Sunday, 30 June 2013

Imagine taking a break in this breathtaking place in Kalimpong



"Neora Valley and Neora Valley Jungle Camp"

Kalimpong Experience: As the sun went down over the mountains, electric lights of Lava and Rishyap were shining like twinkling stars on mountains far away. The Jungle Camp of Kolakham in the Neora Valley at the fringe of the National Park plunged into darkness without having electricity. We were happy that the beauty of the splendid, still unexplored and densely forested wore a virgin look in kerosene lamps and campfire light. We had sought out the place exactly for this reason to be away from crowd, noise, smog and pollution. We were in North Bengal, close to Darjeeling and Kalimpong, two hill stations of renown yet as if thousands of miles from both. Our Mahindra Scorpio ran along a road that is no road but stones and ditches. Jayanta is driving in these areas long enough to negotiate bends, small rivulets and highs and lows easily. There were dense forests of oaks and rhododendrons, bamboos and sal. There were shrubs with wild flowers and tall grass and wild orchids and lichens hanging from trees. Fern and moss added to the mystery of the yet to be explored jungle. We had parked the Scorpio near a hair-pin bend to take in the magnificent panoramic views when we could see some movements above us in jungle. Jayanta signaled us to be silent and whispered that a Himalayan black bear was around. We waited it to show itself but almost 20 but it did not show up. From a distance we could see the Neora Valley Jungle Camp where we would be staying for a week. The Neora Valley seemed to us a perfect place for meditation, introspection and recharging of our bodies� batteries. We took a sharp curve and were at the gate of the Jungle Camp. I woke up and it was still dark. The kerosene lamp was switched off before I slept. I drew the curtains. The sun was somewhere in the horizon yet a silhouette of the third highest mountain could be seen, orange and distant. I picked up my binocular and Mt. Kanchenjunga came into my focus. I went outside. It was cold and lonely. Down below oak forest looked ghostly. We ate mixed vegetable, dal, chicken with roti and rice. Guests from abroad are also served same food and they relish it. I asked Kaushik and Bhaskar who were looking after the Camp that if Rais were vegetarians how they cooked chicken. They explained that Rais were convinced that for the survival of the camp depended upon tourists coming to Neora Vally and if they were not given food of their choice they might not stay long at the Jungle Camp making it unviable.
Food, sight-seeing and shopping: Inhabitants of Nepal had come here and settled down and they are Rais, worshippers of Krishna. So they are vegetarians, very hard working and treats nature as their mother. The Help Tourism is committed to look after their jungles, educate them about their valley and provide some employment and create employment opportunities in travel and tourism industries. Making local friendly gives solid security in jungle for guests. We gathered that evening for a camp fire where Rai boys sang with guitars in Nepali, English and Hindi songs. Ever smiling and innocent Rais of Neora Valley impressed me the most. Dinner was on metal plate like Rais eat at home. Food was simple but sumptuous. We ate mixed vegetable, dal, chicken with roti and rice. Guests from abroad are also served same food and they relish it. I asked Kaushik and Bhaskar who were looking after the Camp that if Rais were vegetarians how they cooked chicken. They explained that Rais were convinced that for the survival of the camp depended upon tourists coming to Neora Vally and if they were not given food of their choice they might not stay long at the Jungle Camp making it unviable. Tsering was at my door after breakfast to take us to core area of the National park. We drove back to Kolakham village and took the track to National Park. Dense forest of bamboos, oaks, rhododendrons and wild shrubs engulfed us. Scenic beauty was terrific. We aimed for Jaributi, a beautiful location and strong point for viewing wildlife. Road was precarious one but a tar road would have been mismatched with the terrain. Jayanta stopped our vehicle after an hour�s drive. There was a clearing and we could hear gurgling of flowing water below. While driving we had seen two Oriols and a Minivets. When our vehicle stopped, besides singing of birds and gurgling of a stream somewhere, we could hear silence of jungle only. As we sat down with lunch, a Himalayan bear made its appearance and its black coat shining in sunray, it stood scared seeing us. We clicked on our camera. Puran picked up a bamboo stick whirling over his head. The bear moved into the bush. I was angry with Puran but Jayanta and Puran explained that it was mating season of the bears and a male could be foul tempered. We sighted two bul buls sitting and singing on a small tree and also sighted a Pygmy-flycatcher. After lunch we began our descent following the gurgling stream towards a narrow gorge. There were huge spider webs from tree branches to tree branches. A deer herd was grazing at a distance. We could not identify properly, once deer seemed to be burking ones but then felt these were hog deer. Best sighting was Klija Pheasant and a lone yellow warbler we reached the end of the gorge at a village where we had planned to spend the night. Suhas Rai, who lets out stragglers like us, made two rooms available for four of us. Our backpacks were thrown on Spartan beds where we were to spread our sleeping bags for the night. It was late afternoon, around 3 pm so we walked on. We saw a great-pied Hornbill, many doves and pigeons. Bearded vulture was circling above us. Lots of singing birds were in the jungle but most were invisible. We saw a singing yellow billed cuckoo. Our binocular picked up couple of red legged falcon on a tree. Near the water of the stream, we saw a few civets. Sunlight was fading fast and we began trekking back. Bushes had wild flowers. That night we sat around fire and talked about the Neora Valley, Suhas Rai told us that finding tiger spoor; forest officials were surprised as till then they did not know the existence of tiger though there were leopards. Tigers were searched and found ultimately. Large tracks of the valley are still unexplored. The Neora Valley rises from 600ft to 10,600ft. Therefore, ecosystem and flora and fauna undergoes changes frequently.As we climbed higher bamboos gave way to oaks and rhododendrons with some flowering shrubs and bushes. Early in the morning, we began our trek back to the jungle camp. On the way we saw Golden Headed Black Finch, Himalayan griffon; great pied Hornbill, Red Headed Blue Finch, and the Rusty-bellied Shortwing. Binocular picked up a bear and two wild bores. We crossed Rishi Valley tribal villages, cardamom plantations, couple of streams and a lovely waterfall. We also saw an early blooming orchid to our surprise. We were back to the Neora Vally Jungle Camp at Kolakham village. We had finished a probing trip to still unexplored Neora Valley. We had seen prolific flora and fauna. Birding was fantastic. And the last thing must be talked is the Jungle Camp where star facilities exist even in the jungle. Each staff is ever smiling. So is Bhaskar, the manager, mountaineer and a perfect host.
Activities & things to do: Neora Valley is wildlife lovers dream destination. You might meet a black bear at any turn or a group of spotted deer go across your path. Bird watchers can see luarge number of migrartory and local birds. Trekking is the major activity besides camping in the thick of jungle's core area. Panther might visit you and recently tiger has been sighted. Precautions to be taken while camping.
Travel tips, How to reach, travel warnings etc: Neora Valley: The Neora Valley is located in Northern part of the State of West Bengal in the tri-junction of West Bengal, Sikkim and Bhutan. The valley is cradled in the Eastern Himalayas. Going there: The nearest airport is Bagdogra, which is well connected with Calcutta. Calcutta is connected by air with every part of the world. The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri and is connected with both Calcutta and Delhi well. Both from airport and railway station, one has to travel by USV to the Neora Valley. Where to stay: Neora Valley The Jungle Camp run by the Help Tourism is the only place to stay in this virgin wilderness. Help Tourism provides birding facilities, trekking and wildlife sighting jeep safari.