The name ‘Dooars’ (also Duars) refers to the foothills of the Eastern Himalaya, just to the south of Bhutan. ‘Dooar’ means door, and this region does act as a gateway to the higher Himalaya. To travellers, the Dooars offer treks through thick forests and over low-lying hills, memorable stays in lush tea gardens, birdwatching trails, and more.
Located towards the north of Siliguri, Mongpong overlooks the Coronation Bridge on the Teesta River. It is usually treated as a snacking halt along trips up and down from Sikkim. But if you stand on the forested ridge at sunset and watch the sublime beauty of the sal forests of the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and the Teesta, you’ll realise Mongpong is a destination in its own right.
Things to do in Mongpong
Teesta picnic spot
A short walk across NH31 towards the Coronation Bridge leads to a beautiful grassy stretch on the banks of the Teesta. The wide expanse divides into several channels and makes for a great place for birdwatching. Every year, migratory birds arrive here in the droves and make the spot their breeding ground.
You can either walk or drive to this feat of engineering excellence over the Teesta, built to commemorate King George VI’s coronation in 1937 by John Chambers, the last British executive engineer of the Darjeeling PWD. The bridge offers a spectacular view of river Teesta flowing along a deep gorge.Oodlabari Tea Estate
Thanks to the distinctive climate enjoyed by the Dooars, one of the world’s most delicate teas is produced in the region. A melange of mist and rain furthers its growth. The Dooars are home to more than 150 estates, of which Oodlabari stands out as one of the finest green-tea producing gardens.
The well-marked 3.5km Purbikhola trek starts from the right bank of the Teesta, just before the Coronation Bridge, and takes about 2 hrs. It’s a moderate trek and can be easily accomplished by all.
Air: Bagdogra is the nearest airport at 34 km
Rail: New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railhead at 31km
Road: From Siliguri, take NH31 to Mongpong via Sevoke. Local buses from New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri to Malbazaar go via Mongpong
DAM DIM TEA ESTATE
Rows of green tea bushes, lines of taller trees shading them and a deep blue sky above. If you love the colonial-style of living, then this is the right place for you. Nestled amidst lush environs and filled with the aroma of fresh tea, Dam Dim Tea Estate bungalow treats its guests like royalty.Esablished in 1927 as the Barrons Tea Estate, Dam Dim Tea got its present name from the the Bhutanese dema dema for fireflies, who put on a fabulous show at Dam Dim. Tata Tea, in its attempt to open up the tea lifestyle and experience, has converted a tea bungalow into a guest house.
Things to do in Dam Dim Tea Estate
Apart from the lifestyle, there is quite a lot that one can do in and around Dam Dim. From a machan, you can savour stunning views of the tea gardens. The property also arranges guided tours of their garden and tea processing factory. If you plan your visit around winters, you will also be able to see the nearby paddy fields swaying with ripe golden rice.
If you are lucky, you may even end up spotting elephants tasting the crop. The heritage club nearby, called the Western Dooars Club, has a nine-hole golf course. As a guest at Dam Dim, you can avail other facilities at the club too. Play cards and billiards, table tennis, and have access to the bar.
Air: Bagdogra is the nearest airport at 57km
Rail: New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railhead at 54km
Road: From Siliguri, take NH31 past Mongpong, Meena Modh and Oodlabari to Dam Dim Modh. Turn right to Dam Dim
Named after its namesake stream, Suntalekhola valley is one of those few places where you would find just a handful of locals peacefully living their lives. Suntalekhola looks straight out of a fairy tale and elevates you to great heights. Lovingly girdled by a gurgling brook and surrounded on all sides by soaring mountains in varying hues of green, Suntalekhola is connected to the civilised world only by a hanging footbridge, crossing which is an adventure in itself.
While here, step into the surrounding woods, where there’s no sound save the rumble of flowing water and the rustling of leaves underfoot, lit by slanting sunrays playing hide-and-seek on the forest floor. The Suntalekhola stream emerges gently from the Neora Valley National Park here and lends its name to the place. The stream was named after orange trees (in Nepali suntale means orange and khola, a rivulet) laden with fruit in winter, which dot the unending greenery.
Things to do in Suntalekhola
This scenic 5km trek takes you through remote villages and terraced fields of paddy and maize. The trek leads you to Mouchuki, which serves as an entry point to the Neora Valley National Park. If you are the adventurous and dare devil kind, you may fancy extending your trek further up to the park’s highest point Reche La Pass, which stands at a height of 10,341 ft. It is also the tri-junction of Bhutan, Sikkim and West Bengal. In order to undertake this amazing trek, you must get in touch with the office of the Forest Department in Samsing. Taking a guide comes recommended.Samsing
Blessed with gorgeous orange orchards and cardamom plantations, Samsing is a quaint little hamlet of about a few hundred households. It is encompassed by verdant tea plantations. Samsing and Suntalekhola are the crest and trough of the Kitap Singh Hill. If you have time in your hand, you must also visit the Rocky Island Adventure Camp, an eco-tourism endeavour by the side of the gushing river Murti, located at a distance of only 5 km from Suntalekhola.
