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Home >> Hotspots >> North Bengal

North Bengal

Jul 28, 2005 at 08:34 AM
Places to be: North Bengal
Tucked in between the majestic Singalila Ridge on the west and the Chola Range on the east, lies the Himalayan foothills of North Bengal. It is bordered by Nepal in the west, Sikkim and Bhutan in the North, Assam in the east and Bangladesh in the south. The plains of the Bengal Duars sit at the foothills of Bhutan hills and are bound by the River Sankosh in the east. The mighty Teesta River, which runs roughly north to south, is the main catchment for the numerous feeder streams.

The area lies in two main bio-geographical zones: Central Himalayan and Gangetic Plains with elevations ranging from 60 to 4000 meters. Here the variations in altitude have created a range of temperatures, which are a mix of the tropical heat of the valleys and the bitter cold of the alpine areas. Rainfall is very heavy in most of the area between April and October. Such climatic and altitudinal variation creates a range of environments. Luxuriant tropical moist deciduous forests, mostly dominated by gigantic growth of Sal (Shorea robusta), characterise the terai and duars foothills vegetation. Dense evergreen growth of huge trees with buttressed trunks, and with lianas and creepers covering them, are seen at altitudes upto 1200m. At middle altitudes extending to 2400 meters, mixed broadleaved forests of horse-chestnut, oak, maple, birch and other hardwoods dominate in the moister sites, with the pine being dominant in the drier areas. Above 2500 meters the vegetation is a mix of pine, larch, spruce, juniper which is replaced by hemlock and silver fir at higher altitudes. A great variety of rhododendrons cloak the hills from 1800 meters to the tree-line, which is reached at about 4000 meters.

All this leads to a profusion of bird life whose variety and richness is unparalleled by any region of a similar size in India. With more than 50% of our bird species to be found in this area, it can claim to be a top birding destination in India.

The birding strategy in North Bengal is to spread your time between the plains in the duars, the middle hills and the high-altitude areas. .
Singalila National Park, at the extreme northwest of West Bengal, forms the border with Nepal and is a high altitude protected forest. The popular Sandakphu trek is through this Park. Thick bamboo, oak and rhododendron forest between 2000 and 3600m cover the Singalila Ridge, which runs roughly north to south. Treks begin at Manebhanjan, which is 30 kms from Darjeeling. The popular birding trek is from Manebhanjan (2100m) to Sandakphu (3640m) and back with halts at Gairibans (2620m) or Kalipokhri (3110m).

Singalila is the place for difficult and hard to see birds. The checklist for the area contains 160 species. Here Blood Pheasants and Satyr Tragopans vie for attention with Brown and Fulvous Parrotbills. Rufous-fronted Tits share the rhododendron forest with Fire-tailed Myzornis and the Golden-breasted Fulvettas. In a word Singalila is ultimate in exotics and must be on every birders trip itinerary.

How to reach: The Park is best approached from Darjeeling, West Bengal. While it is possible to drive up to Sandakphu, treks from Manebhanjan with halts at Garibans/Kalipokhri/Sandakphu is the preferred alternative. The whole trek should take 5-6 days.
Where to stay: Govt. of West Bengal Tourist Lodge and Trekkers Huts.
Lava & Loylegaon
Close to North Bengal's border with western Bhutan lies a stretch of pristine forest shrouded in cloud and mist. This mature moist evergreen biotope covers an altitude range from 1600m to 2500m.

The Paktham Forest on the road to the village of Lava from Alagarah and the north-western margin of the Neora Valley National Park form the core of this birding hotspot. The Lava area is the place to see Rusty-bellied Shortwing, Broad-billed Warbler, Blue-fronted Robin, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Scarlet Finch and many such rarities. The adjoining area around Loylegaon is also worth a visit for these and other great birds.

How to reach:  Lava is accessible from Kalimpong (35 km east) and from the Damdim Road, which connects to Siliguri. Lava is best combined with a trip to the Duars, Sikkim or the Darjeeling area. The roads are good, particularly the Damdim Road.

Where to stay: Yankee Resort and West Bengal Forest Dev. Corporation Tourist Bungalow in Lava or hotels in Kalimpong.
The Bengal Duars (or Dooars) is the gateway to the north-eastern parts of India and stretches from Siliguri in the west to Buxa in the east. This 150 km stretch of dense evergreen moist deciduous Himalayan foothills plays host to some of the most sought after birds in the world. The Duars are breathtakingly beautiful. The mostly flat terrain is lush green with large patches of towering forests. The land is crisscrossed by some great rivers like the Teesta and Torsa and by innumerable seasonal rivers whose broad pebble dry beds add to the overall beauty of this unforgettable wilderness. Mahananda, Chapramari, Gorumara, Jaldapara and the Buxa Duars are all protected forests in this area and aside from preserving nature, is home to floricans, cuckoo doves, bazas, hornbills, falconets and many others. While the forests in the west resemble high rainfall type terai vegetation, the Buxa area is very similar in bio-diversity to the Manas area and is actually close to the Manas National park. Birding is rewarding at all the protected areas and holds an amazing diversity of species. The protected forests of Chapramari and Gorumara are birding hotspots and provide the best opportunity to see many lifers. The Buxa area presents the greatest challenge due to the weak logistics, but some very rare birds are only to be spotted in the tall and thick evergreen canopy, which characterizes the area.
How to reach: Siliguri is the best starting point. Siliguri is connected by air (Bagdogra) from N Delhi, Guwahati and Kolkata and by rail (New Jalpaiguri) from Delhi, Guwahati, and Kolkata. Siliguri is about 10 hours by road from Kolkata.

From Siliguri, Chapramari and Gourmet are an hour and half away. Jaldapara is a 3 hour drive and Buxa will take upto 4 hours to reach. Road and rail transport are available choices. The National Highway is in very good condition and driving is comfortable.

Where to Stay: At Gourmara, Help Tourism ( runs Jungle Camp, an eco-tourism camp. The Forest department has rooms at Chapramari and Gourmara. Jaldapara has Forest Dept. accommodation both inside (Holong) and outside (Maderihat). Buxa has very basic Forest Department bungalows.
-Bikram Grewal
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