It was like a normal day at office. Me and my colleague (my senior actually), Dilip Da, went for a smoke as usual at our regular interval. It was already mid of November, but the cold breeze was still missing. Dilip Da being an ardent travel lover, our wavelength matches to a great extent. We always keep discussing about travelling. He used to be a trekker and did a lots of treks, but nowadays after getting married, it’s been a long time he took up any trek since then. He was really anxious to go somewhere, as this Puja he had to make a trip to Bangladesh to his relatives with his newly wedded wife.
The idea of visiting a new offbeat destination Shivakhola came up in my mind. I came to know about Shivakhola first time, from Mr. Pradhan, who once connected with me through my blog, and invited me to pay a visit there once. He with some local youths took up this initiative with GTA, of promoting this new destination. He once briefed me about Shivakhola in WhatsApp about the destination. He told me that, it was kind of river side camp, same as like Jhallong, in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. Shivakhola is somewhat 27KM from Siliguri surrounded by Tea Gardens.
I tried firing up Google and searched for Shivakhola, and was glued instantly. By noticing the pictures, I could surely say that, this destination won’t take much time to get commercialized and that day is not very far when this destination is going to face a huge rush from tourists. Currently the pictures that came up, were all seemed to be from local youths or school / college groups.
I made up my mind that very moment, that I need to visit this destination ASAP before this destination starts become a touristy thing facing huge rush. Dilip Da was looking for small trip yet quick and immediately, as he was getting very anxious about not going anywhere for a long time. Well, I know, you might be thinking, didn’t I just mentioned that he went to Bangladesh in October? Yes. But you see, for both of us, going somewhere means going somewhere in the hills 😛 I, may be Dilip Da too, can’t stay away from Hills for a long time. In Bengali we have a phrase “Pahar Dakche“, which literally translates to “Hills Calling Us” 😛
So, without wasting much time, we went upstairs to our cabins and fired up IRCTC to check the tickets on next available weekend. But as we guessed, tickets to NJP were already full till January 2017. Well, truly speaking, we couldn’t have waited that much. From our experience, we knew, during New Year, trains to NJP will have rush for obvious reasons, reducing the changes of getting confirmed tickets. So Dilip Da, asked me to book something in the odd weekends of December. After a quick discussion with our wives, we booked tickets for 9th and 11th December.
Now that tickets were booked, it was time to call up Mr. Pradhan and enquire about the booking. We hoped (wished) that such offbeat destination won’t have any issues of securing a booking on such odd weekend. Luck favored us this time, and Mr. Pradhan informed us that, he can indeed accommodate 4 persons on 10th December. I have made such short yet long journey trips a lot. Like catching a train on Friday after office and reaching the destination on Saturday and enjoying throughout the day before leaving within Sunday afternoon to catch return train and directly moving to office on Monday morning.
I always book Padatik Express and Darjeeling Mail for such trips, as Padatik leaves around 11:15 PM, which helps me to have enough time to travel to Sealdah after office even if I get stuck due to some unplanned meetings and urgencies. And Darjeeling Mail having a goodwill of being on time, it helps me to reach office within time on Monday morning.
It was no different than such trips of mine. But not sure why, I was looking for something more. Suddenly a conversation that I had with Mr. Pradhan struck my mind. On a casual discussion with him, he told me that Shivakhola comes under Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. I literally jumped up with joy and thinking “Isn’t it like Latpanchar too comes under Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary?”
Well, I planned for Latpanchar on July, even transferred the advance to secure the booking, but later on a verge we went to Goa. I remembered, Mr. Padam being very generous when I informed him that we won’t be able to do the trip at last moment. He assured me that, next time when we’ll visit, he’ll adjust the advance. It was very nice of him. And you see, this culture is very common across the hills, I noticed in my lifetime.
So I thought of increasing one more day and making it to Latpanchar. Still to confirm the same, I called up Mr. Pradhan and he indeed confirmed that, I was right and Latpanchar and Shivakhola are nearby, around 25Km’s from each other. I went up to Dilip Da and told him about this of my plan. With a smile on his face, he told me “You can increase 2 more days, I don’t have any problem at all. But keep in mind that we two would be taking leave at same time, so getting it approved can be an issue“. But I was sure, there won’t be much issues, as in IT, you’d die for getting leave on October or some other regional festivals, but post December 3rd week do anything you like till 2nd week of January!! No one cares!!
