TOURISM: Dooars bungalows brim with puja bookings – Defunct car spoils leopard safari – maybe noiseless elephant rides a better alternative ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY ANIRBAN CHOUDHURY
Alipurduar, Sept. 6: The pujas will bring with them thousands of visitors to the Dooars, most of whom are unaware that they may miss out on the only leopard safari in the country while touring the forests.
All tourist lodges and bungalows in the region — right from the ones in Gorumara National Park to Buxa Tiger Reserve — are booked for a month from the middle of October. But the car used for the leopard safari in South Khayerbari Eco Park has been lying out of order for the past four months.
To woo tourists in the festive season, the Jaldapara Lodge Owners’ Association, in association with the wildlife division III of the forest department, will start new tourist circuits in Dhumchi forest, a habitat for wild elephants. A herd is always there inside the forest throughout the dry season (from October to March).
Starting October, visitors will be transported to the forest office by car and taken herd watching on a bullock cart which is noiseless and will not disturb the animals.
Arrangements will also be made for the tourists to watch different kinds of birds, wild animals from the spot and enjoy the single source for two rivers — the Mujnai and the Ekti — in the vicinity.
Biswajit Saha, the secretary of the association, said: “The interest in the Dooars forests is on the rise among the tourists. During the travel and tourism fair in the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Calcutta on July 31, we had a stall where a large number of tourists enquired about different spots in the region”.
Conservator of forests of north Bengal Manindra Biswas confirmed that most of the bungalows of the department and the forest development corporation were booked for the pujas. “We expect a 25-30 per cent increase in tourists in this season compared to last year,” he said.
The disturbance in the hills and increase in accommodations in the forests have turned the tourists’ interests towards the Dooars, Biswas said.
Saha said in the coming season, arrangement for picnics on the banks of the Torsha and the Holong would be made. “We will also provide life jackets and rubber tubes for swimming in both the rivers.” The tourists can also enjoy a cycle safari in the Chilapata forest.
However, the leopard safari in South Khayerbari, the only one of its kind in India, is in a dire state for the past four months with the forest department not taking much interest to revive the facility.
In the park, there are four leopards in the enclosure and nine at the rescue centre. A specially-designed car takes tourists inside the enclosure for a half-an-hour safari.
But after entering the park, one can feel the facility is not properly maintained. The leopard enclosure is full of bushes and a wooden culvert in the park is broken forcing the tourists to walk for at least 500 meters.
Tapas Sarkar, a businessman from Calcutta’s Behala, said: “On our way back from Bhutan, we decided to visit Jaldapara and adjacent spots. We had heard about the safari in South Khayerbari. But our experience is not at all good. The road from NH31C to the centre is in poor condition and there is no maintenance of the park. The most frustrating thing is that the car has been out of order for a long time.”
Saha said they were aware of the condition of the centre.
However, Om Prakash, the divisional forest officer of wildlife-III, said the situation would improve shortly. “The car, road and the culvert will be repaired and we will give a new look to this park and tourists will not have any problems at all during the puja season.”