On a fine morning of 7th January, just a week or two before my marriage, a notification popped up on my cellphone. It was from Facebook notifying me of memories about our trip to Jhalong River Camp about a year ago. I immediately shared the pic on my timeline and tagged my co-travelers, my nephew, Avijit and my friend Trijit. We 3 had a great time at Jhalong River Camp about a year ago. How fast time flows by.
Soon I received a like and a comment on my post. It was from Avijit asking “Hobe Naki?” (Let’s go again). Supporting the impulse, I replied “Hok” (Let’s do it). But I knew from the core of my heart that, this won’t be possible at all. May be he was also aware of the same, as it was just 2 weeks left for my marriage and after that my long time hard planned Trip to Bhutan. Within a moment I got a call from him, saying the same thing. He knew it was not possible but still he insisted by luring to make this a bachelor trip, or a last trip as a bachelor to enjoy the bachelorhood. But with a heavy heart I had to deny due to obvious reasons.
After this, he never pulled back this topic and time flowed by. After returning from a wonderful Trip to Bhutan, one day, he came up to check out the photos and to gather information, as he’s also visiting Bhutan around March during Paro Tsechu. It was 20th February and again on a impulse, he provoked about Jhalong and surprisingly, I supported him this time. We checked out the probability of the dates and selected the next to next weekend i.e. 5th and 6th March. I quickly logged in to IRCTC and checked that no way we could make this happen. It was too late to get the tickets, as tickets for both the onward and return journey were on higher side of Waiting List.
Even if we manage to get into RAC for our return journey, but in no way our onward journey tickets would be confirmed. He asked me to check the availability of Tents in WBFDC. Luckily those were available. That made us more excited and he asked me to book the tickets anyway, and if it doesn’t gets confirmed, we’ll go by bus. I simply followed his words and quickly booked the tickets on Darjeeling Mail. We were offered with WL 143 for Sealdah to NJP and WL 78 for NJP to Sealdah. Though the waiting lists were low on other trains, but we choose Darjeeling Mail, as I didn’t want to take any leaves and he had some appointments to attend on 7th. And in such situations, Darjeeling Mail is the only train you can rely upon. Another reason was, we have heard many times, that a new coach gets added in the last moment on Darjeeling Mail, so we thought our chance would be much higher in Darjeeling Mail than on any other trains.
We thought of letting it be as of now, as it’d be sheer idiocy to book the tents right now. We thought of booking the tents if we see any positive improvements of our tickets. Within 2-3 days, the tickets for Sealdah to NJP got down to WL 65 while that of return journey were on WL 49. In the mean time, our friend Trijit completely backed out due to financial issues but Avijit was not in mood to cancel the trip. So he thought of another common friend of ours but my wife suggested to bring his girlfriend and she’ll be there if he needed any help to cook up some stories. Again, our luck was with us and everything got lined up clearly and smoothly.
So on 23rd Febuary, we decided to book our tents at Jhalong River Camp. On our previous trip to Jhalong, we booked the tent “Muniya” which was the furthest tent from the Canteen area and the closest one to the breathtaking view from river bed. So this time, we needed two tents, and we planned to book “Muniya” and the one next to it. But I completely forgot the name of tent next to “Muniya”. So I decided to call Sushanta Da, the caretaker of Jhalong River Camp and as I have already been to this place, I knew him very well.
He informed us that, both “Muniya” and the next to it “Mayna” is completely destroyed and have not been renovated yet. So he suggested us not to book those as in any case if rainfall occurs it’d be a mess in there. So he asked us to go with “Munal” and “Mayur” which were next to “Mayna” and “Munia“. As I had already been there, I recalled that, the next two tents were close to where we stayed last time and it’d not be an issue, as “Munal” and “Mayur” will also be not much far from the river bed.
