Posted by: charanik | June 25, 2008

Kolakham — on a Honeymoon Jaunt

Kolakham — on a Honeymoon Jaunt

 

We were traveling on a narrow stone paved road that plunges 1100 feet from Lava through a dense jungle – Neora Valley National Park. The jungle just allowed us to pass through without any turning point; this is a one way track. I was told no ordinary car can tackle this road and was advised to take a four wheel drive jeep. I did; even then our Scorpio is slipping, and the driver trying hard to keep it on the dirt track. We are plunging headlong towards a village called Kolakham (6100ft) of which I know nothing except that Help Tourism has set up a resort there – Neora Valley Jungle Camp.


Our journey from Darjeeling via Teestabazar, Kalimpong up to Lava (7200 ft), the popular tourist destination, was smooth as silk and then came the thrill and the rude realization of plunging towards the unknown.


Only 8 kms away from Lava Kolakham is a village of 60 Nepali families belonging to the ‘Rai’ community. They are vegan and far removed from brouhaha of bustling tourist towns of Lava and Lolegaon. In Kolakham, lovely children play in the courtyard amidst marigold, dahlia, chrysanthemum and zinnia. The village does not even “boast” of electricity. Here the old lantern lights their rooms at night and the idyllic life go on with little activity excepting some farming and cattle breeding mainly for their own consumption. The main cash crop is cardamom.


At the foot of the Neora Valley National Park, the village is spread in the different level of the green mountain and on the top level stands Neora Valley Jungle Camp with a breathtaking view of the whole valley lying at your feet where river chel flows down and scattered hamlets with shining tin roof stand like dolls’ houses. As far as the eyes can see, the green valley and the rolling green hills simply goes on and on towards the north and then took a westerly turn to end at the foot of mighty Kangchenjunga. The snow peaks of Kabru, Kabrudome, Kangchenjunga and Pandim stand out against the turquoise blue sky. Amidst this grand show of nature stand the chateau styled cottage, our abode. Well appointed bed rooms with attached clean modern bathrooms and a drawing room surrounded by big glass windows, adorn with cane sofas brings in the view into your room.

Though construction of the cottages was stared in 1991 but it took two years and two lacs rupees to construct the connecting road alone (a 200 meter stone paved road though jungle). There were lots of logistic problems to overcome. Ultimately the resort started function from 2006 and we were the sixth guest.


There are two types of rooms the resort – attic cottage and honeymoon cottage. A family of four can stay in the attic cottage – two in the main bedroom and two in the attic with a grand view of the skyline from the bed. The honeymoon cottage is constructed bang on the edge of the hill; a sheer plunge of 1000 ft will take you and your fiancé on the valley bed and the only obstruction to the 180o panoramic landscape from your bed is the resplendent Kangchenjunga range. The cottages made of wood, bamboo and cane with attached modern bathrooms are well appointed and has all they tapestry of a four star hotel. The cutlery is not of stainless steel or of bone china but of pur shining brass. Piping hot food served on brass plate with matching brass cutlery certainly bring back the memory of those old days.


If you’re not that laze boy type and want some thrill you can go on short jungle trail where chances of seeing wild life are very high. You also can go for a short trek of 5 kilometer to see the beautiful Chhenge falls or may also hire a vehicle. One days outing to Lava and Lolegaon will keep you in touch with the reality that is called madness and at the end of the day come to your abode of peace, your dream destination.

As the sun sets on the Neora Valley, darkness knocks on the glass window of your drawing room, the night sky lights up with thousands twinkle stars, lights in the valley hamlets blink as if thousands diamond have wrapped up the whole mountain. Fragrant zephyr wafted towards you and you can hear the gurgling flow of the Chel.

You became aware of the incessant calling of a ‘night-bird’ who was calling her mate for the last half an hour.

