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Dear Hollong Bungalow, like a phoenix you shall rise…

Armed with hope and love, a My Kolkata writer pens heartfelt note after fire gutted the heritage stay in Jaldapara, north Bengal, on June 18

Pooja Mitra | Published 19.06.24, 05:55 PM
A photograph of the bungalow from the entry gate, captured in January 2024; (right) a window with a view

A photograph of the bungalow from the entry gate, captured in January 2024; (right) a window with a view

Abhishek Roy and Pooja Mitra

Visiting Hollong Tourist Lodge had been on my bucket list for more than 20 years, and it finally happened in January 2024. The countdown began as soon as the booking was confirmed. It is difficult to get a booking at the Hollong Bungalow, as it’s popularly called. After more than three months of persistent effort, and a swift submission of the form at midnight, we finally got the booking. This was the fourth year of trying, and it did feel like winning the lottery.

It is hard to explain why Hollong is so special. Maybe because, to me, it felt like being part of a soliloquy — a solitary heritage building narrating its many stories with nature as its audience. The solitude and stillness around the bungalow that has stood the test of time since 1967 were comforting.

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The jungle and the salt lick in front of the Hollong Bungalow, and a peahen strolling on the salt lick

The jungle and the salt lick in front of the Hollong Bungalow, and a peahen strolling on the salt lick

Pooja Mitra

I remember my first encounter with Hollong Bungalow in a Bengali travel magazine that my parents had subscribed to. One turn of the page and there it was, with all its intrigue and majesty, glowing in the sun under an azure sky. I read the whole article in one go, and knew I wanted to go there. And I did.

The bungalow is surrounded by the wildernes of Jaldapara National Park on all sides. The wooden floor creaked as I walked and the walls showed signs of age, and that was part of the magic. The smell of old naphthalene balls, the rust on the heavy iron chest in the living room on the first floor — there were patterns made by time all around.

Two rhinos and a deer — a glimpse of natural cohabitation in the wilderness

Two rhinos and a deer — a glimpse of natural cohabitation in the wilderness

Pooja Mitra

The front-facing rooms overlook the salt lick and the forest. A stone path leads to the salt lick, with a narrow riverine and a barbed wire fence separating humans from the wild. I went straight to the stairs facing the salt lick, sat down and closed my eyes. I could hear the murmur of leaves, as a monkey jumped from one branch to the other. I opened my eyes and saw a yellow leaf falling, which reminded me of The Last Leaf by O. Henry! My first meeting there was with a deer and a fawn, followed by rhinos, peacocks and peahens.

The window with a view from Room No. 7

The window with a view from Room No. 7

Pooja Mitra

From our room — number 7 — I could see the jungle and the salt lick. The rooms are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis, and sadly, someone else got the prized room number 5, which apparently had the best view.

But I was still happy. I dragged the wooden chair in front of the window, turned on Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling in Love with You and soaked in the view. Hollong gave me a feeling of oneness. The anticipation of seeing wildlife, spotting birds I do not know, looking at the greenery and its many hues, the sky changing colours, the mist and fog creating its own Theo Angelopoulos film in my head — all adding to the experience.

The dusk and the night were a different story. The guard would call us to the living room, put the search lights on, and we would catch glimpses of deer, rhinos and elephants on the salt lick. An owl or a night bird screeching and breaking the stillness of a winter night would startle me. I can’t quite describe it, but the smell of the jungle was different at night — more intense and overpowering. There was a flash of light and the guard and a tourist spotted a leopard... I didn’t, but the thrill was unforgettable!

A deer on its way back to the jungle

A deer on its way back to the jungle

Pooja Mitra

I met someone at Hollong who had been there 17 times, just to stay at the bungalow and look out of the window. I understood the feeling because I was already planning to return in January 2025, to revisit the unnamed wildflower I left in the room, which is gone now, but the memory remains. I wanted to return to the jungle in the embrace of that building, which might not be shiny but has a legacy of its own.

A lone bird on a winter dawn in Hollong

A lone bird on a winter dawn in Hollong

Pooja Mitra

Hollong, it broke my heart last night when my brother informed me that you had been gutted by fire. I saw the photographs and could imagine the deer, rhinoceros, monkeys, elephants and birds — all who would come to the salt lick at night — looking at you in disbelief. The distinct smell of the jungle must have changed with your burning last night. By now, the fire has been put out, but you are scarred. Yet, we believe, you shall heal and rise like a phoenix, for the sake of our love.

I hope to see you soon, and I will keep you in my prayers, dear friend.

Not a dasvidaniya. Not so soon.

Last updated on 20.06.24, 03:44 PM
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