Dooars Beckons. A Journey to the Core of Nature

2005-06-10

by Saurab Basu

Following is my Trip Report from the recent North-Bengal Tour to the Famous 'Jungles of Dooars'.

It was a regular working day, amidst the scorching sun and typical Kolkatan roads, but the enthusiasm was on the rise, right from the morning, of this unusual Friday. We were all set to move out for one of the most significant destinations of Bengal, the Dooars.

The Word - 'Dooars', is derived from the Bengali word 'Dooar' meaning Doorway.

This is the trip to the Gateway of the Hills of North-Eastern India.

Day One

Started from Office earlier, and had a quick mid-day meal at home. A quick nap and I was all set. We started from home at 17:30 Hrs, on the evening of June 10th, for Sealdah. The 3149 UP Sealdah - Alipurduar JN - Kanchankanya Express was scheduled to depart at 19:35 Hrs. Reached Sealdah a bit late, courtesy the regular traffic hurdles of this city, but still had an opportunity for a sip of tea. Our train was to leave from the Platform No. - 9B. So it was a quick negotiation with the porters and move in. Having found our designated coach - ASE - AC 3-Tier, we settled ourselves. I checked the time, which read 19:05 Hrs. Having ample time, I thought of having the Rake Numbers for myself.

Shunted By: WDS 6R BGA 36113

Coach typeCoach Seial #
Luggage + Guard + SLR 90712 AB
GNL (II) 02455 AB
SL 94255 AB
SL 96226 A
SL 97206 A
SL 01224 A
SL 00349 AB
AC - II -Tier Sleeper Car 93074 A
AC - III - Tier 02101 AB
AC - III - Tier - ASE * 00120 AB
SL 93253 AB
SL 91318 AB
SL 91225 AB
SL 94235 AB
GNL (II) 02415 AB
Luggage + Guard + SLR 00701 A

Loco on Command: WDM 2 - 17102 - BWN

It was a Loco + 16 Coaches constitution. *Our Coach was a 5 year old one, and had majority of the window glasses stained by a layer of permanent haze. Luckily, I got a proper one, and I did not want to part with it till the end of this ride.:

Few minutes after all this note-down was completed, the whistle wished us - Bon Voyage, and we were on the move.

A Long journey for me after almost a year now, I was feeling much better, although the Air-Conditioner had not yet started doing its job. Immediately after we started, the RPF movement inside the AC coaches was noticeable. Everything was just fine, neat and clean coach, the Toilets on both ends of this coach had air-fresheners installed in them. Three Indian-Styles and One European Standard lavatory, all had new mirrors set, with Indian Railways - 2004, marked on them. Appreciable Stuff! The train steadied with a comfortable pace after passing the Dakhineswar Station. As this train, like most others in this route, does not have any Pantry Car facility, so Dinner is loaded at Bardhhaman JN. It was round about 21:00 Hrs, when the catering staffs started jotting down all the orders, for providing dinner. The train reached BWN at 21:40 Hrs, late by 5 minutes from its schedule arrival time. Food was supplied, quickly after this. We were already done, by then, and waited for the fellow passengers to complete, before going to the world of dreams. I had a choice able Upper Berth for myself, and went to a deep dive quite soon.

Day Two

The to-and-fro motion of the moving train, is the best ingredient for a long sleep. This is what I needed, and when I was back into the real world, we were standing at New Jalpaiguri. It was 08:00 AM, and I hurried down, right towards the door, to have a look at the Narrow Gauge platform, for a glimpse of the DHR beauty.

From New Jalpaiguri the North Frontier Railways bifurcates towards North and Further North-Eastern Destinations. The Primary BG line leaves for Guwahati, via Raninagar, New Mainaguri, New Cooch Bihar, and Fakiragram etc; while the newly converted line (converted from MG to BG) runs parallel to another prime network, the NG track to Darjeeling, till Siliguri JN; and then separates towards Alipurduar JN via New MAL JN, Binnaguri, and Hasimara. This route to Alipurduar JN (APDJ) has recently undergone Gauge Conversion. Previously being a dedicated Meter-Gauge Section, now it has been converted to Broad-Gauge, till Samukhtala, the first station after APDJ, on the way to Guwahati. From Samukhtala onwards, the track is undergoing Gauge conversion, similar to the ALIPURDUAR JN - BAMANHAT line (via CoochBehar) and so Passenger Service is not available after Alipurduar JN on either case.

Got to know, that the vacant NG rakes of had not yet come in, from the Siliguri JN - DHR - NG Car Shed, for the morning departure. I was a little disappointed, being unable to spot the NG stuff, and decided to stand on the door, till we reach the next station. The train started from NJP at 08:10 AM, right on time. I waited eagerly for the NG track to come and meet us. Just after the station, there is a 270 Degree curve, and I could see that two BG Tracks merged with our one soon. The scenic curve is a true delight, and I had a couple of snaps. Now..I could see her. The puny NG track, soon met us, and started running parallel for quite some time, on the left and then crossed the BG tracks, to move right of us. I changed direction too, and waited for some NG action. This time, she did not disappoint me. I could feel the beauty, while we were approaching the Siliguri Town Station. A tiny Four Coach NG train, hauled by an NDM 6 was located, moving towards NJP, for the morning run. Our train slowed towards the upcoming station, and I relished the DHR Beauty. The seating inside the NG coaches looked excellent. We went passed Siliguri Town; with the puny track moving almost at a stone throw away. The curves and rattles of the track, moving amidst the congested market places looked amusing.

