Jatraprasad & Rhino Point Watch Towers
At Gorumara National Park, Dooars
Jatraprasad Watchtower and Rhino Point are located in Gorumara National Park. This watchtower trip by Gypsy vehicle is the most coveted safari and has the highest tourist demand because you get to visit two watch towers on the same trip, and possibility of wildlife sightseeing is the highest here.
Once you get the entry tickets at Lataguri counter, you need to be present at the gate of Lataguri Nature Interpretation Center (located right next to the ticket counter) minimum 30-45 minutes before your watch tower visit is scheduled. This is where you will meet your guide. He you will then walk you to your allocated vehicle (which is a Maruti Gypsy) parked by the roadside at a short distance.
The entry gate of Jatraprasad Watchtower is about 10kms from Lataguri on the highway #717 that leads to Chalsa and on the right hand side. Here all the jeeps for the shift line up for the entry gate to open. The guide records entry permit details at the entry gate. You too need to sign a register kept at the check post guard room here. And then the journey through the jungle starts.
The trip I am describing here had an entry time of 3:30pm. The month was October and it was the last trip of the day. Although I made several trips to Gorumara before, the reason for choosing this trip was to experience an added attraction with the last trip - traditional tribal folk dance at the end.
Entering Gorumara National Park
From the entry gate the watchtowers are about 5kms into the national park nestled deep into the forest. Along the way there are good chances of sighting wildlife like bison, elephants, deer, wild boars etc. You can almost surely see peacocks or peafowl along the way.
Near one end of the road before it turns right you can see the 2-storied Gorumara Forest Lodge on your left. There are only four rooms which can be booked through forest department's office 'Aranya Bhavan' at Jalpaiguri. A thought would surely pass your mind about how the experience would be staying at the lodge here when the night falls in complete silence and wild animals wander around.
Gorumara Forest Lodge
Near the lodge we saw a shaded platform where an elephant is chained on its feet. The guide mentioned that a few years back when it was a calf and got isolated from the herd, it was picked up from the Diana river bank and brought here. It has been named Diana Rani.
About 75 yards from the forest lodge at a short walking distance and tucked in a corner is Rhino Point watch tower. However we would visit this watch tower on our return. So the vehicle turned right here towards Jatraprasad Watchtower which is at a short distance away.
Jatrapasad was a female elephant which was trained by the Forest Department. The elephant had provided exceptionally diligent service to the department working routinely and helping the rangers and staff to survey the forests. When it died, the forest department made a huge sculpture of the elephant near the present watchtower. However the concrete structure was damaged and destroyed by wild elephants. Later the Jatraprasad Watchtower was built and named after the diligent elephant.
View from Jatraprasad Watchtower
This is a two-tier watchtower. There are only few short steps to the first level which opens up into a large balcony like platform. From here you can get a panoramic view of the forest with Murti river flowing right below. Further away flows the Jaldhaka river which too can be seen. And beyond that is Bamondanga Tea Estate.
View towards left
As we were trying to settle our eyes, the guide came next to me and pointed his finger towards the tree shades diagonally across Murti river. And I could almost immediately spot a rhino roaming around.
Then he pointed his finger further away... there was a group of bisons approaching the Murti river perhaps to drink water. They were quite far away and a binocular was of great help. On the right and not too far away was a large group of spotted deers on the bank of Murti river.
A large group of spotted deers on the bank of Murti river
And right below and next to the salt lick was another small group of spotted deers.
Well having spent some good 40 minutes at Jatraprasad we headed back for Rhino Point Watchtower located near the forest lodge. A walkway through a grassy land leads to the watchtower. A short few steps and then you are on the large roof covered gazebo-like viewing platform. We were the first to enter the watchtower, so could easily walk down to the end to get a full view of the forest. There were a few plastic chairs there and we were lucky to grab them.
Spotted deers at salt lick (seen from Jatraprasad)
When you initially look out into the depths below viewing the landscape, you are likely to be surprised by the elevation level of the watchtower. About 150 feet below flows the narrow stream Indong Jhora. Two salt licks are kept by the stream-side here for animals to come down and consume salt. Further away behind Indong Jhora flows river Murti.
Salt licks seen from Rhino Point
Last year, this is from where we saw Bison, Rhino and wild boars near the salt licks below. But now there was hardly any signs of wildlife. Could only see a large group of yellow-footed green pigeons. Usually the larger animals come out to the open early in the mornings and remain under tree-covers in the afternoon. However in winter they come out in the afternoons as well to enjoy the sun.
Rhino Point watchtower started getting crowded with tourists who followed us having visited Jatraprasad. It was time to move on. And shortly thereafter while our vehicle moved through the forest, we came face to face with a group of bisons staring right into our eyes. We waited in silence till they moved along, crossed over the road and disappeared into the dense forests.
Bisons in Gorumara
We came out of the main entry gate on to the highway, but weren't returning yet. It was the last trip of the day, so we knew that there was a cultural performance awaiting us. In about 2kms towards Lataguri there was a gate on the left and we entered into a large premise. There was a small circular stadium-like structure on one side and we were guided to take a seat there. There is a grassy performance area at the center with concrete seats circling it.
Once the seats were filled up with returning tourists, the troupe entered - a bunch of girls and lads belonging to the local tribal community. It would be a traditional tribal folk dance performance with music. The men will play the traditional drums, a group of ladies will sing and the rest of the ladies were lined up to dance. Soon the drumbeats started and the dancing troupe started performing the ethnic dance in traditional rhythmic style holding each other.
Traditional tribal dance
Members of the troupe encouraged participation from the audience as well. A lady from a tourist family did join and surprisingly performed well with the troupe. Hot tea was served by a local lady staff in paper cups with two salted biscuits for each (which is included in ticket cost). It was a great relaxing time after a long tiring trip. The cultural show lasts for about 30 minutes.
Time to get on to the jeep and head back to Lataguri. We however released our vehicle when we entered the performance venue as we asked our own driver to park our personal car here. We would head back to Murti Tourist Lodge where we were putting up, it would be a much shorter ride than going all the way to Lataguri and returning along the same route.
How to visit
Watchtower visits take place daily (except on Thursdays) both in the morning and in the afternoon. If you are staying at WBFDC Banani Lodge in Murti you can get the bookings done right at the lodge itself and the Jeep would pick up and drop you at the lodge. However others would need to queue up at the counter at Lataguri well in advance as the number of jeeps allowed per time-slot is limited.
Go through the relevant sections of Gorumara National Park
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