Gorumara National Park & Safaris
About Gorumara National Park
This is undoubtedly one of the most sought after forests for wildlife lovers who visit Dooars. Not long ago I remember that you could even take your own vehicle inside the National Park. In fact on one occasion I simply walked through the main entry of Gorumara National Park on NH 717 and hiked all the way up to the core area with a guard and a forest office staff. There was no check post at the entry or requirement of any permit. Well those days are gone and perhaps rightly so.
It's not at all wise to walk on the road through the forest as there are good chances of encountering wild animals along the way... there are large number of elephants, bison and even rhinos in the forests here that often stray around and can be dangerous.
These days you need to purchase safari tickets to enter Gorumara National Park. Only open 'Gypsy' vehicles operated by the forest department are allowed to ply inside and that too in limited number.
Gorumara National Park - Jeep Route
Since 1895 Gorumara remained a forest reserve followed by a wildlife sanctuary for 100 years. With increasing wildlife diversity in the forest, it has been accorded the status of a national park in 1994 and now covers an area of 80 square kms. In 2009 the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests had declared Gorumara as the best out of all the 180 national parks in India, earmarked it as a model for ideal national park and recommended that others also follow similar practices and standards of forest development and eco tourism... amazing development!
Gorumara lies on the western bank of Murti river in the flood plains of Murti river and Raidak river. Jaldhaka river too flows through the national park.
Gorumara National Park is mostly full with Sal forests with teak, shimul and rain trees like shirish, as well as grasslands and bamboo groves. Vast stretches of the forest is a dense jungle through which forest routes have been carved out for vehicles to reach out to different sections of the park. You can find abundant tropical Orchids in the forests here.
Out of the wildlife the most common are Asian elephants (huge tuskers), one-horned rhinos, bison, sambar deer etc. There are plenty of wild boars, barking deer, chital or spotted deer, hog deer and even leopards. However there is no resident tigers in the jungles here although occasionally they have been spotted when they visit from other forests.
Bison we saw at Gorumara
Gorumara is also home to numerous types of snakes including pythons and king cobra. A census carried out in 2010 showed that there were 60 leopards, 36 rhinos, over 2,000 bisons and around 50 resident elephants in Gorumara National Park. Elephants from other forests also visit the jungles here.
Spotted Deers we found at Gorumara
You can spot numerous types of birds at Gorumara particularly during the Jeep Safari. In fact every now and then you can see peafowls or peacocks. Other resident birds include scarlet minivet, sunbird, Asian paradise flycatchers, spangled drongo, Indian hornbill, woodpeckers, pheasants etc. In winters, you can see many different migratory birds as well including brahmini ducks, ibis, teals, stork etc.
Peacock we spotted at Gorumara
A good idea is to find some time and visit the Nature Interpretation Center located right next to the ticket counter at Lataguri. You can get yourself acquainted to the flora and fauna of Gorumara. You can see light & sound presentation of animal life of Gorumara national park here. There is a nice deer park adjacent to it. A good place to stroll around among many different flowering plantations.
Lataguri Nature Interpretation Center Gate
Next to Watchtower Ticket Counter
Gorumara National Park is located in Dooars. The nearest major railway station is New Mal Junction (located at Malbazar area). Tourists prefer to stay at Murti and Lataguri areas for easy access to the safaris and watchtower visits in the forest. The main counters for issuing entry permits/tickets for the safaris and watchtower visits are located at Lataguri.
Lataguri is a small township located at the south-western fringe of Gorumara National Park. From Malbazar the distance to Lataguri is 28kms. You can first get to Chalsa (8kms) and then take a right turn on to the highway (NH-717). Murti is 8kms and Lataguri is 20kms from Chalsa. There are buses from Malbazar and Chalsa to reach Lataguri. Taxis are also easily available at both these places.
Many tourists also reach Gorumara from NJP, Siliguri and Bagdogra by car/taxi. There are also buses leaving from Tenzing Norgay Bus Terminal at Siliguri (Hill Cart Road) reaching Chalsa and Lataguri. It takes about 1 hour 30 minutes by car from NJP to Murti (66kms) and 1 hour 45 minutes to Lataguri (79kms). From Bagdogra airport it will take additional 30 minutes.
