Hollong is a small corner of Dooars or Jaldapara National Park located at the Chicken’s neck of India. Technically this biodiversity hotspot falls in West Bengal, but it is surrounded by Bhutan, Bangladesh & Assam. A few km here and there and you could be crossing international borders. I wonder how the animals respect the man-made borders?
Hollong, Jaldapara National Park – Biodiversity Hotspot
After spending a week or so in Sikkim exploring Jorethang, Pelling, Gangtok, and a few days in Siliguri, we reached Jaldapara National Park. We wanted to stay at the Hollong forest lodge but it is a lodge highly in demand. We could only get one night there and we stayed at Jaldapara Lodge which is right on the main road that goes through Jaldapara.
Our rendezvous with Dooars started with an interpretation center that acquainted us with what we should expect in the jungles. Now Dooars is a huge Elephant corridor, so we expected elephants to be there. Rhinoceros are also found in abundance as are bison and deer. Walking through the simple interpretation center gave us an orientation of the jungle.
Jeep Safari at Jaldapara National Park, Madarihat Gate
We took a couple of Safaris into the jungle from Jaldapara Lodge – we could only see a couple of Rhino – from a great distance. They were hidden behind the tall grass and we had to climb the watchtowers to spot them. The elephants decided to give us a miss on both safaris. We did meet a domesticated elephant of the forest department who certainly was not in a mood to entertain us. There were birds all around, but our guide just did not get our urge to photograph the birds. I remember the perfectly poised Peacock, which the guide thought too common to stop for. As it happens, guides are only focused on showing you the big animals. The rest of the forest can be ignored.
Chilapata Forest, Dooars
The next day we decided to take a trip to Cooch Behar and on our way back we passed through the magical Chilapata forest. It was a few km stretch, and it was a magical drive. We were advised not to stop and get down from the car as the animals can come from anywhere and there is not much help close by. We drove slowly trying to soak in the jungle that surrounded us on all three sides. Yes, the tall bamboo trees formed a canopy on the road. It was dusk and all kinds of sounds were coming from the forest. There was not much traffic on the road, so human sounds were minimum.
After crossing the densest part, we did stop at a bridge under which a small stream was flowing. As soon as we kept our feet on the road, we felt as if we are a part of the forest. We can walk in and live on the branch of a tree. Maybe the elephants will fetch us bananas and deer would jump around and entertain us. Surprisingly, there was no fear.
As it got dark, we whispered goodbye to Chilapata forest with the hope to meet it again sometime.
Hollong Forest Lodge – Must visit places for wildlife enthusiasts
On the third day, we moved to the Hollong Forest Lodge. Reaching there was a challenge. You need to hire a car to reach the gate of the forest where all your documents would be verified. You and your identity proof would be photographed together and then you need to hire a forest department vehicle to go to the lodge.
It looks like an old Hunter’s bungalow converted into a lodge. There are only a few rooms available. Room no 5, which directly overlooks the jungle is the most coveted one. From this room, you can sit in your room and watch the forest like watching a wildlife film. There is a common area for all other guests to have a similar experience from a common room. We were lucky to get this room as we were the first ones to reach the lodge that day. Yes, it is given on a first come first serve basis.
Hollong lodge is unique in the sense, that you are under house arrest after it is dark. Animals – specially Bisons and Rhinos can come on the premises, so you are strictly instructed to stay within the walls of the lodge. You can imagine yourself in a large cage in a jungle filled with animals. The food provided is basic and served at prescribed times.
Wildlife at Hollong, Jaldapara National Park
However, the staff would make sure that you do not miss any animals even at night. As we were having our dinner, we were told that Bisons are on front lawns, and we all left our dinner and ran to see the animals. They have a great mechanism to show you the animals with minimal light. Similarly, after we had gone to bed, which is the only thing you can do post-dinner, there was a knock on the door. Rhinos were on the back lawn – strolling next to the dining area. We all stood as close as 10-20 feet to the rhino without really being threatened by it. In my mind, I assumed that Rhinos are used to having people looking at them, After all, this lodge is always full of people.
A small stream flows between the Lodge lawns and the forest. There is a clearing where the lodge staff puts piles of salt every morning. Animals and birds come to feed on this salt. I have been to so many national parks in India but have never seen salt piles anywhere. A couple of Rhinos kept roaming around the whole day we were there. Bison and wild boars made an occasional appearance. Elephants remained at a distance.
Videos of Wildlife at Hollong
We managed to capture short clips of Single-horned Rhinoceros & Bison and a variety of birds at the Hollong Forest lodge. Recommend you have a look at them in HD mode for the best effect. You may also watch our travel videos on the YouTube channel IndiTales.
Video of Single-horned Rhinoceros
Single-horned Rhinoceros roaming around and grazing at the national park, note its ear movement for the alertness of the wild animal.
Video of Indian Bison
Watch the wild Indian Bison approaching the salt heap for its mineral intake, savoring the salt, and then walk over to drink water from the stream. Notice how the Bison assesses the scene before proceeding on its way.
Birds at Jaldapara National Park
We expected to see some birds but nothing in the world could have prepared us for what we saw. We saw thousands of yellow-footed green pigeons performing before us. They would sit on the salt piles and then take a flight together like doing a sortie and then again rest for a while on the salt piles. One can find a variety of wild Pigeons like Thick-billed Green pigeons, Yellow-footed Green pigeons, Imperial Green pigeons, Orange-breasted Green pigeons, Pompadour Green pigeons, etc in the huge flocks.
Parakeets did the same. Similarly one can find a variety of Parakeets like the Red-breasted Parakeets, Alexandrian Parakeets, Plum-headed Parakeets, Rose-ringed parakeets, Slaty-headed Parakeets, etc at Hollong.
Peacocks jumped around the stream. It was a pleasure to watch them walk to the water, take in a sip and then fly to the other bank. There was so much playfulness in their actions that you feel like doing the same with them.
Video of Birds at Hollong
Watch the video of exotic wild birds in flocks hundreds savoring the minerals, flying off at the slightest alert, and returning back soon after reassured all is well. Recommend you watch the video in HD mode for the best view.
The Kingfisher bird sat elegantly on the branch – in no hurry, unlike the ones we meet in urban areas. Bare tree branches were full of colorful animals & you have no idea how our cameras loved it even if the distance between them and us, was a barrier. A lot of what we had read about the jungle or seen on TV came alive for us.
Since the animals and the birds just stayed there, we could easily film them.
I took an early morning elephant Safari. The one hour that I saw the jungle from the elephant top gave me a completely different perspective of the forest. The elephant made its way through water and through tall grass. I could see the treetops that we had to hold sometimes to not get hurt by them. When the elephant walked into the water, my heart went up and down with his steps. When it walked through the uneven surface, I was scared – could I topple? The mahout said that it rarely happens.
Apart from birds, we did not spot any animals on the elephant safari, but it was again like being a part of the upper layer of the jungle. It was like talking to trees face to face.
This is where we came closest to living in a forest, in complete harmony with its life. It would remain the strongest memory of wildlife in our minds forever.