I waited patiently, till the Siliguri JN station came, because it was from here that the NG and BG lines diverge. The former goes to Darjeeling, the Queen of Hills and the latter, is the one taking us further towards the North-Eastern Mystics of India. Just After we left the station, I saw a DHR - Steam Loco, smoking high. It was just a blink later that five others stood in a majestic fashion, as if greeting us on our way to the hills. I am not sure, if this is a Steam cum Car shed, but definitely had a glimpse of multiple vacant DHR NG rakes parked inside, alongside the Locos. Some of the Loco's were being washed and thoroughly maintained, under pro-active supervision. Soon we had passed the NG line, which took a diversion, up towards the hills. I had already noted the spot, for next itinerary, before the DHR - Steam Era goes extinct.

After this it was a combination of serene atmosphere, Magnificent Engineering and on top of anything else - feeling the mystifying natural greens all throughout the journey. The official door to the green hills was opened at the Sevok Station. Truly on the lap of Greens, this station seems to be protected by the wilds. Ranges extend on both sides after this, as we passed through two small tunnels, and rolled past the exhilarating post cards of the picturesque landscapes. The Bridge on river Teesta is an engineering maestro, with an elegant view of the National Highway, running parallel to the serene hills. The line passes through a range of spectacular fauna, comprising of Tea Plantations and Wildlife Sanctuaries - like the Mahananda Sanctuary, Hasimara Forests. Apart from the Teesta Bridge, two other technical masterpieces include the Neora and the Torsa Bridges. Just before we reached CHALSA, I spotted three WDM 3A's, but could not take down the numbers unfortunately. Chalsa is the gateway to the famous Gorumara National Park and Chapramari Wild Life Sanctuary.

We reached Hasimara at 11:00 AM sharp. Earlier the Kanchankanya Express did not use to halt here, but now it has been introduced. This is because, Hasimara is the nearest station to the renowned Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and a passenger halt would enable better accessibility to the forests. BINNAGURI and HASIMARA are two renowned Air Force Bases, in this region. One can easily see the Runway of Hasimara, from the train. While we were passing through, near Kalchini, a combo rake freight trail was found, moving slowly towards NJP. After Kalchini, it is like complete Tea Territory. On both sides of the tracks, lie distant spread evergreen Tea Plantations, with plucking work in progress. It is a decent scenario for us, who travel far and wide, just to love nature and rest in her tranquility.

Meanwhile, just as we passed the Rajabhat Tea Estate, I found that the track joints were undergoing, some kind of a maintenance work, and a Trolley was being moved out of the track, enabling the Express to pass by. We reached Alipurduar JN (APDJ) at 11:35 AM, almost half an hour early, than the scheduled arrival time of 12:00 Noon.

Alipurduar JN was previously, an integral part of the North-Easter Meter-Gauge system. While it connected Siliguri with Guwahati and further North-East, on the other side, it connected Alipurduar and Cooch Bihar too. Now the entire stream has undergone Gauge-Conversion till APDJ, from NJP. And as I mentioned earlier, the work for Gauge conversion is under progress, towards Bamanhat via Cooch Bihar, while temporarily this service is unavailable. Once complete, this would provide to be a shorter route for Mail/ Express trains from NJP to GHY.

The first thing, I noticed was the cleanliness of the Platforms in this station, and a giant structure on the Western end of the Platform, mentioned as 'Running Shed'. Although I don't know what its inner constitution is! We had ourselves settled in an auto-rickshaw, soon after a regular bit of negotiation, and started towards my relative's place where we were going to stay for that night. The 4-lane road way is a Driver's delight, truly.

Alipurduar is the hub of Forest Resources in North Bengal. Surrounded on all four sides, by dense vegetation and wild life, it is easily, one of the prime focuses for this place, as a tourist venture. Rajabhatkhawa forest, the nearest forest is merely 12 km's away from the city. Something interesting was waiting for me! As we approached Alipurduar Court area, I could find a mediocre track running parallel to the road. It was the MG line to BAMANHAT. My first sight of an MG Line, out of service though. Alipurduar Court, is the first station after APDJ, towards BAMANHAT. In this regard, it is worth a mention, that this medium size town, has 4 (Four) Railway heads. They are:

New Alipurduar [NOQ] (This is the oldest Broad-Gauge Station, and all Major Mail / Express trains, including the Dibrugarh Town Rajdhani Express stop here) Alipurduar Junction [APDJ] (The oldest station & Former part of the integral Meter-Gauge Network, of the North-East, recently converted to Broad-Gauge System) Alipurduar Court (Undergoing Gauge-Conversion from MG to BG, as a part of the APDJ - CoochBehar - BAMANHAT Project) Alipurduar (Located in the heart of the city, with Market Places at a stones throw away, is the station next to Alipurduar Court. Undergoing Gauge-Conversion from MG to BG, as a part of the APDJ - CoochBehar - BAMANHAT Project.)

I was not that tired, and so after having a quick bath and afternoon supper, my cousin (living in Alipurduar) and I started for a local get away. First time on a Bike, it was a shaky time to start with! We took the same way towards the Alipurduar Junction station, and passed the Divisional Railway Manager's Office, to reach one of Alipurduar's Pride, The Rangpur Tea Estate (Under the Majherdabri - T.E.). I was surprised not to find any Loco plinthed outside the DRM office. (I was expecting a YP or at least a YDM!!). This is the smallest Tea Estate in the region, but the only one located so close to the town. A complete circle round the Tea Estate saw Workers Plucking fresh and green Tea leaves. The plantations are truly unique with semi to major undulations at many parts. This is the integral part of any Tea Plantation, enabling its growth and strengthening the root nodules. The undulations prevent water from being stagnant, and affect the baseline. So a Tea plantation needs enough water every time. I had gathered much knowledge of the Tea Plantation process, and bagged a fresh and green souvenir too. Two Leaves and One bud, makes it for an original unit of integrated Tea plucking.

