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DIARY 2                  2015    

 Map + Plan


 Diary1  2

From the Highlands of northern Bengal, I now head down to the national parks of the lowlands.

31/1 I get a pretty good nights sleep, for the first time in a little week. Breakfast the usual place, pay my bill at the hotel, and get my suspicions confirmed. If I do the northern tour I originally planned, I will have to spend the entire day in crammed Jeeps. It might be through nice mountain areas, but squeezed in between three others, I can't see much and photo nothing anyway. Instead, I can drive back to Siliguri and then turn east through Maynaguri and north through Moulani to Gorumara National Park in normal busses. That is, how strange it might sound; a treat!. That should be durable within half a day - with luck.
The bus leaves after half an hour, and within three, I do a swift change in Siligury, thanks to a helpful co-traveller. Within few minutes, I have a front seat in a bus heading for Moulani. Here, I have to walk half a kilometre to get to the next "terminal". Here, I jump on the already mowing bus towards Mal Bazar.
I have a few problems telling them, I want to be dropped in Dooars, but finally, a young kid get the idea. I get off some kilometres after the hotel I was aiming for, but central in the village.

The tour has been smooth, and through nice, lush green surroundings. The first part was the step descent from the mountain Kalimpong is placed on. Quite fast, the dense forest is covered in orchids and ferns. After having crossed the blue Tista river - which is somewhat a lake due to a power-dam, the landscape flattens out.
The traffic come to a holt at the Coronation Bridge, which is the only road to Bhutan and a larger area of India. We don't cross it, but head further south. Soon after, we do another break, this time for a railroad crossing.
We are driving through a lush lowland forest, which is made up by several trees, which I have never seen before. Here are still loads of orchids, and I hope and think the area I'm heading for, is at the same level and facing the same direction.
On the other side of Siligury, most fields are surrounded by 2-3 meter tall brick walls. Considering it is grassland with a few cows on, it look insane. Each filed is several hectares, and it is a huge work, that have gone into building these walls. New ones are being build furthest away.
Then here are a few tea plantations and a single pineapple field. Then the rice fields take over, until we reach the forest. We cross Tista again, in a waste delta, filled with sand. In the summer, it must be an enormous river. Around Paharpur, we passes a cattle marked, but I don't dare getting of, before Moulani.

In Dooars, I decide to walk back to the hotel I had planed - mainly because I didn't know how fare it was! I pass many surprisingly fancy resorts and nice government owned jeeps from the park. I also pass a hug, new and unused train station, before I finally reach the hotel. Another fancy place, which's cheapest offer is 1500R. Sure nice, but I actually only have 2000R on me, and it is way too fare from everything anyway.
Back to try others. Here are not a single white face, but that don't restrict the resorts from asking 1500 to 5000 for a bed!
I dressed for open Jeeps this morning, in 1500 meters height, and this is lowland and the sun is shining. I've been walking for more than an hour with my backpack and two fleece jackets, long skiing underwear and I start to feel a bit warm.
I ask some of the locals, and they recommend LakeView Resort. I manages to get a basic room for 700R, and the manager is a real nice person, who give me a lot of welcome information. One is that the park only can be visited in one of their Jeeps, and it cost a smaller fortune.
I am serious considering to just head back to Nepal in the morning. Then I remember: I passed an ATM at some point. I have only spend 5500R, but withdraw 10.000R, just to be on the safe side. One of the reasons is, I have seen so many wild orchids along the road, and I figure the area will be worth to check out.
Next to the resort is actually a pretty nice pond with flowering water lilies. It seems like the forest start behind it, and I have seen a sign pointing to Gorumara Forest 1 Km.

It is getting rather late, and I do a loop around the village. The sun is disappearing in mist around four, and the temperature drops quite fast. I find the back side of the village, where many of the houses are on stilts and made of wood. Out back, the barren rice patches starts.
At five, I try a few of the so unknown souvenir shops. I find a perfect gift for my mom: A horn parrot-whistle. She collect "blow-in-the-arse" animals, and this is a local made, neat piece of craftsmanship. Then I find a local restaurant, serving a great fried noodles with egg and chicken.
Back at the resort, I have a long chat with the manager. He explain how the park visit works: Stand in line at five, try to share a Jeep, bring passport and copy of it and 1500R. It is a 18 kilometre drive to the park, and I know for a fact: That will be cold in the morning and an open Jeep!
I retreat to my room to work, while the resort is being filled with noisy Indian tourists. The temperature is now down to 16C, and I am so pleased, when I get two thick blankets. 

