Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal (Part 1)

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Before my Solo ride to Daringbadi and motorbike trip to Bodh Gaya, this motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal, back in September 2012 was my longest trip on two wheels. We had covered a distance of 1,026 kilometers in six days which included eight beaches and one island. However mediocre this riding stats look today, doing it four years back with a pillion, on a 125 cc motorcycle was indeed a very satisfactory motorcycle diary for me.

Prologue: His fist hit the right side of my jawbone before I could anticipate that the verbal chapter was over. Surrounded by a number of dark men in bare bodies in a busy fishing harbor was the actual pain, not the punch. The ego inside every man shouts out for a duel but our wisdom alerts us of the actual scenario. I had the fraction of a second before I could get a second blow on my face… practically there was no time for deciding my action… but I couldn’t let my reflex to act either. I tried to soften my voice as much as I could… “I said I’m sorry, I really didn’t know that”, low volume but stern words of defense popped out of my clenched chin… Life is really like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get! It didn’t start so simply… Want to know how did it all start?
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
We rode 1,026 kilometers in 6 days on a 125 cc motorbike, which included 8 beaches and 1 island.
Well… You get your hard earned leave and pack your rucksack dreaming 24/7 about your long planned destination- Kinnaur & Spiti, spread your wings of fantasy farther as you check the all possible nooks and corners of world wide web to avoid missing even the rarest info about the magical valley and finally the evening of your departure crawls in… but along with it hops in an uninvited, unwanted and unforeseen circumstance for which you’re compelled to open railways website to cancel your confirmed ticket without being able to indulge in a second thought! Yea… imagine… and it happened to me in the beginning of this month of September only!

After that couple of days passed by and the situation stabilized with passing hours but left me with no opportunity to think of Himachal trip again in this very month. I spent another couple of nights reading about beautiful places around my hometown where I could divert my plan without the headache of a railway reservation. Most of the worthy places were a ‘No-No’ due to end monsoon effect. A friend of mine over net, suggested me of Mandarmani which is a serene village growing of late with several beach resorts. That modest idea reminded me of a wilder plan which I was about to execute last year but couldn’t materialize due to some reason. Yes… now I was off the mark… ready with my traveling vigor once again… and luckily my brother joined in!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
The daylight was dimming and the hazy sky gave no hope for a mesmerizing sunset...!
Ride Itinerary along the Bay of Bengal: 
Day 1- Bardhaman to Bakkhali. Local sightseeing (Bakkhali beach, Frasergunj beach, Frasergunj fishing harbor) and overnight stay at Bakkhali.
Day 2- Local sightseeing (Henry Island, Watchtower, Beach, Bakkhali beach, Bakkhali Aranya Binadan Kendra, Frasergunj fishing harbor) and overnight stay at Bakkhali.
Day 3- Bakkhali to Gangasagar. Local sightseeing (Kapilmuni’s Temple, Beach, Port) and overnight stay at Sagar Island.
Day 4- Gangasagar to Digha. Overnight stay in New Digha.
Day 5- Digha to Baleswar district of Odisha for some specific destinations (Udaipur beach, Talasari beach, Chandaneswar temple, Bhusandeswar temple), back to Digha and local sightseeing (Marine aquarium, Old Digha beach, New Digha beach, Science center) with overnight stay.
Day 6- Digha to Dariapur. Some local sightseeing (Light house, Kapal Kundala temple) and return to Bardhaman.

Day One: Last evening I remembered to look out for a carrier which I could add at the back of my Discover 125 to improve its luggage carrying capability. I was a fool to keep it pending till the last moment but it was my ignorance in reality. In my last bike (please read it as ‘motorbike’ throughout this post) trip I was riding solo, which had left ample space to hang my luggage here and there but this time my brother was there to take up the pillion, and that’s how the necessity of a luggage carrier was felt... unfortunately too late! No ready-made carrier was available and at last the welding mechanic advised to get that made by some blacksmith. It was night by then and so I returned home ignoring the worry of hauling baggage. Somehow time flew like anything and we ended up finishing our packing by midnight. I have that hyper stimulation syndrome which a lot of travelers suffer from, i.e. I can never get a proper sleep before a journey… after couple of hours of dozing and tossing on the bed I woke up very early but could commence our ride not before 5:30 AM.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
The Bakkhali Beach ornamented with infinite seashells has a grayish tinge
The four lane expressway till Kolkata have always been a bliss to me… the first hundred kilometers I throttled as fast as I could and surprisingly my pony with all its load kept pace with my zeal, almost vibration free at a constant speed of over 80 KM/hr! Very soon we entered Kolkata through Vidyasagar Setu and took the Alipore Road. We wanted to avoid the office hours rush and succeeded at that… but the ride through the city didn’t go that butter smooth too. A traffic police stopped us for checking our vehicle documents. Due to the lack of pollution certificate we had to shed off some bucks as Policeman’s unofficial income. I got a certificate made in the very next petrol pump to avoid further flattering-bargaining-bribing cycle and headed along Diamond harbor road to reach Diamond harbor by 10 O’clock. It was fun riding by the bank of Hooghly river… we stopped seeing a Benfish restaurant opposite to riverbank road.

