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Old 14th May 2019, 21:16   #1
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Default A Summer Drive to the Dooars

Prologue


It has rarely happened that a thread of mine has been languishing in the assembly line for more than 3 months. But some factors, majorly dominated by a punishing work regime forced it. And now, with the monsoons in full swing and no holidays planned and days dominated by dark clouds, something inspired me to write:
  1. Golam-da’s note that the Ballalpur bridge has been decommissioned (reminded me of the North Bengal hills)
  2. And it was Pawan's blockbuster UK trip thread that reminded me of my long pending travelogue.

And so today, Sunday, 8 PM setting on the couch I take time to recollect the May trip to this section of the Dooars centered around Chalsa. The places that we visited can be divided into three clusters:
  • Chalsa, Matelli, Samsing, Rocky Island & Suntalekhola
  • Chapramari, Jhalong, Bindu & Paren
  • Gorumara and the Murti River Bed

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Matelli Tea Estate

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Railway Crossing In Chapramari Forest

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Driving towards Samsing


Day One: Kolkata to Raiganj

We ambled along from Kolkata around 6 AM in the morning. And after an uneventful 9 hours drive we reached WBTDC Raiganj where we halted for the night. Accommodation and food was okay. We really liked the Tea, Toasts and Omelette that we had ordered on reaching the place in the afternoon. Its very hot in May and with nothing really to do we rested in the afternoon. We had ordered the usual Rice, Dal, Alu Bhaja and Chicken for dinner. The food was stale and overpriced - both of which was unexpected.


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Stream along the Matelli Tea Estate

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Jaldhaka as viewed from the NH-31

Day Two: Raiganj to Chalsa. In & Around Chalsa

We woke up early the next day and after a cup of tea we were on the way driving through Raiganj - Dalkhola Bypass (under construction) and over to NH 31. We stopped for a breakfast of Puri, Subzi and Omelette at Kishanganj. Now, there are two ways to go through Chalsa:
  • Route One: Islampur - Bagdogra - Sevoke - Chalsa
  • Route Two: Islampur - Fulbari Bypass - Gajoldoba Canal Road - Chalsa


A Summer Drive to the Dooars-09_dsc8209.jpg
Terraced cultivation near Bindu

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Lunch at "Dooars" Calling: Fresh Line Soda, Chicken Masala and Jeera Rice.

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We chose the later just to try out the route. The road condition is good through out by there are a few railway crossing and the road gets narrow at certain places that impact the speed. The Fulbari bypass too had some on going construction due to which we were diverted through some narrow village roads, which impacted progress.

Nevertheless, it is said, better late than never and by 12 PM we had checked into Sinclairs Retreat, Dooars.

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Murti River Bed

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Rocky Island

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Forests in Samsing

I had been to a couple of Sinclairs properties earlier and this too was spic and span. The resort located on a small hill overlooking the vast Dooars plain lands. Its spread over a huge area dotted with trees. There are cottages that are spread across in clusters. After a quick hot shower, we headed for lunch - fried rice and chilli chicken. Great food, good price!

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Near Paren

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Hilly villages (near Paren)

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Murti River Bed, different view.

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After lunch we went on a drive towards the Matelli tea estates. As the car glided along the narrow, winding road the sun rays seem to have been dispersed through dark clouds and then there were droplets of rain on the wind shield. As the rain stopped the sun came out blazing and the afternoon became very hot. Our first stop was the huge Matelli tea estate.

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Sweet house on the hill, near Chalsa

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These tea gardens of the Dooars are different from the ones of the Darjeeling hills - not only in taste and strength but also in their landscaping.These areas are not that hilly and there are gentle slopes over a flat land. Tall shady trees are spread over the acres of tea bushes and far beyond one can see the rising hills of Bhutan.

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Jaldhaka river at Bindu.

There were frequent stops along the way as the green of the tea bushes soothed the eyes. At a cross road we enquired about the way to Samsing and Suntalekhola. One of the locals said that the main road was closed, so we had to take an ‘under construction’ road. Well, the road didn’t exist at all, but the car climbed onto the boulders and rocks quite deftly and off we went. It was close to 4 in the evening and we saw school children returning. Singing and chatting – very nice. We also saw the WBFDC accommodation at Samsing. These low rising hills are deeply forested, and the evening sunrays could barely glint through the recesses of the trees. We asked a local about which way was Suntalekhola and he pointed us to go further ahead. But as we went ahead we saw a notice that outside cars weren’t allowed to go towards Suntalekhola. This was a surprise for us and the guys manning the gate wouldn’t allow us to proceed further.

