Karmi Farm: A Hidden Beauty In the Himalayas
By Partha De Sarkar
Karmi Farm lies in a northwesterly direction from Darjeeling on the border of West Sikkim, Nepal and Bhutan. It lies at an altitude of 4,500ft in the foothills of the Himalaya with a perfect climate for hill walking. It is 90 minutes drive from Darjeeling.
We met Burt and Nancy Cohen of Johannesburg, South Africa, on the lobby of Hotel Sinclair. They were bubbly couple on honeymoon and had spent a week at Karmi Farm. When I asked them “Why Karmi Farm?”
This is what they had to say: “Because it is blissfully solitary where there are no fast cars, no fast life style where even e-mails don’t reach and most amazing thing is there is absolutely no routine to follow.”
Nancy added, “We were in another world where modern amenities are there but modern life is absent. You will live on organic food only.” We decided to go to this hidden destination. Another thing fascinated us. Karmi Farm’s clientele is mostly from Europe or America. We didn’t know of any Indian destination where more foreigners came than Indians did.
Climate & Weather
Karmi Farms lies at 4,500ft at the foothills of the Himalayas with a perfect climate for hill walking.
September to mid-December…clear sunny days with great view of mountains.
Mid December to January…a little unsettled with some rain. Nights can be very cold.
February to may… spring time. Starts to warm up again with more sunny days. Rhododendrons forests and other Himalayan floors are in full bloom.
June to September …Monsoon
It is a private property and accommodation is available at Karmi Farm only. There are 5 double bed rooms, 3 en-suits and 2 single rooms.
Andrew Pulgar Frame, the present owner of Karmi Farm, is the grand son of Raja Tenduk Pulgar of an ancient Lepcha tribe and son of a Scottish father. Raja Tenduk Pulgar was looking for a place to own a farmhouse. He was trekking for days from Darjeeling and ultimately reached the place where present farm is located. It was love at first sight and his search ended. He began farming here. Trekkers still followed the route Raja Tenduk had taken to reach Karmi Farm. It takes about 6 to 7 days to reach Karmi Farm from Darjeeling by trek. Locals told us that the trek passed through scenically very beautiful landscapes.
The winter of 2004 of Sikkim and Darjeeling had been severe and we needed some warm sun. Karmi Farm, being at height of 4500 ft, was the right place. We walked down the Laden La Road to Samsara Tours who had handled the tour of Cohen. Samsara’s representative disappointed us when he told that since it was the peak season, we would not, in all probability, get an accommodation at Karmi Farm. We were carrying our tents and sleeping bags and were determined to visit the place. So, without being deterred, we began our drive to Karmi Farm at around 10 p.m. IST.
We drove through some of the most picturesque tea estates of the region and with the backdrop of the green hills, our journey was excellent though the road condition was at times horrifying. Towards the end of the journey, our Suzuki Gypsy struggled hard to negotiate narrow and practically a cart road. We had constant company of local boys running along side the vehicle. We were amazed at their stamina and at last decided to take them up in our Gypsy. We stopped a little short of the place and walked 5 minutes to reach Karmi Farm. Farmhouse was a large home that dominated a patch of the hillside.
At Karmi Farm
As feared, Karmi Farm had no accommodation but the owner Andrew Pulgar-Frame asked us to wait till afternoon. If we were lucky, the guests who were to arrive might fail to do so for so many reasons. Otherwise, we could pitch our tent on the lawn for night.
We had lunch that we had carried from Darjeeling and then went up the balcony. The panoramic view from the balcony was absolutely stunning. Trees tightly covered the slopes as far as we could see. Sun was brightly reclining over the blue hills to the west. Terraced fields on the lower slopes where the farmers had raised their crops broke the lush green duvet of nature.
We could see Buddhist prayer flags fluttering at a distance. A light breeze was blowing across the hills. Karmi Farm representative who had gone to Darjeeling to get provisions and E-mail returned with the news that no guest would arrive that day but might arrive the next day.
