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|14th May 2017, 03:00||#1|
Call of the Wild: 1627 km drive to Jaldapara National Park, Buxa, Jayanti & Phuntsholing (Bhutan)
It's Monday - The day I start to pen down this travelogue. Monday is usually characterized by gloomy faces, tired at the thought of a long week ahead. "Had there been an extra day off each week" - the thought playing in the mind of each of those faces.
That day was no different either. Having reached office earlier and back from a wonderful road trip a week before, my soul was still lingering around the forests of North Bengal. A journey that soaked our eyes in greenery and gave Us - the poor souls living amidst concrete structures - a chance to revive our energy.
A journey that started with a splash of greenery by Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
Followed by warm welcome from mesmerizing Dooars
A journey that saw "Sherdil" take us to some Core area of the forests..
..And passing the baton to "Gypsies" to take us to Grasslands, much deeper within
From a ride that gave us an experience of a lifetime..
..To a drive of a different kind over a white river bed..
..made possible by our trusted steed-"Sherdil"
A journey that even went beyond boundaries..
..And left us with sweet memories
..And lots of smiles
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 22nd May 2017 at 23:22.
|14th May 2017, 03:06||#2|
With the memories of the trip revolving in my mind, I suddenly realized that it was a Monday as well when on the way to office my wife and myself planned for this trip. Yes! The plan was made in my Car and all the hotel booking formalities were done that day only!
We fixed the date taking into account the holiday of 1st May, 2017 and with the addition of 2 days of leave, that took the tally to 5 days including Saturday and Sunday. With the summer already set in, we had to choose between Himalayas and Forests, but finally the urge to see the wildlife in their own ground won over our hearts. Having visited the Gorumara National Park (WB) in 2015 and Kuldiha Forest (OR) this year, we felt an unknown attraction towards the serenity of the forests even if, say, no wildlife spotting is possible. We, for long, had a plan to visit the forests in West Bengal lying farther East and extending into Bhutan. The stretch comprising of Jaldapara National Park and Buxa Tiger Reserve (NP) including the Jayanti forest zone extending into Bhutan was very much in our to do list for long. Coupled with the development of WB Tourism in this area and the focus of Forest Department towards introduction of more Tigers in this zone made us finalize our journey to this area.
Two of the best places to stay around Jaldapara National Park are:
1) Hollong bungalow maintained by WBFDC. Booking can be done from West Bengal Tourism portal.
2) Jaldapara Tourist Lodge maintained by West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. Booking can be done from West Bengal Tourism portal.
The most sought after place of stay is the Hollong bungalow which is lies 6 km inside the Jaldapara National Park with the privilege of spotting wildlife from the room. With such privilege comes high demand. Naturally, I couldn't book a room there even 2 months prior to the date of journey. I heard that booking for this property opens 4 months prior to a particular date and is usually filled up on the opening day itself.
Next choice for us was the Jaldapara Tourist lodge, which also lies inside the forest, but not that deep within the forest. Its located around 300 meters inside. We booked two AC rooms in wooden block for 2 nights. At the time of booking, we were not sure whether my In-Law's would be traveling with us not as they were skeptical of the long journey by road. But such was the enthusiasm that we went ahead with the booking of two rooms, with the option of cancelling one room, if required. Details of the booking, prices of rooms and feedback on our staying experiences would be covered in the later part of the travelogue. For now, we were all set for the beautiful journey to the Forests of Bengal - "The Sweetest Part of India".
The itinerary of our travel :
Day 1 (27th Apr) - Kolkata to Siliguri
Day 2 (28th Apr) - Siliguri to Jaldapara National Park. Stay
Day 3 (29th Apr) - Stay at Jaldapara NP with day visit to Buxa Tiger Reserve and Jayanti zone of Buxa NP
Day 4 (30th Apr) - Visit Phunsholing (Bhutan) and stay at Raiganj on the journey back.
Day 5 (1st May) - Raiganj to Kolkata
|18th May 2017, 02:26||#3|
Day 1 - Kolkata to Siliguri
My parents in law confirmed their participation in our journey. The itinerary was chalked out and hotel bookings were also done at Jaldapara. Only booking pending was for our stay at Siliguri on Day 1 and for our stay at Raiganj during the return journey. My previous experience of being stuck at Farakka for 4 hours and not able to reach Siliguri on first day was playing in my mind and barring me from booking a hotel at Siliguri. But at the same time the presence of in-laws with us was pushing my mind against run time hotel booking. Finally, on the night before the journey while I was waiting for for my wife on the way back from office, I opened up the MakeMyTrip App and booked two Non-AC rooms at Hotel Vinayak Inn, Siliguri. The review of the hotel was good and at the same time got a good discount for a booking done earlier.
We went home, done some final round of packing and went to bed early after having our dinner. The excitement of a road trip is always special and this time it was no different. The welcome by Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, the gurgling of river Teesta at Sevoke, the sound of the bell at a temple high up in the mountains fading and gaining prominence with the twists and turns of the road and the green and mesmerizing road through the jungle of "Dooars" - all was being visualized by a "somewhat tired" mind.
I had to pick up my in-laws from their home so we woke up early. At around 4 am we loaded all our luggage in our EON (aka "Sherdil") and left for in-laws house. They were equally excited and were ready with their luggage. We loaded up their luggage in the boot and started at around 4:45 am.
Before daylight, we were outside the city of Kolkata and made good progress. We stopped briefly at Shaktigarh for a tea break. We took the exit through Burdwan Town before connecting to State Highway 7. We followed SH7 through Nabagram, Khargram before connecting to NH12 (earlier NH34) at Moregram. The entire stretch of SH7 is in prime condition with good to very good surface all through. Only concern are the massive speed breakers near Kapsore village which I couldn't escape scraping lightly in spite of being at near zero speed.