Last edited by SmartCat : 28th August 2019 at 21:59. Reason: formatting
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Old 14th May 2019, 21:20   #2
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Day Two - Continued
So, Suntalekhola came to a naught and we descended downhill towards Rocky Island. Spent some time at the bridge instead of going down to the river bed, took some photos and we resumed the return journey.

It was almost 6.30 in the evening when we reached our rooms. After refreshing up, we thought about what to have for snacks (Being Bengali, food is always high in the list of priorities for us!).

And ordered for Cheese Toasts and Tea.

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While driving towards Chalsa from Gajoldoba.

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NH 31 from Chalsa to Chapramari.

Sometime later the rains started, and it poured heavily. We opened the curtains and saw the rain, feeling secure in the confines of the cottage, yet enjoying its feeble hammering sound. After a while, there was a door knock and when we opened the door, a smiling waiter arrived.

I have always felt the food at Sinclairs to be very tasty and rightly priced. And the cheese toasts and tea that arrived in the rains justified it again. We all gorged into the toasts with the tea.

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Houses of Bhutan, on the other side.

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The rains stopped, may be, a couple of hours later. After which we headed for dinner and had Rice, Dal, Bengali Style Chicken Curry and Salad - well-cooked home comforts!

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Hilly stream.

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Hydel Power station at Bindu.

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Driving through Chapramari forests.

Day Three: Jhalong, Bindu, Paren, Murti & Gorumara

The next day we woke up late and had breakfast after which we headed towards Jhalong.

As I have said before, the resort is located on a small hill, so we got down and took the left turn and were on towards NH-31. The NH-31 is a two lane highway in these parts right till Barobisha and passes through several forests – out of which the Chapramari forest (a forest adjacent to Gorumara national park) is one of them.

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A broken bridge along the Diana river (not sure)

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Lunch at Sinclairs - Fried Rice and Chilli Chicken

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We took a left from the highway and were driving deeper when a couple of local fellows waved their hand. One of them were asking for a ‘lift’ if we were doing towards Jhalong. We said yes and asked them to get into our car. The forest got deeper and deeper, and after a railway level crossing the cloudy skies gave way to the rain and the cicadas and birds were screaming through the forest. The drive was surreal.

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Tea plantation.

A few miles later we came across rubber plantations and then the road winded up a hill which was a mostly a drive in third gear.

One of the locals suddenly popped up a question, “Sir, do you want to go towards Bindu?” to which we said “Yes”.

So he said, “I can guide you on that road and if my relative is there at the hydel power station then I will be able to take you to the insides of the dam too”.

A Summer Drive to the Dooars-19_dsc8248.jpg


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Found these similar to 'kash' near Bindu

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Approaching Suntalekhola

We were happy about it. And then at Jhalong one of them got down and we saw the Jaldhaka river bed from far above. After which we passed through a 12 km journey through narrow, forested and a potholed road towards Bindu. Presently, with overcast skies, the river thundering below and vacant village ‘haat’ it made us feel unique.


A Summer Drive to the Dooars-22_dsc8161.jpg
Approaching Suntalekhola

A Summer Drive to the Dooars-23_dsc8123.jpg

The local, then walked towards the Hydel Power Station gate and asked then security if he could bring us along to which the security guard nodded. So, we went inside the dam – nothing fancy though. But what was interesting was – we walked over to the other side of the dam and there was a Bhutan Police picket post – so, we were standing in Bhutan!

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Rocky Island

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Tea Gardens and far beyond are hills of Bhutan.

Last edited by SDP : 29th August 2019 at 08:02. Reason: Please refer to rule #11
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Old 14th May 2019, 21:24   #3
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Day Three - Continued

While returning, our new friend suggested us to take a different route that he promised will be better. This route was through a place called Paren (covered by Golam-da in an earlier travelogue). True, the road was good but it was steeper than other route. Nevertheless, we dropped him near Jhalong and onwards we went, back again through the rubber plantations and Chapramari forests towards a restaurant on the NH 31. The 3-4 hours detour had left us hungry and we headed to a restaurant on the highway. Lunch was Jeera Rice, Dal Fry, Chicken and Fresh lime soda and was too heavy for us. So, felt a little drowsy.

A Summer Drive to the Dooars-01_dsc8231.jpg
While returning from Jhalong.

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Chapramari Forest.

But, then there were a few more places to visit. Accordingly we went to the Murti River bed that was dry in May and which, by June will be flooded with water when the monsoon picks up in full swing in the hills. The Murti area is again, dotted with tea gardens and a number of resorts. We spent sometime in the evening on the river bed, listening to the cool wind that was picking up some of the rain, which was falling somewhere towards the North. The WBFDC at Murti is once again next to the river bed and the best place to be if one wants to stay at Murti.

