HOLLONG – a paradise for the Nature Lovers
Hollong : Introduction
Hollong is the name of a river in the North Bengal, which flows through the Jaldapara National Park, West Bengal, India. But the name “Hollong” instantly flashes in the mind of any Nature lover worthy of his/her name the picture of a beautiful tourist Lodge situated deep inside the green forest of the Jaldapara National Park, famous for its One Horned Rhinos & other flora & fauna. Staying at the Hollong Tourist Lodge is, to say the least, an out-of-the-world experience, especially to anyone who loves Nature in Its full glory.
Hollong : Geography
Hollong is deep inside the Jaldapara National Park, situated in the Alipurduar district of West Bengal. It is at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas & south to Bhutan. Actually, Hasimara, the main railhead to Hollong is a gateway to the Himalayan country of Bhutan. Jaldapara National Park is spread across 216.5 square km area, full of vast Savannah grassland with patches of riverine forests. A number of small streams & rivers crisscross the area, with Torsa being the largest river near the National Park. Some of the water channels near Hollong is the Hollong river & its tributeries like Chira Khayoa river & many nameless streams. Madarihat is the entry point to the Jaldapara National Park, hence to Hollong as well. Hollong is quite close to Hasimara Airforce station, & the occasional IAF fighter jets streaking along the sky provides a thrilling sight.
Hollong : The flora
Apart from the tall Elephant grass, the important trees include Saal, Sishu, Khair, Simul, Siris etc. A variety of epiphytes can be seen in the large tree branches. The trees are the nesting & resting places for a wide variety of birds. The majestic sight of the Oriental Pied Hornbill or a Crested Serpent Eagle sitting at the branches of the trees is unforgettable. The silhouette of trees during sunrise or sunset is simply surreal.
Near the tourist lodge, an area is cleared of the trees & a salt pit is created where salt is placed in two/three hips each afternoon by the forest officials to attract the wild animals to come & lick the salt.
Hollong : the fauna
Jaldapara National Park is the home of about 240 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, a wide variety of reptiles & fishes, & a myriad of insects & arachnids.
Fauna of Hollong
Hollong : Mammals
The most important animal which can be seen at Hollong is the One Horned Rhino, an endangered species. The huge animals are actually very docile despite the fierce looks, & can be seen sitting or standing half merged in water-bodies or gently grazing in the grassland. They often come to lick salt at the salt pit.
The other big animals which can be spotted at Hollong are the elephant & the Indian Bison (Gaur). The elephants are so fearless that they often come to the tourist lodge. The bisons are, though very short tempered, afraid of humans & they flee inside the forest at the slightest disturbance.
Sambar deer & wild boar are two other wild animals which can be easily spotted at Hollong. Monkeys are, however, not very common at Hollong.
Mammals of Hollong
Hollong : Birds
Hollong, as part of the Jaldapara National Park, is a paradise for the bird watchers. The birds commonly seen near the tourist lodge include the following : Crested Serpent Eagle, Pallas’s Fishing Eagle, Shikra, Peafoul, Jungle Foul, Oriental Pied Hornbill, different types of Drongo, Indian Roller, Pompadour Pigeon, Yellow Footed Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Red Collared Dove, Spotted Dove, Asian Open Bill Storks, Lesser Adjutant Stork, White breasted Kingfisher, Common Blue Kingfisher, Stork-billed Kingfisher, different types of parakeets, orioles, Jungle Babblers, Woodpeckers, Barbets etc.
Jaldapara is said to be the only habitat of the endangered bird Bengal Florican, & a sighting of this rare bird is a dream for every bird-watcher.
Common birds of Hollong
Hollong : Other Non-mammals
Several varieties of reptiles including snakes, monitor lizards, turtles & geckos can be spotted at Hollong. A surprise sighting is the fierce looking geckos at the tourist lodge itself.
The streams contain several varieties of fish as well. One of the small fishes called Borili locally is famous for its taste.
Other Non-mammals of Hollong
Hollong : Insects & arachnids
The jungle is full of these small guys, & the colourful ones are really eye-catching. Many varieties of butterflies are a major attraction of Hollong.
Insects of Hollong
Elephant Safari at Hollong
Elephant safari is organized in the morning from the lodge gate, & is highly popular. It is a must for all visitors, as it is both thrilling & provides chance of seeing the beautiful forest & the wildlife from very close. It is much better than the Jeep safari as only the elephants can take one deep inside the forest where the wild animals actually live. Spotting rhinos, wild boars & the shy Sambar deer is not very uncommon in the elephant safari.
Hollong tourist Lodge
Though a property of the Forest Department, this lodge is run by the tourist department of the Government of West Bengal. The lodge is a beautiful 3-storie building with 8 rooms, of which 3 are not for the general public. The front rooms directly face the salt pit where the wild animals regularly come. For the inhabitants of the backside rooms, there are common drawing rooms facing the salt pit. All the rooms are well furnished & some are provided with A/C. The dining hall is at a little distance.
The booking of the rooms starts 120 days prior to the day of occupancy, but it is extremely difficult to get one. Online booking can be done through the website of WBTDC.
Hollong : How to go
The nearest railway station is Madarihat, though express trains do not stop there. Hasimara, about 20 km away, is the main railway station to go to Hollong. The road- head is Madarihat, about 7 km from Hollong. From there one can reach Hollong by authorized motor vehicles .
Remember : Only persons with valid reservation of the rooms at Hollong Tourist Lodge (or with the authorized Jeep/ Elephant safaris) are allowed inside the forest.
Hollong is really a paradise for the Nature lover. The sombre ambiance, the deep forest all around with myriads of mesmerizing sounds emanating from the jungle, the sighting of the wildlife, the beautiful birds, the majestic flight of the hornbills, all make a stay at Hollong a lifelong happy memory.
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS ARE BY THE AUTHOR, TAKEN DURING TRIP TO HOLLONG (27 TO 29 APR, 2015).