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Name : TOMOSHA BHATTACHARJEE  [On Dec 31, 2017]

State : WB

Title : Amidst Nature’s Splendour --------- The DOOARS

Article :

                                           Dooars Is  a glorious cocktail of jungles, rivers, mountains , tea estates and of course the rich  biodiversity. For tourists from cities and congested towns nothing can be more inviting than the verdant greenery of North Bengal which is a much awaited escape for people accustomed to inhaling toxic air in their claustrophobic surroundings in the bustling urban areas.

However before visiting Dooars I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to visit Rishav, as the agitation in the hills had subsided, thereby drawing tourists like us to the majestic  Himalayas of North Bengal  once  more. So we decided to kick start our tour 7 day tour with a visit to this small tourist spot situated cozily amidst the coniferous splendor. Rishav situated 4 km uphill from Lava is just the kind of place for people desperately seeking solitude from the hum drum of daily life and needing to unwind themselves in the cradle of nature. An aura of mystery surrounds Rishav, may be because of the whispering pines , the unpredictable floating clouds at times fleecy and at times vapour laden, the chirping of birds of stunning colours or the dense ferns covering  a chunk portion of the mountain side- Rishav is a hamper full of surprises. We reached Rishav at about 12.30 pm, having started from NJP at 9am. The fare from NJP to Rishav is Rs 3500/ as per local syndicates dictate, the road condition from Lava to Rishav is awful to say the least and has remained the same for ages. There are 3 routes through which one can reach Lava, our driver had taken the shortest route so we did not have to cross Kalimpong. The Hotel in which we put up was Valley View. The hotel as I gathered has been thrown open to tourists from March 2017, the rooms were obviously clean, however none of the bath rooms was fitted with geysers- which was a drawback. Though we were supplied with buckets of hot water for bathing yet I feel geysers are a must for any hotel built in the mountains.  After a refreshing bath we were called for lunch. Lunch was a simple fare of rice, dal , bhaji and squash curry. Valley view is more of a home stay than a hotel. The owner named Raju and his wife looked after the tourists, there was no other staff. Hotels in Rishav are few and well paced quite unlike Lava where the fast mushrooming hotels gives one the feel of a concrete jungle.   Rishav was primarily a Lepcha settlement now the Nepalese have outnumbered them. The locals had some basic demands from the government like good roads, 24 hrs electricity, water and govt schools. Their grievances have not been addressed by successive governments. Rishav is heavily dependent on Kalimpong for daily needs in fact it wouldn’t be wrong to say Kalimpong is the life line of this picturesque hamlet. We spent two nights in Rishav, the morning after our arrival we were fortunate enough to view the ever so imperial Kanchenjunga in its regal glory. We spent the two days savouring the beauty of the mountains, marvelling at the varied types of fern carpeting the mountain side, gazing wonderstruck at the flowers growing in gay abandon in every nook and corner of the mountains and adding to its mesmerizing beauty. We also trekked to the small monastery situated in the lower part of Rishav. Overall the visit to Rishav was a fulfilling experience –a memory to be treasured when we are in a pensive mood.

  We started for Dooars at 9 am, our next halt was Lataguri. Road conditions in the plains are far better than in the mountains. The drive was for nearly 3 &1/2 hrs, the driver charged Rs 3500 as per syndicate rate to drop us to our hotel- Dynasty Inn. Dooars is the flood plains of North Bengal which includes most parts of Jalpaiguri, Ailpurduar and Coochbihar district. It is bordered by Bhutan in the north and Bangladesh in the south. It was mostly inhabited by ethnic Tribal people but with the passage of time people from different parts of Bengal Assam, Bihar and Nepal have settled here. It is now a multi linguistic and multi cultural land. Its people are as varied as its flora and fauna.

Hotel Dynasty is actually a cluster of cottages suitably paced in natural surroundings. The ambience is good and the staff well mannered. Rooms of the cottages were spacious and airy. Each room had a verandah and huge windows resembling French windows opened out to the garden below. However the toilets looked a bit shabby, the garden too needed to be taken care of. Since we didn’t have much time to waste, we took a quick lunch of rice, dal and fish curry and by 2.30 we were ready for Jungle jeep safari. We wanted to visit the famous Gorumara jungle but as the tickets for this safari were sold out  we had no other option but to visit Champramari jungle which actually is a continuation of Gorumara jungle divided by the Murti river. As per rules each jeep had a guide who gave us bits of information about Gorumara and neighbouring jungles. The drive through the jungle was very exciting all along the stretch of the road there were the sign boards of the Forest Department------ Save Green See Dream------ and likewise, we were keen to spot any elephant or bison or at least a deer but the animals proved evasive which left us rather dejected. Very soon we reached the check gate once through the gate we would reach the inner most part of the jungle. The jeep halted near the watchtower.  We were lucky enough to spot a lone Rhino from a water sheet quite a distance away from the tower. The shutter bugs started clicking the solitary rhino we also spotted some birds like the Madan Duck, by 4 pm we left the tower and went to watch Tribal Nepalese dance which was a part of the Safari package. By the time we came back to the cottage evening had set in.  The day was quite exhausting so we refreshed ourselves with piping hot coffee and crispy pakoras.

