Jaldapara and Phuentsholing

In the morning, we decided to go to Phuentsholing from Lataguri with our stay at Jaldapara. We had nice breakfast in Lataguri and then drove to Jaldapara. The best part of this trip was that we didn’t have any prior plan and reservations. We just decided and moved ahead. The drive to Jaldapara from Lataguri was very smooth and nice through forests, tea gardens with huge mountain range bordering the horizon.

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JALDAPARA

After almost 2 hours of drive, we reached the gate of Jaldapara National Park. The gate was closed, obviously for monsoon and animal mating season from 16 June to 15 September.

The Jaldapara National Park is situated at the foothill of Eastern Himalayas on the bank of river Torsa in West Bengal (India). The vast grassland with patches of riverine forests, was declared a sanctuary in 1943 for protection of the great variety of flora and fauna. The main attraction of the sanctuary is Asiatic one-horned rhinoceros. The sanctuary holds the maximum number of rhinos population in India after Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

The chowkidar (check-post guard) at the gate of the forest came down seeing us and informed us that we could not be allowed in. If we want to stay there then we have to stay in hotels outside the forest area.

The chowkidar was a nice man from our state — Jharkhand. He asked us to call a number and then he talked to a person, who happens to be the owner of a resort named Jaldapara Jungle Camp and Aranya Restaurant. He drove to us soon and led us to his resort in Madarihat on the National Highway, just adjacent to Reliance Petrol pump around a kilometer away. It was a nice resort. It’s situated just outside the main forest area. The electric bordering wires preventing animals wandering outside were just a few feet away from our cottage. There is a small children corner in the resort with swings.

We checked in the last cottage named after a famous river Rangeet. Rangeet is the largest river of Sikkim and is a tributary of Teesta river. For a long distance, Rangeet river marks the border between Sikkim and West Bengal. The adjacent one was named after another famous river Teesta. It has an excellent view and a tranquil atmosphere, far away from the hullabaloo of the cities.

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When we opened the door of the air-conditioned cottage, we were excited to find it a quaint and cozy cabin in a duplex arrangement. It has a machan style mezzanine floor inside the cottage with mattresses kept as a bed on the floor and a table fan! There’s no TV in the cottage and that’s the best thing for a stay in a forest.

The food at the Aranya restaurant was quite good. We had nice Bengali lunch of rice, dal with a dash of Gandhoraj Lebu and fish curry. Literally translated — King of flavours — the Gondhoraj Lebu (lemon) holds a special place in all Bengali households. It lends its unique fragrance to celebrated dishes.

Phuentsholing is around 25 km from Jaldapara via Hasimara. We drove through the National Highway with tea gardens on both the sides.

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PHUENTSHOLING

There is no entry formality for visiting the border town of Bhutan. Being the border town, Phuentsholing serves as the convenient entry/exit point for Bhutan and also the important link to visit the Indian states of West Bengal, Sikkim and Assam. There is an iconic Bhutan Gate to welcome you at Phuentsholing with a unique Tibetan Bhutanese architecture.

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Unlike other cities in Bhutan that offer unexplored terrain and natural scenic beauty, Phuentsholing is the perfect mix of traditions, beautiful landscapes, modern life and culture. There is a lot more to Phuentsholing than meets the eye. The city is a hub for different ethnic groups living in perfect harmony, be it Bhutanese, Nepalese or Indians.

Once in Phuentsholing, it’s best that you hire a cab from the local taxi stand to see the Karbandi Gompa, Crocodile breeding farm etc and come back by the same cab.

We left our cab at Tashi Commercial Center. As we came out of our car, a window from the first floor of the building came down crashing just next to me. Thank God, I was unharmed. That’s a window-shattering welcome! I thought Bhutan is as excited as me! We walked to the taxi stand and hired a cab to take us around the city.

Karbandi Monastery (Gumba)

Karbandi Monastery, or as locals call it, Karbandi Gumba, is located at a height of 400 metres. Founded in 1967, it’s the winter residence of the Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron.

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The temple compound houses impressive, large statues of Shabdrung Ngawang, Guru Rinpoche and Shakyamuni Buddha. Eight different Tibetan Buddhist Stupas can be seen enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the garden. These are said to be for eight reincarnations of Guru Rinpoche.

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According to legend, an Indian pilgrim couple visited this place and prayed for a child. The wish was granted, and since then, couples have been visiting this place in hopes of a better future.

