North Bengal Touching Bhutan Twice

Why North Bengal

I have been to North Bengal several times. Yet not once for only leisure but for some or other work. Work which is my passion, some amount of volunteering and social service not for ones which I get directly paid off. Communication takes time that may be my reason for not having North Bengal in my offbeat travel map yet.

 

New Jalpaiguri Mainaguri Madarihat Siliguri Sevak Jaigaon Phontsheling Travel

Why this travel

I was to organize a network of semi voluntary doctors in north bengal to help me in health screening camps for an CBO I volunteer with now many years. Thus along with a doctor friend of my college days I was touring the PHCs in our planned project area.

Day 0:

Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri

As usual we boarded an express train to arraive at New Farakka Junction in due time. 2 sluiz gates at Farakka was open partially releasing water. I saw several birds swimming in the barrage water but the snaps from the moving train were not satisfactory. Soon we were in Maldah Station.

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The train was delayed coming to halts just few kilometres away from New Jalpaiguri Junction.  Thus we reached NJP very late afternoon. We were hungry so collected some snacks outside the station.

To Malbazar and Night Stay at friends place

We took a waiting car and travelled along the highway at the outskirts of the Mahananda Sanctuary. Soon it was dusk and we were going uphill at Sevok. As the nightlights were lit up the hill slopes garnered a mystic look. But as late we had to rush off. Eventually through Odlabari and Damdim we reached Malbazar after nightfall.

We stayed at a Juniors home at Malbazar. We had a good chat and a sumptuous dinner to satisfy our voracious hunger by then.

Day 1

Malbazar to Jalpaiguri

Early morning after bath and breakfast we started for Jalpaiguri with intent to meet our organisers at Jalpaiguri Students Health Home. We travelled through Lataguri forest to reach Mahula PHC in our hosts car.

We had a hired car waiting at Mahula and we crossed the Teesta river to be in Jalpaiguri by noon.

To Jalpaiguri Students Health Home

I had my lunch and bath at the home of a senior doctor, secretary of Jalpaiguri SHH & then President of Indian Medical Association Jalpaiguri Branch. We paid a visit to the SHH Jalpaiguri Regional Center for an assessment of the space and to plan the human resources for our ensuing school health project

This place I have been often mostly to SHH and times to the adjacent Indian Medical Asoociation Jalpaiguri branch office. After some organisational discussions we decided to restart our journey again.

Jalpaiguri to Churabhandar PHC at Mainaguri

There was a prebooked car waiting which we boarded. Soon we were crossing the Coronation Bridge over Teesta river. We were just rushing through Sevok  to avoid the nightfall before our ascent. I called one of my college juniors to inform our tour. He was excited.

We reached Churabhandar PHC at Mainaguri driving on invitation of one of my newly married junior. He is the medical officer there. He has developed a good kitchen garden in his quarter. The sale of supari oil at places outside the hospital as the local intoxicant amazed me. 

Gorumara National Park

We were passing through the Gorumara forest. I stopped  at a place hearing the queer sound of forest  beetles. Been there also previously. Alighting from the car we took a short stroll in the jungle.

However we didn’t have time to enter the National Park through its designated gate. That is another travel story in future.

Mangalbari PHC at Chalsha in Meteli Block

We passed by the Maliapara subdivisional hospital. By dusk we arraived near Chalsa. The backside of Mangalbari PHC is forest. My junior told me often they had elephants roaming the place at night.

With the rising moon we left Meteli to rush to our planned night stay. I was at Adabari  PHC.

Sulkapara PHC in Nagrakata and to Madarihat

We reached Nagrakata at the dead of night. We were greeted by fire flies in the pitch black darkness. We had a tough time seeing the car parking area.

We could not eat the dinner instead we packed our food and left for Madarihat. We are to stay in the home of one of our bachmates in a phc.  I bought some mineral water as symptoms sounded like a hilly diarrhea.

Day2:

Madhya Rangali Bajna PHC in Madarihat

The PHC had good space. Our friend here to was planning for a kitchen garden. We had a good lunch. We visited a local school to meet some teacher organisers for our mission.