It was not lunch time precisely… but we were hungry as we didn’t take any breakfast… settled with some prawn fried rice and it was not bad at all. We reached Kakdwip, refueled our vector and hurried for Namkhana. Like a good boy my pony got onto the ferry which carries vehicles across the Hatania Doania creek at Namkhana to get into the other side and head for Bakkhali. Some local guys suggested availing the passenger boats which usually carry motorcycles of local people along with passengers at a much cheaper rate. But I was apprehensive of treating my motorbike like a rice sac, which I had experienced previously in Murshidabad trip last year, so remained glued with my previous decision only. I heard that a grand bridge will be constructed over the creek after Durgapuja!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Like a good boy, my pony got onto the ferry which carries vehicles across the Hatania Doania creek at Namkhana.
We got wet by a sudden shower some ten kilometers before Bakkhali… wet in afternoon rain and an ‘almost there’ joy crossed Frasegunj to reach Bakkhali by half past two. We checked in quickly to the hotel Joyguru Abasan which I had known from wikitravel beforehand. Impatient soul didn’t let me to take a proper bathe and we rode to the beach. Bakkhali beach had more tourists than what I had expected. There the Bay of Bengal is much more modest than what you see in Puri (in case you’re fascinated to roar of the sea and grandeur of the waves), even more pacified than Digha… the beach ornamented with infinite seashells has a grayish tinge and hard but officially motoring is prohibited. After enjoying see breeze for a while under the overcast sky we made our way for Frasegunj beach which is geographically an extension of the same Bakkhali beach and share the same citadel of Casuarina trees.

The Frasergunj beach was desolated with prominent signs and symptoms of lack of maintenance… the Windmills forming the perfect background generate power for the tiny tourist place. We could spot the house of Sir Andrew Fraser (now you can guess the origin of the name of this place) near the beach on its last legs! Unluckily we could only watch Jambudwip Island from the Frasergunj beach as the local people told us that since last few months they have stopped their boat service to Jambudwip. Urbanization seemed like a novel makeover for the area, as evident from the simplicity of the lifestyle, market pattern and local means of transport… motorized rickshaw van is the versatile vector all throughout the place, carrying goods, passengers as well as helping the tourists for sightseeing!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
A green-coconut vendor busy in serving at Bakkhali Beach.
Fishing… fishing… and fishing, backbone of the region… so after asking out from a van puller we headed for our next target- Frasergunj fishing harbor. The place is meant for collecting the fishes in bulk from fishermen’s boats and transporting them to different places by trucks. The harbor is characterized by fishy air, colorful innumerable fishing boats, green/blue large fishing nets, busy fishermen and porters, plying motorized vans, loads of ice blocks and of course tons of fishes! The daylight was dimming and the hazy sky gave no hope for a mesmerizing sunset… so, instead of returning to beaches we lazed around in the harbor till it got darker watching the brave men resting, eating or repairing their nets on board who go across the untamed sea at night for our gustatory satisfaction.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Windmills forming the perfect background generate power for the tiny tourist place, Frasergunj.
In the evening when we returned to Bakkhali beach we found it dark, tourists scattered here and there, some enjoying the land breeze and the others roaming with bottles of beer… I was sad to spot too many drunken souls standing out of the darkness of the otherwise pleasant beach. I was happy to be without family at that point of time… there should be enough properly functioning halogens and physically present beach polices I must say. We aimlessly walked for a while tasting little fast food from beach stalls. 9 O’clock seemed perfect to finish our dinner. There are quite a few eateries in the small beach town of Bakkhali near the beach but you can’t expect quality food from there… it shouldn’t be a problem to fill your stomach though unless you’re really choosy. Thinking that it’ll be a sin if I don’t taste a sea-fish I ordered a Pomfret fish dish but my bad luck, it was horribly cooked! Brother was wise enough to stick to his ‘veggie when out of home’ strategy… we rode back to our hotel and concluded the day happily with great expectation to watch sunrise over the sea next morning.

