Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Manas National Forest diary


Kolkata to Guwahati (Indigo) 5.20 am and back (6.35 pm flight by Indigo)  = Total fare Rs 4850/- . Our plane started 15 minutes before the scheduled time.

We took the same Taxi, which we hired last month for Kaziranga. It came to our house near Triangular Park at around 3.00 am. It takes around 40 minutes to reach the airport at this point of time.

Car from Guwahati to Manas National Forest to Guwahati = 4x2 hours journey ( Rs 9600/- for Xylo for 380 Km). The car stayed inside Manas National Forest throughout the tour with us. We stayed in Mathanguri lodge of Assam Tourism Deptt. inside the core area of the Park. There are three places to stay inside the Core area - Upper Bungalow, Middle (Dormitory), Lower Bungalow . They are all within walking distance. Since there was no room available, we had no option but to stay in the dormitory. The rooms are absolutely basic. There is only a bed. There are 9 beds in the dormitory. Each bed is Rs 200 per day. There is no attached bathroom. But the location is heavenly. 

Just beside the resort there is Manas River - which separates India from Bhutan.  Mathanguri is the point through which the River Manas enters India from its source in Bhutan. 

Manas National Park, is located in Assam - on the foothills of Eastern Himalayas. It not only offers spectacular views of Manas River overlooking the hills in Bhutan but is also famous for the Indian Rhinoceros as well as other endangered species. Manas National Park is a very unique one. This designated sanctuary also has the singular distinction of being a biosphere hotspot, a natural world heritage site - it is UNESCO World Heritage Site. The forest suffered due to the Bodoland agitation till 2013 or 2014, although thankfully, now matters have improved greatly because of local and government initiatives.

The forest extends further into neighbouring Bhutan, where it is known as the Royal Manas Park. 
To the south of the park, NH31 adjoins Barpeta Road, where the Field Director’s office is located. It is from here that you get permits to enter the park in case you plan to stay at Mathanguri (core Area of Manas National Forest) , where the Inspection Bungalow is located.  We had talked to the forest officer, Mr Kripanath at least 20 times before coming here. So he recognized us easily.We only booked for Entry fee/Permit of the car. There are many Resorts near Bansbari gate.
Tourists enter the forest through the Bansbari Range Office gate (the only gate to my knowledge, to enter the forest) , where an armed ranger joins them. There are no forest department jeeps or guides available for tourists, but private jeeps can be hired from near the Bansbari Range Office or at Barpeta Road. Permits to enter the park are also arranged from here. For car hire you have to pay separately to the car owner at the end of the trip. We could not hire the famous guide Rustam, because he was booked long time back. We hired two safari cars for 8 people, so that enough space is available for viewing and taking pictures.

The area was once the hunting ground of royals. Formerly known as North Kamrup, it was made a reserve forest in 1928, declared a tiger reserve under Project Tiger in 1973, and eventually made a national park in 1990.It is home to tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, wild buffaloes and gaur, apart from sambar and swamp deer.The core area of the tiger reserve spreads over 321sq km of the Manas National Park. 

Entry Indians  50; Foreigners  500 (half day)
            Indians  200; Foreigners  2,000 (full day) 

Timings 7.30am–5.30pm 

Jeep hire  4500 (6 person maximum, full day) 
Photography Indians  50; Foreigners  500 
Videography Indians  500; Foreigners  1,000.

Unlike Tadoba, Bandhvgarh etc you cannot book the safaris online. You have to come here before the tour starts. 

Before reaching our dormitory, we had our lunch outside the forest. Immediately after reaching our resort at Mathanguri we left for Evening safari. No armed guard accompanied us. We proceeded towards the Bhutan side of the forest. We saw Capped Langur - which looks somewhat like famous Golden langur. Then what we saw is unique - hundreds of Great hornbill and Wreathed hornbill. The view from this part is heavenly and unique - which I have not come across before, in any forest.

We had our dinner at the dining hall, just beside upper Bungalow. The prices here are expensive - like any forest in India.


Next day we left for Morning Safari at 9 am, little late, mainly because of inadequate toilet facility at the resort. We opted for whole day safari. In between we  had lunch near Bansbari gate.

Today we saw Water buffalo, Giant squirrel, Common Hoope, Elephant, Serpent eagle, peacock, Vulture, Oriole, Cormorant, Green pigeon, spotted dover, Drongo, White breasted Kingfisher, Gaur, Bulbul.

We did not go for elephant safari. We returned to our lodge at around 6.30 pm - it is already dark. 