Air: Located at a distance of 92km, Bagdogra is the nearest airport
Rail: New Jalpaiguri is the nearest railhead at 89km
Road: From Siliguri, take NH31 to Sevoke. Turn right on NH31 to Chalsa Modh via Mongpong, Dam Dim and Malbazaar. At Chalsa, turn left to Suntalekhola via Matelli and Samsing
It’s a truly enchanting drive to Jaldhaka. The road is lined with dense Chapramari Forest on either side. The wooded road leads you to the little village of Sipchu, which is dotted with little huts on slits and spice and jackfruit plantations. From here, you can also witness a panoramic view of a tiny village that sits by a dancing hill river.
Little pink, blue, green and yellow cottages fill the roadside and hill slopes. All of them are known for their vibrant flower gardens. Prayer flags blowing in the wind are a constant companion and wildflowers grow on the hill slopes, while the river rushes below. Jaldhaka is a hill traveller’s idyll by all means.
Things to do in Jaldhaka
Dalgaon View Point
To reach here, you need to take a 4km drive from Jaldhaka village to Gairibas. From Gairibas, it’s a 2 hour walk to the view point. It’s an easy and pleasing walk, which goes through patches of wild forest and wildflowers. The view all along the way is spectacular.
The lush green hills of Bhutan are stretched across the horizon; in the plains below flows the Dechu from Bhutan that becomes the Jaldhaka at Bindu, where it enters India. Birds flock to these hills in winter. A picnic basket, a bird book, sunscreen lotion and a warm jacket are the right ingredients for spending a perfect day here.
Bindu Hydel Electric Project
The Bindu Hydel Electric Project near Jaldhaka is another place worth your while. You can cross the bridge to Bhutan just for the thrill of being in another country (Indians don’t need a visa or passport, but it’s best to carry your photo ID). The tea shops near the dam are perfect to while away time watching the river flow by.
Paren village, 5 km away, is a tiny hamlet hidden in this corner of the Himalaya, undiscovered even by seasoned Bengali tourists. This is a good place to walk around and soak in nature’s glory. Spend a day in the village roaming around, discovering it through chats with the very friendly villagers.
Air: Nearest airport is Bagdogra at 89km
Rail: New Jalpaiguri at 86km is the nearest railhead
Road: From Siliguri, take NH31 to Sevoke, then turn right for Khunia Modh via Dam Dim, Malbazaar and Chalsa. At Khunia Modh, 8 km after Chalsa, turn left to Jaldhaka via Jhalong
Where to stay in The Dooars
Here's a list of some of the best staying options:
The Dam Dim Tea Residency
Location Dam Dim Tea Estate, Damdin, Jalpaiguri Cell 09382342597, 09830049829 Tariff Rs 6,999; TE +meals, tea trails Rooms 4 Facilities kitchen, room services, indoor/outdoor games
Meghamalhar Tourist Lodge (Renovation) (WBTDCL)
Location Mal Bazaar Bus Stand, Jalpaiguri Cell 09733008793 W wbtdcl.com Room 18 (not operational under Renovation) Facilities Restaurant, Bar (operational)
Mongpong Nature Education and wilderness Resort (WBFDC)
Location Mongpong, under Kalimpong Forest Corporation Cell 08436841246, 09002371850, 08474084582 W wbfdc.net Rooms 8 Tariff Rs 2,000(single)-2,500(double); TE Facilities Canteen (food on request), attached bath
Suntalekhola Nature Education and Wilderness Resort (WBFDC)
Location Kalimpong, Samsing Cell 09641053125, 08250448987, 09635666846 W wbfdc.net Rooms 7 (samsing), 4 (in River camp), Cottages 10 (in Suntalekhola)Tariff Rs 1,800-3,000; TE Facilities Canteen
Samsing Forest Rest House (WBFDC)
Location Samsing Cell 08670693689, 09641053125, 09635666846 W wbfdc.net Rooms 7
Tariff Rs 2,500-3,500; TE Facilities Canteen (food on request)
Rocky Island Adventure Camp
Location Rocky Island Khasmahal Road, kalimpong Division, Samsing, Jalpaiguri Tel 0353-2641782 Cell 09434012590 Rooms 6 Tariff Rs 1,000