This is just the beginning. Click here to know what had happened in the following day.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata
Although not exactly located in the City of Joy, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden is more popularly known by its older name- Calcutta Botanical Garden. Anything abandoned doesn't necessarily extinct, and clearly 'Calcutta' is one such entity. Whether you hail from Bengal or not, 'Calcutta' can hex you with her old world enigma and make you long for a canvas comprising: fleet of yellow taxis, rattling trams, semi-spoiled streets, British style dilapidated architectures, unfriendly humidity from the Ganges and of course a fast-paced modern world that seems to be so indifferent to the coexistence of its bygone imprint! Situated at Shibpur (Howrah), near Kolkata, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden is considered as the largest botanical garden in India and famous for its most veteran member- the Great Banyan Tree. Official Opening and Closing times of the garden are:- March to September- 5:00 AM to 5:30 PM and October to February- 5:30 AM to 5:00 PM respectively. Garden authority permits morning walkers in the first 2 hours of the early morning.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata
The Calcutta Botanical Garden is ideal for the students of botany, researchers, bird watchers and attention-shy couples.
Last weekend I traveled to Howrah for health related issues and thankfully my work got over by early afternoon. It was one of those sunny and sticky afternoons of August where your hankie fails to keep your forehead sweat-free for more than a couple of minutes. Taking a train back to Bardhaman was practical but definitely not an interesting way to conclude the Sunday. Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, or let's just call it- Calcutta Botanical Garden was around 8 kilometers away from where 'indecisive' yours truly was standing. Most of the auto-rickshaws were least aware of the Botanical Garden (at least they pretended such). Just when a cab driver refused to take me to that route, a minibus arrived from nowhere as if sent to me by my guardian angel! Whether you are in front of the Howrah railway station or at Esplanade (Kolkata), lookout for buses going to B-Garden. They are painfully sluggish but acquaint you with the congested portrait of old Howrah.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata
As the area is huge there is facility for electric vehicles to give quick tours to visitors who are physically less sound but ready to spend little extra.
Entry ticket would cost you 10 bucks and your still camera another 20. The entrance of the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden might make you feel good that it's a plastic-free zone. As you step in you'll be disillusioned. On the other hand if you're into littering (like most of us) you'll feel at home. Good readers, pardon my willful sarcasm. Rampant plastic wastes in this 270 acres of green zone truly saddens me and kills my dying optimism towards natural rehabilitation of this planet. The Calcutta Botanical Garden houses a huge collection of 1,200 plant species (according to Botanical Survey of India) which includes a wide variety of rare plants. As the area is huge there is facility for electric vehicles to give quick tours to visitors who are physically less sound but ready to spend little extra for the love of plant kingdom.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata
With its large number of aerial roots which grow from the branches and run vertically to the ground and look like so many trunks, the Great Banyan Tree looks more like a forest than an individual tree!
As I mentioned earlier, the Great Banyan Tree is the prime attraction of Calcutta Botanical Garden. The Great Banyan Tree draws more visitors to the garden than its collection of exotic plants from five continents, the plant houses of the special gardens of bamboos, palms, succulents etc. Botanically known as Ficus benghalensis L., belonging to the family- Moraceae, the tree is a native of India. The fruit is like a small fig but not edible, and is red when ripe. This Great Banyan Tree is over 250 years old and in spread it is the largest known in India, perhaps in Asia! There is no clear history of the tree as to the time of planting etc but it is mentioned in some travel books of the nineteenth century. It was damaged by two great cyclones of 1864 and 1867, when some of its main branches were broken, exposing it to the attack of a hard fungus.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata
Leaves of Giant Waterlily (Victoria amazonica) are so huge that they can hold weight up to 40-45 Kg!
With its large number of aerial roots which grow from the branches and run vertically to the ground and look like so many trunks, the Great Banyan Tree looks more like a forest than an individual tree! Interestingly enough, the tree still lives in perfect vigor without its main trunk, which decayed and had to be removed in 1925. As per the available data of 30th June, 2015: The circumference of the original trunk at 1.7 m from the ground is 16.5 m. The area occupied by the tree is about 18,918 sq m. The present crown of the tree has a circumference of 486 m and the highest branch rises to 24.5 m. Presently it has 3,772 aerial roots reaching down to the ground as prop roots. As of now, the entire tree has been fenced with proper security measures and visitors can only stare at the green wonder from a safe distance. I support this initiative whole heartedly as humans can't be trusted.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden near Kolkata
Unfortunately, the entire Botanical Garden looks grossly under-maintained and fails in living up to its old reputation.
Apart from the Great Banyan Tree, various points of attraction (Worth visiting only if you have a full day to play with but you do not know what to do with that many free hours!) inside the Indian Botanic Garden includes- Oreodoxa Avenue, Large Palm House, Kyd Monument, Cactus House, Roxburgh Monument, Janardan Lake, Flower Garden, Dewan Lake, Boat Ghat, Scotrechine Lake, Rock Garden, Sadir Lake, Prain Lake, Leram Lake, Kunstlar Lake, King Lake and Kanta Pahar. Unfortunately, the entire Botanical Garden looks grossly under-maintained and fails in living up to its old reputation. I have visited many gardens throughout India and I can rank this garden nowhere in "Top 10" despite it being the largest one in India. However bad it might sound, the pitiful state of the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden highlights the misery of tourist infrastructure of West Bengal. I found Calcutta Botanical Garden to be ideal for the students of botany, environmental science, researchers, bird watchers and attention-shy couples. The garden is also good for someone who wants to spend a lazy day amidst untrimmed nature. But, tick it off your itinerary if you're an outsider who just landed in Kolkata with the aim of exploring Bengal. Love and conserve nature. Please do not litter.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu

Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
Swayambhunath Temple complex consists of the Swayambhu Stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, as old as 5th century AD!
There is probably no single backpacker who has never ever planned a trip to Kathmandu, the capital city of beautiful Nepal. The reason is quite explicit. Kathmandu is one of those unique places in the world where you can savor the ancient era charm to the ultramodern fast paced world under a same tourist-friendly roof. Yes, you can amaze yourself with extraordinary 2,000 years old wooden architecture and at the next moment you are free to pamper your deep dark chocolaty side with the warmth of a strip club! Sounds fascinating right? There are too many points of tourist interest in Kathmandu valley. What a pity, last year in April, a massive earthquake destroyed a lot of Nepal, including her capital city. Besides countless lives and unmeasurable human sufferings, many priceless monuments of Kathmandu were affected too. I do not know how the city looks now, but definitely I intend to visit soon and find out. I took all these photos when I had visited Kathmandu back in 2010. Let me first introduce you with the Swayambhunath Temple (a Buddhist temple complex), the oldest and most fascinating of all the holy places in Kathmandu valley and second most significant Buddhist pilgrimage site in Nepal.
Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
Prayer wheels waiting to be spun at the Swayambhunath temple complex.
Swayambhunath Stupa is situated on the top of a hill in the Kathmandu valley, west of Kathmandu city but its mighty white dome with radiant golden spire are hard to ignore even from a long distance throughout the valley. Supposing you’re staying at Thamel, either you can avail a shared micro (actually you’ll have to visit Nepal to feel the versatility of ‘Micro’ in transport system of the whole country!) or reserve a cab to reach Swayambhunath Temple in 15 minutes. The main entrance with 365 stone steps will take you to the main temple complex. I know you’ll be huffing and puffing like a steam engine while climbing those 365 steps (I almost felt my heart inside my oral cavity and calf muscles had resigned totally!) unless you’re a non-sedentary traveler unlike me. In that case you’ve an alternative motorable road to the southwest entrance, i.e. your car will do the hard work of hiking. The Swayambhunath Temple complex consists of the Swayambhu Stupa, a variety of shrines (Vasupur, Vayupur, Nagapur, Agnipur etc) and temples (like Hariti temple), some of which dates back to the 5th century AD! The temple complex is inhabited by a large population of monkeys like many other Buddhist pilgrimage site, giving the name ‘Monkey temple’ to the Swayambhunath Temple.
Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
To reach the Swayambhunath Stupa I had to climb 365 steps and ironically, I didn't even have a bottle of water in my backpack!
The Swayambhu Stupa, the center attraction of the Swayambhunath complex has Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows painted on it. You can visit the small temples and shrines around the Stupa or enjoy the magnificent vista of Kathmandu valley from one side of the temple. There are multiple souvenir stalls selling handicrafts at overinflated prices, so the choice is yours. If you’re a foreigner you have to pay for the entry ticket too but that’s never a problem when the sightseeing destination is so rewarding. Before I finish this Swayambhunath post I must tell you the interesting legend associated to it. It is said that Kathmandu valley was once a lake and the hill on which Swayambhunath temple rests was self-risen like a lotus leaf from the muddy water! Another myth relating to its name as ‘Monkey temple’ tells that, Majusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raised on that hill. Majusri grew long hair in which head lice grew and later those lice transformed into monkeys who became the permanent residents of Swayambhunath… quite fascinating right? 
Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
The Buddha Park near Swayambhunath Temple complex presenting three massive golden statues of- Padmasambhava, Amitaba Buddha and Avalokiteshvara (from left to right).
Now I’ll acquaint you with another Buddhist pilgrimage site which is enjoying the prestigious status of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It’s the one and only Boudhanath Stupa, the prime hub of Tibetan Buddhism in Kathmandu and the largest stupa in entire Nepal. This 131 meters high, colossal Boudhanath stupa is located in the northeastern suburb of the city, and the main stupa gate is easily accessible from tourist-centered locations like Thamel, airport, Chabihill etc by cabs or shared vans.
Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
As of 1979, Boudhanath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the 2015 Nepal earthquake ruthlessly damaged Boudhanath Stupa, severely cracking the spire!
The first thing which will probably catch your attention before you start circumambulating (well, remember to do it only in clockwise direction) the Boudhanath stupa are red, white and blue colored eyes on all four sides over the stupa and they will give you a feeling of being continuously watched! Apart from that, each and every different shape represents one of the five elements namely earth, water, fire, air and sphere, formed into a stupa to symbolize the working universe in unison. Nine levels of the Boudhanath stupa represent Meru, the World Mountain, seat of the Gods and center of the cosmos. Yea, I too admit that these divine concepts can’t be enjoyed or properly understood by the majority of normal travelers like me, so I’m not going into the details of stupa structure and the corresponding spiritual significances.
Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
Devotees inside a monastery at Boudhanath.
The Boudhanath stupa area is large enough with surrounding 29 Tibetan gompas to keep you busy for a couple of hours, especially if you’re either religious or enthusiast photographer. As I mentioned earlier, get dissolved into the ambiance of Tibetan Buddhism by undertaking the circumambulation of the stupa in clockwise way while humming ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ along with hundred other devotees. Explore various monasteries, curio shops and satisfy your gastronomy hunt with local momo or thukpa. I’ve heard that the ambiance in Boudhanath stupa is quite different in full moon nights when it is veiled by the sweet fumes of incense sticks and butter lamps but yet to experience that. By the way, if you want to catch a glimpse of Boudhanath in real festive spirit then you must visit there in the time of Losar (Tibetan New Year) which is celebrated with great pomp and show! 
Visit to the Swayambhunath Temple and Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu
‘Om Mani Padme Hum’

