Latpanchar - A Bird Watcher's Paradise
Not many have heard about this place. Because for some strange reason, Latpanchar hasn't had much tourism development. This is despite the fact that it's a beautiful mountain hamlet offering stunning views including that of Kanchenjunga, having wide range of bird & animal life as well as many different types of amazing plantations.
Latpanchar (also pronounced as Latpanchor)
Latpanchar is a village within Sittong-III Panchayat and is nestled in Kurseong hills. It actually forms the highest part of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
with an average altitude of about 4,200 ft. Since it's part of the sanctuary, there is good chance that you will come across some wildlife here like deer, barking deer, wild boars, and some times even leopards and elephants while exploring the jungles around.
From New Jalpaiguri (NJP), Latpanchar is at a distance of about 45kms and takes about one hour 45 minutes by car. You will need to take the Sevoke road. Once you reach the place Kalijhora (after about 1 hour 15 minute's drive), there is a narrow winding road that goes uphill on the left. From this point Latpanchar is another 13kms, the last stretch is quite steep. There is hardly any traffic on this narrow road, but often the road is not well maintained and gets full with potholes, particularly during monsoon time.
Even during peak tourist season in Darjeeling, you will hardly find any tourists here, giving you all the peace and tranquility that you are looking for along with bounty full of nature. In fact, the footfall in Latpanchar is far lesser than the rest of Sittong.
A local dispensary at Latpanchar
If you plan to explore the forest, you should take a guide from the village. A narrow boulder road winds down to the sanctuary (about 5kms away). You can choose to walk (most do so) or take a jeep. Once in the sanctuary, it will take about 2 hours of walk to explore. Many come here to relax and experience the rich bird life along with the scenic beauty in and around the hamlet. Birding guides are also available.
There are a few homestays here run by local families that offer simple rooms with basic amenities, but they also offer great hospitality & care. There is also a Forest Rest House known as Latkothi at the jungle (about 4kms below) which has two nice rooms. This used to be the bungalow where the British officers in the early 1900s stayed while looking after the expansive Cinchona Plantations around.
There is close to 1,400 acres of cinchona plantations in the area. Cinchona plants are used for extracting quinine to treat diseases like malaria. There are several Cinchona extraction factories located in the area.
Although Latpanchar is a small & sleepy mountain village, you will be surprised to find three English medium schools here for children. While the villagers here mostly live on Cinchona plantation work and other basic farming activities, the children have been receiving good education in the schools.
What to see & do in Latpanchar
Take a nature walk
Walking towards and through the Cinchona plantations is a pleasure and wonderful experience. The meandering road passes through forests of sal, teak, pine and dense Cinchona. Take a morning stroll... you will love it.
Visit the Ahal Dara Viewpoint located on a hilltop. You can take a car, go up to its base (about 5kms from Latpanchar village), and walk up the boulder path to the top (about 400 meters). There is a check post at the entry and a ticket counter. If you want to walk all the way from the entry, then you pay Rs. 10/- per person. As you walk, you can see Cinchona Planataions on both side of the boulder road that leads up to the top.
If you want to take your car inside, then you pay Rs. 50/- (bikes Rs. 20/-) and not other fees. Vehicles can go up to a point after which you will need to walk uphill anyway (for about 100 meters). From the viewpoint you can get spectacular view of Kanchenjunga peaks on a clear day. Look below and you can see the lower reaches of the forests on mountain slopes and the river Teesta flowing as far as Haldibari in Bagladesh.
Ahaldara View Point
You can also see Gangtok and Kalimpong townships from here and even the famous Silk Route
through which once trade took place between India and Tibet. There used to be long line of mules carrying loads across the border along the Silk Route. However most come to Ahaldara View Point to watch the stunning sunrise.
