As we glanced through the book ‘Butterflies of Gorumara’, it suddenly dawned upon us that Oct had 4 holidays (due to Dussehra & Mohram) falling within the same week! We quickly discussed amongst ourselves and decided we shall not let these holidays go waste and thus started our journey to Buxa-Jaldapara-Gorumara by booking our flight tickets 🙂 Alka and myself planned to go 2 days in advance and Kedar decided to join us later.
We took the 10.50 am flight from Mumbai to Delhi and had a connecting flight from Delhi to Bagdogra at 2 pm. Though we were short of time at Delhi, we managed to make it just on time before the boarding gate closed. We landed at Bagdogra at 4 pm and immediately picked up our luggage and got into the car, headed to Mongpong FRH which is a part of the Mahananda WLS. On the way we stocked our vehicle with some fruits and water so as to cover any food contingency at the FRH. Rajesh (our driver) was very efficient and stopped at the right places so that we could quickly purchase our stuff. The road to Mongpong went over Mahananda river, through Mahananda WLS, over Teesta river and here we were at the Mongpong FRH around 7pm. Our room was called ‘Cuckoo‘ 🙂 This FRH also had a railway line (Guwahati-New Jalpaiguri) passing just outside the dining place. The cook here served us some delicious Baingan bhaja (fried Brinjal) along with some piping hot dal & rice. We had and early dinner and called it a day.
The next day (Oct 7) we started our journey for Buxa TR around 5.30 am. There were no shops that were open this early for tea or breakfast, so we simply continued driving until about 7.45am when we found a decent place for breakfast at Hasimara. On the way we crossed the Lees, Ghis and Chail and Diana rivers. After a heavy breakfast of Roti and sabji, we resumed our journey. We crossed Hasimara railway station when Rajesh (our driver) mentioned that we were just about 18kms away from Bhutan border to our left, but we took a right turn for Buxa TR. We reached our destination around 8.30 am which was in a village known as Rajabhatkhawa. Rajesh explained to us that the reason the name of this place was ‘Raja Bhat Khawa’ was because when the king of Bhutan released the king of Cooch Behar from his captivity, the king of Cooch Behar ate his first meal here.
We met Tamoghna Sengupta, our guide, at Humro home stay which was our place of stay for the next 3 nights. This was a quaint little place owned by a couple who stayed nearby. There were four rooms here, 2 double bedded and 2 four bedded. We had a four bedded room to ourselves since Kedar was scheduled to join us the next day onwards. As soon as we entered the room and settled down with our luggage, the land lady pleasantly greeted us and left a DIY tea maker for us. We freshened up quickly and immediately left for our first trail.
We first drove to the Forest check post, which was just 5-7 mins away from our homestay, to get our permits to enter Buxa tiger reserve. We drove through the core area of the tiger reserve, where people are not allowed to walk, and reached the banks of the Jayanti river. It was almost 10.30am by then and the weather was very hot and humid. We walked along the Guye nallah river bed for about 2 kms in search of butterflies. We did not find too many butterflies on this trail probably because of the heat, but we did manage to see about 40 species of butterflies on this trail which included Red-spot Jezebel, Red-spot Sawtooth, Dusky Yellow-breasted Flat, Tawny Rajah, Orchid Tit and some of the usual suspects like the pansies and the sailers.
Our third day (Oct 8) turned out to be a rainy day as it had also rained all night. While Alka and myself were still in bed, wondering what we could do today, the land lady brought us some piping hot tea that made us jump out of bed and sit on the porch to think further! As we sipped our tea, it dawned upon us that we could visit the Chilapata Reserve Forest today which is about 28 kms from Raja Bhat Khawa as the weather there could be better and we could utilise the day productively. We instantly got ready, informed our change in plan to Tamoghna to pick him up on the way and left for Chilapata by 7 am.
As we reached the road in Chilapata, it was still cloudy but we decided to start butterflying from an area close to the first bridge there. The surrounding forest and this particular spot looked promising. But slowly we realised that there were’nt too many butterflies around and soon it started pouring heavily. Hence we decided to drive through this forest road, which is a part of the Chilapata Reserve Forest a range of Jaldapara National Park, to Chilapata village. Here we took a short break to have some tea and chowmein and then headed back to Raja Bhat Khawa for lunch. We returned to our homestay by 12.30 pm, totally exhausted due to irritation and boredom. Our cook was kind enough to pacify us with some yummy food. Just as we were about to finish lunch, we saw the sky getting cleared and the sun could finally be spotted without a cloud cover. That gave us hope to spend another few hours in the field looking for butterfllies.
Thus, we immediately left to go back to the field, this time the aim was to butterfly around Bala river (enroute to Jayanti river).