So I fired up IRCTC again and quickly booked a return ticket for 12th and then cancelled the previous ticket. 12th being Monday there was not much rush and luckily we scored RAC, but the onward one was still in WL. We prayed from core of our heart so that it atleast gets into RAC. Without wasting much time, I called up Mr. Padam to inform him of our plan and do the necessary bookings. Surprisingly Mr. Padam had my number saved and remembered me. I was glad that he didn’t forgot me and the advance that I paid him earlier. Luckily, he too confirmed the availability on 11th December.
On next few days, I transferred the advance to Mr. Pradhan to secure the booking of Shivakhola. On a fine morning, I called up Dipankar Da, to inform him about such of my plan. Dipankar Da have very good relation with Mr. Padam. Surprisingly, he told me that, on that very same dates he’s too visiting there at Latpanchar with his group 😛 But after hearing my plan he literally scolded me for, why we not being bird watchers, we booked for Latpanchar. He suggested us to stay at Ahal Dara instead. Ahal Dara is a hilltop and around 3KM from Latpanchar with 360 deg view. It’s famous for breathtaking view of Mt. K.
As far as my knowledge goes, Mr. Padam only developed this small property of 3 rooms at Ahal Dara, but now he have leased out the booking rights of same to Nature Beyond. When I called up Dipankar Da, he confirmed me the same, but informed he that, Mr. Padam can really help me out there, as Nature Beyond doesn’t sends much tourists throughout the year. Thus he asked me to call up Mr. Padam and inform him the same, and he’ll also inform him from his end.
Mr. Padam confirmed that the property at Ahal Dara is indeed leased out, and he’ll place us there if on that date Ahal Dara have no reservations. He later confirmed that, some group already have bookings there and confirmed that, if they miss it for some reason, he’ll surely place us there. Now that things have been arranged properly, it was time to note down the things we’d like to cover and wait anxiously for the date to come.
In between, we went to our friend, Avik’s house, as it has been a long time we met, gathered and enjoyed together since Jishnu went to US. Soon while discussing various things our plan for Shivakhola and Latpanchar got flashed. Though it was no secret, but somehow we just didn’t communicated with each other for a long time. Avik jumped out of his bed saying “Accha bhai, nijera plan baniye nili ar amader bolli na?” (Ohh…you guys made a plan together and never bothered to inform us). I tried to make him understand that, it was not like that, but just that we didn’t communicated for a long time and that the plan was just made a week or two ago. He said “Ami kichu janina, amrao jabo. Amra onkdin dhorei choto khato tour e jawar kotha bhabchilam” (I don’t know anything, we are coming with you guys. Even we were planning for a short trip together). To tell you the truth, I seriously forgot to inform him and really never thought that they would be interested too!!
Co-incidentally, I must say Avik and his wife Sushmita knows Dilip Da too. Dilip Da was his first supervisor at his first company. And it’s just been few months Dilip Da joined Cognizant and got placed in my team. Such a small world right? We called up Dilip Da and informed that, Avik too wants to come with us. Dilip Da was glad too!! So we asked him to book the tickets immidiately.
Next morning I called up both Mr. Pradhan and Mr. Padam to inform that we’d be 6 persons now. Luckily, both of them still had accommodations available and thus we had no issues. Otherwise we already decided, we 4 would accommodate in same room and Dilip Da can have the other room, if for some reasons rooms were not available. We had traveled together like this a lot in the past, so it was not an issue for us. But Dilip Da and his wife being new entrant to the group, and not being used to stay with us in a group, we left a single room for them. 😛
Anyway, now that all the planning were done, we were eagerly waiting for our onward journey tickets to get into RAC atleast. We kept checking our tickets everyday, and I must say, every other day, we noticed positive outcome 🙂
Unfortunately, in the meanwhile, Suparna caught fever and was found positive with Dengue. In fact situation went worse and we had to admit her to hospital. I was damn sure, that we would have to back out from this tour. But both Avik and Dilip Da assured me, not to worry, and if needed they would cancel too. Well, I myself, am a very selfish person, but where in the world would you get such colleague turned friends? With Avik, it’s not the first time!! Me, Avik and Jishnu had grown up a strong bond between us since we met. We feel kind of a family now.
