Sunday, March 15, 2015

SUSUNIA HILL BANKURA; IN THE LAP OF NATURE


Sususnia hill stands tall at 1200 feet amidst the undulating landscape of red soil covered with green forests, water bodies and flowing river Gandheswari. It’s quite, its enchanting and just an ideal place to unwind and spent a quite weekend.

I was there on March 07th and 08th 2015. This is possibly the best time to explore Bankura and Purulia districts, just to watch the abundance of Palash in full bloom. I wanted to be there, amidst the Palash, engulfing the entire landscape into flaming shade of orange. Susunia seemed to be the ideal place. Just 230 odd KM away from Kolkata, it’s still unspoilt. The tourism rush hasn't yet caught on, thus the serenity prevails.

My friend Arindam and I started off in my car from Kolkata. We drove from Kolkata to Muchipara crossing at Durgapur through the excellent NH-2. We turned left from here and took the road leading to Bankura. From Bankura, Susunia is just about 24 kilometres via Chhatna.

The magic started once to took the road to Bankura. Once past the crowded Barjora, and the barrage on river Damodar, the scenery changed magically. The road went up and down, meandering thru’ the beautiful landscape. Though single lane, the road had sparse traffic and excellent surfacing and we maintained good speed. We crossed Bankura town, had a quick lunch and moved towards Chhatna. This was Palash country. On both sides of the road the trees were in full bloom. It was as if the whole place is on fire, Fiery Orange was the dominating colour. The sleek black strip of tarmac ran between the trees.


I slowed down the car, rolled down the glass to breath in the crisp air. Up and down we went, past the Chhatna town to the last 10 KM stretch to Susunia. We were only seeing undulating but flat countryside. All around us was barren red soil with occasional coverage of light vegetation. Unlike Burdwan and Hoogly districts which crossed there was hardly any sign on cultivation. As we drew near, suddenly the Susunia hill raised its head at the horizon, a grey form against the blue backdrop of the sky. It looked like a giant wave, suddenly culminated out of a gently rolling sea and froze. 


At 1200 feet height Susunia hill will not break any records (In fact it’s the second tallest peak in Bankura after Biharinath) but it’s more ancient than the mighty Himalayas. The hamlet of Susunia is at the base of the hill. We drove past the hill to our place  of stay, Aranyak run by the local gram panchayet.

Right opposite ‘Aranyak’, across the road, is the forest of Sal, Palash, Shimul trees which went up the slopes of Susunia hills. In the evening we were out taking a stroll in the forest and explored thru’ the trails. It was beautiful and quiet inside. The only sound was breaking of twigs and dry leaves under our feet, and intermittent chirping of the birds. We roamed around, took photographs, sat of the rocks, climbed up a little of the slopes.







Then the light started fading. Sun was setting opposite the hill, casting deep shadows inside the forest. 



We decided to move out before it got too dark. We strolled around the road and came to the crossing where  a road on the left leads towards  the hill. This was the only busy place in the area which had few tea stalls, eateries, medicine and grocery shops. This was also the bus stop. We sat at a tea stall, chatted up with the locals for some time and then retreated back to our hotel.

Next morning we started early towards the hill. At the base of the hill there is a temple of Kali and a stone statue of “Narasimha” on an open raised cemented platform. The monolith Narasimha statue had an odd look, its bare, somewhat demonic and unlike any images of Gods that we usually see. This doesn’t match the description of Narasimha found in the Puranas. It’s more like a god worshipped by the aboriginals. This is the land of our ancient tribes, the Santhals, Munda, Kols, Bhils and this statue must have links with the ancient tribal religious practises rather than more modern concept of Narasimha in Hindu Purans. I did not get much information about this statue. If any reader is aware of it’s origin and history I would request him/her to share the information.



Just behind the Narasimha statue, there is an cemented enclosure made where spring water is coming out of a stone gargoyle or a curved projected sprout. Local people bathe and collect the water. Water comes down from somewhere up the hill and it flows round the year. 

 A rocky trail starts from here and goes all the way to the hilltop. We huffed and puffed our way to the top up the steep, boulder strewn trail, sometimes on all fours. But once we were at the top, the view around us was simply magnificent. I could see the vast open, undulated landscape till the horizon. 