 

Getting there:         Lava is well connected by Bus/Jeep from NJP, Siliguri, Bagdogra and Kalimpong. Take a Jeep from Lava for Kolakham (8 kms/Rs500/).  You can take full Jeep from NJP or Bagdogra; Rs 2500/

Stay:                       In Neora Valley Jungle camp of Help Tourism.

Four bedded attic cottage: Rs 6600/family/day (AP)

Honeymoon Cottage: Rs 4400/couple/day (AP). Please check latest rate.

For more info and booking:

Help Tourism,

143, Hillcart Road Silguri

Ph: 0353-2535893/2433683

Fax: 0353-: 2532313

E-mail: helptourism@satyam.net.in.

Kolkata office: 67-A, Kali temple Road, Sadanandakuthi, Kalighat,

Kolkata: 700 026. Ph: 2454 9719. Fax: 2485 4584.

E-mail: kalighat@vsnl.net.

 

 

 

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Posted by: charanik | June 25, 2008

Kunti — The Baby Elephant

South Raydak

 

 

We started from Raymatang forest rest house, a place on the Jalpaiguri-Bhutan border, around ten in the morning for South Raydak forest rest house. We were told to take a left turn from Shamukhtala, which is on National Highway 31 for the rest house; it would take around 2 hours. But till one PM, we could not find Shamukhtala. By that time we have crossed two rivers, Jayanti, Sankosh and were about to cross river Raydak. We did ask for direction and were told to move ahead. We crossed Raydak and came  up to a forest check post.  As forest guards are the best person to give direction for forest lodge, I approached them and was told that we have missed Shamukhtala by at least 30 kilometers. So we turned back and this time I could locate a small signboard on the side of the highway declaring the place as Shamukhtala Police outpost.


Soon we reached the Samukhtala chaupathi (crossing of four roads) and took a left turn towards Hatipota as was directed. We were supposed to take a right turn from a place called Dangi Bazar and then go straight to reach south Raydak. But some day nothing turns right; we missed Dangi Bazar and shot ahead to land in the north Rayadak forest range office.  This time I got a firm direction and a land mark– a Kali temple. This time there were no miss and soon we were on a Kuchcha road, which would lead us straight to south Rayadak forest rest house. We came up to a small rivulet about one & half kilometers away from the rest house. The wooden bridge over the rivulet was damaged and could not carry our Qualis! A teacher of a nearby primary school cheerfully told me, the bridge has been damaged this morning only after a loaded truck has passed over it. With luggage and family in tow we could not walk. So our Qualis lunged to cross the rivulet and naturally (!) got stuck in the mud. I and my son had to push the vehicle from behind and got mud all over our cloths. With mud all over us; the wife as fresh as ever (she sat demurely in the car); we alighted on the porch of the rest house.


But there were nobody and after a lot of shouting Taem Ali, the caretaker, came half sleeping, from his quarter to inform us, we have no reservation. Not very impressed with my official status, he however, reluctantly allowed us to enter but nonchalant told us there was no food in the house. He could make some tea at the best. By this time it was already three PM and we were simply famished. But Taem was the epitome of indifferent. So we had our lunch with two biscuits each, some Chanachur and a hot cup of tea. However, Taem promised to cook us dinner but only on condition that we let him use our vehicle to bring provision from Dangi Bazar which is three Kilometers away and he would not walk six kilometers for us. We had simply no option but to look around for some visual relief.

All around us the sky is canopied with thick foliage and birds are flying from one tree to other, calling their mates. A monkey family, sitting on one of the trees, observed us — the intruders. Their two little ones were having the fun of their life while their mother was keeping a watchful eye.


