For the people of the eastern region of India, the presence of North Bengal (northern part of the state of West Bengal) is the most desired escapade. The snow-capped hillocks, luscious green forests, the geographical proximity towards the foothills of the Himalayas are said to lead to the fulfillment of visual thirsts. The districts of North Bengal culminate a distinct spiritual cult of Buddhism, amidst the presence of Hinduism. Moreover, the boundary with the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh has led to the rise of different cultures.
Our initial destination was planned for Dhupguri, since I have some relatives residing there. We set off from Howrah, which takes approximately 14 hours by express trains, though it takes scanty time by airways. The railways enchant the serene beauty of the hilly districts, covered with mist and dewdrops. Dhupguri is a small town in the district of Jalpaiguri, known for its plantation and several landmarks that are not only unmissable but also worth imprinting on your mind.
Firstly, comes the Maraghat forest reserve for peacocks and elephants. If you are visiting in the rainy season, you will be lucky enough to see peacocks even on the roads. Secondly, the beauty of the tea estates is incomparable to any. Jalpaiguri is fairly a large district and visiting Dooars has always been everyone’s very first motive. You can also visit the Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and Gorumara National Park.
We planned to explore five spiritual and historic, but lesser-known places. On the first day, we began our venture from the nearest one – the Jatileswar temple, which is about 12 km from Dhupuri town, and it takes about 20 mins by roads.
From Left to Right – Jatileswar Mandir, Bhabani Pathak’s Kali Mandir
This is a more than 1000-year-old temple’, located on the western side of the Jaldhaka River. Being a temple of historical value as it is, the interior is daunted with sculptures and rock edicts of the Gupta period, around 320 Ad to 600 AD. The place is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
On entering the temple there was a feeling of eeriness creeping in, along with fascination and mesmerization – eerie because the place is quite lonely and appeared dark due to the ruins with walls exposing out the tree; and fascinated because such a marvel has survived to narrate the story of the ancient times. There is a captivating feeling of getting pushed into the past. Several sculptures of Hindu deities adorn the temple walls. What one should never miss while visiting the temple to feel the impending gaze of the sunset from the stairs leading the river.
Our mind was engulfed with peace and piousness from Jatileswar Temple. After that, we went to Bhabani Pathak’s Temple, which is less than an hour by road.
Bhabani Pathak’s Kali Mandir
Lured by the famous novel of Bankim Chandra’s Devi Choudhurani, we were craving to visit Bhabani Pathak’s Temple. Besides the literary and historical glamour of the Sanyasis Movement starting from this temple, the temple serves as a memory of two fierce women- Bhabani Pathak and Devi Choudhurani, the human incarnations of Maa Kali.
On our way for prayers to Maa Kali, the locals narrated the myth attached to the temple. Legend suggests that Devi Choudhurani, the fearless dacoit leader was initially a queen in the Rangpur district. But she has allegedly driven away and the distressed queen sought shelter under the prowess of Bhabani Pathak, her mentor, and the initial dacoit leader and led the fierce Sanyasis movement challenging the mighty British.
The condition of this 350 years old temple is not very great. Around 3 years back a huge forest fire destroyed the interiors of the temple. But the image and chamber of Maa Kali, whom the dacoit women worshipped for power and glory remain intact.
We felt as if our minds got charged on our way back, the reason could be the power dynamics the place holds. Away from embellishments and architectural glamour, this temple reflects the mundane life and is a constant reminder to oppose the evil lords and stand by your people.
From Left to Right – Zangtok Pelri Phodong, Geden Tharpa Choling Monastery, Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda
Zangtok Pelri Phodong Monastery
Located in the small Durpin Hill, this monastery was dedicated by Dalai Lama in 1976. The area being quite desolate, we found peace there. A monk guided us inside and enlightened us with the facts about the monastery. He also told us that the monastery was presided over by ‘Padmasambha’ an Indian Sage who spread Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century. What is overwhelming to look at is the 3-dimensional mandala art form on the second floor. The stunning Khangchendzonga can be viewed from the terrace. We attended the morning prayer, held at 6:30 am with hymns refreshing our minds.
We came down the hill on foot since the hill was neither too steep nor too high. It was fairly a pleasant walk and at the bottom, there is an army golf course and canteen. A little further there is also a tea café, replicating the 1930s English style Morgan House, it also has a hotel attached to it.
After our visit to Zantak Pelri Phodong, we started off for Geden Tharpa Choling Monastery which is about 6.5 km away, but our driver went via Rinkinpong Road which is a shortcut and reduces about 30 mins of the usual time, but the road is a bit tricky as well as rocky.
Geden Tharpa Choling Monastery
This monastery bears a fascinating location, which enables the pilgrims to looks at the Himalayas from the second floor itself. Though the prayer hall inside is not as big as compared to other monasteries, the use of a wide range of colours in the paintings depicts the life of Buddha prayer. The monastery was founded by Domo Geshe Rinpoche in the year 1912 and happens to be one of the oldest Gelugpa monasteries. It has a beautiful garden containing unique flowers. There is also a small museum that contains a number of artifacts about the Dalai Lama’s visit to India.
We spent our rest of the day at the monastery and meditated for a while. It infused in us a lot of positivity and left a peaceful impression on our minds. I also stayed back to hear the evening sermons of the monks which were concentrated on the understanding of the self.
We returned to Dhupguri traversing through the path of the Delo hills. The Delo point is probably the highest altitude in Kalimpong and visiting Kalimpong and missing out Delo is quite improbable.
On the Third Day, we set off for New Jalpaiguri by bus from where we were to catch the Toy Train to Darjeeling. It took about 2 hours to reach Darjeeling by Toy Train. What a treat it is to the eyes to see the natural beauty passing through the Himalayas. We passed the Batasia Loop too-an an eternal feeling one cannot miss.
After reaching Darjeeling town, we set off for the Japanese Temple and Peace Pagoda which is only 10 minutes away from the town. We were dropped off at the main gate from where we walked for 5-6 minutes as directed to reach the temple.
Japanese Temple & Peace Pagoda
The geographical location of this Temple makes it one of the most desirable places to be visited. On entering the temple, we found the picture of Fujii Guruji hanging followed by a huge statue of Buddha. We stayed for the evening prayer which usually takes place at 6 p.m and was handed a drumming pad which was to be drummed at intervals with everyone. I could never imagine the effect it created when all the sounds resonated with each other. At that moment I felt as if my heartbeat was in sync with the tune. About 100 yards away, the Pagoda stands erect. It has four avatars of Buddha and is considered the largest standing structure of Darjeeling. From the top, we experienced the panoramic view of the Kanchanjunga Range. The feeling is beyond imagination. I closed my eyes for a while and felt the beauty of nature and serenity of spirit embracing me.
Nearby, there are few resorts which come at cheap rates. We stayed for the night and gazed at the beautiful night sky. The next day we went trekking at the Tiger Hills, followed by the Darjeeling Ropeway.
We returned to Dhupguri after staying at Darjeeling for a couple of days. Being an avid lover of the mountains since childhood I have almost visited North Bengal every year. But each time I fancy a new unknown feeling, a feeling that is not to be described in words but reminded of when eyes remain closed.
Contributed by Promila G.
Edited and Published by Team MandirOnline