A stretch of SH7 with green fields on both sides
My wife busy capturing the beauty of "Rural Bengal"
A beautiful stretch of road..
..covered by natural canopy
The beautiful State Highway with paddy fields on both sides..
..and some beautiful colors of Nature adorning the sidelines
The good surface of SH7 helped us in maintaining good timing and we were at BP COCO outlet,Moregram at around 10:15 am. We topped up our car at the fuel station and had our lunch at the adjoining Dhaba. We knew that all the congestion prone sections of the route i.e. Farakka, Kaliachak, Malda etc lies ahead and so its better to leave early.
We started our journey post lunch at 11:30 am. The stretch of NH12 from Moregram - Farakka was a cruise with 4 lane road all the way, except for short stretches in between. To my surprise, Dhulian to Farakka stretch was completely congestion free and we crossed the Farakka barrage at 12:30 pm. The toll operations have started on the Farakka-Raiganj stretch with the toll booths, which were under construction during our earlier travels, now fully operational. As far as I can recapitulate, we found two toll booths in the Farakka-Raiganj stretch with single journey costing INR 40 each.
A toll booth carrying the signage of fully functional Farakka-Raiganj stretch
We could have hardly imagined that a super surprise was still in store for us. Kaliachak, once dreaded for massive traffic snarls, now a four lane corridor! Absolutely free of congestion, probably first time we were smiling as we crossed Kaliachak. Moreover, majority of the stretch of NH12 between Kaliachak and Gour Malda (before Malda Town) are now four lane. But our smile didn't last long as Malda Town presented us with something which Farakka and Kaliachak spared. Long queue of stagnant trucks on a two lane road about 3 kms before Malda Rathbari More. Some wrong lane and some no-road driving saved some time. The congestion continued till we crossed the Mahananda bridge on the other side. We lost about an hour in the traffic. After crossing the Mahananda bridge, the four lane started. Here we could get a glimpse of Malda bypass under construction, which would provide further respite from a major zone of traffic snarl.
The stretch of NH 12 after crossing the Mahananda bridge in Malda till Raiganj is super smooth now. The same stretch literally made us cry one and half years back. It was 3 pm when we crossed Raiganj and stopped for a tea break.
The night before our journey I had a chat with BHPian "shantonob" who just came back from a trip to Ravangla, Sikkim. He briefed me on the condition of the road and which route to take. He advised me to take Botolbari-Dhantola road instead of the Dalkhola route from Raiganj. I would like take this opportunity to thank him for the road condition update.
After having our tea, we moved on. Within a few kilometers, we witnessed the bad stretch of NH12 with potholes everywhere. We finalized our decision to take the Botolbari exit. After managing rough roads for 10 more kms, we took a right turn at Botolbari. The road, though narrow at places, was in good condition. Minimal traffic helped us make steady progress. Gmap showed us the route while MMI failed here, may be it needs an update. Nevertheless, after driving for about 65 kms we reached Dhantola on NH31. The last 200 meters of the road before landing on NH31 was like hell but manageable with careful driving. This was going to be our best timing for the journey to Siliguri. From Dhantola, the four lane NH31 was in good condition and it took us 1.5 hours to reach Siliguri. We reached our hotel at around 7:45 pm. It took us 15 hours, with combined break of 2 hours and an hour lost at Malda traffic snarl. So, effectively 12 hours driving time. Impressed!
The hotel Vinayak Inn was very good. Hotel staffs were really courteous and helpful and the location was perfect. The rooms were clean and even the food provided at the restaurant was delicious and decently priced. It has adequate car parking facility as well. Overall, I am rating the hotel 5*. Highly recommended stay at Siliguri.
We had our dinner and went to sleep early.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 19th May 2017 at 00:43.
|20th May 2017, 07:50||#4|
Day 2 - Siliguri to Jaldapara National Park
After a tiring and long journey to Siliguri, this is the day we "travelers" look forward to. The day we step out to venture towards blissful Himalayas or the enchanting forest cover of Dooars on its foothills.
Starting early from Siliguri has it's own advantage - less tourist vehicles plying on the roads giving us some to enjoy the silence of the region. As always, we checked out early from our hotel Vinayak inn, topped up at an Indian Oil pump and moved on towards our destination - Jaldapara.
There are a few routes that one can take from Siliguri but the most scenic route is via Sevoke-Malbazar. We have been through this route multiple times, but for my parents-in-law, this was going to be their first road trip to the Himalayan region. They were excited, so were We! The drive through the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, every time, is like a splash of cold water to tired faces. Nothing can beat that - a feeling to get so close to Nature. It has become a custom for us to stop there for 10-15 minutes to bathe in the Silence of the place, a fact so unknown to those zooming by.
"Sherdil" soaking in the fresh morning air
The calmness of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary!
A customary picture with my steed
Satisfaction and Happiness - written all over the faces
After a blissful break amidst greenery, we moved on. Slowly the forest cover was giving way to tall mountains at a distance. We decided to have our breakfast on a roadside stall just a few kilometers before Sevoke. We ordered our favorite Wai-Wai with vegetables. I don't know whether it's due to their secret recipe or the happiness in our minds, the Wai-Wai felt just out of this world!
After having our breakfast, we moved on. A few twist and turns later, we were at the Coronation bridge. Our earlier trips to the Himalayas didn't require us to cross the Coronation bridge. But this time, to visit the enchanting Dooars region, we had to step on the bridge for the first time.
The Coronation bridge with a new look
Just after crossing Coronation Bridge
The railway bridge that connects to Dooars and North East, seen at a distance
The beautiful R. Teesta
After crossing the Coronation bridge, the road descended again on the other side of R. Teesta and we got the first real feel of Dooars or the greenery of it. Forests lined with huge Sal trees on both sides of an arrow straight road, sparse traffic and a cool breeze coming down from the adjacent mountains - a perfect stress reliever.
