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gmhossain 13th July 2017 16:15

Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
15 Attachment(s)
I turned around to see our guide Sanjay who was standing just behind me in the Gypsy. He was looking to the right side of the trail. Suddenly, I could see a dramatic change in his facial expression. He appeared to be a worried one and pointed out three more elephants on the right side of the trail. However, the exuberance in his voice that was present while spotting the earlier elephants, had gone. These elephants were around thirty meters away from us but moving towards the trail where our Gypsy was standing a while ago.

These three elephants, however, were not the reason why our driver Niranjan had stopped the Gypsy. He whispered us to look ahead! Another four or five elephants, including some baby elephants, were standing very close the trail that we were following. At that time they were around forty meters ahead of us. In a moment later Niranjan conveyed his displeasure to Sanjay in the dialect. It took me a while to figure out what Niranjan was trying to convey and the moment I realized what had unfolded my heart missed a beat or two.

Niranjan turned off the engine once again. In the Gypsy, we were two urban males, two ladies, one six year old kid together with a local guide and a local driver. I heard a female voice which was almost crackling. “We have already seen enough for the day. Let’s go back!”. It was lot easier said than done. Putting the Gypsy in reverse was no longer an option. The three elephants which were on the right side of the trail, had already closed in near the trail. As the luck would have it, we were fully surrounded by more than a dozen of wild elephants in the middle of a jungle!

The only face in the Gypsy that continued to remain excited was that of our daughter. For a change, the characters from her Jungle Book was roaming around her during the daytime, rather than in the night while she had her dreams. For the rest of us, the heartbeat that was racing with excitements just a while ago, was in the verge of stalling.

As if the situations were not bad enough. A mother elephant decided to emerge out from the bush to be directly on the trail in front of us. To our horror, she then turned toward us and decided to make a charge in our direction. Then a tusker too emerged from the bush to give her a company in doing the charge!

The thriller actually didn't end there. Nevertheless, we came out unharmed from the Chilapata Forest to share the story of our weeklong road-trip to the northern part of West Bengal and a little part of Bhutan.

The Elephant that led the charge
Shot of a lifetime ... by a pair of trembling hands that was fumbling to locate the buttons ... of a brand new camera!
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One of the Tuskers ... on the left side of the trail
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I shall return later to complete our story with the Tuskers of Chilapata but before that let me share few other pictures.

The road that soothes the soul of a BHPian!
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The bridge to the Sky
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The white blue Sky
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A painting by the Nature
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The grassland of the river Torsha
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Torsha River
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The Red Flower
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Another flower
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The road to Thimphu, capital of Bhutan
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Colours on fire
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The half moon in the sky
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gmhossain 16th July 2017 22:29

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
10 Attachment(s)
It was a Saturday morning in the second week of May. I had forwarded a picture to Ananda. I had found it in the internet just a day before. A call was returned soon after. I was then substituting one my colleague in an exam hall. I came out of the hall and had a quick discussion about the place in the picture. Within fifteen minutes, Ananda called me back to say that it was fully booked until middle of June. Our hope of driving there in the last week of May appeared all but dashed. Both of us felt really dejected.

I returned to my office after the exam and I logged into WBFDC (West Bengal Forest Development Corporation) website to see whether there were any available rooms in their jungle resorts in north Bengal. During last week of May, both me and Ananda had a common break. In next few hours, a workable plan was made out based on the availability and the bookings were made accordingly. We would spend two nights at Buxa Jungle Lodge at Rajabhatkhawa, followed by another two nights at Malangi Lodge at Barodabri near Hasimara. Both these properties were run by WBFDC. We planned to have a stopover for the night at Raiganj during onward journey and stay at Malda during return journey. On the day of journey, we planned to meet at Morgram as Ananda and Sakuntala would be driving their red Swift from New Town and it would be convenient for them to take SH-7 route. On the other, we would take our Estilo along traditional NH-12 route (erstwhile NH-34) to reach Morgram.

Three days before the journey, my better-half told me that there were some problems with our digital camera. When I saw it, it was displaying `Lens error' and was making rather loud and unusual `khat khat` noise while zooming. While the camera had served us well, the timing of its demise couldn't be worse! Going to a road-trip without camera, did not sound like a good proposition. So with the help of a photographer friend, we zeroed on a Nikon Coolpix B500 camera to meet our requirements. It was within our budget too. Ananda and Sakuntala helped us to get the expedite shipping. The brand new camera was in my hand by Friday noon. Unfortunately. I did not even have a day to try out the features of the camera!