Anyway, the hard thing began when Suparna was released within 3 days with a hope of our tour in mind. But our parents were against us. As all of the persons in our family, including her’s side too, was against this idea of ours due to the risk of catching cold after dengue which results in very risky situation. All our efforts of taking them into confidence went into vein. Finally around 2 days before the journey, after requesting a lot, they agreed with various conditions of being careful and maintaining the diet chart and all.
It was just one day left for the journey to begin and we all were highly excited about this trip of ours. Luckily the tickets for our onward journey got confirmed in the meanwhile!! We were more than happy to get confirmed tickets, as we never thought it’d go past RAC!!
9th December – The Winter Begins :
Though previously I planned to go to Sealdah directly, but then my wife, Suparna and our parents suggested me to come back home and then go to Sealdah together, as I generally come back within 8:15 PM and our train was at 11:15 PM.
In the meanwhile, Mr. Pradhan shared the details of driver named Mamesh, who’s going to pick us up from NJP. But when I called him up, he said, he might be taking up another tourist, and thus asked me to contact Mr. Pradhan. Mr. Pradhan too confirmed the same, and told me that, the tourist Mamesh picked up from NJP last day, wants him only to drop them at Darjeeling. He assured me to not worry at all and he’ll share details of another person shortly. Within next 15 minutes he shared details of another driver named Pranay. I called him up to confirm the same. He assured that he’ll be there by 9 AM. Mr. Pradhan further asked me to inform him in advance, if we’d like to have Barbecue and Bonfire, as he’d need to arrange the same in that case.
I didn’t had much work, thus I left office a bit early. Avik planned to do the same, but Dilip Da planned to go to Sealdah directly from office. After reaching home I charged up my camera and re-verified the last minute packings before hitting the bed for a small nap.
We started for Sealdah a bit late at around 9 o’ clock. Dilip Da and his wife already reached Sealdah by then. It hardly took us around 1 hour to reach Sealdah. One can feel the drop of temperature there due to the open environment, but we were totally prepared for that. After few minutes, Avik and Sushmita arrived and joined us. We went for a smoke together and spent the time chit-chatting amongst us till the train was announced.
Ours was Padatik Express and it was right on time. Even though we booked tickets seperately, but luckily we all got placed in same coach. We chit-chatted for a while before hitting the bed, pulling the covers over our head.
10th December – NJP – Shivakhola :
The train was bit late and reached NJP at around 10:30 AM instead of scheduled arrival of 9:15 AM. I called up Pranay to inform of our train being late, but couldn’t connect with him due to some connectivity issues. Thus I called up Mr. Pradhan and he assured that Pranay is already waiting for us at NJP and he’ll inform him about the train being late.
After coming out of the station, I called up Pranay and he asked me to wait near the station only and he’ll bring the car there for us. Pranay arrived soon within next 2 minutes. We helped him packing the luggage on top of the car and bought few cake and chips for the road before proceeding. He informed us that it hardly takes 2.5 – 3 hours to reach Shivakhola.
I called up Mr. Pradhan to inform our whereabouts and also asked him to arrange the Barbeque and Bonfire in the evening. The road to Sukna was very beautiful. The narrow gauge toy train line for Kurseong followed us for a while and luckily we spotted a toy train too, but missed to capture it in our camera.
Pranay gave us a stopover at Sukna, at around 11:50 AM for breakfast and picking up liquors. Finally we started again for our destination at around 12:30 AM. We started realizing the view post Sukna. He gave us another stopover at a view point. We stopped for a while and prepared our drinks before proceeding towards Shivakhola.
The road was so beautiful, that we asked Pranay we’d like to walk a bit. Thus he gave us another stopover again.
Finally we reached Shivakhola at around 1:20 PM. One need to cross the river to reach the Shivakhola Adventure Camp. Generally at this time of the year the car itself can cross it, due to low flow of the river, but in monsoon, when the flow is high, one need to cross it by the footbridge.