South Raydak range of Buxa Tiger Reserve is one of the oldest forest ranges of India. It was established around 1900 and the rest house was constructed in 1909. So this house, on whose balcony I was standing is on the verge of a centenary. In fact, this rest house is one of the oldest forest rest houses of India; still spick and cleans like the shining armour of a gallant knight which has seen many battles but still reflects the glorious past. This range is one of the most important elephant corridors of Buxa reserve. In its’ areas of 5660.45 hectors elephants, Leopard, Hyena, Himalayan Black Bear, Fishing cat, Jackal, Wild Dog, Boar, Wild Pig, Pangolin, Porcupines and different species of Deer reside. It is a heaven for avi-fauna. Among the hundreds of resident and migratory birds are Great Indian pied Hornbill, jungle Mayna, Red jungle Fowl, Woodpecker, Nightjar, Moonal Pheasant, Grey Heron, various kinds of Teals, Ducks, Peacocks and Egrets.  Indian Rock Python, Banded Crate, King Cobra, Russel Viper and other snakes exhibit the serpent variety. The last wild buffalo of West Bengal died in this range in 1968.There is a well kept herbal garden within the Bungalow complex.


I was shocked to see a baby elephant standing in chains. Her legs were stretched to the maximum and I was told she was standing on that painful posture for the last ten days; she is being trained.  Elephants’ memory is legendary and she will remember her punishment for the rest of her life. She will never disobey a command of her Mahut (Keeper).


As the dusk turned into night, we went inside the room on our soft bed to sleep but Kunti, (that was the name of the baby elephant) stood there alone, stretching her lags, tied to the iron pole but still moving in a strange rhythmic motion as if to defy her imprisonment with as much movement as she could generate in her confinement.

 

Access: Kanchankanya/ Uttarbang Exp are the best options. Get down at Alipurduar. Take reservation from the Dy. Field Directors’ office and either take a bus for Hatipota or better still, take a car from Alipurduar. From Bus get down at Dangi Bazar and trek 3 kms. Car will take you to the FRH.

 

Stay: The FRH has two bed rooms with attached bath in the first floor with a wide balcony. The ground floor has a well appointed drawing room and a dining room, all in the old British style.  There is no electricity only solar Electricity.

 

For reservation of FRH contact: Dy. Field Director, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Alipurduar Court. Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri. Pin: 736122. Ph: 0356455129

 

Kunti 

 

 

 

Posted by: charanik | June 20, 2008

The Journey Begins.

The Journey Begins

 

Miles to go before I sleep

Miles to go before I sleep

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing needs to be impossible for you. After all man is six feet taller than the mountain he climbs. Only the will resolute has to be there”.


With these lines in1939, J B Auden, the famous geologist and explorer had inspired Swami Probodhananda who was planning to cross Kalindi Khal (a high mountain pass of 19510 feet, between GaSoaring to touch the skygongotri and Badrinath) with fellow Sadhus (Ascetics). Seeing that he was still not convinced Auden added, “You need not get frightened; there is no danger to life. And if it is so, that should be a further lure for a man like you.”


After 6 years of that famous meet, Probodhananda did eventually cross Kalindi pass in 1945 to reach Badrinath from Gangotri, along with five half naked and one fully naked Sadhu. It took him six years to find those fellow adventurers who were mad enough (!) to take that huge risk.


Yes, modern pragmatic society does consider these men and women who risk their live to climb some godforsaken mountain peaks or high passes as simply fool. But still they go, attracted by the lure of the mountain, particularly of the Himalaya; like moths attracted to the flame. I consider this an enigma! To avoid the answer one can imitate the famous mountaineer who was asked for his reason to climb the Everest and simply said, “Because it is there”.


But those lines of Auden have always haunted me and that famous meet between Probodhananda and Auden became a guiding factor in my life from when I was attracted to the mountain, particularly to the Himalayas.


Like millions of Bengali, my first encounter with the Himalaya was in Darjeeling more than thirty years back. But that was just a very brief frolic – a group of college students having the first gambol of their life; though we did visit Himalayan mountaineering Institute but more as a tourist attraction and not as a serious student of mountain.


I was christened with the Himalaya by my maternal father-in-law who with his five feet tall and thirty five kilogram frame was an avid and surprisingly, tough trekker. He has since retired but the Himalaya got a new addict in me. Every year I go to the Himalaya like a pilgrim to have my yearly Darshan.


