Raiganj might be rated as quite a small town among the other cities and District Head-quarters of North Bengal but it’s clean, green and teen. It’s a beautiful destination with some wonderfully behaved inmates. They are polite, they are helpful and they are real heroes when it comes to hospitality. When erstwhile Paschim Dinajpur was pierced, Balurghat became the District Head-quarter of Dakshin Dinajpur and Raiganj shouldered the same plight fror Uttar Dinajpur. This Raiganj town proudly possesses a wide-open bird sanctuary called Kulik. This is the second largest bird sanctuary of Asia and most importantly Kulik is the play-ground of Asian Open Bill Storks or Shamuk Khol, in Bengali. I have been hearing a lot since my childhood about Kulik and its great Storks but never had a scope to explore them. Finally one fine day I started for Kulik.
National Highway 34 has significantly bifurcated Raiganj at Siliguri More. One side is locally called Raiganj where you can find Raiganj Railway station and Government and private bus stands. Another side is Karnajora which is the Government area.All the District Head-quarters of all the Departments are here. If you travel only 5 minutes from the Siliguri More towards Siliguri, Kulik would caress you with its open, stretched arms. Kulik river is the tributary of Mahananda. This river id flowing beside the sanctuary and for this reason the entire sanctuary has been named after Kulik. You would find huge trees before entering Kulik and the Storks sitting above the trees. Large-sized white birds with black and white wings. Nicknamed as Shamuk Khol. But why is this name? Do they eat Shamuk? Probably no. My rickshaw-puller friend heard this query and replied, “Yes, they eat Shamuk.” Shamuk means mollusc or snail and cover means khol in Bengali. Breaking the cover of a mollusc would make you Shamuk Khol.
Kulik is quite a huge den for birds. It seems to be a great array of winged beauties. You can find a lot of water-habitant birds such as Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Great Cormorants etc along with a plenty of Pyed Mynas. Black Hooded Orioles, Rufous Treepie, Blue Throated Barbet, Lesser Flameback Woodpeckers are also available in large numbers but the actual king of Kulik is Asian Open Bill Stork. Other bird sanctuaries witness the migration in winter but Kulik has got a completely different scenario. Monsoon is the main migration time of Asian Open Bill Storks. They mostly come from Thighland, Burma and Srilanka. They come and install their temporary homes at the top of the trees. This migration starts ideally in July and ends in November.
When I was heading towards Kulik, I found some of them were loitering in the green paddy fields. They basically explore the fields to find out the snails. Apple Snails are the most favourite of them. These snails come under a special category of molluscs called Pila. The extreme use of toxic fertilisers is downsizing the numbers of the Apple Snails gradually and this practice is affecting the Storks’ diet system. The birds are not being able to have plenty of food and they are searching for some new destinations for migration. Every year the numbers of birds are decreasing due to this particular reason.
When I was only 2 kms before the main gate, I discovered that the birds were flying frequently in the sky over the Kulik. It really made me recall the Terodactyles of Jurassic Park. I just felt awestruck by witnessing that the giant birds were moving like air-planes as if I were crossing any aviation base-camp during an air strike. It was a lovely view from the bus. The bus helped me reach Siliguri More and I hired a manual rickshaw to reach the main gate. The watch-tower is very close to the gate. I scaled the tower through the stairs and it was a whole new world. There was Kulik river flowing beneath. Plenty of large trees and plenty of large birds were sitting at the top of the trees. They have taken the possessions of the tree-tops. Sometimes they were flying to collect straw, leaves and small tree-branches for their homes and coming back to the tree-tops. Entire area was celebrating their chaotic symphony.
Actually Open Bill Storks come here for breeding. They lay eggs, they hatch and they fly back to their origins. They have listed some places that are suitable for parenting and one of them is Kulik. The main difference between an adult Stork and a baby Stork is the bill. Babies don’t have the opened bill to break the snail-covers. Sometimes male Storks follow a polygamous model and join more than one female Stork in order to breed. Female Storks lay eggs in the tree-top homes and after around20-25 days the babies come out of the shells. Adult Storks have a height around 65-70 centimetres. Kulik offers a genuinely beautiful habitat for Shamuk Khol and a wonderful display arena for the travellers and bird-watchers. Many enthusiasts are coming with large tele-photo lenses to capture these giant birds in frame. Would you like to go someday?