Scenic would be an understatement
"Sherdil" was happy as well
The road was smooth but we avoided speeding in the green corridor. We crossed Damdim and Malbazar. Malbazar reminded us of the trip to Gorumara National Park we did in March, 2015. That trip was done by train and hired cab. After crossing Malbazar, we were soon at Chalsa and I was happily pointing to the directions of the road we took during our Gorumara trip. "A right turn from here go to Gorumara National Park and further to Lataguri. A left U-Turn from here would lead to Samsing, Suntaleykhola and Rocky Island" - I said at Chalsa, and everyone was able to recall some part of our previous trip. But our destination for today is the road straight ahead, piercing the Chapramari forest. We were too engrossed relishing the beauty of the journey through the Dooars to realize that we were approaching our destination - Jaldapara.
A railway crossing before Jaldapara
First "Welcome" sign from Jaldapara
As our MMI device told that we were around a kilometer away from our destination, we could spot a gate with the "green and red" signage of WB Forest Department and a Rhino statue. We immediately knew that this is entry gate to Jaldapara National Park that also leads to Holong Bungalow.
The entry gate of Jaldapara National Park
After about a kilometer, we turned right on a nicely paved road and went inside for about 500 meters to reach Jaldapara Tourist Lodge. The lodge is located inside the forest as well but not as deep inside as Holong which lies about 6 kms inside the National Park.
A wooden bridge leading to the entry gate of Jaldapara Tourist Lodge
We reached Jaldapara Tourist Lodge at 10:45 am.The first impression we had on seeing the lodge was very good. There is dedicated parking place for guests with ample space for car parking. The lodge appeared to be well maintained with dedicated staffs who knows their job well. We parked our car and went straight to the reception area. I showed the online booking receipt and was asked by the staff-in-charge to wait for a few minutes as another guest was completing the check out formalities. The reception area was fitted with sofas where the guests can relax and read newspapers/magazines. While waiting, I also noticed the beautiful way to advertise the pride of Bengal - the "Darjeeling Tea". A showcase was kept at the reception area displaying the various flavors of Darjeeling Tea packets and they were for sale as well. A simple yet very effective step in promoting tourism and related businesses by the WB Tourism Department I must say.
We were called upon next by the gentlemen at the reception and the first thing I asked was the procedure for booking the Gypsy safari that evening and Elephant Safari early next morning. The gentlemen knew my requirement straight away and asked me for the booking receipt and photo identity card. He then explained to me in detail the procedure for booking Gypsy and Elephant Safari. Below is the excerpt:
1) For Gypsy safari, they gave me a form and asked me to fill it up immediately. The total amount for 6 people would be INR 1840, inclusive of guide charges, vehicle cost, vehicle and people entry fees and a nominal charge of INR 25 for each person for a tribal dance program to aid the health and education of the local tribal villages. We were four in number and a gentleman and his wife was also inquiring for the gypsy safari. For cost benefit to both of us, we agreed to do the safari together in a gypsy. We were asked to fill up the form with the names and details and one photo ID proof and go to the forest department office, just about 3 minutes walk from the Lodge to submit the form and book the evening safari.
2) For Elephant Safari, which we planned to do next morning, the rules were a bit different. An elephant safari takes place in three time slots : 5:30 am, 6:30 am and 7:30 am and is priced at INR 660 person (Elephant charge INR 600 per person + Entry fee INR 60 per person). The Elephant Safari starts from the Holong which lies 6 km inside the forest, so one need a vehicle for transport till Holong. Tourists who are booking for Elephant Safari are allowed to take their own car inside the National Park till Holong, if they have their car. Otherwise they have to book a Gypsy which will take them till Holong costing additional INR 500. Irrespective of the car one takes, one has to take a forest guide along with them, charge INR 200, Other changes are vehicle entry fee of INR 250 and parking charge of INR 25. That's not all! The application form along with the amount have to be deposited at the Tourist Lodge Reception counter and the booking confirmation (if at all) would be done at 8 pm for the next day's safari. Why the delay? That's because, the Elephant Safari is very restricted and there are very limited seats available with huge demand. So the forest department takes the call to prioritize the application. Priority (1) is given to tourists staying at Holong Bungalow, Priority (2) for tourists staying at Jaldapara Tourist Lodge (that's us) and last priority are given to tourists staying at other hotels.
I completed the check in formalities and asked the ladies in our group to proceed to the allotted rooms, while the luggage were promptly picked up by one of the service guys. I filled up the application forms for the Gypsy safari in the evening and the Elephant Safari for the next day and submitted the form for the Elephant Safari along with a photo ID proof at the reception. I tried to put my preferred time for the safari but that was not allowed as it was the sole discretion of the Forest Department after prioritization.
I went to my allotted room and was very much impressed. I booked two AC rooms in the wooden block and was allotted the two corner rooms on 2nd floor. The rooms were cozy, neatly decorated and large in size. Each room had an attached balcony with two single sofa and overlooking the dense forest. It felt awesome and everyone of us were very happy. My wife and myself decided to submit the application form for the Gypsy safari at the Forest Department Office. We were asked to report there at 3 pm and our safari was scheduled to start at 3:30 pm.
The receipt of Gypsy Safari
We went back to our room, ordered our lunch and relaxed for a bit. I took this opportunity and started exploring the property clicking photos.
The front view of the Lodge
The common balcony shared by the AC rooms in wooden block. A vintage feeling!
View from the attached balcony of our room
The location of AC cottages were superb!
An ideal place to relax and unwind! The dense forest in the background, separated from the property with iron fencing, is part of the Jaldapara National Park
The AC cottages lined up
The wooden block. We stayed at the two corner rooms on the right on 2nd floor
A billboard located in the Forest Range Office carrying the details of wildlife found in Jaldapara National Park.
