Raimatang Tourist Spot – An Offbeat Location in North Bengal
Although I am borne, educated and spent my working life in Kolkata, my father spent most of his childhood days in North Bengal, mainly in the Terai region. I don’t know whether it’s blood connection or the desire to find myself in the lap of unadulterated nature, but Dooars always attracts me.
Added to it if there is any continuous leave for three days, then there is no question of staying back. In order to fulfill my desires in this year’s Holi holidays, on the night of March 1, Kanchanakanya Exp started running with me. Every time I get on this train, my mind is anxious when I will leave Siliguri the next morning and head towards Mall.
This time too it was no exception. The wooden houses of the small villages along the railway line merged one by one into the deep forest on both sides. Its hard to stick to your seat on the call of that forest. I went towards the door with the camera in hand. Kanchanakanya proceeded at a slow pace through this forest area following the rules of the forest.
One by one we left behind Chalsa, Dalgaon and Hasimara and landed at Hamiltonganj at around 12 o’clock.
Despite being called Amrit Chhetri of Raimatang Mountain View Home Stay yesterday, I told hime that there is no need to send a car. Leaving the station premises when I approached the main road I discovered that there are no signs of auto, magic or any car on the road. Asking the shop owner at a cigarette shop, I found out that today is Holi so everything is closed. Meanwhile, I tried over Amrit’s phone but its also switched off.
However, after standing for a while I got a share auto of Kalchini and got up. I got down at Kalchini and negotiated with another auto and decided that he would go to Raimatang for 300 rupees. Mile after mile of Bhatpara Tea Garden and Kalchini Tea Garden and the road in the middle of it. The sky became cloudy as we approached the Raimatang River.
The only way to reach Raimatang village is through the river bed of this river. In the months of monsoons, the river becomes very aggressive and the village of Raimatang gets completely cut off from road connection. Before the monsoon, the villagers store the rations for a few months at home. The river bed is full of with silvery pebbles. Going a little farther my auto suddenly stopped.
Its rear wheel got stuck in the mud. Heavy rains have started in the mountains of Bhutan. The dry river bed is no longer dry and has become a little muddy for the small streams of water that has emerged because of the rain. We lifted the wheel of the auto with the help of some local boys but the driver refused to go any further. Fortunately a magic car was passing this road.
I don’t know what he said when the auto driver went ahead and stopped the car, but when he came back and said that the arrangements have been made, the rest of the road I will travel on the magic – I was quite relieved. After going some distance, I got startled by the question of the driver of the magic – “Will you go to the temple?” Then, from here you need to go on foot. ”
What does the man say? Which temple? The Raimatang River is about 1 km wide at the exact spot where we are now standing. The river is flowing like a snake. There are only hilly forests on both sides. Meanwhile, drizzle has also started. Seeing my condition, the driver realized that Auto Wala had run away by explaining junk him. Maybe he got some sympathy on seeing me. Finding the way through a river side village with his car, the good fellow finally dropped me in front of the Mount View of Amrit.
Its a tidy village with a population 95. 4 houses in this village has been developed as home stays. All houses have wooden structures and are placed on top of tall wooden pillars or tree trunks or concrete pillars.
My home stay looked like a picture of a children’s drawing book. Ascending the wooden stairs to the wide veranda I found adjoining to it there are 2 rooms and one out of these is designated for me. Amrit’s courtesy and the location of the house really pleased my heart. This village is surrounded by hills and forests panning at an entire 360 ° angle.
This Raimatang village is in the buffer zone of Buxa Tiger Reserve. The Bhutan mountains are peeking out of the green hills in front of them. In front is a betel tree garden and on the other side is Aranya Mahal Guest House. Rent is at Rs 1,200 per head per day including food at Amrit’s house. It has been load shedding from last night, but there is no problem due to the mild cold weather.
While having lunch, I heard that elephants have been coming to this village every day for the last 10 days in the greed of eating. Sometimes a herd of 9 elephants and sometimes a lone elephant with half a tail. In Amrit’s words, this single elephant is a “big scoundrel”. It was about 3 pm in the afternoon by then. I decided for a walk around the river bed along with Akash, the caretaker of the home stay.
An hour later I went out and heard that the elephant had come out towards the river bed and its not advisable to go in that way now. I persuaded Akash with a lot of difficulty and he agreed only with a condition that we shall take steep rocky road instead of flat road because the elephant chasing us on flat road will me much more dangerous for us. So we left the village road and took the uphill road. It is wrong to call it a road however, its rather just a narrow path through hilly forest.