Mr. Pradhan came up and welcomed us warmly and hugged each other. Shivakhola Adventure Camp have 3 concrete tents and 2 cottages for the guests. There are another 2 structure, one of which is used as restaurant and another as store room. Mr. Pradhan informed us that, he actually tried to build Mud House for tourists, but failed and thus he uses that as a store room now. He further showed us the whole area belonging to Shivakhola Adventure Camp where he put up tents when large group or school / collage group comes up for camping.
He further informed us that there’s already another tourist staying in a tent who have their booking till next day. Even though we booked 2 tents only, he told us that we can use the cottage too if we want, as he don’t have other bookings till next day. But we didn’t find the cottage to be much attractive, and the tents were large enough to accomodate 4 persons easily, thus we told him that we’d like to stay in tent only. He laughed and said “Ye pura apka hai, jahan marzi rehiye” (These whole thing belongs to you, stay anywhere you want) pointing towards the tents and cottages.
He further informed us that he along with other staffs have invitation tomorrow at a marriage house pointing to the opposite side of the river and his cook only got the order for the fooding arrangements out there. Thus he didn’t took any bookings for next day. After chit-chatting for a while, he asked us to get fresh and take a look around and explore the river bed and then he’d serve us lunch. We roamed around the area, specially the river bed and spent some time out there before getting freshen up. Finally we were served lunch. They served Rice, Ghee, Mashed Potatoes (“Alu Sheddho“) with chili and ghee, Salad, Rai ka saag, Dal, Sabji & Fish Curry. Where in the world one can expect to get such sumptuous Bengali meal including Fish Curry at such exotic remote location!!
Mr. Pradhan informed us that, he’ll serve us a surprise dish at dinner. He won’t reveal the name now, as we’d not love it and will make our face, but he found that whenever he kept the dish as surprise and served the tourists, they kept licking their finger and ask for more of it!! We were really intrigued of the dish by then!! The cook came up and took the order for Rice and Roti for dinner.
Post lunch, we went to the riverbed and started having the long pending photo session amongst ourselves. After some time, Mr. Pradhan came up to us and informed us that he’ll now leave for the day, as he have some work at home, and will come again tomorrow morning. The staffs would be here and asked us to not to hesitate to contact them for anything we needed. We hugged each other and bidded good bye. Finally after spending some time out there at the river bed we went ahead for a small nap!!
Later at around 6 o’ clock in the evening, one of the staff called us up and informed us that, the Tea and Snacks is ready and soon they will start the barbecue too. We went to the restaurant and they served us Tea and Onion Pakoda. We noticed that they already lit up the fire by then to get the wood charcoal for the barbecue. We joined them soon and they started arranging things and preparing the chicken and lit up the bonfire.
The preparation was finger licking. They served us the barbecue chicken and left us alone to enjoy among ourselves. We spent the evening chit-chatting among ourselves. The bonfire kept us warm, as it started getting colder post evening.
At around 9:30 PM, they called us up for the dinner, but we felt already full, and thus we requested them if we can have dinner later at our room. They informed us that, the food is not allowed in the rooms, but they will leave the dinner for us in the table at the restaurant and we can have it anytime we want. We agreed and gathered in the lawn of our tent and chit-chatted for a while.
Finally at around 10:30 PM, we went to the restaurant for the dinner. They were still there for us. We felt guilty and asked them to go to sleep if they want to, but they assured us not to feel guilty, as they are up anyway for daily work. The dinner had Rice & Roti as per our choice, Dal, Sabji & Chicken Curry. As usual the dinner was awesome and the surprise preparation was really finger-licking. Later when we checked the fridge we noticed dry fish (“Shutki Mach” / “Sora“) and thus we thought it to be a preparation of the same. When we asked one of the staff, he said, the cook already went to sleep and he’s not sure about the preparation.
Later after spending a while, we hit the bed.
11th December – Shivakhola – Latpanchar via Namthing Lake and Ahal Dara :
We woke up at around 9 o’ clock and went to the riverbed to enjoy the heat of the sun. The night was really chilled but the adequate blankets provided by them saved us!!
Later we were called up for Breakfast and they served Puri, Sabji and Egg at breakfast. Mr. Pradhan came up in the meanwhile and asked us about our whereabouts and whether we had any issues last night. We told him that, we really enjoyed it last night and loved the place. He asked me whether we’d need cab to drop us to Latpanchar or Mr. Padam would be sending one. By then, we got mingled with Pranay, and thus we wanted to travel with Pranay only. So I told him to arrange the same and that I’d inform the same to Mr. Padam Gurung.
