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Hollong Bunglow – Some Memories

Hollong Bunglow – Some Memories

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Hollong Bunglow

Experience a heartfelt journey through memories of the historic Hollong Bunglow. Dive into the author’s nostalgic adventure, encountering the charm of Jaldapara National Park, local wildlife, and the touching story of an elephant rescue.

I woke up that morning to the news of the devastating fire destroying the Hollong Bunglow completely. The news took me through a backward sweep of memory, some fifteen years ago, to a chapter when I hung my hat in the town of Siliguri for a brief period of eight months.

Siliguri held a certain allure, as it offered a dual charm to me. Firstly it was just an overnight journey back to Calcutta where I belonged, at the same time a few hours’ drive led me to some of the most stunning places around. Unlike the usual night parties of Calcutta or any other big cities, I found a yearning relief during my weekends spending time exploring places like Lepcha Jagat, Delo Hills, or Gajoldoba.

I remember a long weekend, I was planning one such trip, when my colleagues offered a suggestion. “Visit Jaldapara National Park instead of your habitual locations,” they said.

Having spent my childhood amid the lush jungles of Meghalaya and Assam, the idea thrilled me, and I eagerly agreed. In retrospect, this decision gifted me with an unforgettable experience that I cherish and share with you today.

Taking the Kanchankanya Express, I reached the Madarihat station around 11 in the morning. Venturing out I was greeted by a fleet of Toto drivers who enquired about my destination. “I am looking for a hotel to stay.” I said.

“Come with me Sahib, I will take you.”….

“Sir, I can take you to the best of the hotels.”….

This way, all of them came up with a plethora of suggestions, confusing me completely. Overcoming the ambiguity, I decided to check in at Hollong Bunglow, as suggested by my colleagues.  

It’s worth mentioning here that those were the times when the burgeoning trend of ‘Vikas’ (development), did not poison India leaving the landscape greener, the forests denser, and the air purer. Reaching the bunglow, I found it was crafted with timber, providing a heritage look, charming me deeply. The interiors were so serene that they could soothe any form of anxiety and provided me a hankering relief from the regular corporate life. 

Built around 1967, Hollong Bunglow is embraced by the untamed wilderness of Jaldapara National Park on all sides. I found that the wooden floors, groaned beneath my weight, as I climbed up, and the aged walls whispered tales of yesteryears—a touch of magic in every creak and crack. The lingering scent of old naphthalene balls mingled with the sight of rust on the heavy iron chest in the living room upstairs, weaving intricate patterns etched by the hands of time.

I took a front-facing room through which I could gaze out upon the landscape and the sprawling forest beyond. I sat beside the window and sang out loud the words of Louis Armstrong ‘What a wonderful world’. It was then, when, Suren Toppo, the caretaker entered my room. “Sahib some tea for you,” and I could smell freshly brewed tea in an elegant-looking Victorian teapot that he placed on the coffee table. Honestly, I prefer Darjeeling first or second flush, but the freshness of the brew was such that I poured myself a second cup.

The deep serenity within me was broken by Suren as he came in again in a while and said, “Sahib, lunch is ready.” Being a weekday there were no other occupants at the bunglow, so I requested Suren to serve me the food outside at the lawn. I still remember the taste of the boruli mach (a type of fish only available in this part) that Suren served me for lunch. Finishing lunch my tiredness guided me back to my room and soon I fell asleep.

I woke up in the evening to the smell of a freshly brewed teapot. I decided to stay at the bunglow for the rest of the evening and finish reading Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ which I carried with me, but then I met Santanu Sengupta, the Range officer of Jaldapara National Park.

Santanu was a middle-aged man of about six feet with a moustache that stretched all the way to his ears. He greeted me and when he found out about my interest in jungles, he invited me and said “Would you like to join me for my evening round?”.

“Oh! I would love to,” I readily agreed, as going on a jungle safari was one thing but who would miss an opportunity to go to the jungle with a forest officer?

As I went out I found a jeep waiting for us along with a driver and an armed guard. As we entered the forest I could hear a million birds and saw a rangale of gazing deer.

I was amazed and speechless by the beauty of nature when I heard Santanu say, “We will be entering the core area now, so please be absolutely quiet.”

It was almost dark and the idea of entering the core area felt menacing yet charming. A good ten minutes had passed in total silence except for the sound of the engine when I saw Santanu instruct the driver to stop. I wondered why but had to wait no time for an answer as I saw a herd of elephants block our way. I saw 3 Tuskers in the herd of 15 elephants.

“Why are they blocking the road? They usually cross the road, don’t they?” Santanu enquired.

I had little knowledge of animal behaviour, but I could see tears roll down the eyes of elephants. “I feel they are looking for help,” I said.

“Sir, this is Moti’s family. I have seen them very closely many times, they are never aggressive, I think Gupta Sahib is right.” I guard agreed.

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In no time I saw Santanu walk to the elephants. Honestly, I was a bit worried about this, but then what I saw, surprised me completely. I saw the elephants moving deeper into the jungle and turning once in a while as if to see if Santanu was following them. The rest of us joined Santanu and started following the elephants.

After walking for about fifteen minutes we reached a ditch and saw the elephants trumpeted constantly. I wondered what was going on. Meanwhile, Santanu reached very near the elephants and started looking at the ditch. “Call a rescue team immediately,” he instructed the driver.

“What happened Santanu?” I asked.

“A calf has fallen in the ditch, come see,” he informed.

Almost in no time, the rescue team reached with ropes. A few of them went down the ditch, but the calf already scared tried to flee but failed. The hard by this time were waiting at a distance, perhaps they realised all men are not always harmful. After several unsuccessful attempts, finally, the team was able to tie the rope around the baby elephant. The other end was pulled by the rest of the guards while the others pushed the tiny little elephant.

A good two hours had passed when finally the baby elephant reunited with her family and I could hear the elephants trumpeting as if they were thanking Santanu and his team.

As I share this with you, my dear readers, I can still visualize the incidents in my mind, Santanu, Suren Toppo, the guards, the elephants all of them. But mind it is where Hollong Bunglow still exists, as I can never see the bunglow again with my eyes.

“Out of the ash I rise with my red hair and I eat men like air.”

–     from the poem Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

 

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