I saw elephant droppings every 100 meters. This road seems more dangerous! When I asked Akash about this, he told its impossible to run with the elephants on the plane but elephants do have a little respect for the rocky roads instead. Whatever it is, we did not dare to stay there till dusk and came back to home stay on time.
The whole village fell asleep in the early evening. Peacock’s croaking call is echoing at random from the nearby jungle . While talking to Amrit, a strange thing happened. I noticed from time to time a bright torch light is coming out of a house. For a few seconds, the light flickered randomly and all was quiet again. Asking Amrit on this phenomenon I learned that by this the elephants are informed about exactly where the human settlements are so that they do not choose their track over the village.
There is a damp feeling in the air, it was raining in the distance. At this moment a strong smell came to my nose. This smell is familiar to me. As soon as we got this smell while climbing the hill of Mathaburu in Purulia a year back, we came down in fear of elephants. I was quizzing in my mind is this that same smell? I lit the match and tried to understand the direction of the wind. I got directions that the smell was coming from somewhere far behind the resort. But after a while I didn’t get the smell anymore. After dinner I went to bed at 11.30 am.
At exactly quarter to twelve I heard a shout from a distance. Right after that there was a knock on the door and the voice of Amrit – “Sir. The elephant has come. ” I removed the blanket and went out on the veranda and saw the huge mammal walking on the road on the right side just next to my house. Behind him, a group of people are trying to chase him towards the forest with different voices and firecrackers.
It is not possible to take pictures in the dim light of the cloud-covered moonlight nor in the light of torch, so I just enjoyed that unprecedented scene with my eyes to the fullest. A few minutes of running and anxiety. After that, everything was as it was again. It’s like a nightmare that came and passed away suddenly. I realized the smell that I got was not a vague one!
Today is the second day. The plan was to go as far as possible on Amrit’s bike, grab the river bed and walk the rest of the way to Mahakal Temple. But again, morning breaking news on the elephants disturbed this plan. Their sign of arrival has been found in the forest near the river bed at dawn. So instead of a bike, I took a Tata Sumo and grabbed the river bed.
The surrounding green is quite dark today as it rained last night. The dry river bed has tyre marks over it and is therefore easy to follow. But as a result of the rain, the stains of the wheels has disappeared. The driver had to work hard in finding the right path as there are boulders and stones all over risking a tyre puncture anytime. It was not possible to go further after 1 km along due to the small streams of water and the rugged rocky river bed.
I started walking with Amrit. As we go on, big boulders of different colors are taking the place of pebbles. The path is through these high stones, so you have to be very careful. Plenty of water in the middle of the stream, sometimes jumping to the left and sometimes to the right.
Amrit is keeping his eyes on the dense forest on both sides very carefully. Elephant droppings are scattered all over the river bed. It seemed that entire Raimatang is a free strolling zone for the giants!
The path is being climbed because we are walking in the direction from where Raimatang descended. After trekking for about 3 km, we reached the cave of Mahakal. There are small holes in the grooves of the stone. And Mahadev is being worshiped there. I spotted several locals coming to pay their respects in this nature-made temple.
The heart doesn’t agree to return from such a heavenly place. It was as if I was enchanted by the colorful stones and the green forest on both sides. On the way back, I wandered around the river bed for a long time and then took my return steps.
In the afternoon I took Akash with me and went out to another part of the forest. There is a watch tower 1 km away. This is another form of forest. A carpet of dried fallen leaves spread in the middle of the shawl forest. Creepy environment. The light of the last day fails to penetrate the dense green cover over the head.
Akash guided me on that forest road with a large “kookrie” dangling around his waist. All around the birds are chirping. Frequently harsh croaks of the peacock is making the atmosphere more eerie. Suddenly, from the jungle on the left side, the sound of breaking the stalks stopped our feet. Taking a good look of that spot Akash’s soliloquy came – “Oh, its just a monkey”. Arriving at the Watch Tower, I saw a dilapidated structure. The iron stairs are twisted up to the top.
90% of the stair steps do not have a wooden deck, and for those which do, there is a warning from Akash – “Sir, don’t keep your foot over wooden bids .It can crack any time! ” In other words, the foot should be placed in such a way that the foot rests on the thin iron structure. Balancing on those 1 inch thin iron sheets, I climbed up.