On the table ... trying to figure out basic operation of the brand new camera :confused:
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Day 1:Kalyani to Raiganj (355 KMs)

It was little after 5:30 am when we drove off from our parking lot. We hit NH-12 soon after. The progress was slower than usual as I faced multiple slow-moving truck convoys. We reached Krishnanagar bit later than expected. Moreover, those overtaking maneuvers were too taxing for an early morning drive. So I took a quick tea-break at Krishnanagar. I checked the progress of Ananda and Sakuntala using GMaps location sharing and they were progressing as expected. We resumed our journey from Krishnanagar rather quickly. However, despite being a Saturday morning the traffic continued to be rather heavy on NH-12. We eventually reached Morgram BP bunk little after 10 am. Ananda and Sakuntala had already reached there and they were waiting for us.

Mango orchard at Nadia
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The tree
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Estilo at BP Morgram
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Reeha with Sakuntala
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Ahiron bridge : The new 4-laned bridge under construction on NH-12
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After refuelling our cars, we freshen up a bit at the restroom of the BP pump. We were carrying some home-cooked pasta that we shared among ourselves. After having some hot tea from the attached dhaba, we resumed our journey. At Ballalpur, we skirted a very long truck queue by taking the right carriageway. We reached Golden Park hotel at Malda around 2:30 pm to have our lunch. The drive was more or less uneventful except for the slow-moving traffic within the Malda town area.

The food at Golden Park was good although a bit expensive. We saw a new "Pather Sathi" (friend on the road) motel which was coming up at the opposite side of Golden Park. It could be an option to try out sometime in future. We resumed our journey little before 4 pm from there. The stretch ahead was a brand new 4-laned toll road. We checked into Raiganj Tourist Lodge in the late afternoon. While parking my car in the open parking area, I noticed a TUV with "Team BHP" stickers which was parked in the parking lot below the building.

Estilo and Swift ... parked together
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Room at Raiganj Tourist Lodge
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Guests outside the lodge. Kulik Bird Sanctuary was few steps away!
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gmhossain 17th July 2017 16:23

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
19 Attachment(s)
Day 2: Raiganj to Rajabhatkhawa via Fulbari, Gajoldoba, Gorumara, Chalsa

Around 6 am in the morning, I came out to the parking lot. I thought of meeting the BHPian whose car I saw last night. Unfortunately, the TUV had checked out by then. I was feeling bit tired on the night before and I went off to bed after an early dinner. Later, it turned out that the TUV belonged to BHPian mi2n. They were returning from their Sikkim trip (here is the travelogue. Sorry Mithun, to have missed the opportunity to meet you there!)

Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to meet Mr. Sujit Das (pardon me, if I spelled incorrectly!) who happened have read our travelogues at Team-BHP. He appeared to be a fan of Team-BHP himself. I had a brief chat with him before we checked out.

Yours truly with a fan of Team-BHP
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Reeha with papa
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We started our onward journey from Raiganj Tourist Lodge at around 6:15 am. We followed the recommended Botolbari-Rudel-Dhantola detour to reach Islampur on NH-27. We reached Ghoshpukur just after 9:30 am and parked our cars near the crossing to buy some fruits. Eventually, I ended up buying several kilos of Himsagar mangoes and loaded them up in my car!

From Ghoshpukur there were two major routes that one could take to reach our destination at Buxa. The first one would be to drive straight toward Bagdogra and then cross Siliguri town to reach the Sevoke bridge. From there, one would follow the east-bound NH-31 to eventually reach Rajabhatkhawa at Buxa. The second route would have been to drive towards Fulbari and then continue along the NH-27 through the town of Jalpaiguri, Dhupguri, Falakata and Alipurduar. However, we thought of trying out a combination of these two routes.

The butter smooth NH-27 (erstwhile NH-31) between Islampur and Ghoshpukur
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Dreamland Amusement Park ... on Ghoshpukur Fulbari bypass
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Stop-over at Gajoldoba:

From Ghoshpukur, at first we drove towards Fulbari. There we stopped at "Pather Sathi" motel for a cup of tea. The restrooms were clean. I hope these motels will be maintained well in future as finding clean restrooms along our highways is still a point of concern. We exited NH-27 at Fulbari and took Gajoldoba road from there. The WB goverment has proposed to set up an Eco Tourism Hub at Gajoldoba. So we had the curiosity to check out this region. This road ran parallel to the Teesta canal. As we continued along this road, the surrounding areas started becoming greener. Eventually, we entered into the stretch of Biakunthapur Forest. We stopped several times along the way to enjoy the beautiful views and capture these moments of joy.

We reached the Teesta Barrage at Gajoldoba just before noon. The day was bright and sunny. So walking around the area under the blazing Sun wasn't quite comfortable. So after spending sometime we decided to continue our journey.