We took the Western Exit this time, and were on the National Highway - (NH) 31, running from Guwahati to Siliguri. Soon we were into one of the forest entrances, near the Swargachera Picnic Spot, under the Buxa Range.

The Forest Regional Hierarchy is something like this:

Overall Forests Corp'Division'Range'Beat' Wildlife Sanctuaries/National Parks.

For e.g:' West Bengal Forest Devp. Corp. ' CoochBehar Division ' Kodal Basti Range ' Western Chilapata Beat ' Chilapata Forests.

Swargachera Picnic Spot is the Gateway to the Eastern Buxa Range of the Buxa Tiger Reserve. We drove amidst the dense green vegetation of the Moist deciduous Forest upto 2 km's. It is just an experience, the starter for such a trip!! Sunlight barely touches the moist paved paths of this forest and the buzzing sounds all round, of various birds and forest tetra pods, the shhhh..gtttrrr...kshshhsh.and hmmmm sounds, made me feel haunted by the uncanny surrounds. I got to know that this forest is home to Leopards, Tigers and Snakes of various origins. But Animals are not the only members; some of the Aboriginals form a deadly addition to this range. It was not safe to drive further, and so we returned before it was too dark. It was just 03:00 PM, and seemed like 07:00 Pm in a winter evening!! This is pure Nature. On our way back, I found loads of tree trunks and wood, gathered near the Rajabhatkhawa Beat office, ready for Auction. They aere placed in bloacks adjoining the Forest Officer's Quarters, seasoned. Got to know, that Nature robbers have cleared off a lot of the pristine greens for their motivated purposes, otherwise, this forest never ever had a glimpse of sunlight reaching the grounds, earlier.

The Residences, looked nice, with a majority of Wooden Houses and Tinned shelters, planked almost at a height of four feets above ground level. This was done to prevent rain water from entering the house, during usual occurrences of flood and protect them from Wild animals like snakes or Leopards entering their domain. Last but not the least it was to prevent damage from Earthquakes, as the North-Eastern region is prone to ground shake-ups.

We were back to our concrete nests after a start up tour, and had some rest. Evening saw us on a walk to another nearby attraction, the Kaljani Bridge, on the Alipurduar- CoochBehar Road. The Kaljani River is one of the prime water sources for the Alipurduar Township. It has the widest stretch underneath this bridge, and so the view is extraordinary. The approach road from Alipurduar meets a crossing, commonly known as Chowpathi More (4-Road cross) and then we took right towards CoochBehar, while the straight one leads to Alipurduar Old Town and to the left takes you to New Alipurduar Station and Kamakhyaguri, a village township nearby.

On the way to Kaljani Bridge, is the Alipurduar Station. The MG line trisects near the Station, and I suppose, they used to have crossings here, because all through the MG System was a Single line network. It was enough for the Tour-Launching day, and time to have a desired sleep, now.

Day Three - Buxa Tiger Reserve - Jayanti Range - Rajabhatkhawa Museum and Baneswar Temple.

We had booked ourselves a Tourist Vehicle, last night, and it arrived sharp by 07:00 AM, at the door step. We were moving out for a day trip to the famous Buxa Duar Range of the Buxa Tiger Reserve. Buxa Forest, once famous for Dolomite Mining, was declared as a Tiger Reserve on the 16th of February, 1983. However, the Buxa Division was created in 1877 - 78 and it got the status of a National Park in 1992. Buxa has an area of 761 sq. km, the largest forest in North Bengal and has the second largest Tiger Population in Bengal, after the Sunderbans. It is located in the Assam - Bhutan Border.

Vital Statistics:

  • Overall Area: 761 sq km
  • Core Area: 314.5 sq km
  • Buffer Area: 446.5 sq km
  • Wildlife Sanctuary: 269 sq km
  • National Park: 117 sq km
  • Reserve Forest: 740.5 sq km
  • Protected Forest: 6.2 sq km
  • Un-Classed Forest: 14.3 sq km
  • Plantation: 255 sq km
  • High Forest and Other Use: 506 sq km

(Info Courtesy: Buxa Museum)

We moved from Alipurduar, and had the permit challan from the picketing office of the Check post gate at Rajabhatkhawa (@ Rs. 60 /- incl. of Vehicle Charges. and Camera). It was then time to drive through the music of wilderness, the chirping of birds and the songs of wild streams steeping through countless hurdles. The fragrance of the greens is a delight that takes one all away from the traumatic tales of life. We drove almost 25 km's to reach Santrabari, at a height of almost a 1000 ft, which is the end of the motorable road way to Buxa. The name of this place is derived because of its famous Orange (Santra) plantations. From here a trek of 5km takes one to the famous Buxa Fort where Legends like Netaji Subhas Chandra had been kept captive. And a further 4km trek through the forest track leads to Rover's Point at a height of 4500ft, home to a varied species of birds. Further uphill, moving 12km would take one to the mystics of the Rupam Valley in Bhutan. During monsoons, it is prescribed not to walk in the forest, so unfortunately, we could not explore beyond Santrabari. But yes, the view of the rythmic clouds and a glimpse of the green ranges satisfied our needs of a refreshing retreat. The Bala Nadi (Local Stream, named Bala) taking a curve is a wonderful sight. Buxa National Park is home to Elephants, Indian Bison, various species of Deer and many smaller mammals, innumerable species of Birds and reptiles, apart from the regulation Leopards and Tiger population. We had half an hour of halt here, and then moved downhill towards the second spot of the day, the Jayanti Range.