On our way back we visited the tevees mile mandir (temple situated at the 23rd mile), an old temple of Lord Shiva, at the base of a watch tower, where we got a few additions to our list like the Raven, Commander, Common Snow Flat, Orange-tail Awl, Brown Awl etc. We got about 3 hours of clear sunshine before the clouds began to cover the sky. All in all it wasn’t a disappointing day. That night Kedar joined us around 9.30 pm, he’d driven straight from Bagdogra airport and it took him around 5 hours to reach Raja Bhat Khawa. Due to selfish reasons, I was eagerly waiting to meet Kedar since he was carrying a surprise gift for me. Thus, as soon as he reached and settled down, he handed over the gift to me. I was super thrilled to see a pair Papilio II binoculars (Pentax) which was meant to be specially designed for butterfly watching, with a minimum focal length as short as 1.5 feet!! I hit the bed with excitement to use my new binoculars in the field the next day.
Our last day at Buxa (Oct 9), the morning sky looked adorable as well as promising, as we left for the field around 6.15 am. Our plan for today was to reach Jayanti river, then cross over to the other side with the help of a local Bolero vehicle (since our Innova could not have crossed it) and drive until Houda point. After reaching the river, we had a quick breakfast and hired a local Bolero vehicle to reach Houda. Alka decided to stay with the vehicle at Houda since we had to cross a few streams by foot to go beyond this point. Kedar, Tamoghna and myself started our walk in search of butterflies. Just as we started, we felt a few drops of rain water which made us quickly put on our rain proofs and continue moving ahead. Some of the first few butterflies to welcome us were the Branded Orange Awlet and the Common Awl. We had to cross another stretch of the river on foot to reach the edge of the forest to search for more butterflies. We witnessed a few mud-puddling sites with one consisting of only Grass Yellows and the other with only Great Orange-tips.
With the help of Tamoghna and Kedar, I managed to cross this stretch through some knee deep fast flowing streams. We then walked on to a few trails around this area while it continued to drizzle. One of the trails was towards Mahakal cave, though this cave is accessible only during Shivratri festival as the Forest Dept clears the route and equips the accesss to this cave with ladders. Around noon we decided to head back towards the vehicle as we could now see dark clouds in the sky and it looked like a torrential rain was expected anytime. Hurriedly we headed back to our car and made sure that our camera equipments do not get drenched. On our way back though, we did manage to see an Orange Oakleaf basking and a Banded Treebrown on a rock hidden under the leaves. As soon as we started from here, there was a heavy downpour and the visibility went very low. We sighed a breathe of relief as we realised how lucky we were. We reached the restaurant situated on the banks of Jayanti river and had a sumptuous meal while the rain continued to follow us until we reached our rest house.
The next 2 days we were scheduled to stay at a tea estate resort at Gorumara. After our breakfast at Chilapata village, we drove through the same Chilapata road, with a hope to spot butterflies, to Gorumara. However, once again the weather decided to overrule our plans and there was not an inch of sunshine throughout our journey to Gorumara. Thus the only species we managed to see on the way were a pair a Common Earl butterflies, Dark Pierrot and a few other commoners. We reached Gorumara around lunch time, hence after checking into the Green Tea Estate resort, we went to the market at Lataguri for lunch. We also visited the Ramsai butterfly park which is about 32 kms from the resort. Tamoghna was scheduled to stayed at the lab here at the butterfly park while we drove back to our resort late evening.
By now we didn’t have much hopes about the last day as the rains had not really helped us too much on this trip. As we left the resort and drove towards Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, we stopped at a small tea shop for some local breakfast. Here we were appraised by the owner that being Dussehra, most of the shops and locals hotels will close by 10.30am since traditionally there is a custom of villagers visiting their relatives on this auspicius day and hence we may not find lunch very easily too. Neverthless, this did not dissuade us from driving further up the hill since the sun seemed to be on our side that day. So we slowly and steadily continued watching the coloured beauties that included a rare butterfly known as the Black-veined Red-eye.
Once we reached Paren village, we decided to turn around since there was a longish stretch of villages beyond this and we could not see much of the butterfly activity around. On our way back we walked short distances to make sure that we don’t miss any butterfly activity seen along the road. The highlight of this trip was at the spot where we’d stopped for tea in the morning where we walked down from the metal bridge to the river flowing underneath, trying to look for any fluttering activities. Suddenly I heard Kedar and Tamoghna shouting aloud as if they’d seen an alien fly past! It was a butterfly that none of us had seen before and it wasn’t any of the commonly known ones too. I had a brief look at this flutterby before it vanished into the thickets on the slope above us. Tamoghna and myself quickly went ahead to follow it while Kedar volunteered to stay at the spot to make sure we don’t miss the sight while trying to climb up the slope. There we saw it once again! Through my small camera’s long lens, I managed to click a few pics while the butterfly was in flight, however, none of the images were worth the beauty that we saw through our naked eyes! It was the Yellow-crested Spangle (not yet confirmed though) that had mesmerised us for the past 10 mins.
All-in-all it was a decent trip, which fetched us about 100+ species and about 8-9 lifers for me too. I would surely like to visit this place again during Mar-April season as that is considered to be the best season for butterfly activities in this area.