Kolkata to Chalsa: Baby elephant walk
The encounter with Chalsa was unplanned.
When a trip to Darjeeling couldn’t materialize, owing to a sudden landslide in the area, my spirits had nosedived. After all, weekends are a rare luxury in a corporate job. My host sensed the deep disappointment and tried to salvage my holiday by suggesting a visit to a small village, 65km north-east of New Jalpaiguri. I agreed.
It was going to be a blind date.
Crackling Bengali music belched out from the old cassette player in the taxi I took from the New Jalpaiguri railway station for Chalsa. The music and the motion of the car had just about lulled me into catching a few winks when the driver screeched to a halt. I opened my eyes to a grey blur. Focusing, I found I was looking at a herd of elephants ambling in front of us, seemingly without a care in the world. A young calf shuffled between the pillar-like legs of the group’s older members. A string of cars waited patiently behind us till the elephants swayed off the road, into the forest. No one honked and no one jumped the queue.
I was already beginning to like this trip.
The lower Himalayan hills, draped in a moss-like carpet of tea bushes, the Gorumara National Park and the Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, surround Chalsa—contributing to the breathtaking views from the many hotels and lodges sprinkled across the town. I chose a simple lodge. After a hot cup of tea, I enjoyed a quick snooze, waking up to a burst of chatter outside my window. A family of babblers prompted me to head out to discover the area.
I hadn’t cycled in a long time, but I borrowed a black set of wheels from the owner of the lodge and set out to explore the tea gardens and the villages around. The slow pace of the cycle seemed to match the easy-paced life of the townsfolk. I was initially shaky, but soon found my rhythm. My bright orange T-shirt and white shorts must have worked like a beacon, because seven children were soon following me, giggling as they trotted behind. The moment I would look back to smile, they would shriek, and the muffled giggles would turn into full-throated laughter. Even women hunched over potato and gourd fields looked up at us and smiled. Our little game gave me the confidence to point my camera in the children’s direction. By the time the day ended, I was richer by several photographs.
For the rest of the afternoon, I took detours into the smaller lanes that stretched out to clusters of village homes, small oases amid green fields. I even managed to get an invitation for a cup of tea at a local home.
The next morning was devoted entirely to a book, but the bright, sunny day cajoled me into action around lunchtime. It was an ideal afternoon to explore the Gorumara National Park. I wasn’t as interested in spotting the Indian rhinoceros that the sanctuary is famous for as I was in climbing one of the four watchtowers to see the spread of the jungle.
The Medla watchtower was closest to my lodge. After the entry formalities, our group of six bumbled along a dusty path to the tower. I climbed up to the top to enjoy a few solitary moments before the others caught up. Though the forest was parched, it was resiliently green. I wondered if I would be able to spot the same herd of elephants from this vantage spot.
After all, they had proved to be a good omen for what had seemed like a doomed holiday—a quick thank you seemed essential.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The writer tweets at @dspunkytraveler.