A rendezvous with wildlife in Jaldhapara
GLORIA J D'SOUZA visits a sanctuary in West Bengal that rarely features in travellers’ itinerary.
Jaldhapara is one of the rarely visited sanctuaries in India. Located at Jalpaiguri in West Bengal, this sanctuary, is scenic with snow ranges of the Himalayas in the background. The sanctuary has an area of 116 sq km, and was declared as wildlife sanctuary in 1941 thanks to the efforts of E O Shebbeare, who was by then head of the Bengal Forest Service.
Established primarily to protect the dwindling Rhino population, the sanctuary has lush deciduous forest, interspersed with dense grasslands and water course. The numerous pools and marshes within the park provide ideal habitat for the Rhinos.
Besides nearly 35 Rhinos, there are elephant, Gaur, sloth and black bear, rhesus macaque, sambar, swamp deer, chital, Marking deer, hog deer, large civet, jackal, wild dog, otter, porcupine, hare, wild boar and occasional tigers and panthers.
Out of these, visitors during the day can site Rhinos, variety of deers, wild boar and rhesus macaques. Elephant and Gaur in this region are migratory in nature.
When they are in the sanctuary they do give their appearance to the visitors. Bird life in the sanctuary is rich. Black necked and lesser adjutant stork, red jungle fowl, peafowl, black and Grey partridge, Bengal florican, Red flanked bush robins and sand plovers are commonly found here.
However, the sanctuary has its own problems. Surrounded by cultivable lands with high density of rural and tribal people, the sanctuary’s vegetation is plundered by illegal overgrazing of domestic livestock.
During floods in June-September, rivers such as Torsa and Malangi (that flow through the sanctuary), change its course. Intensified by the melting snow, the flood results in silt deposition that proves to be catastrophic for both the vegetation and wildlife. For its part, the mankind indulge in poaching of rhinos.
The best time to visit the sanctuary is March/April, when sighting of wild animals is possible. Lured by the freshly grown grass, wild animals normally grace in the grassland. One can find accommodation at Hollong Forest Lodge, located inside the park. There are also elephant safaris within the limit of the park. Early mornings, evenings, and nights are the best time to see the grazing Rhinos, wild boars and deer’s. Spotlights are fixed in the grassland near the Lodge to see animals at night.
Spending the day in the quite ambience of Hollong is a memorable experience. Outside the park is Jaldhapara tourist lodge, which, like Hollong, needs to be booked in advance. While making a trip to Darjeeling, Sikkim or Assam, Jaldhapara is definitely a place one should include in his travel itinerary.
Best time to visit: December to April
*Nearest railway station: Main railway station is Siliguri-135 kms
*Accommodation: Jaldhapara tourist lodge at Madarlhut and Hollong tourist lodge,
*Reservations: Sub-regional tourist office, Siliguri, West Bengal. Tel - 0353 431974