Chunia & BB Watchtower Safari
Chunia and BB (stands for Bhutia Basti) watchtowers are part of Buxa Tiger Reserve and located across the Jayanti river on the opposite side of Jayanti forest village. This falls in the buffer zone of Buxa Tiger Reserve. You can book a Jeep safari to the forest area where Chunia Watchtower is located (in fact this part of the forest is called Chunia Forest). Along the way and from the watch towers you can spot many different wildlife including elephants, leopards, bisons (i.e. Gaurs), different types of deer like spotted deer, barking deer etc, wild boars, wild dogs and more.
You can book the safari either from the Forest Range Office located at Jayanti market area or through any local contact or your lodge. They provide a Gypsy type vehicle (Sumos and other large vehicles are also used for the safaris). In fact the forest department do not own any vehicle for such safaris. They arrange through the locals. The guides are also locals who have been trained for such safaris.
Our Gypsy vehicle ready for Chunia safari
One of the most thrilling part of the safari is crossing over the riverbed of Jayanti river. Other than in monsoon (when safaris are closed), there is hardly any water in the river... you can see thin strips of water and few water bodies. But the riverbed is full of loose boulders and rocks. A small car will not be able to negotiate that. If you have a large vehicle like an SUV of your own, you can take a local guide from the market area and proceed for the safari.
Getting down to Jayanti riverbed.
See Chunia forest on the other bank
However the locals would discourage using your own vehicle. The local drivers are knowledgeable and are actually expert in navigating through the riverbed avoiding rocks hitting the bottom of the car. We realized quickly how they maneuvered the vehicle through the long stretch of the river to reach the other side and then driving through the difficult terrain of the dense forest.
Entering Chunia forest
Soon after we entered the Chunia forest we realized that the forest routes too were once under the river and full of sands and loose rocks with formation of water bodies along the way. The guide said the Jayanti river has changed its course several times and even flooded the area earlier. He pointed towards left at several abandoned village huts and said... that used to be a Bhutia basti but now abandoned as the river has completely damaged their properties.
Deep inside Chunia jungle
After about 35 minutes of drive we reached the Chunia Watchtower located deep inside the forest. The watchtower is about 12kms from Jayanti village. There are two decks and a stairway to climb. The view from the top deck is awesome .... not only can you see the canopy of trees covering the forest, you also get a great view of different patches of the jungle... ideal for spotting wildlife.
Chunia Watchtower, Buxa
As I was looking keenly and scanning the area, the forest staff on duty at the tower came next to me and pointed towards an area about 50 meters ahead.... he said he saw a leopard there only few hours back. But we were unfortunately out of luck. The staff then asked me to listen carefully, there was an occasional barking sound coming from the jungle somewhere... it was the barking deer - the staff said.
View from Chunia watchtower
We headed back from Chunia Watchtower and took a diversion along the way to reach BB Watchtower in about 10 minutes (BB stands for Bhutia Basti). This is a watchtower with three decks and stands on pillars with a stairway leading all the way to the top. There is a makeshift staff room at the first floor. I peeped through to take look... couple of water bottles, a simple mattress with a pillow on the floor, few plates and cooking utensils tucked at one corner, couple of clothes hanging from a nylon rope tied across the walls, a candle, a matchbox... that's it.
BB Watchtower, Buxa
A smiling man came out of the room and introduced himself as the forest staff posted at the tower. When I asked him about his duty hours, he mentioned that they get posted here for several days at a stretch. Their job is to sight and survey animals, and also to keep a watch on any possible animal poaching or timber felling by the villagers. Their only communication to the outside world is through the range officer or staff who may visit once a day. I noticed that mobile networks too do not work here.
He mentioned that herds of elephant often come here at nights and sometimes they even try to damage the pillars of the watchtower... and it therefore requires frequent maintenance. On our way down he pointed towards the pillars showing me the damage marks.
We took the afternoon safari and it was already getting a bit late. Time to head back. On the way the driver stopped and asked us to look ahead. A wild boar looking straight at us and then escaped into the jungle. The car stopped again after 200 meters or so, a group of bisons crossing our route.
A bird spotted near BB Tower
We were now back on the Jayanti riverbed. The sun was about to set. Stunning views all around. Our driver stopped at a point on the riverbed and asked us to enjoy the scenery for a while before getting back to Jayanti market. Bhutan hills across the river on one side, dense forests on the other and thin shallow streams of Jayanti river flowing through the pebbles... we were lost in nature.
Views around Jayanti river
We washed our face and feet on the stream water and it was very pleasantly cool. It washed away all the fatigue of the day and the tedious safari that we had just undertaken. I looked around and along the stretch of the river. At a distance on the riverbed I could notice that familiar remains of a damaged bridge... the pillars jutting out of the riverbed reminded me of the day when I spent a wonderful evening many years back sitting on the iron frames of the bridge with few of my friends.
On the bank of the river and overlooking the riverbed and Bhutan hills is the rest house run by the forest department. The guide mentioned that the rest house has been recently renovated. It was once a little away from the bank, but now the river having changed its course, it stands right on the bank.
Chunia Jeep safari takes place both in the morning and in the afternoon. Chances of animal sighting is better during early morning safaris. You can also see animals late in the afternoons.
You can book the Jeep safari from the forest range office located near Jayanti village market or through your lodge (if you are staying at Jayanti).
Each safari is for about 2.5 - 3 hours. Morning safari starts at 6am, afternoon at 2pm.
The cost of safari in a Gypsy vehicle along with guide would cost around Rs 1,200/- (if you take a Sumo, it would cost lesser). You can negotiate the rate if you arrange the safari through a lodge or a local contact (Fare updated: January 2020).