Pather Sathi motel at Fulbari
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Teest canal along Gajoldoba road
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A photo break in Baikunthapur Forest
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Approaching Gajoldoba at Teesta
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At Gajoldoba
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Teesta dam at Gajoldoba
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Eco Tourism Project -- Gajoldoba
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Lunch at Lataguri:

From Gajoldoba, one could have driven towards north to reach NH-31 at Odlabari. However, we had a different plan. Two years ago we had visited Gorumara National Park and I could still recall the taste of the lunch that we had at a small hotel at Lataguri. My taste buds generally don't fire so easily after being bombarded with hostel foods for more than a decade. So when I told Ananda that we could have our lunch at this little hotel with traditional Bengali cuisine, Ananda readily agreed to take the detour.

After following the interior roads for about 25 km, we reached Lataguri at around 12:40 pm. Although I could not remember the name of the hotel, but I had a vivid memory about the place. So I could locate it rather easily. We ordered for lunch with traditional curry of Pabda fish (Indian Butterfish). The lunch were served after a while. The owner who is also the chef, came down to give us some instructions on how to begin eating! It may sound strange but that's a crucial part of the cuisine. He specifically instructed that at first we should mix the off-white sauce given in a small bowl with plain rice. We should finish eating this portion before we try the other courses.

As instructed, I mixed up the off-white sauce with plain rice then gobbled them up. Within few moments, I was having a strange trickling feeling inside my mouth. A strong rage of sensation was rising towards my head and as if it were piercing through my ears! The feeling lasted for about a minute before my excited senses came back to the ground. When I asked, the owner mentioned that it was freshly made traditional sauce from Sesame seeds. The hot Pabda fish curry were served little later. We almost gobbled up the lunch as if we hadn't eaten for days! We were literally delighted to have taken this detour for the lunch.

The distance to our destination was around 130 km from there. However, our route was to pass along five famous wildlife sanctuaries in north Bengal. At first we needed to drive through Gorumara National Park, followed by Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary. The next one to pass by was Jaldapara National Park, followed by Chilapata Forest. Our destination Buxa Jungle Lodge was located at the famous Buxa Tiger Reserve. So driving after sunset along this route did not sound like a good option. So we decided to begin our drive immediately after the lunch.

Hotel Green View at Lataguri
If you love traditional Bengali cuisine ... then you may shake your taste buds here !![/b]
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Freshly made off-white Sesame sauce in a small bowl in the middle
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Sakuntala about to try the sauce!!
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Reeha and my better half
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gmhossain 26th July 2017 18:29

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
9 Attachment(s)
The drive from Lataguri to Rajabhatkhawa turned out be one of the most delightful drive that I have ever had. The beautiful tea gardens often dotted both sides of the road. The super smooth tarmacs with mesmerizing views were soothing for the soul. After a small snacks break at a sweet shop in Binnaguri, we arrived at Buxa Jungle Lodge in the late afternoon. The sun was setting in and a mild darkness was slowly engulfing the jungle around the lodge.

After settling inside our rooms, we ordered for the evening tea. In the canteen, I got the number of a person who organized jungle safari in the Buxa Tiger Reserve. The gentleman came to meet us soon after I gave him a call. He explained to me the different charges for the Gypsy, guide and the entry permits. The Gypsy safari was booked for the afternoon session in the next day.

Beautiful houses at the outskirt of Buxa Tiger Reserve
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Road towards WBFDC Buxa Jungle Lodge
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At Buxa Jungle Lodge
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Beautiful lawn
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Blue flowers
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Yellow flowers
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Our cars ... parked for the night
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gmhossain 26th July 2017 21:24

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
20 Attachment(s)
Day 3: At Buxa: Rajabhatkhawa - Jayanti - Santalabari

We woke up little late in the morning. By then Ananda and Sakuntala had already gone out for a walk. It took us a while to get ready. We came out through the main gate of the lodge and followed a jungle trail that was heading towards west. Soon we passed by the dilapidated wooden houses of the forest department. After half an hour or so, Reeha and Nadira decided to return to the lodge but I continued to walk along the trail.

Soon the trail ended on a road. I continued along the road in the south east direction. There were hardly any traffic on the road and it eventually led me to the Rajabhatkhawa station. A few passenger were waiting at the station where only a few trains had stoppage. The station surrounded by the jungle appeared like a natural painting with the view of mountain in the background.

By the time I returned to the lodge, the morning tea had already been served. They were sitting outside and enjoying the tea near a tree. A few baby monkeys were playing around in the garden amidst the morning breeze. The surrounding views were stunningly beautiful and I decided to try out some of the features of the new camera.

A Jungle Trail
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The flowers
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Jump ...
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A bird
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The train track
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Rajabhatkhawa Station
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A flower
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Flowers on the tree
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A red flower
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A flower
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4 wheeler!
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Leo House
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Morning tea!
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The morning drive to Jayanti:

We went to the dining hall little after 9 am for the breakfast. It was a complementary breakfast and we had given our food preferences on the night before. The service turned out to be quite slow but the food was good. We finished our tea by quarter to ten. Ananda then proposed that we could drive to Jayanti shortly and return to the lodge before lunch. Our jungle safari was to start from 3 pm.