Bara Dighi Tea Garden

Madarihat to Jaigon 

Post lunch along with our host family we started for a short trip to the local Bhutan border by a hired car. From Madhya Chekamari the road was moving alongside the railway line for some distance. Crossing Madarihat we were soon driving keeping Jaldapara sanctuary on the rightside of us. We crossed Torsha river by the Holong Bridge. Then through Hasimara  keeping Beech Tea Garden on left and Dalsingpara Tea garden on right we travelled further. Soon we crossed another tributary of Torsha to appear before 

After some time the National highway was in very bad shape, truly a bed of rocks.

Jaigaon

We however managed to reach Jaigaon , the last Indian rail station. It was a small town but with booming buisness because of its strategic location. What astonished me were the line of trunk factories.

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We tried to get permit to enter Bhutan. I was  told we have to wait for a reasonable time. Or else I could get in till the next checkpost a few kms in Bhutan. We chose the latter.

Phontsheling , Bhutan

We were warned of cigarettes being banned in Bhutan and smoking publicly could land you in prison.

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We visited a beautiful monastery on way as we were climbing along the hilly roads.

Returning to the Bhutanese side of the border we decided for eating out and a rapid tour to the market place. Alcohol was cheap and easily available,  as i had quit I ordered the other items. A lots of “pa” in each item. That is each garnished with strong chilly. I remembered Bhutanese culture has a strong use of chilly to drive away bad spirits.

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After sunset we crossed back to India to hurriedly return to the hospital we were staying.

Back to Madhya Rangali Bajna and Night Travel to Siliguri

We rushed back to Madhya Rangali Bajna as patients meeting time was nearing us. After dinner we  started off for Siliguri in a hired car. It was wonderfull experience speeding the highway under a cover of darkness. We were only afraid of meeting elephant hordes all of sudden in the night highway. Visibility was poor but we reached Siliguri just prior to dawn.

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Day 3:

At Siliguri Pani Tanki More

We reached Siliguri at dawn to be received by a friend at his rented house at Pani Tanki More. He was a high ranking health official and promised to help us in the project. He arranged lunch for us and lend us a car for sight seeing.

Siliguri Students Health Home & Market

We paid a visit to the Siliguri Regional Center of Students Health Home. I had some organisational decisions and had breakfast with pori at the market place.

I had a plan to visit the Tenjing Norge market as heard of the orchid sales from my mother in childhood days. Wasn’t much satisfied as regard orchids but bought a good binocular from the market.

We rushed to our hosts place to have lunch and he decided to give us a treat to a tea garden and Teesta banks.

Mohurgang & Gulma Tea Estate and it’s hospital

I had never been to a tea garden though some occasions I had travelled along roads beside them. Thus the chance of visiting a hospital for tea plantation workers made me happy.

We got friendly with the doctor. He welcomed us to his office, the hospital & also his home. We got a glimpse of the factory and also the plantation.

I enjoyed the sprinkling water over the tea leaves. We walked to the meter gauge rail line bifurcating the garden. The heritage railway now.” The shallow depths between the plantation rows are sometimes the nursery of leopard cubs ” … our doctor mentioned.

Back to Kolkata by Bus

We were already late and as our train bookings didn’t mature we opted for bus. We were dropped at the Volvo Bus stand. We ended our anxiety as 2 tickets were confirmed in a white liner.

The bus started 1/2 hour late but was on time at Berhampore. We took our dinner at the stop and as the bus restarted I went asleep using the blanket provided. Next day i got down at sealdah and took an cab to return home.

What I missed

  1. NJP to Malbazar through Sevok
    1. Ewam Monastery
    2. Teesta Picnic Spot : A stroll along the Teesta banks to enjoy the splendid beauty and to collect rounded stones from the river bed.
    3. Mong Pong Park
    4. Peiling Bumbaji Monastery
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North Bengal Tea Plantations & Gomtu Bhutan


Why this travel

The plight of the tea plantation workers in locked out tea gardens saddenned me. So to understand their health and nutrition issues we were in North Bengal this time. Not a pleasure trip at all but the travel satisfied me utmost.

Day 0 : Kolkata to NJP

Our journey was sudden and out of 4 in group some of our tickets were confirmed at the last moment . We boarded the night train and had our dinner. I managed a lower berth  and tried to have some sleep at night.

