Monday, January 28, 2013

Delights of Duars

It was post noon when we reached Alipurduar junction. We caught a three-wheeler to the core area towards Jayanti jungle which is part of the Buxa Tiger Reserve. While entering the jungle one of us spotted an elephant but the rest of us had to give it a miss as the wild creature rushed speedily inside the dense greenery. In the approaching evening we took a lazy walk across the dried bed of the Jayanti river.

Day 2 at Jayanti started at 5 in the morning. We started our safari to Chuniajhora jungle in about an hour as soon as daylight started brightening the nature around, before the wild life out here could come to quench their morning thirst at the water ponds. As our vehicle moved thru the jungle our first view of wild life was a flock of peacock on top of trees. Then a sudden smell made us alert, it was of elephant. We rushed our vehicle towards it, but it seemed the big giant has just left the place. In anticipation of further view we drove forward towards the watch tower. While we were waiting there near the watch tower a herd of barking dear and wild cock and a wild boar were also observing us from a distance. We did spend some time with these wild animals, several feet apart though before the morning safari time was over. 
Our next destination was Mahakal. Before started enroute we were made aware that there are two Mahakal temples – big and small. Most tourists visit the small temple as the big one includes a jungle trek at a height of 2200 feet. There was a mild discussion between the guide and us regarding the difficulty of the trek as we had a child with us. We decided we will check out as both were on the same route. From our hotel we traveled in our vehicle for about 1.5km. We started the foot trek through the rocky terrain; there were multiple narrow ferrite streams which we crossed in our way. On all sides were hills of dolomite. We crossed a major stream with chilling water running through our feet. We just moved a few yards forward to reach the point of the small temple of Mahakal. It was at a little height from where we were standing. We instead decided to go for the big temple of Mahakal. Now that was a challenge. The stream was a zig-zag one with rocks on it and at some points bamboos bridging us to the other side. After a few yards the actual trek started. By then we have walked for almost 1km. Initially there was a staircase then it was all rocks which were at certain points quite skidding. Some rocky steps eased our climb occasionally. It took us almost 1.5 hours to reach the dolomite-limestone cave temple of Mahakal. The cave looked quite similar to other limestone caves which we have seen at other parts of India. The unique feat was we were no more in India, but Bhutan. The temple priest Gajananda Giri told us about the historicity of that place. In the British era this particular hill including all the nearby areas belonged to the Indian empire and was consequently handed over to the Indian Govt. The place was of high religious importance to the royal family of the local royal family of Koch kings. They had a hideous practice of human sacrifice. The Indian Govt. in order to stop this crime handed over only the hill of Mahakal to the kingdom of Bhutan where bloodshed is banned. Since then this particular peak belonged to Bhutan. The big temple of Mahakal popularly known as Bada Mahakal is a common place of faith for Hindus and Buddhists. In fact the cave temple was discovered by the historically famous Buddhist monk Atisha Dipankar. The temple also pays regard to other religions like Christianity and Islam and hence is a conglomeration of some of the major faiths of India. As we asked why does not the Bhutanese Govt. charge for In-land permit in their land or allow foreign religions, the priest jovially said they won’t like to get unpopular and politically attacked by Vishwa Hindu Parishad. After spending some time in the temple cave and chatting with the local Bhutia care-taker we started to climb down the hill. It was tiring for all of us especially with the child; it took us about an hour. At the end of the hill was the blessed river in which we jumped immediately tired of the trek. The chilled water was so refreshing that it gave us a new life for the journey further. There we spotted a colorful bird in a pair and missed no chance in clicking it. We walked back to the vehicle and returned to the lodge soon only to start another thrilling segment of the day.

After having lunch we rushed for our 2nd session of jungle safari. This time we were dying to see at least an elephant. Just like morning all we could see were peacock. The driver said he saw a Leopard but we didn’t see any glimpse of it. Disheartened we proceeded towards the watch tower. Daylight was failing us and we knew it was over. We started our return journey. It was quite dark, when suddenly there were two eyes shining on the road. Immediately our jungle guide threw light towards it. It was a Leopard, the wild beast took off to the road side by the time our vehicle reached it and it was in our full view. A shining yellow skin with black spots and marvelously bright eyes were looking at us before it disappeared in the jungle. Excitement thrilled every part of our body. We all had a laugh of extreme joy. The trip was immensely successful we knew it. We thanked our guide and driver as we returned to the lodge to start our journey to Rai Matang the next day through the luscious tea gardens of Duars.