The way to Jayanti Range, falls on the same the same route from Alipurduar to Buxa Duar Range. After a drive of 14km it diverts towards the right to lead to Buxa, while the one going straight heads for Santrabari. We therefore took the diversion this time, to reach Jayanti. Jayanti, during the earlier British Rule used to have a Meter-Gauge railway connection, but now only the pillars of a destroyed railway bridge remain, with every single metal of the railway system washed out in a devastating flood. We had to cross the river bed to reach the other end of it, because there is no Road Bridge available. This was an interesting experience, to drive on a river. And this was the spot where the famous Bengali Movie 'Abaar Oronney' (Back to the Jungles, Again), was shot. We moved further through the tunes of natural sounds, to reach Jayanti. We had to sign in to the Tourist Entry Register of SSB (Sima Suraksha Bal - BSF), and then move ahead. Just after the BSF Tent, is the old Meter-Gauge Station of Jayanti, now transformed into a local Tea Stall!!

The driver took us to the end of the road. It was a natural portrait all together, with a Range of hills standing high and the clouds seem like negotiating with them. The flutes of the green all round, with the songs of the gorgeous Jayanti River flowing in front of us, seemed completely out of the world. We had a break on the dry area of the river bed, and relaxed. A broken Roadway bridge could be located at a considerable distance, traversed by the river. Got to know, that the river used to be of that width many years ago, and once the flood hit, it stretched upto five times, to be what it is now, tattering all settlements on its way. We heard that where we were standing today, used to be a bustling British colony, all drained in that flood. The river is almost 6 times in width compared to the main stream Ganges of Calcutta. Nature always Strikes back and makes its way! Having relished the spectacular hill top views and the dancing clouds, we bid Jayanti goodbye, and headed back towards Rajabhatkhawa.

Reached Rajabhatkhawa at 12:30 PM. This area falls under the Buxa Tiger Reserve, and Rajabhatkhawa is itself under the Buffer Area. Rajabhatkhawa Wildlife Rehabilitation Center is home to some of the Leopards rescued from nearby localities. There were Ten (10) Leopards in different cages, but after we were back to Kolkata, the news read one of them died. Within the last One and a half year Ten Leopards, including cubs have been reported died, due to unknown reasons. It is nothing but complete ignorance displayed by Forest Officials, I must say. I am saying this so rudely, because of their approach towards these creatures is intolerable. Keeping two matured Leopards in a 5 sq ft cage! It is better for them to die than tolerate this kind of a life. Even no Forest Officer can be found all day in this Center! Just as expected from West Bengal Forest Development Corporation!! Keep it up guys, and then write on the Display Boards - Protect Leopards and Tigers!! Sarcastic Ideas in Practice!! And these officials especially in the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary are so illicit in their behavior that I can't just say. We had been to the L.W. Officer of Jaldapara Sanctuary for an Entry Permit for 14th of June. As usual he was not there during the daily duty hours, at 11:00 Noon (Not even Lunch time for Americans!), and we were redirected to his sub-ordinate officer by his maid servant, sitting in his chair. Can you imagine this is INDIA, where a maid orders from the officer's chair!! And the sub-ordinate, a physically handicapped guy (I Intend not to hurt any one's sentiments as such, but being forced to do so!!), was so ill behaved, that he hooted us like street dogs. I do not know who provides them so much of a power. Guys, sorry I went a bit off the trip, but yes it was necessary to let all know about these staffs!!

So that's the story behind these innocent animals dying. After a visit to this 'Rehabilitation' Centre we had a go to the Local Rajabhatkhawa - Buxa Museum. This Museum has all the information's on the Buxa Tiger Reserve, with specific displays of Foot Prints of Tigers and Leopards, gathered during the Tiger Census in 1991. Several other constituents included Elephant Skull, Tiger Skin and detailed photographs of the forest. Snake Skins of the Python or Cobra are well preserved. Various Eggs of Birds and Snakes are preserved as well. Detailed Introduction to the local Aboriginals is also a noteworthy feature. Everything is fine, but the staff is not interactive at all. Anyways, now that's a part of it. My Parents moved into the Orchid Plantations after this, while I enjoyed a welcome break:. I visited the Buxa Jungle Lodge for some Informative Brochures, and luckily got a miniature copy.

It was merely 01:00 PM, and so we decided for something more. Move Ahead and the next stop would be Baneswar Shiva Temple. Baneswar, 14 km from Alipurduar, is one of the famous Shiva Temples in the CoochBehar region. This temple has a 'Shivalinga', or the presiding deity, resting 10 feet below the plinth level, similar to the 'Ekteswar' Temple at Bankura. Photography for any Temples in the CoochBehar Region is costly, @ Rs.10/- tickets needed for shooting inside the Temple complex. The temple complex has a sizeable pond, full of Tortoises of various sizes. The water of the pond is quantitatively dirty, but the number of tortoises is admirable. Some of the team members are pretty old and large in size too. Lunch was taken at a local hotel - Apanjan (Close to your heart).

This was all for the day, and we shifted to Hotel Chitra, for the remaining stay in Alipurduar.

Day Four - CoochBehar and its surrounds.

Morning of Day 4 and we were all set for CoochBehar. In the morning we started off by a local tourist jeep, called Savari. Charged at Rs.12/- per person, these vehicles cover the almost 35 km distance in about 45 min. We started at 10:30 AM, and arrived in CoochBehar at 11:15 AM. First stop was the CoochBehar Raj Bari or the Palace of the Cooch (Koch) Kings. Just a five minute walk from the Govt. Bus Terminus at CoochBehar, would take one to the Gate of this colonial structure. This is the heart of the city, where the kingdom of the Koch kings is centered at. The Palace has an Entry Fee of Rs.5/- per head, and is now being conserved by the Archaeological Survey of India -ASI. Idealized from the concept of classical European Style of Italian Renaissance, the architectural grandeur was built by the famous Koch King - His Majesty Maharaja Nripendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur in the year 1885 -1887. The Double Storied structure, raised on a basement of 1.5 meters in height, covers an area of 4768 sq meters. CoochBehar had been the capital of the Koch kings for more than 400 years. After the death of the last ruling king, Maharaja Nripiti Jagadeependra Narayan in 1973, the palace lost its old glory and was in ruins, until the ASI came up with the credibility of conservation. Now the Palace compound has a well maintained Garden area, with fountains and green surrounds. The evening illumination of the Palace is also worth an experience.

