First of all a big thank you for taking time out and providing us with such detailed information.
We are a group of 3 people, planning to go on a 9 days trip, starting from Bagdogra, in a self driven car, in early December. We will visit Darjeeling, Pelling, Ravangla, Namchi, Tarey Bhir, Kalimpong and then return to Siliguri.
Could you please tell us more about the road conditions in these routes and whether it'll be safe or not, considering this will be our first trip to hills in a self driven car. We have been to Darjeeling and Rishop earlier, but that was on bike.
Thanks in advance.
Madhabi Saha (September 2020)
This year there has been excessive and almost non-stop rains in the hills and there were several landslides, and it takes a long time to repair the roads in the hills, so expect bad road conditions in several parts of Darjeeling and Sikkim. Overall, roads in Darjeeling district are better than Sikkim.
In fact, most of the internal roadways of Sikkim are presently in bad condition, and in some areas (particularly from Singtam towards Temi via Tarku), roads practically do not exist at several sections. Although there has been road repair work going on in several parts of Sikkim for the past several years including widening of the roads by cutting out rocks (locals call this 'back cutting'), the situation has remained grossly the same.
So considering this overall situation and that your group has no hill driving experience at all, you may like to re-think about such an extensive driving plan. If you decide to go ahead with the same plan, I would advise that you take an SUV type sturdy vehicle. A small car may not be able to negotiate some stretches and you will be further risking on breakdowns, particularly if you drive a rented car whose actual condition is not known to you. Note that, other than in the townships, there is practically no repair or breakdown service available in the whole of Darjeeling district and Sikkim.
Now on the specific roads... from Bagdogra (Bihar More) area, there is now a broad excellent flyover operational that connects all the way up to Matigara. From Matogara More, you will turn left and the road up to Simulbari is overall good. From there you will turn right into Rohini road, which too is in good condition and connects to Hill Cart Road at Kurseong (be careful about the sharp hairpin bends). Kurseong onwards the road has several bad patches but overall okay up to Ghum and then further up to Darjeeling.
From Darjeeling, you can approach Pelling in several ways. You can either take the shorter route that originates from Singamari (near St. Joseph's North Point School) and goes via Tukvar and Jamuni and all the way up to Jorethang of Sikkim. Only Indian nationals are allowed on this route and there is a check post at the border (carry your ID proofs). But several sections of this route are extremely bad, full of large potholes, and not suitable for small cars at all. From Jorethang the route to Pelling is via Legship and Geyzing which too is in bad condition and will be a bumpy ride (although road repairs were underway).
Alternatively, from Darjeeling, you can go via Ghum and then Peshok Road down to Teesta Bazaar area where the route meets with NH10, goes over Teesta bridge crossing river Teesta, then via Melli all the way to Jorethang. Up to Melli the road is quite okay, however from Melli (there is a check post here) the road up to Jorethang is in bad condition. From Jorethang, I have already described the route earlier.
A better option is to take the route via Melli - Namchi - Damthang - Ravangla - Pelling, which is in much better condition compared to the other two routes, although there will be a few uneven patches along the way, but tolerable. You will need to get back to Melli on your return in order to visit Kalimpong. On your way back, you can approach Tarey Bhir from Namchi (16kms)... the road is okay but has some odd uneven sections. You can continue on Melli-Turuk road (14kms) to get back to Melli. The road from Melli to Kalimpong via NH10 is quite good.
Raj (Darjeeling-Tourism.com) September 2020