Bewitching Buxa: Its Biodiversity, Threats and Panoramic Spectacle
Buxa National Park is home to a plethora of incredible biodiversity – floral, faunal, and avian. Our contributor, Dr. Debarshi Bhattacharya gives us a comprehensive account of this rarely-visited Indian forest, with everything you need to know to plan a trip here ASAP!
Buxa National Park (BNP), which was initially declared as a Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) in the year 1983 when it became the 15th Tiger Reserve of the country, is located in the Kalchini Block of Alipuduar District in West Bengal, India. It is spread in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas, in the northeastern corner of West Bengal bordering Bhutan and Assam. The charming Sinchula hills range lies all along the northern side of BNP and its northern boundary runs along the international boundary (IB) with Bhutan. The name “Buxa” has been derived from Buxa Fort – a fort at an altitude of 867 meters on the Sinchula Range guarding the most important of the eleven routes into Bhutan, which once was built by the British as a detention camp for the great freedom fighters of India.
Buxa Tiger Reserve covers a total area of 760 km2 including 391 km2 core area and 370km2 buffer. The Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary of Bhutan is contiguous to the north of BNP and Manas National Park of Assam lies on the east. Thus, BNP serves as an international corridor for elephant migration between India and Bhutan. Altitudinal variations with its geographical position in the tri-junction of the bio-geographical zones have helped develop high floral diversity, which in turn has elevated faunal species variation in BNP. It boasts extremely rich biodiversity and has a great collection of rare orchids and medicinal plants. Because of its inaccessible terrain, some parts of BNP in the Sinchula range still remain unexplored. This picturesque wet forest with its prodigious Terai, Bhabar as well as hilly landscape, crisscrossed by numerous rivers and their tributaries, its wide diversity of flora and fauna presents a breathtaking landscape for tourists and nature lovers around the year.
A typical view at Buxa – the Jayanti river surrounded by the panoramic Sinchula hills and Buxa forest
Buxa National Park can be reached by road, by train, and by air. By road, BNP is located 722 km from Kolkata, and 167 km from Siliguri city. It is a 15-hour train journey from Kolkata. The nearest railway stations are Alipuduar Junction (17.2 km) and New Alipurduar (20.6 km), and the nearest airport is Bagdogra Airport, Siliguri (178 km). At the entry point of the forest, named Rajabhatkhawa, a gate pass is to be collected by paying requisite fees to the Forest Department. This pass is initially valid for consecutive three days and can be extended thereafter. Well-maintained government, as well as private accommodations with delicious food facilities, are available in the core area of the forest.
The best way to spot a variety of exquisite wildlife is by jeep safari. The park remains closed from June 15 to September 15 due to heavy rainfall. BNP provides an excellent opportunity to scientists, environmentalists as well as nature lovers, and wildlife tourists for improving their understandings of the natural world.
BNP is famous for its floral diversity, which includes 352 species of trees, 133 species of shrubs, 189 species of herbs, and a wild array of climbers, grasses, and orchids. In the plains, the forest is covered with Sal (Shorea robusta) along with its associates like Champ (Michelia champaca), Chilaune (Schima wallichi), Chikrasi (Chukrasia tabularis), Bahera (Terminalia belerica), Sidha (Lagerstroemia parviflora), Toon (Toona ciliata), Lali (Amoora wallichi), Lasuni (Aphanomixis polostachea), Lampati (Duabanga grandiflora), and Simul (Bombax ceiba) trees. In the river banks, Simul, Sisoo and Sirish are commonly found, while in the hills, Katus (Castanopsis indica), Mandane (Artocarpus fraxinifolius), Bhalukath (Talauma hodgsoni), Phalame (Walsura tabulata) associated with Kimbu (Morus laevigata), Panisaj (Terminalia microcarpa), and Gokul (Ailanthus grandis) are commonly found.
Dense floras of BNP
Buxa National Park harbours a wide range of animal diversity, which includes 73 species of mammals, 76 species of reptiles, five species of amphibians, 33 species of fishes, and about 264 species of birds. The large carnivores of BNP are Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris), Common Leopard (Panthera pardus), and Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). Other lesser carnivores are Hog Badger (Arctonyx collaris), Jungle Cat (Felis chaus), Leopard Cat (Felis bengalensis), Fishing Cat (Felis viverrina), Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus), Golden Jackal (Canis aureus), and Mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi).
An elephant herd with calves (Elephas maximum)
Indian Bison (Bos gaurus)
Spotted deer (Axis axis)
Among herbivores, predominant are Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), Gaur (Bos gaurus), Sambar Dear (Rusa unicolor), Spotted Dear (Axis axis), Barking Deer (Muntiacus vaginalis), Hog Deer (Axis porcinus), Wild Pig (Sus scrofa), and Hispid Hare (Caprophagus hispidus). Many other animals such as Porcupine (Hystrix indica), Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta), Common Pangolin (Manis crassiculata) are also found in this spectacular forest. Varieties of fishes are present in the rivers and streams flowing inside the forest, most commonly found are Chela, Boroli, Puti, Hum, and Sole.
Among reptiles, tortoise, lizards, gecko, various kinds of snakes such as King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), Russell’s Viper (Daboia russelii), Black Krait (Bungarus niger), Indian Python (Python molurus), and Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), are found here.
BNP is also a haven for bird watchers as varied types of birds including peafowl, crested goshawk, red junglefowl, and Asian fairy blue bird can be sighted here. Innumerable butterflies can be seen in this forest which adds to the exquisiteness of the place. Hornbills, including the Great Pied Hornbill are common in the forest. BNP is indeed a marvelous place for tourists.
Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis)
Black-hooded Oriole (Oriolus xanthornus)
Blue Peacock (Pavo cristatus)
The main rivers in BNP are Sankosh, Raidak, Jayanti, Churnia, Turturi, Phashkhawa, Dima, Raimatang and Nonani. Among them, the Jayanti, Dima, and Raimatang are sinuous rivers flowing across the heart of the BNP. These rivers have their origin in Bhutan and flow all the way down to India. These rivers usually remain dry with only a strip of water flow throughout the year, but during the monsoon, they gush with bountiful sparkling water flow. The surrounding areas of rivers are covered with lush green forest and hills which serve as a home to a wide diversity of wildlife. While walking down the spectacular beds of these stunning rivers, one can see herds of elephants, gaur, deer, etc. which come to the river beds for grazing and in search of water.
Rocky bed of River Jayanti
In spite of its own endless natural and biological treasure, bio-diversity in BNP has been facing an acute problem as the riverbeds in this region have become elevated abruptly. Rivers carry rocks, boulders, clay, mud, and other sediments from the mountain which get accumulated in the rivers due to loss of gradient. Frequent landslides and sediments in rivers caused by the settlement of debris on riverbeds carried from the mountains lead to rivers changing their courses. Besides these, there are some man-made factors that are responsible for shifting the flows of rivers from their natural flows.
As per recent surveys, riverbeds in BNP, such as the Jayanti, Dima, and Raimatang, have been elevated by as much as three feet during the last 20 years. Such change of courses in the rivers within the Buxa Forest region is leading to erosion of forestland and is a major environmental hazard causing threat to millions of indigenous species of plants and animals, and to the conservation of Buxa National Park as a whole. Many rare species of flora and birds have been extinct due to such behavioural changes of rivers in BNP.
In spite of possessing all elements of natural and biological magnificence in the form of hills, rivers, lush green forest, and a variety of flora and fauna, swift-flowing rivers that change their course frequently due to multiple factors have become a serious threat to the conservation of Buxa National Park.