The statue of the iconic one-horned Rhinoceros found only in the zone starting here and extending till Manas and Kaziranga in Assam
After a short but fulfilling photography session I came back inside the lodge to find that the lunch was already served. The restaurant was clean and food served was light and tasty. The lodge was slowly but steadily winning over our hearts.
At 3 pm, we gathered in front of the Forest Office just opposite the Lodge for the jungle safari in Gypsy. The gentlemen and his wife, who were the 5th and 6th member of our group for this safari, were already waiting when we arrived. Excitement was written all over the face of each one of us.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 23rd May 2017 at 01:48.
|23rd May 2017, 01:37||#5|
Day 2 Continued - The story of the Gypsy Safari!
Once allotted the Gypsy, our driver and guide asked us to board the vehicle quickly. It's always better to enter the forest before too many vehicle enters in order to aid the possibility of wildlife sighting. As per the advise, we boarded the vehicle and the Gypsy took us straight to the Jaldapara National Park entry gate.
At the gate, we were asked to show the booking receipt and enter the details in a register kept there. I completed the formalities quickly and we were the second group to enter the forest.
A glimpse of the forest scene just a few kms inside the forest!
We asked the Gypsy driver to drive slowly. The open hooded Gypsy presents one with the unique opportunity to stand up while the vehicle is in motion. Initially the luck was not with us. Apart from a few peacocks, nothing could be seen. After 6 kms driving through dense forest,we reached the Hollong bungalow and with it changed our destiny. The guide told us to hurry and lead us inside the Holong bungalow premises. And guess what! First sighting of the legendary one horned rhiniceros, barely 200 meters away.
At that moment it was hard to control one's excitement. But any disturbance and the Rhino would have disappeared inside the dense jungle.
The one horned Rhinoceros
Happily grazing just 200 meters away
The Hollong bungalow
We spent good 10-15 minutes there and watched each every action of the beautiful creature. Slowly it was going back inside the jungle. Our guide asked us to board the vehicle once again. This time the destination would be Jaldapara Watch Tower. As our Gypsy slowly moved forward into the denser part of the forest, the wildlife slowly began to make its presence felt.
The silence of the forest was broken by a sudden word of the guide. "Look"- he said, pointing to a tree on the left side.
A Stork resting on the branch of a tree!
A peacock amidst the shrubs as well
The guide laughed and said, "You people say peacocks dance with their plumes fully spread during monsoons. Although, the fact is they lose all their feathers during monsoon." A nice piece of information.
At a distance, we could see something grazing by the road. There were three or four of them. As we came near, we found four Indian Gaur grazing about 100 meters away, if not less. We were absolutely silent. One of them, alternatively, was keeping a watch on us while the rest three grazed peacefully.
The Indian Gaur
We arrived at Jaldapara Watch Tower which is in the core area of the forest. On climbing up the Watch Tower, we could spot a herd of Indian Gaur's. There were about 15 of them! One of the Gaur, which we spotted on the way to the watch tower, slowly crossed the road and walked towards the big group. It felt awesome to see the beasts in their own habitat.
The herd of Indian Gaur, spotted from Jaldapara Watch Tower
The beast which came all the way across the forest road
After spending a nice 20 minutes at Jaldapara Watch Tower, we made our way to Harindanga Watch Tower.
Just by the roadside a guest appeared out of nowhere and sat on a branch just beside our Gypsy. We were about 5 feet away, still it didn't fly away.
The Indian Roller aka "Nilkontho"!
There must be something that was getting us closer to Mother Nature. At Harindanga Watch Tower. We again spotted the three Gaur's. We saw one of them crossing the road and merging with the herd, while these three continued grazing on the same spot.
The three Indian Gaur's about 100 meters away from our Gypsy
A close-up shot of one of them
As we moved on towards Harindanga watch tower, we saw a deer on the side of the road. On inquiring we were told that was the "Hog Deer". It is a shy animal and with cameras pointing closely for a couple of minutes, it went inside the forest cover.
The Hog Deer by the road side
We reached Harindanga watch tower which lies in the core area of the forest, but not that deep inside as Jaldapara watch tower. The highlighting factor of Harindanga watch tower is the Savannah Grasslands. Open lush green fields for acres with tall grasses all over. This place is famous for Leopard sighting which camouflages itself among the tall grasses. One of the guides told us that leopard was sighted a few weeks back in this place. We were not that lucky to spot a big cat but we could indeed see a lot of wildlife in this place as well.
Another Hog deer among the bushes
A peacock over one of the salt pits
A few Barking deer were grazing at distance
We left the Harindanga watch tower as the daylight was slowly giving way to a beautiful evening. Our next stop was a tribal dance program, organized as part of the Gypsy Safari. We were taken to a tribal village on the outskirts of the forest.
Harindanga Watch Tower, seen at a distance
A cloud cover was slowly building over the sky and rendered a sight to behold
As expected, rain came pouring down and the tribal dance program had to be shifted indoors, inside a school building. As my wife and parents-in-law were enjoying the dance program inside the school building, I spent some time with the guides and local people listening to their lifestyle, their thoughts and the problems they face in their daily life.
After a well deserved Safari across the dense jungle of Jaldapara National Park, which offered us more than we expected, we returned to our lodge at around 6:30 pm. We ordered some "Pakoras" from the restaurant and spent some time together recollecting some of the incidents of the day.
At 7:30 pm, there is a "Light and Sound" program happening everyday inside the lodge premises concentrating around the various Fauna found in the Jaldapara National Park. Realistic replica of the different animals from Elephant to Gaur, from Leopard to Tiger, from Snakes to various species of Deer is set up all around the Garden in front of the Lodge with spot lights before each. The magic of spot lights along with background commentary/voice-over from renowned Actor Sabyasachi Chakraborty was indeed a treat for the guests. The position of the garden was such that one may watch the entire show just by sitting at the common balcony outside one's room.