The entire Gorumara National Park has been divided into several sections and there are separate jeep trips (on Maruti Gypsy vehicles) to visit watchtowers located in different sections. You need to purchase separate tickets to visit different watchtowers. The watchtowers are located in the core areas of the forest at vantage locations from where you get good chances of spotting wildlife. Each visit lasts for about 2 hours. There will be a guide along with the driver.
Note that the last afternoon watchtower trip has a special attraction other than visits to the watchtowers. At the end the visitors are taken to a spot where tribal dance is performed by the local Santhal community. Tea is also served during the ethnic cultural performance. Out of all, Jatraprasad is the most popular one as you get to visit two watchtowers in one go and animal sighting chances are best in this. Chukchuki is great for bird watching.
Here are the watch towers in Gorumara National Park. Visit the links to know our experiences:
Named after a female elephant that provided long diligent service to the forest department, this is one of the most coveted watchtower. The salt licks located below the tower by the river side attract a lot of wild animals which can be easily seen from the tower. Rhino Point is another watchtower located close to Jatraprasad and is covered in the same trip.
This watchtower is located at Kalipur Eco Village at the eastern side of Gorumara. Once you reach the village, you can avail a Bullock Cart ride to reach the watchtower which is located next to Murti river. Along the river banks and across on the grassy land you can sight wildlife such as elephants, rhinos, bisons, deers, and various kinds of birds including peacocks.
Chandrachur Watch Tower (also known as Khunia Watch Tower)
It's located amidst a vast grassy land and also has a salt lick that attracts animals.
Chukchuki Watch Tower
It's located between Ramsai village within Gorumara and Lataguri. Other than occasional wildlife, this is excellent for watching bird life.
Chapramari Watchtower: Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary is more like an extension of Gorumara but separated by the Murti river. There is a watchtower here near the forest bungalow and you can see wildlife similar to what you see in Gorumara.
Apart from watchtower visits, there is also a separate Jeep Safari which you can avail. It takes you around various parts of the forest to spot wildlife. However no watchtower is covered in this safari. Jeep safari takes place for a total of 2 hours including transfers and is accompanied by a guide along with the driver. There are both early morning as well as afternoon Jeep Safaris.
Having purchased your tickets from the safari counter at Lataguri (which is separate from the one for watchtowers), you need to report at the counter before the safari starts. Here you will meet your guide who too will board the vehicle and sit next to the driver.
The entry to the forest for jeep safari is at Lataguri and from the main road itself. Having driven for 10 minutes and before it takes a left turn into the dense jungle, on your right you can see the impressive 3-storied Hotel Dreamland with rooms & private balconies overlooking the dense forest.
Jeep Safari at Gorumara
The Jeep Safari moves through dense jungle and you will come across several villages along the way which are nestled in the national park. Some villages located inside the Gorumara national park includes Sarswati, Budhuram, Bichabhanga, Chatua, Kailipur, Murti forest village etc. The villagers here work for the forest department or are engaged in eco-tourism activities.
A village in Gorumara
While on jeep safari, sighting of bison, deers of different types including chital and spotted deers, wild boars and sometimes even elephants are quite common. However one has to be lucky as there is never any guarantee. Often the guides from the previous safari shift would inform the next guide about the locations where they could spot animals. With such information your guide would try his best to visit such locations hoping to locate the animals nearby. But sometimes that too doesn't work.
Bison we saw at Gorumara
If you get a good guide and a driver as we did and if you are unable to spot enough wildlife, you can request them to take you little off the designated route. They can oblige. In fact our guide and driver took extra efforts to take us to areas which were practically non-motorable. At one point the guide got off, walked deeper into the forest trying to spot wild animals for us. We were able to spot several wildlife including bison, wild boars and many peacocks and other beautiful birds.
One of many Peacocks we found during the safari
Having scanned one part of the forest, the jeep would get to a tarred motorable road and then enter another part of the jungle on the other side of the road. Here you will come to the forest office area with the Neora Jungle Camp cottages located next to it. There are toilet facilities here. The guide walked us down at the grassland behind and showed us a wonderful view of Kanchenjunga snow peaks. From here the return journey to Lataguri begins.
At forest office area next to Neora Jungle Camp
Elephant ride to take a safari in the core forest area is a romantic yet a thrilling way of spotting wildlife. This is one of the best ways of sighting animals because elephants help you explore deep areas of the forest and they have a sense of animal presence. But unfortunately most tourists visiting Gorumara can not avail the elephant safari. It is available only to a lucky few who can get accommodation at Gorumara Eco Village at Kalipur, Gorumara Rhino Camp located at Ramsai and Gorumara Elephant Camp at Dhupjhora villages nestled deep inside the forest.