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From Murti we went to Gorumara National Park. But without any prior safari booking and being late in the evening we coud not take any safari into the forest. But the drive from the Murti end to the Lataguri end through the depth of the forest was a thrilling drive. The sky remained cloudy and the evening sunrays weren’t present and through the deep jungle the sounds of the insects and animals gave a sinister feeling around. When we were returning from Lataguri, the rains had again started and it was so dark that it was difficult to differentiate twilight from the night.

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That night at the resort we ordered dinner in the room. Roti and Goat Meat Curry. Again, great food and perfect taste.

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Day Four: Chalsa to Cooch Behar

The next day we checked out after an early breakfast. That day we were going to Cooch Behar (my native place). We reached home around 12 in the afternoon and then had some rest, good food. Went to a few relatives’ place in the evening. Since we had to start early the next day, so went to sleep early.

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Day Five: Cooch Behar to Kolkata

The Cooch Behar to Kolkata drive is a 700 kms journey through 2 lane and 4 lane highways and a lot of uncertainties. Hence we started at 4 AM in the morning. Mom had packed some sandwiches and a flask of tea. The initial hour of the drive was dark and then gradually it began to lighten up. But there was a heavy cloud cover all through out. We took the Fulbari bypass and were on towards Islampur when the first rays of sun became visible. Stopped by the road for the home made breakfast and tea.

A Summer Drive to the Dooars-18_dsc8253.jpg

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Took the under construction Dalkhola bypass once again, but this time it was muddy and filled with slush. At times I felt that our low GC car might get stuck, but we manage to scrape through the mud and slush. Then onwards we were stuck in the outskirts of Raiganj for over an hour with opposite lane driving. NH-34 can still be unpredictable. After Raiganj the road became a 4 laner and more predictable. We had lunch after crossing Farakka. And then it was a drive through SH 7 and NH2. Reached home at 7!

*** The End ***

Last edited by Aditya : 29th August 2019 at 10:49. Reason: Rule # 11
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Old 28th August 2019, 22:02   #4
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Moving thread from Assembly Line to Travelogues forum. Thanks for sharing, Sayak!
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Old 29th August 2019, 00:26   #5
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Beautiful travelogue @Sayak! Rated 5 stars. After going through Golam Da's and your travelogues I feel guilty of never treating Dooars as a vacation destination. I have always treated it as the foothills of the mighty Himalayas and never gave the respect the place deserves! Will try to change it the next time. Thanks for sharing!

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Old 29th August 2019, 07:40   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sayakc View Post
We spent sometime in the evening on the river bed, listening to the cool wind that was picking up some of the rain, which was falling somewhere towards the North.
Sayak, your travelogues are always soothing for the eyes! This is no exception. It's a brilliant photography to say the least! Keep posting and keep us encharmed!

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Originally Posted by sayakc View Post
Took the under construction Dalkhola bypass once again ...
Is the work on the Railway-Over-Bridge at Dalkhola complete?


Best,
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Old 29th August 2019, 08:50   #7
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Great travelogue. You have beautifully captured the lush green of the dooars in the monsoons, the wet roads and lovely food..can almost smell the rain from your pics.
Being from Guwahati, Dooars is often a pit stop for us during our numerous north Bengal and Sikkim drives, and all those stays has been pleasant. But like Blackpearl mentioned, I am also guilty of overlooking the place as a vacation destination by itself. Actually it is a lot easier drive for us than the Kolkata guys, we don't have to worry about the Kolkata- Siliguri sector and just need a relaxed 7 hr drive on the smooth NH31 to reach there. Seriously need to plan !
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Old 29th August 2019, 19:37   #8
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Just bumped to this travelogue and saw the date to be 14th May! I was like, how could I miss a travelogue from you for such a long time! Then I scrolled down and saw, it got live on 28th August! So no guilt feeling from my end!

I'm always hooked to your travelogue's just because of your fantastic and 'close to nature' writing style! Yes your writing style, does give me that feel!

The pics are beautiful too. Rated 5*.

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Old 29th August 2019, 23:56   #9
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Excellent writing and very nice pictures. Your travelogues are wonderful and gives immense joy while reading.

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Originally Posted by sayakc View Post
Took the under construction Dalkhola bypass once again, but this time it was muddy and filled with slush. At times I felt that our low GC car might get stuck, but we manage to scrape through the mud and slush.
How do I access this Dalkhola bypass? Is there any landmark when going or while coming back?
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Old 30th August 2019, 12:41   #10
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Have heard a lot about few WB based Bhpians who have a very smooth and descriptive way of writing, you are definitely one of them. Every trip to Himalaya all the way from Hyderabad each year made me think further North is where the beauty lies. I have relatives who have thrived in that region for generations, I think it's time I better start listening to them to mark the next trip. I overlooked a hidden gem for sure.

