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Old 8th December 2008, 07:55   #1
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Default DOOARS - A Return Journey

Welcome to this travelogue, which I took in Nov 2007. Its really a return journey for me as I write this travelogue. The latest travelogue from @1100D and the last one (also the first) from @Lumina earlier has been the real inspiration to sit down and write about this. For those who are not aware of the place, let me give you a brief background of the area.

Dooars, derived from the Bengali word "Duar" meaning door, is actually one of the gateways to the Eastern Himalayas, forming one of the most famous forests of the Himalayan foothills, leading to the hill ranges of Bhutan and Bangladesh. The forest are still prestine in most of the areas, thanks to a not so efficient tourism promotion effort. Most of the areas are not accessible by the normal touristy folks and that has helped preserve its wild nature. The forests teem with wildlife, ranging from Elephants, Bisons, Rhinos, Leopards and other smaller creatures like Sambhars, deers of various types and countless varieties of birds and butterflies. There used to be tigers around the Gorumara area, but not any more. Among a few which are still left, have now retreated to the more dense areas around Buxa and towards the Bhutan hills.

As quoted by one renowned wildlife enthusiast, "Dooars will remain a major reason to visit even if it ever becomes void of large animals, just due to its sheer variety of birds". Yes, Dooars is a major birding destination as well, among bird watchers. Apart from the known varieties like the Parakeets, Jungle Mynas and Kingfishers, it is the home of the Neelkanth or the Indian Roller bird, which can be found in large number, if you have a keen eye. It is also home of the Hornbill, which is also very common here.

Dooars holds a special place in my heart and the last couple of years have seen me visit various parts of the area. The major destinations can be divided into 2 parts: the more popular western part comprising of Chalsa, Lataguri and the forests of Gorumara, Chapramari, Chukchuki and Khunia. The eastern part is quite remote at places and even more thrilling and comprises of Jaldapara, Jayanti, Buxa and Rajabhatkhawa.

The perspective
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In this travelogue, let me bring to you the western part, traveling around the Gorumara NP area. Having visited this place quite a few times, I have become pretty familiar with the area and also know a few locals. This trip was part of an office outing, when I decided to take my team out on a excursion to the forests. We planned it over an extended weekend, with the promise from everyone that they would return on a early morning train to Kolkata on Monday and everybody must attend office that day, which they did.

We left on a Thursday night by Darjeeling Mail. The team comprised of 36 individuals, including spouses and kids. I had booked 4 cars that would pick us up from NJP station and would stay with us for the next 3 days. 2 resorts were fully booked by us (though I was very keen to put up at Banani - the Murti forest bungalow, but it was difficult to get so many rooms available) and planning was very meticulously. I was confident that I would be able to pull this trip through and I knew I would get local help, if needed. The date was fixed in such a way that we get a full moon night while we were there.

Before we proceed further, let me tell you that some of the pictures might disappoint you in their quality. I used to be a major supporter of film photography until I jumped into the digital age this year. All the pics are taken using my old faithful Nikon F60 and later scanned.

So, having made all the plans, I call a team meeting, one day before the trip, briefing the team about the trip, distribute responsibilities and off we were on a Thursday night, waiting at the Sealdah station. The train was only 15 minutes late and we reach NJP the next morning. As I came out of the compartment, I received a call on my cell, "Sir, gari eshe gechey". (Sir, the cars have come). As we walked out of the station, there were 4 cars/MUVs waiting for us. 2 Taveras' and 2 Qualis'.

Car coordinators were previously named and they were soon calling out their car-mates and with 30 mins, all luggages were tied up on the roof and off we went from the station.

At NJP station, luggages being arranged
DOOARS - A Return Journey-23112007535-large.jpg

The plan is to halt at a hotel in Siliguri for freshing up, have breakfast and move on. We also stocked up on mineral water jars.

View from hotel balcony at Siliguri
DOOARS - A Return Journey-23112007536-large.jpg

The rest of the cars
DOOARS - A Return Journey-23112007537-large.jpg

It was around 10am when we left the hotel after breakfast and soon on the way to Dooars. The younger guys (and gals) were hardly able to hold their excitement, as for most of them, it was their first forest trip. We crossed the Teesta over the Coronation bridge at 10:45am and soon were on NH31, towards Lataguri. This road goes all the way to Guwahati. The road conditions started deteorating fast and at places it was pretty bad. While the team was getting warmed up, while crossing Mongpong, the first dampener came up. The rear left shocker of one of the Qualis' broke and the convoy came to a halt, as we all got down to assess the damage.

