Sunday, March 27, 2016

JHARGRAM DIARIES




Jhargram is very close to my heart and with a good reason. This quaint little town had cast it’s charm on me long time back in 2001 when I had for the first time set my foot here. This is one of the gateways to Jangal Mahal. The soil turns red and the majestic green cover of Sal, Piyal & Mahua starts here and then spreads on to the rolling landscape of Jharkahnd across the mighty Dalma range.

Back it 2001 I read an article in The Telegraph, beautifully penned by actor and author Barun Chanda, about Jhargram and how he was enchanted by its beauty. He also wrote about this place called ‘Salboni Retreat’ which was hunting lodge of the erstwhile Kings of Jhargram. The main palace of the Kings can be found at Jhargram town which has now been converted into a heritage stay and run by tourism department of West Bengal Govt.

It’s a beautiful property, about 10km off Jhargram town, right on the Lodhashuli Jhargram road, which is branching off from the NH6. It’s literally a small forest of 11 acres. This hunting lodge is now converted into a resort now, or should I correct myself, it’s not actually a resort. The word ‘resort’ conjures up am image of beautiful villas amidst carefully set landscapes with swimming pools, spa and all other goodies needed for good life but this is a far cry from it. A home stay would be a more apt description, bare basic and rustic. There are no televisions or air-conditioning. All you get is a rudimentary stay arrangement, but you have the nature to yourself. All you will hear is the whistle of wind through the tree leaves and chirping of birds as you laze away on the hammock strung between two trunks of Sal tree. Nights are silent and beautiful, hardly any artificial light & noise intruding your senses. So if you are ready to sacrifice a bit on the creature comforts you get to taste a different life, uncomplicated, pure and close to the nature. This place is owned and run by Bhaskar Dasgupta, a through gentleman and a wonderful host. Every time I stayed here I had experienced the warmest hospitality & care. The food was to die for and the tribal lady from the nearby village was an outstanding cook. No fancy stuff though, the food was just as humble as the ambiance of the place. Simple Bengali food, absolutely like home cooked, nothing more, nothing less and finger licking good.

I was in love the first time I was here back in 2001. Since then I was hooked and I came back here quite a few times till 2005. After 2005 the whole area was literally ravaged with severe insurgency problem making it inaccessible to the tourists. But Jhargram was always in my mind. Every time I was travelling to a the train would pass Jhargram station I would vow to come back here soon.

I was craving for a break and planning for a moderately long ride on my motorcycle was on the anvil. My friend Gautam proposed a day ride on March 20th which was a Sunday and I was more than eager to do it. Winter is already gone and summer was setting in. Soon the fierce heat would make it impossible to enjoy long motorcycle rides. So I decided on Jhargram. Just 176kms away from Kolkata it is a perfect destination for a day ride. I called up Mr. Dasgupta and booked a room for us for the day.

The Startoff

We planned to start at 6am. I met Gautam in front of Mahajati Sadan who was waiting with his Royal Enfield. Soon we were rolling, crossed Vidyasagar Setu and then onto the wide NH-6 through Kona Expressway. The ride was great on the six lane highway till Kharagpur with only a tea break at Kolaghat. We made good speed and then beyond Kharagpur we continued on the NH-6 but now it had become a single lane. However to our delight the surfacing was good, with nary a pothole in sight. We maintained decent pace but it was time to soak in the beauty of the landscape. The lush green fields gave away to red soil and we could see thick line of trees in the distance. Then the forests drew near, shining green leaves of young Sal trees greeted us. The undulated road twisted and turned through the forested landscape. We reached Lodhashuli crossing from where we took a right and took the road leading to Jhargram. This road is also beautiful, lined with trees on both sides making the drive a very pleasant one. However I remember back in 2001 this road was a dangerous place due to poor law & order situation. Armed robberies were frequent in those days and the whole stretch of road from Lodhashuli crossing to Jhargram town was notorious for this. So much so that movement of vehicular traffic was restricted by police after dark. I still remember that in those days cars used to move in convoy after dark lead by a police escort vehicle. Today these are like distant bad dreams and now you can move freely and without worries at any time. 


That's us waiting at the main entrance of salboni Retreat. The main building is long way off and the gate was locked and there was no way to communicate our arrival other than calling up Mr. Dasgupta. So we had to wait for few minutes till the attendant walked down the long trail to the main gate

We had a warm welcome and Mr. Dasgupta personally came to meet us. We were escorted to our first floor room at 'Durgabari'. This is a rather uniquely designed house, very simplistic architecture but designed to effortlessly into the atmosphere of the place.


This beautiful but rustic two storied building houses four rooms on each floor. This wasn’t there in the beginning but was built sometime in 2002. I love the room upstairs with a view of the forested compound. The veranda is simply a great place to spent a lazy evening. And Oh yes… sometimes Elephants from Dalma do pay visit inside the compound.


This is the view from the balcony of our room on the first floor. Our bikes parked. The last few times I was here I was always worried about wild elephants breaking in the compound and try some football with our parked car.



