birds. The village is a trekkers paradise and perfect weekend gateway from the mundane urban life.
Icche Gaon – when I first heard about this village name, the only song swirling in my mind was ‘Icche, Icche…,’ the Tagore song from the famous dance drama ‘Tasher Desh’.
In Bengali, the word ‘icche’ means wish; to feel a strong desire or want for something that may or may not happen. I just imagined, if the name of the village itself is this beautiful, then how the place would be actually?
Of course, it was an unplanned trip like every time my partner and I do, on whims, wish-driven. Maybe I liked the name more because I am like that; moody, whimsical, happy-go-lucky, a free soul. Somehow, I felt connected to the place. And visiting Icche Gaon was indeed a wish-fulfillment.
The journey begins
Life is full of unpredictable but at times it pops up with amazing surprises. In 2020, during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, the major time we spent stuck between the four walls. So, almost after a year or so, we decided to take out our backpacks and step out to explore. Probably, people like us were having the same plan as ours. Hence, we could not find any suitable train tickets.
Then the other public transportation option available was the bus. We didn’t waste any more time and kind of grabbed it and booked our tickets for Kolkata-Siliguri to and fro. These air-conditioned Volvo buses with different rate charts and facilities like sleeper, push-back seats were enough to cater to our needs, without hurting the pocket. But train tickets are still no match considering the fare price. After all these, one hot and humid March evening we started from Kolkata.
On the next morning, we got down at Pani Tanki More, Siliguri; where the cars and buses for Kalimpong start from. Bus tickets are much cheaper compared to car fares. However, considering the current pandemic scenario and comfort, we booked our tickets in a Bolero. The ticket fares vary depending on the seat you choose. Front seats are slightly costlier than the rear ones, but we opted for that as it would give a better view throughout the journey.
The feel-good vibe
The journey from Siliguri to Kalimpong takes around four hours plus-minus. Going through the tea estate surrounded by carpet-like roads, the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, the silver stream of Teesta river, and the bluish-green hills here sprinkle some magic in the air. As we reached the Coronation Bridge, the mobile network already started fluctuating. We were supposed to connect with the home-stay owner at Icche Gaon, after reaching this place. But our mobile networks betrayed.
The sixty-plus driver of our Bolero helped us here by sharing his mobile. I think the people here have the most beautiful souls. Hills here make them better human beings with their secret remedies. While chatting, he told us that the name Kalimpong was earlier known as Kaliwung, just like Darjeeling was earlier known as Dorzee-ling. As I reached Kalimpong, it was absolutely different than the Kalimpong I visited almost 12 years back. Now, it’s all crowded, chaotic, and the concrete blocks everywhere.
The wish fulfillment
Roads to Icche Gaon or ‘wish village’ start here. But remember that there is no public transportation available. So, before you leave for Icche Gaon, book your vehicle. Otherwise, it can be hectic. We booked ours through our homestay owner. He uses his personal car for ferrying his guests. This will cost you a little much, as there is no choice for shared mobility, but the comfort and warmth are guaranteed for sure.
Anyway, we started for Icche Gaon. From Kalimpong to Icche Gaon it is nearly an hour drive. The beautiful spiral hill roads, series of pine trees, colourful homes, and even the colourfully dressed people here create a picture-perfect view overall. The breeze here is chilly, the air is fresh, and lush green is so welcoming.
Unscathed by the city life, Icche Gaon has no star-rated hotels here. But what it has, is worth reenergizing you, and is worth making you feel comfortable and at home. Life here is not easy but beautiful. No market, no school, no hospital in 20 km peripheral of this parish. Merely 20-25 families living in this hill-top small village, with loads of greens, pastel-colored houses, eye-catching breeds of orchids, dianthus, morning glories, hydrangea, variants of succulents, clouds like cats and dogs, and hills around – it’s enough to take away all the worries, and mundaneness of life.
People here grow their own crops, sustain on hills and protect the hills. The majority of the elderly population here didn’t get a chance to go to school, but they are more knowledgeable than any so-called literate city people. Life has taught them so much. They know how to protect nature, they know how to care. People here never used plastics, before the tourists step in. Even now as well, they try to keep the village as clean as possible from the plastic and other garbages, that seasonal urban tourists like us throw away here and there. This is something, we should learn from these people.
As I already said, there is no hotel or resort-like facility at Icche Gaon. Home-stays are the only choice with lovely families around, sharing their rooms, roofs, and foods. Being a foodie, we really don’t mind tasting any authentic cuisine or beverages of any place, wherever we go.
So, here we tasted Gundruk, Ningro, and Shushni.
Gundruk is basically a soup made from crushed mustard leaves, can be taken with rice, or can be tasted separately as well. Ningro is a vegetable that looks like a rounded up millipede. Never mind, it actually tastes like maybe ivy gourd, but slightly bitter on the tastebuds. It grows naturally on the hill slopes. We had fried Ningro with roti for breakfast. Shushni is another green leafy vegetable that we know as clover. The aboriginals here believe that these vegetables have some medicinal benefits such as curing hypertension, improving bone health, and many more.
Bamboo pickle was the other thing that I really liked in Icche Gaon. Although, this was not the first time I had bamboo pickle. And how can I forget about the oven-fresh hot and juicy momos, served with the homemade pickle? Most importantly, whatever they serve here is mostly homegrown. Hence fresh. The firewood-cooked country chicken can easily be described as finger-licking good. Among the local beverages, the homestay owner himself has made red cherry wine at home. It was strong, and tangy in taste. Having the wine with fritters in the evening while sitting under the starry sky with the chilly breeze coming from the hills back was a truly surreal experience.
We were strolling through the village and the peripherals, went to the picture-perfect Ramitey Dara viewpoint, Tinchuley. At Ramitey, one can see the airplanes flying to and fro Pakyong airport at an altitude below the spot. Yes, it is a truly interesting view you don’t get to see always. But before you start, check the timings from the locals. Usually, it is just twice a day, you can experience this beautiful view.
Teesta is another beauty, ornamenting the Himalayan foothill like a silver anklet. Cinchona, Pine, Conifer, Cardamom, and Champa are very common in this forest. You might see some cherry trees as well along the trail.
One can also trek to Sillery Gaon. Other popular destinations here are Reshikhola, Pedong, Delo Park, Hanuman temple, etc. Majestic Mt. Kanchenjunga can be seen from Icche Gaon itself, if not cloudy though. If you are planning for Silk Route, you can easily start from or end your journey at Icche Gaon.
It was a wonderful trip to the hills after so long time. The hills have changed a lot from the last time I visited there, but the true beauty lies in the beholders eye.
(All the photographs were clicked by the author.)
Also Read: Hills now and hills then: Changing faces of homestay tourism and Teesta river