I have never tried to be a mountaineer; for me trekking with the rucksack on my back and the cool mountain breeze in my face was enough. In fact, when I started to trek, I was past my prime and taking to mountaineering would have been foolish; I was smart (!) enough to realize that. But though I have never stood on the top of a mountain, only on top of a few high mountain passes, Audens’ comment always would bug me; is man really six feet taller than the mountain he climbs!


Figuratively yes; particularly when one is standing on the top of a mountain peak. Till then despite the back breaking labour and the lung bursting breathing, a mad rush of adrenalin, a sense of achievement drives us. We had a job to do and damn well would complete it. But as soon as one reaches the summit, be it a peak or a pass, one kneels down and offers a prayer, to whom I am not very sure; but an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and humility engulfs us completely. For a few moments one feels at peace with his surroundings – that charming and brute nature. A great sense of achievement and calm overwhelms us. Probably to this sense of achievement and peace we – even the hardcore atheist among us, offer that prayer. So, are we really six feet taller than the mountain we climb? It’s a difficult one to answer.


My first trekking, like hundreds of Bengali, was on the trail to Sandakphu (the highest point of the terrai Himalaya within Darjeeling district of West Bengal). One fine morning we – I, my newly wedded wife and one of my close friends landed in the Darjeeling taxi stand. We were booked in the youth hostel of Darjeeling which happens to be perched on the highest point of Darjeeling town, a place called Jalapahar. It was a straight climb of 500 meters from the taxi stand. Half dead, we some how managed to drag ourselves there with our rucksack and other luggage (newly wed wives were not supposed to carry luggage and the poor husband had to bear the extra burden! Figuratively & literally!), only to be sternly told that we have no reservation. We showed her (the wife of the warden, the warden was out on a job) our reservation chit but she was unmoved; they did not have the copy from their head office. Period. Seeing my wife shivering from the exhaustion and the cold and when told that we have a newly married woman among us, she mellowed a bit and offered us a room, which has no flooring – the floor was covered only with brick and with windows that can not be shut properly. Clouds had free access to this room and the bed was wet and cold.


In the morning I went to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute to hire a guide  for our expedition (!), the highest point of which was only 12000 feet. The institute supplies the toughest and the most accomplished Sherpa guides to the numerous mountain expeditions including Everest and I thought it was prudent (!) to approach the best. After all I have a newly married wife to protect.

Mr Rai, the Administrative Officer of the institute, with great patient informed me that they would have been happy to give me a guide but they really could not spare a Sherpa since all the instructors (yes, the Sherpas of this institute are all instructors) have left with trainees for high altitude training in Sikkim and were not likely to return within the next seven days. On hind-sight, Mr. Rai must have been a very patient and gentle man and that’s why he simply ignored my atrocious audacity.


But I do not frustrate that easily (would be trekkers are not supposed to), especially when one has a new wife to prove ones’ worth. So on my way back, I hired a local lad who after his school final examination was free but has never ventured outside the hill-town.

Well, at least he was a Nepali and could speak the language. Thus, having achieved my target of finding a guide, I came back, victorious, to my wife who was suitably impressed by the achievement of his newly wed husband.


Next morning, Bikash Pradhan our newly appointed guide, came to the taxi stand to meet us with a small kit bag. On seeing our incredulous looks, he assured us with a confident smile, he will get his gears et al in Manebhanjan, the starting point of our trek, where his uncle lived and who was a famous Sandakphu guide.


On reaching Manebhanjan, we went for a cup of tea and Bikash went to his uncles’ house with confident gait only to return with drooping steps to inform us that his uncle was dead drunk but even in his drunken stupor he recognized the nephew and refused to part with his gear. My friend lent Bikash his most favourite half sweater, knitted by his mother and we embarked on to our trek. To cut a long story short, we did reach Sandakphu with two night halts in beautiful meadows simply because there was a well marked trail to Sandakphu and it’s really very hard to loose ones’ way.


