Asishda, like others I'm also waiting for your trip report.
Watched the photos in your gallery - fantastic, carry on dada. I'm a bit passionate over Duars.... so waiting ........cool:
BAGORA: A Gem in Wilderness (with a slice of Dooars)
Oh my God! I am humbled!! So much expectations from the veterans (in terms of travel, I mean) and I don't know whether I will be able to deliver as exoected or not. But, I don't have a choice, isn't it? So, here goes the first part of my report. In this part, I had deliberated on my trip on plain viz. Dooars. The second part would be on Bagora and Kurseong and the third and final part would on costs and other miscellaneous matters. It will take a couple of days.
Day – 1 (20/02/2012 Monday)
Left home at about 6 PM. Our train Kanchankanya Express leaves Sealdaha Station at 08-30 PM. Considering the peak office closing hours, and the day being Monday, we did not take any chance and left home a bit early so that we can reach Station well on time. As usual the departure from home was a routine, sedentary affair, but the moment we reach the Station, the chaos, crowd, hustle bustle of home bound office goers, shouting of hawkers, bullying Taxi Drivers et al made a such heady cocktail that our journey mood came right back on track! From there on, no looking back for our unattended home, or unfinished tasks back home, we only look forward to a miracle of magic trip with lot of expectations. Surprisingly, the same feelings comes back every time whenever I venture to go out on leisure trip. This time also our mood is perfectly set for ourensuing trip.
Our first destination this time is Hasimara Railway Station and the train is supposed to reach there at about 10-30 AM next day morning. That means we will be wide awake when the train would cross Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary, Sevak Bridge over Teesta River, cluster of deep green Tea Estates, dense forest etc. and would touch upon such exotic names like Sebak, Oodlabari, Mal, Dam Dim etc. To me, these are bonus I earn by traveling by train on this route.
The night spent in the train is uneventful except that I over ate and my wife was very unhappy! I really don’t know as to why I always feel hungry whenever I travel by train!!
Day _ 2 (21/02/12 Tuesday)
The train reached NJP Station right on time. The first thing that I noticed that sky is gloomy and clouded. The usual scene of dotting hilly landscape of Dooars, which is seen right from the NJP Station, is absent. It is definitely not “feel-good” factor to begin a trip, but then one has very little control over the weather/climate. Slowly the train crossed Siliguri Junction Station, waiting aimlessly for solid half an hour, and entered Sukhna and Mahananda Sanctuary and the magic began to unfold. The train was half empty by then and all of us took a window seat for ourselves and started savoring feast for our eyes. This route being on single line, the train had to wait/stop at unscheduled stations to allow another train to pass coming from opposite direction. This has caused delay of about 1 hour and finally it reached Hasimara at about 11-45 AM. This is my third visit to Hasimara, so I had no confusion, as I knew very well exactly what I should do. The pre-booked Maruti Omni with Amol, the Driver (recommended by Tirupati, one of our fellow IMers), with whom I had a talk over phone from Kolkata, was present at the Parking Area of the Station and in no time we started our journey towards Malangi Lodge, a cute little Rest House owned by West Bengal Forest Development Corporation Ltd. (WBFDC). It is only approximately 3 Km away from the Station.
Here I present a photograph of an unusual Rose shot in the garden of Malangi Lodge. There are 5 Roses in one single stem. I haven't seen such kind of rose earlier. The gardener told me that it is called "Panchamukhi Golap" (Rose with 5 faces). The Other Photo is the road leading to the Lodge from the main road.
The Lodge and the staff are known to us as we had stayed here earlier. As usual the staff are very courteous and friendly. We decided to skip our break fast and instead opted to take lunch a bit early. Incidentally, we ordered our lunch from Kolkata over phone and hence the lunch is almost ready by the time we reached the Lodge. In consultation with the Driver and Lodge employee, it was planned that soon after our lunch we will start our Safari to Chilpata Forest (with Mendabari & Kodal Basti Range plus ruins of “Nal Rajar Garh” – ruined fortress of Nal, the King). It was also decided that meanwhile, the Lodge employee would book next day’s morning elephant safari at Jaldapara WLS for us so that we can complete our safari to Jaldapara Forest next day morning itself and check out for our next destination – Bagora.