We left our Estilo at the lodge and took only the Swift. Ananda was behind the wheel of the car and I was behind the lens of the camera. At the check post, I filled up the permit forms for us and the vehicle. While paying the charges, the booking staff told me that we could use these permits for next three days, including for safari.

When we reached at the bank of Jayanti river, the Sun was shining very brightly. In fact, it was quite uncomfortable to stand in the open without an umbrella. We spent around half an hour there and began our return journey. After driving for a while, we reached a tri-junction. The road signage was displaying Alipurduar / Rajabhatkhawa on the left and Santalabari / Buxa Duar on the right. We took the right turn!

The road to Jayanti through Buxa Tiger Reserve
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Beautiful Jayanti
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At the Jayanti river bed
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A new bridge
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gmhossain 26th July 2017 23:10

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
11 Attachment(s)
Detour to Santalabari and Buxa Duar:

From the tri-junction we drove impromptu towards Santalabari. Of course, we had ample time in our hand for returning to Rajabhatkhawa. As we drove northward, the density of the jungle got reduced. Eventually, we reached to a village where we spotted multiple home stays. We stopped briefly there for a photo break and then continued our northward journey. The road on the plain then gradually started climbing up with mild twisties along the way. We reached the village of Santalabari where the tar road ended. We spotted a tea shop near the junction and we ordered for the tea.

The red Swift
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Village houses
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A picturesque football ground
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Tea break at Santalabari
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WB Tourism sign board
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The villages of Santalabari and Buxa Duar are often visited by the trekkers who plan to hike towards the ruins of the Buxa Fort. From the tea shop, Buxa Fort was around 4.5 km hiking distance away. After finishing my cup of tea, I asked my companions to know whether anyone was interested for a short hiking. Seeing no one was interested, I asked them to wait for me at the tea shop while I return after a very short hike.

A concrete trail from the junction continued towards north. I asked a passer by who told me that concrete trail can be used by vehicles, preferably those with 4wd, for a kilometer or so. Afterward, it would only be a walking trail. After walking uphill for a while, I decided to go back to the tea shop where our companions were waiting. We drove back straight to the lodge from there.

Directions to Buxa Fort
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The concrete trail
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The trail was slowly climbing up
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The tall trees
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A wild shrub
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gmhossain 26th July 2017 23:18

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
22 Attachment(s)
Jungle Safari at Buxa Tiger Reserve:

Our jungle safari in the Buxa Tiger Reserve started in the afternoon as planned. The Gypsy picked us up from the lodge. Given we had already obtained the permits in the morning, we could enter the jungle immediately. For next one hour or so, we spent criss-crossing the jungle along the Gypsy trail. The beauty of the jungle was stunning. However, we did not have any significant sightings of wild animal. Later on we crossed a shallow river and stopped there for a while at the river bank. There were multiple footprints of large animals at the riverbed near the water. There we spotted a peacock - the first one of the day. From there, we drove off to reach at `Hati - anti-poaching camp', located deep inside the jungle.

About to begin the Safari
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Booking counter
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Rajabhatkhawa gate to Buxa Tiger Reserve
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Gypsy trail
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A peacock -- the first sighting of the day
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The river inside the jungle
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A break for the Gypsy
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Hati - Anti-poaching Camp:

We reached at the anti-poaching camp around 5 pm. The afternoon Sun was slowly loosing its sheen. There was a lone care-taker at the camp who told us a herd of elephants had passed by the area half an hour ago. The camp was surrounded by an electric fencing system. Besides, there was a water pit with salt just outside the fence. So chances of sighting wild animals from this camp was very high. We spent close to half an hour there. Except for several peacocks and a red junglefowl, however there was no other sighting. We returned to the lodge afterward as the darkness was setting in.

Hati camp
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The shadow
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The grazing land
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A water pit
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Electric fencing
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Salt - behind the fence
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"Hati" - anti-poaching camp
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The salt and the pit
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Multiple peacocks
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From the watch tower
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A red junglefowl
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Tribal dance in the night
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gmhossain 27th July 2017 14:29

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
13 Attachment(s)
Day 4: Buxa - Phuentsholing - Barodabri (Malangi Lodge) via Hamiltonganj, Hasimara:

It was raining lightly when we woke up in the morning. We had planned to check out from Buxa Jungle Lodge immediately after the breakfast. Our next destination for the day was WBFDC Malangi Lodge at Barodabri. The distance was only 35 km from there. So we made a plan to visit Phuentsholing and to spend half a day there and reach Barodabri by the evening.

