Our Maruti van took a sharp left turn from Khunia crossing and carried on the metal road that lay straight as an arrow. Almost immediately Chapramaris’ dense jungle of engulfed us. Trees lunged to stop the speeding vehicle. We were intruders here. About 2 kms ahead, a mud track branched off and vanished into the deep forest to end at the Chapramari forest rest house. I took a silent vow; I am going to spend at least a night in that rest house. And I did just that. But that’s another story.
Meanwhile, our car roars past jungle tracts that could sprang surprise, any time, in the form of a loitering bull elephant or a gaur. Sitting on the edge of our sit we tensely look for a glimpse of wild life.
Our car started to climb towards Gouribas – a small hamlet and passed few clusters of 3/4 houses — perched on teak logs, 8/10 feet above the ground, to ward off wild animals — flower pots hanging from their porches.
Atop of a hill from Gouribas we had our first birds’ view of Jhalong – the destination. A huge log lay ahead blocking the road. It is the forest check post. We were allowed to proceed only after entering the number of our car.
The two stories bungalow of West Bengal Forest Development Corporation, perched on concrete pillars, is ideally located on the bank of Jhalong jhora – a streamlet that dances down a slope gurgling through huge boulders. Its crystal clear sea green water makes a pool in front of the bungalow and then flows down to meet the Jaldhaka river some 1 km ahead. A cluster of tall dark Sal & Segun trees, behind the bungalow on a mountain slope, provided the perfect backdrop. The drawing room almost dangles on the river. Sitting on the cozy lawn on a quiet evening, with flowers bed all around and scented breeze wafting across your face, you can hear the song of the Jhalong jhora till darkness descends and lights in the houses on the distant mountains were switched on one by one.
The Jaldhaka lodge of FDC has two double-bedded rooms in the first floor – Jhalong and Paren. There are no rooms in the ground floor only the kitchen – the fiefdom of Chandramani Chhetri – an excellent cook. The left over space is used for car parking.
Due to Jaldhaka hydroelectric generation plant Jhalong is a small but busy town – full of houses and shops. It even boasts of a police station. But blissfully, the forest lodge is on quiet corner of the town. The forest around is mainly made off Sal & Segun trees where one can find Gaur and elephant. Peacocks and birds are the permanent resident of this forest tract.
A few yards ahead of the bungalow, the road bifurcates — one leads to the Jaldhaka river and the other, over a bridge on the Jhalong jhora, to Bindu – the last village on this side of the border with Bhutan.
A cacophony of birds call woke me up in the morning. I came out of the room and stood on the balcony to have a look at Jhalong jhora on whose bank I spent the previous evening – mesmerized. As I look, I was delighted to see a group of children led by two teen girls are having a bath in the sea green pool amidst a back drop of grey and brown boulders. They are oblivious of me standing and staring. They were simply having a whale of a time – diving and squealing in delight. Just then the sun came out over the mountains and the pool was washed with the soft morning light. I was momentarily speechless. And then ran for my camera and started to shoot away like crazy.