The Opportunity to Visit Chilapata:

A Hillman finds it hard to seek pleasure in plains except
their endless vastness and the visible horizon. I have an exception because I
am not a traveler, but a writer and a social worker. I see more than a province
or a state in West Bengal, I see countries with different languages, cultures
and traditions marking their territory dramatically after every 5kms in West
Bengal. There are destinations yet to be discovered more by the local travelers
than the guests of foreign origin. So, I won’t be ashamed to say that I am
still a stranger in my own place.
The name was still implanted in my curiosity box – Chilapata
Forest. I just had some floating information about the place that it is a
forest adjacent to Jaldhapara National Park and connects with Buxa Tiger
Reserve as well. I had never planned a scheduled trip to explore the place. It
just happened co-incidentally that Mr Raaj Basu (Whom I call Raaj Da, an ideal
figure in the tourism Industry of India, who has nearly brought a revolution
linking tourism directly with its other ancillaries to prove the superiority in
any social, and ecological and economical development policy), gave me a call
to be a part of coordinating and training team of West Bengal Tourism
department. I readily gave my consent to his proposal.

I like travelling by local train that can be boarded at
Siliguri. The train goes till Alipurduar Junction. My choice is not because travelling
by train is cheap in these areas, but because of the picturesque beauty of tea
gardens, forests and villages, one can capture through the window. A bit
childish experience is when the train enters a tunnel and it becomes totally
dark where nothing is visible. There are two such tunnels on the way. I was
told to get off the train at Hasimara Junction and catch a local transport
vehicle that goes to Kuchbehar. I did the same, and enjoyed the local Bus ride
that seemed like I was listening to a radio channel that had lost its frequency
and was switching automatically to different channel of languages. A small
school kid stood wedged between our waists. He was not holding any handle or
support but was carelessly bursting the bubbles of his chewing gum. I thought
of interrogating my young host, “Can you understand the different languages
being spoken inside the bus”. He held his jaws still and gave a quick attention
towering his tiny ears. “They are speaking Rava, Urao, Mech and Raajvanshi.”
The little host replied.

My Perspective of Chilapata:

I always prioritize the communities of a place before
knowing the flora and fauna of a place. They give me the precise ideas to
unlock the concealed knots that otherwise are seldom opened to explore the
place. There are always things, palpable and impalpable about a place. My 14
days were spent meeting people of different forest villages like Kurmai,
Chakuakheti, Aando Busty, Bania Busty, Mednabarie and many more.  The common faces resembled the brotherhood and
the forest culture they shared being the inhabitants of the same forest. Like
the rich Bio-diversity, the communities too bear the diverse religion, culture
and language. The difference of this change can be dramatically experienced
just by walking to the next village.

Apart from rich wildlife and flora, the forest of Chilapata
has an enigmatic view of three rivers taking artistic turns through the forest
serving life to the animals and plants of the forest. The nature too has
blessed the place with life dividing three tributaries of the same river and
making it flow through Chilapata. The more interesting work of nature is that
the three tributaries have again joined the same river just after they cross Chilapata
as if proclaiming their accomplished task given by the nature.
One of the common places that everyone would prefer visiting
in Chilapata is the abandoned fort of King Nal. The villagers have a strong
belief that whoever goes to the fort with a true heart and makes a wish, the
wish will be granted by the soul of the benevolent king, who still cares for
the people of Chilapata. It was the time of Holi, a festival of colors
celebrated hugely in India. I was in surprise to find that all the cultures of
this region celebrated Holi as their prime festival of the year. The families
gather in one house and arrange a feast slaughtering a whole pig and appetizing
it with the local rice wine and beer. It was a sight that interpreted Chilapata
chastity well with impalpable actions more that words. The face stained with
different colors did not recognize any culture and religion but only the laughter
of celebration and oneness.

My everyday was a fortunate day because even I didn’t enter
the jungle I sighted many animals from the village like Elephants, civet cat,
Common leopard, Indian Bison (Gaur) and many rare species of birds and
butterflies.  Most of the tribes of
Chilapata follow the culture of Matrilineality system where the surnames are
inherited or down from mother to the family. It is quiet strange to imagine a
young boy departing from his own family to live with his wife and in-laws. “It was more stringently followed
earlier, but now the society is changing. So it depends on the couple” said
Ravi Rava, one of the community leaders of Rava Busty.

The Initiative of West Bengal Tourism for Chilapata:

The tourism department of West Bengal has obviously taken a
praiseworthy initiative to develop the place into a tourism model village, but
apart from the promising and progressive dreams it also has its own dark site
that is seldom realized. “The government is trying its best to develop
home-stay tourism under rural tourism concept in Chilapata, so now the village
will be highly developed and we will become rich” one of the villagers recited
his happiness with sparkling dreams in his eyes. All the villagers are getting
trained on rural tourism concept, covering most of the innovative topics of marketing
and promotion. I know the economic benefits the initiative will herald for the
villages, and I say this because I am a part of the training team, but I too
have a corner filled with questions and answers.  I visualize the perspective of the village
after 5 years of tourism promotion, when the chastened smiles will no longer
bear the true respect but will master the technique of marketing and commerce.
The lanes of the villages cascaded with the natural aroma of wild flowers, dry
leaves, and pure soil will be replaces by the expensive room fresheners.
The feasts and the Jungle festivals will take the shape of
commercial marts, struggling to earn the credentials and promotions. I know
that the faces of current proud owners who represent the village not as a
product but their home will be perished. The owners will turn into Guards,
cooks or the silent spectators by the power of lease agreements. The local
beer, colorful roosters, local artists will be a story or a part of optional
menu to serve the luxuries showcased in rich hotels. The forest villagers will
be banned to enter the forest because it will be opened to the paid tourists. I
wonder if paying money can eliminate the cause of trespassing act in national
parks and sanctuaries that are so stringently forest against the forest
There is always more to reveal, and more than that to
conceal when it comes to define the policies that promise to construct the structure
of so called- Development in the Rural areas. Above all, this article about
Chilapata is a call to the travelers who always reach the destinations to make
the points of comparison that they later boast or complain saying, “My god! Look
what has this place become”, because if we are expert, then we are expert in
creating complains.

Ultimately, I am not predicting this to barricade the
praiseworthy initiative, but there are ways and solutions that can still give a
turn to this predictions. The only thing that is needed is a more locally
understanding approach embracing every petite information and experiences of
the community workers to design a plan that will truly paint the future of our
villages without hindering their chastity.

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