Neora Valley National Park and the Duars, February 2009

Premjeet Dasgupta

This article is sourced from the blogsite – – with due consent.
The photographs accompanying this article, unless otherwise noted, are taken by Samrat.
Part 1
The foothills of the Himalayas are known as the Duars in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal. In the adjacent Darjiling district, they are known as the Terai, I think. It is here in the Darjiling district that the Neora Valley National Park lies. I am writing about a tour by Durba and myself to the Duars and Neora Valley in February 2009. I am writing from memory, but even as I write, I feel the memories coming alive. It’s never too late to share a travel story, is it? And so, I present below a diary of that very special tour.

February 14

Not a soul was in sight. The sun was setting. We stood in front of a small suspension bridge across a dry stream in the middle of a forest. The Tavera which had ferried us from Sevoke, across the Teesta, past Mal Bazar, Chalsa, Matelli Bazar and Samsing, past the tea plantations stretched all the way to the horizon, had dropped us here a few minutes back and left uphill, the sound of its engine having faded completely by now. We were slowly getting used to the all-pervading silence, and beginning to enjoy it. Signage at the entrance of the bridge read: ‘Welcome, Samsing Range, Suntalaykhola Wilderness Camp, WBFDC Ltd.’. A month back, Durba and I had gone together to the office of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation Ltd. (WBFDC) at Kolkata to book accommodation in its ‘Wilderness Camps’ in the Duars. The promise of wilderness had been met. But, let alone tourists, was there anyone here to even check us in?

A suspension bridge in Suntalaykhola
The apprehension was not misplaced. The agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state was gaining momentum. There had been sudden strike calls and almost everyone save the WBFDC staff had advised us to avoid the region. But I was determined. Having fallen in love with the Duars through my past couple of visits, this was the place I wanted to take Durba to. A short walk down a cemented pathway across the bridge brought us to a group of cottages laid out on a landscaped slope. On one side stood what looked like the dining hall, combined with the office. Ganesh, the manager, was present inside. Seeing him, we heaved a sigh of relief. After all, he had spoken reassuringly about the law and order situation in these parts when we had called him from Kolkata earlier, promising us that we were totally safe inside any of the WBFDC properties. And so began our tour of the Duars and Neora Valley, our first together.

February 15

We woke up early to a misty, dew-drenched morning, the view of the forested slopes all around inviting us out of our cottage for a walk. There was a gentle purring sound outside the door. As I opened it, the camp’s cat walked right in, homing in on our bed and the warmth of our quilts! It took some cajoling to get her to agree to leave us alone! We went down to the dining hall for breakfast. The staff had already won our hearts the night before. One of the boys, Roshan, had helped us swap the ceiling mounted CFL in our cottage with the low wattage incandescent from the neighbouring cottage. The soft warm glow of the bulb had set the mood for the evening as we sat in our cottage sipping gin and biting into the tasty, piping hot pakoras served up by the kitchen. Indeed, we had the entire place to ourselves, almost, as only one more couple were checked in.

Suntalaykhola WBFDC Nature Resort
Shortly after breakfast, we met Nabin Pradhan, a lanky Gorkha in his forties probably. Nabin had come asking if we needed a ride for a sight-seeing tour. He ended up staying with us for the entire tour from here onwards. After telling Nabin to come and pick us up in the afternoon, we went for a walk down the bed of the stream flowing just outside the camp. The hours passed by and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. Nabin came with this huge Mahindra jeep after lunch and we were on our way to Mouchuki, a forest camp on the outskirts of the Neora Valley National Park. As the Range Office at Samsing was closed for some reason, we were unable to collect our pass. But Nabin assured us that the forest staff knew him well enough to allow him on in case we were intercepted without a pass.

Suntaleykhola Creek
The climb up the jeep track was steep. We stopped in the middle to watch from a distance the funeral of a dead leopard arranged by the forest staff. Then up we went, a sheer climb with a near 180 degree turn finally bringing into view the Mouchuki Forest Bungalow. Painted green and with quaint dormers, it was such an interesting building in the middle of the forest. We stood there for some time watching the mist laden hills in the distance. Then it was time to go down. We took in a view of the hydro-electric power plant at Sakkham and then drove down to another camp with tented accommodation named Rocky Island. I had come to Rocky Island on my last trip to the Duars in the August of 2007. It had been drizzling all through the day and the tea plantations were a sea of green. The jeep track down to Rocky Island was overflowing in places. I had walked all the way down, wading through the water. And then, come walking up again! The stream below the Rocky Island camp had been roaring, its waters frothing white. In the late winter evening of 2009, there was no roar, no froth! Gigantic boulders rose from the bed of the stream as the waters gurgled on gently. The sun had set and it was time for us to drive back through the darkness. The cosy comfort of our Suntaleykhola cottage beckoned.

February 16

We left Suntaleykhola in the morning. Nabin took us to an interesting little factory in a nearby village, run by a Gorkha gentleman from his home. He specialised in furniture and show-pieces sculpted out of driftwood. Impressed by the ware on display, we placed an order for a small table to be delivered to Kolkata later on. We then drove down to a shop close by to procure a few cartons of the locally grown strawberry. (We had allowed ourselves only a few of the freshly plucked, juicy, crunchy strawberries during the tour, all the while looking forward to enjoying the rest with friends and family back in Kolkata. Sadly most of the consignment decomposed in the heat and dust of the plains on our way home!)

Nabin then drove us around the Samsing settlement where he lived. We went to an abandoned bungalow with sprawling lawns at the edge of a cliff offering a panoramic view of the Kumai hills. Nabin said that the bungalow was often used by film units when they came shooting in these parts. From Samsing, we took a shortcut to the Kumai - Jhalong Road. We were now on our way to Jhalong, Paren and Bindu. On the way, Nabin stopped at a local weekly market. Villagers had come from far and wide to buy and sell. On Nabin’s recommendation, we tried out some pork curry at a stall. We still remember the delicious pork we had that day, washed down with some lovely Bhutanese beer.

An abandoned British bungalow in Samsing.

Samsing Landscape 1

Samsing Landscape 2
Part 2 Part 3

North Bengal Tourist Map

W.B.T.D.C. Tourist Lodges

W.B.F.D.C Nature Resorts

Digha Hotels

Mandarmani Hotels