Neora Valley National Park is situated in the Kalimpong district, West Bengal, India and was established in 1986. It spreads over an area of 88 km² and is one of the richest biological zones in the entire Eastern India. It is the land of the elegant red panda in the pristine undisturbed natural habitat with rugged inaccessible hilly terrain and rich diverse flora and fauna making this park an important wilderness zone.
Halt at Lava for a while and first make a visit to the Nature Interpretation Center for Neora Valley National Park which is located at Lava. Here you will know about the landscape, flora and fauna of the park. The center is open from 8am - 12noon, 1pm - 4pm (closed on Thursdays). This is a good place to get your understanding of what the park offers.
Note that vehicles can go up to the Zero Point which is about 13kms inside the forest. While this drive through the forest can be a great experience, best is to take a guide and trek through the various trails in the forest, or just go for a stroll. That is the best way you can closely explore the birdlife, colorful butterflies as well as diverse flora and fauna. At the entrance of the forest, there is a small cottage where government authorized guide is available. He can take you for a trek through the forest.
If you decide to trek, one way would take about 45 minutes, so a total of 90 minutes walk. It's mostly a jungle trail and can be very muddy if it rains. Before you start your return trek, ask the guide to show you the trail that goes all the way to Phuntsholing located at the Bhutan border. It's about 16kms away from that point. Groups trekking to Bhutan usually take this route.
Flora: The park has an abundance of Sal trees, Ferns and Bamboo groves. During spring and summer, varieties of colorful Rhododendrons bloom in full. There are some 10 different species of rhododendrons found here and some are about 300years old. The pink, white and red flowers are really a feast to the eye. The wild orchids form a canopy in the forest. Yews, Hemlocks and wild Strawberries also form a part of the forest vegetation.
Fauna: The Endangered species like Red Panda and the Black Asiatic Bear inhabit the bamboo belt of the Eastern Himalayas. The Red Panda is at a great risk of becoming extinct as they dwell on bamboos and the bamboo belt is largely destroyed and substituted by timber. The poachers also pose a threat to its fur. The Red Panda can be rarely seen as they normally sleep during the day at the top of bamboo groves and set out to look for food only at dusk
A survey in 2015 showed there are only 38 Red Pandas in Neora Valley national park. It is not only unusual but practically impossible for you to trek through the jungle after sunset. Therefore only if you are extremely lucky you can spot this rare species during your visit.
The Barking Deer, Goral Deer are frequent passers-by when you take a trek on the forest trail. The other members of the jungle family which can also be seen are the Leopards, Leopard Cat, Himalayan Thar, Flying Squirrel, wild cats and even the Royal Bengal Tigers (although rare).
Insects and reptiles also dominate this park. King Cobra, Viper, Lizards, colorful bees and insects like beetles, moths, wasps and bugs are common.
Bird Life: Neora Valley National Park is also a paradise for bird watchers. There are about 265 species of birds in this park. It is the best place to spot the rare species Rusty Bellied Shortwing. Myanahs, Swallows, Flycatchers and Parakeets are common.
You can see a variety of cockatoos which is also a threatened species. Among the others are the Falcon, the Great Pied Hornbill, Himalayan Griffon, Redstart, Whistling Thrush, Golden Headed Black Finch and the Khaliz Pheasant. If you are a bird lover, ask your hotel in advance for a birding guide and trek through the forest trails to take some unmatched pictures of colorful birds. Best time for birding is between from December to March.
You need a permit to enter the park. The permit is available at the forest range office at Lava (and also at Samsing). So if you are staying near the entrance of the park, then you need to come down to Lava early in the morning, take your permit and go back. The whole process of going down to forest office and getting back with the permit can easily take about two & half hours. In summer and spring, they usually start issuing the permits by 6am.