Synonymous to tea estates, bamboos, elephants and rhinos and lots of sublime experiences, Chalsa in Jalpaiguri, North Bengal is home to virgin beauty….Holding my cuppa of green tea, I stood in the balcony of my room in Chalsa in the Jalpaiguri district of North Bengal. Sprawling blanket of fragrant tea gardens spread in front of my eyes, the cool breeze tantalised my mood. Fresh monsoon shower had just greeted the region, which made the setting look straight out of a storybook. This was my very first time in this part of Bengal and the region snuggled amid thick rainforest, verdant tea gardens and paddy fields.
No doubt I was excited to the bones. I was looking forward to a laidback and relaxing holiday so when monsoon came knocking at doors in Delhi, I decided to chuck conventional holiday destinations and visit the land of one-horned rhinos, the never ending tea estates and Buxa tigers.
Upon my descend at the Bagdogra airport, the quite one-and-a half hour drive took me to the place of my stay—the Sinclairs Retreat in Chalsa. Hardly I had expected the drive to be this mesmerizing. But now, I can confidently say that the drive from Bagdogra to Chalsa joins my list of favourite road trips.
Just after Siliguri, my car dashed through the dense forest of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary – running on my sides. As the car chugged ahead, the mighty Teesta River appeared and soon, I reached the 1930-built Coronation Bridge. The massive structure is built at the confluence of Rangeet and Teesta rivers and is of immense importance in the whole of northeast region of the country. With muddy waters (from fresh monsoon), sinful greenery and foliage, Teesta snaked ahead with its horrendous flow. The route ahead was serenading — a thick belt of tea gardens and green forests accompanied me via Oodlabari and Malbazaar to reach Chalsa.
Soon I was in the refreshing region of Jalpaiguri where thick blanket of tea estates and winding roads awaited my arrival. I reached my hotel just before dusk, so was able to do a little excursion in the village. After checking in at the Sinclairs Retreat Chalsa, the resort staff told me the best way to explore the area is by doing it on a bicycle. Riding a bicycle after so long transported me back to the good old childhood days. Meandering in the Aibheel tea estates, I discovered the life and style of the tea workers and the villagers, who thrive in this beautiful location. a cuppa that cheers.
Back at the resort, I was served refreshing Darjeeling tea sans milk and sugar in a glass tumbler. The moment I held the tumbler, all my fatigue evaporated. After an authentic Oriental dinner–Thai fried fish with pad Thai noodles, I called it a night. Choosing an offbeat location helped me discover new places (some unheard ones as well), relish authentic regional food, come across local natives and their traditions.
Slice of wildlife
Next morning, I kept my plate full and my itinerary fixed. After a leisurely workout at the gym, swim at the heated pool, I headed for a sinful Ayurvedic massage at the resort spa. Stepping into the 20 acres resort is pure bliss. You are in the midst of verdant greenery interspersed with trees, flowers and shrubs as it is built in complete harmony with nature. You have many things to keep yourselves busy here. Families can play various games–bridge, many board games, not to forget the field games as well. Can you believe the Resort has a full-fledged cricket ground with floodlights for night matches? As no vehicles are allowed beyond the entrance, the resort provides a huge and safe play area for children, apart from the playground.
Rejuvenated after the spa session, I was again on the road. On the way to Medla Watch Tower that falls under the boundaries of Gorumara National Park, I watched this Bengali country coming alive with inhabitants and animals. The one-and-a half-hour drive through the thickly forested winding roads, a shy animal peeping every now and then filled the silence. My driver told me that Gorumara is situated on the banks of River Murti and is an ideal resort to sight one-horned rhino in its natural habitat.
Supposedly, it is here at Gorumara where you can trace above 70 one horned rhinos, quite a number. Sneaking through the villages dotted with paddy fields and tea gardens, I finally reached Medla Watch Tower, a huge tower situated in the heart of Gorumara. Since the national park was closed during monsoon, I settled for the Rhino Point – the watchtower – which gives a bird’s eye view of large portions of the national park. Standing atop the watchtower, I felt a sudden rush of fresh monsoon breeze and far somewhere, a rainbow was also visible. The watchtower gives a beautiful view of three rivers, including the main river Murti. Rhinos and bisons huddled on the banks of Murti to lick salt. And just below the watchtower, within the periphery of fences, two elephants came wandering. It was an absolute delight to see elephants, bisons and of course, the one-horned rhinos graze and meander within the national park. I enjoyed catching a glimpse of elephants and barking sambar deers, numerous migratory birds. Reptiles and amphibians such as the Indian python and the king cobra give company to the birds.
The best way to watch wildlife is from atop the watchtowers at the park. Next on my agenda is to invest in a powerful binoculars. After satiating myself with sightings, we started our sojourn back to the hotel. On the way back, we came back from a different route. The road was dotted with thick teak, simul, siris and sal forests and suddenly the driver informed me about a wild elephant crossing the road on our route. We stopped and watched him crossing the road with utter amazement.
For getting around, the resort organises sightseeing tours on offer, they take the guests around their village or towns and share local insights, legends and anecdotes. Depending on the weather, the resort also offer activities such as adventure, artistic pursuits, and experiencing local culture like dances and music. Hire the bicycles and go cycling in the surrounding villages and tea garden tracks. You can spend a quiet afternoon in the library and browse through a decent collection of books on culture, art, wildlife and history. The soft-spoken Sanjay, the horticulturist at the resort, recommended that I go gardening, so we learnt how to grow cherry tomatoes, brocolli, red cabbage and unusual vegetables and aromatic plants. Think of any spice and herb that has painstakingly been grown here. So, I saw Rudraksh, betel, Indian gooseberry and what everything under the sky blooming here. The region is the gateway to Bhutan and the north eastern states of India. Among its many attractions are rich wildlife, flora and fauna. Avid birdwatchers will have many exciting birding encounters. The orange orchards at Samsing, white water rafting in the Teesta river, views of the Bengal plains from Phuntsholing in Bhutan, temples, monasteries and nearby villages are worthy of discovery.