Mirik Memories

S Balakrishnan *

 Tourism folder of 1984
Tourism folder of 1984

Memories of the Mirik Lake stirred within me by a 1984 tourism folder. I was on a trip from Gangtok, where I was working, to Darjeeling during the Dashain festive season of 1984. Durga Puja is called Dashain by the Nepalis as the festivities continue for ten full days.

I closed my Darjeeling sojourn with a trip to Tiger Hill view point at 4 AM on 6th Oct. 1984 (Saturday); but the clouds disappointed me by hiding the sunrise, Mt. Everest and Mt. Khangchendzonga, world’s No. 1 and No. 3 tallest peaks. To soothe my disappointment I drank a cup of hot coffee; not the authentic South Indian filter coffee but the instant variety.

What can you expect for 1.50 rupees at that height of 8,500 ft.! To this day this remains as the highest coffee I had, I mean, coffee at the highest point. The Tourism Dept. vehicle then took the group of tourists to Ghoom Gompa (Buddhist Monastery) of Maitreya, the Coming Buddha, the famous Batasia Loop of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways’ Toy Train, and then dumped us back in Darjeeling town, for Rs.14 per head.

Packing my things, I took a seat in a share taxi for my next halt in Mirik. The fare was 30 rupees, while in jeep/landrover, packed like sardines, one had to pay only half that rate (Rs.13-16). The bus fare for this distance of 49 kms was a further half - 6.50 rupees.

Luckily I got the window seat and not packed in between two passengers. During the 2 1/2 hours (9 1/2 am - 12 noon) journey, I could enjoy the scenery and click a few shots as well - two boys trimming the furry coat of their Lhasa Apso puppy and girls merrily swinging as part of Dashain celebrations. The temporary swing had been erected specially for the festive occasion with bamboo poles.

Mirik is almost equidistance from the Darjeeling Hills and the Siliguri Plains, on the 100-km-long alternative route between these two places. The name Mirik is derived from the Lepcha words Mir-Yok, meaning "place burnt by fire".

Lepchas are an ethnic tribe of Sikkim and the adjoining Darjeeling Hills, which was once part of the Sikkim Kingdom. Mirik is the headquarters of Mirik subdivision that comes under Darjeeling District in West Bengal.

Mirik Lake
Mirik Lake

The main attraction of Mirik is the Sumendu Lake. It is surrounded by the Savitri Pushpaudyan garden (after Savitri Thapa, a martyr soldier of INA) on one side and pine trees (Cryptomaria Japonica) on the other bank. An eight-foot-long arching footbridge ‘Indreni Pool’ (named after Indreni Thapa, another martyr soldier of INA) connects both the sides.

A 3.5-km-long road encircles the 1.25 km long lake; as one walks along this path Mt. Khangchendzonga gives darshan on the far horizon. The lake has a maximum depth of 26 ft. Thank goodness, I did not slip into it! You would have missed enjoying this masterpiece.

The Sumendu Lake, better known as Mirik Lake, was beautiful as well as peaceful when I arrived at the end of Puja Holidays. The holidayers had almost left for their destinations; so peace had returned to the tourist spots. I hate crowds, especially noisy crowds. I took a room for 40 rupees for 24 hours in Park Hotel, close to the Lake. So it was quite cold.

The Lake is at an elevation of about 1,494 m (4,902 ft), which is the lowest point of Mirik. The average altitude of Mirik Town is 1495 m; the Bokar Buddhist Monastery is at the highest altitude of 1,768 m (5,801 ft).

After the hectic sightseeing in Darjeeling, I had a relaxing walk around the Mirik Lake and then to the Debisthan Temple. I had a leisurely lunch at Manjusha Restaurant. Rice with chicken curry cost 8 rupees. After roaming around in the little bazaar of Mirik in the evening, I settled down in my room and packed my things.

The Sumendu Lake area was actually a marsh land with abundant growth of sweet flag (Acorus calamus, locally called bojho). The present garden area was where the British officers played polo. With many tea estates surrounding Mirik, the place slowly grew into a commercial centre of the region.

Land acquisition to develop this area began in 1969 by acquiring 335 acres from Thurbo Tea Estate. But the developmental work began only in 1974 and this lake was inaugurated in April 1979.

Mirik must have changed a lot in these 40 years. It can be visited almost round the year, though the winter would be definitely cold. Boating and pony riding facilities are available now. Besides the Lake, Mirik offers several view points for enjoying sunrise, sunset, and landscapes; it is surrounded by many tea estates, orange orchards and big cardamom plantations; a few monasteries and temples are also situated in & around Mirik.

After a breakfast of bread toast and double omelette for Rs. 6.10, I boarded the 8.30 AM bus for Siliguri Town in the plains which is an important base for travelling to Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, besides Darjeeling. It has the railway station, bus terminus and airport at Bagdogra. The bus fare then was 7 rupees, which is now ten times more, i.e., 70 rupees.

Reaching Siliguri by 11 AM, I realized I would be stranded the whole day if I tried going by bus to my destination Gangtok. People returning after Puja holidays were scrambling for bus ticket. Luckily I met my friends (Hariharan of SBI and others of Ponds’); we all teamed up, hired a taxi up to Singtam (Rs. 50 each) and from there another taxi to Gangtok (Rs. 15 each). When we finally reached Gangtok it was 7 1/2 PM, on time for overnight rest and work from Monday.

I think it is time I said goodbye to the 40-year-old Mirik tourism folder of 1983, now that I have recorded my Mirik Memories for posterity. This old folder of West Bengal Tourism Dept. has this interesting information about conducted tour by luxury coach from Siliguri to Mirik & back at a cost of Rs. 38 (same day without food). The charge was Rs .33/- each from Darjeeling to Mirik & back (same day and without food).

Await my next Mirik Memories about Mirik villlages in Iran and Azerbaijan as well.

* S Balakrishnan wrote this article for
The writer is from Chennai and can be reached at krishnanbala2004(AT)yahoo(DOT)co(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on November 28 2023.

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