These camp cottages are managed by the state forest department. You can book the cottages through the Divisional Forest Department's Office 'Aranya Bhavan' located at Jalpaiguri. Elephant safari is not accessible to those staying at private lodges or resorts in Gorumara area including even those staying at tourist lodges of WBFDC and WBTDCL. Go through the relevant section of Best Accommodations in Dooars
to get details of booking these eco cottages.
Video of our Gorumara Safari
Forest department's main ticket counter is located at Lataguri. There are also other counters elsewhere including in Murti area. Note that the ticket counters for watchtower trips and Jeep Safari are different, but both are located at Lataguri little apart. The entry gate for the Jeep Safari is at Lataguri itself. However the entry gates of the different watchtowers are scattered and located some distances away. But pick up and drop takes place at Lataguri near the ticket counter.
If you are staying at Banani Lodge
(the WBFDC lodge at Murti) then there is a great advantage, you can book all watchtower visits and jeep safari from the lodge itself because the lodge is run by the forest department. There are quotas allocated to Banani lodge for its guests. The guests at the adjacent WBTDCL lodge (Murti Tourist Lodge
run by the tourism department) can also help in booking the Jeep Safari. However for visiting the watchtowers, guests of WBTDCL lodge too would have to go down to Lataguri and book tickets.
Ticket counter at Lataguri
(The green structure on the left)
Watch tower visits and jeep safaris take place both in the morning as well as in the afternoon at specific entry timings. However at any point of time, only 40 persons are allowed to enter for a particular watchtower or safari. Each jeep (open Gypsy vehicle) can take up to 6 persons.
You can also book a full jeep for your family ... we were four of us and booked a full Jeep for ourselves. Looking at some vehicles I thought it can get a little uncomfortable with six persons to find adequate space on the jeep to sit or stand. But that's how most go.
So with total of 40 persons allowed per entry to a watchtower, up to 7-8 jeeps may be allowed depending on the number of tourists in the vehicles. Now this leads to a problem... you need to queue up at the counter long before it opens to ensure you get a fair chance to visit a specific watchtower of your choice and at your preferred entry time.
We were at the counter 2 hours before it opened in the afternoon and we were the lucky last four to get entry tickets for the day's final Jatraprasad Watchtower trip. This is usually not a problem for the general jeep safari in the forest.
Ticket counters open and entry permits or tickets are issued at specific timings before a visit takes place, remain open for some time and then close down. They re-open before the next visit. One person in your group availing the watchtower visit or safari needs to be personally present at the counter and carry a photocopy of self ID Proof (Adhaar, Voter's ID, Driving License etc).
Once your watchtower is allocated they will first issue a form at the counter which you need to fill up (so carry a pen as well). You need to then hand over the filled up form at the counter along with entry fees, the man at the counter then issues the entry permits along with a brochure about the forest and complimentary green caps for your group, all tucked into a nice little paper bag.
Watchtower Entry & Counter Timings
There are four entries or four shifts in a day. Timings vary depending on season.
March to September
Visit time: 6am to 7:30am; Permits Issued: 5:30am to 6:30am.
Visit time: 8:30am to 7:30am; Permits Issued: 6:30am to 7:30am.
Visit time: 2pm to 3:30pm; Permits Issued: 1pm to 2pm.
Visit time: 4:30pm to 6pm; Permits Issued: 2pm to 3pm.
October to February
Visit time: 6:30am to 8am; Permits Issued: 6am to 7am.
Visit time: 9am to 10:30am; Permits Issued: 7am to 8am.
Visit time: 1pm to 2:30pm; Permits Issued: 12noon to 1pm.
Visit time: 3:30pm to 5pm; Permits Issued: 1pm to 2pm.
NOTE: Apart from the watch towers of Gorumara, you can also get entry permits for Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary
at the ticket counter at Lataguri. Entry and counter timings are the same.
Fares for watchtower visits
There are several costs components in the total fare including entry fee per person, guide charge, video camera charge, vehicle entry charge, vehicle booking charge etc. The per person charge for the last entry (4th shift) costs more because of the cultural show at the end. Jatraprasad Watch Tower has the highest per person entry fee compared to the others because it also covers a second watchtower Rhino Point and has the maximum demand. A Jeep can take up to 6 tourists.
