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regular-article-logo Thursday, 25 July 2024

Heritage bungalow in Jaldapara National Park of Alipurduar up in flames, probe on

Among others who have stayed in the bungalow include ex-chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, his party colleague Nirupam Sen, former governors Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Viren J. Shah and authors Buddhadeb Guha and Samaresh Majumdar

Anirban Choudhury Alipurduar Published 20.06.24, 11:32 AM
The bungalow at Holong in the Jaldapara National Park.

The bungalow at Holong in the Jaldapara National Park. File picture

The state forest department has formed a five-member committee to probe into the fire that gutted a 57-year-old wooden bungalow at Holong in the Jaldapara National Park of Alipurduar on Tuesday night.

Birbaha Hansda, the minister of state (independent charge) of the department, held a meeting with his senior officers in Calcutta on Wednesday.

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“It is an unfortunate incident. We have formed a committee to investigate what led to the fire,” she said.

The committee members, sources said, are likely to visit the national park by the end of this week.

Around 9.30pm, the fire broke out at the conference hall of the bungalow, which has in the past played host to several notables. Located around 8km from Asian Highway 48, the bungalow nestles amid the largest habitat of one-horned rhinos in Bengal. It used to be an ideal place for a peaceful vacation.

Alipurduar: Charred remains of the Hollong bungalow where a fire broke out on Tuesday night, in Jaldapara National Park, Alipurduar district

Alipurduar: Charred remains of the Hollong bungalow where a fire broke out on Tuesday night, in Jaldapara National Park, Alipurduar district PTI

“It was a favourite of former chief minister Jyoti Basu who used to come here at least once a year. Also, chief minister Mamata Banerjee has stayed here several times,” said a senior forest official.

Among others who have stayed in the bungalow include ex-chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, his party colleague Nirupam Sen, former governors Gopalkrishna Gandhi and Viren J. Shah and authors Buddhadeb Guha and Samaresh Majumdar.

Built in 1967, the bungalow was also known to be an ideal location to catch a glimpse of one-horned rhinos, elephants, gaurs, deer, leopards and other animals of the national park. There is a salt pit in front of the bungalow where wild animals come every night.

Holong, a stream, skirts the premises of the gutted bungalow that had eight double-bedded rooms, of which five were with the state tourism department. The remaining three were kept for the on-duty personnel of the forest department.

“A trip to the bungalow from the entry point (an 8km ride) is no less than a jungle safari as there is always a chance of animal sighting,” said an Alipurduar resident who has stayed in the bungalow several times.

The bungalow goes up in flames at Holong on Tuesday night

The bungalow goes up in flames at Holong on Tuesday night

Tourists visiting Dooars want to stay at the bungalow as the boarders get a preference over others for the elephant safari conducted at the national park.

On Wednesday, senior foresters visited the site. Also, a forensic team reached the location and collected samples and the CCTV footage.

“Our staff used extinguishers to douse the blaze but failed. The fire spread rapidly and engulfed the entire structure. We will conduct an inquiry. Anybody found guilty will face stern steps,” said Bhaskar J.V., the chief conservator of forests (wildlife, north).

Jyoti Basu memories

Fatema Khatun, an elderly woman of Gorumarabusty in Jalpaiguri town, and the wife of Jyoti Basu's cook Kabir Hossain, lamented over the bungalow.

Hossain had to reach Holong whenever the then Bengal chief minister visited the place, his wife recalled.

Hossain died in 2018. Basu, the longest-serving Bengal chief minister from 1977 to 2000, died in 2010.

"Jyoti Basu always preferred my husband's cooking. Ahead of his arrival, my husband would get information (from government sources) and head for the bungalow,” said Fatema.

“I have heard many stories about Jyoti Basu and the bungalow from my husband. My husband left us six years back. And now, the bungalow, where he spent so many days, has also been reduced to ashes,” she said.

Additional reporting by our Jalpaiguri correspondent

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