1/2 Despite it is only 4;45, I feel almost alive. The temperature have dropped to 13C - inside my hut. I'm at the ticket counter at 5;03 - alone! The only thing changing over the next half hour is my temperature and the degree I feel stupid. Then I walk home in the dark. At six, I give it another shot.
Now, here are around 20 Jeeps and the office is open. I have to pay for my own Jeep and my own guide - who can't speak a single word English, neither understand the most simple sign-languish.
We drive out the sealed road towards Mal Bazar, but after eleven kilometres, we turn off into Gorumara National Park. We crosses the checkpoint, and I once again have to write my name, my fathers name, passport number, address and so on. Then we drive through a tea plantation and then into the forest. The tall trees are covered in orchids and ferns. Unfortunately, it is too dark and misty to get any photographs from a mowing vehicle. We stop a single time for a Barking Deer, way in the forest. Then it is a Peacock cock; Pavo cristatus, minding its own business.
After some time, we reach the first lookout "tower". The view must be fantastic in a clear morning. 20-30 meters below the river cut through a rather open area, and I barely spot a Peacock, a small kingfisher, and then a Gaur; Bos gaurus 3-400 meters down stream, crossing the river. A few cormorants are fishing in the river, while a small kingfisher only watches.
Then we drive to the next "tower", and see a couple of Barking Deer on the way. Here is another presumable great view on a clear day. I think it is a Serpent Adjutant Stork patrolling the river side. Some Green Pigeons in the treetops, crossing Alexander Parrots but despite the salt-lick, none of the promised rhinos or elephants.
On the way out, we see a barking deer quite close, and a huge Hornbilled taking off in front of us.
Then, the 80 minutes have gone, and we drive back. The driver spots a Gaur in the forest along the road, and it turns out to be a herd of twelve animals, from huge ones to a new-borne.
I get dropped off at the ticket counter, with a feeling of disappointment and also a bit cheated. The other safaris I have been on, involved quite some driving around the area, a guide who pointed out the animals - and animals! As fare as I concerned, we could have done it is a bus with the 18 Indians from the three other Jeeps. The seven kilometres thought the dark forest was not worth the effort!
I walk back to a tiny restaurant, and spend some time ordering roti and omelette. The sun is gaining strength, and I sit in the sun for almost two hours, waiting for my food. After one hour, the three other Jeeps with the Indians - who pay 1/10 of my price, passes bye on their way to their hotels. The feeling of being taken, don't disappears at all! I better not fill out the evaluation-slip. Under suggestions, I would have written: "Let people get back to their cosy hotels, instead of driving them around on the cold road, after you have gotten their money. Don't hand out colourful bags and smoke sticks as gifts, give people a sight".
While I sit waiting, I watch the waiter from another restaurant caring water in a bucket to splash on the dirt-sidewalk to prevent dust. A ten meter hose or some concrete would make his work so much easier. He have to do it at least three times a day, probably more in the summer.

I return to my hut to wait for the sun to kick-in, working. If I lower the standard, I might use twelve of the photos from the tour into Gorumara National Park. I redress for the day-heat, and returns to the forest at eleven, I might be able to sneak into, botanizing.
Out of the village, I find a little trail, leading into the forest. The trees are covered in orchids, and everything is quite lush, especially the time of year considered. I doubt I ever have seen this many wild orchids in one place!
I am truly baffled about how many orchids I find in direct sun. Despite it is the dry season, they look great! Here are at least six different types of orchids, Bulbophyllum being the most numerous. The Dendrobiums are in full leaf too.
Besides from the huge number of orchids, here are so many butterflies. Many of them are only represented by a single specimen, but the entire number is truly high, the time of year considered. And here are so few flowering plants.
I walk straight north, getting the sun in my back. At some point, I hear something big moving around in a group of bushes, and I doubt it is the Manitowoc! I actually rather meet that, than a group of Gaurs, rhinos or elephants. I retreat to the unfinished railroad tracks. They only lack the nails, but they have done so for five years, I'm told. Tracks, signals, stations - all are in place. I end up at a rather vide but almost dry river.
One of the plants I keep seeing reminds me so much of a Galapagos plant: Miconia robinsoniana - it must at least be related.
A single person crosses my track; a tiny, old woman with a lot of green branches on her back. Around two, I'm back in the village for a recharge-shot of tea. While I sit there, a family father make a U-turn, posts his two small kids on each side of me, and take a photo - without as much as a word! Then, they drive on. I have not seen a pale face since the Sundarbans, and it seems like the locals have waited even longer. After the photo session, I try the other side of the road. It is slightly more open, but still with lots of orchids and pretty unspoiled nature.
In some of the swampy areas, I come across some footprints, way larger than mine, and round: Elephants. To judge from the dung, they are quite recent. It is a bit strange, considered, it is the narrow stretch between the village and the railroad; actually just behind my resort.
I cross over the railroads, but before I get too fare in to the forest, a man shouts at me. It is one of the firewood collectors, and he is quite persistent: I just can't go in to the forest. I guess he is afraid of elephants? Nothing to do, but to return to the railroad dam - till he is out of sight.
Then I find a caudiciform, climbing up the trees. It has a matchstick thick vine, and a finger thick caudex. Leaves like Stephania, but is it? It seems like the roots break out from the stem, and then grow thick.
Here don't seem to be more new plants to discover, and around four, I head back to the village for yet some more tea. On the way back, a loop into the forest reveals yet another little village, with a tea plantation and some dormant rice fields. The sun disappears behind the trees, and the temperature drops instantly from nice 28C to 18C.