Friday, August 12, 2016

A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara (Part 2)

A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
This is continuation as well as the concluding part of my travel story on an old family trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara. We were just done with the elephant ride inside Jaldapara sanctuary. Sun was getting overhead to squash out our morning pulp. Inquiring about the Jeep safari was the second thought in my mind, first being lookout for a decent place for our late breakfast. Later on when I went to the Jeep booking counter I found the office closed till that time and no forest personnel nearby could tell me the exact time of its opening. Although the Jeep safari was arranged by the Hollong Range Officer it couldn’t be done that very day as my mother was not feeling well in the afternoon and in a family trip I did not prefer to enjoy any piece of nature on my own. After our breakfast we went to South Khayerbari Park (Animal rescue and rehabilitation center), about 10-15 kilometers away from Madarihat. There I couldn’t dare to miss out the Leopard Safari on a battery operated vehicle!
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
One of the leopards kept giving pose like an ace model!
Seeing the same leopard from inside and outside of the cage are so different. There were two leopards in that compound. One of them chose to remain inside its concrete shelter whereas the other kept giving pose like an ace model for my rather amateurish point and shoot photography... definitely, my hundred kisses and prayers for her wellbeing!
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Seeing the same leopard from inside and outside of the cage are so different!
Next we saw a roaring (or was it just conversing with his mate?) tiger from quite a close proximity. Being oblivious of hats and sunscreen was really punishing us. Having sipped coconut water and after few more clicks we came out of the park by mid afternoon. Putting the cooling meter to maximum we drove for Dhupjhora (a place situated at the bank of Murti River, some 10 kilometers away from Lataguri).
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
A tiger at South Khayerbari Park.
An awesome scenic drive from Moynaguri to Dhupjhora took us to our resort at South Park by evening 6:00 and watching the dusk engulfing Murti River was a big bonus to blissfully end our day. The enchanting view of the orange sun drowning into the pebbly river bed was not just the asset we could procure from this drive but the yard close encounter with a giant tusker that crossed our road while we stopped in the middle of Lataguri and South Park was the best award we could get as wildlife travelers! We had actually stopped our vehicle in that charming road to take few snaps and little did we know that a massive tusker elephant would appear from nowhere with his ivory load at few yards away from us and give us his mysterious look to scare the shit out of us!
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
A massive tusker elephant appeared from nowhere with his ivory load and crossed our road!
I had every chance of capturing that priceless frame in my memory card but the imminent fear of that jungle king attacking our Scorpio drove us running into the vehicle forgetting every other reasons. But then the elephant steadily crossed the highway and entered into the forest in the opposite side. I repented later for missing such a wonderful chance of clicking. What I could do at most was- click the crossing elephant from inside the windscreen in the falling daylight simply to get a couple of blurred and noisy photographs. After reaching our destination we found our booked cottage to be neat and clean and about 10 kilometers far from the entrance of Gorumara National Park at Lataguri. We finished the homely dinner by 9:30PM as an amazing Jeep safari into the Gorumara National Park was waiting for us in the following morning.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Our resort accommodation at South Park.
The jeep driver knocked us awake before the crack of dawn but we couldn’t get ready before 5:20AM. Standing on an open Maruti Gypsy always gives you the extra rough and tough edge and just imagine, how much delightful it had been at the very daybreak on a wax smooth road in the middle of a forest, surrounded by innumerable wild inhabitants! I got the necessary permits from the ticket counter outside the Gorumara National Park and began our Jeep safari for Chukchuki tower (some 10-12 kilometers inside the Park) with our allotted guide. Honestly speaking I found this jeep safari much less “a journey close to the nature” than the elephant ride at Jaldapara. After all, who would be the bloody pervert among those wild creatures to come close to the sound of a roaring 1.3L petrol engine and disagreeable whiff of its exhaust in that infinite green zone! But off course if you think it as a drive then it was very scenic with lots of leafy aroma and oxygen to rejuvenate your city tampered lungs and brain.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Standing on an open Maruti Gypsy always gives you the extra rough and tough edge!