Chilapata Forest is almost adjacent to Malangi Lodge. We started our safari just at 2-30 PM. It is mandatory to hire a Guide to visit the Forest. The “Guide” is a local guy, knows the forest well and perhaps some kind of orientation training was given to them by the Forest Department. He accompanies the tourists in their vehicle (Tourists can take their own vehicle for Chilapata safari), manages entry tickets etc. Guide allotted to us is well behaved, but I don’t think that he contributes anything special during the safari. All thorough the journey, he got down only twice, once at Entry Check Post and the other at “Nal Rajar Garh” and rest of the time he delivered sort of running commentary sitting on the front seat of Maruti Omni. Last time when I visited Chilapata a few years back, there was no Guide and the Driver performed the role of Guide very efficiently. I think the real purpose of attaching Guide with each Tourist Party is to provide a means of income to local people and if this is so, it is perfectly okay with me. Coming back to safari, the forest is as usual stunning, lush green foliage, huge tree with canopy-like branches and leaves covering the sky are as usual very inviting! We are not so lucky about wild life sightings; and we could see only a couple of peacocks, a deer and a domesticated elephant (initially thought to be wild though!). Nevertheless, I have no regrets whatsoever; what I did not miss are sound of silence, chirping of birds, pleasure of expecting the unknown, dotting mountain landscape, flowing of tiny rivulets and its accompanying musical sound, the mystery surrounding to ruins of “Nal Rajar Garh”, forest roads leading to nowhere etc. etc. Whenever I visit Dooars, I experience a peculiar feeling. I feel blessed and refreshed and it gave me a feeling that I am cleansed of all the impurities!
A few words about “Nal Rajar Garh”: It is the ruins of an old structure, locally known as fortress of Nal, the King of pre historic age. But there appears to be no historical supporting evidence in support of this claim. The structure, a part of which had been sunk down the earth, looks not so old and it is made of brick of relatively modern age. More realistic explanation goes like this: Royal forces from Bhutan used to attack this part of Dooars (which was under Coachbehar Kingdom) quite frequently during initial days British rule. To repulse the such periodic attacks, the Kings of Coachbehar constructed a fort-like structure, hidden from the public eye in the deep jungle of Chilapata and stationed a battalion of armed forces over there. The forces stationed there would fight back the attackers as and when needed. Subsequently, the British had established firm grip over these areas and functionality of this Fort got redundant. The forces were eventually withdrawn and the structure was abandoned and finally neighboring forest engulfed the structure completely. To me, this looks like most credible explanation for these ruins. But I confess, I do not have any documented history in support of my submission.
We visited a Mendabari Watch Tower (unmanned), Kodalbasti Range Office, Watch Towers besides Torsha river, where the river took a sharp chisel like turn and top layer of the river is dotted with ducks. Fully contented (not everyone in the Team agreed though) we came back to the Lodge in the evening. Took a stroll by the rear side of our Lodge, where a cute little river called “Molongi” (the Lodge derived its name from this river, I guess) flows silently, the other side of the river is connected by a wooden bridge. We were cautioned by the Lodge staff not to cross the river as wild elephants and/or Rhinos frequent that area in the evening and we obediently obeyed their advice.
Malangi river at the back of our Lodge:
The Wooden Bridge on the river Malangi connecting reserve forest:
Forest Road at Chilapata Forest:
Grassland at Chilapata, stated to be the abode of Rhinos:
Sunset at Chilapata:
Photo taken from Mendabari Range Watch Tower in Chilapata Forest
Ruins of Nal Rajar Garh deep inside of Chilapata Forest:
On return we were informed that we have been booked for 3rd elephant trip for Jaldapara WLS starting at 8-30 AM next day and that we should start around 7 AM for Jaldapara. Accordingly, the Guide (again Guide is compulsory though he does not even accompany the tourists in their elephant safari and just waits at the starting point to bring back the tourist to the Lodge) and the Driver were suitably notified. We cleared our account with the Lodge (food bill etc.), had early dinner before retiring to bed.