During onward journey we had taken NH-317 from Hasimara to reach Buxa. However, there was a shorter state highway that connected these two places. So we decided to take the state highway via Hamiltonganj to reach Phuentsholing.

Some beautiful flowers
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Getting ready to drive out
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Railway track
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A closed level crossing
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An oncoming locomotive
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Our Estilo
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Tea garden
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The towering mountain in the background
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A photo break
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A beautiful structure along the road
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Kalchini Tea Estate
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A tea garden near Jaigaon
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gmhossain 27th July 2017 15:05

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
28 Attachment(s)
Half a day at Phuentsholing, Bhutan:

Slowly I drove over the international border. Within a minute of driving into the other side, I was shocked to see an old lady started to cross over the road only a few meters ahead of my moving car. My first impulsive urge was to slam the horn. However, it took a few moments for my conscious mind to take over the impulsive urge. I stopped the car. The lady calmly crossed over the road without even looking around.

No, I was not doing any favour to her. In fact, I needed to brush off my own concept of "right of way" which had almost rusted in my memory without being used while driving on Indian road for past several years. She definitely had the right of way at the crossing. Soon I regained my driving composure and started to enjoy the drive in a honk-free land. In fact, I was having the feeling of driving in an utopia when I saw other cars that were stopping to let me cross over to the other side.

Another aspect that struck my senses after crossing over to Bhutan from India, is the cleanliness of the streets. The last 20 minutes of driving experience through the town of Jaigaon was no different than driving through unruly and chaotic traffic in any other crowded town in India. However, the moment you enter Phuentsholing from Jaigaon, the difference is so stark that it could overwhelm your senses.

Gate to the land of thunder dragon -- Bhutan
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RSTA office, Bhutan
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Our Estilo ... parked in front of RSTA
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The streets of Phuentsholing
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Traffic Police at the junction
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The Royals of Bhutan
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Buddhist Temple
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Ananda and Sakuntala ... under guard!!
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Let there be peace
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Lunch at Phuentsholing:

We parked our cars at a parking lot near RSTA (Road Safety and Transport Authority) building. We then started to walk around the streets of Phuentsholing. After an hour or so we were feeling hungry and then we spotted the Kizom Cafe. There we first tried some pastries and donuts. We also got some bakery stuffs packed to carry with us.

It was around 1 pm when we hopped into the restaurant of the Cafe for lunch. We requested them to suggest us some traditional Bhutanese cuisine. We got two suggestions for the main course. The first one was Shamu Emadatsi, a special preparation of mushroom and the second one was "Jasha Paa", a chicken curry cooked in Bhutanese style. We also ordered for some momo and rice.

At Kizom Cafe
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Some pastries to eat
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The Starters
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Momos in a Bamboo pot
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Lunch -- The full course
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Chicken curry
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Spring water
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The end ... of the lunch
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After we finished our lunch we started to walk around the town once again. We walked along the road which was heading towards Thimphu, the capital city. At around 3 pm we returned to the RSTA office where our cars were parked. It was a overwhelming feeling for us to visit Phuentsholing. We enjoyed every moments that we spent there on that day. So with a feeling of melancholy, we drove over to the Indian side. Our destination was about an hour drive from Phuentsholing.

Reeha with Mamma
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Hotel Druk
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Beautiful building
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Distance to Hasimara -- 20 km
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gmhossain 27th July 2017 22:26

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
8 Attachment(s)
Drive to Malangi Lodge at Barodabri:

It was around 3 pm when we started our return journey from Phuentsholing. It had been a cloudy day since morning. There were occasional light drizzles. Overall, this nice weather allowed us to enjoy the half-a-day at Phuentsholing to it’s best. Our destination for the evening was Malangi Lodge owned by the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation. After a slow and chaotic drive through the town of Jaigaon and Hasimara, we reached Malangi lodge little before 4 pm and promptly checked into our rooms.

While checking in, I asked the caretaker about the elephant safari that was supposed to be available from the lodge itself. He then told us that elephant safari from Malangi lodge had been suspended as the particular elephant had become pregnant! He then suggested us to try the Gypsy safari in the Chilapata Forest and we agreed. The paper works for the same were completed in the evening for the afternoon safari next day.

Malangi Lodge by WBFDC
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Wooden bridge over a small river behind the lodge
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The other side of wooden bridge
We were suggested not to venture into the other side
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Rhino near Malangi Lodge

It was around five in the evening. Apart from us, few more tourists were standing near the wooden bridge over a small river. The river was flowing just behind the Malangi Lodge. Earlier in the afternoon, we were told by the caretaker about this spot for possible wild life sightings.

