A different destination– Chuikhim.
I started from New Jalpaigury railway station and took a sharp left turn from national highway no. 31 at Bagrakote and entered into Bagrakote tea garden. Soon I crossed the railway line that goes to Alipurduar from Siliguri. On both side of the asphalt road lay undulating fields of tea-plantation interspersed with shed trees. We drove past the dolls-house like wooden quarters of the staffs, a bustling bazaar and roadside tap-water points where women are busy filling up their buckets – quintessential scenes of a town.
The road goes straight to the bank of Lees River but I did not go that far and again took a right turn from Chunabhati and entered the chel forest.
From this point, the stone- paved track became rough. This is not a smooth motor able road. Only tough jeeps can weather its bumpy on it. The next 12 kms till Chuikhim (3500feet), our destination, passes through the forest. As we gradually gain height, we can see, on our right, the serpentine lees river bed lying far below. Here, the call of crickets is all pervasive here even drowning the strong purr of the ascending jeep engine. During September-October this cricket-call changed to sounds like the temple-bell. Then the whole jungle becomes a temple with numerous temple bells ringing together. On both side of the paved road we see lots of blossoming Tagar trees with milk-white flower; nature herself has offered the flowers to the goddess of nature.
Abruptly, the jeep stops below a hamlet. I have reached Chuikhim, a small quaint little mountain village of 250 families where SHARE (Support Himalayan Agro Rural Enterprise) led by Prasant Mullik, an unassuming youth in his thirties, has initiated a unique experiment in the form of community based tourism.
In Chuikhim tourists are being put up in the home of the villagers. The villagers, with the help of SHARE, are building latrines, meeting the minimum medical need through health care facilities and getting education. The most remarkable achievement is the successful stoppage on alcohol consumption. It is really a near impossible achievement in a mountain-village to not only successfully ban drinking but to sustain that ban. Lots need to be done still; the villagers have miles to go and many more dreams to fulfill but a beginning has been made.
I am a guest of Pabitra Bhuzal, an unmarried girl in her late twenties living with her brother.
The guest-house has two rooms, one big and one rather small with windows that look down on the valley below where the lees river flows. I just could mange a glimpse of the river bed from the window. The adjacent Indian and western style bathrooms are clean with plenty of water. This house can accommodate five-six guests. A similar house, about a half kilometer up on the southern slope can accommodate another four-five guests.
The house I stay-in is on the eastern end of the village on a hillock with a cluster of pine trees as the backdrop. Surrounded by the mountain, one can see the whole village lying below in different slopes of the green valley with terraced cultivation. The valley slopes down west to meet the lees river-bed.
Chuikhim is so quiet & calm that at first one is quite uncomfortable; then it started to sink-in and an overwhelming sense of peace & calmness take over ones whole body. You feel so restful. Here silence reigns and sweet fragrant gentle breeze blows. The silence that engulfs Chuikhim is broken only by bird-call.
In the afternoon, after a hearty meal of rice, dal, vegetables, chicken curry and a good nap, I sat on the lawn and listen to the birds. The sun sets behind the mountain lighting up the western sky in crimson red. Darkness crawled in. Silence became deafening. I sat there like a zombie, mesmerized, meditating.
Access: Nearest railway station/ airport are NJP and Bagdogra. There is no regular transport available from NJP/ Bagdogra/Bagrakote (40kms from NJP) to Chuikhim (14kms). Hire personal transport (Jeep). Fare from NJP: Rs1500/ one way.
Stay& Food: In home-stay cottages. Rs 500/head/day; book in advance as there are only few cottages available.
Best Season: October-November and February-April.
Activities: Visitors can trek around the village trail and in the forest. There are excellent opportunities for bird-watching. Lolegaon (23 kms) and Samtahar (25kms) are nearby tourist spots.
Septerber 27 is observed as the Tourism Day in Chuikhim with the final match of the yearlong inter village football tournament along with folk-dance competition and cultural show.
For reservation and enquiry: Contact Prasanta 9433003080/ Pranjal: 9830060598/ Avra: 9433017643. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ email@example.com