Dooars reminded me of these lines -” A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches the sky. It tells us to aspire, but we ought to be grounded. Hence no matter how high we go, it is essential to remember that we draw sustenance.” Walking through the thick green forest, rustic roads and serene nature sound engulfing me, I felt like I was back home. My trip to Dooars went back to nature to be soothed and healed and have my senses put in order. It was my first jungle safari as an adult; most were done when I was a kid; hence do not recall much. So thanks to my aunt, who planned this trip, as a birthday gift for me.
Since it was a family trip and my granny was travelling with us, we opted to fly to Bagdogra. It is a convenient way to enter Dooars, as the drive from the airport to Lataguri is approximately 2hrs(70.9 km). Though the climate was temperate, being in the Himalayan foothills, Feb month, was fantastic & breezy. Lataguri is the gateway into Gorumara National park of Dooars, famous for the rhino and elephant population. However, Murti is another entry that is less crowded but rich in natural beauty. Since we had stayed at both places, we decided to use both gateways for our Safari.
Dooars name has been derived from doors, as the boundaries are pretty well defined. There are some 18 doorways or corridors to enter Dooars from Bhutan. Once upon a time, Dooars was under the control of the Kingdom of Bhutan. But after the Bhutan war in 1865, the British took over & the area was split into two halves. Today the western Dooars belong to West Bengal & easter Dooars to Assam. Dooars is an expansive 880sq km of land located at the foothills of the Himalayas.
We reached Bagdogra around noon & met our driver at the airport. Post settling the luggage in the car, we drove towards Lataguri. We drove past the railway station & took the canal road. We crossed through Gajoldoba, a picturesque tourist destination on the Teesta Barrage adjacent to the Baikunthapur Forest. The Gajoldoba barrage is described as an “unexplored destination” on the banks of the Teesta River with an awe-inspiring backdrop view of Kanchenjunga Range and surrounded by the Baikunthapur Forest. It is an excellent place for people who like to spend some quality time amidst nature.
We had a halt at Teesta Barrage for a tea break & walked across the barrage. I explored the Gajoldoba store framed by the first Teesta Barrage, assembled for irrigational purposes. After a hot cup of tea, we drove to Lataguri.
As we drove, much sprawling tea garden started to emerge from a distance. I sniff at the cloud kissed breeze scented in sighs of parched earth with a caffeinated nuance of rustling tea leaves. It was refreshing! We were staying at a recently opened resort that belonged to my uncle’s friend. It was located amidst the tea plantation and edge of the sanctuary back entrance. We reached our resort by 4.30 pm, and the evening was at our leisure. Hence we took a walk around the place, had some tea and a snack.
I woke up with the sound of my alarm at 3.30 am, brushed my teeth & freshened up as we had our morning jeep safari at Gorumara National Park. The morning was foggy & cold; our jeep was waiting for us. The tickets for Jatraprasad Watchtower are issued online through the WBSFDA website, while Safaris are conducted in four slots – Morning slot 6:00 am to 7:30 am, 9:00 am to 10:30 am. And evening 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm, 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm. I paid for ticket Rs 480/-, Gypsy – Rs 1080/-, Road Charge – Rs 400/-, Guide Charge – Rs 300/- and JFMC Charge – Rs 30/- to be paid at the ticket counter(Nature Interpretation Centre), Lataguri. Total – Rs 2290/-.
Considering we reached early, we had to wait for 15min to 20min. While waiting for our entry, our forest guide asked us -Do you know how Jatraprasad Watchtower was named? Well, the answer was no, so he said that you must have got a feeling that Jatraprasad is the cynosure of Gorumara. But it has a history that is no less legendary. Jatraprasad is the oldest watchtower named after the legendry Kunki elephant ‘Jatraprasad’. That’s interesting!.