Now that accommodation was taken care of, it was time to book cabs. I called up my old trusted partner Dipankar Da (North East Travels) to get it arranged. Previously he told us that, exclusive vehicle might cost us around Rs. 7000/- for 2 days, as we have done it from NJP to NJP instead of NMZ to NMZ which is much closer to Jhalong. So he suggested us to hire dry vehicle which would cost us around 1500/- including Driver’s TA/DA and we have to pay by the KM. The deal sounded good so I agreed and asked him to go ahead with the booking. But later, just before the day of our departure, he told me that, KM wise it’d not help much as we were planning to check out Bindu, Samsing, Suntaleykhola and Rocky Island as sightseeings. So he arranged an exclusive vehicle for Rs. 5500/- which would pick us up from NJP and will take to Jhalong. In the afternoon he would drive us to Bindu and next day he’ll drop us to NJP via Samsing, Suntaleykhola and Rocky Island. The deal seemed nice and I asked him to go ahead with it.
So now that all the things were taken care of, we were literally praying so that our tickets gets into RAC atleast, if not confirmed.
4th February :
Finally on the day of our journey i.e. on 4th February, a quick PNR Enquiry revealed that our ticket was still at WL 5. I called up Avijit to discuss a backup plan as I was almost sure that this would not get confirmed. We checked out Red Bus, MakeMyTrip & PayTM Bus section for availability of Buses. We knew travelling by Bus would be very tiring and it’d not reach destination on time at all. Still we had no other way. So we thought of booking Volvo A/c buses if tickets doesn’t gets confirmed by 5 o’clock. But my wife kept telling me not to worry, as she had hope that it’ll get into RAC.
Well, unplanned trips are fun and adventurous too when your last minute booking are on WL 5 on the date of journey. We decided to wait till 5 o’clock and then we’ll have to take our last call, as the last bus was at 7:30 PM and if we don’t fix things by 5, we’ll miss the last bus too. The trip got more adventurous even before it’s start, when right at 5 o’clock it went down to WL 1 and on hitting refresh button again, it displayed RAC 94 and RAC 95 and remaining two were at WL 1 and WL 2.
Haha!! It left us helpless and in confused state. Now that two tickets got into RAC and remaining two were still in waiting, we couldn’t decide should we cancel the tickets and go ahead with bus or wait for another hour as chart preparation was about to happen at 6 o’clock. But waiting for another hour means we’ll have to leave out bus and have to travel by train anyway. I opened up google and did some search about partial RAC, and it turned out that, if someone have partial RAC and partial waiting list tickets, all the passengers can board the train. I quickly called up Avijit to hold off any further bookings and decided to board the train only and take the risk. We decided to sort it with TTE later on the train if remaining two doesn’t gets confirmed till chart preparation.
My wife and Avijit both are strong believer in Goddess Tara of Tarapith. And with all their faith, finally at around 6 o’clock with the chart preparation, the remaining two also got in to RAC. It displayed S8 15 and 23. Ahh what a relief. I quickly packed up my bags and went to catch office bus for Sealdah. While Avijit, his girlfriend Falaque and my wife Suparna, planned to hire Uber from home.
Now that things fell in place, it was time to cheer up. I reached Sealdah early and waited for around 2 hours until they arrived. In the mean time, Dipankar Da, SMS’d me the number of driver. I called up the number to confirm the same, but it turned out to be an agent like Dipankar Da. He said that, his name is Bappa and he’ll SMS me the number of driver shortly and asked me to call him back anytime in case of any issues. This is why I always rely upon Dipankar Da, he always gets me to nice people.
We had our dinner together at Comesum in Sealdah, before boarding the train. I must say the food at Comesum was utter shit and nothing else. Though Suparna had opted for Chicken Biriyani and she still says it was good enough. But we had opted for Chinese Combo and it was like only supposed to go to dustbin. It was the worst decision of having food there.
5th February :
When we woke up, it was already 7 o’clock in the morning. Rail Yatri app showed that the train is late by around 30 mins. Around 8 o’clock I called up Raju, the number of the driver shared by Bappa Da, to inform him about our whereabouts. But he said that he’s already waiting for us at NJP. As soon as the train reached NJP, people started rushing towards the staircase. We decided to hold up for until the crowd gets cleared. I’d say NJP was a bit colder than Kolkata. Though we didn’t even expected it to be so in the month of March.
