Inside the Throbbing Jungle of Gorumara National Park
It was too cloudy when the safari jeep arrived to pick me up from my hotel in Lataguri. I’d booked the afternoon safari that starts from 3 pm. This is the southern area of Gorumara National Park where I had stay put and the gateway is only a 5-minute-drive from the hotel. We started off with the thick humid air mixed with a pleasant petrichor breezing in from somewhere. The slate grey sky seemed to promise a downpour and the forest guides appeared keen to pray for no rain during the safari time. Anxious about the probabilities of a hit or flop show, we reached the entrance gate of the national park keeping our fingers crossed.
Gorumara National Park, located on the flood plains of rivers Murti and Jaldhaka in Dooars, West Bengal, covers an area of 80 sq. km housing numerous varieties of flora and fauna. The forest of Gorumara is home to one horned Asiatic rhinoceros, elephant, bison, various kinds of deer, leopard, Malayan Giant Squirrel, rock python and more animals. About 193 species of birds including Hornbills, Minivets, Pheasants, Storks, Ibis, Lapwing, Cormorants, Egrets, Woodpeckers, Teals and lots more. Other than approximately 48 species of carnivores and herbivores, 27 species of reptiles and other kinds of fauna, numerous species of macro and micro fauna are also common in this national park. River Murti and Indong flow through the forest of Gorumara.
Driving into the Jungle
The permits were already done and we moved into the preserved forest smoothly from the entrance gate. The clouds were getting denser. Monstrous trees on both sides of the forest path stood as a witness to the primitive forest, giving a peek into the thick green beyond. Passing by tiny hamlets resided by local folks, the jeep started to sink in to the dense forest quickly. A strange silence was cast upon us as each one of us on the safari jeep drifted from the mundane to the pulsating wild; a world unseen and so unknown.
It Started Raining
About 10 minutes inside the jungle, the thundering clouds sent a mild downpour initially. It interrupted the journey and the forest officials quickly put on the transparent rain gear over the jeep for us to be comfortable. Starting yet again, we were forced to stop by the heavy rain that followed within 5 minutes. Disappointed with the downpour and all covered, we waited for the safari to resume. However, the rain was so heavy, the rain coverings were almost blown away at times, getting us and our possessions wet. I had to be extra careful about the cameras.
It took another 10 minutes for the rain to stop. A lot of our safari time had been wasted. The officials sped off the car through the forest tracks to give us the maximum wildlife experience within leftover time. They gave us a tiny stopover of about 5 minutes to get off and walk in the middle of the woods to get up close with the forest. We spotted numerous species of flora, stood before the core area and breathed the purity of nature before starting the safari yet again.
Never before I’d experienced rainfall inside a forest; the green turned greener, everything seemed to be washed scrupulously clean. The forest looked breathtakingly beautiful after the rainfall. Check out the video below.
There are a number of watchtowers in and around Gorumara National Park which offers some magnificent sightings of the forest and wildlife. Lataguri is the main entry point of Gorumara National Park. The entry permits for these watchtowers can be obtained from Lataguri Nature Interpretation Centre.
This is the best watchtower for birdwatching in Gorumara forest. This forest is a haven for birds and numerous species of birds can be sighted on the stream in front of this watchtower. During the winter months, the sightings of various migratory birds from Chukchuki Watchtower are an experience of a lifetime.
About 10 km from Lataguri towards the southern direction of Budhuram bit, the Medla Watchtower is located at the confluence of the rivers, Jaldhaka and Diana at Kalipur Eco Village. It is in the eastern fringes of the Gorumara jungle. Spotting rhinos immersing themselves in the river waters and the movements and behaviours of Indian bisons are common sightings from this watchtower.
It is located inside the forest area, on the bank of the Murti river near Gorumara Forest Bungalow. This is the most popular watchtower of Gorumara National Park, which is named in the memory of an elephant whose name was Jatraprasad. The entire Gorumara forest area is visible from this watchtower. The entrance is situated at the northern part of the jungle. There are some salt leaks below the watchtower which is favourable to spot wildlife during the early morning and late afternoon safaris.
This watchtower is also located inside the Gorumara National Park. The river flowing just below the watchtower is commonly visited by rhinoceroses and it offers a pleasant sighting of the rhinos.
On the way towards Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary from Gorumara National Park, this watchtower is located in the jungle area of Khunia, a part of Gorumara National Park. The extensive grasslands beyond the tower is a commonly visited site for elephants and Indian bisons.
The Forest Encounters
Worried about being able to spot wild animals because of the sudden rain, we craned our necks and stretched our visions as much as possible. The shrill calls of peafowls were rampant along with the ominous insect calls. The play of light and shadow through the mighty trunks looked mesmerising! Suddenly, there was this massive peacock sitting on the woods that we spotted. It’s such a beauty!
Moving ahead, there were peafowls everywhere at every nook and corner. It was a very pleasing sight. Next, we went to Neora Jungle Camp which is popular to spot elephants. There is a watch tower here to have a beautiful view of the forest area. There are two cottages run by the Forest Department at Neora Jungle Camp. It’s ideal for those who want to enjoy a quiet respite in the middle of the jungle.
