11th of September is declared ‘National Forest Martyrs Day’ in India, since 2013, by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India. Have you heard of this day before? This day is observed to recognise the exemplary courage, dedication and sacrifices made by the forest personnel, in India, for the protection of our environment, forest and wildlife. The forest officers and guards often suffer from risk of attack by poachers, smugglers, animals and illness. Loneliness is another major issue that they regularly battle with. Today is a day to salute them. I will tell you about Gorumara National Park, one of the best among the protected areas in India by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, but first let’s see the history behind this day. The first two pictures below are taken from http://indiatimes.com
History behind ‘National Forest Martyrs Day’
There is a historic incident behind why 11th of September is the chosen date. The incident of Khejarli Massacre happened on this date in 1730, in Rajasthan. Majahara Abhai Singh of Marwar sent his troops to the village of Khejarli to cut the Khejarli trees. The Bishnoi Tribes of the village considered the trees sacred and gave their lives to protect them. Amrita Devi and her three daughters were the chief protestors who were slaughtered by the soldiers before the mass slaughter of the Bishnois started. Later when the Maharaja heard of such a bloody incident, he was repentant and announced a decree prohibiting hunting of animals and felling of trees at the Bishnoi areas, forever.
Gorumara National Park
Gorumara National Park in the Dooars region of Bengal, is accessible from Chalsa and/or Lataguri, the small towns situated at the lush Himalayan foot hill in Jalpaiguri District of West Bengal, India. Lataguri has a Nature Interpretation Centre from where tickets, entry permits and other enquiries regarding the forest safaris of Gorumara National Park can be obtained. An Animal Transit Centre is also here for treatment of rescued animals. Nature’s abundance is felt here and I am trying to share my feelings for this place here.
Safaris at Gorumara National Park:
Gorumara National Park is spread over an area of 80 square kilometres, with Rivers Murti, Jaldhaka and Raidak flowing through, at the foothills of the Himalayas. This dense and moist deciduous forest with riverine grasslands, is an enticing place to visit. Gorumara National Park is popular for its variety of flora and fauna. A guided jeep safari takes tourists to the core area where they often spot elephants, one-horse Indian rhinos, wild boars, deer, snakes, peacocks and giant squirrels. The watchtowers of Gorumara National Park are pivotal to the safaris. Two safaris take place in the morning and in the afternoon. Perfumes and bright coloured clothing should be avoided. Using flash during photography is strictly prohibited. The safaris remain closed in the monsoons from mid-Jun to mid-September.
Watchtowers of Gorumara National Park:
The significant watch towers in the Gorumara National Park are Jatra Proshad, Medhla, Chukchuki and Chandrachur. I enjoy climbing them and spending some time up there silently and patiently, observing the space around. These watch towers are high and provide 360 degrees views. They are strategically made near the river banks and salt licks are placed near them. From watch towers sighting wild animals is definite as they either come to the salt licks to lick minerals and the salt and drink water from the river. They are often seen crossing the river. The dense forest, the flowing river, wild life on its bank and near the salt licks and the silhouette of the Himalayan Mountains weave an unknown magic. We went to Medhla and Jatra Proshad. Chandrachur was under construction and didn’t have time for Chukchuki Watchtower. Chukchuki is a bird lovers’ paradise, called the Birding Point of Gorumara National Park.
Experience at Medhla Watchtower:
The safari to the Medhla Watch Tower is absolutely unique and is a complete package. Medla Watch Tower is near Kalipur Eco Village. It is 1 kilometre from the entry point at the Eastern Gate of the Gorumara National Park. Traveling to the watch tower from the entry gate by bullock carts maintained by West Bengal Forest Department is popular among children. We walked through the woods and climbed the Medla Watch Tower. It was the afternoon safari and we were delighted to see so many animals. We saw elephants and gaurs (Indian bisons) crossing the river. There were wild boars, rhinos, peacocks dancing in the field and numerous birds including an eagle and a hornbill.
Kalipur Eco Centre at Gorumara National Park:
By the time we reached Kalipur Eco Centre, from Medla Watchtower, it was dusk. Then we watched amazing tribal dance. In the end we danced with them. It is difficult keep calm during a tribal dance. Such is the power and rhythm of their music. The promotion of the rural folk culture and their handicrafts is significant. They coexist with the wild on a daily basis. The Eco Centre is a brilliant alternative way of employment for the local tribals.
Jatra Proshad Watch Tower at Gorumara National Park:
Jatra Proshad is another remarkable watch tower at Gorumara National Park which is structurally different from the rest. It is a wide platform on a hill top. The wide plains can be seen from the top. When I stood there speechless and watched the foggy sun rise, I thought to myself, ‘Does the heaven look any better?’ The morning safaris start at 5 am. The earlier one reaches, the better it is. The drive through the mist at dawn was dreamy and the forest was mysteriously alluring with stories to tell. During the safari one has to be alert and quiet. There could be an animal in front of you anytime. The animals always keep a watch. They are often camouflaged or are hidden behind the large trees.
Dhupjhora Elephant Camp at Gorumara National Park:
Home to several rescued elephants, Dhupjhora Elephant Camp is basically the elephant stable of the Gorumara National Park. These rescued animals on recovering are used by the forest department for patrolling. Eco tourism has been developed here with a few rustic cottages and amazing tree house. This place is also called Gachbari which means ‘tree house’. We saw so many elephants. This place amidst dense forest and tea gardens is absolutely enchanting. Even if you are not lodging at the Dhupjhora Elephant Camp or Gachbari, do not skip visiting the place.
Sunset at Murti near Gorumara National Park:
We drove to the tranquil banks of River Murti. Watching the sunset while sitting calmly with feet dipped in the cool river water, was relaxing for both the body and the soul. It was therapeutic. Then we had a thrilling drive through the Nagrakata forest which lay beside the Gorumara National Park. This evening drive will remain etched in my mind forever. Any moment we could have encountered elephants crossing the highway, in the dark. Definitely one who is driving needs to be careful.
The Tea Gardens of Chalsa Near Gorumara National Park:
The lush tea gardens with the Himalayan backdrop are rejuvenating. As I went inside the tea gardens and walked through the bushes, I found peacocks flying from the tea gardens. Such a lovely sight it was. Tea is a proven detox anyway. However, it is better to take a guide with you and/or enter when people are working in the gardens. Leopards often reside amidst the low bushes. We stayed with in 100 kilometres of Gorumara National Park border and amidst lush tea gardens. I am grateful to https://www.facebook.com/grasshopper.holiday/ for making our stay memorable.
Gorumara National Park, Best Protected Area in India:
Amrita Devi’s statement, ‘If a tree is saved even at the cost of one’s head, it’s worth it’, is so powerful. Rangers, forest officers, forest guards and volunteers are risking their lives and working day in and out in every weather condition to keep the Gorumara National Park’s flaura and fauna well protected from poachers, timbre smugglers and hunters. Check out https://wbtourism.gov.in/destination/place/gorumara too.
Gorumara National Park is one place where you can experience the thrill of the wild, the tranquility of the Himalayan foothills, the serenity of rivers and streams and the composure of lush tea gardens, simultaneously. My article https://travelogueofkuntala.com/a-visit-to-gorumara-national-park-eastern-india/ was published earlier.