Finally we started for Jhalong River Camp at around 9:30 AM. Journey through Gajaldoba Barrage road was smooth as well as splendid. We stopped over the barrage for breakfast.
After that at around 11 o’clock we started for Jhalong again, passing by Jaldapara, Gorumara, Chapramari & Chandrachur forests. We stopped at various points to click some memories. We met Mr. Bappa en-route and bought some snacks and water from his shop before proceeding further.
Though we brought our necessary liquors from Kolkata, still I asked Raju to stop if he come across any liquor shop en-route. I’m a hardcore beer lover and enjoying beer while driving through dense forests have it’s own charm. Raju informed us that generally it takes 3 hours to reach Jhalong from NJP but with various halts it might take 30 minutes more. Finally at around 12:30 PM we reached Jhalong River Camp.
The first thing we noticed is that the name has been changed from Jhalong River Camp to Jholung River Camp. By noticing us, the caretaker Sushanta Da came forward along with few of his staffs. I asked him whether he remember me as we were here around a year back but his firm smile indicated that he don’t. Well I didn’t expected him to remember us, infact it’s not possible at all. Hundreds of tourists comes by and go every year, it’s not at all possible to remember. I reminded him that I called him few days ago while booking and that he told us to book “Munal” and “Mayur”, this time he was affirmative. He guided us to our cottages while the other staffs helped us carrying the luggage.
After ordering our lunch, we went to the river bed to recollect our memories. Suparna and Falaque were new to this place and they just kept stunned. Jholung River Camp is very less known destination and mostly visited on a day trip from Murti, Chalsa, Samsing, Suntaleykhola etc. Being very less explored area, it still have not lost it’s charm. It is one of the most picturesque place, I have been to. Well, I always keep hearing “Picture is worth 1000 words”. Though I don’t know who said that but it’s absolutely true. Nothing can beat enjoying J&B being soaked into the nature while sitting within the hilly stream.
Finally at around 2:40, we came up for lunch. And as expected the food here is always awesome. We ordered for the barbeque and campfire which is a must do at this place in the evening. We informed Raju that we’d skip the Bindu today as we have been there already last year and we knew it had nothing much to offer. Instead we wanted to relax on nature’s lap as much as possible without hurrying.
Avijit brought in his hookah which obviously added up the excitement in us. Later in the evening, we went to stroll around the nearby market and to have momo. But by noticing us, Raju offered us to drive through the market. At each and every step I remembered our old memories of the time spent a year ago.
Finally by around 7 o’clock we were back to enjoy our sip of Darjeeling Tea. Finally around 8:30 PM, Sushanta Da and other staffs arranged the barbeque and campfire on the river bed near to our tent. Last time, due to the bookings of another large group we missed his awesome performance, but this time luck was with us. Though there were another group of senior citizens staying for the night, but they went to bed early which helped us getting all the attention. Suddenly, the change in weather brought in rainfall due to which we had to shift near the tent. But as campfire was already on it’s full, it couldn’t be shifted. But that didn’t ruined up the fun for a single moment. Instead all the staff took shelter nearby our tent and we experienced some awesome performance by them.
It kept going on till 11 o’clock. Though we ordered for 2KG chicken, but we still felt hungry. I asked Sushanta Da whether it’ll be possible for them to prepare something for us at this moment. I expected they would deny or would offer us something very basic, but his reply was “Ki khaben bolun?” (What would you like to have?). Even we felt ashamed to order something at this time of night. So we asked them instead, what would be easy for them. The cook Mr. Bahadur said, he can prepare Roti and Alur Dum instantly. It was more than enough for us.