If you want, you can also stay here right next to the viewpoint. At Ahal Dara Viewpoint, few cottages have been built as tourist accommodations. I have discussed that under Lodging and Accommodations in Latpanchar
From the base of Ahaldara View point the main road continues and leads to a lake called Namthing Lake through Cinchona plantations and pine trees. It is locally known as Namthing Pokhri and is 1km away from Ahaldara base. The lake is located within the Shelpu Hills at an altitude of 4,000ft. The lake is surrounded by dense pine trees andon a clear day when the lake is full with water, the setting is like that of a picture postcard.
Locals say that you won't find a single leaf floating on the water despite so many trees around the lake. They say, if a leaf falls on the water, birds will fly in and take it away. In fact, I myself couldn't see any leaf on the water. The water here can be up to 3 meters deep during the monsoon. However during the summer season and when winter approaches, the lake becomes completely dry.
Other than many different types of Himalayan birds, flora and fauna, this lake area is well known for the rare Himalayan Salamander (small lizard like creatures). A board here says not to swim at the lake and disturb the creatures. Jorpokhri
is the only other place in Darjeeling district where you can find these creatures.
There is a newly built Buddhist monastery known as Latpanchar Mahni Choikhorling Gonpa located within Latpanchar village. The striking three-storey structure with vibrant colors has been inspired from both Tibetan and Nepali architecture. There is a flurry of colors used both in the exterior as well as in the interior.
The monastery is located by the roadside. A short ramp from the road leads to a large open patio in front of the building. From the patio you can step into the ground floor of the monastery which is a large prayer room. You will need to take off your shoes before you enter the prayer room.
Inside, it is complete silence. The interior is beautifully done up and there are colorful murals on the ceiling and the beams. The floor is fully marbled. Right in front is a large idol of Buddha and other deities. On both sides of the prayer room, there are short height tables laid out... the lamas sit on the floor, place the Buddhist religious scripts on the tables and read them out. There is a donation box placed at one corner.
There is a stairway outside and you can also go to the first floor. There is no entry fee to the monastery, however, donations are gladly accepted. On the opposite side of the road, there is another building constructed which houses the resident and visiting lamas.
Sarsari Dara Viewpoint
Another view point is Sarsari Dara. This is another place from where you get sweeping views of Kanchenjunga snow peaks, other mountains and the valleys around. You can walk up to this place (about 1.5 kms from the Latpanchar village).
See Animal & Bird Life in Latpanchar
As I mentioned earlier, Latpanchar is part of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
which is well known for its wide range of animals and birds. There are some 36 types of animals and over 240 species of birds which can be spotted here.
Most tourists visit the stretch of forest area between the Forest Rest House (Latkothi) and Raja Rani Hill in order for watching wildlife and birds. However, do not try to venture on your own and take the forested pathway that goes up the Raja Rani Hill because there can be good chances that you can come face to face with dangerous animals like Leopards... you must take a guide and your homestay can arrange that easily.
A Sapphire Flycatcher in Latpanchar
Photo: Debrup Chakraborty, cc-by-sa 4.0
Most common animals include Himalayan black bear, leopards, deer (including barking deer), mountain goats, monkeys, wild boars, and even elephants which often drift to this side. In order to see the most exotic animals, you will need to go to the core area of the sanctuary which is about 6kms walk from the village. You should always take an armed guide with you. Your lodge/homestay in Latpanchar can arrange for the guide.
Among plethora of birds, the commonly seen ones include yuhina, scaly thrush, woodpeckers, black bulbuls, ashy backed shrike, spotted eagles, magpie, minivets, minla, drongo, King Fishers, Robins and if you are lucky, even Himalayan Pied hornbills and of course Rufous Necked Hornbills.
Jogikhola Rock Climbing Spot & Waterfall
Close to the Latpanchar Village and about 600 meters away is this rock climbing spot located by the roadside. During the monsoon time, you can see waterfall in full force gushing down the rocks to its right. The rocks are used by Amateurs and novices to practice rock climbing. It's a picturesque spot for a photo shoot as well.