The poor Qualis
DOOARS - A Return Journey-fip0001-large.jpg

While we were held up, I called the resort to let them know that we would be delayed and they should plan for lunch accordingly.

The halted convoy
DOOARS - A Return Journey-fip0002-large.jpg

To be continued...
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Old 8th December 2008, 10:06   #2
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Hai Saurabh,

Thanks for the details and photos. Looks like the "first step to the 1000 miles". Looking forward to the story and photos. Not many travalogues from that part of Inida, would be very useful for ppl planning to drive up.

Happy Traveling,

--Ramky
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Old 8th December 2008, 10:31   #3
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Ramkya
Since you like forests, you must visit north Bengal (including Darjeeling). Winter is the best time to visit. I am sure after reading Saurabh and Anirban's travelogues you will learn a lot about the places to visit.
We will all help you with bookings etc if you inform us in advance.

Saurabh - I quite like the pics, despite them being scanned from prints. But how did you manage to get the old pics? Did you actually carry the old pics with you to the States?

Sudipto
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Old 8th December 2008, 10:32   #4
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Hey - this is great to see. Have always been interested in that region - waiting for more!
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Old 8th December 2008, 10:46   #5
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Very well documented and written, looking forward to the travelogue to come.
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Old 8th December 2008, 12:25   #6
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Great writeup. Ok so this was the only damper i hope. Waiting for more
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Old 8th December 2008, 20:29   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sudipto-S-Team View Post
Saurabh - I quite like the pics, despite them being scanned from prints. But how did you manage to get the old pics? Did you actually carry the old pics with you to the States?
Sudipto
I had the pics on my spare hard drive which I normally carry with me. So far the pics are good, infact the first 3 were taken on my cellphone (N73, my only digital contraption that time), but those taken on low light conditions would be quite grainy and disappointing.

Thanks all for your interest. I will try to bring the right essence of the area and give as much information as possible. This part of our country is not very popular with those not from east or north east. Hope this travelogue would help in shedding some light.

Last edited by Saurabh M : 8th December 2008 at 20:31.
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Old 8th December 2008, 20:47   #8
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Good writeup and nic pics. I can see so many qualis around in your last pic. How many vehicles did you guys travel....
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Old 9th December 2008, 04:42   #9
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Hooked on. Waiting for more pics and details.
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Old 9th December 2008, 05:57   #10
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Good writeup and nic pics. I can see so many qualis around in your last pic. How many vehicles did you guys travel....
We had 2 Qualis and 2 Tavera.
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Old 9th December 2008, 08:20   #11
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Default Gorumara National Park

After a close inspection by all the 4 drivers, we decided to move on with one broken shocker. It was 11:30am when we started again. However, we had to rearrange the passenger distribution so that the poor Qualis does not have to suffer more. We were however at the risk of damaging the other vehicles.

The road conditions did not improve and at places, it worsened. Our fully loaded vehicles had to negotiate the ditches with extreme caution to avoid further damages. We finally reached Lataguri at 1:30pm and checked into the 2 resorts, Panchvati and Silver Ridge. The resort co-ordinators swung into action and rooms were allocated within 5mins. These 2 resorts are interconnected and food was arranged at Panchvati, to minimize the hassle.

As the plan stood, we would take an evening safari to the Gorumara NP and then spend the rest of the evening lazing around the resort, which was quite well laid out. The kids specially needed some rest after spending the last night in train and then the road ordeal.

The message to the group was to get fresh and have lunch and be ready for the evening safari by 3:00pm. All times were decided with a 30min buffer keeping the large group in mind.

The group assembled around 3pm. I was 100% certain that we would not be able to see any wildlife in the forest due to the convoy of 4 diesel engines and the clatter associated with it, both from the engines and from the passengers. However, the team was very excited as most of them were going to enter a forest for the first time. Being the leader of the pack, I took some undue advantage here by conveniently placing myself on the front seat of the first vehicle to enter the forest, thereby trying to maximizing my sighting chances.

