What to see & do in Dooars
The moment you think about Dooars, the first thing that comes to mind is wildlife. Over the years, Dooars has carved out its fame for the amazing wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. You can see wild elephants, one-horned rhinos, bison, leopards, several species of deers, snakes, wild boars and many other animals as well as many types of birds including lots of peacocks in these dense forests.
However Dooars is much more than only wildlife... you can visit wonderful viewpoints and valleys to get amazing views of Bhutan hills and Himalayas, lovely mountain streams, you can visit vast stretches of sprawling tea estates, take nature walks, get to quaint hamlets on the lap of nature and more.
National Parks & Sanctuaries
Some of the most popular national parks and sanctuaries in Dooars are:
Gorumara National Park which has several watchtowers for spotting wildlife. You can stay at Murti which is 25 minutes drive from Malbazar or at Lataguri (further 25 minutes away at the fringe of Gorumara) to take Jeep safari at the buffer zone of the jungle as well as visit some of the watch towers which are located deep inside the forest.
Bison at Gorumara National Park
In dense forests of Sal, Shimul and bamboo groves, you can spot a wide range of wild animals including Indian bison, elephants, one-horned rhinos, leopards, deer, wild boars, snakes including python and king cobra etc. Although there are no resident tigers here, they can be spotted occasionally. And there are different kinds of birds here including peacocks.
Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary is an extension of Gorumara and is also quite popular for Jeep safaris. The two forests are divided by the Murti river. You see most animals here as in Gorumara. You can visit Chapramari while staying in Gorumara area (i.e. Murti, Lataguri etc).
Jaldapara National Park which is located about 1 hour 20 minutes drive from Murti towards its east. Jaldapara is well known for its elephant safaris to spot rhinos and other wildlife such as elephants, bison, Gaurs (bison), different types of deer etc. Tigers and leopards can be spotted occasionally. The elephant safaris take place from the gate of Hollong Lodge (of West Bengal Forest Development Corporation - WBFDC) located 7kms inside the jungle. Jeep safaris at Jaldapara are also popular. Most tourists stay in or around Madarihat (near Hashimara). Madarihat Tourist Lodge (of West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation - WBTDCL) is quite popular.
Elephant safari at Jaldapara National Park
Chilapata Forest is part of Jaladapara National Park, the two being divided by the river Torsha. Chilapata is on the eastern side of Torsha river. You can spot similar wildlife here as in Jaldapara. Jeep safaris take place from the gate.
Buxa Tiger Reserve reportedly has second highest number of tigers in West Bengal after Sunderbans, but tiger spotting has become difficult in recent years. You can however spot elephants, Indian bison, leopards, many types of deer, snakes etc. The entry to the forest is from a place called Rajabhatkhawa which is about 1 hour drive from Madarihat (Jaldapara) towards east. You can get to Rajabhatkhawa from Alipurduar as well in 20 minutes. Jungle safaris on Jeep take place from a place called Jayanti which is about 15kms inside the reserve.
Dooars is far more than forests and wildlife. There are excellent view points, quaint hamlets, riverside picnic areas, lovely valleys and miles of tea gardens too that form the other part of tourist attractions. And of course there are several bustling townships in Dooars to avail modern amenities.
Bindu Valley is located 40kms (1 hr 20mins drive) from Murti at an altitude of 2,000ft. This is where the Bindu or Jaldhaka Dam is located on Jaldhaka River. This is a stunning site with backdrop of Bhutan hills. The riverbed is full of large rocks. You can spend hours sitting on a rock, paddling the water and watching the gushing water flowing down the dam and the wonderful natural sights around.
Bindu Valley with river Jaldhaka and Dam
About 15kms from Bindu is the quaint Godak village. You can see abundance of cardamom (elaichi) plantations and orange orchards here. Terraced farming is another great sight to watch here. On the way to Godak you can visit the Cardamom Curing Center which has been set up by the government.