Again it was narrow but perfectly laid out metal roads running through forest, a far cry from our earlier experience of broken roads posing serious threat to car’s suspension. Our first target was to reach Chilkigarh Palace and then pay a visit to Kanakdurga Temple on our way back.



We had to cross river Dulung on our way to the palace. We stopped by on the concrete bridge on the river.


Sadly the river looked almost like a dirty nullah. With stagnant dirty water in which people and cattle bathing it was hardly a great sight. However post winter and the summer setting in, the river doesn't get much water and thus this situation. Dulung is at it's best during monsoons when there is a angry rush of water from the heights of Dalma range. 

About 200 meters from the bridge the main entrance of the Chilkigarh palace loomed large.


Once inside through the brick archway there is a huge compound and the palace can be seen straight down at the end. On the left there is an outhouse with pillered front adorning a large veranda. 


As you enter through the main gate there is a clock tower on your left beside an ancient banyan tree. Directly opposite the clock tower there is temple compound which house the family deity of the Dhavaldevas, the royal family of Chilkigarh. 


The royal family doesn't live here though. I could see that the building now houses Govt. offices.



The Royal family of Chilkigarh was a great patron of ‘Chilkigarh Chou dance’. This was unique and quite different from the Chou form as can be seen in Purulia or Seraikela. This particular dance form is also includes mimicking various gods & goddesses, animals and common people. It was something like role play and was often performed with wooden dolls in hand. This Chou dance form had use of masks but not on all types of dance recitals and the masks were nowhere near to the elaborate head gear of the dancers which is normally associated with Purulia or Seraikela Chou. It was more simplistic and did not have the aggressive war like stepping and movements. Rather it found it roots in the simplistic way of life of the tribals who still dominate this area. The dances played 'Ganesha' the elephant god, 'Ravana' or the demon king, or mimicked human charecters like 'Babu' (a affluent gentleman known for his exuberant ways)or 'Tanti', the weaver etc. This art form had made it’s distinct identity as a specific branch of Chou dance called ‘Chilkigarh Chou’. The biggest event of Chou dance used to be held during the 'Gazan' a festival linked to lord Shiva and widely celebrated all across Bengal on the last day of Bengali new near in the month of 'Chaitra'. Sadly with the fall of the Dhavaldevas, this dance form did not find many patrons and is now almost extinct.


This is the front view of the palace. I was told that the members of the Royal family now stay in Kolkata.

The next stop was the Kanak Durga Temple, and the deity was also worshipped by the Royal Family of Chilkigarh.




The temple also got a neat makeover. Earlier there was a narrow trail branching out of the main road which ran upto the temple compound, amidst dense shrubs and the foliage overhead forming a tunnel like path. It was a narrow trail, just about adequate for a car to pass by and leaves would brush against the body of car and branches of the trees would invade through open windows as one would carefully negotiate the bends of the narrow trail of red earth. Now it’s different. Cars are no longer allowed to the main temple complex. There is a paid parking lot which has come up. One needs to park the car there and cover the rest of the distance on foot. But also gone are the trail and the thick green cover which earlier gave you a spooky feeling. It’s a concrete pathway now, and shrubs and trees are cleared on both side giving you a feeling of entering a carefully maintained park. And indeed it was. I could see well maintained gardens and children’s park and toilets. The compound got a clean and sanitized look and the temple received a fresh coat of paint. But what is lost is that distinct eerie feeling one would get while entering the temple here. It used go so well with the stories that the tantric cult was followed here and also human sacrifices were made regularly at this temple in ancient times. Call it the effect of urbanization but while the amenities and convenience are growing, the charm is getting lost in the process.



The photo above is the front view of the temple. 



At the back ground the main temple can be seen. However this is not the original temple and was built at a later date. The ruins of the original temple can be seen on the left side of the new temple.



Kanak Durga Means Golden Durga. The small idol of Durga or Mahamaya is essentially in stone but now layered in gold and worshipped daily. I could not find much history of this temple but it is believed that this temple was built by King Gopinath, the descendant of King Jagatdeo who was forced in exile at this place after a rivalry.



The old temple in a dilapidated condition can be found standing on the left side of the new temple. This is about 30 ft high and built in the ‘Pancharatna style’. A huge crack is clearly visible right in the middle running from the top to the base which the locals say is the result of temple being struck by lightning. We took photos of it to document the present state as we are not sure how long it’s going to last given its present condition.



Sadly there is no effort from ASI to maintain & preserve the temple.


This is the ancient banyan tree. Typical to many temple sites in India here also people come make a wish before the Goddess and tie strings on the branches of the tree hoping it will be fulfilled.



Once done we started our way back to the resort. It was green all around and we were thoroughly enjoying the ride amidst the tranquil forest.



On our way back we came across this unique creation of nature.


While riding back we decided to take a detour. There were so many trails leading out from the metaled road and disappearing into thick forest. I always wanted to traverse these trails but could never do so due to paucity of time and the fact it could not be explored in a car. Motorcycles are perfect tools to explore these trails and we did not let go the opportunity.