Visit other parts of Sittong
Although Latpanchar comes under Sitong-3 Mahakuma, Sittong itself extends to other areas like Sitong-1 and Sitong-2. There are beautiful orange orchards in Shelpu Khasmahal which blossom in full with sweet oranges between November and January. There are many orange gardens or orchards here and each has a separate owner. There is a 350 years old Lepcha Buddhist Monastery in Upper Ghalaytar which in mainly mud-built. It once used to be the palace of the Lepcha Queen and now managed by a single lama.
There are also so many beautiful waterfalls in Sittong... Lepcha Falls and Nambung are just two of them. And there are sprawling tea gardens on the rolling hills such as the Mahaldiram Tea Garden and Panch Pokhri Tea Garden. And then there is of course the lovely Jogighat Bridge on Riyang River in a scenic valley setting. If you want to know about all of these in details, then go through Sightseeing in Sittong
Mangpu is another nearby village which is also part of Sittong. It is famous for Rabindra Museum... a bungalow where the poet Rabindranath Tagore came and stayed several times. It is now a museum. Mangpu is also well known for Cinchona Plantations and quinine extraction factories. Go through Mangpu Trip
to get details.
Latpanchar & Sittong Sightseeing Tours
If you stay at Latpanchar, your homestay owner can arrange for a vehicle for you for local sightseeing. Usually, local sightseeing covering Latkothi, Ahaldara Viewpoint, Namthing Lake and a Lepcha Monastery will cost around Rs. 1,400 - 1,500 for a round trip. You can also individually visit the sites and pay separately.
If you want to see other parts of Sittong including Mangpu, you need to stay at Latpanchar or in Sittong area for extra days, take a vehicle from the homestay and visit the places. A small car for a trip to Mahaldiram Tea Garden, Jogighat Bridge, Mangpu, etc will cost around Rs. 2,700 for a full day. (Fare updated: March 2022)
Best Time to visit Latpanchar
October to May is the best time to visit Latpanchar. However winter (December to February) can be quite cold out here. Monsoon (June to September) should be avoided to visit the sanctuary. In fact the sanctuary is closed between June 15 to September 15 ... this is also the animal breeding session.
There are no government operated safaris or guided tours available at this end of the sanctuary (i.e. from Latpanchar). However Private guides are available to take you to the sanctuary for Rs. 500/- while the birding guides are available for Rs. 700/- (these are indicative costs only for a full day guide. Half day guide costs are lesser). There is no separate entry fee to enter the wildlife sanctuary.
Where to stay at Latpanchar
The WBFDC Forest Rest House called Latkothi has two well maintained rooms in the forested area. It is located at a place where the boulder road ends (about 4kms from Latpanchar Village towards the jungle) and is surrounded by dense forest. While the surroundings here is awesome and quite attractive to nature, bird and animal lovers, the service can be quite poor.
You can book the Latpanchar Forest Rest House through Divisional Forest Officer, Wildlife-I, Bengal Natural History Museum, Meadow Bank Road, P.O. & District Darjeeling, PIN 734101
Phone: 0354-2254308; Fax:0354-2257314; Mobile: 09614329694
There are several homestays in Latpanchar that are run by the locals and offer decent accommodations with nice amenities to budget travelers. They usually have a per person rate that includes the lodging and all meals including breakfast, lunch and dinner. These homestays can also arrange for transports and local sightseeing.
One of them is run by Padam Gurung and two of his partners. It's known as Hornbill Nest Homestay which has three triple bedded rooms with attached bathrooms with western style toilets, a nice common balcony with lovely views, and a kitchen dining space serving homemade food.
Ashray Homestay, a two-storey house is run by an ex-Army man, Mr. Jagat Thapa. The host's family stays in the ground floor. Two and three-bedded nice & clean guest rooms are upstairs and surrounded by a common running balcony. Bathrooms have geysers and western style toilets.
Another one is a two-storey Latpanchar Homestay
run by Mr. Subba which too has similar facilities as above. Go through Latpanchar Homestays & Lodgings
for details about these homestays including amenities, service, food and contact information for booking and inquiry.
How to reach Latpanchar
You can take a taxi from NJP railway station. If you are landing at Bagdogra airport, the you will need to arrange for a pick up either through your homestay or a Siliguri based travel operator... you won't likely find any taxi at the pre-paid counter of the airport, unless you are ready to walk, go out of airport premises and catch a taxi.
