It was 1.30am when we left the highway to enter a muddy jungle path amid pounding rain. Our visibility reduced to barely 10ft, we were already running late by three hours. The gates of the Kalamati beat office are often closed at that unearthly hour but we took a chance and swerved our car into a short-cut.
We had started out from Calcutta to visit the Dooars, but differently. Our aim was to explore the hidden destinations of this wonderland called North Bengal. We finally reached our resort at Ramsai, on the fringes of Gorumara National Park. As I fell asleep, I could hear elephants snapping branches nearby.
Ramsai offered us dense forests, tea gardens, the river Jaldhaka, forest villages, a watchtower and the hint of an adventure in every nook and cranny.
Ramsai has recently acquired two new attractions — a Rhino Camp, set up by the Wildlife Division II, and a private enterprise called Forest Inn. We enjoyed a bullock-cart safari to the watchtower, elephant rides and a tribal dance and went boating and fishing in the water body surrounding the resort.
The watchtower at Ramsai is open through the year, even during the monsoon when the National Park is closed to tourists. One can glimpse elephants, bisons, rhinoceroses and wild boars from the watchtower. But a jungle safari is always more thrilling. Car safaris are organised by the Territorial Range Office at Lataguri, in the morning and evening. We started our evening safari by coming face to face with a herd of 19 elephants. We also had a close look at a huge herd of bisons peeping sauntering the woods.
The bison population is growing here as there are no tigers in these forests, explained our guide. The 27km safari ended at the Kalakhawa watchtower, where the Neora Jungle Camp has been set up with a wooden bungalow on the bank of river Neora.
The next morning, we drove north, past Chalsa and took a left turn as we crossed Meteli. Then we glided through lush green tea gardens and ascended a small hillock to find a beautiful heritage bungalow at the top. It was the 135-year-old Director’s Bungalow, leased out by the Zurrantee Tea Estate to encourage “tea tourism”. The tariff is affordable and the experience almost royal.
From Zurrantee, we went up to Mouchuki after collecting our permits and a guide from the Lower Neora range office at Samsing. The stone-chip road covered with moss goes right through the pristine forest of Neora Valley. Up ahead was a pretty bungalow, which was yet to open to tourists.
While returning, we took a left turn through the tea gardens of Meteli and Kumayu to reach Jhalong. Our destination was Paren and we took the diversion just before reaching Bindu. It’s a small, secluded village with four little cottages surrounded by hills and jungle. Even our own voices sounded harsh to us in the tranquillity. We wanted to stay there forever.
The following morning we hit the highway at Khunia after a 50km drive, past Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and took a left to go east.
As we crossed Nagrakata and Banarhat, we took a right to reach the Khutimari Forest resthouse via Gayerkata, a tiny town close to Dhupguri, where the first tea garden of the Dooars had started.
We travelled another three kilometres on village roads to reach our next stop, Gosaihat Eco Camp. Here we encountered a huge lake full of birds and water-creepers surrounded by dense plantation forests with a beautifully designed watchtower in the middle. The tower has three well-decorated bedrooms.
We spent three nights in the eastern Dooars, home to the Buxa Tiger Reserve, to experience “home tourism”. The forest department is encouraging local residents to host tourists at home to generate employment. We visited a few home-stay facilities on our way to Buxaduar, at Rajabhatkhawa, 28Basti and Santarabari. It was encouraging to see how with a little financial help homes had been converted to accommodate tourists.
On our way back, we dropped in at Garhuchira, a beautiful place bordering Bhutan, 18km north-west to Birpara, where the forest department had set up two log huts facing the hills. We decided to come back here during the monsoon, if only to see the river in spate.
We returned home six days and 1,600km later, rejuvenated.
You can take your own car. If you want to travel by train Kanchankanya Express is a good option. To visit Gorumara get off at New Mal station; for Jaldapara, take the train to Hasimara and for visiting Buxa Tiger Reserve, get off at Alipurduar Junction. One can visit the Dooars through the year.
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