At the gates of Gorumara NP
DOOARS - A Return Journey-fip0004-large.jpg

Soon we started and were at the gates of the forest by 3:45pm. After showing our permits, etc, off we were into the forest. Those who have been to Gorumara before would know that there are 2 viewpoints in the forest, overlooking 2 saltpits, where animals can be sighted. The one that comes first, is just beside the Forest Bungalow and from my previous experiences, I have seen that sighting chances are minimal here, except for a couple of rhinos at a very long distance away.

At this point, let me inform you that this particular forest bungalow was the set for the film Mr. and Mrs. Iyer, by Aparna Sen. There was considerable controversy during the filming as the director decided to paint the bungalow in a way that it looks dilapitaded, as depicted in the film. The bunhalow was however repainted back to its former glory, after the shooting was over.

A lone stork
DOOARS - A Return Journey-fip0012a-large.jpg

Coming back to the point, I decided to give this particular viewpoint a pass and go deeper into the forest to the next one. This is the farthest that a visitor is allowed to go into Gorumara. This viewpoint is also very well located overlooking a bend in the Murti river and it also has a saltpit. When we arrived, there were already a few tourists around. As we settled on the watchtower, I setup my camera on the tripod and started patiently waiting for any wildlife to appear. Being a winter evening, light was diminishing fast and we were watching the sun set against the foggy hills in the distance.

To help us kill some time, out came a peacock from the bushes along the river and went ahead to drink some water from the trickling Murti river below. It was around 4:30pm and our hopes of catching a glimpse of any wildlife was diminishing fast. The light conditions were becoming poor and even if something comes out, it would be very difficult for me to photograph the same. Just as these thoughts were coming to my mind, I saw something move at the right most corner of the area we were watching. From the shrubs below, out came a Sambhar.

The Sambhar crossing the river
DOOARS - A Return Journey-fip0010-large.jpg

It stood still on the banks of the river against the trees, for some time, watched very carefully and gradually started crossing the river.

On the other side
DOOARS - A Return Journey-fip0012-large.jpg

I took a few shots of the Sambhar as it walked across the river and came up on the other side. It was almost 5pm now and the forest guides were not willing to stay back. The stipulated time to reach the forest gates was 5:30pm and no visitors were allowed to stay back beyond that.

It was late. We started our journey back. Keeping the large crowd in mind, I was lucky to have seen the Sambhar, as I had expected nothing. On our way back, we stopped at the other watchtower and there was nothing to be seen. Nothing dramatic happened either on our way through the forest till the gate and soon we were back at the resort.

We had planned the next day to travel to Jhalong and Bindu (the last Indian village bordering Bhutan and also has a Hydel Power project over the Bindu river) and visit the Chapramari Forest Reserve on our way back. At Bindu, you can actually walk across the Hydel project and walk into Bhutan. Anyway, as we reached the resort, the resort manager came running with the second dampener of the trip. A fight has broken out between rival parties on the way to Jhalong and a strike has been called on the following day, along that route. So, it was time to make alternate plans. Traveling to Samsing and Suntalekhola was an option, but from my previous experiences, the road is pretty bad and there is not much to see around.

So, it was decided that we will do an early morning safari to Khunia Forest Reserve and then spend rest of the day around Murti. In the evening, we will take a safari to Chapramari forest and then have a campfire back at the resort. The changed plan was conveyed to all.

Sunset at Gorumara with the full moon rising
DOOARS - A Return Journey-fip0015-large.jpg

We had dinner at 10:30pm and after another round of chatting, it was time to retire to the cottages. It was full moon outside and the entire highway in front of the resort and the adjoining forest awashed in silver.
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Old 9th December 2008, 09:56   #12
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Great going Saurabh, so finally you have managed to put this in writing. Wondering how many earlier trips you had made before planning this one, you look quite familiar with the place already.
I had the idea that bisons were a common sight at the Murti river (Morning view point is it called?), the way they were scattered all over the place. Guess we were just lucky. Though not as lucky as Anirban to see them walk past. Didn't have much luck at the Evening view point near the forest bunglow though. Not surprising with the cacophony which had erupted from a family of over excited children and their over indulgent parents. We had to flee from our own breed.

Beautiful sunset shot from the good old days of film camera. Not an easy one to take. I used to have an F65 before I decided to go digital a couple of years back, mainly due to the printing hassles in Kolkata.
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Old 10th December 2008, 00:06   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumina View Post
Beautiful sunset shot from the good old days of film camera. Not an easy one to take. I used to have an F65 before I decided to go digital a couple of years back, mainly due to the printing hassles in Kolkata.
Thanks for the comment. Looks like you have a penchant for photography. Good to know that. I kept myself away as long as I could from digital photography, but I guess, this jump into the digital age was inevitable.