Jaldhaka Hydel Project is nearby and comes along the way to Bindu. You can visit the project site with advance permission from WB State Electricity Board.
On the way to Bindu there is an excellent view point at Gairibas to watch the Jhalong settlement along the bank of Jaldhaka river. There is an important village market at Jhalong for all residents living around including the Bhutanese who too depend on Jhalong Market. From the view point (located at an elevation next to a restaurant and before reaching Jhalong market) you can get marvelous view of Jhalong village, the river flowing by and the Bhutan hills.
Another place nearby is Paren... a quiet hamlet on Jaldhaka riverside and full of natural beauty.
The tourist destination Murti
is named after the river Murti flowing through it. The bank of the river here is a popular picnic spot for the tourists playing around on the riverside rocks, wading in waters and enjoying the lovely views. Murti is also a favorite destination for its great tourist accommodations including Murti Tourist Lode of WBTDCL
, and Banani Lodge of WBFDC
as well as several privately operated lodges & resorts.
Murti is a popular tourist hub for visiting Gorumara National Park, Chapramari forest etc as well as for making day trips to Jhalong, Jaldhaka, Bindu and even Samsing and Rocky Island.
is another wonderful mountain village located at an altitude of 3,000ft. It's an ideal place for nature lovers and located at the eastern end of Neora Valley National Park
. It's about 45-minute drive (23kms) from Murti via Chalsa. It's full of dense forests, tea gardens and orange orchards. The river Murti originates at the nearby mountains and reaches the plains here. Orange and Cardamom plantations are major livelihood of the villagers here.
5kms from Samsing is another small village Suntalekhola
also known for its pristine natural beauty with tea gardens, forests and orange orchards. There is a hanging (suspension) bridge here over Murti river which is a popular attraction for tourists. On the other side of the bridge is WBFDC forest rest house which has several cottages nestled in wonderful garden setting and surrounded by dense forest.
Hanging bridge at Suntalekhola (Samsing)
There are few trekking trails that originate from Suntalekhola towards Neora Valley National Park.
On the way to Samsing or while returning you can visit another lovely hamlet known as Rocky Island
located 3kms from Samsing along the bank of river Murti and nestled in Samsing hills. The name comes from the large rocks on the river bed that offer an excellent opportunity for tourists to enjoy the river while exploring the rocks and river-side caverns. Several trekking trails originate from this area.
A stunning nature's spectacle of fireflies takes place in Dooars which is known only to few.... it is the play of millions of luminous fireflies in tea gardens after dusk. A great place to watch this sight is in Rangamati Tea Gardens located near Malbazar. Once it's dark, take your vehicle and drive along National Highway 17 (Rishi Road) from Malbazar towards west. In less than 10 minutes (about 30 minutes from Murti via Malbazar) a narrow dirt road on the right leads into Rangamati Tea Garden.
Drive along for about a kilometer (there will be a T-junction on the way, take left). While it will be blinding dark, with the headlights you can see the muddy road ahead winding through the vast stretch of tea bushes... can be an eerie feeling. Keep a watch on the left and keep your eyes and ears open. At one point you will start hearing the familiar ambient sound of fireflies.... watch closely and suddenly you would see what appears like an endless blanket of white lights. It's formed by millions of fireflies about 1ft above the tea bushes... a magnificent sight that I have never seen anywhere before.
The best time to watch this sight of fireflies is during Laxmi Poornima (i.e. when Laxmi pooja takes place) and within 3-4 days thereafter on a moonlit night (around 7pm). You might be able to see the sight even on other moonlit nights as well (preferably on a dry day), but you need a bit of luck. But I can say, it is anytime worth trying your luck to explore possibility of this amazing sight.
It is nearly impossible to capture this sight on a normal camera or camcorder... so you are likely only to keep it in your memory and cherish forever... we still keep talking about the sight and all of us agree that it was a spectacle of a lifetime.