The darkness was setting in slowly. However, there were no sighting of any wild animals. One by one, other guests started to return back to their rooms. However, I was not in a mood to follow them. In fact, I was hoping to enjoy this lonely moment in the jungle. The sounds of crickets was filling up the air. The sound of water-flow was a giving an able companion to the monotony of the crickets.

I checked my watch. It was few minutes past six. Few moments later, two peacocks came down below a tree which was about forty meters from me. Slowly I walked away from the wooden bridge to move closer to the peacocks. However, the daylight had faded considerably. The shadow from the tree made it even darker. I was not able to properly focus my camera on the peacocks. So after few attempts, I decided to give up on them. I returned to the wooden bridge. It being the summer months, the water stream had narrowed down significantly. A thick vegetation had grown in the dry part of the river bed. While glancing towards the downstream of the river, I noticed a black object in the riverbed which was moving slowly. A full grown Rhino had come out on the riverbed for grazing and to drink water. The distance was around two hundred meters from me.

It was an exciting moment. While I was struggling to focus my camera on the Rhino using my right hand, I decided to call others from our group. Thanks to rather sketchy signal, the calls were not going through. While I was juggling between the SIM 1 and 2, my phone slipped from my left hand. Other hand was holding the camera. Luckily, except for a minor dent the phone survived the fall. After several attempts, I was able to call other members of our group and they promptly came down. The rhino kept grazing there for another ten minutes or so before moving back to the jungle. By the time it was getting darker and we decided to go back to the lodge.

A Rhino on the river bed
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Inside the room of WBFDC Malangi lodge
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gmhossain 27th July 2017 22:35

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
20 Attachment(s)
Day 5: At Malangi and Chilapata Forest:

It was raining cats and dogs when we woke up in the morning. The surrounding trees appeared lush green after being bathed in the rain. We had our morning tea while enjoying the rain from the verandah of our first floor rooms. As the time progressed, the intensity of rain eased up. It turned into a drizzle. Me and Ananda took the umbrellas and went out near the wooden bridge. The views of jungle amidst the rain was mesmerizing.

We walked around the area for a while before returning for the breakfast. We had opted for Aloo-Parantha which turned out to be amazingly good. After finishing our breakfast we discussed whether we should go out somewhere before the lunch.

Swift and Estilo ... rain soaked at the parking lot
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Malangi lodge
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Elephant riding point just behind the Malangi lodge
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The rain in the jungle
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Enjoying the rain from the verandah
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A bird amidst the drizzle
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The water droplets
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Malangi lodge
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Morning Drive to Chilapata Forest:

The rain had stopped by around 9 am but the sky was still overcast. With Ananda behind the wheel, all of us hopped into the Swift. Our destination? nowhere!

We came out from the lodge and took the road in the southern direction. We had not driven on this stretch while coming there on the day before. Eventually, we reached at the Kodal Basti check post of Chilapata Forest. We asked the guards whether we could drive straight along the road. They answered yes but told us not to stop inside the jungle. We crossed over to the other side of the jungle and reached a place called Patlakhawa.

While returning we took a diversion to reach near Kaljani river at the outskirts of the jungle. After spending sometime there we decided to return to our lodge for the lunch.

A broken bridge
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A tea garden near Patlakhawa
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A beautiful house
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A resort at the outskirt of Chilapata Forest
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A monkey on the move
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A bird
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A beautiful landscape
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Little black cormorant (Pankouri)
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gmhossain 28th July 2017 08:23

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
12 Attachment(s)
Tryst with the Tuskers at Chilapata Forest:

We had requested our Gypsy driver to pick us up from our WBFDC Lodge. The vehicle had arrived just around quarter past three in the afternoon. We were on board soon after. After cruising along the beautiful road for a while we reached at the Kodal Basti check post. Our guide Sanjay got down from the vehicle to make the entry in the log-book kept there. We did not see any other vehicles. So most likely other safari vehicles had already moved in. It was a sunny afternoon. However, the morning was not so bright. It rained a lot since midnight.

The Gypsy ... ready for boarding
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The metalled road to Chilapata Forest
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Welcome to Chilapata
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It was hardly a minute or two after we had left the metalled road. Our guide cum spotter whispered to us by pointing his finger towards the left side of trail: “There is an elephant”. The undergrowth in this stretch of the forest was quite high. It took a while for our untrained eyes to locate the jumbo. Ahoy! It’s a massive one and it’s a tusker. The tusker was no more than twenty meters away from us. In the meanwhile, our driver, Niranjan, had stopped the engine of the Gypsy.