So we could occupy one double room for the night. We were delighted. While waiting for the good news at the veranda of the farm, we could see at a distance snowcapped Mt. Narsing in West Sikkim as soon as the day time haze had lifted.
Exploring Karmi Farm
Still there was some sunlight time left. We parked ourselves in our room and walked out of the farmhouse. We were in an alpine walking country. We saw a pair of Grey throated Babbler and a Black Eagle. We descended where farmers were working in their field while Tibetan music entertained them. Some farmers approached us and asked the news of the outside world. They were very friendly lots. We came to know that some of them had stuck long lasting friendship with visitors. We walked to local monastery where we met extremely friendly Lamas, old and young.
Day light of eastern India falls fast. Back at farmhouse, while talking to the other guests, we had our first taste of heady local brew called “Chaang”. We had dinner of freshly picked organic vegetables and farm-fresh bread.
It was clear to us that atmosphere of the Farm was that of total relaxation where there were no fixed time for anything. Guests decided what they would like to do for the day on how they felt in the morning. We saw some were spending a day just sitting on the verandah or someone taking his favourite book to a slope and sitting under a pine, reading. But most goes ahead with aimless walks into the pine and maple forests carrying packed picnic baskets given by the Farm.
At the crack of the dawn, we walked out of the farmhouse. Just outside the farm, we sighted a flock of Speckled Piculet and a single Northern Goshawk.We were among the cultivated terraces. Out here in the hills and villages, the people had to look after themselves growing their own crops and then bartering with neighbors. We saw water trickling down the bamboo piping to the farm, bringing crystal clear water.
There were children walking to their school. It amazed us to learn those boys and girls of the age of 7 and older walked 2 hours to reach their school and walked 2-hours back at the end of the school. We saw children were as nimble footed as mountain goats.
Suddenly two eight-foot walking bushes appeared on the trail. They were farmers carrying freshly cut fodder for their cattle.
After a while we stopped at a tea stall and had steaming cups of tea. The shop was also selling some sweets but we did not take any. Friendly shopkeeper had been to Calcutta once and as soon as he learnt that we were from that city, he eagerly asked about it and football. We came to the local primary school with only three classrooms. Children greeted us with “namaste”, the Hindi salutation. We could make out that they were accustomed with visitors from outside world even at this isolated place. They talked to us freely in English and some broken Hindi.
We walked on around terraced fields into the valley across to the region of Sikkim. We could see distant mountains where one could trek to Sandakphu or Phalut, 12000ft up on the Indo-Nepal border. These treks last up to six or seven days staying in trekkers’ huts. Descending further we came to small house where an old man invited us in. The lady of the house had a fancy nose ring dangling over her lips and her hands were full of solid silver bangles.
Their 2-room home was made of wood, with walls and floor cast with clay. We were offered ‘Rankshy’, a home made spirit. It was the result of single distillations of ‘Chaang’ and tasted like watery Vodka. Hospitality made up for the watery spirit.
We had descended continuously since leaving Karmi Farm. We now rested sitting under pine trees where we took out our packed lunch provided by the farm. Lunch was potato and peas curry, boiled eggs, salad and bread. Now we faced long climb but we set a comfortable pace. So the journey back was not laborious. We stopped from time to time. Back at Karmi Farm, we were greeted with the news that we had our room at disposal for the night. So we avoided a night drive to Kalimpang.
With great regret we left this mountain hideaway. Karmi Farm was different where we broke away from daily mill and recharged our energy in a totally secluded place. We promised to return again.
How to reach
Nearest Airport is Bagdogra and it is directly connected to Delhi and Calcutta.
Other charges for a couple and an exclusive transport for 3 days at Karmi Farm will cost $350-450
Once at Karmi Farm, you are totally cut off from outside world. Even e-mails are collected once a week from Darjeeling.
For reservation email at email@example.com
Partha De Sarkar, born on 2nd August 1942, served in the Indian Air Force as an officer for years and on retirement he is a freelance writer on travel and defense-related matters