Back at the hotel, I am asked to hand in my passport once again. Besides from the forms I filled in yesterday, I have to fill-in one with 24 points of information - in three copies manual! They go to the big-town police station along with copies of my passport and visa. They sure know how to piss-off tourists!
I start working, but just before dark, I head in to the village for some supper. The 200 photos from the walk must wait. Same food as yesterday, but without the chilli. An awesome dinner for €0,70. I guess the restaurants aren't used to the tourists like the resorts.
My host tells me, the elephants usually walk on a trail, just in the back of the premises around eight, and I have to check it. I sit and work, along others, with the 200 photos I have taken on the walks. I end up with seventeen different butterflies, and quite some got away, without I got a photo.
At eight, I cover myself in a thick cotton-blanket, and head down to the back of the resort, to look for elephants. The cotton-blanket have to functions; to keep me warm, and to be dropped like a lizards tail, if I should have the need.
On the way down, I scare a wild boar at the dumpsite. I brought a chair, and place my self right at the meter tall, rotten bamboo fence. An owl hoots, some remote music are playing and after half an hour, the boar returns. It passes with a single, rather large piglet, two meters from me. I can easily hear them go through the trash, eight meters away. On their way back, they exposes them self clearly, but I don't bother taking a photo.
At nine, I call it a day, and head back to my hut. The plan for tomorrow is rather simple: Go to Nepal. A bit confusing: Accordantly to my Indian plan, I'm on the schedule. Accordantly to the Nepali plan, I'm one day ahead. Well, I have to cross a border, and that might require a spare day or two!

2/2 I told the manager, I would be leaving somewhere between seven and eight, but I'm already ready at half pass six - he is not. Well, I can always get some breakfast in the village - or not. I am locked in, in the resort. I have to brake through the small fence in the back of the lot. When I reach the village, it seems like it is abandon.
Apparently, it was only alive in the weekend, and that is over. I can't do anything else but walk back, and enjoy the sun rice over the lake.
At half pass seven, I loose my patience, and start call up loud. A kid wakes up, and at least, he not only understand I want my passport - he actually know how to find it. The village is still rather dead, but my usual dub-tar pusher is ready to serve a glass. I jump the first bus heading north, hoping it connect to Mal Bazar.
We drive through the forest but suddenly, the traffic come to a holt. Then the two trucks in front of us start to back-up. I have never thought I would see them have any respect for anything! Everyone in the bus seems to be excited, but me. Guess that is a result of I haven't a clue to what is happening. When we drive on, I see a huge tusker walk into the forest. I manages to get a sharp shot - of the dirt on the window, which can't be opened.

After the forest, we reach endless tea plantations all the way to Mal Bazar, and actually to Siliguri. It is a completely flat area, and it must be rather low. From here and way into Nepal, we drive along the lower foothills of Himalaya.
In Siliguri, I am told, I am at the right terminal, when I'm kicked out the bus. I grab some cookies, but the tea never occurs. Then I start asking for the bus. Some say "auto", but that can't be right - this is not Bangladesh! Then I get it: Take a auto to the right terminal. I could use the chance to experience some of Siliguri, but it does not really look that appealing to me. I make some photos from the auto, and then the bus - without really succeeding anything.
I find one of the shared autos, but apparently, he does not really go that fare after all. Well, I got Rupees to burn, and then he does. He even find me the right bus, doing the entire tour to the emigration. I had actually planned to do a stop or two on the way, and perhaps even spend another night in India, but why bother, when I have the direct bus?
We crosses a lot of almost dry rivers, filled with up against 100 trucks. It is the gravel-dig, in the dry season. More huge tea plantations. Some lush green, some dark green, some leaf less and a single have workers in the fields.
At one, I'm kicked off, and start walking along the road like the others. We have been driving along huge trucks, for a kilometre or more. I do a dub-tar break, and head on. Then I see the trucks are facing the other way - why??? It turns out there was a small road on the other side of the trucks, and that is the border road.
It is quite a walk, and the weather is way better than, I have dressed for.
The single office only ask for my passport and make me fill out yet another form with the usual information. One should have thought, the passport number or visa number should give access to all that online! A solider stop me just before the bridge, and fill out a line in an old book - usual information. Last foreigner was apparently last year! I have managed to avoid any white face - beside my own - since the Sundarbans.
The last half of the photos can be found in the slideshow: Gorumara National Park - Road to Nepal.

The six day short tour round north Western Bengal did not offer that much, but on the other hand; it was cheap! I have spend 1280 DKK - €170 inclusive the 300 DKK visa. I had insurance, and I did not fly here. Sure worth the money!
Flight   0 0
Hotels   280 37
Transport   160 21
Entre i.e.   0 0
Gear   70 9
Visa   300 40
Gorumara NP 150 20
Food i.e.   320 43
    1.280 171

 The epic journey continues in Nepal.

Diary1  2