Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary & Safari
Chapramari is essentially an extension of Gorumara National Park - the two are actually divided by the Murti river. In fact Chapramari is bounded on its west by Murti river and on its east side by Jaldhaka river. Although this is a relatively small forest (about 10 square kms in area), it's one of the oldest in Dooars. In 1895 it was first recognized as a forest reserve due to its diversity in flora & fauna. Subsequently in 1998 it became a wildlife sanctuary. The name Chapramari originated from a type of fish (known as 'Chopra') that are found in abundance here ('mari').
Once you reach Chalsa and move towards Nagrakata along the National Highway #17, the forests that you see after crossing Murti river on both sides of the road (for a stretch of about 7kms till Jaldhaka river) is Chapramari. Most tourists who visit Gorumara National Park
, also visit Chapramari Watchtower. Access to Chapramari is easier if you are staying at Murti village area or at Lataguri.
Like in Gorumara, you can see a wide range of wildlife at Chapramari.... elephants, gaurs (i.e. Indian bison), leopards, different types of deer including spotted deer, chital, sambar and barking deer, wild boars etc are common sightings here. You can even see one-horned rhinos if you are lucky.
And there are many different kinds of birds at Chapramari... you can spot mynas, scarlet minivets, green magpie, Indian treepie, thrush, white breasted kingfisher, adjutant stork etc. Around the water bodies and along the river banks you can often see egrets, darters, large & little cormorants etc. In migratory category you can see Brahmini ducks, teals etc. There are many flowering orchids that you can see in the forests at different times of the year.
Jungle Safari & Watchtower Visit
Jeep safaris are offered by the forest department to visit Chapramari Watchtower and experience the forest and its wildlife. You need to get entry permit, pay for guide and the vehicle (which is an open Maruti Gypsy) to visit the watchtower. We had our rooms booked in WBFDC Banani Lodge at Murti
. Since the lodge is run by the forest department, a big advantage here is they arrange the safari for you including entry permit, guide and vehicle (not just for Chapramari, but Gorumara safari & watchtower visits as well). The Jeep would pick you up and drop you at the lodge.
If you do not have booking at Banani Lodge, then you need to go down to the ticket counter at Murti or Lataguri and book the safari by paying up all the fees. You need to carry photocopy of your Photo ID card and be personally present at the counter. Note that there are only limited number of jeeps allowed in each time slots. Safaris/watchtower visits take place both in the morning and afternoon. I have discussed the entry procedure, timings and fees in details in the following section.
We took the last afternoon safari. The entry gate of Chapramari is on the National Highway #17 and about 3kms from a place known as Khunia More. From Chalsa, Khunia More is about 8kms. Since we are approaching from Banani Lodge at Murti, our vehicle crossed the bridge over Murti river and took a forest route on the left. From here the Khunia More is about 7kms and this route goes through the buffer zone of Chapramari forest all the way to Khunia More. There is good possibility of sighting wildlife like elephants, bisons and deer along this forested route. But we could not see any.
Chapramari Entry Gate
Once we reached Khunia More on national highway, we took a right turn. Along the way we went over the railway crossing... several trains between Siliguri and Alipurduar run on this broad gauge line which passes through the jungle of Chapramari.... in fact it goes right through the elephant corridor.
You might recollect one of the worst wildlife accidents that took place in November 2013 when 5 adult elephants and two calves were killed here when an Assam bound passenger train collided with a herd of elephants. 10 other elephants too were injured. Although the rest of the herd dispersed in fear, they came back to the spot, unwilling to move for a long time until they were shoved away by forest staff.
Several years back, it was a meter gauge railway line which was later replaced with broad gauge. Those days the railway station of Chapramari was operational and tourists coming by a train from Siliguri could get off this station. It's no longer in operation now.
From Khunia More about 3kms to the right of the national highway is the main entry gate of Chapramari on the left side of the road. However the route straight ahead from Khunia More goes through the forest to places like Jhalong and then all the way to Bindu.
The forest route from Chapramari entry gate leads to the core area of the Wildlife Sanctuary. Once we completed the entry formalities (forest staff at the check post verifying the permits and making an entry on a register), we entered into the jungle. The Chapramari Forest Bungalow is about 1km from the gate. And the Chapramari Watchtower is located next to it.
