900 KM OF SOUTHERN ODISHA

900 KM OF SOUTHERN ODISHA

“Green is the colour of your kind,greatness of the mind assists the eye….”
It was one of our tyrannical night shifts in our company with thousand of mechanical parameters creating heavy traffic in our brain when me and my juniour colleague Sambit decided to use our double off according to the shift rota in an epic 900 km road trip across Southern Odisha. So we started of in the afternoon of 17.07.2017 from our NTPC township in Talcher kaniha and that was our first district which is Angul to start with.

Scenic view in Angul Cuttack Highway.

We crossed the busiest industrial hub of Odisha within an hour with numerous chimneys that followed us as we then entered the dense elephants forest of Dhenkanal.

Dhenkanal Forest

We decided to have our lunch in the Yuvraj Dhaba which was the worst experience in my life.The roadside Dhabas along the highway was very unhygienic and dirty with an equally dirty place to sit and have lunch.But due to our previous night shifts taht already made us hungry we quickly finished off with our lunch and by evening reached the capital city of Bhubaneshwar. My juniour colleague was in search of buying a new Nikon camera which we decided to use in our epic trip.I was amazed to see his commitment towards travelling as he strictly maintained his decision of buying a brand new camera for this trip.After buying his camera we started our journey towards Rambha Panthanivas in Chilka Lake. Well Panthanivas are state government guest houses provided in every tourist fanatic places in Odisha. Their campus is well maintained with rooms being provided approximately for Rs 1600 in almost every places.This is a terrific step taken by the government of Odisha to promote tourism. Panthanivas has well maintained restaurant and clean rooms.The Panthanivas at Rambha which is village in Ganjam district situated on the banks of Chilka lake amidst breathtaking scenery.

 

There are boating facilities which can be availed by the tourists to visit different islands in the chilka lake.Visit this place in the months of januray and february when numerous species of migratory birds do arrive here to have their feast and festival in the largest brackish water lake of India.

View from Panthanivas Rambha.

Gopalpur Beach.

It was already half past 8:30 so we decided to have our dinner on the highway.This time too without any options we went for Dhabas as Sambit advised me that this is his hometown district which has very good hygienic dhabas as food joints.And he was true .We had dinner in one of his uncle’s dhaba and the way they prepared the food and cleanliness of the place mesmerised me.The first major thing by which a dhaba can attract tourists is its cleanliness and I must say his uncle strictly followed that.He provided us with delectable dishes of mutton curry and fired liver of goats.After dinner it was already 9:30 so we rushed our car towards Gopalpur sea beach which is a known place of Sambit since his engineering 4 years was from this coastal town.To our amazement when we reached Gopalpur it was 10:30 and there were empty streets with stray dogs barking .Every hotels main entrance was closed and the Panthanivas in Gopalpur had no rooms vacant for us.We thought of sleeping inside the car but fortunately right at the beach front a hotel named Sea horse lightened up their balcony in the main entrance.We quickly went inside but to our misfortune we saw  all their staffs sleeping on the ground and with no manager to ask for enquiries .We noticed a boy half awake so we shook him up to enquire about any vacant room in the hotel.Unfortunately he disagreed to give us a room without the permission of the “anonymous” manager.The manager was nowhere to find so we urged this boy for a vacant room.He agreed to give us a room for Rs 900 per night, only on the conditions of leaving it by next day 7 morning.So at last we dint have to sleep inside the car and we were surprised to get a beachfront balcony room.This hotel is in the best location in Gopalpur as it is right in front of the beach with the rolling waves footsteps apart.

View from the hotel

But I would advice other travellers to book the hotels in Gopalpur in advance to avoid a panic night.Next day we woke up early and left the room as promised and proceeded our road trip towards Daringbadi,which is considered as the highest point of Odisha. It was monsson time in India so we precisely chose this time of the year to experience the ultimate greenery of rural Odisha.

In Gajapati District.

We were gifted with a perfect weather with the sky remaining cloudy with little drizzle as subtle effects.The Green road side views started after an hour drive from Gopalpur and the first district we arrived today was Gajapati district.I was astonished by the countryside beauty of this district.The hills were green ,refreshed with clean grasses of the monsoon .There were tribal people grazing their buffaloes and cows and arranging their harvest in the green fields of rural odisha.

I mean everything around me was only green which is soothing for any traveller imbibing the pristine scenery from nature.

We arrived at Bhanjanagar where we visited the Sorada dam and Biju Pattanaik park.This place will also look like a lakeland countryside due to the huge reservoir of the dam.The roads were gradually gaining height meandering its way into the Eastern Ghats of Odisha.

Sorada Dam reservoir.

I must say that the government of odisha has provided excellent roadways in this rural areas that really inspires every passionate road trippers to explore the soul of India.By afterrnoon we reached the Udayagiri and Daringbadi forest range which made me spellbound due to its unique scenery.

Entrance to Udayagiri and Daringbadi forest range.

