Lepchakha, a serene Drukpa hamlet in the lap of hills and forest of Dooars has earned popularity among the weekend backpackers for its beauty.
There is a famous saying, enjoy the journey because the destination might be a mirage. But this time, the mirage is real. Trekking through the Buxa Tiger Reserve to reach Lepchakha, it was all beautiful, the journey and the destination.
This trip was actually planned in no time. One fine evening in June, leaving behind the city chaos, we started our journey in search of serenity. I think every journey starts with a waiting note and when the wait is over, something beautiful happens, something that indulges you to fall in love all over again.
The journey story
When we reached New Coochbehar, the terminal point of our train journey, it was already two hours delayed, all thanks to the Indian railways. Hence, we had no time to take a break. Quickly, we took an autorickshaw from the station premises and started for Rajabhatkhawa. We were late, tired, and famished – all at the same time. Had a heavy meal after reaching Rajabhatkhawa and believe me, I never had such a tasty and sumptuous lunch in any of my forest trips before. But soon after that we just realised that we have committed a big mistake!
There were more troubles waiting for us in our way. But as I already said, often the longing and waiting ends up to something beautiful, so, here we go! We were late enough. The forest department officials were not issuing us the forest permit, unless we hire any vehicle, as walking through the forest is not allowed. They were not in the mood to listen to our requests. So we didn’t hesitate further and booked a local auto-rickshaw.
But again, there was another problem. Local people can go inside the forest by autorickshaws but tourists are allowed with covered cars only. And those cars are expensive enough for budget-savvy backpackers like us. Hence, we took this autorickshaw option, which can also be defined as a cheaper cart to heaven’s way, considering the beauty of the place.
Anyway, we started for Santalabari, the base-camp before the hike to Lepchakha. The sun usually sets early in the forest and just in no time darkness falls. So, our target was to cover the last two kilometres very quickly. But that was not happening this time. Because we all were full after the heavy lunch, so after walking every few steps we were gasping, panting, and were short of breath. The downing sun then was an extra threat.
Finally, when we reached Santalabari, the sun was already lurking on the horizon. All we had to do was reach Lepchakha anyway before it was completely dark because we had no torchlight or headlamp with us. Time was short, the sun was vanishing. With no choice left, we hired a guide and registered our name in the SSB check post, and started trekking again. Lepchakha was 5 km from Santalabari and only 2 km from the historic Buxa fort. But then it probably took us eternity to reach there.
By the time we crossed the Buxa Fort, darkness had engulfed the whole forest. Birds’ chirping was getting low and sound of cricket increased incessantly. The guide was hurrying, as he has to come down to Santalabari again. But we couldn’t trek fast with a full stomach.
It was pitch dark when we reached Lepchakha hilltop. A Drukpa village situated at an elevation of 3,000 feet inside the Buxa Tiger Reserve, which might be called a mystical hamlet. During the monsoon season, one can literally walk upon the clouds there. The lush green view of Buxa National Park, the silver-lined Jayanti River left us spellbound.
No plan is the best plan
We were staying in a Drukpa homestay there which can be booked over the phone. On arrival, we found the owner and his family were looking for our way. And suddenly, I felt that seeing someone waiting, welcoming with a smiling face can really soothe the journey lag, can comfort all the tiredness. After such a hectic journey, tea and pakoras were then like something felt heavenly. The hospitality, the warmth, the home away from home feeling from these locals is something unmatched. On a good note, the day ended with a tasty meal.
The next day we started afresh. As we had no plan for the second day, we talked to our homestay owner and he advised us to visit the Katlung River. It was about 3 km from Lepchakha village. As the route was unknown to us, we hired a local boy and headed towards Katlung. The river flows down from Bhutan. In the month of June, you can feel the chill of the river water. Still, we decided to take a bath in the river. It feels heavenly to bath in the wilderness of the forest, in a river coming down from the mountain like a bubbly girl, and no one there to disturb you while making love with her; except a few butterflies and birds. Finally, after spending a few hours and having a lengthy bath we returned to the homestay.
After lunch, we felt lazy as there was no plan. There were a few places where we could go, but we chose to rest in the afternoon. Took out chairs on the porch and sat idle. Hours passed by like eternity and we were enjoying the cool breeze, the sunbeams coming our way touching those hills, greens and melting the freshness in us. After the evening snacks, nothing but our position of the chair changed. Once the darkness engulfed the region, we moved under the glittery sky where there were three wooden log benches. For dinner, we had a chicken meal. With that dinner, our last night of leisure trip to Lepchakha came to an end.
The next day was our last day in Lepchakha. After breakfast, we started to climb down to Santalabari. And again while coming down, those wagging hands felt so close to my heart. Lepchakha village is considered as the ‘Queen of Dooars’. But before we finish, there were few more things to do.
Explored the Buxa fort, tried to understand how brave our freedom fighters were. How much pain they endured during their imprisonment in that remote place, how cruel the British rulers were. There’s a hundred years old post office still operating and a Buxa Duar Nature Interpretation Centre cum Museum also.
Waiting is beautiful
The trip circled back as we reached Santalabari and took another autorickshaw to New Alipurduar Junction, which we booked earlier and came back to our Kolkata life. We all are like homecoming birds at the end. Waiting is beautiful, I told you.
How to Reach: From Sealdah/Howrah you have to reach Alipurduar (Various trains available), and then you have to reach Santalabari. As motorable roads end at Santalabari, you have to leave your vehicle there and start trekking. From Santalabari to Lepchakha you have to trek for 5-6 km to Lepchakha. Midway, you can see the ruins of Buxa fort.
Where to stay: Lots of homestays are there, so staying there is not a problem. But book a homestay prior to your visit.
Best Time: To me, hills and mountains are always beautiful, always romantic. But you may say the best time is October to December.
Titbits: Buxa tiger reserve is the nest of Hornbill, and many others rare birds, so carry a camera with a good lens and a binocular, if possible.
(All the photographs were clicked by the author.)
Also Read: Kuari Pass: Trek to Lord Curzon’s trail