Coming back to the trip, I have been to these areas a few times and was confident that I will be able to handle the large group. Regarding bisons, they are in large numbers around Gorumara, but I am not sure which place you are referring as the Morning Viewpoint. The view point near the forest bungalow is a disappointment in most cases. Its better to spend time at the watch tower further inside.

However, the best thing to do in the evening is to either visit the Chapramari watch tower. I have always been lucky with the Chapramari watch tower, whenever I visited in the evening. Or better still, drive up and down the Murti - Khunia - Bindu road, along the perimeter of Chapramari. You are almost bound to come across elephants or bisons that time.
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Old 10th December 2008, 18:09   #14
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Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post
.., but I am not sure which place you are referring as the Morning Viewpoint.
Looks like the same place where you captured the Sambhar. The forest guide mentioned something like that. The one near the forest bunglow he called the Evening view point. I might be mixing them up, but what I remember is the closeness of the salt pits in the naming of the spots, so trying to recollect by logic. The evening view point had the salt pit placed much nearer to the watch tower (and the forest bunglow) allowing a better vision in case the inhabitants wanted to visit in the dark. I don't remember seeing salt pits at the Murti river bend, maybe it was already consumed, or I can't recall. Have to check the pics.
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Old 10th December 2008, 23:01   #15
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Great, something to look forward to atleast for the next few days. Even if its just the beginning rating this at a 5 star in anticipation!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post
Thanks for the comment. Looks like you have a penchant for photography. Good to know that. I kept myself away as long as I could from digital photography, but I guess, this jump into the digital age was inevitable.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumina View Post
Beautiful sunset shot from the good old days of film camera. Not an easy one to take. I used to have an F65 before I decided to go digital a couple of years back, mainly due to the printing hassles in Kolkata.
Heh! Heh! That makes the three of us. However my Rebel 2000 is thinking of rebellion, however, I have not been able to totally rule out its future usage.

The travelogue I wrote last, was the first Indian escapade where I used a digital camera.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post
Or better still, drive up and down the Murti - Khunia - Bindu road, along the perimeter of Chapramari.
I did that, and we came across a hippo, but then, it was from Ashok Leyland.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Saurabh M View Post

Coming back to the point, I decided to give this particular viewpoint a pass and go deeper into the forest to the next one. This is the farthest that a visitor is allowed to go into Gorumara. This viewpoint is also very well located overlooking a bend in the Murti river and it also has a saltpit. When we arrived, there were already a few tourists around. As we settled on the watchtower, I setup my camera on the tripod and started patiently waiting for any wildlife to appear. Being a winter evening, light was diminishing fast and we were watching the sun set against the foggy hills in the distance.Sunset at Gorumara with the full moon rising

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumina View Post
Looks like the same place where you captured the Sambhar. The forest guide mentioned something like that.
The sunset photograph viewpoint is called the "Jatra Proshad watchtower" getting there in the darkness of the night even from the forest bunglow is a task made for nerves even for the locals.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumina View Post
The one near the forest bunglow he called the Evening view point. I might be mixing them up, but what I remember is the closeness of the salt pits in the naming of the spots, so trying to recollect by logic. The evening view point had the salt pit placed much nearer to the watch tower (and the forest bunglow) allowing a better vision in case the inhabitants wanted to visit in the dark. I don't remember seeing salt pits at the Murti river bend, maybe it was already consumed, or I can't recall. Have to check the pics.
He was right, the Forest Bunglow viewpoint is indeed for animal watching in the dark, especially latenight, a special previlege of staying at that bunglow. It has fixed searchlights and all.


Speaking about the shocker thing, the road from the Sevok bridge till Mongpong is an utter disaster. Not that it has suffered from lack of upkeep. I was surprised to see mastic ashphalt surfacing which has actually eroded away. It gets a little better from Mongpong till Damdin and after that the top layer on the road surface is gone in places. I later on, decided to disregard this surface otherwise we would have not reached our destination. However as speeds built up the car soaked those craters in. It was a compromise of sorts, each rut, hurting the brain thinking of what the car is having to endure. Fantastic achievement of the NHAI the NH31 which is still better than NH34.

Last edited by 1100D : 10th December 2008 at 23:03.
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