A day trip to Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary
A reserved forest area, Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary was initially a game sanctuary where children were allowed to take rides. Sukna is the location where the entrance to the sanctuary is and it is about two and half hour’s drive from Darjeeling. Spread across an elevation of 158 square kilometres with a varying altutide of about 500 feet at the southern end, it rises up to 4300 feet as you approach its northern boundaries. The river Teesta surrounds the sanctuary on its eastern borders and the Mahanadi river and Hill Card Road on the western boundaries.
The Darjeeling Wildlife Division of Government of West Bengal is responsible for the management of the sanctuary. Many forest villages including Kalijhora, Latpanchor, Punding, Sukna, Gulma, Toribari, Sevoke, Seventh Mile and Latlong fall under the borders of the sanctuary, making it the most important sanctuary in North Bengal.
To go a day trip to Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, drive straight down the main forest road to reach the banks of the Mahananda river. The Latpanchor hill is located exactly opposite the bank of the river. The sanctuary offers regular day safaris in the morning and afternoon from the Sukna gate. However, safaris can be conducted with private vehicles as the sanctuary does not provide any vehicles from their end.
You can purchase the entry tickets to the sanctuary at the entry gate and hire the services of a guide too.
The usual safari route covers a distance of about 8kms, out of which 2kms is unpaved road. The entire safari is about 2 to 2.5 hours in duration. It is recommended to travel in large petrol vehicles as it is easier to travel on unpaved mountain roads and they tend to make less noise in comparison to diesel vehicles.
The sanctuary is filled with over 330 recorded varieties of plantations. Khair, sisoo, simul and tropical sal forests, teak, udal, champ, lali, jarul, gamar, mandane, bamboos, ferns, orchids, siddha, etc. are some of the popular types of flora and fauna that one gets to see here. Elephant migration between Nepal, West Bengal and Assam regions happens usually on the lower plains of the forest. There are around 150 elephants in the forest and they are best spotted in the monsoon and winter seasons. If you are extremely fortunate, you may also encounter the Royal Bengal Tiger in the sanctuary. There are reptiles and 36 different species of large mammals such as Himalayan black bear, leopards, rare mountain goats (serow), porcupines, golden cats, sambar, spotted & barking deer, Indian bison (gaur), wild boars, monkeys including black capped languor etc. in the jungle.
The bird life is vibrant with 243 different types including Himalayan pied hornbills, peafowls, peacocks, fouls, egrets, king fishers, fly catchers, racket tail drongo, Assamese macaque, robins, woodpeckers, etc. There are many migratory birds that arrive from Central Asia make the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary their home over the winter months.
The best way to end the day trip to Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary is by visiting their museum which is located just before the entry to the park. With multiple exhibits, the museum truly represents the character of sanctuary.