Down Nostalgia Lane in the Dooars

As the plane taxied on the runway in Bagdogra, I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit of dissapointment. The weather in Delhi had been pleasantly cool for the past few days and here I was in North Bengal wiping away the first drops of perspiration. Yet, it felt strangely exhilerating to be back in North Bengal after 8 years….probably the feeling one gets on coming back home from foreign lands.

The ride from Bagdogra to Sukhna was familiar. Nothing much had changed; there was still that languid air when all people do in afternoons is either sleep or huddle in groups watching cars go. Small houses with potted plants decorating the small entrances is no anomaly. Time seemed to move lazily there encouraging me to live in the ‘now’. It seems like a nice life and even poverty seems poetic.

The four day stay in the Dooars was a whirlwind of activities-hopping from one forest rest house to the other, gorging on delicious Bengali cuisine and of course soaking in the tranquility of North Bengal.

The first stop was at Sukhna, the transit point linking Darjeeling with the Dooars and one of my favourite forest rest houses in West Bengal. A scrumptious lunch comprising ‘papda’ was awaiting us. The buzz of the crickets was reassuring, flooding me with memories of the endless afternoons I’d spent in my childhood at the place.

The halt for the night was at Hollong, another old haunt. Located inside the Jaldapara wildlife sanctuary,  the Hollong rest house has always remained an absolute favourite. The kitchen in this rest house once boasted of a chef straight from the King of Coochbehar’s palace. It is also one of the most picturesque with a stream running right in front of it. Many a night has been spent waiting to spot animals coming to the clearing next to the stream. Not to forget the numerous elephant rides I’d taken in early dawn hoping to catch  glimpse of some animals. Unfortunately, for these same reasons, it’s also a huge favourite with the tourists. Fortunately, the inflow is not so high as to disturb the ecology of the place.

North Bengal is full of places with quaint, outlandish names like Khuniya, Gairkata, Hashimara etc. It was one of these places called Rajabhatkhawa that was next on our map. Rajabhatkhawa (literally Kings eat Rice) was supposedly the place where the King of Bhutan and King of Coochbehar signed a treaty followed by a banquet of course. Hence the name! A trip to the 23rd milestone watchtower from this place was its highlight. Now this watchtower is in the middle of the forest and it’s not unusual to spot a herd of bisons grazing nonchalantly or even an elephant drinking water at one of the water holes in the early morning. The elusive tiger is well….elusive! It’s quite a trick to spot one and since it was almost noon by the time we reached the place, we satisfied ourselves simply by drinking in the greenery of the place.  The green colour is most unusual there. It’s like seeing the world with a double green filter! We saw hundreds of butterflies congregating at the various damp patches of earth flitting away the minute we reached a few inches from them. Watching the forest from a watchtower, one couldn’t help feeling that god is the greatest artist of them all. Hearing the symphony of birds, I wondered if there was a sound more soothing than that. A sound which heralds life and makes you want to weep with joy!

Despite the seemingly leisurely course that time took in this part of the world, my holiday was edging to its end. We had been travelling from one place to the other and most of the time was spent on the road. The roads were surprisingly not pot holed at this time of the year. For those unfamiliar with the topography of the Dooars, it would be no exaggeration if I wrote that the the worst Delhi roads were like polished steel compared to those in North Bengal. Nonetheless, most stretches were so beautiful so as to make you forget all else. Trees, some in full bloom, lined both sides of the road. We passed through villages where the huts were hidden by clusters of supari trees. Children gamboled in the local pond, splashing about like children will. It makes one smile to think that life is still uncomplicated for some.

After spending a night at Chapramari, another of those weird sounding places, we had to say our goodbye to the place. The ride back to Bagdogra was difficult. It was like leaving behind someone you love. But can you leave your loved one for long?