JALDAPARA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
JALDAPARA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
State West Bengal
Location In Alipurduar sub-division of Jalpaiguri District in north Bengal, past vast tracts of tea plantations in the Dooars region, close to the Bhutan border
Distance 133 km E of New Jalpaiguri
Route from Siliguri NH31 to Dalgaon via Coronation Bridge, Dam Dim, Mal Bazaar and Chalsa; NH31C to Madarihat via Birpara
Go there for One-horned rhinos, bison, elephant, Bengal florican, barasingha, pygmy hog
Wildlife/Forest Dept Offices
• Assistant Wildlife Warden
Madarihat. Tel: 03563-262239
(A Guha, Mobile: 09733141120)
• Range Officer, Hollong Tourist Lodge
Jaldapara NP, Madarihat. Tel: 262228
• Divisional Forest Officer (DFO)
Cooch Behar Division, Nilkuthi, Cooch
Behar. Tel: 03582-227499
• West Bengal Forest Dev Corp
(WBFDC), 6A, Raja Subodh Malik Square
7th FI, Arya Mansion, Kolkata
STD code 03563
ABOUT JALDAPARA WLS
Established in 1941 primarily for the protection of rhinos, Jaldapara is home to the largest concentration of the one-horned rhino in India after Assam's Kaziranga NP (see pages 195-206). A variety of other animals and birds make their home within its 100 sq km area. The climate is moist tropical with heavy monsoons, encouraging luxuriant foliage growth. The sanctuary is unin- habited, but the surrounding areas are heavily populated - there's a large tribal presence. The pressure of population has had the inevitable result of endangering the park, mostly as a result of illegal grazing by livestock, collection of forest produce and poaching. Plans are afoot to merge the sanctuary with Buxa Tiger Reserve (see Around Jaldapara on page 154) under the title of National Park to ensure a better conservation effort.
With two rivers, Torsa and Malangi, flowing through it, Jaldapara offers a mixed tapestry of extensive grasslands along the sandy banks of the rivers and thick forests of mainly deciduous trees.
Time for Tea in the Dooars
Serene and lush tea plantations punctuate the dense forest cover in the Dooars region (85 km), which spreads over a large part of Jalpaiguri District. While it's not as famed as some of India's other tea regions, the Dooars produces tea that has a place of its own, and a trip to the region would be incomplete without a visit to a tea garden. Highly recommended is the Phaskowa T.E., which stretches from the Buxa Tiger Reserve in the east to the Raidak River, separating Bhutan from India, in the west. The estate was established by Duncan's in 1896 and is now owned by the Chamarias, who are very enthusiastic about making your visit memorable. The quaint bungalow is a throwback to colonial times and has been beautifully maintained. In fact, you can stay here too but it's liable to make a hole in your pocket. Various tea-related activities are available, including a tour around the tea garden, tea tasting and a visit to the factory.
Other attractions include a picnic on the pebble-strewn banks of the Raidak, trekking to the famed Mahakaal Caves and lots more. Another mind-blowing feature is the amazing food on offer, a far cry from the basic fare available elsewhere in the area. Leopards and stray wild elephants are known to make an appearance in the estate. I saw elephant dung while entering the estate. An interesting fact is that leopards and tea gardens apparently go well together. The male leopard is known to eat the young ones. So, the female leopard guards its litter here amongst the tea bushes. The constant presence of tea pickers keeps the male leopard away, so the cubs are safe. When they're older they leave with their mother. Abandoned cubs are taken to leopard rehabilitation centres.
For tariff, booking and other details contact Manoj Chamaria at 09434044315,
09434127620 (Email: phaskowa_slg@san- charnetin).