Latpanchar is about 45kms from NJP (takes about one and half hours by car) and 49kms from Bagdogra (takes 1 hour 45 minutes by car). From Kalijhora (on Sevoke road), a hilly road (not in a good condition though) goes up on the left and leads to Latpanchar. From Kalijhora, the Latpanchar village is 13kms away.
Reserved small taxi fare is around Rs. 2,500 - 2,800 from NJP Railway Station (Fare updated: March 2022).
Apurba Das (June 2023)
Hi, I follow all your blogs and enjoy them reading.
I have a wish to go in mountains during monsoon. I am planning to go Latpanchar on 21st July 2023. Will it be risky to go there? I need your suggestion regarding this.
I am very eager to enjoy mountains in rainy season. Thank you
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) June 2023
Hi, try to avoid Sevoke Road (NH-10), it's prone to landslides during monsoon.
P.Mukherjee (November 2021)
Hi, Me and my friends (total 4 adults) are planning to visit Latpanchar from 19th to 21st November'21. We have a tight budget, so i would like to know....
1) Are Share jeeps available from NJP to Latpanchar/Kalijhora ...if yes then its fare
2) Is it possible to hire share jeep for local sightseeing
3) NJP to Latpanchar taxi (private) fare.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2021
Hi, there is no shared taxi service to Latpanchar. You can take a small taxi from NJP... the fare would be around Rs. 2,000. Alternatively, you can go down to Siliguri (Darjeeling More or opposite to Tenzing Norgay Bus Stand) by an auto and you can get a shared taxi from there to Teesta Bazaar. Although you may get off at Kalijhora along the way, you may not get any transport from there to get to Latpanchar.
So, better go all the way to Teesta Bazaar (shared taxi fare will be around Rs. 150 per person). From there you need to take a small private taxi to Latpanchar (indicative fare could be around Rs. 1,200). I don't think you can save anything worthwhile through this option.
There is no shared taxi in Latpanchar or for that matter at any such small place in Darjeeling hills for local sightseeing. Note that all fares can and do vary widely for tourists depending on season/demand.
Suprotap Chaki (March 2019)
Hi, I am from Bangladesh. I am planing to come to Darjeeling in last week of May with my wife and 3 year old son. I am interested to visit Latpanchar. I have two questions? 1. Is it safe to go with my wife and son there? 2. Is it possible to make a day visit to the place from Darjeeling town going early in morning and coming back in evening. It will be helpful for me if you give some info regarding the trip.
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) March 2019
Latpanchor is safe for families. Day trip from Darjeeling to Latpanchor is possible (take the route via Kurseong, Bagora which would be shorter). But a day trip to Latpanchor from Darjeeling is not quite popular and meaningful.
Shreeya Bhowmik (November 2018)
Here is an important point for people who want to visit Latpanchar using budget transportation: From NJP/Bus stand to Kalijhora you may get a shared Jeep, after that you have to book a private car. As we came from Darjeeling, we took a shared Jeep and got down at Kurseong. It took 200/- per head and we booked three seats for comfort. We heard that we would get shared Jeep at Kurseong but due to huge rush the locals said we should not wait and instead book a private car. We came to know that all the shared jeeps from Kurseong to Latpanchar are available at Kurseong Tourist Lodge stand. However my husband booked a private car for Rs 2000/-. It took 2.5 hours to reach Latpanchar from Kurseong.
The whole Latpanchar is extremely calm and serene and our experience was awesome. First day we went to Mahanada Sanctuary, it was 3km from the homestay. We didn't take a car and instead trekked there. In fact our homestay owner himself never encouraged to take a car for this road. We also visited Sansari Dara. Next day while returning to Siliguri we visited Ahal Dara, Namthing Lake, few tea gardens (including Sittong), and Shiv Khola (roads were pretty bad here). In a nutshell we enjoyed thoroughly and once again I want to thank your website.