Later post breakfast, I called up Mr. Padam to remind him about our booking that we’d be there by lunch. He informed me that he and his wife is travelling to Kanyakumari for a holiday and thus his partner Mr. P. C. Rai would look after us and asked me to call him in case of any issues. I enquired if our stay for Ahal Dara can be arranged with a hope that the booking might have got cancelled, but he denied. I informed him that Mr. Pradhan would be arranging the drop to Latpanchar when he asked whether we need cab to pick us up from Shivakhola.
Later we went to the river to took bath and enjoy the cold stream. But Suparna being in restriction, took her bath in the washroom only with the hot water provided by them.
Finally at around 11:30 AM, after clearing all the bills, we hugged each other and bidding goodbye to Mr. Pradhan and other staffs we started for Latpanchar. We promised to keep in touch and re-visit soon and that Mr. Pradhan would surely meet when he’ll come to Kolkata. His family stays at Kolkata and his daughter too studies there only. Pranay picked up one of his friend after seeking our permission to accompany him while returning. Somewhere in the middle of scenic beauty of the hills, we stopped for a while for a small smoke break.
After driving for around few minutes, Pranay gave us another stopover at around 12:45 PM, which we mistook it as a Toilet Break. But Pranay exclaimed “Sir, Samne dekhiye na” (Sir, please take a look). We turned around and we were like wow!! Magnificent Kanchenjunga were in front of us with all her glory.
We rushed to the point and started clicking pictures. Pranay informed us that the view point is known as “Maldiram”. After spending some time out there, we started moving forward. Our next stopover was at Namthing Lake. But the lake had dried out and there was no sign of water in there. Mt. K followed us throughout the route till Namthing Lake.
Next we reached Ahal Dara at around 2 o’ clock. Ahal Dara being the highest view point, offers 360 deg view. One can spend the whole day sitting out there starring at the glorious Kanchenjunga.
After spending around 30 minutes out there we started for the shelter of the day, “Hornbill Nest” at Latpanchar. It took us around 15 – 20 minutes to reach Latpanchar. Upon noticing us, Mr. P. C. Rai came forward and welcomed us warmly. We tried again for accommodation at Ahal Dara, but our hope went in vein, but he informed us that they have no booking at Ahal Dara tomorrow, so if we want, we can move there tomorrow. Pranay and his friend bidded goodbye to us and left for Shivakhola.
With no sign of any hope, he showed us our rooms. They provided us two rooms, one with 4 beds and another with 3 beds. So we left the triple bed room for Dilip Da and me and Avik took up the 4 bedded one. We were called for dinner shortly. Same as like homestay’s across Silk Route, we were served Rice, Dal, Sabji and Egg Curry. The preparation was awesome and as we were heavily hungry, we ate like we got food after ages.
Post lunch, Mr. Rai came up and asked us whether we’d like to go for Sunrise sightseeing at Ahal Dara tomorrow. We confirmed him the same and informed him that we’d also like to visit Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary for birding, as Avik being the key person interested in Birding among our group. We also asked for Sitong Orange Garden, but it seemed that time won’t permit us to cover all, but he assured to show us another Orange garden nearby while coming back from Sunrise trip to Ahal Dara. He assured that he’d arrange the guide for birding tour at Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary.
We spend the afternoon roaming across the tranquil remote village. We loved walking through the village and loved how these people decorate their houses with flowers. Though we were well aware of this, but few structures seemed extremely attractive to us. The color of sun almost turned yellow by then and the whole environment was looking so beautiful that I can’t explain the same in words.
Later Mr. Rai came up and walked us through various vegetable plantation including coffee. He also promised us to gave some seeds and saplings when asked. He sat by us chat-chatting about various things enjoying the sunset.
Unfortunately Avik got upset as he discovered some issues with his lens. Later in the evening we came back to our room and soon we were served Tea and Pakoda’s.
Rest of the evening we spent playing cards followed by Dumb Sharads which proved to be very fruitful. At around 9 o’ clock, they served us dinner at our room and asked us to feel free to take it as per our choice of time. They asked us to keep the dishes outside the room and they will collect the same tomorrow morning.