The Palace is a combination of Dutch and European architecture, and has a Six Gallery Museum inside it, displaying the various tales of the Koch Dynasty. The Central Hall or Durbar Hall has the pictorial gallery of the Koch Rulers, and some of the work done by ASI in and around CoochBehar, for example in the nearby Rajpat Mound (near Daihata). The other galleries display the local habitats of CoochBehar, the Royal Gallery constituting Royal Seals and stamps used by Koch rulers. The Durbar hall has a centered floor insignia deciphering the words of Royal Justice, in practice during the regal days. More than fifty rooms are their in this palatial structure, including kitchen, dancing hall, dining hall, library, toshakhana, and the ladies gallery. Royal Women used to watch every happening from behind the curtain raise, and that is what can still be experienced on the second storey of the palace. The curtains still stand folding the legendary tales of Koch Raj.

The next lookout was Madan Mohan Temple of CoochBehar, the most famous of all temples, in and around town. Located at a short distance from the Palace, we opted for a Rickshaw to reach the temple. The temple was built by the Koch King Nripendra Narayan during 1885 - 1889. The prima focus goes to the main sactum sanctorum of Lord Madan Mohan (Krishna), and Goddess Kali, Tara and Bhawani (Three Forms of Power). The temple architecture has the similar Koch style of a Round Dome like top. We spent some time, and set off for one of the spots I was dying to visit, the Old MG Station of CoochBehar.

The Old CoochBehar Station is close by, and I was Eager to see a Complete MG Station. The road took us past the famous Victoria College, Jenkins School and Sagar Dighi (Royal Lake - used by the Kings). The station stands intact, without any service though! It has an active PRS Counter, for Long distant connections. Just to have a look, I entered the premises, of this nice looking station building, had a snap, and moved out, for the afternoon appetite. We had Lunch, at the Gopal Cabin, inside CoochBehar Market, and it was time to head back. A North Bengal State Transport Corporation Bus, and whiz past by side of the tempting glory of the lost MG, we were in Alipurduar within 20 minutes. Fares in the Bus are reasonable @ Rs.10/- per head. It was time for a daily jot down, before snoring deep into the world of dreams, far away from the madding loops of life.

Day Five - The Gateway of Bhutan: Phountsholing

With a jam packed schedule in hand, we could not rest long. This time it was our neighboring country - Bhutan, on the cards. As scheduled, we departed sharp at 09:30 AM, for a 70 km ride to Phountsholing. Phountsholing is the third biggest city in Bhutan after Thimpu and Paro, leaving beside the Royal Kingdom at Punakha. Paro is home to the only Airport in Bhutan, and is known for its Druk Air Services. Basically serving as a Border Township, this small city of the Kingdom, signifies the potent connections between India and Bhutan. The Road to Jaigaon, the last Indian town, near Bhutan, on the Indo-Bhutan Road, is quite scenic, with the famous Dalsingpara Tea Gardens on both sides, running parallel to the roads.

We arrived in Phountsholing at 11:45 AM. The famous Bhutan-Gate, an exquisite example of Tibetan and Bhutanese architecture, greeted us on our way.The view of the surrounding hills is dramatic, with the monsoons playing an integral part in this exclusive natural craftsmanship. Primarily, we headed for the famous Buddhist Gumpha or Monastery of Phountsholing, adjoining the Royal Rest house (Used by the Royal personnel during their visit). This place is like a step while traveling high towards Thimpu, and interior Bhutan. A nice park, and green surrounds, with an excellent circular view of the River - Torsha, flowing on the lap of numerous hills. The aerial view of Jaigaon and Lower Phountsholing region is also excellent. The Monastery is quite like many other Tibetan or Bhutanese Monasteries. It is the natural feeling that touches one, most.

We spent some time, alongside the charming nature, and then it was time to ride back. We spent some time near the Local Crocodile rescue centre, before it started pouring heavily, and we had to rush for a desirable shelter. Carved on all sides by nature, Phountsholing is a pleasant valley. On our way back, the mid-day supper was taken at the locally famous Nimati Dhaba, near the Nimati Beat. Having had a mere session of day dreaming, we passed by the Hasimara Range and reached Alipurduar by 04:00 PM. A desirable sleep was necessary, for the Big-One coming up, the next day - Lava / Lolegaon.

Day Six - To the Green Hills of Lava & Lolegaon.

This was the real surprise package for us! We had got something more than deserved. Reaching Lava and Lolegaon from Alipurduar is quite amazing and unexpected too. A considerable distance to cover, we had to start as early as 05:15 AM. A cup of the famous Hilly Refresher - Tea, and we were all charged up for the show. The National Highway has been our friend for the past couple of days, on the different destinations, we were to. This was the longest time to share with her, the hide and seeks of the wild and deep. We ran on the NH-31 (Siliguri - Guwahati), till Damdim (150 km from Alipurduar). The highway runs like a necklace curving through the variety of forests and Beats. The list included Poro Bajar Beat, Western Chilapata Range, Hasimara Range, Binnaguri Air Force Station, Batabari Forest, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, and many more...

