Friday, May 17, 2013

A Few Days In Dooars

I saw a speck of red moving randomly inside the woods.  Focusing, I discovered a man clad in a carmine red shirt squatting, getting up and searching some thing down the roots. My urban curiousness felt that some adventure was in the offing. Finally, it subsided when the dark tanned man emerged with a handful of mushroom from the forest.

‘Collecting Mushrooms in this early hour?’ I quizzed.

“Yes sir! These will make a slippery soup which helps some more rice through the gullet,” the man quipped.

He was “Ghora” an elderly Rava, a tribe brought by the British to this part of North Bengal from Chottanagpur as labours in tea plantation. Quickly I befriended him, walked 2.5 miles taking the soft morning sun at my shoulders, cutting through the lush green tea plantation where his son and daughter in law works as daily labours for just Rs. 65 a day.

 I was visiting Dooars and have checked in at the “Tiyabon Resort” at Chalsa in
Jalpaijuri district. We reached his hamlet – Mangalbari. A church stood at the corner of a field at the entrance.  It has taken the entire clan in its parochial ambit. Each thatched roof huts of the labours supported creepers of bottle gourd; each has a few sq yards of kitchen garden in the front where vegetables grow, and a place at the backyard to brew handia-a local rice beer. Luckily, I was offered salted liquor tea in glass instead of the tipple. The entire family posed for shots as my camera went into action and they did so for the first time in their life when I promised then the prints.

At Dooars, your eyes will be soothed in luxuriant shades of green. Far from the chaotic buzz of the city, your ears absorb the unheard sounds of silence. The croons of exotic birds, their fluttering in the blue crystal clear background, the ramblings of the snow fed rivers originating in the lap of Himalayas each kisses your eardrums with their uniqueness. Top this up with jungles with their impenetrable fa├žade of woods and weeds and Doors will emerge an unavoidable destination of a solace seeking mind.

Jaldhaka Tourist Lodge
We started with Bindu, a remote village in the Bhutan border where the Jaldhaka River acts as a dividing line. The journey through the Chalsa-Jhalong route is adventurous. Herds of elephant or a wild boar can block your route while crossing the Chapramari Forest.  The Jaldhaka River is seen down below once you go up the Kalimpong hills, opening an exquisite vale with cottages amid shades of green. You can stay here at Jaldhaka Tourist lodge (room route Rs.1200), maintained by West Bengal Forest Development Corporation (WBFDCL- Ph 033-22348321).  This place is famous for the Hydro-electric project. Water gushing out of the sluice gates can lure you towards it but is best avoided.

We shifted to “Banani” resort of the WBFDCL built on the banks of Murti River.  This resort is the entry point of Gorumara forest, another feather in Dooars’ cap.  Permission to enter the forest along with cars or elephant for Jungle safari is arranged from this government lodge.  Forest Interpretation Centre at Lataguri gives the permit.  Jungle Safari starts early in the morning. If one wishes to take the ride, the manger of lodge can make arrangements if asked in the evening before. From the different watchtowers ( Jatraprasad, khunia, chukchuki etc) one can see a plethora of fauna.

In the wee hours of the morning exploring the dense dark forest with a local guide to whisper you about the animals that he finds and directs your attention is an experience in itself. If you are lucky you can have a glimpse of wild elephants, single horned rhinos, Indian Gours, Bisons etc. The 80 sq km forest is cut across by Jaldhaka, Murti and Bamni rivers. You will have to take a car from the registered locals- often a Maruti gypsy.  The Omnis much to the rancour of the local drivers have been forcibly replaced by the polluting old gypsies by the local government.
Murti River

In the afternoon we headed for Chapramani forest, north of Gorumara.  But if you are lucky enough to see the wild animals at Gorumara you can easily skip Chapramari. It is important to note that forests remain closed from 15th June to 15th September. Room rent at Banani ranges between Rs.900 to Rs.1760.

One can make a trip to Samsing 15km away from Chalsa or go upto Santaleykhola (4  km) and stay at individual cottages of the eco tourist centre of WBFDCL. At Samsing, birdwatchers can have a field day with their binoculars and enjoy the avian variety of hornbills, drangos, thrushes, peacocks etc.

Next day we headed for Hashimara by a passenger train and checked in “Malangi Lodge” at Barodabri. One can stay at Jaldapara Tourist Lodge at Madarihat. Cars are also available from Chalsa or Murti. Our intension was to enjoy the elephant Safari at Jaldapara Wild Life Sanctuary. The manager made the arrangements here too. The priority of the ride, however, goes to those staying at “Holong” bungalow (booked from WB Tourism Department 033-22485917/ 8271) inside Jaldapara forest. Wild animals come in the opposite field to lick salt from the man made pits. A stream divides the bungalow and the field.

Holong Bungalow

It is from here we saw a host of peacocks, hornbill and Sambar deer. While coming to Holong a wild pig rammed our car before crossing the road. Another one narrowly missed us. It was 5am. The incident shoved the remaining traces of sleep that we had for waking up early.

Madhumala's Silhouette 
Moments later we sat atop Madhumala, one of the tamed (Kunki) elephants of the forest department.” Mile ! Mile!” The mahut shouted kicking her gently and she started her journey into the dense forest. While crossing the stream, she stopped momentarily sloshing in water for the journey. Then cutting across the dense jungle she along with six other elephants trudged in to explore. We came in a open space where the morning sun was kissing the grassland out of slumber. The tall catkin (kash) flowers were moving slowly. Strangely there was no breeze. The mohut took us near it. 
The Charging Rhino @ Jaldapara

Suddenly a one horned Rhino charged towards us. Shocked by its intent we all screamed. Luckily another elephant followed us. Seeing two in tandem, it stopped the charge, posed for a second and then ran off. 
I was not lucky enough to see the python or the bison, but the Rhino made our day. We visited Chilapata forest next. It was close by. But the silence was haunting. En route we saw watch towers in paddy fields to guard crops from the wild elephants. We saw another Rhino crossing the river from the watch tower. A crane was taking a free ride upon it. The duo’s silhouette upon the russet river, shimmering in the sunset was an enchanting site. The driver stopped in front of a tree to show us a tree which oozes red sap if its bark is peeled.
At Chilapata

One can also visit Phuntsholing, the gate way city to Bhutan and see the Crocodile Park and the Gumpha atop a hill. The meandering Torsha, aka -Amo Chu, locally, flows leisurely by the city and a treat to watch from here.

Kharbandi gumpha @ phuntsholling
Bidding adieu to the river fed enchantment of natural forests we boarded the Kanchankanya Express at Hashimara, the next day, heading for the concrete jungle of the city. Oh yes! The photos of Ghora were sent and by the time you read this story they are displayed on his shelf.

For bookings :

West Bengal forest Development Corporation Limited
6A, Raja Subodh Mullick Square, 7th - Floor, Kolkata-700013 
Ph No. : 033-2237-0060/ 2237-0061/2225-8549

Text Courtesy : Discover India; Pics: Author
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