Day – 3 (22-02-2012 Wednesday)
My Mobile alarm rang dot at 05-30 AM. Got up immediately, finished our morning chores, had tea, packed our luggage and was ready for moving out well on time. We checked out sharp at 7 AM, our luggage was loaded in the Car and started for Jaldapara WLS. The distance from Hasimara to Madarihat/Jaldapara is appox. 15 KM. The road, though called “National Highway”, can hardly be called a proper road. The entire stretch is full potholes; at some places roads just did not exist at all! We took appox. 45 minutes to cover this 15 KM. We crossed Air Force base at first, and then couple of Tea Estates, one after another, this landscape somehow saved us from the worst road experience! Finally, on reaching Madarihat, we crossed a few private Hotels, WB Tourist Lodge and then our car took a left turn and stopped at the entry gate of Jaldapara WLS. We waited at the Car and our “Guide” took money from us and proceeded to the Check Post Office for entry tickets etc. The procedure took couple of minutes and we are again off to Hollong Forest Bungalow, which is appox. 7-8 KM away from the Entry Check Post deep inside the forest. The starting point for elephant safari is right in front of the Hollong Bungalow.
The Hollong Bungalow is itself very beautiful and its surroundings are maintained very carefully. This time we found that a small teashop is being run a NGO, a few chairs and toilet facilities have been put in place for waiting tourists. Hollong riverbank has also been beatified with bench, table etc. We had to wait for sometime, as the 2nd safari trip is yet to return.
At about 9 AM all the four Elephant returned from the Safari. The tourist who had been on 2nd trip reported that they could not see any wild animal, no Rhinos, no Bison (Gaur) and no Elephant! The weather was cloudy, so is the mood of the tourists. As for me, I said to myself that last time we were lucky, this time nature is not so kind, but that does not matter to me. I get as much pleasure as sitting at the bank of Hollong River as seeing wild animal in the safari. Besides this, the elephant safari has a charm of its own and I know many people, who had come to Jaldapara especially for this safari, and yet many of them could not even get the chance. To that extent, we are rather lucky!
The safari was, as usual, mesmerizing magical. Jaldapara forest is not as dense as Chilapata, but it is richer in flora & fauna. Every minute of this 1-hour-long safari is unforgettable, every moment of it to cherish forever. Elephants move in a rhythmic manner, it crosses streams, takes us through uncharted terrains, to the grassland, bushes, and literally everywhere. We savored every bit of it..but we could locate only (1) a barking deer, (2) a wild boar, (3) a few peacocks and (4) a few python-one of which is of giant size! We have spotted lot of birds and I will not be able to name them, as I am ignorant in this subject. But beautiful birds, musical chirpings, color of their wings and their lazy as well as sharp movements fascinated us. We have heard the silence of the jungles, flowing tunes of the rivers and our heart was full!
I wish to report two incidents, which I had witnessed during the safari. As I told earlier, there were 4 elephants in all, which are used for safari, and one them (named Priyadarshini) had a baby. We are incidentally with Priyadarshini and we noticed to our amazement that the baby follows his/her mother dutifully wherever she moves. The baby did not leave the mother even for a moment. Initially at the beginning of the safari, all the 4 elephants move together in a queue and then after some time each of them take separate routes. When we started our safari, all 4 were together and the baby was right behind Priyadarshini and behind the baby there are 2 more elephant with tourists. Suddenly we heard some sound similar to dog barking. With lightening speed all the four adult elephants circled the baby and had started making some kind of loud sound hitting their trunks on the ground. We were naturally scared, but the “Mahut” told us not to panic, the elephants are trained and they would not cause any harm. They are protective about the baby and they might have thought that wild dogs are after the baby accompanying them. However, the Mahuts could restore calm after cajoling the elephants, touching their trunks and telling (in pure Bengali) them, “no, no, don’t get scared, there is nothing!” Rest of the journey nothing untoward happened.
The second incident is related to me personally. I had spectacles and while moving in the bushes, a branch of the tree hit my forehead and in the process my spectacles got dislodged and fallen somewhere on the ground. I was really scared, as I did not have any spare and without Spectacles, I will not be able to see properly. The Mahut stopped the Giant Elephant immediately; others and I tried to locate the Spectacles on the ground, but could not find any. The Mahut, in a very nonchalant manner, directed Priyadarshini (again in pure Bengali), “tol, tol..(lift the specs)” and he kept on repeating several times. Suddenly Priyadarshini moved leftwards a bit and lo and behold, she picked up something (looked like a Specs) from the ground with her trunk and lifted her trunk upwards the Mahut and the Mahut, in a very matter of fact manner, collects it and hand over the same to me and then directed Priyadarshini to move on. It was indeed my Spectacles. It was perfectly in one piece, no damage, and I put it on and my vision restored. Just imagine the scenario: how thin is the handle of spectacles and how heavy is trunk of an adult elephant and just visualize how the elephant could lift the spectacles without any damage whatsoever by its thick heavy trunk. Miracles, isn’t it?
