Tired of languishing in the city prompted me to run to some quiet place in the wilderness. I found the perfect companions in two of my friends who were also tiring away from the strenuousness of their daily existence. Without further ado we zeroed down on exploring the verdant forests of Dooars, in the vicinity of the Chicken’s Neck corridor.
Our journey began from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) station, where we met our guide and driver Nurul dada. After greeting us with a toothy grin, he quickly helped us with our luggage and within 10 minutes we were fast moving out of Siliguri. The road passed mostly through tea gardens which got denser and greener with every passing mile. Sometimes these were broken by sleepy little hamlets with surrounding paddy fields. Finally the winding road took us to Lataguri, the nearest entry point to the Gorumara National Park. The rest of the day was spent exploring Samsing, a vast meadow with blue outline of the great Himalayan ranges in the horizon. Sunset was particularly beautiful - Samsing looked painted with a million hues of orange and yellow as the setting sun cast its soft glow on the entire valley.
Next day, we woke up at the crack of dawn and before long, arrived at the gates of the Chapramari forest. This was my first jungle safari and I had never seen such dense greenery anywhere else. There were ferns everywhere and the tall trees were covered with creepers and moss. The place was dank with the smell of vegetation.
Once at the Chapramari watch tower, a forest attendant informed us that a huge herd of wild elephants had been spotted nearby. With Nurul dada in the lead, we negotiated the steep steps of the watch tower. However lady luck refused to smile. We realized we had missed running into a herd of 20-25 elephants right in the heart of Chapramari forest. It was dawn – their time, and the forest – their beat. We waited for 2 hours at the watchtower, keeping our eyes peeled for elephants and other animals. We couldn’t spot anything else, yet spending those two hours in the wilderness was a very rewarding experience.
Our next stop was on the banks of the river Murti where we spent the rest of the morning walking along the pebble strewn river bank. Where nature reveals herself with amazing intricacy – is what best describes Murti, a river flowing down from the Kalimpong hills. In the distance, tantalisingly out of reach, loomed the blue-purple hills of neighbouring Bhutan. The vegetation, so different from what is seen around the rivers in the plains, gave this place a strange exotic feel.
A hot shower and sumptuous lunch back at our lodge revived us and we were soon ready for another stint of the jungle, this time the Gorumara National Park. The most awe-inspiring aspect of this park was the forest itself. Looking at the dense foliage and the tall trees that seemed to close in upon us, I felt shivers go down my spine – of excitement mixed with trepidation.
We came upon the watchtower and mounted the rickety wooden steps to the top. The tower commanded a panoramic view of the entire park and the Murti valley. The enthusiastic guard informed us of a mother rhino with its calf resting in the grasslands below. Patience and luck are the name of the game, he told us. Silence reigned all around, to be broken at intervals by the calls of various birds. Almost 20 minutes had passed and the light was fast deteriorating, but we still hadn’t seen our rhino.
Just when we were about to give up, we spotted the rhino emerging nonchalantly out of the grasslands into the open space, closely followed by its tiny tot. Mother and calf made for an endearing sight to behold. Slowly but steadily they crossed the open space only to disappear into the grasslands again. Replete, faces beaming with delight, we made our way out of the park.
The next morning we set out for Jaldapara, and after 1.5 hours we reached Madarihat, the entry point into Jaldapara. If the Jaldapara forest is a secret, elephant safari is the best way to unveil the wilderness. However, with the elephant safari closed for the time being, jeep safari was our best bet.
As we passed the imposing entrance gates, odours of the wild flora drifted into my nostrils. With the warm glow of the mottled afternoon sun falling on my back and a soft breeze blowing across my face, I felt my eyelids becoming heavy.
We proceeded deeper and deeper, letting the wilderness seep into our systems. Everywhere we looked, there were trees and trees, the most prominent being the tall sal and shishu trees. Here and there, amidst the undergrowth of shrubs, ferns and tall grass, we spotted pretty peacocks. After driving for 15 minutes, we reached one of the watchtowers.
Word had got around about a herd of elephants nearby. From the watchtower we could see vast swathes of grassland and huge trees beyond. A hushed silence fell over our group as we spotted the herd. The elephants were around 9-10 in all, adults and calves, all standing in a tight group, facing out in different directions. We waited for almost 20 minutes, gazing at the elephants, until they finally started making way into the deeper recesses of the forest.
Done with the day's safari, we headed back to the Jaldapara tourist lodge for some much-longed-for cups of hot tea. We felt rejuvenated, having witnessed the rules of the jungle from such close quarters. There was a chill in the air, and with the hoods of our jackets pulled over our heads, we sat close to each other as our jeep rumbled out of the jungle.