On our return, we took another route, to reach a place called Rimbik, the road head, from where we were to take a bus to civilization. On way to Rimbik, we were to cross a dense forest infested with Himalayan Black bears wild dogs and leopards. But on the eve of departure, we could not find our guide. It appeared that, very sagaciously, he started early with another team which had a real guide. We tried to follow their trail and eventually lost our way in that damn forest. When we were struggling to find our way out from that godforsaken forest, our guide was safe and sound in a lodge in Rimbik, waiting for us (anxiously, I was later told!) to reach and pay his food bill.


Hours of desperate trek led us nowhere; totally exhausted and nearly dead, we eventually found our way with the help of two Nepali women. They, damn fortunately, came in the forest to gather fuel-woods. These women took us to their small village high-up on the mountain. The village had only three thatched huts and one of their husbands eventually guided us safely to Rimbik.

As we entered the hotel, unable to walk a step further, almost dead and muddied beyond recognition, Bikash came out to greet us on the doorway; he had his bath and wearing a fresh scented dress – the scent unmistakably my wifes favaourite sandal scent that came from her small knapsack which Bikash was carrying. With a straight face, he said, he was worried (!) sick for us as he has reached the hotel at least four hours back.


That was my introduction to the Himalayan trekking. Later, after years of easy and hard trekking, some of which nearly killed me I could look back and still feel the tremendous drag of the trail; the sense of déjà vu when I would hit the trail with the rucksack on my back and the narrow stone-path under my feet; the cold mountain breeze greeting me like a long lost brother.


On my numerous journeys in the deep Himalaya I have realized, the trails have no character without the walker on it. A trail is just a trail with no story to tell until human trudges on it. Similarly, the Himalaya is inseparable with its legends, its magnificent children who live in its lap on those high valleys and led a simple yet charmed life. Without them and without its legends, the mystical shining peaks of the Himalaya and its numerous trails with their turns and bends are just a heap of stone and ice – a cold and deadly place.


It is really amazing how from a deep sea (Tethys) the Himalaya raised its’ head due to a massive collision between two tectonic plates (India & Asia) some fifty million years ago. Many years later it, probably, sheltered the Homo erectus who had witnessed further uplift of the Himalaya and survived the ice age. The experts claim that, “The Himalayan region has been home to humans since time immemorial.”1


Whenever I am on the trail of the Himalaya, the trail becomes my home. Radha (fiancée of Lord Krishna), when deep in love with his lover, lamented that “the way to my home has become never ending” (Ghare jaite path more hailo aphuran, as immortalized by poet Jnyanadas of Baishnav Padabali – a collection of Bengali poems based on the love between Krishna & Radha). Actually, she did not want to reach home because then her journey would end. On the Himalayan trail I too find oneness with Radha.  My journey seems never to end.


In my quest, I am not very sure for what, I have covered most of the Uttarkhand—the Garhwal and the Kumaon. I went to inaccessible places far away from the hustle bustle of the Uttarkhand towns; days walk from the nearest road-head and found the largest natural “OM” of the world, the largest natural “Shiva lingam” of the world, the most sacred natural lake of India, where it is said that the Holy Trinity (Bramha, Bishnu & Maheswar).


are in perpetual meditation and along the way also found charming children, sagacious old men and women, unusual human beings and some mystics – wandering monks. I will be talking more about them than on my route itself, because as I said, without them the Himalaya is just a heap of Ice & stone

 

  1. The Making of the Himalaya and Humans: Rasoul Sorkhabi: Himalayan Journal Vol: 59.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: charanik | June 20, 2008

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog where I  publish my travelogues.

Hemkunda_4scan0041

I am simple guy who loves travelling and trekking and loves to put his experience in black & white. I am also a travel writer and have 07 published books in my mother tongue (Bengali).

And now to show the world the pleasure of travelling.

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