A Journey to Remember: Manebhanjan to Lamey Dhura

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The Land Rover in snow
Land Rover in Sandakphu route

“Stay here tonight. I will take you back tomorrow.”

Lakshman Tamang daju (brother in Nepalese) had a bright smile on his face and said these words very politely, while we were sipping a very hot black tea at the Sherpa Hotel in Lamey Dhura. 

Lakshman daju also knew that we didn’t have any plans to spend the night there. But his words marked his characteristic generosity and warmth towards tourists like us. 

We had just arrived at Lamey Dhura from Manebhanjan in Lakshman daju’s Land Rover. The Land Rover is the King of Singalila roads. 

Incidentally, I had worked on some research on the Land Rover vehicle a few years ago. Since then, I have been meaning to ride one of these beasts. Little did I imagine that the dream of riding one of these would be fulfilled sooner. 

Lamey Dhura in winter

There was snowfall in Darjeeling town last afternoon. The 15 minute snowfall didn’t last long in the main town of Darjeeling but we became quite sure that there would be massive snow accumulation in the Manebhanjan-Sandakphu route. 

We had planned to go up to Tumling, enjoy some snow and come back to Manebhanjan. But the plan was shattered right at the beginning when we were told by Singalila Land Rovers Association that cars would go only as far as Lamey Dhura, five kilometres away. 

—“So, can we see some snow?”

—“dada, why are you so disappointed? The car will take you to a point that’s all covered with snow.” The person sitting and writing the receipts at the Association office reassured us. 

The Land Rover rate is fixed by the association. We had to pay Rupees 1000/- for a to-and-fro journey from Manebhanjan to Lameydhura and back. 

Lakshman daju was waiting for us. We went and sat in his fifty year old Car. 

Driving in Singalila route in winter

In my more than two decades of experience of journeying through the mountains, I had never seen these types of steep hairpin bends, which we encountered after starting from Manebhanjan. The bends are almost at 90 degree angles. After crossing five such bends one after another, the road became normal for a very brief period and once again the bends started. 

I understood why these Land Rovers are considered the king of this route. Briefly, I returned to my research days, when I had collected a whole lot of information on these cars. 

Land Rovers was brought to these hills by tea planters

These famous Land Rovers were brought to these hills during the 1950s by British tea planters who chose to stay back after Independence. They were used as the mode of transportation in the tea gardens of Darjeeling. By the 1960s, the British left but the Land Rovers remained. 

Among these, some three hundred odd vehicles were brought to Manebhanjan and rest went to Darjeeling. During the 60s and 70s, they were used to transport people between Siliguri and Darjeeling. 

Gradually the local youth saw a prospect of livelihood in these vintage beauties.  Now Land Rovers can only be associated with Singalila, Sandakphu, Phalut. 

My granny recollected riding a Land Rover during a visit to Darjeeling in the 1960s with my grandpa and their five children. They had used the vehicle for a trip to Tiger Hill from Ghoom, in the wee hours of the dawn.

Playing in the snow

“Enjoy the view of the Sleeping Buddha.” Lakshman’s words brought me back to the present. He had stopped the car suddenly and wanted us to enjoy the view of the Kanchenjunga. But snow was nowhere to be seen. 

Well, our final destination was still two kilometres away. We had just reached Chitrey. 

I had heard about Sleeping Buddha, and saw its photos also. But to experience the magnificent scene in my own eyes, was really a dream come true for me. 

The position of Kanchenjunga and its partners here are such that together they look like a giant reclining Lord Buddha. 

After a five-minute stoppage here we resumed our journey and slowly we started entering the snowy wonderland. 

The Sleeping Buddha

In no time, the land was totally covered with white snow. The road is also covered with snow. The wheels of the Land Rover were skidding but still Lakshman Daju was unperturbed. 

Finally we reached Lameydhura and he stopped his car in front of the Sherpa Hotel. It is located at an altitude of a little over 8,500 feet above sea level. 

I often visit the Himalayas but after a long time, I experienced this much snow. The entire area was covered with a very thick blanket of snow. My dad, who is 67, started to play with the snow. He was making snowballs and threw them around. 

Tourists in Lamey Dhura

—“Sir, you didn’t wish to stay here, so we have to leave now.” Lakshman reminded us.

The stay in Lameydhura was really short, but it was a lifetime experience. 

As the Land Rover started its climb down to Manebhanjan, Lakshman daju said, “Sir, come to Sandakphu in March. The flowers (rhododendron) will bloom. The place will look beautiful.”

And so, we made up our minds to visit again to see the Rhododendron bloom in March. 

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