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Wild call for Dooars visitors

Siliguri, April 15: Tonga ride through Mathura tea garden, boating on the Bania river and angling on the confluence of the Kalchini, Bania and Buri Basra: Chilapata is offering all these and more.

Villagers in the fringe areas of Chilapata forest are queuing up to nurture the wild so that it draws as many visitors as Gorumara National Park and Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary.

“Keeping in mind the ideals of eco-tourism, we have been able to mobilise a group of people living in the peripheral areas of the forest range,” said Raj Basu, the vice-president of the Association of Conservation and Tourism.

Basu said Chilapata in the Dooars, located 130km from Siliguri, never had many visitors despite its tourism potential. “It is a major elephant corridor and connects Jaldapara to the Buxa Tiger reserve,” he said. “One can find vestiges of past eras around the place. The ruins of the fort of Neel Raja is one of them. Although Chilapata has excellent communication network and a private resort, people do not know about it. ”

Today, most tourists prefer to visit Gorumara, located more than 100km from Chilapata.

The group consisting of five persons met today. “We are working out the tourism packages that can be offered,” said Ganesh Sha, the owner of the private resort.

“The idea is to revive the traditional practices of the area. For example, we plan to organise trips to the nearby Mathura tea garden on horse-drawn carts. This mode of transport was popular even in the recent past, but after it was superseded by motor vehicles, the tongas are either used for carrying goods or are lying redundant. We want to revive this eco-friendly transport system for the tourism trails,” said Sha. He added that the group was planning to train the villagers on boat riding.

“In due course of time, we will encourage villagers to offer home-stays for tourists wanting to savour the real flavour of rural life,” said Sha. “Given its proximity to tea gardens, forests and rivers, a number of tourism possibilities, including short treks, trails and biking, can be worked out for Chilapata. We are in talks with the forest department for their support.”

Sha hoped that although Chilapata — like many other reserves — has witnessed a drop in the number of elephants, tourists still would not be disappointed.

According to Basu, the growth and development will help people find alternative sources of income, reducing dependence on forests. The livelihood of most forest villagers depend on firewood.

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