We ordered our dinner and I went to the reception to inquire about the Elephant Safari ticket. I was given the pass for Elephant Safari, but the time slot given to us was 7:30 am from Holong complex. Reporting time at the forest gate was 7 am. We were a little upset as we expected to get a time slot a little earlier than this. Nevertheless, the very thought of Elephant Safari the next day made us happy. Additionally, I was ecstatic at the thought of driving my own car inside the forest for 6 kms till Holong, a chance rarely found specially in the forests of West Bengal.
Our Elephant Safari ticket
After an eventful day, we had our dinner early and went to sleep.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 26th May 2017 at 01:38.
|27th May 2017, 09:08||#6|
Day 3 - The remarkable Elephant Safari deep inside the Jaldapara National Park
We woke up early at around 5:30 am but it was not the mobile alarm that woke us up. It was two birds playing in the attached wooden balcony that did the duty. We got ready for the Elephant Safari and left the lodge at 6:50. We were at the Jaldapara National Park entry gate before 7 am but this time driving our own car. I completed the entry formalities at the gate and was allocated a guide who will accompany us till the Holong Bungalow from where the Elephant Safari will begin. My wife, rather unwillingly, moved to the rear seat to make way for the guide. The guide turned out to be knowledgeable and started sharing useful bit of information about the forest and the incidents that took place here.
The sky was cloudy with high chance of rain, the prospect of which made the drive through the forest all the more exciting.
Amidst the dense forest | Road to Holong
As we moved slowly through the kuccha road of the forest, we came to know from a gypsy coming from the opposite direction that a lone elephant was spotted on the side of the road just a few hundred meters away. Immediate excitement was in our faces but that was not the case with our guide. He said that there is a lone tusker which has killed over 8 peoples in the last three months. He asked us to keep silence when we reach there. We moved forward cautiously when we saw another gypsy standing at a distance. We immediately knew that should be the tusker. We stopped our car in front of the gypsy and Voila!. There it was on our left. An elephant so big that it could be seen over some trees feeding on the branches and his tusks so long that its tip extended inside the forest cover. Our guide told that it was "Bnaya Ganesh" - a lone tusker having only the left tusk. Being the most feared in the area and a serial killer, our guide asked us to click pictures and that we should not stay here for long. At this moment, it started raining and we could only get a couple of shots of the beast.
In a recent news, the famous tusker was being considered for Capital Punishment for his notorious acts:
Link to the News
The "Bnaya Ganesh"
We started moving forward again with the heavy rain gushing down the forest floor. It was a different experience altogether. By the time we reached Holong bungalow, the rain stopped. There is a waiting place with sitting provision just outside the Holong premises. While some of the tourists were relaxing in the waiting area, we took this chance to visit the salt pits just in front of Holong Bungalow. Last day, it was a Rhino grazing around but that day it was time for the more colorful species to entertain us. Birds! Parakeets, Laughing Doves, Yellow footed Pigeon, Peacocks and that too in flocks!
Parakeets(Green ones),Yellow footed pigeons (Yellow ones) and Laughing Dove (Bluish ones)
An absolute pleasure watching them play!
The Peacocks joined in
A group photo in the place
A selfie as well
Happiness lies here, at these moments!
Another shot at these Beauties of Nature
Finally, all of them in one frame
We were informed that the safari elephants have arrived and the guide instructed us to follow him to the loading platform. We saw a around 8 elephants and each could carry 4 tourists each.
At the tourist loading site
Here comes our safari elephant named "Sundarmoni" along with her 14 month old baby "Kunjamoni"!
We were made to sit comfortably on Sundarmoni's back and were instructed by the local staffs regarding some do's and dont's. Our safari began with Sundarmoni coasting straight towards the forest with her baby following up.
Kunjomoni, the 14 months old baby, at the start of our Safari
We have done gypsy safari earlier, but this was a new kind of experience. There was no particular road. Its deep forest with thick undergrowth and large trees and we were following a trail led by the beasts. Our Mahout was clearing the branches of the trees as we moved forward and requested us to be aware as well. This has to be experienced, and is simply not possible to write down in words.
Happy, after settling down to the rhythm of the movement made by the elephant
Soon, the deep forest cover gave way to the calm Holong river flowing within the forest area. The elephants crossed the river and took us to a Rhinoceros half submerged within the Holong River. It was right beside us and it seemed that if we toppled we would land on back of the rhinoceros. I have never seen a rhinoceros this close, that too in his own environment.
The submerged Rhinoceros!
A close inspection. It has lost its horn while battling another rhino.
An elephant crossing the Holong river while ours was standing beside the Rhinoceros
My In-Laws enjoying the ride
The elephants were taking us deeper into the forests. The rainfall had drenched the forest floor and the trees and while we moved deeper it was becoming impossible for the "Mahout" to clear the branches from hitting our faces. So, we had to help ourselves in that respect with the fear dangling in the back of our mind that this forest has rich abundance of Rock Pythons, Common Kraits, Banded Kraits, Spectacled and Monocled Cobras and the King aka King Cobra. But we were assured by the "Mahout" that elephants could sense these poisonous reptiles and will never cross their path. At that moment, that assurance seemed larger than any other Insurance cover.
Suddenly, there was some movement. A large yet swift animal, a deep brown colored one. The elephants formed a circle around it so that it couldn't
escape. It was a male, fully grown Sambar deer. Its size was huge. It tried to escape but couldn't do so for the elephants blocking its way. It was a pleasure for our eyes, but I couldn't get a clear picture due to the dense forest cover and the sudden movements of the panicked Sambar.
