Wish you were HERE…

Bappaditya Paul incites you to undertake a trip that may not add years to your life but will certainly add life to your years.

TIGHTEN your seat belts and get ready to experience a thrill you’ve probably never had.

Our Bolero had hardly been shifted into gear when we were doing 70 kmph and accelerating with every minute. Our destination: a remote village along the Indo-Bhutan border in Darjeeling district.

Speeding across the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary

Some 125 km from Siliguri, North Bengal’s gateway, the spot we were heading for is still virgin territory to tourists at large.
Within 15 minutes of our ‘wild’ ride, we were amid a lush green territory. The car moved swiftly along National Highway 31A, that snakes its way across the dense Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary.

As we passed the sanctuary, we were too fascinated to think of anything else but the woods around. None uttered a word, each too busy listening to the whispers of the jungles! 

 

The first interaction with wild animal (if one were not lucky enough to have a glimpse of wild tuskers while crossing the Mahananda Sanctuary) happened at Sevoke, on the “Coronation Bridge”.

The bridge is also known as “Tiger Bridge”. Here Ramji’s sena are seen in plenty. But finding the setting of the bridge too pretty to miss a snapshot of, we didn’t dare open the lens-cover: as even before the guards reminded us of the prohibition, the wild monkeys were ready to snatch our cameras. 
Just after crossing the Coronation Bridge, we experienced the real twists and turns of plying on a hilly road. Within an hour of the journey, we were already at some thousands of feet high. The twists and turns on the hilly road was a bit tiring and it made us hungry too! Odlabari was where we took a break.

The lone dhaba here is famous for non-veg items and the chicken curry is particularly mind-blowing. But vegetarians need not be upset: there are fine veg dishes too. 

A half-hour break later, we got ready to move out. We left dense forests, tea gardens on either side of the road and soon came across some villages.

Here one finds long electric-wire fencing surrounding the houses! This low-voltage electric fencing is meant to protect the villagers from wild tusker raids. Towards this end, the houses in these villages are also of the ‘tong ghar’ type, which is very common in the Northeast.
On our way to the virgin spot, we came across a number of ‘tree-houses’ ~ some built by the West Bengal Forest Department, others by the locals. It would have been wonderful to peep into one of these and take some snaps but then the ‘tree-houses’ also presented the likelihood of wild animal attacks were we to stop. And so we continued on our way.

We crossed Damdim, Mal Bazar and Chalsa. After Chalsa we entered the dense forest of the Chapramari sanctuary. This forest is famous for its wildlife, including tuskers, monkeys and tiger. The narrow road across Chapramari led us to Jaldhaka and that much closer to our dream spot. Thereafter the road was, in a word, horrible. And here was adventure, in its true sense! 

Adventure along the rough trail

We continued to drive uphill. As we reached Suruk, a small village populated by Gorkhas, it was our last chance to use cell phones. Situated at 4,500 feet above the sea level, Suruk is the last place in the entire locality where the mobile signal is available. And those subscribing to a BSNL connection can at last feel proud, as no other mobile phone work there. 
At Suruk, on top of the mountain, we were amazed to find tribal children playing football.

Within half an hour drive from Suruk, we finally reached at Toduy village – our Shangri-la. Even before we could look around, we were overwhelmed with a traditional welcome by pretty Gorkha girls. The bouquets we received comprised some rare orchids grown in that vicinity.

We spent the first night in fully acquitted rest rooms and the evening passed by sipping the fabulous coffee supplied.

And here a word about our host would not be out of synch: a limited company formed by the villagers geared towards the all-round development of Toduy as also to promote tourism in the region. Despite being a limited company, its approach to the “Integrated Development on Dairy Industry Tourism and Agriculture” is more like that of a NGO. 
After supper and before we retired for the day, we were entrained with traditional Gorkha music.

The next morning, we saw local life. The Catholic St Nicolas Church was a beauty in itself. It also served as the village community hall. Our guide took us to the nursery of rare flowers on a nearby hill and we were introduced to the agricultural process.

Cardamom, broccoli and other vegetables are cultivated here. 

As the day bid adieu, it was time to move to the base camp, situated at a 20-minute distance. Climbing rocks of different sizes and crossing the wild Tangta Khola river we were finally at where we needed to be ~ where fool-proof tents had been raised in the surrounds of Bhutan’s Limthang hills in the east, the Dawai Khola river in the west, Tangta village in the north and Toduy in the south.

Heaven under an eternal sky

As evening descended, our hosts lit a bonfire and prepared coffee and light snacks. Soon we were joined by a team of local Gorkha singers, most of whom were women. Apart from Nepali songs, we listened to Hindi and English songs. 
The dance performances by little Gorkha girls thrilled us. We too were always welcome to join in. And all too soon it was time for dinner. To add to the comfort, there was a dining table just beside the bonfire. Then came more music and a well-acquitted tent to slip in.

No need to worry about security because of the adequately equipped guards. But if there’s a doubt about being able to fall asleep, rest assured that the music of the running water of the Dawai Khola river promotes slumber! 

Life springs all along

Next morning after breakfast, before leaving the base camp, you must make it a point to swim in a natural ‘swimming pool’. You will definitely cherish the experience!

And as you pack up to get back to where you came from, you’ll realise the trip was probably the best experience ever!
Interested! Contact Sourav at +919434152102 or Rishi at +919832327850.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India/ The article first appeared in The Statesman on 31 October 2005)

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