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There is a beautiful garden located outside the monastery that gives a panoramic view of the plains of Bengal and the towns of Phuentsholing and Joynagar, the border town on the Indian side.

Norgay Crocodile Breeding Centre

Norgay Crocodile Breeding Centre is also known as The Amo Chhu Crocodile Breeding Centre. It is undisputedly one of the most popular places to visit in Phuentsholing. The name Amu Choo is used as the farm is on the banks of the Amu Choo (or, Torso) river. First established in 1976 in a small scale without much development, in a small pond. This was further improved during the year 2003 in collaboration with Nature Conservation Division and WWF Bhutan.

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Incidentally most crocodile farms in the world breed reptiles for their priceless skin which is then fashioned into belts, bags and shoes. However, this farm is an exception. It breeds these reptiles for releasing them into their natural habitat. Right now, the Mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) and Gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) are bred in the farm. The Muggers and Gharials are native to Indian subcontinent.

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Mugger Crocodile is a medium-sized crocodile, only found throughout the Indian subcontinent. The mugger are ambush hunters that mostly inhabits freshwater lakes,rivers, marsh and swamps forest of India. The Muggers are the India’s most commonly seen river predators. The name “mugger” is a borrowing of Hindi magar. This is in turn derived from Sanskrit makara “crocodile; mythical water monster; sign of the zodiac”.

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Male gharials sport a large growth on their snout called a ghara, the Hindi word for “pot.” Males use their gharas to vocalize and blow bubbles during mating displays. They got the name Gharial from “ghara”.

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Once found from Pakistan to Myanmar (Burma), the Gharial’s range has shrunk to two countries: India, along the Chambal, Girwa, and Son Rivers; and Nepal, along the Narayani River. Since the mid-1900s, the gharial’s numbers have declined as much as 98 percent due to hunting for traditional medicine and drastic changes to their freshwater habitats. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the species as critically endangered.

Torsa River Side

Torsa River (aka Machu and Amo Chhu) rises from the Chumbi Valley in Tibet, China, where it is known as Machu. It flows into Bhutan, where it is known as the Amo Chhu. It flows past the important border towns of Phuentsholing (in Bhutan) and Jaigaon (on the Indian side of the border) and past the Jaldapara sanctuary.

If you fancy a light walk, then there is no place like the Torsa river side. The best thing about this place is that there is a walking path made alongside the river and vehicles are prohibited from running in that track. So, you can easily walk along the river side in peace listening to the chirping of the birds.

Palden Tashi Chholing Shedra

Shedra is a Tibetan word meaning “place of teaching” but specifically refers to the educational program in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. It is usually attended by monks and nuns between their early teen years and early twenties. Shedra is variously described as a university, monastic college, or philosophy school.

Consecrated in 2014, this Shedra in the west of town offers education to around 70 students aged 6 to 25 and has some fine murals in its new central tsuglhakhang (Tibetan Buddhist temple). The shedra is situated on a nice setting with a wonderful backdrop.

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Zangto Pelri Lhakhang

Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang is a small temple right at the heart of Phuentsholing just a few meters away from the border representing the heaven of Guru Rinpoche. There are statues of eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche — Guru Tsokye Dorje, Guru Shakya Senge, Guru Padmasambhava, Guru Nyima Ozer, Guru Dorje Drolo, Guru Loden Chokse, Guru Senge Dandrok and Guru Pema Gyalpo and paintings on Buddha’s life on the ground floor. The next floor contains eight Bodhisattavas and statues of Avalokiteshvara and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The top floor has the statue of Amitabha.

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The park contains a huge ball fountain, a smallish pond, prayer wheels and a lovely ambience of serenity that will soothe your soul. This is like the social hub of Phuentsholing, lovers go for an impromptu date here, tourists are seen people watching and monks wander around.

Now we need some coffee!

Slowly, the darkness was covering the town and we were also very tired and were looking for a nice restaurant to have hot coffee. We walked into the Kizom Cafe.  There is free Wi-Fi and the ambience is bright and peppy making you want to hang around a little longer. The Café has two floors with comfortable seating arrangement. The decor features rich reds and browns, with seating on the ground levels well as a more extensive space upstairs for guests to relax with coffee.

We went up the first floor and refreshed us with nice hot coffee and snacks before returning to our cottage at Jaldapara Jungle Camp. The Kizom Café is one of the best café in Phuentsholing and it is rated to be one of the best bakeries in the whole of Bhutan. They’re not wrong who rated this cafe.

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