Rai Matang is an ecotourism destination in a buffer bit area of Buxa forest. A remotely located village which is surrounded by Rai Matang river and forests from all sides. From Buxa fort a trekking route of 4 hours directly connects to Rai Matang via Admaa. The village has the sun as its source of electricity and runs without fuel power throughout the day. The simple lifestyle of the local people, the fresh air and green surrounding can attract any city dweller. Another attraction at Rai Matang is its varied population of birds. One thing to be mentioned out here, Rai Matang being a remote village is extravagantly expensive and boarding and fooding options are quite restricted out there. After spending a lazy evening and a fresh morning at Rai Matang, we moved towards Jaldapara forest reserve.

The road from Alipurduar town to Jaldapara sanctuary was a pain. With the heavy trucks passing on the National Highway, the road condition has deteriorated and the Central Govt least bothered about improving the national highway conditions connecting to places of tourism at Bengal. Despite that we were eager to reach the enriched jungle. There we had to obtain tickets for elephant safari for the following morning. Another option was car safari but the big giant is anytime more interesting. In the chilling weather of the dawn we started for Holong buglow inside the Jaldapara sanctuary from where the elephant safari starts. The female elephants came bit late than normal schedule due to cold. Our safari started through dense forests. Morning light was finding its way inside through the gaps between the branches of the trees. Suddenly our guide stopped and within moments we spotted a Rhinoceros having breakfast with leaves. As we started at it, it also started back but did not move rather concentrated more on its food. But our constant gaze was not welcome and it gradually moved away. We decided not to disturb it rather move forward with our journey. We spotted a diverse wild life there starting from Barking Dear, Hog Dear, Sambhor, more Rhino, resting place for Python and lots of Peacock though we could cite any wild elephant. What we saw was only tip of the iceberg, the Jaldapara forest sanctuary has a remarkable variety of wild inhabitants which take days to locate. For e.g. the Leopard hides behind the density or makes way to the nearby tea gardens rather than entertaining the unwanted human guests. Our heart was so full of content with the sight of these delightful creatures that we could not even keep count of time. Moving out of the jungle was disappointing when suddenly we spotted an elephant, our last wish was granted.

With a heart filled joy we started our return journey to Alipurduar town. But the road condition scared us so we took an off-route to Phuentsholing, Bhutan. The Bhutanese king’s resting palace, the monastery, crocodile project and the beautiful local girls made our tour even nicer. After resting the evening at Alipurduar town, we went to Cooch Behar town the next day. The Madan Mohan temple and the royal palace of Cooch Behar took us hours, especially the palace museum. History was written in this part of Bengal by the son of a local tribal Viswa Singha who ascended to royalty and created the legacy of the Koch kings somewhere in mid 16th century. Their official language is called Rajvanshi to which the locals still hold their affinity. The The palace was built in the year 1887 by King Nripendra Narayan. We could only explore parts of the huge palace which are open to visitors. In the evening the authorities conduct a light and sound show.
Koch kings were in constant conflict with the Mughals and had to surrender to them. Gradually as the Mughals weakened over the centuries, the local kings got empowered again. But the Koch kingdom now faced a new enemy, it was Bhutan. They used to fight war over land and jungle. One of the Koch kings swore not to eat rice till he defeats the Bhot king (Bhutia). After a prolonged battle they formed a treaty and the Koch king had rice. The place where he had food is known as Rajabhatkhawa at the outskirts of Buxa Tiger Reserve. There is a museum near the railway station of Rajabhatkhawa which exhibits many species some of which are still found in the Buxa jungle. For all those animals which have gone extinct or migrated from the forest there is a frame outside the gallery portraying the most dangerous animal on earth with a mirror on it. None could deny the fact we humans if we have the power to perceive God we have equal power to become devil.

Our clock was ticking as we had to rush back to Alipurduar junction to catch our train with the promise ‘Abar Ashibo Phire, Ei Jungle er Duar e’ (We will come back again to these Jungle of Duars).

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