Later we took our dinner around 11 o’ clock before hitting the bed.
12th December – Latpanchar – NJP :
We woke up at around 3 o’ clock by the alarm. We felt very angry but at the same time, the sunrise view of Ahal Dara made us excited. Except me and Avik, everyone got ready, but we choose to stay lying in bed and thought of getting ready after the car arrives. It was 4 o’ clock by then but there was no sign of any car. We thought of waiting for some time, but nothing changed. Finally we were turning upset when the clock hit 4:30 AM.
We called up Mr. Rai but all of his numbers were switched off and unfortunately we forgot to collect the number of the driver from him. Mr. Rai with his family stays nearby. At a later point of time, Suparna exclaimed that “Ei ora 4ta mane 4 tay othar kotha boleni to?” (Hey, by 4AM, is it like they meant to get up at 4 o’ clock and that car would come at 5 o’ clock?). A ray of hope went through our veins, and we thought, it might be they meant that the car would come at 5 o’ clock and they asked us to get up and ready at 4 o’ clock which we misunderstood as getting up at 3 o’ clock and the car would come at 4 o’ clock.
Sushmita went outside and confirmed that one can easily spot the stars out there in the sky and there’s no ray of morning yet. Within next 15 minutes, a car arrived and Sushmita exclaimed “Ei ekta gari asche” (Hey, a car is coming). As soon as the car was parked near our hotel, we exclaimed “Bhaiya sunrise ke liye?” (Is it for sunrise?)!!
We rushed to the car and noticed a cute and beautiful young girl was already sitting there. Jeevan, our driver, told us that she’s his daughter and that she have never been to Ahal Dara and thus he brought her with him. Upon asking, she told that her name is Muskan and she studies in Kalimpong Girls and she came here on winter vacation.
We started for Ahal Dara at around 5 o’ clock and it took us around 20 minutes to reach there. The morning rays started appearing by then and we hold our breath for the sunrise to happen. The weather seemed to be clear. Not sure about others, but this would have been my first time if I can experience a clear sunrise. As far as I can remember, I experience my last sunrise at Nepal and the memories have mostly fade away as I was very young that time. Post that, many expectation of Sunrise of mine went into vein at Tiger Hill and other destinations.
Soon the show began, and mesmerizing Mt. K started turning red. And we started clicking pictures.
Suddenly Avik exclaimed “Are odike dekh bhai” (Hey look there) pointing at the other side. Ohh my god, this is the first time in life, I was experiencing the Sunrise from horizon like this.
We thought, why does people goes to touristy place like Pelling and Darjeeling. The beauty and the view Ahal Dara offers cannot be matched at all with that of Pelling and Darjeeling. Though I have a soft corner in my heart for Darjeeling, always, due it’s charm. But view wise, Ahal Dara seemed best to us so far. Later, the glorious Mt. K turned golden as the sun raise more higher.
The sunlight was so different, kind of yellowish, which seemed to play a key role while clicking pictures.
After spending some more time checking out the breathtaking view at Ahal Dara, we started for Orange Garden at around 6:40 AM. It took us around 10 minutes to reach there. We tried seeking permission from the locals for plucking up some oranges or even taking some from which were lying in the ground, but none allowed.
After spending around 15 minutes, we came back to our hotel at around 7:30 AM. Soon we were served Puri and Ghugni at breakfast. After having our breakfast, we went ahead to get freshen up. Later at around 10 o’ clock we started for Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. A guide belonging from their family only accompanied us.
It took us 20 minutes to drove through the bumpy road. And then the guide accompanied us to 1st trail. On the way he showed us various species of birds that can be found here. Mostly Avik was following him, he being the only person interested in birding. Whereas Me and Dilip Da was roaming around on our own.
Finally they came back at around 1 o’ clock and we started proceeding towards Latpanchar. We were served lunch as soon as we reached Latpanchar. Post lunch, we straight hit the bed for a small afternoon nap.