The road became narrow with the soil turning red in colour,and the hills transformed itself into small hills with rocks and boulders scattered over the ground.Sometimes there was a single piece of mammoth size rock forcing itself high into the sky.The fields were mostly with rice plantations and palm trees that turned our visions into that of a running kid traveller.

Scenic view as we enter deep into the forest.

As we proceeded ,the forest became denser and we arrived into a 16 km Ghat road known as Kalinga Ghati. The roads were narrow with steep elevations at each curves providing precarious hair pin bends.The traffic was almost zero with no signs of human activity.The forest became denser as we reached higher grounds with numerous elephant crossing boards falling on the way.

Dense forest before the ghat road.

With all such thrilling situations i drove my car as fast I could as i was afraid of any adventure with wild elephants.After nearly 45 minutes of a thrilling drive finally we saw outskirts of village and we knew we were near to our destination.

Few kms before Daringbadi.

We arrived in the Eco Home stay in Daringbadi at 14:00 hours in the afternoon.I must say the hospitable nature and warm welcome of the people in this hotel really made me happy,I would definitely refer Eco Home stay to my friends for a perfect warm rural experience in Daringbadi. The cook prepared for us excellent dishes which helped us to finish off our hunger after a 5 hour long road trip.In Eco Homestay they charge Rs 1500 per day for a room which have good facilities and rooms are very clean.

Eco Home Stay In Daringbadi


The 4G communications were working excellent in the hill station and from one of the notifications we found out that it was the day of the final clashes between India And Pakistan champions trophy final.So after few hours of sleep we started of our evening with the match which unfortunately India faced a humiliating defeat.Sad with the outcome of the match we were in no mood for a party.But fortunately God bestowed to us a lovely night monsoon shower .To experience a monsoon shower in a rural village is a different experience in its own way.The weather in Daringbadi is mild and you may need a blanket at night.The winters are chilling at such a height in Odisha which is 900 metres above sea level.

Daringbadi Valley view as we enter the hill station.

Next morning we woke up early and after having a delightful breakfast of puri sabzi we proceeded for an ultimate exposure to the rural culture of the Kondh tribes.The kondh tribes are one of the oldest living tribes in India .Their way of farming,ploughing the field,their attire and artworks from the local bark of trees transported our mind to a different world of rural India.

Artwork by the Kondh tribes .Notice the sculptures are made of bronze and the dark colour is formed from the juice of a bark from the local trees in Daringbadi.

Farmers engaged in ploughing the fertile plains.

Beside the pine trees plantation  the women of the villages were ploughing their farmlands and their men were engaged in grazing the herds of cows.The pine forest was a paradise to watch.

Pine forest with termite homes.

There were termite homes and long trails inside the pine forests which will give us an experience like that of most hill stations in North of India. Daringbadi also has a coffee plantation int the town which is also worth for a visit.There is a short diversion from the town towards the coffee plantation where we can find a splendid avenue of Pine trees and forests.

Pine trees avenue before the coffee plantation.

After two hours of excursion in the rural side of Daringbadi we came back to our guest house and bid goodbye to the exceptional tourist friendly staffs of Eco tourism Guest house. We started our journey back towards Angul ,but this time through the dense forests of Phulbani. Phulbani is the district headquarter of Kandhamal District which is also home to the heritage Kondh Tribals. On the way there were numerous view points of the valley which were blooming with chlorophylls due to the last night downpour.

Phulbani Forest.

The paddy fields and huts of straw added to the splendour beauty in the road trip.The forests were mostly of Teak wood trees which were standing tall to provide a green wall along the highways.I must say the roadways are very smooth and concrete enough to give a comfortable experience of driving.One must be careful while driving through the villages as there will be numerous animals and small children playing carelessly on the road.The entire road trip was in Vijayawada Ranchi highway amidst deep forest which also had leopards settlements as mentioned in the boards,so if you are lucky you may have a chance for leopard sightseeing.The area is extremely remote and rich in deciduous forests which are home to sloth bears,leopards and elephants.

Picturesque view from the road of the Eastern Ghat valley.

Phulbani is well connected by road from Angul And Bhramapur. A road trip throgh this remote villages is very comfortable due to the excellent conditions of the roads,soothing weather and pollution free wind.

As we enter Phulbani

Gradually following the signboards and asking the locals we arrived in the Boudh district and the forests began to disappear and give way to Industrialization hubs.We had a homely lunch on a roadside unnamed restaurant and then proceeded our journey towards the industrial corridor of Sambalpur-Angul. There was a long bridge over Mahanadi as we were leaving Boudh district was similar to the bridges over Mahanadi in Cuttack.

Bridge over Mahanadi River in Boudh district

But there is a subtle and major difference.The forward vision is marked with mountain lines,the river bed is less polluted than the civilised society in the cities and the traffics are much less which gave us ample oppurunities to have photosessions on the bridge.But similar to every places where this mighty lifeline of odisha flows ,the river has dried up to a great extent.The construction of dams has lead to the devastation of the rivers and its high time to realize now that if nature retaliates we will have nowhere to go except this Earth which is a tiny speck in the whole cosmic arena.

