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Dooars...the home of One Horned Rhino, the land of exquisite tea gardens...so many names can be tagged to a single place. It is the beautiful part of Bengal where one can get the flavours of the Himalayas, the trill of the jungles without spending much money or time.
Dooars is all about the national parks, teak forests, rivers and tea gardens where you may get to see a herd of elephants or bisons crossing roads. Ours was a 6 days trip, 2 days in Jaldapara, followed by 4 days in Gorumara but if you plan to cover only Jaldapara and Goumara or Bauxa then you can make it a 3-5 days trip. The parks remain closed from April to September, but considering the weather conditions I feel the best time to visit is from Nov-March.
Cooch Behar Palace
Our elephant safari was better than our early morning jeep safari. Though here also we got to see only a couple of animals but the ride was thrilling. Unlike the jeep the elephant took a route within the forest, a route across the streams, shrubs and grass lands. Though the area covered in this trip was less than the jeep safari, it was worth.
Next day we went to Lataguri, The Gorumara National Park. It is around 70 Km from Japdapara. Here our booking was with Hotel Dreamland which was adjacent to the national park. The hotel was decent however, a bit far (1.5 KM) from the main road, so to commute from the hotel we used to avail ToTo (Swapan Toto driver: 9474794667). In Lataguri there is not much to see apart from the National Park, however, there are many nearby places which you may cover. From Lataguri you may go to Jalpeshwar / Bhramari Devi -Cooch Behar Jhalong, Samsing, Neora Valley, Santalkhola, Jayanti Mahakal Caves,Buxa Tiger Reserve, Murti River etc. We had 4 days in hand so we opted for complete Gorumara safari (both jeep and tower) on one day, Jalpeshwar- Cooch Behar on Day 2 and Jhalong, Samsing, Neora Valley, Suntaleykhola on day 3.
Like Jaldapara, here also the early morning jeep safari was not that worth. As suggested by our hotel staffs and the toto driver we went to the ticket counter around 5 am, however, after reaching there we realized that we should have hired someone to stand on our behalf in the queue. The counter opened around 6 am and within 2 mins all the tickets got sold. There were only 18 jeeps for the safari. Luckily we were the 18th one to get the jeep. Our 1 hr safari started from 6:45 am. Like Jaldapara, it was raining that day also. So unfortunately we got to see only some birds. But the afternoon watch tower safari was good.
There are 5 watch towers Jatraprasad, Chukchuki, Chandrachur, Chapramari and Medla which offer good facilities to watch wild animals from near by. Jatraprasad & Rhino point offers the excellent view of the forest wilderness,salt bed and river running through the Gorumara National Park. It is most popular place among the tourists. However, if you want to see rhino or elephant primarily then Medla is better option. Chukchuki is famous for bird watching and Chandrachur for wild elephants and Indian bisons.
There is a separate ticket counter for jeep safari and watch tower. Since the number of jeeps available for watch tower is also very limited (6-8 per tower) it's better to go early for the ticket. Unlike the jeep safari here the tourist have to stand in the queue. For the 4 pm slot, though the ticket counter opened at 1 pm, to get the tickets you might have to reach the counter by 9.30-10 am during peak seasons. One of the major attraction of this last (4th) slot is the tribal dance which follows the safari. So ladies here you will get an opportunity to match the steps of the tribal women and move with the beats of Drum.
The jungle safari remains closed on Wednesday and the watchtower every Thursday, so plan the trip accordingly.
Here comes an end to our trip. Next day our flight was from Bagdogra. But before ending I want to mention a few points which might add value to you.
1. Carry umbrella, binocular, mosquito repellant.
2. Try to avoid wearing bright coloured dresses for jungle safari.
3. Wear comfortable shoes.
4. Carry cash for shopping
5. Do bargain the car fares before booking the trips
6. In case you have time try to cover Neora Valley or Buxa - Jayanti.
7. The jungle safari remains closed on Wednesday and the watchtower every Thursday.
8. The park remains closed for few months. So before planning the trip do confirm it by calling the West Bengal Tourist Lodge/ Hollong Lodge.