In front of the watch tower there is a small dry pond with peeping out from the gaps in the forest. The origin of this reservoir is from Gangutia river. Wild animals occasionally come here to drink water. Last week, the half-eaten body of a village calf was found near this Watch Tower. According to the villagers, it was a leopard’s work. Elephants, leopards, wild boars, bison, hedgehogs and countless birds live in this forest.
The night before the return, the mood usually gets heavy. But this time it was an exception. I spent the evening merrily with the two tourists who came this afternoon in discussing our travel stories and they also entertained me with a few bengali songs. They are teachers by profession.
It’s time to go back today. After breakfast, I got out of in the car with Amrit for the purpose of visiting Pokhri hill. We took the forest road leaving behind the village.
Its narrow road where there is just a space of one car to move. The dense forest on both sides seems to be overflowing over our car with its all scent. This forest is like a handful of mysteries. Yesterday, deer and peacock were spotted in this forest while two other tourists of the resort came for safari. I am also hearing the call of the peacock, but it is clear that it is coming from far away. I kept my eyes on both sides and moved forward.
We went quite a bit and took the uphill road. I realized we are climbing the road to Pokhri pond. You have to walk about 1 km from where the car road ends. As soon as I got out of the car, I was greeted by two hornbills flying in the blue sky. I climbed a little and reached Pokhari village.
Up above the hill there is a table top like area and this small village with a few houses is spread over that table top. I noticed a home stay here too. Leaving the village, we went up and down the forest road again and came in front of a pond.
This pond is known as Pokhri Lake. This lake is considered very sacred by the local people. Countless fishes roam freely in its waters because it is a sin for the local people to catch fish from this pond. People come here with packets of “muri” to feed and worship the fish. The creation of this pond in the middle of the surrounding mountains in itself is a wonder.
There is a strange serenity in sitting quietly on the rocks beside the pond. I wanted to dive for hours in that peace. But alas! Time was running out.
On the way back we took another road through the jungle. This road has fallen straight into the Gangutia river. This seemed an alternate road way to Kalchini across the river bed of Gangutia. We found a watch tower in this road through forest. Here there is 24 hours posting of the forest department staff. The general public, however, is not allowed to climb the Watch Tower. Leaving the watch tower behind after cruising for few meters, we saw a tree uprooted across the street.
We had to turn around and head back to the Watch Tower. Suddenly a peacock’s call came from very close to the left. I told Amrit to slowly put the car in back gear and go back. This time I did not fail. The peacock is sitting on a tree some distance away on the left.
In Amrit’s words – “Aapka nasib me ye tha, isi liye shayed road block ho gaya hein.” Really maybe so! As Amrit asked for help reaching the watch tower, some of the forest staff got into the car with a huge iron saw and we all headed for the spot where the tree fell.
The tree was uprooted by a herd of elephants last night and as a proof they also left their excrement just below the front part on the tree. The saw had to be held together by two persons at each end and is terribly sharp. Amrit and the forest worker cut down the tree in 3-4 minutes and removed it from the road. We continued with our journey again.
We crossed the forest and came to Gangutia settlement. Leaving that village, crossing the Gangutia river bed, the road was through the tea gardens on either side.
After a while we reached Kalchini. Today there is no scarcity of autos and Magics at Kalchini. I got the share auto for Alipore Duar immediately. The road to Alipur Duar is beautiful with tea gardens on one side and train line on the other. And my auto is running through it. When we reached Alipur Duar through Rajabhatkhawa and touching Buxa outskirts within 45 minutes, I took a toto for New Alipur Duar station.
I reached New Alipur Duar station well before the scheduled time and after 2 hours boarded Padatik Exp for Kolkata. But my soul stayed somewhere in that small village of Amrit, in the winding forest path next to their house, in the echoes of the peacock’s call, in the foggy Bhutan mountains, in the silvery river bed of the Raimatang River and in the wildness of that unknown forest!
© Arijit Kar
Hi! I am from Kolkata, India. Travelling and photography is my passion. As I love landscape photography most, travelling goes hand in hand with it. Since my matriculation days I started travelling. I have also penned down a book on my travelling which is available in Amazon in the name of Ghuranchandi – Part 1. Whatever travel experiences I have, I have shared those in my blog in the form of travel stories.