Distance from Kolkata: 835 km
Driving time: 20 hours
Road Trip: 5-6 days
Dooars lifted its misty veil to reveal its mind blowing virgin beauty to Team WHEELS during its third round of drive tour to North Bengal. After covering the marvelous Jaldapara, Cooch Behar and Rasik Bil, the team reached Jayanti – a serene forest retreat and was overwhelmed by its green splendour
With just three days left in the last leg of our drive tour of North Bengal, we shifted to Alipurduar town (the latest district of West Bengal) – 24 km from Cooch Behar town. We chose this as our base town due to its close proximity to Jayanti and Buxa Tiger Reserve forests.
After a quick breakfast on reaching Elite Hotel in Alipurduar where our team had put up, we left for the forest. Jayanti and Buxa are twin forests, adjacent to each other. A common road stretching for about 27 km from Alipurduar town, links both these forests. At its last leg beyond Rajabhatkhawa, the road bifurcates for Jayanti and Buxa. After travelling for about 5 km on the right, it leads to Jayanti. Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) is equidistant and proceed straight from the bifurcation.
It is actually Rajabhatkhawa – 17 km from Alipurduar from where the forest cover of Jayanti and Buxa begins. The name Rajabhatkhawa originates from the story of Maharaja Dhirjendra Narayan of Cooch Behar who ate his first lunch here after being released from captivity by the King of Bhutan. It has a small settlement with a Nature Interpretation Centre and a forest bungalow.
The wilderness began once we crossed the forest check post at Rajabhatkhawa. Thick undergrowth and tall trees greeted us on both sides of the road. We rolled down the window glasses to get a feel of the green exuberance which left us captivated. Only the sound of the ricocheting gravels under our wheels interrupted the all-pervasive silence. The incessant call of the cricket grew wilder as we rolled inside the forest.
It was green all around. The numerous colourful butterflies only added to the beauty of the verdant nature as we penetrated deeper inside Jayanti forest. Finally, we passed by a base camp of the Border Security Force and reached the Jayanti Forest office compound.
The enclosed compound has the Forest Department’s office, a few staff quarters, six brand new forest bungalows for tourists, a sitting enclosure called Hawa Ghar and a modest eatery Aranyak for the visitors run by a self help group. A souvenir shop, right outside the compound – sells souvenirs, books and photographs on Dooars.
Adjacent to the office compound are a few small houses of the locals, many of whom offer home-stays to tourists.
The Forest Range Officer, Jayanti Range, BTR (East), Mr Narayan Ghosh informed us that 40 cameras have been installed by the department inside the forest. Cameras have recorded the presence of several elephants, leopards, bisons, deer, wild dogs, clouded leopards, pangolins, civet cats, leopard cats, rabbits and birds. We were shown plaster casts of foot prints of a leopard and an elephant at the range office.
The Jayanti River located close to the office compound – about a kilometer away, flows seasonally and is the major attraction. In July it starts swelling into a turbulent mass of water and gradually dries up by January end. From February onwards, boulder lifting from the river bed begins in full swing. Naturally, during our visit in April, the river was completely dry and our vehicle could easily cross to the other side.
The British who began felling of timber and extraction of dolomite and lime from North Bengal to generate revenue had left remnants of a 100-year old bridge over the Jayanti River. It still bears testimony to the old railway track used for carrying the plunders by the English merchants with the help of the native labourers. Surviving against the vagaries of time and nature, the bridge stands even today as evidence of the engineering skill and determination of the British even in this remotest corner of Bengal.
Once we crossed the dry river bed, our car dashed through the dense forest; suddenly the hills appeared before us. Rows of undulated green hills rise through the white clouds and stretches beyond the Indian territory deep inside Bhutan.
A massive forest watch tower appears across the river and the deserted Bhutia Basti is perched at the edge of the forest from where the hills abruptly rise. It is one of the main attractions of Jayanti. We patiently sat here for a long time watching the thick forest around us. Animals frequent the small pool beside the watch tower-our forest guide informed us. Various quirky sounds and surprisingly beautiful butterflies were our only companions at the tower, while we could see the hills at a distance.
The other attractions of Jayanti include the two Mahakal caves. The Choto Mahakal is located at a distance of 5 km inside Bhutan and the Baro Mahakal is 7 km away. Both are pilgrimage spots and have to be trekked with the help of a forest guide – the last stretches are quite steep though. It was due to lack of time, we couldn’t trek either of these. In the Baro Mahakal one can see stalactite and stalagmite formations of natural lime.
Apart from these, there is also the Pukhri Hill – a small pond with clear water at about 1100 feet height. Fish and turtles are visible because of the clear water. One must stay for at least two days to explore these spots.
Unlike other forests of Dooars, facilities for safaris on elephants or in jeeps have been withdrawn because of the National Tiger Conservation Act. Jayanti constitutes the core area of BTR. The Range Officer however informed that the safaris are likely to be introduced soon.
Mr Ghosh also warned us against hiring local, unlicensed guides or agents who tempt the tourists with promises of night safaris and often rob them. Home stays were also not advisable as they are not under any regulatory authority.
The day was drawing to a close and we had to return to our base as the Buxa visit was scheduled on the following day.
Options of quality accommodation are limited at Alipurduar. Team WHEELS had put up at the Elite Hotel in Alipurduar and found it to be reasonably good. A wide array of dishes are also available from their in-house restaurant and has an impressive service.
Later, at the end of our tour in North Bengal, we concluded, although Buxa Tiger Reserve is more popular, it is Jayanti which is more enchanting and tourist friendly, having a wide range of spots to discover.
Best time: October to February
Range Office: Jayanti Range, BTR (East)
Telephone: 03564- 203186
Forest Guide: Provided by Forest Dept @ Rs 200-300
Mobile network: Not available in Jayanti
Drinking water: Carry your own drinking water since the water locally available may not suit your stomach