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Any meaningful discussion on the roadways in Darjeeling can never take place without the mention of another important town in this area. Siliguri, located at the foothills, is actually the gateway to Darjeeling. Whether one is travelling by road, train or by air, one has to reach Siliguri first. Once the visitors reach Siliguri, they have multiple options. Let us look into them one by one:
Hill Cart Road or NH 55 in Darjeeling
Let us start with NH 55. National Highway 55 or Tenzing Norgay Road was originally called Hill Cart Road. It was built in the middle of nineteenth century to allow transportation goods and passengers by horse drawn carts. Starting at Siliguri, it meets NH 31 near Matigara and then proceeds towards Sukhna.
Sukhna is an important milestone on this journey. NH 55 starts its upward journey from here. The road in this stretch travels through the Mahanadai Game Sanctuary. Troops of monkeys squatting on the road are indeed common sites. Another landmark on this route is Tindharia. It is a very old railway settlement. A locomotive workshop as well as Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museum is located here.
The third important point on this route is Kurseong. It is not only the subdivisional town, but both the Rohini Road and Pankhabari Road meet the Hill Cart Road near this town. Ghum is the next important junction on this line. Both Peshok Road and Sukiapokhri Road meet NH55 near Ghum. The town also hosts the highest railway station in India. The Hill Cart Road takes a downward turn from here and ends at Darjeeling. The road is 77 km long and it takes around three hours to reach Darjeeling via this road.
Rohini Road via Rohini Village
Rohini Road is a new addition to the network of roads that connects the hills with plains. To take this road, one has to go to Matigara on NH 31 first and then to Khparil. From Khaprail, the road bifurcates into two important thoroughfares – one goes towards Pankhabari and is called Pankhabari Road and the other towards Rohini and is called Rohini Road.
Rohini Road, which culminates into Hill Cart Road near Kurseong, is preferred by many because it is shorter and hence takes much less time. What is more, Hill Cart Road, being prone to landslides, becomes closed to traffic often enough. In such a case, people are not left with any other option but to take this route. Apart from Khaprail bazaar and cantonment, Rohini Tea Estate is a landmark on this route.
Pankhabari Road via Pankhabari Village
Pankhabari Road was the first road to be built connecting the hills with plains. It starts from a village called Pankhabari near Matigara (on NH 55) and meets the Hill Cart Road near Kurseong. In the olden days, the British travelled through this road on horseback. Now of course, jeeps and landrovers ply on this road. Khaprail Cantonment and the Makaibari Tea Estate are two landmarks on this road.
Pankhabari Road is shorter than NH 55 by twelve kilometers and hence saves travelling time by half an hour. However, the road is narrow and steep. On top of that, sharp bends make the journey all the more precarious. Therefore, if you are not used to this kind of travel, you should avoid this road.
At the same time, Pankhabari Road offers fantastic scenic beauty. At one point, one can see both the Teesta nad the Balsam river flowing below. Many people prefer this road because of the thrill and the scenic beauty it offers.
Mirik Road via Mirik and Sukhiapokhri
Here again, Khaprail is an important junction. The Mirik Road starts off from the vicinity of this town. It runs via Mirik to Sukhiapokri and ultimately meets the Hill Cart Road near Ghum. It is a much longer route and takes about four and half hours to cover the entire stretch. However, the scenic beauty is much too beautiful to give it a miss. Besides, if the Hill Cart Road is closed, it is the least bumpy route to take.
Darjeeling via Peshok Road
Another road that meets Hill Cart Road near Ghum is the Peshok Road. To get to this road one has to travel through NH 31 from Siliguri until he reaches Sevok. From there he has to take the connecting NH 31A. NH 31A is also known as Sevok Road; it ultimately culminates at Gangtok. At Teesta Bazar, the road bifurcates into two. While NH 31A crosses River Teesta to continu its journey towards Gangtok, Peshok Road moves towards Ghum through virgin forest interspersed by tea gardens, villages and viewpoints. However, this road is used mostly for travelling to and from Kalimpong.