Supratik Ghatak (November 2018)
Hi Raj, I have gone through all your posts and found it perhaps one of the best information provided to the tourists among all tourism sites in the country. I am planning to visit Latpanchar for a birding trip in February.19. I would like to know the taxi fare from Bagdogra airport to Latpanchar, Siliguri to Latpanchar and New Jalpaiguri jn to Latpanchar. Also, is there any possibility to view upper Himalayan birds?
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) November 2018
Hi, reserved small taxi fare from NJP or Siliguri to Latpanchar is around Rs. 1600, from Bagdogra the fare is around Rs. 1800. Due to its low altitude, spotting upper Himalayan birds at Latpanchar is difficult but possible.
Basudeb Gupta (January 2018)
I along with my family just returned from Latpanchor on 21st Jan 2018. The hospitality of Padam Gurung's homestay, namely Hornbill Home Stay is good enough. The place is not for general tourists. It may be for bird lovers & birding. But exact time of birding is not known to Padam Gurung and his team. One must have SLR camera & Binoculars to watch birds, then also its not easy to find out birds. No safari being conducted in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary which is located around 4.5 km from hornbill homestay.
But it is confirmed from tourists & local people that sun rise & others scenic beauty can be best watched from Ahal Dhara viewpoint in the month October - November. However we have had a glimpse of sunrise from Ahal Dhara. Water in the lake Namthing is available in rainy season only and salmander is also available in rainy season.
Debabrata Mukherjee (November 2016)
The road conditions are the worst. There is actually no road. I went to this place today by car via Kurseong and returned via Kali jhora. The scenic beauty is excellent. But on the way and due to road conditions you will feel that you have made a terrible mistake by selecting this place, specifically if you are going with your family.
Tanumoy (October 2016)
Excellent place for nature lovers. You need at least 2 nights booking here. You can get 360 view of Himalayan ranges along with Mt. Kanchenjunga from Ahaldara view point. This place in really a paradise for bird lovers.
Kankan Sengupta (February 2016)
Honestly Latpanchor and Thamdara (Shittong, also known as Sitong) are paradise of Himalayan birds. It also gifts us a charming sunrise at Durbin dara, and a breathtaking view of a full-moon night. Picturesque Kanchenjunga and its range from Ahal dara is one more attraction of that place. Don't miss tea garden and view point at Thamdara
Indronil Banerjee (September 2014)
Dear Sir, I'm planning for Latpanchar trip from Darjeeling (day trip), and if I wish to stay for one night, any private hotel or Govt forest rest house is available there? Please guide me in detail. Regards
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) April 2014
You can stay at Padam Gurung's lodge (earlier known as Cinconest and now Hornbill Nest, although no board). His number 9475959974. They offer 15% discount to Darjeeling Tourism Card holders on rate which includes both stay and all food. Although it's a basic accommodation, it's actually the only decent accommodation in the area. The forest rest house is about 5kms into the forest area, secluded and has 2 rooms ... although the rooms are better, but it can be quite scary out there at night with virtually no service.
Preeti Patel (April 2014)
Hi, First thanks for the info already provided. I just want to know which are the birding and wildlife places around Darjeeling and as I am a hobbyist normally travel alone .Time is not a constraint .Could you please guide. Thanks
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) April 2014
Here are some nice birding & wildlife places in Darjeeling area:
1) Latpanchar (highest part of Mahananda Widlife Santuary)
2) Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary (access through Sukna)
3) Singalila National Park (on the route to Sandakphu)
Nitin (March 2014)
Hi Raj, I am planning to come to Darjeeling for 2 nights 20th and 21st April) with my wife. I liked the place Latpanchar by reading your description. I want to know
1)how far it is from Bagdogra airport?
2) Is it safe to stay there for only two of us?
3) contact details as number given is not reachable for cinchonest
Raj (darjeeling-tourism.com) March 2014
Latpanchar is about 50kms from Bagdogra airport. It will take about 1hr 45minutes to reach. It's safe. If you can't get through the number, go through a tour operator.