Distance from Kolkata: 821 km
Driving time: 20 hours
Road Trip: 5-6 days
After exploring Cooch Behar town for two days – ‘Team WHEELS’ drove to Rasik Bil in North Bengal. Rasik Bil is 42 km from Cooch Behar town- a 1 hour 30 minutes drive. Connected with good roads, the route from Cooch Behar town to Rasik Bil is quite simple. Leaving behind the town from Station Morh, enter NH-31. Continue on the national highway proceeding towards Tufanganj, passing through small villages on both sides of it. On reaching Haripur Morh turn left to enter into the road which leads to Kamakshaguri. Follow this for another 14 km, passing through rural surroundings. And then, all of a sudden, a huge bil (lake) mostly covered with hyacinth looms up on your right. Small wooden boats with lone boatmen balancing on the edges, complete the picturesque surroundings.
Within a short while, the lake disappears and a huge concrete gate pops up on the right with ‘Rasik Bil’ etched on it. We understood that our uneventful drive in search of the great Rasik Bil has come to an end. We drove through the gate and found a few stalls along with the ticket counter.
While we were planning our itinerary in Kolkata, we had a very limited idea about Rasik Bil. We thought it was just a huge lake, centering which the bird sanctuary has come up.
Instead, from the multiple directional sign boards on display at the very entrance, we gathered that it is a massive sanctuary with local and migratory birds, enclosures with leopards (a tiger rehabilitation centre as they call it), separate areas with peacocks, tortoise and snakes, a deer park, a suspension bridge, facilities of boating, a watch tower and a forest rest house.
We were amazed to find that in spite of the West Bengal Government’s Forest department taking over the place in 1996 and possessing a variety of tourist attractions with an impressive maintenance, due to the dearth of publicity and promotion, Rasik Bil has not been able to attract enough tourists so far.
On entering, we found the road bifurcating in two. The one on the right goes across the suspension bridge into the deer park, watch tower, lake, boating facilities and leopard enclosure and the left goes to the mini zoo set in the backdrop of the forest.
We first went towards the lake, crossing a silver-hued iron suspension bridge which enhances the attraction of the place. Originally, Rasik Bil was a hunting ground for members of the Cooch Behar royal family replete with plenty of wild animals and birds. At present, the water body is spread over 175 hectares and surrounded by vibrant green forest. It is basically a shallow swamp covered mostly with hyacinth. In size, it is massive-much bigger than Kulik bird sanctuary at Raiganj in Uttar Dinajpur- its nearest competitor.
The lake and adjacent forests are home to innumerable birds. The local and migratory birds found in Rasik Bil are Lesser Whistling and Common Teal, White eyed Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon duck, Grey headed Lapwing, Northern Lapwing, Pied Kingfisher, Stork Billed Kingfisher, Small Blue Kingfisher, Little and Large Cormorant, Gadwall and so on. However, we could not see any bird in the lake since it was mid April. We were told that the migratory birds arrive in late October and leave by mid February every year.
A few garden umbrellas along with wooden benches on the edge of the lake promote the natural ambience. While resting under the shades, the forest guards answered all our queries.
The concrete watch tower beside the lake is around 70 feet tall and can accommodate atleast 20 people at a time. We found this was the best place to enjoy Mother Nature’s creation. The lake along with the bordering forest stretches to an unending misty horizon. It had two islands, veiled with trees. A sense of peace and serenity prevailed overall. A small white house with a red sloping roof beside the lake was visible beyond the foggy façade. For a moment we felt that the spot could be anywhere in South East Asia. No wonder, the beauty of Rasik Bil had attracted the film-makers from Bollywood with Shah Rukh Khan and Sushmita Sen some time ago to shoot for Main Hoon Na.
Adjoining the watch tower is the enclosure for deer. There are about 60-70 deer, some with big horns and of different sizes. They come near you to eat grass slipped through the fence. A long photo session by our team continued in close proximity of the docile beings.
Next, we strolled towards the leopard enclosure. It was the best sight we could ever get of a leopard. The agile cats were resting peacefully on stands made out of logs in close proximity to the netted fence in a massive enclosure which has been left open on the top. The leopards were totally unmindful of the visitors – busy lazing off in the sun. The deep black patches on the bright yellow velvet coat were stunning. We could spot two of the leopards – a total surprise inside a bird sanctuary- compensating the lack of migratory birds.
You may head for a ride in a paddle boat in the canals at a reasonable rate of `20-30 per head for a duration of 30 minutes. And then the stall owners also whispered to us boat rides on the jheel outside would cost `300 per boat carrying four. But with the small oar-boats shown to us from a distance, we were not convinced that they were safe considering our body weights and thus didn’t negotiate anymore.
In order to visit Rasik Bil, staying at Cooch Behar town would be the most sensible decision. However, for the exceptionally keen tourists there are two options for accommodations at Rasik Bil. The first is WBFDC’s forest bungalow, set inside the park right next to the lake and the second is the Panchayat Zilla Parishad Guest House just outside the park.
The forest department’s rest house has two double bed non-AC rooms and a 16-bed dormitory- both in a shabby state and unsuitable for urban tourists. The Panchayat’s guest house is in slightly better condition. It has 11 double rooms ranging from non-AC to AC Deluxe and dormitory.
Food & Refreshments
When it comes to food and refreshments, we must state that Rasik Bil woefully lacks such amenities. However, as the sole option, the roadside stalls came in handy serving us omelettes and soft drinks. They even offered simple fish-meals to us and informed that they supply meals to the boarders at the local guest houses as well. If you are travelling with children, do carry snacks and drinking water without fail.
Our visit to Rasik Bil was a fascinating one tinged with sadness. It was really disappointing to see that despite the fantastic scenic beauty of the lake and its natural surroundings it has not really found a place in the tourist map of the state. No wonder Tagore said that we often miss what is near us, dazzled by the outer world. Team Wheels hopes that after our visit, Rasik Bil would feature in the itinerary of tourists, particularly our readers.
Entry fee: Rs 10 per head
Watch tower: Rs 5
Timing: 10 am – 6 pm
Days open: All
Car Park: Free parking in front of the ticket counter
Best Season: October to February
Timing: 9 am-12 pm/2 pm-4 pm
Trips: 30 minutes duration
6 seater – Rs 30 per head
4 seater – Rs 20 per head