Saturday, 29 December 2012

Kolkata, The City Of Joy


One of the few cities in India where both the bygone and the new coexist in perfect harmony is Kolkata.The city has both the old heritage buildings of the British era with their own legacy standing high
as well as the swanky buildings with malls.
Kolkata is not just like any other city to visit and click photos, you have to soak your senses in it to realize the actual charm of this city.

Dear readers, we will update blog shortly with loads of pictures. Currently we do not have much quality pictures of Kolkata.

Some of the striking beauties of the city are

1. Victoria memorial
The Victoria Memorial officially known as the Victoria Memorial Hall was established in 1921 and is a memorial building dedicated to Queen Victoria. Sir William Emerson, the architect laid down the actual plan of the memorial.  The design of the structure represents a fusion of British and Mughal architecture

The Memorial is the largest repository in India for a visual history of Kolkata. It also has a major collection of paintings, sculptures and manuscripts from the British period.

2. Kolkata Tram
The Kolkata Tram was founded in 1880 by the Calcutta Tram Corporation (CTC). The Kolkata tram is the oldest operating electric tram in Asia, running since 1902.

3. Kolkata Metro
Kolkata metro was the first metro service in the whole country. Now many cities like Delhi, Bangalore has started the service but still Kolkata metro is unique in the sense a part of the metro route is actually underground!!

4. National Library
A visit to the national Library puts one’s doubts to rest as why Bengals are one of the most intellectuals in the country. This library is truly a book lover’s paradise. The national Library,Kolkata is the largest library in the country by volume and India’s library of public records. The library has a collection in excess of 2.2 million books.

5. Howrah Bridge
The Howrah bridge is a suspension type cantilever bridge build on the river Hooghly. It is the busiest cantilever bridge in the world and is the 6th longest bridge of this type in the world.

A second bridge named Vidyasagar Sethu has been build and is the longest cable stayed bridge in India. Both the two bridges look spectacular in the evening.

6. Kali Ghat Temple
Kali ghat temple is a hindu temple dedicated to Goddess kali. It is one of the important Shakti Peeths in India. Thousand of devotees throng the temple gates every single day.


7. St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral completed in 1847. It is a beautiful cathedral with neo-gothic style of architecture

8. Eden Gardens
Visit the iconic Eden Gardens on any ongoing match day to feel the sports pulse of the city. It is the largest stadium in India and the second largest in the world in terms of sitting capacity and this huge stadium sits pretty in the heart of the city.

9. Indian Museum
The Indian Museum is the largest museum in India and has the rarest of the rare collections of antiques, fossils, manuscripts, paintings found in any other museum in India. It was founded by a Danish botanist in 1814.

10. Birla Planetarium
The planetarium was inaugurated in 1963 by the then Prime Minister of India Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
It is the largest planetarium in Asia and the second largest in the world. The Planetarium has an astronomical observatory equipped with a Celestron C-14 Telescope with accessories such as ST6 CCD camera and solar filter.


The city of Kolkata is undoubtedly one of the most charismatic city with really helpful people.You can plan your visit during October-November when the festival called Durga Puja takes place. Though the city will be very crowded during that time but seeing Durga Puja in Kolkata is a lifelong memory to relish. The whole city gets lits up with thousands and thousands of lightnings and decorations. Seeing the hundreds of lifelike Durga Idols in the various pandals will definitely mesmerise you.

The city is definitely worth a thousand visits. Truly it is the “City of joy”.


Best time to visit:
  October-February

To get there:
By Air:
Kolkata has a domestic and an International Airport and is well accessible from anywhere.
By Train:
The city has two major train stations Howrah and Sealdah and is connected to the whole of India very well.

Stay:
There are numerous of good staying options in the city.

Good to know: The native tongue for Kolkatans is Bengali. However, English or Hindi can do the job for you as well.  


Search keywords: Kolkata, Victoria Memorial, Kolkata Metro, Kalighat Temple, National Library, Birla Planetarium, Indian Museum, Tram, Durga Puja, Durga Pujo, Eden Gardens, Bengali, Hilsa Fish.




Sunday, 23 December 2012

Gorumara (Dhupjhora), a day with the elephants


This blog is about our fantastic stay at Gorumara,Elephant Camp.The camp is located in Dhupjhora in the Dooars region of West Bengal.The amenities and hospitality we got was simply outstanding.This time we had a time constraint so we stayed in Dhupjhora just for a day and could not explore the whole of Dooars. The beauty of the place left us wanting for more.....
So next time we will surely go there with ample of time in hand.


Day 4
5 AM in the morning.

