The eastern region of India is full of hidden surprises. From the undulating hills of the Dooars to the off-the-beaten-path tourist destination of Saraikela in Jharkhand, known for its rendition of India’s famous masked Chhau dance, these are not locations with a single primary draw. We have put together some places that do not sit comfortably with the adjectives we employ to market and promote a feeling of place: quaint, stylish, relaxed, or lively. But these are all special in their own way.
Dooars, West Bengal
The Sankosh River divides the Dooars into western and eastern parts, distributed through Sikkim and West Bengal. Known as the gateway to India from Bhutan, the Dooars are a natural diversity hotspot. Nature lovers and thrill seekers can go whitewater rafting on the Teesta River. There are also some exciting treks and forest safaris available here. The area is also a birder’s paradise, with various avian species. Deeply rooted in tea, tourism, and timber, the region is served by a network of motorable roads cutting through the dense forests. The valley has many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, such as Buxa, Jaldapara, Chapramari, Gorumara, and Manas. The region abounds as an ecotourism and birding hub, separated into three parts—eastern Dooars, Central Dooars and Western Dooars. The Buxa National Park in Eastern Dooars offers a great collection of orchids and medicinal plants, while Jaldapara in Central Dooars is home to primaeval forests interspersed with sleepy settlements. The main attraction here is the one-horned rhinoceros. A preferred destination for wilderness explorers, a safari through the emerald-green forests of Dooars is a great way to experience nature at its best.
Not far from Berhampur, the mercury has been known to dip below zero in Kandhamal. Who knew a coastal state could compete with Kashmir? At 915m above sea level, though, Daringbadi has pine forests and plantations of coffee, pepper, and turmeric, the waterfalls of Putudi and the Doludi River, and the Belghar sanctuary, home to wild tuskers and the Nakate tribe. The hot springs of Taptapani are just a short distance from here if the chill gets too much for your lazy bones.
Located on the banks of the Kharkai River, Saraikela was once a princely state merged with Odisha after Independence but is now lodged in Jharkhand. It’s famous for the traditional Chhau dance and sev laddoos. The Saraikela Palace has always been closely associated with the Chhau dance and not just as a patron. The government-run dance centre here attracts international students. Dance isn’t the only spectacle on offer; this is also where elaborate Chhau masks are made, which make a wonderful present and conversation piece in your living room. The spring Chaitra Parva festivities and the winter Magha festival are good times to visit.
Kurseong, West Bengal
This little town in the Darjeeling district enjoys a pleasant cool climate throughout the year. The Darjeeling Mountain Railway connects Kurseong, providing a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the valley’s breathtaking vista from the toy train. Kurseong, surrounded by lush forests, is well-known for its orchid gardens and tea plantations, but it is also known for its frightening experiences in the woods. Visitors can take short excursions into the misty hills and wander among the tea plantations while mingling with the locals.