May be jungle is the only place where you fall in love with a bouncy drive. While going in we couldn’t spot any animal. Luckily we saw a Gaur (Indian Bison) from the top of the watch tower who came to take his ration from the salt pit. A spotted deer appeared near the bison from behind the curtain of shrubs and disappeared equally fast to deprive us from taking her shot. We spent some time there, walking around the observatory tower and then returned to our Jeep. The guide showed us a peacock behind a bush while cruising out of the jungle but it was too veiled by the leaves to appear in my camera sensor. Goddess of luck had more to endow us with- just then a full size peacock crossed our road and we felt "being in the wild" once again!
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Our Jeep safari inside the Gorumara National Park, towards Chukchuki tower.
After lunch we made our way back for Aambari once again as there was no better alternative than resting in the second half of the day to stay prepared for the long return trip to home in the following day. While returning I spent some time (or should I say quality time?) hopping on the shallow and crystal clear water of River Murti. It was pure fun watching the local kids swimming on that knee high water. Eventually I had to put a full stop to my water bliss as the sun above was least sympathetic to this poor tourist. The rest of the day was sheer uneventful apart from the scrumptious supper at Aambari forest guest house.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
We spotted this Indian Bison from the top of the watch tower at Chukchuki.
As decided earlier, we commenced our journey back to Bardhaman sharp at 4:45 AM morning. To our delight we were munching more kilometers with respect to the clock and could reach Malda city by late noon. So I thought of being a good guide for others and take them to a short hour long trip to the historical region of Gour which I had visited few weeks earlier on two wheels. Everybody appreciated the result of my pro-activeness and enjoyed the ruins of Gour albeit, from the comfort of the cool interior of our Scorpio. Our plan of a night halt at Nalhati to pay a visit to the famous temple of Nalhateswari was messed by an uninvited mis-occurrence. A white young goat came in front of our vehicle before the driver could act. One of its hind limb got fractured and we were surrounded by a huge group of villagers, 99% of whom were damn inclined to watch the drama of futile arguments and unjustified claims. In such situations mostly you are compelled to accept the unjustified demand of the mobs and so did we.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
We spent some time walking around the observatory tower and then returned to our Jeep.
But then we had lost our mood of lengthening the trip and hence, decided to return to Bardhaman. By 7:00 PM evening we were safely inside our home, straightening our vertebrae on the bed, fairly dipped in the lingering smell of the majestic jungle and partly trying to dissociate the fatigue of being a co-driver cum tourist for a yummy distance of 1,483 kilometers.   
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
I spent some time hopping on the shallow and crystal clear water of River Murti.
This trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara had been so compromised and superficial due to lack of a proper planning, yet I was content as a traveler at the end of the trip! Wondering why? Because, despite minor glitches and sense of unfulfilled travel goals we were happier than before... we became more information rich for a future trip to Dooars,  and also, as Englishmen say, "Tomorrow is another day".  It’ll be really hard to refrain from the seduction of the Chapramari wildlife sanctuary, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Chilapata Forest, Totopara and so on… but I’ve to wait patiently till Time grants me the necessary freedom to explore Dooars once again. Respond to the songs of birds and call of wild animals, make a trip to the exhilarating land of Dooars, be the proud owner of some priceless memoirs and relish them throughout your life. That's all for the time being. Keep traveling and keep clicking photos on the go!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara (Part 1)