A male Sambar deer. The photo was taken from the back of the elephant which gives an idea of the Sambar's size
Throughout the period of the safari, the baby elephant named "Kunjamoni" was having a gala time. Sometimes she was tearing down small shrubs and throwing it over his head and sometimes she rolled herself over the wet soil.
This was slowing down the elephants following us. So, every time "Kunjamoni" slowed down for playing, an elephant named "Laxmi" pushed her from behind with her trunk. As soon as this happens, every time our seats started vibrating. On asking the "Mahout", we got to know that it was Sundarmoni who was annoyed with her baby being disturbed.
The playful "Kunjamoni" with "Laxmi" following her
Time for return
The amazing safari was coming to an end. We were nearing our base point when suddenly we heard a loud screeching noise coming from above. To our surprise, it was the "Great Hornbill", a bird found mainly in the Himalayan region. It was not just one or two of them, there was a flock of five to seven of them sitting high up on a tree above us. We were indeed lucky to spot these wonderful birds and it was like an icing on the cake.
The Great Hornbill sitting on the branch of a high tree
Two Great Hornbill's in the same frame
Three! Great Hornbill's in the same frame
Our safari group!
Click taken by our guide just before disembarking the elephant
Laughter and full enjoyment
A peacock spotted on the way back from Holong
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 27th May 2017 at 22:38.
|27th May 2017, 22:45||#7|
Day 3 (Continued) - Trip to Buxa Tiger Reserve and Jayanti
After returning from the morning elephant safari, we had our complimentary breakfast from the Tourist Lodge. After breakfast, we started for Buxa Tiger Reserve. We followed the NH317 and reached Buxa within one and half hours. The road was in good-very good condition throughout. Although road widening work was in progress at a few stretches, but that portion of the road had good surface quality as well.
Sherdil staring at the Buxa Tiger Reserve entry gate
On reaching the Buxa Tiger Reserve, we procured the permit from the forest range office. Cost was INR 60 per head excluding the driver + INR 250 for the vehicle entry charge.
The entry permit
The Buxa safari zone is divided between Rajabhatkhawa zone and Jayanti zone. The safari ticket for Rajabhatkhawa zone has to be collected from the Forest Range office outside the Buxa Tiger Reserve entry gate whereas for the Jayanti zone, the safari details can be found from the Forest range office in Jayanti. We decided to go to Jayanti and then decide for any safari.
The Rajabhatkhawa zone of the Buxa forest is a dense forest much unlike Jaldapara National Park. It hardly has any open grassland - an ideal environment for big cats like leopard but not at all ideal for sighting one easily. We were driving through the forest road at a sedate pace letting other vehicle pass with our keen eyes looking for a sight at the spotted beauty.
The enchanting Buxa forest
The road that runs through Buxa
We could see some gypsy trails running into the forest on either side of the forest road with "No Entry" signs. That was the safari trails around the Rajabhatkhawa zone. As we opted out of that, we moved on towards Jayanti zone. About 10-12 kms after the entry gate, there was a junction from where the straight road goes to Buxa Fort and the road on the right side goes to Jayanti river bed. We first went towards the Buxa Fort, but we came to know from locals that we have to park our car and walk uphill for about 2-3 km to reach the fort. With elderly in-laws accompanying us and with limited time we have in our hand, we had to opt out of this. We decided to go to Jayanti instead and if possible get a safari done through the Jayanti Forest zone. We reached Jayanti around 12:45 pm and we spotted the forest range office. It located on the right side while going to Jayanti, before the Jayanti River bed. We inquired about the safari details, whereby we were told that there are three safari points in the zone out of which we could take our car to Chuniya Watch Tower only by hiring a guide. Other points like the Mahakal Mandir and cave, as they said, would not be possible in low GC cars. We told them that we would come back after lunch and then decide on the options.
We then went straight to Jayanti river bed, parked our car and went around the place.
Serene and beautiful Jayanti river bed
The white river bed garnished with the blue mountains was a visual treat
We had our lunch from a local hotel on the bank of Jayanti river. The food, though basic, tasted good and the ambiance of open air just on the bank of river Jayanti created a subtle magic.
After lunch, we went to the Forest office around 2 pm and opted for the safari in our own car to Chuniya Watch Tower. We had to hire a guide for this which costed us INR 250. We started our safari around 2:15 pm and had to cross the Jayanti river to go to the other side. The approach to the river bed had some flowing water for about 100 meters but the rest of the river bed was dry. I was skeptical with the water crossing as the river bed was full of small mountain rocks and with full load of 5 persons aboard this could turn ugly. Also, the depth of the river can be deceiving at places. I waited for a few vehicles to cross in order to have some idea before stepping in. But to my surprise, Sherdil didn't show any loss of power and cruised through the water crossing without even accelerating much.
On the river bed after the water crossing
We continued along a kuccha road running parallel to Jayanti river on the other side. For a few kilometers we could see some bikes coming from the other end which the guide referred to as local inhabitants who have permission for forest department to stay outside the perimeter of the forest. After about 3 kms at a junction, the wider road continued towards the settlements and we took the narrow forest road on the right. Thereafter there was no soul in sight for miles. The air around the place had a particular wild smell and we continued on the kuccha road lined with dense forest on one side and Jayanti river on the other. The sounds of peacocks and other birds could be heard at a distance. After about 11 kms, we arrived at the Chuniya Watch Tower. The place was empty without a single tourist, may be due to the time we arrived here. We climbed up the Watch Tower to find a forest guard on duty. He had a medium sized dagger for protection as well as to cut branches of trees felled by storm. We just thought of the job he was performing - sitting alone in a desolate watch tower deep within the forest with none to speak for the entire day. He told that he was on duty during the morning hours alone, but during the night shift two forest guards were assigned duty together. The sleeping/resting room of the guides in the watch tower had strong iron fencing which indicated the possibility of dangerous animal (wild dogs, leopards etc) coming upstairs at night.