We kept on enjoying our drink till 2 o’clock. But in the end both Suparna and Falaque got afraid, as the restaurant section was way ahead and all the staff stays there only. So we being isolated in the middle of forest and that also staying in a tent made them worried about security. Infact when we came here last year, there were more lights along the road, but this time we found some of them not to be working which made it more dark. But I was kind of enjoying the ambiance. A glass of J&B in hand with a cigarette lighten up, enjoying the cool breeze along with the sound of stream flowing by. Finally we went to sleep at around 2:30 AM.
6th February :
My wife woke me up saying there’s someone outside our tent. I tried concentrating on it and found that it was a Dog. I assured her that nothing sort of this happens here. I checked my mobile and it was only 6:38 AM and too early to get off the bed. We both decided to went off to bed again. But again at around 8:30 AM she woke me up saying the same thing. I tried getting up to check but she denied and asked me not to leave her alone. In the mean time, the voice appeared to be of Sushanta Da and other staffs cleaning up the table and barbeque stuffs of last night.
Finally at around 9:30 AM one of the staff came in to call us and asked us whether we’d like to have Bed Tea and Breakfast. I nodded. I asked Suparna to get ready in the mean time I called up Avijit to check if he has woken up yet. Within few minutes our Tea arrived. Wish I could have my morning tea with this breathtaking view everyday. Soon the breakfast were served. Raju came up in the meantime and I asked him whether he had it already. He nodded and asked us to get ready by 11 PM as we had a plan to go to Samsing, Suntalekhola and Rocky Island today, otherwise we’d get late. Avijit asked him can we start a bit late, at around 2:30? He nodded. Though I was hurrying them up so that we don’t miss to view those places but both Suparna and Avijit wanted to relax and enjoy the breathtaking view being in the riverbed.
I agreed with them, as we’d never get back this moment and if required we can check out those places on another trip later. So we all went to the river bed with our remaining J&B after ordering our lunch. Again, the luck proved to be with us and soon the rainfall started. It couldn’t have been better. We started playing Antakshari and after spending around 3 hours we came up to get ready. My literature knowledge will fail to describe it in words, let pictures take in charge.
Soon the lunch were served and we started off at around 3 AM after clearing up all the bills. Sushanta Da informed us that, he didn’t charged us for the campfire as we hardly been able to enjoy it due to rain. Well, this kind of behavior of him makes us comes back every time. You won’t see such behavior in plains.
The drive through Samsing Tea Garden is worth a visit. The greenery along the both side of the road was pleasant to the eyes. But the road through Suntaleykhola was not in good condition but we enjoyed the drive through forests. He drove us up to Samsing, Suntaleykhola point. From this point cars that doesn’t belongs to syndicate are not allowed if you do not have any booking at Suntaleykhola River Camp. Suntaleykhola River Camp is about 1 KM from this point. Raju told us that we can either choose to walk or can take a vehicle from Syndicate which would cost us 150/- per car. We choose to hire a vehicle as it was 4 o’clock already.
Though, in WBFDC site it’s mentioned as Suntanekhola, but the actual name turned out to be Suntaleykhola. It was kind of cottage experience and facilities are good. Thus we came to know why people choose Suntaleykhola over Jholung. But we prefer Jholung River Camp any day over Suntaleykhola River Camp. It didn’t gained much attraction from us.
Next was Rocky Island. Driving through picturesque road was a brilliant experience. Though we couldn’t understand the hype for Rocky Island as it looked dull to us. May be because we had already been to Jhalung.
While driving back to NJP, we stopped at Samsing Tea Garden for clicking few photos.
We were already running late, but Raju managed it with his expertise on steering wheel along with sheer amount of knowledge of various routes. And with this, we had to bid good bye to him with heavy hearts. Though I promised him to get in touch for my next plan to North Bengal.
How To Reach : One can either go for exclusive vehicle which is what I recommend for such an isolated place. Otherwise from NMZ there are shared cabs upto Bindu which passes by Jholung River Camp. I have also noticed buses running upto Bindu which comes from Tenzing Norgay bus stand in Siliguri. Personally I never opted for Shared Cabs and Bus, but I have seen both of them plying near Jholung River Camp.