Fare updated: January 2020
Vehicle cost from Lataguri to:
Jatraprasad/Rhino Point, Medla, Chandrachur: Rs. 990
Chukchuki: Rs. 720
Chapramari: Rs. 1140; Rs. 1320 (with tribal dance program)
Vehicle entry fee: Rs. 100
Guide fee: Rs. 180
Video Camera: Rs. 200
Per person entry fee:
Jatraprasad: Rs. 120 (for shift 1-3), Rs. 160 (shift 4)
Chapramari, Chandrachur, Chukchuki: Rs. 70 (shift 1-3), Rs. 120 (shift 4)
Medla: Rs. 120; Additional Rs. 40 for Bullock Cart Ride.
If you are in a group of less than six and want to book the full Jeep, you need to pay entry fee for all six. If you are single or a couple not wanting to book the full jeep, you can pay a per person charge and join a group of others in a jeep who too are availing such rates. For example, per person overall charge for a visit to Jatraprasad & Rhino Point for the 4th shift would be around Rs. 400/-, while fare for booking a full jeep for a similar trip would be around Rs. 2400/-.
Note that per person entry fee for foreign nationals (except SAARC countries) is double.
Fares for Jeep Safari
The Jeep Safari costs about Rs. 2,200/- if you book the whole vehicle. We were staying at Murti Tourist Lodge of WBTDCL and took their help to book the early morning Jeep Safari. If you go at the counter, it would cost a little lesser though.
Although the national park opens from mid-September onwards, the best time to visit the park is during the winter time between November to March. There are several reasons for that.
Mid-September to October is the period just after monsoon has ended. While the forest looks green and serene, the trees and grasslands have grown over the monsoon and the jungle is denser than ever. So animal sighting during this period may not be easy unless they come out in the open or you encounter them on a route through the jungle. There can also be occasional showers. But in winter the trees shed leaves, grasslands get thinner and weather is cool & perfect for jungle visits.
Having said that April to early June too is a good time. But it can become hot during summer and you need to be ready to sweat out a bit. Possibility of wildlife sighting is best early in the mornings and just before dusk when animals come out to the water bodies or river banks to drink water. During the day time when the heat picks up, they prefer to remain inside dense forests under the tree shades.
NOTE: Gorumara National Park remains closed (for that matter all national parks and sanctuaries in Dooars remain closed) between June 16 - September 15 every year. This is the monsoon time and animal breeding season. So watchtower visits and jeep safaris do not take place during this time. Additionally Gorumara National Park watchtower visits and safaris remain closed on every Thursday.
Most tourists stay either at Murti area or at Lataguri. This is because of proximity to the ticket counters as well as forest entry gates to visit watchtowers or take safaris.
One of the most popular lodges and in high demand is Banani Lodge run by the state forest department (WBFDC) which is located at a picturesque site at the bank of Murti river. A great advantage for guests staying here is that one can book all watchtower visits and safaris right from the lodge including pickup and drop. There are several rooms in the main building as well as cottages here.
Another very popular resort is Murti Tourist Lodge also located in Murti and at a short walk from Banani lodge. It's run by state tourism department (WBTDCL). The sprawling campus with lush garden setting has several cottages spread out.
And there are many other private lodges, hotels and resorts at Lataguri. Apart from these there are eco camps and cottages of Forest Department located inside the forest of Gorumara including Neora Jungle Camp, Gorumara Forest Lodge, and eco cottages at Kalipur and Dhupjhora.
Read Best Budget & Upscale hotels in Dooars
to detailed information about various lodges, hotels, resorts in Dooars including in Gorumara that would suit your choice and pocket, and how to book.
Places to visit around Gorumara
Murti Village & River
Murti is a small picturesque village by the bank of the river Murti and hence it is so named. It is only about 18kms from Lataguri (20-minute drive). The river bank full of boulders is a very popular picnic spot for tourists and locals. With Chapramari forest on one side of the river and Gorumara National Park on the other side and Himalayas forming the backdrop, the surrounding here is exceedingly scenic. While the river has current during the monsoon, but wading in the knee deep waters during the other seasons is a very popular activity with the families and children.
Camping, fishing and hiking are other popular activities at Murti. Birdwatchers too have a great time as there are over 100 species of birds that have been spotted here including Great Hornbills. There are several government and private lodges here including the popular WBFDC run Banani Lodge and WBTDCL operated Murti Tourist Lodge.