Several streams crisscross the park. The approach along NH31C from the Gorumara NPat Madarihat provides information and also arranges permits and bookings for elephant and jeep safaris. A 10-min drive from the gate brings you to the jaldapara Tourist Lodge (sometimes referred to as the Madarihat Tourist Lodge). The lodge authorities also helps arrange jeep and elephant safaris in collaboration with the forest office. Close to the lodge is the Leopard Rehabilitation Centre, which currently houses eight of these big cats. A short distance past the leopard enclosure is the Nature Interpretation Centre. The Hollong Lodge, about 7 km away, is wonderfully located in a forest clearing, with the Torsa and Malangi rivers not too far away. It also has a range officer who helps co-ordinate permits and elephant and jeep safaris. There are watchtowers and salt licks close to the water bodies, and these of course provide the best wildlife viewing.
Sanctuary timings 9 am-3 pm Sanctuary entry fee Indians Rs 25, foreigners Rs 100 Cameras Still Rs 25, video Rs 250
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
With its pleasant winters and mild summers, Ialdapara is a great holiday destination at any time of the year except the monsoons. Go rhino-spotting on elephant-back, admire the bird species, marvel at the thick jungle growth, or simply savour the feeling of being in the wild.
The best way to explore Ialdapara is by taking the one-hour elephant safari, which begins early in the morning. A maximum of four people are allowed on each elephant. The safari from the Tourist Lodge at Madarihat is subject to the availability of elephants from Hollong, whose guests have guaranteed safaris. Remember that elephant rides are in short supply in the high season. Be prepared to take a jeep safari instead.
Safari fee Rs 140 per head Timings 6-8 am (6.30 am during winter)
If you don't trust elephants, this is your best bet. Of course, the excitement level is less and you can't get very close to the animals. The park authorities don't pro- vide vehicles, so you'll have to rent one from the Tourist Lodge at Madarihat or a tourist agency. A forest guard must accompany the jeep.
Safari fee Rs 450 Vehicle fee Rs 50-200 Guide fee Rs 100 per vehicle Timings 6-8 am, 3-5 pm
leopard Rehabilitation Centre
Located near the forest office, this gives you the opportunity to see how abandoned leopard cubs are reared to live in their natural habitat as adults.
If you are an enthusiast, Jaldapara will be tremendously appealing, for, it shelters a huge variety of birds. The sanctuary is also the last known habitat of the Bengal florican. So take a pair of binocs, park yourself in one of the watchtowers and enjoy. You can also walk around some areas - just make sure that you have a forest guide with you.
WHERE TO STAY
There are not many accommodation options, so it pays to reserve your rooms well in advance. A sensible thing to do is to make your bookings through a tour operator. That way you can also bypass the hassle of getting the permits for entering the sanctuary. Help Tourism arranged my complete tour and I was quite satisfied. What's more, Help Tourism is an association that works closely with the locals to ensure that everybody benefits. A minimum stay of 2-3 days is recommended. Bookings for both Hollong and Ialdapara tourist lodges can be made with West Bengal Tourism in Siliguri and Kolkata.
The best place to stay in Jaldapara is Hollong Lodge (Tel: 03563-262228; Rs 1,000). Its USP is that it's situated in the heart of the sanctuary itself. Also you don't have to wake up at an ungodly hour to make it for the early morning elephant safari. It has 6 double rooms and charges Rs 180 per head per day for dinner, breakfast and bed tea. Lunch is optional (Rs 75 per head). Elephant safaris are guaranteed for those staying here. Jeep safaris can also be arranged through the wildlife office at Madarihat. Rooms can also be booked with the DFO, Nilkuthi, Cooch Behar (for contact details,
The king cobra, which can grow up to 20 ft. is the only snake that preys on other snakes. And predators of the king cobra are rare, save a few birds that prey on the young snakes. Under Indian law, catching, killing, selling or keeping a snake is a criminal offence
The other option is the jaldapara Tourist Lodge (Tel: 262230; Tariff: Rs 1,000) at Madarihat. About 2 krn from the sanctuary gates, it has nice rooms. Some have wooden floors while others are cemented - avoid the wooden-floored ones in damp weather as pests may bother you. It has 22 double rooms, 6 cottages (Rs 650 per day) and three dorms (Rs 300 per bed). These prices includes all meals. The Mallingi Tourist Lodge (Kolkata Tel: 033-22370060; Tariff: Rs 400-1,200), at Bardabari, near Hashimara Chowpatthy. It has 9 rooms and 2 dorms. Bookings can be made with the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation in Kolkata.