A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
You take the "hot and sour" pain of driving hundreds of kilometers of potholed highway, blistering your butt, baking your backbone, and then finally when your four rubber legs touch that road through the undulating hill slopes, widespread mushrooming green tea gardens divided by babbling mountain brooks, sky-scraping Sal forests fortifying the humble tribal settlements and vast grazing lands with royal presence of the great Himalayan ranges in the very horizon, you should be overwhelmed to realize that you’re driving right into the Dooars! This green beauty stretching herself from River Teesta on the west to River Sankosh on the east, over a span of 130 kilometers by 40 kilometers along the foothills Himalayas occupies a major part of Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. Dooars offers its tourists miraculous scenery with wildlife-rich tropical forests and enthralling sight of river-valleys-hills which can be the experience of a lifetime (frankly, not exaggerating!).
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara

Poaching for their horns and habitat loss are the two greatest threats to the survival of Asian one-horned Rhinos!
Derived from the word 'doors', 'Dooars' acts as a gateway to Bhutan and the North-Eastern states of India. Ironically, “Dooars” is the very word that made our 2011 Durga Puja family trip a Semi-flop (Wait, I’ll reveal the reason in a short while) one! No, it’s not that we didn’t enjoy our tour but sadly we couldn’t make optimum use of those three days (excluding two full day drive of around 570 kilometers each on some real unforgiving road). Before the trip, I had to look for a proper vehicle to comfortably accommodate four of us (plus the driver). I was largely diffident to take our hatchback for this trip due to the pathetic road condition of NH-34 which I had soulfully experienced during my previous motorcycle ride to Murshidabad and Malda. It was not as easy as I had anticipated. Getting a good car took some good liters of sweat out of me as during Durga Puja time, taxi owners prefer to keep their vehicles under their balls to exploit the freaky demand of lucrative local Puja-parikrama lovers. Our trip was getting uncertain and this forced me to incline for "self drive on own vehicle" idea till I managed to get hold of one milky white Mahindra Scorpio, albeit at steep rate just one night before our scheduled journey!
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Our savior milky-white Mahindra Scorpio parked outside the Aambari Forest Guest House.
On 2nd October, we left for North Bengal by morning 9:30 with Bappa, a young man as our driver. Somehow the agony of ‘Semi-flop’ status of this trip is putting off my writing extravaganza and I express my regret for not being able to reproduce the 'day to day' details of the tour which I usually do in my travel pieces. Here I’ll jot down our trip highlights only. Before I proceed further I feel, I should let you know how this potent wildlife trip became ‘Semi-flop’ (which of course we came to know only after reaching Aambari, a place where our guest house had been booked). As I’m mostly out of Bengal I had given the responsibility of booking our accommodation to an acquainted person who lives in Kolkata. Owing to his lack of knowledge about the tourist interests of the area he had mixed the word Jaldapara (which I had told him on phone) with Dooars, and accordingly had booked a (any, I suppose) forest department guest guest house at Aambari which was not only outside Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary but away from it some 110 goddamn Kilometers! So the moment we reached our resting destination at Aambari at 4:10 AM the following day, our fantasies of dwelling amidst Asiatic one horned rhinoceroses vanished like hundred unfaithful genies. The route we took: Bardhaman – Guskara – Sainthia – Rampurhat – Nalhati – Morgram – Farakka – Malda – Raiganj – Dalkhola – Islampur – Bidhannagar – Ghoshpukur – Phasidewa – Aambari (Distance- 571 Kilometers).
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
The pathetic condition of road over the vital Farakka Bridge.
We were damn tired of the long drive and didn’t get a better alternative to falling asleep ASAP and remain so till noon time (if you remember, we reached our guest house at ghostly 4:10 AM of Day 2!). The Range Officer was empathetic of our situation when he came for a courtesy visit in the afternoon. He retrieved information from his colleagues and as expected, the government lodge inside Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary had no vacancy. But the gentleman did some good for us and added life to our ceased traveling spirit. That day itself, as per his advice and arrangement, after a sumptuous lunch and a nap in the wooden bungalow we made our way out for Neelbari (a place close to Indo-Bhutan border, some 15-20 Kilometers from Madarihat which is the entry point of Jaldapara) by 6:00 evening. Like the previous night, the problem with our vehicle head lamps crawled in once again over dark NH-31. After little struggle we reached Neelbari range by 10:00 PM, covering a distance of 119 Kilometers and occupied the Eco-cottage after light dinner. There the range officer booked our next morning elephant ride at Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and having spent an entire day so fruitlessly we went to bed with dreams of a better tomorrow.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Wooden forest department bungalow at Aambari.