We had our dinner at the dining hall, just beside upper Bungalow. But we walked all the way to the Bungalow - later we learnt that a Buffalo was moving nearby - so it was poor thinking on our part to walk all the way to the dining hall. We learnt there is also a tiger trail here. 

In fact some of the group members, after the dinner sat beside the Manas river in the moon lit, but windy night and apparently they saw a tiger on the Bhutan side.


Today before starting our morning safari, we kept our luggage in our safari car (since we won't come back to the resort) and at around 11.30 am left for Bansbari gate for our lunch. 

Anybody who is staying longer can have these options:

You can take a walk along a 5-km long jungle trail by the river around Mathanguri, where you will spot a plethora of birds and flowers. Otherwise, your guide may take you along the streams to track animals – it is an absolutely wonderful experience.
Tea Plantations
This area is excellent tea country, and the plantations begin right outside the park. Stop by the Fatemabad Tea Estate adjacent to the Bansbari Lodge for a tour of their factory, or take a walk through their pretty estate.

Where to Stay & Eat
There is limited accommodation in Manas. The government-run Forest Lodge (Cell: 09435124949; Tariff:  1,200) is 22km inside the park at Mathanguri, by the Manas river. It has six double rooms and a canteen. You have to pay for diesel to help run the generator. However, it is the most picturesque place to stay. 
The Bansbari Lodge (Guwahati Tel: 0361-2667871–73, Cell: 092070 42330/ 31; Tariff:  2,450) is a private hotel right outside the park gate. It has 16 double rooms with hot and cold water and room service. Meals are provided at extra cost (breakfast for  158 per head, lunch/ dinner  289 per head). Indian, Chinese and Continental cuisine are served. The lodge organises dance performances in the evenings on request as well as offers transfers from Guwahati.
Birina Tourist Lodge (Tariff:  2,200–2,500) has a superb location near the Fatehabad Tea Estate, close to the entrance of the Bansbari Range. The rooms are large, clean and airy with a dressing room and attached modern bathrooms. The Lodge arranges jungle safaris, birdwatching treks, bonfire and village tours. They have an open-air theatre for cultural programmes.
Another property close to the park is Florican Jungle Cottage (Tariff:  2,000), managed by a grass root conservation NGO, based in Bansbari range. The cottages consist of a cluster of six Assam-type thatched cottages with en suite bathroms. 
The outfit is totally managed by local villagers trained by Help Tourism. Jungle rides, birdwatching treks, village and cultural experiences are organised. Meals are charged extra. Bookings for both the properties can be made through Help Tourism (Kolkata Tel: 033-24550917, 24549682/ 719, Cell: 09733000442/ 43; Packages on full board and Jungle Plan are also available here.
Musa Jungle Retreat (Cell: 08761950655, 08811882266, 08811882277; Tariff:  3,500–9,000) is a new property in Bansbari. This too has a great location, near the park and the tea gardens, with clean, comfortable rooms and good food. The resort arranges jeep safari, river rafting as well as nature walks to the Manas National Park.
On the eastern edge of the national park in Kokilabari, lies the Eco Camp Cottages (Cell: 09864034614, 09435875539; Tariff:  2,000) managed by the Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society. They organise river rafting and jungle safaris for guests.
When to go November–April. Park closed from May – October
Tourist/ Wildlife offices
Tourist Information Office
Tourist Lodge
Barpeta Road
Tel: 03666-260300

Field Director
Manas National Park
Barpeta Road
Tel: 261413
STD code 03666

After having our lunch we left for Guwahati airport. The road towards the airport is not bad.We reached Guwahati airport within 3.30 hours by 4 pm.

Our flight left at 6.35 pm and we reached Kolkata at 7.15 pm. Anindya's plane is at 6.50 pm. That fifteen minutes made all the difference. Before reaching Kolkata, Cyclone started and they had to land at Bhubaneswar and came back to Kolkata at around 12 pm !
(Source : )

Gajon and Charak at Batanal, Hooghly - in brief


This year our plan was to go to Kurmun, Burdwan to see Gajon and Charak festival. This year the day of Charak or Charok fell on 14.04.2018 - Saturday !

Charak festival takes place in various places of West Bengal. It even takes place in Kolkata. To know the complete list of places - you can refer to a wonderful blog : or Charak from my previous post .

Gajan festival is associated with deities such as Shiva, Nil and Dharmathakur. Gajan spans around a week, starting at the last week of Choitro or Chaitra continuing till the end of the bengali year. It ends with Charak Puja. Participants of this festival is known as Gajan sannyasi or Bhokta. Tomorrow is Bengali new year day. It is a marker of Poila Baisakh.