Jhalong (or Jaldhaka), Paren and Bindu
These are three quaint scenic villages with lovely views and full of nature. They can be visited on a single day from Gorumara area.
Jhalong or Jaldhaka is a small scenic village in Kalimpong Subdivision located at the bank of Jaldhaka river and on the way to Bindu. The Jaldhaka Hydel Project is located nearby at Jaldhaka Valley (although you need special permission to enter the project site). Because of this project on Jaldhaka river, Jhalong is nowadays lso known as Jaldhaka. Jhalong is a bird watchers paradise. Rare species of birds including Eurasian Wryneck, Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dipper, Hodgson's Redstart, Slaty Backed Forktail among several others can be spotted here.
You can also take an uphill trek to the villages like Todey and Tangta along Todey road (about 21kms one-way). Also visit the weekly Jhalong Market which is used even by the Bhutanese villagers coming across the border to purchase fresh food products. There is a nice forest bungalow in Jhalong (known as Jhalong River Camp) for tourists to stay overnight.
Paren is a sleepy village full of greenery, forests, agricultural lands and meandering rivers. It's an ideal place for nature lovers who want to spend some time in tranquility. About 6kms before reaching Bindu, a road towards left enters the village. About 20kms from Lower Paren are the small villages Todey and Tangta. Along the way on Todey Road there is a nice budget accommodation with small cottages nestled in flowering gardens amidst nature in a locality known as Upper Gairigaon (Khambuhang Nature Holiday Camp. There are also few home stays at Paren offering nice and clean budget accommodations however the best is the Paren Nature Resort of WBFDC
Bindu is a small scenic valley and a village at an altitude of 2,000ft and located at the bank of Jaldhaka river and at the foothills of lower Kalimpong. This is the last Indian village at the Indo-Bhutan border. With the surrounding Bhutan hills and the river flowing through the valley, the scenic view here is simply awesome. Bindu is known for the stunning Bindu Dam which has been built on Jaldhaka river.
Actually three streams Bindu Khola, Dudh Pokhri and Jaldhaka originating from the glacial lake of Kupup in Sikkim have merged just above the dam and formed the Jaldhaka river. There are several trekking trails here including one to Todey and Tangta which goes all the way to Neora Valley National Park. The surrounding areas of Bindu is well known for Cardamom cultivation.
Samsing, Suntalekhola, Rocky Island
Samsing is a serene mountain village located at an altitude of 3,000ft and at the fringe of Neora Valley National Park. From Lataguri the distance to Samsing is about 35kms. The village has wonderful greenery, tea gardens, forests, meandering river, orange orchards and lovely views of the Himalayas. It's an ideal place for those who love nature. Orange and cardamom plantations are the two major occupations of villagers here. Apart from forest department cottages at Samsing, there is a nice mid-priced private hotel here amidst greenery (known as Samsing Suntalekhola). There are also a few homestays here (Raha's Homestay is one of them).
5kms ahead of Samsing is another small village known as Suntalekhola which too is known for its wonderful greenery, orange orchards, forests and tea gardens. The word 'Suntale' means 'orange' in Nepali and 'khola' means a 'stream'. Many types of birds and butterflies can be spotted here. There are trek routes from here to Neora Valley National Park. While there are few home stays here, the most popular is the WBFDC Cottages across a wonderful hanging bridge over Murti river.
This is a river-side scenic destination located about 3kms from Samsing and surrounded by hills. Murti river flows through the place. The name comes from many large rocks that are scattered along the riverside which offer a great opportunity for those who like to practice rock climbing. There are several riverside caves which you can explore too. Several trails originate from Rocky Island that lead to nearby places such as Sherpa Gaon, Bhalukope, Jhandidara, Mo Chuki etc. The river-side camping facility Rocky Island Adventure Camp offers tents for overnight stays. There are also few home stays.
This is a wonderful temple complex which is dedicated to Baba Jatileswar (i.e. Lord Shiva). The temple is located at a distance of 32kms from Lataguri and takes about an hour by car to reach. The temple was created during the Gupta dynasty between A.D. 320 to A.D 600 using clay bricks and stones, and it remains as an archaeological wonder.
Here the main temple of Lord Shiva is located at the center of a pond. The believers hold their breath, swim and touch the idol and swim back. The temple compound has many trees and plantations. Due to lack of tourists, the temple is not commercialized and there is no entry fee.