It was a long line of trucks and buses. And we were stuck. We were on our way back from Gorumara. It was so much foggy that we could hardly see the truck in front of us,from our vehicle. Tired and exhausted from the long 18 hours drive, both of us were drowsy. And the queue of trucks were moving very slowly; 10 -20 meters in 10 minutes. Perhaps all these were reason enough for me to fall asleep; for both of us to fall asleep.

Day 1
5:15 AM in the morning.

It was dark still. The day time in winter is short in Kolkata. So 5 O' clock in the morning was still dark. We set off for Gorumara on the sparky; my father in law's sparky. As we were in Kolkata, we didn't have the chance to take our own Sparky; so my father in law generously provided us with his ride. It was a long 700 Km drive to Gorumara.

Our onward route was like this: Tollygunge->2nd Hoogly bridge->Kona expressway -> Delhi road -> Panagarh -> Malda -> Kisanganj -> Siliguri -> Gorumara. I did a good amount of research on the available routes and found this to be the best one.

At around 9 O' clock we reached Panagarh and took the usual right turn at Darjeeling more. We grabbed a quick breakfast there and were planning for the road ahead. As we are more familiar in driving around Bangalore and Karnataka, our estimations were based on our previous voyages there. So a 700 km was estimated to be covered within 10-11 hours. Utterly wrong estimate.

The next 100 Km of journey was terrible, and that is to say the least. I was not able to get more than 20 km/hour and at that speed also, the chassis got hit several times. Although it is referred to as a National Highway, mud roads in remote villages would surpass it any given day. It was horrible. Anyway, by the time we reached Malda town, it was sundown. I know its unbelievable, but that's what it was.

From Malda to Kishanganj, the road is better. Don't get me wrong here, but better here means better than the previous stretch. So we could get to 50-60 km on an average. From Kishanganj to Siliguri the road really lives up to be called a National Highway, and 100 km/hour is pretty easy on the driver.

By the time we reached Siliguri, it was 11:15 PM; so our idea to get to Gorumara Elephant Camp was far flung. What we needed was a shelter. We checked into Air View hotel at Rs 1000/- for a double bed room. We were dead tired and retired to bed as soon as we entered the room.

Day 2
6:30 AM in the morning.

We ordered for tea and meanwhile completed our ablutions. The plan for the day was to get to Gorumara and convince the Range Officer to allow us to stay in the Elephant Camp. In case if that fails we planned to take the safari ride and head for Cooch Behar. So we checked out from Air View hotel and headed out for Gorumara at around 7:15 AM.

Gorumara is about 80 Km from Siliguri and the road is pretty well compared to what we faced last day. There is an odd 7-10 Km stretch which is not so good. Before entering Jalpaiguri we took the bypass on the left(that took us straight to Lataguri through Mainaguri) to avoid Jalpaiguri traffic.

A little background is needed here. To book a cottage or tree-house in Gorumara, one has to make a draft of Rs. 2400/- or Rs. 2800/- (for tree house) and send it over to the Range officer of Lataguri. If time is short, you can fax it. On reaching the camp, you have to pay for the food. Our draft was for for the tree house at the elephant camp. But the trouble was that it was for the previous day; and we couldn't make it to Gorumara the previous day.


Nature Interpretation Center, Lagaguri.
So our only hope was to convince the Range office and transfer it to the present day. As we reached Lataguri Nature Interpretation Center (office of the Range officer), we approached the gentleman in change there. And gentleman he was indeed. He talked to the Range officer first and then we were summoned to this office. The Range officer, a bold middle aged man with heavy voice, greeted us and asked us to take seats. We told him about our journey from yesterday. We were surprised to find both of them so helpful. They told us that having a vacant tree-house or cottage is purely on luck, and they checked their register to see if anything was available.

Lucky for us the tree house was still empty for that day. And the Range officer quickly assigned us the tree house and completed the paperwork. We took the gate pass from him and greeted him a good day ahead. It will be injustice on my part if I fail to mention the extreme well nature and helpfulness of the two gentlemen. They could have easily avoided us. But they didn't. And that's why we could enjoy the best part of our journey.

The gate to Gorumara Elephant Camp is around 10 Km from Lataguri Forest Interpretation Center. It's a large gate on the right with a big rhino statue in front  After signing the security post we were allowed in. We already started to feel the jungle.


Gorumara Elephant Camp (Dhupjhora) entry gate
The road from this gate to the camp is around 2 Km from the deep jungle. You could hear hundreds of types of birds all around you. The trees are huge and create a canopy in some parts. The road is pebbled and narrow, broad enough only for one vehicle. Just before entering the camp we were stopped by the local heroes there. A herd of Elephants were returning. Their mahouts, the one in control of an elephant, took them off the track for a brief while to make room for us to pass. And now we were in the camp.