The densest amongst them all is the Chilapata Range, which we had planned to visit next. After having filled ourselves with some morning stock, at Malbajar, we moved straight towards Damdim. The roadway runs parallel to the Railway tracks, and so the view of the zigzags is beautiful. The famous bridges, like the Dyna Bridge, the Torsha Bridge, would remain an evergreen destination for nature lovers and photographers. Well passed Chalsa, the gateway to the famous Gorumara National Park, and the Jaldhaka Project, we reached Damdim at 09:25 AM. It is from Damdim, we started gaining altitude. The 55 km stretch from Damdim to Lava, can be easily compared to as the Scotland of India. Every corner and turn has something on offer for you! The natural playground for the clouds, often transforms the atmosphere into a celestial surround. We had a cup of tea mid way to Lava, in a local Hotel Parkar, with the local people so fiendly, that they allowed us inside their house, to see the views from their balcony. The spectacular flight of mingling clouds seemed to remind me of Wordsworth and Byron..

There is nothing much to explore in Lava, located at an altitude of 7200 feet,but the scenes enroute, are a true delight to any and every tourist. Lava is the gateway to the famous Neora Valley National Park. The Park is spread across the deep and dense forests of these hills, and is home to various species of Leopards and wild birds. A Natural Water Tank, located almost in the centre of this miniature hill township, stores the rain waters for recycling and public use.

Lava and Lolegaon are constituted under the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, with an easy accessibility to Kalimpong (32 kms from LAVA) and Darjeeling. On our way towards Lolegaon, we did not halt at Lava. Instead we opted for a lunch in Lolegaon. After covering a 24 km stretch from Lava to Lolegaon, negotiating numerous curves and gradients, we were running high on appetite. After reaching Lolegaon at around 01:00 PM, we decided to first explore the region. Lolegaon is at an altitude of 5500 feet. Got to know, that the local restaurants do not have sufficient food available, all the time, and so an order needs to be pre-placed, allowing them cook the ordered dishes and serve them within desirable time. Having ourselves well placed for the issue, we decided to move along the trails of the mystifying land.

The famous attractions of Lolegaon include the Canopy Walk, inside the Heritage Forest, the Titli Park and the two Sunrise and Sunset view points, accessible by mid-ranged treks only. We opted for the Heritage Park first, because this is what we have been watching on the TV's all through the time, whenever Lolegaon is on focus.

The Heritage Park is a pride of Lolegaon, with numerous genres of wild and almost extinct group of vegetation and fauna well conserved. Tickets are needed to visit the Park, and charges, are a bit high - Rs10/- per person. The external beauty of the park was looking attractive, but we went wrong in calculating prejudice. This park, during the monsoons, is heaven to an extremely dangerous species of leeches. They were available, in plenty, greeting us all through the way to the hanging Canopy Walk Bridge. We all were so disturbed by the presence of this tiny but scary organism that we could not even afford to enjoy or relish the surrounding atmosphere, but instead seemed to be rushing in and running out, with eyes constantly monitoring both sides of the paved mud-pathway. It was like a sigh of relief, when all were found back on the metalled road, without a single 'mighty devil', shaking hands with us. These organisms look like a tiny 1cm long string, but are so dangerous that suck out enough blood from a human body within least time. Their presence can only be felt after considerable span has passed, and the point, on which they attack, starts paining badly. Horrified and terrified, we checked ourselves thoroughly, and then it was time for a lunch break.

Food was ready, and we had them served hot. Egg is the only reliable item on the hills, where Chicken or Fish can never be expected to be fresh or recently packaged. So we all had Egg Curry and Rice. A short walk along side the greenery, after this and time saw us back into the car, ready for the long journey back into the plains. The DGHC Kalimpong Range Beat Lodge, in Lolegaon has excellent view front rooms ready for service.

On our way back, we stopped at Lava, and I stepped into the famous Lava - LMKI Monastery, commonly known as Lava Gumpha. The trail of Stupas in front of the monastery, remind us of typical Buddhist legends. The Monastery, also of a considerable quantum, is home to an Institute of Tibetology. A quick round to have an insight, and sharing a regular practice of rotating the Prayer Wheels, it was like an eternal pleasure. The steps to the Monastery are the ones leading towards peace and tranquility.

Time was running high, and I had one last spot in my day's itinerary, The Neora Valley National Park Interpretation Centre and Museum. This museum details upon the wildlife habitat of Neora Valley National Park. Different species of animals including the Red Pandas, Leopards, Tigers and Snakes reside inside the deeps of the three-level National Park. The Neora Valley National Park is stratified into Upper, Middle and Lower Neora Valley National Park. Other animals include a variety of unknown Birds, Reptiles, and insects that tune the songs in these evergreen hills. According to the information, available in this museum, there are 10 Tigers and 21 leopards in this National Park (source -1998-99 Tiger Census). Having gathered enough information about the wildlife and ecology of Neora Valley, I realized it was time to bid adieu to the Interpretation Centre. One thing really appreciable was the Curator of this museum. A Mid-Aged man, so courteous, is the first I have ever encountered. He opens the museum, whenever any rare visitor arrives here, and then pleasantly requests him for a suggestion update in the neat and clean register. It was 03:00 PM already, and I had to hurry, so as to make sure we reach Alipurduar by 08:00 PM.

We drove back past the same way, as if rolling back the chapters of an unseen beauty, carved deep inside the heart of memories that would be cherished throughout the life.

One by one, all the hills seemed to un-wrap the folds of togetherness, and bid us farewell, back to the world of tangles. They are where they will be, and continue satisfying the quench of a tired soul for ever and ever after. We were on time, to reach back. A journey through the pitch darkness of dense thorough jungles is the ultimate experience. Tired were we, but whenever a glimpse of the garland of hills, came into the mind, it seemed refreshed time and again.

Day Seven - Chilapata Forests - Nal Rajar Garh / Totopara and South KhairBari Leopard Rehabilitation Centre.