Next day we went to Jhalong-Samsing. This is in the Darjeeling district. The 1st spot was Jhalong fro m where you can get a picturesque view of the Jhaldhaka river. It's a border area, on one side of the river is India and on the other its Bhutan. Our next spot was Bindu. It's the hydelpower project on river Jaldhaka. There were a couple of stalls selling local wines. So if you want to taste a wine which is a bit sweet, you may go for these. From Bindu, before heading towards our next destination, we dropped at the Apple Restaurant for lunch. It's on the way between Jhalong and Bindu. It's a modest restaurant serving basic food, but it's location is too good. The rock adjacent to the hotel is in the shape of an apple!
It was already late afternoon, so after grabbing a quick lunch we headed towards Rocky Island, Suntaleykhola / Samsing. There is nothing much to see in Rocky Island. Here the river bed is full of big boulders which you can climb to take pictures. Since we were running short of time after spending a couple of minutes there we left for Suntaleykhola. There are two sport in Suntaleykhola. To reach there you have to avail the local cars. It cost us INR 300 for both the spots.
Our car took us 1st to a Shiva Temple. On the way we saw the strawberry farms and cardamom plantations. The area is quite, beautiful, much away from fast urban life. There are cottages which are available as homestays. From the temple our driver took us to the Suntaleykhola resort area. If you want to escape from the fast life and want to spend some quality time with yourself then this place is ideal. It's in the lap of nature where the sound of river water splashing against the boulders, the continuous chirping of cricket insect and the smell of trees will definitely add a flavour to your stay. Since it's a forest area be careful of the leaches.
After check in when we went to the ticket counter we were quite late for the next day's early morning elephant safari. All the slots were booked. However, jungle safari was available. As suggested by the travel desk we booked the early morning 6:30 to 7:30 am slot. During September/October there might be chances of early morning rains. So considering the weather condition, in case you feel it might rain at night, it's better not to go for this early morning safari.
There are two small watch towers which gets covered in the jeep safari. The tourists are allowed to get down from the jeeps only in these two places and at the Hollong bunglow. Though other travellers were talking about seeing bisons, wild elephants etc. in this whole one hour safari we saw one rhino, who fled before we could capture it in lens, few trained elephants, lots of peacocks and eagles.
The safari got over by 8 am and we had the 6 hours left for our elephant safari. So after breakfast we headed towards Phuntsholing. It is a boarder town between India and Bhutan and is quite famous among the tourists. There are only a few spots like Karbandi Monastery, Crocodile Breeding Farm and Zangto Pelri Lhakhang. So total 4 hours including the travel time is enough for this trip.
Dooars is well connected by roads and railways. In case you are travelling by air, the nearest airport would be Bagdogra. From there Jaldapara can be reached by car in 3.5 hours. The nearest railway station is NJP, from there it will take around 2.5 hours.
There are many hotels in Jaldapara. Our booking was in the WB Government's Tourist Lodge. It's location was good but the Hollong Bungalow is the best. It is inside the Jaldapara forest , so the chances of seeing animals is more there. Since this bunglow is a favourite here, it's difficult to get rooms during peak seasons. So in case you want to book this bunglow and is sure about your trip you have to plan your trip in advance.
In Jaldapara you have the option of jeep safari and elephant safari. Both Hollong Bungalow and the Tourist Lodge have their booking quotas. There is a ticket booking counter outside the Tourist Lodge from where you will get the tickets. Compared to the jungle safari the elephant safari is a bit costly. But it's better, at least the chances of getting a glimpse of rhino or bison would be more. But everything depends on luck.
We had two more days in hand for local trips. We came across Murti river on our way from Jaldapara so we skipped that and opted for the remaining options. On one day we covered Cooch Behar and next day Jhalong-Samsing. In Cooch Behar there are 2 main spots, Madanmohan Temple and Cooch Behar Palace. The beautifully maintained temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna. Rash festival is one of the prominent occasions celebrated here. From the temple we went to the palace. It's a huge structure well ornate with gardens. It is the maternal home of Maharani Gayatri Devi. At present a part of it has been modified as a museum and is open for tourists. There is one lake "Sagardighi" which is often considered as a tourist spot. But there is nothing special about this lake.
Cooch Behar is around 100 Km from Lataguri. So in case you are planing for this trip, it's better not to club it with anything else. But while booking the trip do ask your driver to take you to the Jalpeshwar Mahadev and Bhramari Devi Temple. It's on the way to Cooch Behar but is on slightly a different route. Bhramari Devi is among the sacred 51 Sati Pithas.