Though the rain had minimised chances, the forest officials were enthusiastic about giving the visitors a pleasant experience of the jungle. On hearing from a returning vehicle that there is an elephant out in the vicinity, we had to cut short the stopover at Neora Jungle Camp watchtower to speed off to the location. As we arrived, there were three other jeeps already in the location with many visitors like us. Some were adjusting their binoculars; some were focusing their cameras while some had got down and staring through the bushes. The forest officials repeatedly asked the visitors to maintain silence and follow the protocols. One of the officials in our jeep led some of us through the elephant grassland and there! Some 20 feet away, this elephant was feeding itself impervious to human presence.
Overcoming the rain blunder, this majestic sight was quite fulfilling. “Is it alone”? I whispered to the official. “They are mostly in groups. The group must be nearby so whenever a wild elephant is in the vicinity, silence is the best weapon. You never know when the scene changes from singular to plural”, said the official. We stood there watching the elephant feeding peacefully for about 2 minutes when some visitors on the other jeep suddenly started clapping. The elephant was utterly disturbed; it saw the human groups and quickly faded into the jungle. The officials were angry; they condemned and warned those visitors not to repeat such behavior. It was an extremely irresponsible act and all other visitors also slammed the action.
We continued our safari towards the Rhino Point to try our luck to spot any one horned Asiatic rhino. On the way, there are a number of water holes and streams where rhinos and deers are commonly sighted. However, it was hard luck for us. We could not spot anything else other than peafowls. Probably, it‘s the rain that made all the difference.
A Short Video of the Safari in Gorumara National Park
The one and a half hour safari finally came to an end. The jungle has an ominous attraction. It feels difficult to leave because it is always a part of your existence that you leave behind. Returning to the daily life feels alien at that point of time. It has happened to me every time. Driving through the smooth road to get back to the hotel at Lataguri felt like the wild rejecting us; the curse of civilization and human blunders have led the wild to destruction and now what is left is “preserved”.
Things to Remember
How to Reach
By Air: The nearest airport is Bagdogra (80 km) from the forest.
By Rail: The nearest railway station preferred by most tourists is New Jalpaiguri (NJP). Other railway stations are New Malbazar Jn (20 km), New Maynaguri (17km) and Chalsa (14 km). You can then reach Lataguri or your preferred location by car or bus.
By Road: Gorumara National Park is well connected by road. The journey can be commenced through NH 31 from Siliguri. It takes about 2 hours to reach Lataguri from NJP railway station. Another highway passes between Jalpaiguri and Maynaguri.
Where to Stay
There are many accommodation options available in all sides of the forest. Most visitors opt to stay at Lataguri (the southern side) and Murti-Dhupjhora (northern side) because there are hundreds of private hotels and resorts for all budgets.
Some of the government accommodations in and around the Gorumara National Park are –
1. Hornbill Nest at Lataguri, a WBSFDA (West Bengal State Forest Development Authority) property.
2. Banani Forest Bungalow, another WBFDC property located on the bank of the Murti river, 12 km from Lataguri. Double bed, 4-bed rooms, and cottages are available.
3. Dhupjhora Elephant Camp has 7 cottages named Diana, Chandan, Hillary, Shilabati, Surja, Meghlal and Tista. Located near the Murti river, this camp is popular as the Gachbari or Tree House. The cottage named Tista is built on a huge Sal tree and this is the tree house which is very famous among tourists. Elephants playing in the waters of Murti river, playful Scarlet Minivets canbe commonly sighted from Dhupjhora Elephant Camp. Elephant safaris are conducted from this camp. You can also enjoy moonlit tea gardens and tribal dance in the evening.
4. Kalipur Eco Village on the eastern fringes of Gorumara forest has 4 cottages. Medla Watchtower is near this accommodation. One major attraction of Kalipur Eco Village is bullock cart safari through the wild. The beautiful location amidst rivers Murti and Jaldhaka, enjoy the sights of lush green tea gardens, wildlife from the watchtower and tribal dance programs in the evening.
5. Ramsai Eco Camp has 4 cottages, located 2 km from Kalipur Eco Village. Also known as the Rhino Camp, the wild one horned Asiatic rhinos often visit near the camp site. The other major attractions of staying at this camp are the facilities of angling and rowing. Bullock carts are available in the late afternoon to take you to the Elephant Riding Point, from where elephant safaris to the jungle are organized.
6. Neora Jungle Camp, located 6 km from Lataguri Nature Interpretation Centre, has 2 cottages.
More Places to See near Gorumara
There are a number of other wildlife destinations near Gorumara forest such as Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, Jaldapara National Park and South Khairbari Nature Park in Dooars, West Bengal. Other travel destinations include Murti, Jhalong, Bindu, Paren, Kalimpong, Rishyap, Lava, Lolegaon, Kolakham and more.