Primarily planned for Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, the desire went in vain as I mentioned earlier. To leave the day, go waste, was unwanted, so we decided to explore another thrilling destination, the Chilapata Forests. This forest is one of the many untold stories in itself, engulfing into itself deep mysteries of the glorious past. The archaeologically significant - NAL RAJAR GARH is located inside the dense woods of this Chilapata Range. A tiring day earlier, lead to a late start on this exciting morning, and we chose the clock to tick just 10:00 AM, when we could kick off for this semifinal day of the well planned Dooars Trip. As usual for the Bengali Standard Time, we were desirably on time, to move out at 10:20 AM. Enroute Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, we took a sharp left bend, approaching Hasimara, towards the Kodal-Basti Range, off the National Highway. Compared to the smooth highway touch, all through these days, we ended up being on craters of the moon. Damaged all through, this is known to be an Army-Service road that stands with least or no maintenance. A 10 km ride into the denser zone, took us to the first check-post of the Kodal-Basti Range, from where we were signaled Green, towards the Chilapata Beat Office. From here on, the road conditions improved a lot, with the forest wealth enriched on both sides, greeting us towards one of the most serene forest ranges of the Jalpaiguri District. Chilapata Forest remains closed to public, during the monsoons, because of the mating season prevailing. A prolonged series of requests to the Beat Officer, found him obliged, at last. He allowed us enter the forest and visit the Historic Nal Rajar Garh (Fort of King- Nal), but only with a Forest Guide on board. We were more than happy to agree, with ourselves on a more secure end. So after it was settled with the official rules abided, a Forest Guide - Subhas Rava, took my seat beside the driver and we moved on!

Chilapata is home to Tigers, and is an extension of the Buxa Tiger Reserve Project. A mental satisfaction, of a forest guide on board was enough to provide enthusiasm, but a line of fear ran at the back of everyone's mind, till we were finally out of this core forest. After a considerable run on road, we were diverted into a scrupulous mud paved track, with dense forest vegetation on both sides, leaving the width just enough for the vehicle to dribble through! At a stones throw away, from where we entered, was the first sign of my dream site. This was the Western Wall of the Fortress, almost in dilapidated stage, with an information plaque on it reading - Nal Rajar Garh - Western Rampart Wall. I was feeling nostalgic, to see in front the pages from a world of untold history. Next to follow was one of many aqueducts of brick, to stand till date! The leech alarm was now out of mind, and what I saw was like my dream come true! This monument is one of the largest secular monuments of Gupta Period so far surviving in West Bengal - According to Sri. Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Ex. National Professor of India in Humanities, 1968.

The old buttresses stand upright till today, and when I found, one in front of me, I could not resist a peep through. Emotion faced the natural constraints, and I had to withdraw myself from being into extreme proximity, that might lead to a precarious doom. More the depth of the jungle, and we were in the middle of a 2000 year old fortress, which might be still preserving unknown treasures from the ancient and glorious past. Soon, it was the decrepit Eastern Wall, of the fort that we came across. Although the structures stand on their last legs, the alignment and motive stand distinct. This was a Fortification, used for defense against external intruders, during the civilization transit in the sub-Himalayan 'terai' Regions of North East India.

Lying close to the Jaldapara Game Sanctuary and being approachable from places such as Hasimara, CoochBehar, Falakata and Alipurduar the ancient fortification of Nalrajar Garh occupies a space of about half-a-mile square, excluding an outer defence beyond the western moat or ditch. While there are indications that there was a phase of earlier construction of kiln-burnt bricks in the area the main walls or ramparts with buttresses, arches, steppings, niches, conduits, and aqueducts were built according to a regular plan based on tactical device and strategy of war and defence.

We drove further towards the East, on the hurdling tracks, to end up meeting the present flow stream of the ancient Bania River. It is presumable that during the ancient times, the deep river with a splendid flow of waters was the main mode of transportation in this region. That is one of the integral reasons behind such a fortification, amidst dense jungle of lofted woods.

Much of the Southern and Northern Walls of the Nalrajar Garh, now stand extremely fragile by the time of nature. So approaching these parts was not advisable during monsoons and as advised we did not try reaching the extreme zone. Along the line of fortification, inside the deep forest zone, we could trace a pair of Elephants sharing a pleasant and personal mood. They were at a reasonable distance, and we stopped for a glimpse, before they were attracted. It is known that the Elephants of Chilapata are ferocious in nature, and commit unprecedented attitudes, anytime and every time, one has encountered them! On the way, a National Bird - the proud Peacock, waited to greet us, as we showed our gratitude and moved along the ripples of a varied bio-diversity.

Exploring the famous Nalrajar Garh, is impossible to be done in one life, because of the unknown depths, mysteries and legends that need to be unfolded throughout the decades of time.

We were almost on the half-day mark, and so thought of giving it a try to Jaldapara. The Leopards conserved inside cages, and the surroundings of the Forest Bungalows, were the only sights around. Having a nice lunch of sweets at the famed Dhaba of Madarihat, we decided that it was time for Totopara - the village of the Oldest and prime Indian Aboriginals - the Totos.

Totopara is 30 km from Madarihat. A small village located on the banks of the river Torsha near the Bhutan Border stands today as the only habitation of the Dooars aboriginals - the Totos. Their number has drastically dwindled to less than a Hundred now. The approach road from Madarihat is entirely distorted, courtesy to the unleashed flow of river water during the flooded monsoon every year, forming moon like craters everywhere on the track surface. The crests and troughs of these dismantled pits shook us, all through our journey, to get a glimpse of the prime Indian Aboriginals. The road crosses over three sizeable river beds, and transportation is only desirable when the bed remains free from the vigorous flow of rain waters. On certain points the roadway and river way merge into a single entity, and the pebbled side road makes you feel on a tremor zone, counted to get past soon. Totos, unlike the other aboriginal derivative like 'Jarawas' in Andaman, are much civilized, with regards to their clothing, food habits or social activities. They have a well led social life style with Village Panchayats/Municipalities in place. They were known to have been hostile, but nothing so was found. It is known that a group of these ethnic aboriginals still remain, who are cannibals in nature, and lead a hostile life style, far away from their civilized counterparts, close to the Bhutan Border. Having covered a reasonable distance towards the interiors, we preferred a quick head back towards the township, as it was already evening. A view of the serene hills from Totopara, is a must see, to understand the essence of nature they feel.