This trail seemed to be perfect and rode deep into the forest. We did have some off-roading experience negotiating the rugged earth but it was sure hell of fun.



I noticed a largish ant hill and I parked beside it.



It was green cover all around, preventing the rays of fierce midday sun and casting a soft glow on the forest floor. We shut off the bike’s engines and just stood there, soaking in the sights and sounds of the forest.



It was so peaceful we felt that as if we have been transported to a different world altogether. The half an hour we spent there was almost therapeutic.




Now it was time to return to the resort, have lunch and start our return journey. We came back and spent a leisurely one hour and went for a late lunch.

Now the lunch was a grand affair, not that we were treated with gourmet cuisine. This was a pure Bengali Sunday lunch of Bhat, Dal & Mangsho (Goat Meat). The lady from the nearby village isn’t just a cook but a culinary artist. The travel is well worth just to have lunch or dinner made by  her. There was this delicious chicken chop and the meat preparation was out of the world. I am in love with the meat which is served at  Banalaxmi near Shantiniketan but this one is a worthy competitor. We also had ‘Kancha Aam  er Chatni’ and the mangoes came from the trees of the resort. 

Photo courtesy :  Blogpost  of  Salboni  Retreat

Mr. Dasgupta made it a point to sit with and supervise our lunch which is so heart-warming. You feel that you are visiting home of somebody very close to you. This is rare these days and this is exactly what makes me come back here again & again. This is something which money can’t buy.    

So it was time to bid goodbye. I wish this was a longer trip and a night stay would have been apt but nevertheless, it was indeed an exhilarating experience for both of us.

HOW TO REACH:
Jhargram is only about 180 kms away from Kolkata. It is best to come by  road if you have  your own vehicle. From Kolkata one needs to exit via Vidyasagar Setu and onto Kona Expressway leading to NH6. Once you hit NH 6 it’s  a straight drive through Kolaghat and Kharagpur till Lodhashuli crossing. From Lodhashuli, you need to turn right towards Jhargram. From Kona Expressway to Kharagpur it’s a four & six lane highway and you can maintain good pace. Kharagpur onwards the NH6 narrows down to single lane but in the month of March 2016, the surfacing was excellent.  Since from Khagarpur onwards it is not a toll road and not a part of Golden Quadrilateral, you may wish to find out the exact road condition before you undertake your journey. But this stretch is only about 30kms and generally in manageable condition even for small cars. At Kharagpur you need to be careful to take the left flank of the highway going past Kharagpur town and beyond. Look up for a roadsign indicating Kharagpur to your left. If you drive straight you will be headed towards Odisha via NH-5. This road continues as six lane and many people erroneously take this straight road instead of taking the left flank.


There are regular train services between Howrah & Jhargram.

Howrah to Jhargram:

Jhargram to Howrah:

WHERE TO STAY:

Salboni Retreat :
Garh Salboni, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.
Mr.  Bhaskar Dasgupta
Phone : 9432 863167
*This  is on the Lodhashuli  -  Jhargram Road on your left. Try to stay at Durgabari, on the first floor. Those are the best rooms. There is  no AC or Television.

Aranya Sundari Guest House
Sibasis Chatterjee
Jail Khana More, Ghoradhara, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.
Phone: +91-3221-256872 | Mob: +91-9547668966.

Doolung Guest House
Arindam Acharya
Near Hindi School, Ghoradhara, Jhargram, West Bengal 721507
Ghoradhara, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.
Phone: 096144 69131 / 03221-255909

ESHANI Guest House
Atanu Das
Natundihi (Near Local Board), Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.
Mob: +91-9733736372, 9232772761, 8016103128 

Jasoda Bhawan Guest House
Central Bus Stand, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.
Phone: +91-03221-255225
Mob: +91-9163141340
9800055195 (Emergency)

Kaushalya Heritage
Garh Salboni, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.
9830634541 / 9874815102
* Contrary to the name it's not a heritage  property. It's just a guesthouse beside Salboni Retreat

Banani Atithi Nibas
Kadam Kanan, Jhargram
Paschim Medinipur
Ph: 03221-257945

The Palace Resort
Jhargram Raj Palace, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.
Phone: +91-3221-255401 | Mob: +91-9635269416
*This one, is  by far is the most luxurious stay option. This is a heritage property and the palace of the royal family of Jhargram. The property is now managed by WBTDCL.

Jhargram Prokriti Porjoton Kendro
Under WBFDCL
Old Jhargram (Bandorbhola), Beside Sree Ramkrishna Saradapith

Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur, W.B.


WHAT TO EAT:

All the hotels and lodges have restaurants and food arrangements. However if you are on a day trip there are eateries available at Jhargram town where you can have basic meal.

12 comments:

  1. Regret to inform everyone that Mr. Dasgupta passed away in Jan this year. Bhaskarda - as he was universally known to whoever has visited the Salboni Retreat - will be missed by all who experienced his hospitality. RIP

    Mrs. Dasgupta now lives mostly in Calcutta, visiting Jhargram only occasionally.

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