Chilapata Travel

Last week we, a group of four nature enthusiasts, planned for a trip to Dooars. This time we wanted to explore the Chilapata Reserve forest area. We booked the Mendabari Nature Camp for two nights. This camp was at a pleasant 40 minutes drive from Hasimara railway station through a dense elephant infested forest. We did not book for the third night and planned for homestay in tribal village. I had been to Chilapata few times before and each time it mesmerized me with a different beauty.

We boarded Kanchankanya Express and it departed on time.  Next morning we woke up and found the train was running few hours late. Now if someone does not know, the Kanchankanya Express is the only train to reach Hasimara, Malbazar and Alipurduar. The train passes through a forest and through couple of tunnels after it crosses Siliguri junction. 

Our driver and old friend Rabi was waiting for us at Hasimara. We quickly started off for Chilapata. When we reached Mendabari, we met a family there who who sighted a couple of rhino in the adjacent grassland

We freshened up, took our lunch and started off for the first safari in Chilapata. And, what a luck, the first sighting was at mere 10 minutes driving distance from the camp. That was a lone male Asian elephant without tusk (Makhnas). But that was big, nay, huge. I am still not sure, perhaps that was after almost a year I found an adult male elephant so close that that it looked so huge to me. We took some photos of the beast while it was busy eating and munching on plants.

But we would be late to get the entry pass. So our guide suggested to move on and then after getting the pass we could return to the same spot. But there was a long queue after we reached the permit office, and we were too late to find the elephant again at the same spot. The guide said that it crossed the road as there were signs of uprooted trees and rolled over grasses in the opposite side of the road. So we started for the watch tower and around evening saw a rhino gazing far away.

We started our return journey to the camp, and at an opening in the forest very near to the camp discovered two big shadows. Those were male elephants as the guide told us. It was too dark out there and it could be dangerous to go behind them inside the forest, so we just stayed there as long as they could be seen and then entered the camp premises. Overenthusiastic we started discussing with Rabi da (da, meant elder brother) about a night safari. He went to the kitchen and tried to convince the caretaker a lot. But no one allowed us to go anywhere outside the gate, even not near the bridge that we had to cross to enter the camp.

That night went without any excitement, except those mystic sounds of the forests. Next morning we woke up at around 3.30 am and started from the camp. It was pretty dark and foggy, and we just look at the portions of the forest lightened up by the car headlight. We explored a long stretch of forest but could not find a single animal. We ended up at the watch tower with a rhino (most probably the same as previous day). It was moving very slowly, but was not coming towards us, instead was moving towards Jaldapara grassland.

As Sun goes up, we returned back to the camp, but did get off the car where we found elephants the previous evening. Well, in the bright daylight the place did not look scary, well, until we found elephant dungs, lots of those, and a sure sign of their presence the previous evening. We stayed there for more than an hour, took some snaps of the butterflies and moths and then walked back to the camp to take breakfast. And decided to take our chances to Buxa Tiger Reserve at the bank of river Jayanti.
We quickly took shower and got ready for the day long safari. We knew a guide from Jayanti earlier, went to his house, took him with us and after exploring the river for fishes, hiked some distance to the Choto Mahakal Temple and after taking lunch with local fishes and hot rice, we entered inside the tiger reserve. We first reached a watch tower and stayed there upto 4pm without any sign of wildlife, when suddenly a storm came from nowhere, we rushed to the car and started moving slowly towards the other watch tower which was much bigger than the present one. The guide stopped the car at a waterhole where Gaur (Indian Bisons) occasionally comes to drink water, but at that time the place was empty, without any kind of movement in the bushes. We returned from the waterhole when suddenly I found a malabar giant hornbill in flight, and again one, then another, counted seven of them. They stayed on a tall tree for few minutes. We have also found a big owl, could not ID it.