While in Malbazar visit the Hanuman Mandir located near Caltex More on a side road. The sheer architecture of the temple is an attraction by itself. Take off your shoes before the stairway, and take a look around inside, go up the inside stairway to the upper floor. Other than Lord Hanuman, there are idols of many gods and goddesses here catering to a wide range of Hindu worshippers.
Hanuman Mandir at Malbazar
While in Dooars you can't miss out on its endless sprawling tea gardens. You should take half a day out to make a visit to few of them. While I have seen several tea estates in Dooars, there are two that stand out from the rest when you compare the sheer scenic beauty and the surroundings... Dharanipur Tea Estate and Chengmari Tea Estate. Go through Tea Garden Tours in Dooars
to know how you can carve out a special time visiting the tea estates here and even stay at the gardens.
Chengmari Tea Gardens
About 19kms from Murti along the main highway (NH17 or Rishi Road) and on the way to Jaldapara, you need to take a left turn towards Lal Jhamela Basti
... a quaint village with stunning view of Bhutan hills. However within few kilometers drive from the main road before Lal Jhamelar Basti, you will find the two picturesque estates. And as a tremendous bonus, right next to it there is a spot (actually a natural view-point) where you get an amazing view of Diana river, and towering Bhutan hills across the river. Visit Tea Garden Tours in Dooars
to now about the tour of tea gardens and Lal Jhamela Basti.
Diana River & Bhutan Hills from the view point
About 2kms from Jaldapara towards Birpara, there is a left into the jungle at a place known as South Khairbari. That jungle path (which is motorable) leads to Tiger & Leopard Rescue Center
in about 12kms from this entry point. This is where wounded and ailing animals are brought in for recovery. This is a nice tourist attraction and car safaris too are arranged, although you can take your own vehicle up to the gate and then take a van rickshaw to get around the center or even walk.
While visiting Buxa Tiger Reserve
you will see Jayanti river flowing through the reserve. The water at the river here is shallow and large vehicles can go across the river which is full of rocks. Standing on the Jayanti riverbed and soaking in the view around with mountains at the backdrop is a special experience. Chunia Watchtower
is located across the river Jayanti and is popular for Jeep safaris to spot wildlife.
Jayanti River, Dooars
At Buxa Tiger reserve, you can enter through the gate at Rajabhatkhawa and drive all the way down to the other end of the forest at Santalabari (about 15kms from Rajabhatkhawa through the forest), then hike to the foothill for 3kms and take a steep uphill Trek to historic Buxa Fort
(2.5kms). And some go beyond to Lepchaka Village further 2kms ahead for wonderful view of Dooars plains from a hill top.
The township Phuentsholing
of Bhutan can be easily reached via the Indian border town Jaigaon in about 1 hour (30kms) from Jaldapara. You do not require any permits to visit Phuentsholing by road and can drive around in the city. It's full of glittering shops, nice tourist attractions and restaurants ... serves as a welcome break from the jungles.
While visiting Dooars from NJP or Bagdogra through Gajoldoba or returning through this route, stop at the amazingly huge Teesta Barrage for a while. The barrage is located at Gajoldoba at the fringe of Dooars and is 25kms from NJP (40 minutes drive). Teesta barrage was built mainly to create a water reservoir to feed irrigation water to north Bengal region. The sight of the river and water gushing out of the barrage is worth a photo shoot.
If you are approaching Dooars from Siliguri/NJP along Sevoke road, shortly after the Coronation Bridge from Sevoke you will get to Mongpong Village
. Other than lush greenery, forests all around and wonderful view of River Teesta flowing through marshy lands and jungles, you are on the fringes of the well known Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
. Mongpong village is located at the entry to Dooars area and is about 32km or 45 minutes drive from Siliguri. There is a WBFDC run nature resort here with several small cottages. Although there are no organized safaris of the sanctuary from here, you can take a safari of Mahananda WLFS from Sukhna gate which can be easily visited from Siliguri.