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  • Anindita Das

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF DOOARS

I have often come across the saying - It is the journey that matters, not the destination. However I had to actually experience a real journey to really believe in the saying. Last June we, i.e. my immediate and extended family and me, went for a short but memorable trip to Chilapata Forest in the Dooars region of West Bengal. Situated in the Alipurduar district, the Chilapata Forest comes under the Jaldapara National Park.

We had already booked our rooms in the Malangi Lodge run by the Forest Department. All our bookings were done through Travelmate Holidays of Siliguri. So, on a cool, cloudy June morning we set out for Chilapata Forest in two cars. As we left Siliguri and stopped in a petrol pump to refuel, it had already started drizzling. Under an overcast sky, a rain that alternated between heavy to very heavy, our cars cautiously trod along the NH 31C. Trees lining either side of the road looked all the more green after bathing in the monsoon showers. Meadows, fields, farm lands- all were painted in green, a welcome relief to our city- bred eyes. As the rain increased in intensity, the wiper blades battled to drive away the splashes from the screen. We stopped at a small shack near Jalpaiguri for a tea break. By the time we were crossing Dhupguri, the sun was trying to peep through the receding clouds. I had heard that the Chilapata Forest is dense, dark and deep. As soon as we entered the forest area, we realised how true the saying was. The drive to Hasimara, where our lodge was situated, was no less thrilling. The google maps in our mobile wouldn’t work, our mobile network was sporadic and as we penetrated deeper, we wondered if we were going on the right way. Luckily, the driver of a car, coming from the opposite direction helped us. We were indeed on the right path.

It was afternoon when we reached our lodge, a two-storeyed building spread across a sprawling ground. The walkway was nicely pebbled with both sides flanked by neatly manicured gardens. Just behind the property are tall trees marking the beginning of the forest. It is also from here that the elephant safari begins. After a simple lunch, ordered while on our way to the lodge, we took a look around the well spread- out campus. We also took a walk along the trail, behind the lodge, that took us down to the Malangi river, after which the forest lodge had been christened. On the other side of the river the dense forest could be seen. In winters, when the river water is clean and free from snakes and leeches, one could take a dip. But in monsoon swimming is strictly prohibited. But it was a beautiful sight with the river gurgling its way through the forest. The forest has its own call, the call of tranquillity- one realises this when one is in a forest. However during the trail I was caught off guard by the prickles from the grasses that clung to my trousers, and they were in hordes. It was only after I returned to the lodge that I realised that the black of my trousers was dotted with them.

Our first floor rooms were attached to a roomy balcony overlooking the resort lawns and the forest behind them. In the evening all of us would assemble there palying card games over steaming cups of tea. Evening also saw dark clouds looming which transformed into rains in no time. This was the first time that I was witnessing rains at night amidst a forest. This was not the ‘pitter- patter’ rain. This was torrential, relentless, unabated; the proverbial cats and dogs rain. From sky to tree, from tree to branch, from branch to leaf, from leaf to ground- it was a steady gush of water dropping, not a gurgle, but a constant stream. The woods were ‘dark and deep’, can’t say if they were ‘lovely’ for I could see nothing, but only hear a jet stream of water. Sitting in that cozy balcony, I wondered how the animals sheltered themselves from such torrential rain. Perhaps that is why they are animals and we are humans. They live in complete harmony with Nature and we encroach upon according to our convenience.

The next morning, under an overcast sky, we set for the jungle safari. It had started raining heavily as we entered the woodlands. Lumbering down the forest trails in our car, we could only enjoy the rain- drenched forest. After a while, we stopped at a spot where the Torsa river was seen surging with water. Our guide informed us that the other side of the river was Jaldapara. We did spot a couchal and an Indian roller. We stopped at a watch tower from where we did get to a spotted deer. From there we went to the ruins of ‘Nal Raja’ fort. This one looked nothing like a fort but more like a wall structure in ruins, half of which was covered in creepers.

After returning to the lodge we grabbed a sumptuous breakfast. Then we drove down to the Buxa Wildlife Sanctuary (BWS) which is about an hour’s drive from our resort. The weather by then had cleared up. The Jayanti forest where BWS is located is not as deep as the Chilapata woods, but dense nevertheless. If one is interested, one can trek to the Buxa Fort.

When we reached the banks of the Jayanti river, we were welcomed by the Jayanti hills that flanked the other side of the river. The river had dried down to a considerable amount, only a ribbon like stream trickled down the pebbled river bed. We climbed down the banks right upto the river and stood facing the hills on the other side of which was Bhutan. The overcast sky, the pleasant breeze, the limitless expanse- all made for a spectacular view. A half- broken bridge stood across the river. The other half was apparently washed away by a fearful flood that had hit the area in the 90s. I sat there on the banks of the river and absorbed the beauty of the place. Pebbles of different size, shape and colour filled the place, all washed away by the river upstream. Ash, brown, amber, tawny, white, black- they were in all hues, they took me to as far as my eyes went. The pebbles that left marks when scratched against another were relatively new as compared to the old ones which left no marks. The serenity of the place was unmatchable. For me it was therapeutic.

That evening too it rained. Heavy, torrential, non-stop. The woods again were ‘dark and deep’. We called it a night.

The next morning we left for Siliguri. We took a detour from Jalpaiguri towards Gojoldoba. Not only were we greeted with the smooth tar that the road was, but also the ferocity of the Teesta Barrage. The monsoon rain had made the water to swell and surge and the sound was defeaning. After spending half an hour here, we set out for home- Siliguri. As our car drove down the road, the Gojoldoba canal followed along. On the other side of the canal were the trees of the Baikunthopur Forest, standing tall. All good things come to an end. As we entered the hustle and bustle of Siliguri, our journey too came to an end. But what I have clearly etched in my mind are the journey, the memories which will never fade.

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© 2020 By Kuntal Nandi and Anindita Das