Last but not the least, was the South Khairbari Beat - Leopard Rehabilitation Centre and Nature Park. Subhas Rava, the local forest guide who accompanied us all through the day, was insisting for a visit to the South Khairbari Leopard Safari. So we traversed another 10 km from Madarihat to reach the Nature Park. Improperly charged at Rs10 /- per head for an entry to this park, is completely undesirable, because of the uninteresting contents. We took our tickets and went in, and got to know that the so called Leopard Safari is quite unreasonable at Rs 50/- per person. They had three Leopards inside a small bounded territory that was encircled by a Battery-driven non-polluting Auto, manufactured by WEBREDA. After having visited one of the Worlds famous Safari's in Bangkok, Thailand - The Safari World, this seemed to be a complete waste of money, and we denied the call of the Leopards this time.

It was a tiring day, and after bidding Subhas adieu in Hasimara and paying him his charges (Forest Guide in Chilapata Charges Rs90/- per vehicle), we were desperate to return back and have some rest. The vehicle contract was over, after a 4-day tour program was over. We had enjoyed every bits of it, excepting the driver who at a few times went on advising us according to his wishes and wants. That is India, where you can never expect life to be smooth as silk, and these hardships form an integral part. Looking forward to the final day coming ahead, we dived deep into the ocean of a well dedicated siesta.

Day Eight - Rasikbill Eco-Tourism Centre

The day before, we were set to start back for our return to Calcutta, was decided to be spent at Rasikbill - Eco Tourism Centre. Rasikbill is a couple of hours drive away from Alipurduar, via Bhagirahat - Tepathi, Antiomachar Beat and Kamakhyaguri. We had ourselves settled in an Auto-Rickshaw after due negotiations in place, settled at Rs.210/- for a both way ride. The roadways as usual in a pathetic state, desperately need maintenance. We came across three under-construction bridges, being built by the side of old and existing viaducts ready to be declared history. Rasikbill is home to a wide variety of avifauna that is found around here. Charged at Rs2/- per head for Entry, Rs10/- per vehicle and Rs2/- per head for Deer Park; it is much reasonable compared to the South Khairbari Leopard Rehab' Park!! The rescued wildlife included Crocodiles, Peacocks, Guinea pigs and Snakes. A boat ride from one unit of this eco-tourism centre to the other, takes one to a world of Deer's. It is a dedicated Deer Rescue Centre, with almost 30 odd deer's roaming around and ready to pose for photography. Rasikbill, is a pride for Bird spotters, as a variety of different species of birds can be located here. The magic of nature and colorful butterflies playing all around add to an eternal essence of this atmosphere.

Back from Rasikbill, we decided to have a go at the New Alipurduar Station. It is located near Chowpathi, Alipurduar. A quick spotting included:

  • Kamrup Express towards GHY - WDMx
  • North East Express towards NJP - WDMx
  • Dibrugarh Rajdhani Express - WDM3A (?)

I had a chat with the Station Supt., and bought myself a souvenir Platform Ticket to head back towards our hotel.

While on our way, we had to go to the Junction Station (APDJ) as well, to meet someone. So, meanwhile others were busy meeting and greeting, I went on to collect the second souvenir for myself, this time from Alipurduar Junction. An Air Braked Coach - 6203 AB - First Class Coach, was kept on the line adjoining Platform No. 1 with Marks of NF. The coach had an Emergency Window facility as well. Not sure about its purpose though!

Day Nine - Departure from Alipurduar

It was now time to bid adieu to the fascinating mystics of Dooars and head back to work and usual life, with the enthusiasm that can satisfy the needs for one more year?

We were at the station almost 45 minutes prior to our scheduled departure at 16:15 Hrs. I got engaged in taking down the rake numbers as usual, to keep myself busy.

Coach typeCoach Seial #
Luggage +RMS + Guard 99719A
GNL (II) 92494 AB
GNL (II) 02444 AB
SL (S-8) 83206 AB
SL (S-7) 98321 A
SL 98319 A
AC - II -Tier Sleeper Car 93080 A
AC - III - Tier 01114 AB
SL (S-5) 84202 AB
SL (S-4) 90271 AB
SL (S-3) 00350 AB
SL (S-2) 01216 AB
SL (S-1) 99254 AB
Luggage + Guard + Ladies 85710 A

Loco on Command: WDM 2 - 17288 - BWN (ACD - Fitted)

It was a Loco + 14 Coach Combination. No Shunter required due to Parent Loco reversal at Terminating / Originating Station.

Time moved like a breeze, and we sooner than later set off for a journey back to our homes. It all ended up like an illusion, paved and surrounded by a world of green.

Day Ten - Reach Kolkata

A wise decision to get off at Bidhannagar Road, and a quick cab-catch, took us home within 09:00 AM. Relaxed as I feel, the only words..

Thanks to Nature for a refreshing touch to the heart and soul that would surely remain till the day I live.

Hope you had a nice reading....

Material provided by Saurab Basu, Copyright © 2005.
Note: This site is not officially affiliated with Indian Railways! The official web site of Indian Railways is: http://www.indianrailways.gov.in
Site contact: webmaster@irfca.org   Mailing list contact: irfca-owner@yahoogroups.com
Copyright © 2007, IRFCA.org. Acknowledgements  Legal Information & Disclaimers