Well, the next watch tower was really very beautiful, even though no presence of any animals. There was a big artificial waterhole in front of the watchtower and we thoroughly enjoyed the stay. We found a mongoose, which came there to drink water. After the rainfall, the forest became greener, and that place is still my favorite to wait for wildlife. While returning back, to the Jayanti village, we found some peacocks and peahens together. We took tea and some snacks and sweets there and after dark started our return journey, deliberately. According to the plan during the breakfast, at night elephants often crosses the road through which we would go back. That was very exciting, but one needs luck to see wildlife. We could not find anything, not a single deer crossed the road. However, the journey was thrilling as ours was the only car, perhaps and we started thinking if the car broke down we might have to stay the whole night inside the car. That would be an awesome experience nonetheless. We reached Hasimara without any incident, took a great dinner at a roadside dhaba and after that started for Chilapata. And literally the whole road we just found uprooted tree everywhere. The storm what we felt at Buxa was just a teaser. It fiercely affected Chilapata. That was around 9pm, and we still could not reach the camp, just near the place where we sighted the couple of elephants previous evening, we found an uprooted tree blocking our way. It was a merely five minutes walking distance, but Rabi Da strictly did not allow us to went off the car. He tried to call someone for assistance, but everything went in vain. He somehow managed to get the car to the main road, throughout on reverse gear and finally took another way. It took another one and half hour almost to reach a village near right side of the camp when again we found a tree uprooted and fell on the way blocking it totally. Rabida this time was confident as there were some houses nearby. He went there and found a man with torch and they helped us to reach the camp safely. Wow, some adventure, not less than a sighting. That night we slept very late and decided to relax the next morning and to take bath in the stream flowing behind the camp.   
Forgot to tell you, in the mean time we decided our resting place for the third night, in the nice little village house of Napen Rava and we liked the stay very very much, specially the local food, ummm delicious.

In the afternoon, we visited the watch tower and stayed there as long as possible testing our fortune rather than flock here and there. A couple of rhino were there far away. One hour passed by, nothing as such except some birds and some annoying tourists talking about how the guides were making them fool by saying that there were elephants and bisons and rhinos where as the forest was totally empty.

Suddenly I saw Rabi da running towards the watch tower from the car and uttering “elephants….elephants nearby”  and God, there were more than twenty elephants of different ages on the road that we just crossed, hardly 20-30' from the watch tower. All of us came on the road and started clicking them. The guide warned that they could turn aggressive at any moment as there was a baby with them.

Few of them crossed the road and went down to the grassland beside, the rest most probably scared of the human presence did not cross the road and stayed there, uprooting small plants, showing they were not liking the disturbances.

That act continued for half an hour or so, and the elephants moved sideways inside the forest, but not much. Rabi da came and whispered "get into the car; we will have the best chance to photograph them". I understood his plan, we ran to the car which was parked near the watch tower and our car reached the place in front of the corridor which the elephants used to cross the road. Now one of the female elephants again came near the road blocking the chance of other cars to follow us. We were literally sandwiched between two herds of elephants. 

We took lots of photos until when the elephants near the road decided to cross the road and went down to the grassland.

The family reunited, we noticed a tusker in the group. It was pretty dark, and time to say good bye to the group. None of us noticed that the rhino came very close to the watch tower, now someone told us on the way back that they found a good glimpse of that rhino. While returning we found a fire line, a forest guard was trying hard to cut off the line.

The night was not a bit less exciting, it was a storm like the previous night, and we were thinking anytime the roof of the room would flew away, Napenda served us smoking hot roasted chicken. We could never forget that taste. That was around 8pm, we got down to the ground floor to go to the road beside and seat there with Napenda and Rabida to listen to their experience when we heard some sound like those of breaking bamboo trees just behind our house. Napenda said elephants...elephants, and rushed inside his room to get a torch. What we found next was three elephants, the first one a big tusker whose teeth was reflecting the torch light going towards the paddy field. More people from the village by that time could understand the elephants' presence and they started shouting and focusing lights on them. Disturbed, the elephants went towards a little stretch of forest nearby. We did not have courage to seat there anymore, came back into our room. Napenda told us not to go downstairs for anything in the night. However, at midnight we heard some sounds and went to the barandah with the torch, but found nothing, perhaps we were dreaming the same thing, everyone!!!

1 comment:

  1. This was really adventurous and your journey made me live each part of it.