We reached the camp and completed the formalities there. Food charges where Rs. 300 /person which included lunch, dinner, snack and breakfast. We inquired for some tea at the cafeteria and were instantly offered with two cups of freshly made tea. The people at the camp were immensely helpful.

The camp from our tree house

Inside the tree house


Our tree house as seen from the edge of the jungle.

Soon we found ourselves following one of the camp personnel  He was guiding us to our tree house, Teesta. This was the only tree house in this camp and the closes one to the jungle. It took us very little time to explore the exotic tree house  It was made at around the middle of two Sal trees, supported by multiple wood pillars towering from the ground. This was our first tree house experience and it was amazing. The house was made of wood. It had all modern amenities inside and still looked antique. To our surprise, the room had one attached balcony where you could sit and relax during the evening. There was a camp schedule printed inside the room. We quickly got freshened and got ready for lunch. Although we were really hungry, but the real urgency was to see what was scheduled next.


Menu at Dhupjhora
At the elephant camp, there is no room service; so one has to get to the cafeteria for lunch, dinner and pretty much every kind of appetite busters. Lunch was served hot. The menu was simple yet delicious. Usually, the menu is strict in the camp. Fish in lunch and chicken in dinner. After lunch, a camp personnel took us to our much awaited destination.

Murti river flows near the camp and the elephants take a bath in this river every day at a fixed time. While in Gorumara, please be very particular about the time. Because the elephants won't wait for you to finish lunch. So it's better to finish your lunch in time. We were just on time. When we reached the part of the stream, the bathing had just began. It was an experience we never had before. Watching these huge animals from such a close range was fantastic. The center of attraction was the cute little elephant name Barshan. She was only 2 years and 3 months old and was very curious about her surrounding. We were also a part of her curiosity. When we took her pictures she took very small steps to approach us. But we kept a safe distance. It was better that way. It takes around 20 minutes for the full bathing process to complete.


Elephants having a bath in Murti river

The young elephant Barsan, always under the lime light.

Getting up after the wash.
On our way back to the camp, we found that the elephants were already there, eating. They were given pulses and rice wrapped in a band of long leaf.
Barsan having lunch with her mother.
Before retiring for a small siesta, we wanted to spend some time on the balcony of our tree house. From the balcony, it seems that you could reach out to the jungle, and as if it could reach out to you. The surrounding serenity calms every senses.On one side of th tree house,there is the jungle and on the other side is tea gardens.It is a beautiful sight to behold.Very soon we noticed two peacocks venturing very near to our tree house. They were probably eating on some insects. As the sun was beginning to set, the sky changed hues and all of a sudden the number of birds in the sky, all returning to their nests, increased many folds. It was getting cold outside so we went inside the room.


The tea garden and the jungle next to our tree house, as seen from the balcony

This peacock was strolling very close to our tree house.

Sunset as seen from the balcony of our tree house
Snack was served at 6:30 pm. There were vegetable pakodas (fries) and tea. Quickly after that we were requested to gather at the small community center right next to the cafeteria. They organized songs and dance at that stage. There were local folk dance as well. The tune was amazing and acted as a catalyst between the chemistry of the wild and us. We returned to our tree house after the hour long performance and relaxed and planned for the next day.


Dance performance

Folk dance performance

Dinner was served at around 9:30 pm. Again, it was simple yet delicious. During dinner, we were informed that the elephant safari or joy ride will start 6:30 am the next day. We were already feeling sleepy. We took some night shots of the camp and got up our tree house. A cricked chirped constantly, singing for us a jungle lullaby. Spending the night in the middle of the jungle had always been one of the major TO DO's in our list. We heard about the different sounds of the jungle from other. This time we experienced it. There was a variety of different types of sound. It was hard to distinguish the bird from the mammal. They were all different, all unique. Some repeating in a rhythm  some sounding once in every 5-10 minutes. Although, it was not a tiger camp, the thrill was never any less.


Day 3
5:30 AM in the morning.


Schedule of activities at Dhupjhora
The alarm on our cell phones already awoke us. But leaving the bed still needed a little more encouragement. After the excursion from yesterday, our limbs needed some rest. The schedule on the wall reminded us of the elephant ride timing. We were ready by 6:25 am and were out of our tree house  Meanwhile, one personnel has already visited our tree house to make sure we were well awake. He called out from the bottom of the staircase and left satisfied with our quick response.
Elephant ride through the tall grass in the jungle

During our trip to Gorumara, several experiences we had, were the first of their kind in our lives. Riding an elephant was obviously one of them. Getting up was easy. The mahout would align the elephant by the small wooden miniature watch tower. And we would climb on it. The back of the elephant was covered with thick cloth. The tricky part was to hold on to the the back with the support of a pair of ropes what lay below the cloth padding. It took a couple of minutes for us to settle on it. But then it was awesome. The motion of the elephant was rhythmic  Although it first seemed as if it was moving pretty slowly, it actually had a good pace. Oh yes, forgot to mention. Do wear sneakers of joggers. Otherwise, you have to leave your chappal shoe/sandal at the small wooden tower.