But we learnt at the last moment, that Charok in Kurmun is over by 13.4.2018. So there is no point going there. We got a very valuable input from Srikumar Babu - an expert on festivals of West Bengal that a very interesting and unique Charok takes place in Batanal near Aram-bagh and not very far from Tarak-eswar. We left at around 10.30 by Tata Winger am and reached at around 3 pm after having our lunch on the way. We were 8 in our group.

When we reached there, it was empty. We had some time to roam around the village.

The word gajan in Bengali comes from the word garjan or roar that sannyasis (hermits) emit during the festivities. (source: Wiki) . The term sanyasi is used for all active participants like an honorific and is not to be regarded as a caste marker. These sanyasis are not Brahmins. Charak sanyasis lead the life of celibates for a fortnight. They live on the temple premises all day long. (Italics part is from )

In Bengal Dharmathakur is generally worshipped by the scheduled cast like Bauri, Bagdi, Hari, Dom. Dharmathakur may have been originated from Dharmaraj of Buddhism. Although Dharmathakur is identified by a shapeless stone (as seen in Bankura) and its Vahana is represented by terracotta horses , there have been instances where Buddha idol has been worshipped as Dharma Thakur in villages of Bankura. There are still villages where both Dharamraj and Shiva are placed with Gajan offerings.

Gajan is actually linked to persons who are related to agricultural community, directly or indirectly. They pray for the rains and better harvest. Lord Shiva is said to be closely related to this community. It may be worth noting here that Dharmathakur is actually considered to be the God of Fertility.
(source :

Charak Puja (also known as Nil Puja) is a Hindu folk festival, held in southern Bangladesh and West Bengal on the last day of the month of Chaitra . Similar festival in Maharashtra is called Bagad, while in Vizianagram, Andhra Pradesh it is called as Sirimanu utsavam.

People believe that the festival will carry prosperity by eliminating the sorrow and sufferings of the previous year. The festival is actually a festival to satisfy "Lord Shiva", the great "Debadideb" of Hindu Religion.

Though the festival takes place on the mid night of Chaitra Song-kranti, the preparation phase usually starts before one month of the day. Chaitra Sankranti begins on 14th March of every year.

It is difficult to pinpoint when Charak was initiated and by whom, but what is known is that in 1860, the British had attempted to enforce a ban on the practice. In a paper titled "A Barbarous Practice: Hook-Swinging in Colonial Bengal", Aniket De points out that a little less than a 100 years before that, Baptist missionary William Carey wrote about witnessing the ceremony. Sometime in between, in 1829, Ram Comul Sen, secretary of the Asiatic Society then, described it thus: "The word Charak is derived from Chakra or Charaka, which means a circle [possibly a tangential reference to the circle of life, the cycle of seasons]... It is a festival improperly termed by many Charak Puja, perhaps from the notion that every ceremony observed by the Hindus of Bengal, is a puja or religious worship..."
In the 1862 account of Calcutta's high society, titled Hutom Pyanchar Naksha (or Sketches By Hutom, The Barn Owl), Kaliprasanna Singha mocks: "Although he is of a lower caste, he has been elevated by virtue of following ascetic practices over the past few days: our master had to fall at his feet and show him respect."
Charak is observed to date in Bengal. The ceremony constitutes practices that are largely about inflicting pain on the self. Apart from the rigorous fast, there is pitphoron or piercing one's back with hooks, jibaphoron or piercing the tongue, agunkhela or walking on burning coal, swinging from the Charak gachh or pole and mara khela or dancing with human skulls.
 In nearly every place, men swing from hooks attached to ropes tied around the Charak tree, which is actually a pole. We are told how their backs are rubbed with milk and mashed bananas so the hook can slip into the skin with ease.
The whole point of Charak is apparently to appease the gods with gut-wrenching penance so they send plentiful rains, bounteous crops. But the onus of active divine appeasement lies squarely on those way down in the caste hierarchy - no doubt by clever human machination.
Says Ashok Kumar Kundu, an expert on rural folk festivals, "It is practiced only by the lower castes. In olden times, when the Brahmins turned out the marginalised people - Bagdi, Dolui, Haadi, Dom, Muchi - from the temple, they created their own gods.....Today, Charak has become part of folk tradition
(source : Italics part is from )

Everything started around 4 pm and we left for a place near the main Charak , where you can see " Babui Jhak" and also the piercing is also going on.

Then they leave for main ground where Charak takes place, after the piercing is done. Unlike Baghna-para, Kalna, the piercing results in some blood oozing out . The piercing instrument is different here. 

We left for Kolkata at around 5.45 pm and reached at around 9.30 pm. It is around 120 Km from Kolkata.

Chronological order