A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Our Eco-cottage at Neelbari.
In the morning we witnessed a mesmerizing sunrise from the side of tea gardens over the clearly visible high mountain ranges. Dew wet tea leaves on both side of the road instilled a morning freshness which acted caffeine to our nerve and made us to rush for Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary with boosted wander lust. It was a unique sweet feeling of driving the Scorpio into the Sanctuary after taking the necessary permit. Till we reached Hollong lodge, my eyes alternately moved left to right and the vice versa, in case any inhabitant of the jungle pop its head or even tail out of the nature's green curtains but all hopes do not find their destination. Hollong is 5-6 Kilometers inside the main entrance. The aggregation of so many elephants in front of the Hollong Guest House was so picturesque, especially the breastfeeding momma elephant I suppose.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
A breastfeeding momma elephant in front of the Hollong Guest House. 

A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Elephant Safari inside Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary.
Soon our elephant ride began. Our elephant entered into the forest in a couple of seconds. Sitting on the top of a royal creature and swinging our body with its unique elephantine rhythm is another pleasant sensation. The elephant will take you inside the forest till the density of the tress and their branches caress your skin all over the body and you feel somewhat uncomfortable to manage the passing by branches dying hard to lick your body. We could only spot Sambar (the largest of Asiatic deer) and Rhinos (Asiatic one horned rhino) but, honestly speaking, I was satisfied with that modest elephant-safari luck.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
We spotted an Asiatic one-horned rhino without its only horn... what a pity!

A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Harmonious co-existence in nature! Could you spot the tiny bird over that giant Rhino?
After our elephant safari was over, suddenly I saw the Range officer hurrying with a group of staffs towards the back of the lodge and came to know that a naughty rhino had entangled the telephone wire of the campus into one of his limbs and escaped with the communication medium! Fortunately the wire could be extracted out of him without the use of anesthesia. I was happy for them, happier for the rhino and happiest for us.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Another Asiatic Rhino inside Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary... thankfully, it had its horn!
This vast grassland with patches of riverside forests, was declared a sanctuary in 1943 for protection of the great variety flora and fauna. The Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary is a fusion of a variety of woods, grassland, swamps and streams which covers an area of 216.51 sq km. Drained by rivers like Torsa, Malangi, Hollong, Chirakhawa, Kalijhora, Sissamara, Bhaluka and Buri Torsa, the Sanctuary provides widespread grassland which is safe haven to a wide variety of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and birds. During the monsoon (usually June 15-September 15) the sanctuary remains closed to tourists. So, plan your Jaldapara trip accordingly.
A family Trip to Jaldapara and Gorumara
Elephants are certainly royal and have big hearts. Its heart weighs 12-21 kilograms dude!