It was almost time to enter the forest. Since Jatraprasad was located near Borodighi Tea Estate, we cruised along; on the left is the lush green tea garden of Borodighi and on the right is the jungle of Gorumara. There is another watchtower called Rhino point, which was is temporarily closed due to COVID. The drive to the tower from the entry point was 5km, through the narrow tracks of the dense jungle. As we drove through, an Oriental Pied Hornbill flew past us and perched itself on Khair tree, cool breeze made my nose cold as ice, and my mind whispered deep in the forest; I strolled to hear the wisdom of my soul.
On the first left turn is the Gorumara Forest Lodge – it is a two-storied building whose booking can be done from “Aranya Bhavan”, Jalpaiguri.
Nearby were some elephants feeding on the plants; the forest guide updated us they are captivated elephants. The elephants or calf who get isolated or injured are brought here & trained for jungle patrolling. One of the youngest is named Daina Rani, as she was found near Daina River.
On taking the second left turn within a couple of mins, we reached the watchtower- a two-tier structure. I walked along the stair & reached a semi-open veranda. And a few steps down from the patio is the main viewing point. Here chairs are installed to sit and behold the wild games unfolding in front of you. There were a few tourists already waiting; we also joined them.
While waiting for the sunrise & some wildlife, our forest guide gave us information about the Gorumara national park. Situated on rivers Murti and Raidak, the Gorumara National Park is spread over 80 square kilometres. This medium-sized forest is located in the mound of the Himalayas. It also has a large variety of flora and fauna for nature lovers and wildlife photographers. Nature works here miraculously as it’s full of riverine grasslands and moist deciduous forests. Quite a combination!
Although since 1895, Gorumara remained a forest reserve followed by a wildlife sanctuary for 100 years. But in debt to its magnificent beauty and richness in flora and fauna, Gorumara National Park was declared the best-protected area in India by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2009. While listening to our guide, I saw the red ball of fire popping out of the mist, making the sky and water orange.
It is a place to spend a few hrs in peace and solitude. Just sink in harmony with Mother Earth and appreciate the glorious bounties that it has bestowed upon humankind so generously. Though I told you earlier, Jatraprasad never disappoints since Jatraprasad is an ideal habitat for the Indian One-horned rhinoceros.
I was only able to see a Wild boars family and a few deers. I will suggest carrying binocular for any jungle safaris or a good DSLR. We drove back to our resort after spending some good 1.5hrs in the jungle.
Upon our return, I had a hearty breakfast & went for a power nap. I woke up around noon, had a shower, & went for lunch, where I was informed to get dressed. We were going to the Tin Bigha corridor. The Tin Bigha corridor is a road 185 metres long and 80 metres wide leased to Bangladesh. It links Panbari village on the border of Bangladesh’s Rangpur district with the Dahagram-Angarpota area, thus bringing the latter within the country’s mainstream. It came into existence on 7 October 1982; I was amused listening to my aunt that a strip of land is given to Bangladesh to commute & it passes through India. That’s something to be visited. I finished my lunch, got dressed & ready to leave.
It’s a drive of approx 1hr 50min (57.7 km), and we drove through small villages along with paddy fields on either side of the roads. History states Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Mujibur Rahman signed a treaty of 16 May 1974. The treaty mentioned India and Bangladesh were to hand over the sovereignty of the Tin Bigha Corridor and South Berubari to each other. Bangladesh did hand over the authority of the South Berubari to India in 1974. India. However, India did not transfer the Tin Bigha Corridor to Bangladesh as a constitutional amendment. Instead of handing over sovereignty in 2011, it proposed to lease the Tin Bigha Corridor to Bangladesh for a specific time.
As we neared the border area, I could see a carefully constructed Land Boundary with a border fence around me. I was surprised to see a straight thin road passing across India & entering Bangladesh.
I stood amused watching auto rikshaw passing with people & goods in it, few school student of Bangladesh walking across. BFSI guarded both ends. I took permission from them to click a few pictures. I was just stunned!