Around the Chuniya watch tower
A photo of Sherdil from the watch tower
The Observation Lines, as seen from the watch tower
We stayed here for about 15-20 minutes but couldn't spot any animal in the dense forests.
Next we went towards another watch tower in the same zone. On our way, suddenly our guide asked me to stop the car. There was a deep smell around an otherwise desolate area. The guide identified the smell and sensed a group of Indian Gaur nearby. The road was narrow, with the dense forest such close that the shrubs were brushing against our car at times. If, at that moment, a group of "something Wild" comes out, we would be left with no option to turn our car. There was a sense of panic among my wife and in-laws, growing with each passing minute, and the guide suggested me to move forward. It was a frightening experience for us.
We reached the other watch tower while coming back towards Jayanti. The area around the newly built watch tower was cleared of any shrubs or trees but the dense forest starts just after the clearing. The Jayanti zone of the forest rendered us an unusual eerie feeling and that too at broad daylight of 3 pm.
The newly built Watch Tower
The dense forest beyond the clearing!
My wife was continuously asking me to return to Jayanti, while I wanted to spend some time around the place. At this moment, the guide laughed and said that he could guarantee a herd of elephant at this place if we stay till evening, which was immediately negated by my wife. I, myself, was having an unusual feeling. Yes, there was excitement but at the same time I would not say that I wasn't afraid. I convinced my wife to go upstairs once and then we would definitely make our way back. But, what we saw next was the last nail in the coffin of our excitement.
This was an act of a group of Elephants, by just rubbing their body against the staircase. We didn't waste any more time and started on our way back to Jayanti river bed
We spent some time around the river bed clicking some pictures before making our way back to Jaldapara.
On the river bed
A snap of Sherdil on the way back
On reaching our lodge at Jaldapara, we spent the last evening for this trip at the lodge chatting among ourselves recapitulating the beautiful memories of the trip. We had our dinner early and called it a day.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 28th May 2017 at 20:21.
|28th May 2017, 18:42||#8|
Day 4 - A dash to Phuntsholing(Bhutan) and the return journey till Raiganj
It was the last day of our stay at Jaldapara. Though the birds did wake us up early like the way they did the day before, our mood was slightly on the melancholy side. Having packed our bags already the previous night, we had a cup of tea together and spent some good time reminiscing our experiences for the past couple of days.
The ground in front of the Lodge prepared for the Wildlife Safari themed Light-n-Sound show
We had our breakfast by 8:30 am, completed all check out formalities and were ready to head towards Phuntsholing.
Final photograph of Sherdil before Jaldapara Tourist Lodge
Phuntsholing is located at a distance of about 30 km from our lodge. It took us around 35 minutes to reach Jaigaon, the border town of India. We faced some traffic snarl in Jaigaon and found the place congested and dirty. But as we crossed the Bhutan entry gate and made our way to Phuntsholing, we were amazed at the stark contrast relative to Jaigaon. While Jaigaon was dirty with unruly traffic, Phuntsholing was that much cleaner and people there genuinely follow traffic rules. The beautiful tales we heard about Bhutan about their neat and clean cities, educated drivers and rich culture were indeed true. We spoke to some of the people and they were indeed helpful.
Our group at Phuntsholing, Bhutan
She was happy! We made a promise to come back to visit this beautiful country someday
Some snaps taken around Phuntsholingg
After spending an hour or so exploring the city of Phuntsholing and its markets, we started our journey back at around 11:45 am. We called Raiganj Tourist Lodge (WBTDC) and inquired about availability of two rooms. The manager promptly replied that the rooms are available and took down my name for the booking. He advised us to confirm the dinner order by 7 pm.
We followed the same route as our onward journey and reached Siliguri around 3:30 pm and had our lunch at Vinayak Inn, Siliguri. Post lunch we topped up from a nearby fuel station and started again from Siiguri at around 4:45 pm. We made good progress, crossed Islampur and took the Dhantola-Botolbari stretch. The route had sparse traffic during the return journey as well. As luck would have it, we were stuck at a massive traffic congestion just after entering NH12 at Botolbari. Similar scenes of long queue of trucks and wrong way driving followed for a kilometer or so, and then there was complete standstill. We lost 1.5 hours in the process just 12 odd kilometers away from our destination of the day. As promised, the we confirmed our dinner order over the phone and assured the manager of the lodge that we would be staying there for the night. At around 9:30 pm the traffic started moving and it was followed by torrential downpour. We drove the last 12 kms over a stretch of NH12 full of potholes with torrential downpour affecting our visibility.
We reached the lodge around 10 pm and checked in. Coming to the feedback I have on this lodge, frankly speaking, we were much disappointed with the maintenance of this lodge. Although I agree, that due to the thunderstorm and torrential rains, the electric supply was temporarily off and generator was running to provide basic lighting around the lodge, its not justified that the main entrance does not have a single light to signify the very existence of this lodge. We literally missed the entry gate and moved ahead. We had to again take a U-turn to enter the hotel. On top of that the rooms were not clean and basic hygiene factor was missing. We were disappointed at the maintenance of the Raiganj Tourist Lodge while the other WBTDC lodge at Jaldapara was simply wonderful in terms of everything. With many tourists now taking the roadway for travel, WBTDC should focus on improving the quality of lodges across Bengal, specially the one's adjacent to National Highway and not only the tourist friendly zones.