Finally Jeevan arrived at around 4:45 PM to drop us to NJP. After clearing all the bills, and bidding goodbye to Mr. Rai and his family, we started for NJP. The journey to NJP was awesome. Due to the full moon, the road and then the Teesta was glowing in moonlight. But at the last moment, just when we are about to reach NJP the break failed. Jeevan felt very guilty but we assured him that this kind of thing can happen to anyone and it’s not at all his fault and not to worry. Thus after paying all his dues, as discussed with Mr. Rai, we took a Toto to NJP.
Though we started worrying a bit as it was already 7:30 by then, and the schedule departure of the train was at 8:00 PM, but then finally we made it. Upon checking we came to know that our return tickets were confirmed, but unfortunately that of Avik was still in RAC and he got placed in S8 while we being in S4. Later, after discussing the same with TTE, he got it confirmed.
The journey to Sealdah and then to home was mostly uneventful. Though the trip was 200% successful in terms of view and enjoyment, but we all were disheartened to return back to daily life leaving such tranquil and serene destinations.
Few Points To Remember :
- The mobile connectivity is not good at Latpanchar and Ahal Dara.
- Mostly BSNL works at Latpanchar, but we found Aircel to work fine in some cases while roaming here and there through the village.
- At Shivakhola, mobile reception is fine, but 2G/3G connectivity is an issue.
- I don’t think above points is an issue if you want to be at such serene destinations. To tell you the truth, sometimes once in a while, I really like to get disconnected and enjoy myself.
- If you want to stay at Ahal Dara, book it way ahead, as they have only 3 cottages out there and thus it gets book well in advance.
Accommodation Reviews :
Shivakhola Adventure Camp : Mr. Pradhan started this only a year ago and this place is still haven’t become touristy. They have 3 concrete tents and 2 cottages. But they provide camping and tents for large groups mostly from school and collages. He have plans to build up some more tents in future within next 2-3 years. It’s a nice beautiful serene destination on the bank of river within Mahananda Wildflife Sanctuary.
Latpanchar : At the beginning, they started with Jungle Lore and then moved to Cinchonest and finally they have renamed themselves to Hornbill Nest. The dining space is in the ground floor. They have another homestay nearby. While at Latpanchar just ask anyone about Mr. Padam Gurung and they will point you to right direction.
Ahal Dara : The property of Ahal Dara has been built by Mr. Padam Gurung only and he still maintains the same. But he have leased out the booking rights of Ahal Dara to Nature Beyond. But Nature Beyond doesn’t sends much tourists, thus you can book the same through Mr. Padam Gurung also. The maintenance and looking after guests is still done by Mr. Padam Gurung and his family only. But make sure to book well in advance, as they have just 3 cottages.
Shivakhola Adventure Camp – DP Pradhan : +91-70760-12314 / +91-98513-82665.
Latpanchar – Padam Gurung : +91-94759-59974 / +91-89260-15477 / +91-89062-32202 | Prem Chand Rai : +91-86400-40528 / +91-94753-95313
Pranay (Shivakhola Driver): +91-98515-42591. Pranay is very friendly and great driver. He drives Sumo Gold with registration number WB 74U 5339.
Jeevan (Latpanchar Driver): +91-89003-16305. He too is very friendly and down to earth person. He too drives Sumo Gold with registration number WB 76 3410.
Ujjawal Rai (Mahananda WLS Guide) : +91-87597-56845.
Please keep patience while calling up Mr. Padam Gurung or Mr. P. C. Rai, as the network connectivity is not good there and they keep going to Ahal Dara for looking after guests where there’s no mobile connectivity. Thus it may take some time to connect with them. Try the BSNL numbers first, the one starting with 9475, and if you cannot connect try other numbers which belongs to them or their other family members.
Shivakhola Fooding and Lodging : Rs. 1100/- per head
Shivakhola Barbeque and Camp Fire : 2000/- + 200/- = Rs. 2200/-
Car Charges For NJP – Shivakhola : 1800/-
Car Charges For Shivakhola – Latpanchar via Maldiram, Namthing Lake, Ahal Dara : 1700/-
Latpanchar Fooding and Lodging : 900/- per head
Extra Lunch at Latpanchar (on 12th December) : 130/- per head
Birding Guide Charges For Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary : 300/-
Car Charge For Ahal Dara Sunrise + Birding at Mahananda WLS + Drop To NJP : 3000/-
NOTE : I have omitted costs of personal nature for easy calculation.