Thanks for sharing and taking the time to pen down the thoughts.

Last edited by ARAY : 30th August 2019 at 12:43.
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Old 1st September 2019, 21:47   #11
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You re-kindled a lot of my old memories. Had been to Dooars, Chalsa and Gorumara National Park in 2008 and had stayed at Sinclairs. Was really mesmerized by the pristine greenery and was impressed by Sinclair's quality of food & hospitality. Good to see that they still maintain the same standards.
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Old 2nd September 2019, 21:19   #12
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Thank you BlackPearl. The hills are my favourite too and the very thought of Darjeeling appeals vastly. But this time I thought, why not take a detour from regulation trips and explore the forests in the plains. And I wasnt really disappointed


Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackPearl View Post
Beautiful travelogue @Sayak! Rated 5 stars. After going through Golam Da's and your travelogues I feel guilty of never treating Dooars as a vacation destination.... Thanks for sharing!

Thanks Golam-da. I too, am a fan of your travelogues and keep waiting when you will be posting one.

The RoB over Dalkhola wasn't completed as of May, 2019. Not sure whats the picture now though.
Quote:
Originally Posted by gmhossain View Post
Sayak, your travelogues are always soothing for the eyes! This is no exception. Is the work on the Railway-Over-Bridge at Dalkhola complete?
Best,
Thanks Pyrodrive.

While driving to Shillong when we were cruising on the same highway, I too felt that Siliguri to Guwahati is such a cool drive. Less traffic and you can drive those miles quite effortlessly

Quote:
Originally Posted by pyrodrive View Post
Being from Guwahati, Dooars is often a pit stop for us during our numerous north Bengal and Sikkim drives, and all those stays has been pleasant. But like Blackpearl mentioned, I am also guilty of overlooking the place as a vacation destination by itself.
!
Thank You Samba! Very glad you liked the blog. Yes! this time I took a long, long time to write up this trivial travelogue. Guess it was laziness and part work!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Samba View Post
Just bumped to this travelogue and saw the date to be 14th May! I was like, how could I miss a travelogue from you for such a long time! Then I scrolled down and saw, it got live on 28th August! Rated 5*.
Thanks Dada! I have mentioned that in detail in this post (Kolkata - Siliguri route via Dumka, Bhagalpur. Avoiding NH34) . If you need additional information, pl let me know. Per my experience in May, I surely wouldn't recommend it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by rahul4640 View Post
How do I access this Dalkhola bypass? Is there any landmark when going or while coming back?

Yes Aritra, just like the Himalayas are nearer to us the Nilgiris, Western Ghats are nearer to you. But I really respect the way you drive down non stop from Hyderabad to the Himalayas every year. Trail blazer surely!

Quote:
Originally Posted by ARAY View Post
Have heard a lot about few WB based Bhpians who have a very smooth and descriptive way of writing, you are definitely one of them. Every trip to Himalaya all the way from Hyderabad each year made me think further North is where the beauty lies.
The behaviour and service along with facilities of Sinclairs remains as good as ever. I felt it during our stay in Kalimpong and the same in Chalsa. Very much value for money!

Quote:
Originally Posted by ThePatientMan View Post
You re-kindled a lot of my old memories. Had been to Dooars, Chalsa and Gorumara National Park in 2008 and had stayed at Sinclairs. Was really mesmerized by the pristine greenery and was impressed by Sinclair's quality of food & hospitality. Good to see that they still maintain the same standards.
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Old 3rd September 2019, 10:52   #13
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Default Re: A Summer Drive to the Dooars

What can I say Sayak. It is a treat to read your TLs. I am glad my TL acted as a catalyst in publishing yours. As BP said, I have also not explored much of Dooars on a vacation. Most of the visits have been office conferences or stopovers. That picture of a narrow road going through the forest looks enticing enough to make a plan soon. I am usually wary of giving lift to anyone unless it is a kid or a person in Uniform. Great to see that he helped you get on the dam.

Waiting for more.

Cheers,
Pawan
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Old 3rd September 2019, 16:45   #14
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Wonder TL Sayak. I read it at one go. Punctuated with breathtaking pictures as always. Rated 5 stars.
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Old 4th September 2019, 11:14   #15
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Default Re: A Summer Drive to the Dooars

Wonderful write-up Sayak da, coupled with mesmerizing pictures from what is one of my personal favorite places in the country.

The verdant tea estates, the odd railway track going through the forests, narrow roads and mountain streams - you have captured the laidback, yet pristine Dooars in its entirety.
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