We had our dinner and went to sleep with the annoying sound of generator running all throughout the night.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 29th May 2017 at 01:03.
|28th May 2017, 19:09||#9|
Day 5 - The return journey to Kolkata | Conclusion
The return journey from Raiganj was uneventful. We started from Raiganj Tourist Lodge at 6:40 am and crossed Malda, Kaliachowk and Farakka with relative ease. We had a tea break at near Dhulian and an hour breakfast stop at the dhaba at Moregram BP Coco fuel station. We followed the same route as we did in our onward journey and reached Azad Hind Dhaba (DGP Expy), Gopalpur at 3 pm. We had an hour lunch break there and reached our home at Kolkata at around 5:30 pm.
The GPS track for the entire journey (extracted from kml files)
The link to the route map:
Link to route map
It was an awesome trip backed by stellar performance again by our trusted steed "Sherdil". This time he got a chance to drive through forests and showed his mettle there as well.
A drive through the core area of the forest that too in the rains, spotting some amazingly beautiful wildlife in their own territory, some amazing drives through state and national highways cutting through the dense jungles, staying at a wonderful place courtesy of WBTDC (thumbs up) and concluding the trip by visiting our close neighbour - overall an journey beautifully etched in our memories!
Signing off, till our next journey!
Stay Safe, Drive Safe and Continue Exploring..
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 28th May 2017 at 21:02.
|29th May 2017, 08:07||#10|
Join Date: Apr 2004
Thanked: 4,150 Times
Re: Call of the Wild: A 1627km road trip to Jaldapara National Park,Buxa,Jayanti and Phunsholing(Bhu
Mod note: Thread moved to Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing.
|29th May 2017, 19:44||#11|
Join Date: Apr 2013
Thanked: 5,250 Times
Re: Call of the Wild: 1627km road trip to Jaldapara National Park,Buxa,Jayanti and Phuntsholing(Bhut
Yet another stunner from you! Dooars never fail to enchant us. The lovely jungle in the foothills of Himalaya always look splendid. You have really taken some nice shots from this trip and as usual your narration is detailed and informative. Have rated all the deserving stars! Seeing you driving on the Jayanti river bed reminds me of my driving on the same place. It was dam fun, specially crossing a small stream.
Now i have a couple of suggestions for you! As you have already visited Phuntsholing you have got the taste of Bhutan! So expecting a Bhutan travelogue from you soon!
And my second suggestion is, please try to stay at the Holong bungalow next time! Its worth it. Am sharing few pics from Holong and believe me these are just around the Bungalow! You do not have to even go for Safari's to spot animals! Animals come to spot us at Holong! I missed taking the pic of a herd of 27 elephants, as at that time we went to Phuntsholing for some shopping and food!
Even at night animals visit the campus!
The beautiful night sky from Holong.
Last edited by Samba : 29th May 2017 at 19:56.
|30th May 2017, 12:50||#12|
Join Date: Jan 2014
Thanked: 591 Times
Re: Call of the Wild: 1627 km drive to Jaldapara National Park, Buxa, Jayanti & Phuntsholing (Bhutan
Wow this travelogue made me reminisce the lovely Dooars trip i made this January. I was too lazy to pen my own TL, but this one have prepped me up Maybe ill make a Photologue From Kolkata i drove through the following destinations:
Lataguri - Jhalong - Paren - Bindu - Jaldapara - Buxa - Jayanti - Phuntsholing - Lava - Rishop - Kalimpong
spanning a total of 7 days including:
The Richending Gompa in Phuntsholing which is merely 15 mins drive from city has a stunning view. We covered that in our 2 hour Bhutan drive. I missed the elephant ride at Jaldapara, will do that next time i go there. Well keep up the good work, like Samba said, your TL never fails to impress. Rated a well deserving ***** !
Last edited by Samfromindia : 30th May 2017 at 13:07.
|30th May 2017, 14:09||#13|
Join Date: May 2017
Thanked: 200 Times
Re: Call of the Wild: 1627 km drive to Jaldapara National Park, Buxa, Jayanti & Phuntsholing (Bhutan
Wonderfully written and described travelogue. Thank you for sharing your experience, and, congratulations on having a wonderful trip with your family!
North Bengal has always been an enigma that I wish to experience sometime soon. It is a pity that these gems in Bengal are not marketed properly. The state has come a long way in terms of rural infrastructure and road quality since my days in Kolkata (early 2000s). It is a relief to see the Kaliachak - Malda town congestion sorted out (almost!). Most of our road trips during those days were planed towards the south from Kolkata just to avoid traffic snarls at Kaliachak.
|The following BHPian Thanks feluda86 for this useful post:|
|30th May 2017, 17:11||#14|
Re: Call of the Wild: 1627 km drive to Jaldapara National Park, Buxa, Jayanti & Phuntsholing (Bhutan
We liked Bhutan (the small part we saw) and promised to come back again and deep dive within. Let's see when this plan materializes.
I have seen your travelogue on Jaldapara and the pictures are stunning! The majority of the photographs posted in my travelogue has been taken by my wife.
We didn't knew about the Gompa. We were advised to go to some crocodile park, which ultimately didn't happen.
North Bengal is indeed enchanting with beautiful mix of Himalayas and Forests. The journey to Siliguri was a pain till last year. With the opening of Farakka-raiganj four lane section of NH 34, the trouble has been halved. Though a few pain point still exist in that stretch.
Last edited by gearhead_mait : 30th May 2017 at 17:22.
|The following BHPian Thanks gearhead_mait for this useful post:|
|30th May 2017, 18:13||#15|
Join Date: Sep 2007
Thanked: 220 Times
Re: Call of the Wild: 1627 km drive to Jaldapara National Park, Buxa, Jayanti & Phuntsholing (Bhutan
Wonderful snaps to decorate a well written travelogue. Being from South India, I am not sure whether I will be able trace this route someday, meeting a rhino in the wild is something I always wanted to do.
|The following BHPian Thanks gadadhar for this useful post:|
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