Through where we stood is not the tallest point. I could see another peak behind us which is much taller. There is another trail which goes down the slopes of the hill on the opposite side and then again up the taller peak. We did  not have time and energy to explore and conquer the taller peak so we called it quits and climbed down.  At the base there are several stalls where local artisans sell various items carved out of stone. There are smaller artefacts made of compressed stone dust.  One can buy  some mementos from here.




The next visit was  the ‘rock inscription’ (Shilalipi) which is supposed to be the oldest found in West Bengal.   This was about  2.5 kms away from Aranyak, where we were staying. We drove on the main road and then found another road under ‘Pradhamantri Gram Sadak Yojona’ branching out to our right. This road circumvents the Susunia hills and runs towards the Eastern slope. After a few hundred meters the roads runs through beautiful forested landscape. Surprisingly we did not find and board or mark for direction to the ‘Shilalipi’ sight. We kept asking the locals for direction. After about 2 odd kms the road leads to a village. Just before entrance of the village a trail towards right leads into the forest towards the hill. We were told by locals to follow that trail. We drove in as the trail was broad enough for the car to pass. After few hundred meters of careful driving we reached a junction point where other trails emerged and went into different directions. Now it was confusing and we didn’t see a soul to ask for direction. We decided to wait and finally met a local guy who had shown us the direction further. We decided not to take further chance of driving as the trail was getting narrower. There was no place to turn the car around and if faced with a blockade we would have no option but to back out on reverse gear all the way. We decided to walk the rest. 




This trail was leading straight onto the slope of the forested hill and soon the climb started. It wasn’t a easy trail and going up was quite a task trying to balance on the rocks a boulders. After climbing for some time I could see a wooden enclosure on the rock face towards my left. The final few meters were literally scaled on all fours. But what a disappointment it was. There was a customary blue board by ASI that this was a ‘protected’ site but all the protection I could see is a broken wooden frame with a wire mesh around the rock face where the encryptions were made. There was hardly any place to get a proper foothold and stand in front. The iron grill and the wire mesh made it impossible to take a good look. The encryption is in pathetic state, I could find graffiti made by morons on the very face of the inscriptions, almost  destroying what was left. This is a matter of shame and there is no effort by ASI or Govt to restore it.

Now time for some history on this rock inscription. It is believed that this inscription dates back to fourth century AD and the work by King Chandravarman of Puskarana. According to Prof, Suniti Chattopadhyay,  a noted expert on Indian Linguistics and Phonetics, ancient Puskarana is  traced back to a village named Pokharan (Pokharna) on the river Damodar in the Bankura district of West Bengal, about 25 miles northeast of Susunia Hill. It is believed that King Chandravarman had ruled southwest Bengal  in 4th  Century BC and also built a fort on top  of the hill. No traces of that fort can be found today. Later, it is believed that he was killed in a battle with King Chandra Gupta Maurya.

The inscription is in two parts and there is a very prominent engraved wheel (Charkra) with flaming rim, hub and multiple spokes (about fifty). The first inscription states that this is the work of Majaraja Chandravarman of Pushkarana. The second inscription on the right hand side of the engraved wheel says that the village of Choshagrama was given as gift to Chakrasvamin, which literally means the 'wielder of the Chakra’. This according to the Hindu cult is Lord Vishnu. Thus it may be reasonably inferred that the excavated cave, on the wall of which the inscription was incised, was intended to be a temple of Vishnu. The inscriptions are in Sanskrit but engraved in Brahmi script.         

There is another script visible on the rock face which is quite different from the Brahmi engravings. This is known as “Shankha Lipi”.  This could not be deciphered yet. Shankha Lipi is believed to be a stylized & ornate  form of Brahmi Lipi. It’s named Shankha Lipi as the calligraphic characters resemble the shape of conch shells. There is also a debate as to whether this is actually a script or merely symbols. All Shankha Lipi inscriptions found so far are short and looks like it’s been used as signatures under other scripts like Brahmi. Short scripts of Shankha Lipi were also found at excavations sites at  Chandraketugarh & Tamluk in Bengal.

However due to the barricade and lack of proper place to stand I found it quite difficult to see and photograph the inscriptions properly. But this is definitely interesting, particularly for students of history of ancient India.


For detailed photos & descriptions on the inscriptions you can refer to the following blog.


Near the inscriptions there is a small stream emanating from the hills called ‘Dhara’. It’s believed that the water has medicinal properties. It’s beautiful spot amidst the green surroundings.