 The next day’s tip included Jhalong , Bindu ,Rocky Island and Sunthale khola-------- These are the usual places visited by tourists who come to Gorumara . On our way we stopped by the Murti River. This river originates in the Neora Valley National Park and flows through prime tourists spots before meeting Jaldhaka river. We walked down to the pebbled river bed and dipped our feet in the crystal clear sparkling blue water. The river which has a good current in the monsoon now cascaded gently over the pebbles. Jhalong is in the Darjeelng district of North Bengal. We whiled away some time in Jhalong and then headed for Bindu, a small village  situated on the banks of Jaldhaka river, this village is known for Hydel Project on Jalkhada river. Most interestingly one can view the land of Bhutan just across the river. It was a long drive from Bindu to Sunthalekhola. The spots which we were shown in this part of Dooars were too nondescript to be mentioned except for the hanging bridge and the forest bungalow situated in the dense verdant forest with a small stream flowing nearby.

Kalipur eco village was our next destination, so we bid adieu to Lataguri the next morning and set off for this famous tourist spot.  However before breakfast we visited nearby villages in Lataguri. The trees on either side of the road were filled with the chipping of birds  ---------- red breasted bubuls , bright yellow Kutum bird and  the Indian Myna. The villagers were very friendly; we were invited for a cup of tea in all the huts we visited.  Kalipur is just 17 kms from Lataguri. Most of the tourists who visit this village go on a package tour arranged by the Jalpaiguri forest department – the rate being Rs.4000 for two persons for one night. The package includes lunch, evening tea, dinner, Santhali dance in the evening, early morning elephant ride and of course breakfast before leaving the next morning.  Kalipur is actually a Gorumara Eco village situated on the fringe of Medla forest opposite a running tea garden and it is run by the Jalpaiguri forest department.  The cottages looked like tree huts, there were just 4 huts situated on ½ storey height.  The cottages were clean and well maintained. We got the real feel of machan stay while spending the night in the forest. 

 After taking lunch we rested for an hour and then started for Medla tower. Our guide was the oldest staff of the eco village.  We went on foot hoping to catch sight of the famous hornbill or Dhanesh as it is known in the Dooars. Alas! I was disappointed again. From the tower it was a pleasure to see the elephants bathing in the Murti river. We spotted rhinos and a number of peacocks and egrets pecking on the back of rhinos. The evening was spent in watching the Santhal dance as the dancers tapped their feet and swayed their hips to the beat of the madol and drum my friend and I were tempted to join the dancers , such was the appeal of the dance. The air was fresh and the night sky was clear I looked up to find thousands of stars blinking in the sky and to my utter amazement  I found equal number of glow worms  glowing around the compound.

 The much awaited elephant ride started at 6 the next morning. I was initially hesitant to ride on a elephant but my friend persuaded me to shun my fear and be a sport and I must say I would have really missed the thrill of a jungle visit had I not taken this ride.  Each elephant is allowed to carry three tourists barring the mahout. As the elephant lumbered its way to the Murti river and the jungle of reed mace beyond we waited with anticipated breath to view wild life in the jungle. On the way some fellow tourists could catch a glimpse of the big beaked hornbill but I had to be content with hearing the cry of the big bird as it had already hid itself in the thick foliage of huge trees. The evergreen music of the film Hatari “Baby Elephant Walk” came to my mind as we crossed the river on elephant back.  Within minutes of entering the jungle we spotted a mother rhino with its baby. The mother gave the elephant riders a vacant look as if she had much better things to do than pose for intruders in her habitat.  I had heard of charging rhinos and I wondered what would happen if the rhino charged one of the elephants.  But all was well; the mother was too busy with the baby snuggling close to her.  Very soon we came across another rhino and a bison both loitering aimlessly in the jungle. Since this was my first elephant ride every minute was precious for me and this ride will remain etched in my mind forever

   Our final halt was Jaldapara forest sanctuary.  We had booked rooms in the West Bengal Tourist bungalow. The cottage which we booked was priced at Rs 2600 plus taxes.  Although highly priced the stay in the cottages was worth the price, the rooms were very spacious, from the small verandah attached with every cottages one can see the trees of the forest, the lawn and the garden are well maintained by the tourist department. Jadapara is the oldest tourist destination famed for its one horned rhino. The river Torsa flows through this forest sanctuary which covers nearly 216 sq km. This sanctuary is unique as it not only has some dense forest areas but also long stretches of Savanna grassland a number of rivers and streams flows through forest making it a home for a plethora of birds, insects not to mention the wild animals. This forest is called a bird’s paradise as the rich fauna and shrub growth provides an ideal setting for a good number of land birds hornbill parakeets, cormorant, river lapwing, pied wagtail etc.  After lunching we set out for the jeep safari in the sanctuary, we first stopped at Hollong tourist lodge we saw rhinos drinking water from a water body near the lodge, still further into the forest I was excited to find a bison at the edge of the forest, we lost no time in taking his snap but the beast soon got irritated seeing so many unwelcome visitors and so he walked away in a huff.  Our driver took us to the watch tower from where we saw a herd of elephants and bison crossing the road which led to the interior of the forest. Standing on the watch tower how this place would have been hundreds of years back--------- only virgin forest with wild animals roaming about freely with being disturbed by homosapiens.  As the sun started to sink in the deep horizon we left the place to see a cultural programme arranged for us. Later that evening after reaching the tourist lodge we saw the light and water show which threw light on the various wild life present in Jaldapara.- The next day we left  Jaldapara after lunch to catch the Kanchankanya express from Hashimara station situated 10 kilometers from Jaldapara.

The visit to Dooars was an enriching and enlightening experience. I am happy I decided to take the trip.