We are dropped back right in front of Hollong Bungalow at around 10 AM. I will fail in my duties if I do not mention that on reaching back from the Safari, I offered some tips for the Mahut of our Elephnant as a token of my gratitude for getting back my spectacles. But, to our pleasant surprise, the Mahut declined to accept any tip, saying that this is a part of his duty!
Our car with the Guide was waiting for us. As programmed earlier, we dropped the Guide on the Highway and proceed directly towards Siliguri, which is appox. 150 KM away from Madarihat. Our next destination is Siliguri -> Kurseong -> Bagora. There was plan to have lunch on our way back to Siliguri, but we decided to move on directly to Siliguri without any break, as we are already late. We just managed our lunch with some dry foodstuff, which we were carrying with us. At about 1-30 PM we reached Siliguri – Darjeeling Shared Taxi Stand near Mahananda Bridge, Siliguri. We cleared the payment to our Driver (details later) and booked 6 seats for Siliguri to Kurseong. Although we were 4, we booked 6 seats for comfortable journey and the decision was correct, which was proved later. Siliguri – Kurseong distance is appox. 50 KM and it takes appox 1-1/2 hour to reach. The vehicle was SUV and they carry 10 passengers plus Driver. Kurseong comes on the way to Darjeeling, it falls almost mid-point. The main road has not yet repaired; the vehicles are plying through Pankhabari Road. We finally started our journey at about 3 PM. It moved through Sukhna, Mahananda WLS, and slowly started gaining height. We left the plains of Dooars, and started moving up. I would stop at this point as I close the first Part of my Trip Report at this juncture. The next report would be on Bagora and Kurseong. This will take couple of days.
Thanks for bearing with me.
My vocab is not strong enough to have any adjective which can climb to appreciate the description you have pen down in such a wonderful way. Hats off sir. Excellent.
Just one concern , the pics are very small in size, can you please do the needful to enhance the size of the pics please.
Ooops !!! There was something wrong with my system- these are seems to be OK now.
A gem of a narration. Waiting for the next part.
Nice start of your trip report AshishDa, though you would have missed not seeing any wild elephants in Chilapata or any rhinos in the elephant ride in Jaldapara(in the 3rd ride chances of seeing wildlife is next to impossible though you managed to spot deers, boars,peacocks!). But i am sure Bagora will make up for these. Waiting eagerly for the next installment!!
Wonderful narration. Thanks for the report.
Amazing tale. I could connect to every line of it...the feeling of the train journey thru Mahananda WLS, the forests and the drive through Dooars. The story of the protective elephants was fascinating.
Hats off Asish babu
First of all, Hats of to your eagerness to learn....the way you want to learn the titbits of adding pictures and captioning them at your age , is just overwhelming...that really touched my heart. I must salute the way you are so different from the common elderly persons around us...
Regarding the narration, its just fabulous...even if you didn't add any photos we could see thru the trip...Its absolutely a compact gem....The story of the elephant is really fascinating...I had already narrated it to my family and friends....Waiting eagerly for your next part ---your affair with Kanchenjungha.....
Enjoyed reading about your trip Ashish Sir and Im glad you were able to get your specs back!
I have taken the liberty of displaying your images so that readers do not have to click on each and every link to see the photos. Hope you do not mind.
If you do not like this, please let me know and I will delete my post.
I'm grateful, snonymous! Thank you very much.
My pleasure Ashish Sir.
I believe you copied the image "link" instead of the image "url" when you used http://www.indiamike.com/india/image...nsertimage.gif
Image "url" always must end in .jpg, .gif etc. It is quite easy to insert the image provided you correctly copy the "url". You can experiment and see.
I can see wild orchids growing in abundance on the tree trunks in this photo:
If I come to Bengal, I will surely visit this place!
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