The opportunity of seeing a wild elephant in a jungle from such a close distance got our hearts racing with excitements. Our whispering voices had started rising to the decibel level high enough to not call them whispers anymore. In the meanwhile, our driver Niranjan asked us to remain quiet while we took our camera out to click photos. Within a minute after sighting the first tusker, our guide Sanjoy spotted a new pair of elephants again on the left side of the trail. These two were grazing at a distance about thirty meters from the first tusker but within a few meters from the Gypsy trail ahead. However, these two were moving away slowly from the trail while grazing.

It must have been a lucky day for us! At least that’s what we thought then. Just two days ago, we had spent more than three hours inside Buxa Tiger Reserve. There we could see only few peacocks. On the contrary, in less than five minutes of getting into the Chilapata Forest, we had already seen three wild elephants so closely. Sanjay then asked our driver to move slowly ahead along the trail as the tusker had walked behind a bush by then.

After crawling for a while, our Gypsy stopped suddenly. Our driver Niranjan excitedly whispered something to our spotter Sanjay in local dialect. Sanjay was standing at the back of the Gypsy. I was standing just besides him. Just a minute ago, Sanjay’s face was filled with contentment. Of course, it was expected. Every spotters would feel happy to see the excited faces of their tourists having multiple sightings of the wild animals. I turned around to see Sanjay. He had turned his head toward the right side of the Gypsy trail. Suddenly, he appeared to be worried one as he pointed out three more elephants on the right side of the trail. In a moment later, Niranjan whispered us to look ahead to see at least four more elephants, including some baby elephants.

Soon after both these sightings Niranjan conveyed his displeasure to Sanjay for failing to scout around before asking him to move the Gypsy ahead. It took me a while to figure out what was going one. It turned out that we had driven our Gypsy in the middle of a herd of elephants which was crossing the trail from right to the left while grazing. The herd was apparently known to them and had more than two dozens of elephants in it. Niranjan had turned off the Gypsy engine once again. As the luck would have it, we were fully surrounded by more than a dozen of wild elephants in the middle of a jungle!

To make an already bad situation much worse, a mother elephant decided to emerge out from the bush to be directly on our trail in front of us. She then decided to give us a charge. The mother elephant moved several steps towards us then stopped for a few moments. Then a new tusker emerged out from the undergrowth to give her a company. Both of them then started charging towards us together. While this maneuver by the elephants was unfolding in front of us, our logical part of our brain had almost stopped working!

In next few moments, the event that unfolded in front of us was an eye opener. While the mother elephant and the tusker kept charging toward us, all the baby elephants appeared on the trail and started moving from the right side to the left side behind the virtual wall made by these two large elephants. Once all the baby elephants had crossed over the trail, these two elephants turned back and then quickly moved away from the trail.

One of the tuskers that we spotted early
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Another one
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A couple of elephants on the left side of the trail
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A loner
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Mother elephant emerged out
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Looked at us and then decided to charge
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Others came out from the bush
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The baby elephants are behind
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All of them crossed over the trail
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gmhossain 28th July 2017 08:45

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
15 Attachment(s)
Continued ...

After half a minute or so, Niranjan turned on the ignition of the Gypsy. He waited for few moments before going in full throttle. We sprinted past those elephants which had just crossed the trail. However, our sense of relief was short-lived. The Gypsy came to a grinding halt once again. Overnight rain had led to waterlogging on this stretch of the trail. A full grown tusker was enjoying the natural spa by applying a coat of mud-pack on his body in the middle of the trail.

The next few moments appeared to us as if the flow of time had stopped. The tusker ahead showed no sign of hurry to move. Then another tusker was spotted just along the trail. It was little ahead of the tusker which was blocking our way. At that moment even the glimmer hope that I had to come out from this Chakravyuh unharmed, started fading away. Luckily, our driver Niranjan being the most experienced among us, was still calm. He then asked Sanjay to keep an eye on the elephants those were behind us. After a while, the tusker on the trail was done with mud-pack and decided to move on. Seeing this window of opportunity, Niranjan went full throttle once again. We almost flew over next couple of hundred meters along the trail to reach an open grassland. I then requested Niranajan to stop the Gypsy for a while in this open area to calm down our nerves as another dense stretch of jungle laid ahead of us.

We sprinted past these elephants
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The tusker moved on after having a mud-pack
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The other tusker was bit ahead
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The grand Tusker
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We stopped for a while at this open grass land
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Looked back to those two tuskers
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After having waited for couple of minutes, we resumed our journey along the trail. Soon we entered into another stretch of dense jungle. Chilapata forest appeared to be one of the most dense jungles that I have ever visited. A thick undergrowth was the main reason behind its appearance. During our Buxa safari, the trees were tall but the undergrowth of vegetation was low. So we could see quite a far there. In contrast, inside Chilapata forest the surrounding visibility was rather low due to the thick growth of vegetation.

