Though it may seem grubby at first, the quiet hill station of Kalimpong, 50km east of Darjeeling, has much to offer, including a colourful market, an extraordinary profusion of orchids and other flowers, great views of Kanchenjunga, several monasteries and lots of potential for walks in the surrounding hills, which are still home to the original Lepcha community. Like Darjeeling, Kalimpong once belonged to Sikkim, and later to Bhutan. Unlike Darjeeling, however, this was never a tea town or resort but a trading centre on the vital route to Tibet. Despite a large military presence, Kalimpong’s recent history has been one of neglect, decaying infrastructure and water shortage. A deep-rooted dissatisfaction has simmered for several years, spearheaded by the Gurkhaland movement, but political uncertainties and wildcat strikes have not detracted from Kalimpong’s charm. The earthquake in September 2011 devastated parts of the town, but today its quiet leafy avenues offer a breath of fresh air after the razzmatazz of Darjeeling.
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