Our tree house as seen from the back of the elephant

Our rides. The small one was the one we mounted.
The ride takes you across Murti river and inside the deeper part of the jungle. There are chances of seeing rhinos and bisons there. But we did not see any. Nevertheless, the journey was one surely to be remembered  In exactly one hour we were back at the camp.

By now, breakfast and tea was being served. We quickly took a bath in our tree house and got back to the canteen for the breakfast. There were loochi(puri), sabji(potato curry), and sweet in breakfast.


A common moth at the canteen. The sparrows were feeding on these.

These sparrows were feeding on the moths at the canteen.
Yesterday, we had an almost hour long stroll inside the tea garden adjoining the camp. We caught glimpses of different types of birds and butterfly. There was sunbirds ,drongo,wood peckers,bulbul ,mynah ,dove,bee eaters,parrots,hoopoe,sparrows and some more brightly coloured birds that we don't know the names.Photographing the birds was not easy as they were too active and our camera lens could not reach out to them. After the breakfast we wanted to make one more visit to the tea garden. However, this time, we went to one other part of it. Walking within a tea garden is very refreshing. The lush green soothes the eyes and the fresh air cleanses the body and the peace calms the mind. This part of the tea garden was too close to the jungle. The jungle quickly became too deep on this side.

Common Albatros butterfly

Tea garden

Great Eggfly butterfly

Tea leaf. "Kamal ki taazgi laye"

Indian Parrot

One of the occasional big trees within the tea garden 

Red striped tiger moth. We found it on the wall of the canteen.

Common Jester butterfly

The tea garden

Beautiful insect
Attractive orange pupa on a tea leaf.

Common Emigrant

Huppoe
It took us a few moments to gauge the source of the sound. We might have spooked them unknowingly. These were two peacocks that flew to the nearby branch of a tree sensing our approach. We've seen peacocks in the zoo, but seeing one so close in the arms of mother nature was so much different.

Peacock on the branch of a tree
Soon it was time for us to bid good bye to our tree house, to the camp and to Gorumara. To our surprise we were given 4 hand woven jute carpets as departing gifts. They were manufactured at the jute workshop that was part of the camp.


Jute workshop at the camp of Dhupjhora
When we left Gorumara, it was 11 am. We knew that we could not reach Kolkata before 2 am at night. Earlier that day, we already talked to my father in law and inquired about alternate routes. He suggested an alternate route to us that could avoid that terrible 150 Km stretch. So our return route was like this: Gorumara -> Siliguri -> Kishanganj -> Malda -> Baharampur -> Krishnagar -> Barasat -> Kolkata.

We refuelled at Siliguri and packed some food for the long journey. We reached Kishanganj at around 4:30 PM. By the time we were at Baharampur, it was past midnight. This road was indeed better than the one we took on day one. At Krishnagar, we halted for a tea break. The shopkeeper told us that the it was around 120Km from Kolkata. But he also mentioned that the road was not very good.

The road from Krishanagar was not bad either; however, there was an unknown, unexpected show stopper. Fog. Dense fog. So dense that we could barely see 10 meters ahead. We were driving at 30-40 Km/hour at max. The blinding lights of the trucks during normal time seemed to be mild night lamps. On our way we witnessed couple of accidents, too. Before entering Barasat, there was a huge jam of trucks. We tried to slip through the gaps and head forward. But even that didn't bring much luck. The queue was so long that it took several hours for us to move through the traffic. It was already around 4:30 am in the morning.

Day 4
5:10 AM in the morning.

A collage of different types of horns brought me back to my sense. I didn't know for how long I was asleep. The band of trucks moved several meters ahead of me. The jam was getting cleared. The cars and trucks behind me were honking, wondering why I was not moving. It took us around 3 and half more hours to get back home. And were tired beyond explanation.


Tips:

  • Do not go for a long drive(beyond 200 km) in west Bengal. Its sheer waste of time.Better take the rails.
  • Keep to the time in Gorumara
  • Use sneakers/joggers
  • Take mosquito repellents.
  • If you have time plan for a longer trip like one day at Gorumara Elephant Camp, one day at Jaldapara etc. like this.
  • Wildlife can be best seen during summer. So planning this kind of vacation during summer increases your chances of seeing more of rhino, leopard, bison, deer etc.
  • Be a responsible tourist.


To book a cottage or tree house, contact:

Nature Interpretation Center, Lagaguri
Contact- DFO, Wildlife Divn.-II,
Aranyabhavan, Jalpaiguri. Ph : 03561-224907

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