Booking : Your one and only spot for booking accommodation is WBFDC Site. You can check availability too before going ahead with the booking. Due to the design of the site, many people get’s redirected to the new site for booking. It doesn’t matters much. So you can book it from new site or old site. I personally have used the old site always.
Note : Jhalong River Camp, Jholung River Camp, Jhalung River Camp is same place. Last time when we visited here it was Jhalong River Camp, but this time we noticed the name has been changed to Jholung River Camp at the entrance while near the Canteen it’s marked as Jhalung River Camp. So don’t get confused by the name in WBFDC Site.
Accommodation : One may choose to stay, close to Restaurant or Canteen, if you are afraid of something for any reasons whatsoever, or to stay isolated in the furthest tent to have an adventurous experience. Remember that all the staffs stays nearby the Canteen. So if you choose to stay isolated choose it from “Mayna“, “Munia“, “Mayur” or “Munal“. I have seen many people fussing about staying in tents but as I have already described on my previous Trip Report to Jhalong River Camp, let me reiterate that, that though these are tents, but the base and washrooms are of concrete and washrooms are that of 2* hotels. And it’s completely safe to be in Jholung River Camp. But if you are fussy about staying in a tent within forest or having quality rooms, then Jholung River Camp is not for you. In that case you may try Suntalekhola River Camp where you’d also have a great experience. Infact the tents do not even have any doors, there’s just a piece of cloth with zip. But to adventurer peoples like me, don’t be afraid, no sign of theft exists there.
What To See : Nothing, just enjoy the picturesque nature and get soaked into it. You may try covering Bindu (Jaldhaka Hydel Power Project), Samsing, Suntaleykhola River Camp, Rocky Island, Chalsa, Murti, Gorumara, Jaldapara, Chapramari etc. All these places are nearby. So you can cover Jholung River Camp as a day trip or you may choose to stay here for one night which I always recommend.
Food : The food here is awesome. Mr. Sushanta (the caretaker of this property) along with his staffs prepares great food. In the night you may choose to have barbeque and campfire. For Barbeque, it costs 500/- per KG and for Campfire it’d cost 500/-. Along with that, an awesome award winning performance by the staff comes for free. Mr. Sushanta sings very well and plays very good Dotara while Mr. Bahadur, the cook, plays khol while others sings along.
Accomodation : Booked Munal & Mayur at Jhalong River Camp @ Rs. 2000/- per tent from WBFDC Website.
Fooding : Our total bill was Rs. 3245/- including all the meals, tea, snacks and barbeque. They didn’t charged us Rs. 500/- for campfire as we hardly could enjoy it due to rain.
Car : We have hired exclusive vehicle for Rs. 5500/- throughout our trip.
Dipankar Da (North East Travels) : He’s your one point stop contact for every needs. We have contacted Dipankar Da for our arrangement of car. You can contact him at +91-8972247306 or email him at email@example.com.
Bappa Da : Bappa Da is an agent and deals with cars in North Bengal. Dipankar Da himself did all the negotiations with Bappa Da and shared me his number. We have payed the whole amount to him only. Dipankar Da didn’t charged anything for his service. You can call him at +91-9733116789 / +91-9932480592. If you see him charging more then you can directly contact the Raju or Dipankar Da.
Raju (Driver) : He drives White Bolero with registration number WB 76 9178. You can contact him at +91-7029583028. Well we really liked him, though he uses numerous horns heavily and drives really fast depending on roads. But never at any single point of time, we felt afraid of his driving. I must say he’s an expert at controlling steering wheel.
Sushanta Da (Caretaker of Jholung River Camp) : +91-9476392026. Well please don’t disturb him unnecessarily for booking related queries and all. All the bookings are controlled directly from WBFDC Site.
Update – July 2019: Jhallong / Jolung River Camp has now been upgraded to beautiful luxury cottages with AC and great amenities.