However we were cordially  received at NJP by a fellow organiser, a school teacher who would accompany us to certain distance.

Day 1 : To Birpara Tea Garden

NJP to Sriram Lodge (Stay) at Birpara

Our guide decided to avoid the traffic snarl of Jalpaiguri town and hence took the eastern bypass from Dabgram. Taking the Shahudangi road we reached Ambari in Falakata. We started with the Ambari Belacoba road thereafter. We had breakfast at Gujrimari from a roadside shop and crossed a level crossing near Belacoba. We crossed the Mohitnagar rail station and Sajnapara, east Gairkata. I saw many stone breaking factories at Sakojhora.

Eventually we reached Birpara to check in at Sri Ram Lodge. The facilities were not much good but so and so. No restaurant but it was an arrangement by the tea plantation workers. 

To Birpara Tea Garden and back

After a brief tiffin we set out for the nearby Birpara Tea Garden with some of the medicine medicaments we have brought in. We were 3 doctors and an compounded team.

Day 2 : Birpara to Gomtu & Garganda Tea Garden and back

Breakfast at Birpara

I was early up from sleep and took a stroll outside our lodge. We had breakfast with omlete & sabji paratha in a roadside eatery.

The mode of transport specially carrying bicycles over the jeep amused me. It was cold and people had lit fire at places.

Birpara to Gomtu by road

I passed through Ramjhora after we started from Birpara. We came across a traditional adivasi procession on road near Hoasinbad Tea Garden. There after crossing the Dalmore Tea Garden we went straight leaving aside a left road to Panden cement.


I was approaching Makrapara Tea Garden through a forest. At start near the locality we saw a watchtower for wild animals specially elephants.

Gomtu or Phontsenerei

We reached Gomtu soon and took selfies at a beautiful gate in the India Bhutan border from the Indian side. Initially the bhutanese authorities were denying us stepping in bhuanese soil. After persuation mentioning we are only a doctors team visiting poor tea plantation workers, they let us enter .

We drove a little into Bhutan seeing the changing faces of architecture. On way back we stopped at Makrapara Kali temple in the India Bhutan border. We however missed the Gomtu Gomfa. Moving through river bed we were at NH in Makrapara again.

Makrapara & further to Garganda Tea Garden

We took a way along the course of a dry river, a really bumpy one. As we reached near the Garganda Tea garden I saw piles of stones carefully dumped at places on the river bed. We found out they were collected by the now unemployed tea garden workers as an alternate source of earning . 

We were soon driving through tea shrubs not so cared for with overgrowth of weeds amongst them. Ultimately we reached the desolate tea garden. But as we started with the camp lots of patients thronged in.

Garganda Tea Garden & Health Camp

The workers home had no electricity as they had been terminated in the closed garden. Piped water only has arraived outside the garden gate that too only few year back. Even a bank and post office remain closed to be opened once or twice a week. The average Body Mass Index of the people screened being 14.3 kg/m².

Some of us paid a visit to the tea worker slums to get an idea of their living conditions.

Around Garganda & Return to Hotel

We walked around the closed tea garden to take a glimpse of the life there.

Day3 To Dimdima Tea Garden & Return to NJP and Kolkata

Morning at Birpara

Had breakfast from a roadside stall. After bath we loaded the car with our luggages as would be returning today after a camp at Dimdima tea garden.

Dimdima Tea Garden Health Camp

We were cordially recieved at Dimdima by several tea garden workers. They had been waiting patiently for health check up.

The garden has a big bedded hospital with logistics but severely lacking medical staff. A hospital in ruins speaking for the golden days when the garden was fully operational. It however still has a small health center run majorly by trained female health workers.

Birpara to NJP Railway Station

Travelling back to NJP was wonderfull.

From Banarhat we travelled through a deep forest.

Finally we reached near Mongpong Forest to leave the Railway line and move uphill to Sevoke.

Enjoyed the views of Teesta and the hill slopes at Sevoke and the Coronation bridge.

Back Home

Boarded the night train in proper time and by morning we were at Kolkata.

My car picked me up from station and soon I was at home.

What we missed

 

 

 

On expectation to a leisure travel in North Bengal in near future

Yours always

Wondrous Wanderer