The state government has decided to throw open the gates of reserve forests to tourists from Friday, causing tourism stakeholders of the Dooars to breathe a sigh of relief.
Rajendra Jhakar, chief conservator of forest wildlife (north), said: “This afternoon (Thursday) I received a notice stating that from tomorrow (Friday), sanctuaries and national parks will be opened for tourists.”
On Wednesday, the forest department had opened to the public parks like Bengal Safari Park near Siliguri, Padma Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park in Darjeeling and South Khayerbari Nature Park, the last a rescue and rehabilitation centre for felines in Alipurduar district. But reserve forests were still closed.
The Telegraph had reported in its Thursday edition that tourism stakeholders were in a fix about accepting bookings at a time they were flooded with holiday season enquiries as the region’s main attractions were still off bounds.
Now, however, tourists can enjoy the reserve forests that are the major attractions of the Dooars region comprising parts of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts. They include the Jaldapara National Park, Gorumara National Park, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, Buxa Tiger Reserve and Chilapata forest.
Elephant and car safaris will also start. Elephant rides are held in Jaldapara and Gorumara, car safaris are organised in all reserve forests.
To start with, bookings for car and elephant safaris will have to be done on the spot but officials maintain that online bookings would be available within a couple of days.
Tourists, however, have to strictly adhere to Covid-19 protocols. All aged above 18 will have to carry the final certificate of Covid-19 vaccination (double dose). All government and private establishments will have to be sanitised.
“The divisional forest officer has also been given special powers to impose any suitable safety norms as they deem fit,” said a source.
Biswajit Saha, president, Jaldapara Lodge Owners’ Association, said he was happy.
“The decision has come as a major relief as we can now start accepting bookings for the Puja, and tourists, too, can start making their plans. We are happy that elephant and car rides have been allowed. Elephant rides in Jaldapara and Gorumara are huge attractions,” said Saha.
Sources said that national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves located in the Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve will open only from October 1.