A wild weekend in Dooars

Tripoto
13th Jun 2009
Day 1

Our resort in Lataguri. The forest behind is Gorumara National Park. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Lataguri, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

West Bengal is a unique Indian state which offers everything from the sea to the mountains, plains to the forests, heritage to modernity. The most popular tourist destination is, of course, the Darjeeling hills. But, very close to Darjeeling is another beautiful location, the forests of the Dooars.

The word ‘Dooar’ literally means ‘door’. It is indeed the door to many things, to the mountains up north, to the north-eastern part of India, to Bhutan even. Personally, I like to think of it as the door to the Himalayas.

My Dooars trip happened in 2009 thanks to a cancelled Kashmir tour. When the organizers called off the trip at the eleventh hour, we hardly had the time to make any alternative plans. But instead of sulking, we booked Tatkal tickets and left for the Dooars. And, the lovely Himalayan foothills gave us no reason to regret the decision.

Kingfisher clicked from the window of my room in the resort. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Lataguri, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

Reaching Lataguri, the gateway to Gorumara

We took the overnight Kanchan Kanya Express from Sealdah to New Mal Junction in Jalpaiguri district of northern West Bengal. After crossing New Jalpaiguri (NJP) station—which is the gateway to Darjeeling as well as Sikkim—the few hours’ journey to New Mal Junction is a beautiful green stretch.

Much of the track passes through the elephant corridor, on which every year some of the majestic animals lose their lives, thanks to train hits. Wildlife-lovers have been demanding that the tracks be abandoned or shifted, but nothing has been done yet. Anyway, if you ever make the journey, keep your eyes wide open for the jumbos; a sighting cannot be ruled out.

The resort in Lataguri. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Lataguri, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

We had a car waiting for us at New Mal Junction to take us to Lataguri, the gateway to Gorumara National Park. I can’t remember the exact time, but it certainly hadn’t taken more than an hour to reach Lataguri. The train reached New Mal around 9 am, and we had reached Lataguri well before lunchtime.

The resort was beautiful and well maintained, and right outside the boundaries of the reserve forest. In fact, there are several lodges in Lataguri, which look exactly the same. Our room was separated from the rest of the resort. It was raised a bit from the ground level and had the Gorumara National Park right behind it. We could see it from our window.

One of the watchtowers of Gorumara National Park. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Gorumara National Park, Nimna Tandu Forest, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

Gorumara National Park

After lunch and a brief rest, we left for Gorumara National Park in the same vehicle we had reached Lataguri. We were accompanied by a guide. We were first given a goody bag with a brochure and two small gifts—local handicraft. Then we were taken inside the forest in a buffalo-drawn carriage!

Unfortunately, it was mid-June—nearly the time for Gorumara to shut down. So, only one of the five watchtowers was open. The carriage took us to a certain point, from where we had to walk to the watchtower.

From the top, we had a grand view over the national park and the Murti River, which flows across it. Before long, we sighted a peacock. There was a salt pit in the distance. And soon enough, we saw three one-horned rhinos—the brand ambassadors of Gorumara—emerging from the forests beyond and ambling towards the pits. There were two adults and a calf. They gave us a long time to enjoy the sight.

The three one-horned rhinos we could sight in Gorumara. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Gorumara National Park, Nimna Tandu Forest, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

We were next taken for a tribal dance that is organized inside the forest. By the time we made our way back to the resort, it was pitch-dark. The narrow path leading through the thick foliage made our car headlights look dim. In that light, the forest looked even more mysterious.

Suddenly something small and spotted crossed our path. It looked somewhat like a small leopard. The guide said excitedly that it was small member of the cat family which is hardly sighted nowadays. “You are very lucky,” he said. “We haven’t seen these in a long time.”

Murti River clicked from Gorumara watch tower. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Gorumara National Park, Nimna Tandu Forest, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

To the Bhutan border

Day 2

I left our room the next morning to a chorus of birds I am yet to hear again. I have a 48-second video in which at least six distinct kinds can be made out very clearly. After breakfast, we left for a short trip to two comparatively lesser known destinations in Darjeeling district—Jhalong-Bindu and Samsing.

I won’t describe the road; those who have ever been to Darjeeling or other North Bengal destinations will know how scenic it is. Jhalong and Bindu are two wonderful spots near the Bhutan border. On one side of Jaldhaka River is India; on the other is Bhutan.

Jaldhaka River in Bindu. On the left is Bhutan, right is India. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Bindu, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

Jhalong is about 120 km from Darjeeling town. There is a West Bengal Forest Development Corporation resort there. Apart from natural beauty, the major attraction there is the hydel project.

In Bindu, the countries are separated by a bridge on a dam. Tourists can climb the bridge, but photography is not allowed.

Samsing

I liked Samsing even better. The car took us to a certain point from where we had to walk. The road started from a village with its corn fields and picturesque hill houses with gardens and flower pots hanging from the edges of the roof. In a short while, we were into the forest.

Samsing. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Samsing, Sikkim, India by The Compulsive Traveller

That walk is something I’m yet to forget, even after four Himalayan treks. My own footsteps seemed noisy to me; I’d have probably even heard my heartbeat had I tried hard enough. The silence was all-pervasive. I could hear every minute sound of the forest—the distant chirp of a bird, the rustle of the leaves, the gurgle of water somewhere close…

The path led to the Suntalay Khola, a narrow stream over which there is a small hanging bridge. On the other side of the bridge is a West Bengal Forest Development Corporation bungalow.

I would strongly suggest that anyone who wishes to make this trip spend at least a day in that bungalow. I did not know about it; or I’d have certainly stayed there. Several day treks can be made from there as well. Cars to the bungalow are allowed to go till the bridge.

Suntaley Khola in Samsing. Pic: The Compulsive Traveller

Photo of Suntaleykhola, Eastnar Forest, West Bengal, India by The Compulsive Traveller

We left Dooars that evening. It was all we could arrange in such a short time. But if anyone visits Dooars, the best time to do so is from mid-September to mid-June. The national parks remain closed from June 15 to September 15.

There are several other reserve forests in the region apart from Gorumara, including Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, and Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary. All of them have their unique attractions. Dooars has enough material for a week-long trip.

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