We drove back to our resort; by the time we reached, it was late evening. And our morning was free tomorrow; hence we sat around the Bonfire enjoying some quality family time. I ordered some snacks & tea to light up our mood. The next day our morning was at leisure; hence I woke up late. I skipped my breakfast, as we had an early lunch planned already. I took a walk in & around the tea estate.
It was serene. Later in the afternoon, we drove towards Chalsa from Lataguri for the Medhla watch tower safari. The Medhla Watch Tower is a newly built watchtower in the vicinity of the Murti River. It is a part of Gorumara National Park located just next to Ramsai. We reached pretty early since we had to take permits, tickets from the counter. We waited for 30mins before the gates of the National Park were opened for entry. The route towards the forest was beautiful. The trees were leaning on both sides of the roads creating an archway to drive through. I saw a few peacocks as we went through the street.
The forest route bifurcates about 6km from the entry gate. One leads to Chukchuki Watchtower and Medhla. Chukchuki Watchtower and the boat ride was closed due to COVID; hence we moved ahead. From the bifurcation 2km further is Budhuram Village, where is the ethnic tribal dance programme takes place during the last Safari.
Further ahead as we drove, we reached the forest village of Ramsai around 4km ahead. Ramsai village, along with Kalipur & Dhupjhao, has eco-cottages for tourists. These are the camps from where elephant safari is possible in the Gorumara forest of Dooars.
The last village is Kalipur village, nestled along the stretch of Jadavpur tea gardens. The tribal dances are also held at Kalipur village. This village is the last point where a car can be taken. Beyond this point, we have to ride in bullock carts to reach the Medhla Watchtower.
It’s a 1km lazy ride through the country road over the vast stretch of grassy land with a tea garden at one end & dense forest on the other. At a distance, I could see the watchtower and murti river flowing ahead.
Once I got off the bullock cart, I had to walk a short distance to reach the watchtower. Both ends of the jungles were fenced with electrical wired to restrict the entry of wild animals, especially elephants.
As I walked towards the tower, I could see a concrete two-storey tower with spiral stairs. We climbed to the second floor of the watchtower to get a panoramic view of the jungle.
The jungle has a saltlick place where the animal comes to eat salt, and luckily I was able to see a group of one-horned Riho. On the other side, I saw the lean and narrow Murti river, which overflows during the monsoon. Near the bank of the river, I saw a different piece of bird. It is said on a clear day; if you are lucky, the snow-peaked Kanchenjunga could be seen from this watchtower. Well, I was not, though. As I only got to see Rino, peacocks, a migrant bird & wild boars.
Spending an hour and hearing stories about elephants destroying paddy fields & drinking local alcohol was fun as well as sad. And while walking back to the bullock cart, I saw the patrolling elephants coming back. I clicked a few pictures & took my cart ride to Kalipur village. As I waited for my car, I looked at the sun & then back at the dense forest that whispered collect moments & not things.
Later we drove to the venue point of the tribal dance. We were served tea & biscuits while we enjoyed the 30mins dance performance.
It was almost dinner time; hence we refreshed up, ate my dinner & went to an early bed. I had a long day tomorrow, and tiredness engulfed me to sleep in a few seconds of hitting the bed.
How to Reach.
The nearest airport is Bagdogra; from the airport, hire taxis to reach the Lataguri, Murti or Jaldapada.
The Alipurduar is the nearest railway station to Dooars. You can get off at New Mal Junction; it’s closest to Gorumara National forest. Murti & Lataguri is 17km from the station. If travelling to Jaldapada, better to get off at Hasimara station as the distance is just 11km. And for Buxa Tiger Reserve Alipur Daur, Rajabhakhawa, the entry point to the forest is only 11kms. Another alternative is to NJP since it’s well connected with major railway heads. You need to hire private cabs or take a shared taxi from the station to reach these destinations.
Dooars is well-connected via road with NJP station & CoochBehar. Buses, private cabs, shared taxis ply to Lataguri, Murti, Jaldapada, Hasimara, Mal Bazaar & Rajabhakhawa from these places. You can also take a private cab or a shared taxi.