By the time we reached, there were many other tourists already on the tower and there was hardly any space up there. There is a water body ahead and a grassland around with saltlicks where animals come to feed on the grass and take salt. The grassland and the water body were visible from the ground level as well, however there was a wired fencing in front.
We were excited to find a large group of bisons grazing on the grassland... but by the time I could get hold of my camera, they all suddenly ran in frenzy and disappeared into the jungle. What happened?... It was the loud noise from a few unscrupulous tourists on the watchtower that would have frightened them away. Later I could manage to get on to the tower and take a snap of the empty grassy land and water body along with the fringing jungle where the animals disappeared.
View from Chapramari Watchtower
It was slowly getting dark... time to move on from the watch tower. There are several forest villages in the fringes of Chapramari like Khunia, Sipchu, Panjhora etc. Several tribal and village communities such as Nepalis, Rajbanshi, Rava, Munda etc live in these villages.
We are now heading to the grounds of Chaparamari Wilderness Camp near Panjhora village where local Nepali villagers would perform a dance show. This is a bonus offered with the last safari of the day. So we came out of the entry gate, turned left and drove for about 3kms. Then we entered the forest through another route and drove for about 5kms to reach the Wilderness Camp.
There are seats around the performance area. Tea & biscuits are served by the staff of forest department and the cost of that is included in the ticket price. It was an enjoyable evening as the Nepali boys and girls performed their rhythmic dance along with a local song. In between a train passed-by on the bridge over river Murti which was clearly visible as well as highly audible from the camp.
You can book the Watchtower visit from the counters at Lataguri or Murti. You need to go well in advance as number of entries per shift is limited (only 6-7 vehicles allowed per entry). There are four entries or 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.
Fare updated: January 2018
Vehicle cost from Lataguri: Rs. 1140; Rs. 1320 (with Nepali dance program)
Vehicle entry fee: Rs. 100
Guide fee: Rs. 180
Video Camera: Rs. 200
Per person entry fee: Rs. 70 (shift 1-3), Rs. 120 (shift 4)
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 Chapramari Watchtower 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.
If you want to stay inside Chapramari forest, then there are essentially two options:
Chapramari Forest Bungalow - It's an old 2-storied bungalow but well maintained. The location with lovely forest views around, pebbled pathways and the greenery is excellent. However the watchtower being located close to the bungalow, there can be tourist crowd around.
Chapramari Wilderness Camp - It's located at Panjhora at the fringe of the forest. There are several budget cottages here with basic amenities in a wonderful location with a nice lawn in front. You can also see the bridge across river Murti with trains passing by... a wonderful sight. However if there is anything really missing here... it's the wilderness itself.
To book the above accommodations in Chapramari, you need to contact:
Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife Division - II)
Aranya Bhavan, Jalpaiguri - 735 101
Phone: (03561) 220017
You can also contact the Range Officer at Lataguri (Eco Range),
Stationed at Nature Interpretation Center.
Phone: (03561) 266340
For all other stay options, visit Where to stay in Dooars
and go through the relevant section for hotels and lodges around Gorumara (like Murti and Lataguri) which are in close proximity to Chapramari.
Chapramari forest entry gate is located at a distance of 72kms from Siliguri, 17kms from New Mal Junction (Malbazar), 8kms from Chalsa and 26kms from Lataguri. If you are a budget traveler coming from Siliguri, you can take a bus from Siliguri main bus stand and get off at Chalsa or Lataguri and then take a car (private taxi). There are regular trains between Kolkata and New Mal Junction (one of the most popular is Kanchankanya Express).
Go through the article How to reach Dooars
to know about all transport options (including by air, train, bus and taxi) to get to Murti or Lataguri area.
November to March is the best time to visit Chapramari forest... this is the winter time, weather is very pleasant and possibility of animal sighting is high particularly early in the mornings and late afternoons. Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary remains closed between June 16 to September 15 because of the monsoon and this time being the animal breeding season.
Immediately after monsoon the shrubs and trees would be full grown making the visibility lower and animal sighting may not be easy. Also there could be occasional showers.
During summer (April to May) the animals try to remain under shades of the dense jungle particularly during the day time. However they do come out to water bodies early in the mornings and once the sun has gone down. Also note that during summer the weather could be uncomfortable due to heat and safaris may not be always enjoyable.