In the remaining part of the safari, we spotted a couple of Indian Gaur apart from few peacocks. We visited the grassland of the Torsha river which was extended up to the Jaldapara National Park on the other side of the river. We returned to the lodge in the evening after an eventful safari that may get etched in our mind for a long period to come.

A pair of peacocks
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A watch tower inside Chilapata
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Ruins of a Fort that belonged to Nal dynasties
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On the Gypsy
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An Indian Gaur
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Kept grazing as felt unperturbed after looking at us
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A trained elephant on patrol duty along the grassland
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Ananda, Sakuntala, Sanjay, Niranjan, myself and Reeha
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gmhossain 28th July 2017 08:53

re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
13 Attachment(s)
Day 6: WBFDC Malangi to Malda ( 365 KM )

We began our return journey at around 5:30 am in the morning. We cruised along the town of Hasimara, Madarihat, Binnaguri, Nagrakata and Chalsa to eventually reach Odlabari. From there we had the option of driving straight to reach Sevoke. However, we took a diversion and drove southward towards Gajoldoba. This route also turned out to be quite beautiful as it passed through the lush green tea gardens and the jungles of Gajoldoba beat.

From Gajoldoba, we then retraced the route of our onward journey to reach Malda by 2:30 pm. In this route, we avoided going through Siliguri town altogether. This route too was quite scenic and the road surface was charming. We had our breakfast break at Islampur along the way. In the evening, we visited my sister's place and had our dinner there before returning to the hotel for the night.

A stretch of NH-31 between Madarihat and Nagrakata
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A photo break
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Behind the wheel
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Day 7: Malda to Kalyani ( 280 KM )

We drove off from the parking lot of Golden Park hotel at around 5:45 am. We crossed through the Malda town and Kaliachak without any stop. The drive over the Farakka barrage was equally smooth. However, we saw a long truck queue as we approached Ballapur ROB whose construction appeared to be a never-ending affair on this route. From the past experiences I knew that we needed to switch to the right carriageway. Afterwards we followed other passenger vehicles to reach the 4-laned tolled section on the other side.

From there we cruised non-stop to reach BP COCO pump at Morgram. After refueling our cars, we too got our tummy full. At Morgram, we bade farewell to Ananda and Sakuntala as they followed SH-7 from there. On the other hand we continued along NH-12. Unlike our onward journey, the return journey on this stretch turned out to be quite smooth. We crossed over Baharampur and Krishnanagar in times better than my own estimate. We had a small tea break in between.

When we were cruising through Shantipur bypass, we saw few small shacks selling ripe Mangoes. So we stopped there and bought several kilos of two mango varieties: Himsagar and Golap-khas. Later at home, when we were eating those Golap-khas mangoes, we felt that we should have filled up even the remaining space in the trunk with these mangoes. They were too good for the price we paid!

Breakfast and fuel break at BP Morgram
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Mango shopping at Shantipur Bypass
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Incidentally, our shopping spree continued even afterward. We reached Fulia along NH-12 soon. My better half then reminded me about a promise that I made to her numerous times while driving through this stretch. This time I did stop!

Shantipur and Fulia are famous for the weavers of celebrated Tangail and Jamdaani silk sarees. In the Mughal era, the ancestors of these weavers used to weave the iconic Muslin of Bengal. Of course, there is a long history of how these weavers got displaced and are now settled in Nadia district of West Bengal.

While my better half got her new saree packed, I asked the owner a question. "May I just see the most expensive saree that you have?" "Sure", was the answer. They showed me one of the Tangail saree made from Muga Silk and they quoted Rs. 45000 for a piece! (Yeah, number of zeros are right!) Luckily, my purse got lightened up by an amount which was a digit lower than the previous quote. Moreover, I also got the words of consolation, "I am done with Eid shopping for this year"!

After Fulia, our next stop was at BP Tantgachi for lunch. The outside temperature then was hovering around 40 degree Celsius. In fact, we were feeling much worse than that as we were returning from northern Bengal where temperature was quite pleasant. From there we drove straight to our parking lot with the full blast of AC in the car.

At a Saree shop in Fulia -- a place famous for Tangail and Jamdaani Saree
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A Tangail Saree made from Muga Silk
Guess the price? whopping 45K for this one!
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Tangail Saree shop
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Lunch at BP Tantgachi, NH-12
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A selfie with papa
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Our Estilo parked at home
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In the last six years of ownership, our Estilo had always performed beautifully. It's rhythm matched quite well with my sedate style of driving. This time too it was no exception. Our trysts with the tuskers of Chilapata may continue to linger in our sweet memory for long time to come. However, it's the time now to conclude this travelogue and I extend my sincere thanks to all of you for reading this travelogue!

GTO 30th July 2017 13:57

Re: Tuskers of Chilapata : A thrilling drive to Northern Bengal & Bhutan
Thread moved from the Assembly Line to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!

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