From here we started our journey back home. We were to told that there is  fossil site where one can see fossils of different animals ie, Hyena, Giraffe etc. but we were running short of  time and could not see it.

Some important point for visitors:

  1. This is a place where you relax and enjoy the pristine natural beauty. There are not many activities to do. So do not  go with lot  of expectation. It will be your quite time with nature.
  2. The  best season will be February – Early March when the weather is ambient and whole area is glowing with the blooming orange Palash. If you are a nature photographer, it’s pure bliss  for you.
  3. If you are  planning to go to the hilltop it is advisable you start early to avoid the heat, particularly if  you are going in warmer seasons.
  4. If you are attempting to climb Susunia in the evening you MUST come down before it’s dark.
  5. The climb, though not much, requires a certain amount of physical fitness and it is advisable that you understand your physical limits. Don’t push yourself if you are out of breath or  face other physical difficulties. Do carry a bottle of  water.  You will  need it.
  6. To go to the Shilalipi site you also need to climb some distance up the slope. If you are staying at any hotel at the base of the hill, the distance is around 3 KMs. I did not see any autorickshaw or any other mode of transport to reach the Shilalipi site. If you have your own car you can drive down to the base of the hill. It possible to take the car quite close up the trails, just at the base where the climb will start. We were not  too sure so we parked the car at some distance but later saw that we could have gone further.  it’s actually  easy to take the car up-to the base of the hill. There  are no notice boards or signs showing direction to the Shilalipi site. So you need to keep asking the locals. Inside the forest it’s often difficult to find a soul to ask. It’s sad that Govt. has not done something as basic as to put up directions to help tourists. Be warned that it will not be much of a sight after  a hard climb, so you may curse yourself particularly if you have no interest if history. The view of the surrounding plains from the top is breathtaking though.
  7. There will be a fair bit of walking and climbing. So carry a pair of strong hiking boots or sneakers. Avoid floaters, slippers and high heels.
  8. The area is generally safe and there is no report of serious crimes or insurgency in recent times in this area. However as a measure of abundant caution, don’t venture out alone in the forests after dark.
  9. The nearest hospital is about 20 KM away between Chhatna & Bankura. This is a  private  hospital with all facilities like an emergency room and trauma care unit.


HOW TO REACH:

The nearest rail head is Chhatna (CJN) which is about 10 KMs from Susunia. The following trains will drop you at Chhatna.  From Chhatna you can take a bus to Susunia.


Train No
Train name
Train type
Runs on (From station)
M
Tu
W
Th
F
Sa
Su
From
Dep
To
Arr.
Travel time
1
58015
HWH ADRA SHIROMANI PASS
PASSENGER
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
HWH
17:45
CJN
22:30
04:45
2
58011
HWH-ADRA CKP/BKSC PASS
PASSENGER
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
HWH
23:05
CJN
04:25
05:20
3
58013
HWH BKSC PASSENGER
PASSENGER
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
HWH
23:05
CJN
04:25
05:20

You can also catch a train to Bankura Town. Bankura Town is situated 23 KMs away and it’s connected by lot of  trains from Kolkata.

Trains From Shalimar Station to Bankura:

Train No
Train name
Train type
Runs on (From station)
M
Tu
W
Th
F
Sa
Su
From
Dep
To
Arr.
Travel time
1
22861
SHM-BQA RAJYA RANI
SUPERFAST
Y
X
X
X
Y
Y
X
SHM
06:40
BQA
10:55
04:15
2
12885
SHM-BJE ARANYAKEXP
SUPERFAST
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
X
SHM
07:45
BQA
11:38
03:53

Trains from Howrah Station to Bankura Town

Train No
Train name
Train type
Runs on (From station)
M
Tu
W
Th
F
Sa
Su
From
Dep
To
Arr.
Travel time
1
12827
HWH PRR EXPRESS
SUPERFAST
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
HWH
16:50
BQA
20:28
03:38
2
58015
HWH ADRA SHIROMANI PASS
PASSENGER
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
Y
HWH
17:45
BQA
22:18
04:33
3
12152
HWH-LTT SAMRASTA EXP
SUPERFAST
X
X
X
X

If you plan to come by bus, you need to come to Bankura. Lot of buses are available from Kolkata to Bankura.