WHERE TO EAT
The culinary experience at Ialdapara is limited. The tourist lodges offer standard fare, which is simple veg and non-veg Bengali and North Indian food. Meals are more or less mandatory in the lodges. Jaldapara Tourist Lodge has a bar.
AROUND JAlDAPARA WLS
Gorumara National Park (62 km) Closer to Siliguri (75 km away on NH31C), Gorumara makes a convenient stopover on the way to Jaldapara. Or you can halt here on the way back. Stay for at least a couple of days to enjoy the varied flora and fauna of this park situated on the bank of Murti River. The one- horned rhino can be found here too. Declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1949 and upgraded to National Park in 1992, Gorumara is actually well worth a separate trip. It offers excellent birding opportunities. You can stay at the Gorumara Jungle Camp (Mobile: 09434026840), which is run by Help
Tourism, or at the riverside Bonani Tourist Centre (Kolkata Tel: 033- 22370060; Tariff: Rs 800-1,200), which is located on the highway near Chalsa. Sometimes referred to as the Murti Tourist Centre, it is run by WBFDC.
Air Nearest airport: Bagdogra (135 kml 3 hrs). Take a taxi to Jaldapara via Siliguri and Madarihat. Vehicle options range from Maruti vans to 25-seater coaches; fares Rs 1,400-3,500
Rail Nearest railhead: New Jalpaiguri (NJP) (148 kml 3 hrs). Take a cab via Siliguri as above
Road There are two approach roads from Siliguril NJPI Bagdogra - NH31 and NH31 C via Coronation Bridge and Gorumara NP, and the state highway through Dhupguri, with both roads meeting at Telipara More (Ethelbari). You can avail of buses, taxis or share jeeps depending on your budget
Totopara (30 km)
A village on the banks of the Torsa River bordering Bhutan, Totopara is the only habitation of the Totos, an aboriginal tribe. Their numbers have dwindled over the years and there are fewer than a thousand of them left. Help Tourism can arrange an anthropological excursion.
Chilapata (25 km)
Chilapata forest falls on the way to Cooch Behar from [aldapara. This is another dense forest with elephants and leopards. But, be warned, by far the most dangerous inhabitants of the forest are armed robbers! In fact, less than three vehicles are not allowed into the forest at any given time for security rea- sons. The prime reason for hazarding such a trip would be to visit the fifth century Nal or Mendabari Fort, located near the Bania River.
Built during the reign of the Nal dynasty, the fort is said to date back to the Gupta period and is mentioned in Marco Polo's travelogue. Now only some remnants of the fort are to be found. There is a stone temple close by, but to get there, you have to walk along a path infested with snakes and other wild animals.
Buxa Tiger Reserve (72 km)
Set up in 1982-83 and declared a National Park in 1992, Buxa is one of India's newest tiger reserves. The name is derived from the Buxa Fort - a fort on the Sin chula Range guarding the most important of the 11 routes into Bhutan. With an area of 759 sq krn, the park consists of mostly hilly terrain, which is crisscrossed by various rivers and streams.
The generic diversity of mammals here is the second highest among all the tiger reserves in India. Apart from the Bengal tiger, you can also find the elephant, leopard, various species of smaller cats, Malayan giant squirrel, gaur, several types of deer and many others.
The Buxa Reserve is reached via NH31 from Jaldapara. Gracilips Rest House, a private rest house at Raja- bhatkhawa, is a good stay option here. You can make a booking by contacting Help Tourism