If you come to Bankura by Train or Bus, you will get buses to reach Susunia. You can get a bus for Susunia from Durgapur as well. You also have the option of hiring a car from Bankura and It is possible to cover Susunia  in a day trip  from bankura.

If you have your own  car and coming from Kolkata, I would suggest the following two route options:



We went by Kolkata > Muchipara >  Barjora > Bankura > Chhatna > Susunia route, and road conditions were fantastic all through. In the other two options you will face congested single lane roads, through distance by kilometers is less.

WHERE TO STAY:

Susunia has several stay options:

SUVAM HOTEL: This is situated at the base of the hill and you  will come across this resort first if you are approaching from Chhatna. There are AC  as well as Non AC cottages. This is also very near to the Eco  Park which is built at the base of the hill. The Kali Temple and Narasimha is just 2 minutes’ walk from here. The Tariff is between Rs.1200/- and Rs.1800/- for double accommodation.

Booking details:
Suvam Hotel,
Muruthbaha Eco Park, Susunia Hills
Debashish Dutta - 7031393409 / 9832344544
Durgapur Office - (0343) 2547540/2352
E Mail - hotelsuvam@rediffmail.com 

ARANYAK: As you drive further from Suvam hotel, you will come across this moderate two story building. This guest house is run by the local gram panchayet. It has four rooms, one AC and one non AC on the first floor. Ground floor has a room with common bath and a dormitory type room with three beds. Its basic but reasonably clean. However you are advised to carry your own towel and toileteries. Staffs are local people, not professionals, but very decent and friendly. If you wish to go around, you can tell them and one of  them will be happy to be a guide for you for  very moderate  fee. 

Booking Details:
Phone No : 03242-234201


YOUTH HOSTEL: Just ahead of Aranyak is the spanking new youth hostel opened in 2014. This has dormitory as well as rooms.


Booking  details :
Directorate of Youth Services,
32/1, B.B.D. Bag (South), Standard Building,
2nd floor, Kolkata- 700001.

Ph. No. – 91 – 33 – 2248 – 0626
              91 – 33 – 2265 – 3231
              91 – 33 – 2210 – 6767


RED ROCK Resort: This is your luxury option with all bells and whistles like swimming pool, luxury cottages and  multi-cuisine restaurant.

Booking  details :
Red Rock Resort
Jamthol, Jhunjhka, Near Susunia Hills
Phone No. 83890 33831
Tariff between Rs.1200 - 1800 for double accommodation.

WHAT TO EAT:

All hotels except Youth Hostel will provide you  with food. However at  Aranyak, the caretaker told us that they won't be serving us food as cooking gas was not available. So they brought dinner for us from a local eatery. We got a simple chicken preparation, with gross overdose of salt and chillies along with rotis. This was obviously one of situation and normally you will get meal at 'Aranyak'.

There are few eateries at the road junction near the base of the hill which cater to the tourists.

If you are into alcoholic beverages, please remember to carry your choice of poison as there are no shops nearby. Connoisseurs of King Size cigarettes are advised to do the same.     



10 comments:

  1. Hi, I want to stay in RedRock Resort in Susunia, which is 9km away from Chhatna station.

    Please guide as there are no contact numbers mentioned in the website

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Prabantak. You may try this phone number for booking of Red Rock Resort
      Phone No. 83890 33831

      Delete
    2. Please avoid Red Rock. See my comment below

      Delete
  2. Please avoid Red Rock. They are cheating people by promising all the facilities which they don't have. Right now they don't even have electricity. Let alone AC, swimming pool etc which they have posted in their face book page. Half the pictured uploaded in their face book page are not real. The place is now being run by a bunch of frauds led by someone called Abir Karmakar. It happened with us this week. Avoid them

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Sovan. Youth Hostel seems to be a good option. https://youthhostelbooking.wb.gov.in/pages/Home.aspx
    Hope food can be arranged for guests at Youth Hostel. Planning to go there in near future. Regards Anand

    ReplyDelete
  4. I want a hotel room at 28/12/2016 nearby Youth hostel..pls help me..

    ReplyDelete
  5. Excellently described. Now I am going there tomorrow. Thanks a lot Sagar. I was wondering whether the new Barjora - Durlavpur - gangajalghati route is better or shorter now; will find out - Sumanto Banerjee

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
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