Dried up river bed of Mahanadi River.

Gradually I increased the speed of my car for the journey as now the traffic and pollution arrived ,so instead of more imaginations, we transformed ourselves to practical engineers and reached our destination by evening.Visit Green Odisha once in the monsoons and I am sure you will be blown away by its picturesque beauty. Odisha is a lesser known treasure of our country which is not only rich in minerals that adds to the financial resources of our country but also a tourist friendly destination of India that truly speaks about the soul of our country.Visit Odisha and discover the unexplored gems for all travel enthusiasts in this world.

PARADISE ALONG THE HINDUSTAN TIBET HIGHWAY.

“Let us venture to the abode of Lord Shiva ,If not then The Nature….”

 

My dream for standing inside a garden of apples came true in the month of September 2016 when I visited the enigmatic Kinnaur valley in Himachal Pradesh. We were a group of four friends ,three NTPC engineers and one from Indian Bureau.We arrived at Shimla in early morning hours and after having our breakfast we quickly went to fetch our bikes from the rental agencies.Arriving in Shimla was a relief for all of us in the months of September so we were energised to push our adrenaline for an epic bike trip.My friend Jaykrishna and his brother Unnikrishnan who was working in Indian Bureau ,were travelling in a bike trip in elevations of more than 12000 feet for the first time.They carried their personal Royal Enfield all the way from Odisha to Shimla. It was Jaykrishna’s passion for adventure road trip in himalayas and my dream to witness apple avenues that drove us to Queen of hill stations ,Shimla. We already knew Shimla would be a crowdy place due to its immense popularity as tourist destinations.So we decided to leave that day for Sarahan which is a somewhat a quieter hill station 165 kms from Shimla. Since it will be six long hectic days of muscle power of the Royal Enfield and the tough roads of  the Himalayas so we did a pre servicing and complete checkup of all the three royal enfields. The essential items we took were two carriers and elastic ropes for carrying the luggages,extra tubes in case of punctures,one hand pump,two cans for carrying petrol of capacity 5 litres each.We did a complete checkup of the battery and chokes ,and finally servicing of the chains attached to the pulley.They charged a rent of Rs1300 per bike so paying in advance the full payment we started of for our journey.We intended to leave the city as fast as we could because we decided to avoid the crowds of the hill stations in the whole trip.We refuelled our petrol tanks before leaving the outskirts of Shimla at 12:00 p.m .We arrived at Narkanda after an hour and the signs of apple farms began to show as we saw local people packing apples in boxes which will go down to plains.

I asked a local if we can go inside any farm and to my amazement he gestured us and cracked us a joke “ye puura jagaah aapke liye hain”(the whole place is all yours).It was like the costly apples means nothing to the himachal people but like guavas in the plains.Me and Jaykrishna hiked up a small hill and jumped over to the bushes to reach our dream garden.It was like red apples all around.The trees were short but they were hanging with numerous apples.No local people objected us so we packed up as much apples we can in our bags.This were the fresh apples directly plucked from trees.It was not packed and it tasted a whole lot sweeter.

The apples were more like dark brown red in colour.I was so happy and jumping ,as if like a kid won his medal for a treasure hunt.With the sweet taste of the apples we drove down further along the Sutlej plains towards Rampur. We decided to have our evening snacks and next refuel our bikes  in Rampur which was 50 kms before our destination Sarahan. The roads turned into Avenues of Pine trees with the sunrays playing hide and seek in between the branches.There were hardly any traffic and we lazily drove down to the Sutlej Plains clicking as much snaps as we could.We arrived at a village from where The Sutlej river was visible like green snake.From the view point we traced down the road and to our excitement the road was just along the length of the river running parallel.

Sutlej river along the Shimla Rampur Highway.

 

We couldn’t control our excitement to reach that place and so we drove down further in high gears.After an hour drive finally we arrived our view point destination and the place transformed into a whole new earth.It was like a village of the fertile plains with a broader version of Sutlej replacing the fertile plains.The trees were shorter in height and mountains were rich in vegetation.We faced a different side of Himachal pradesh on our way to Rampur.

Driving along the Sutlej river basin.

 

We reached Rampur by sunset and had our evening snacks in a local dhaba by the roadside. Rampur is an important town in the kinnaur district so it gave us numerous food options .Rampur Dhabas are situated amidst excellent view points looking down over the free flowing Sutlej river.So after refueling the tanks we did’nt wasted time and proceeded our trip towards Sarahan. Next 2 hours of drive was chilling and adventurous as it was completely dark and with ghat roads all along the way.So a simple advice for travellers is to take your exit from the outskirts of Shimla by 10 o clock in the morning.We arrived at Sarahan at eight o clock in the night.It was simply easy to find the hotels as Sarahan is a quiet hill station famous for Bheemkali Temple.The hotels are cheap and comfortable to live in .The hotels will charge you within Rs 1000 and provide you with delectable vegeterian dishes.We were tired after a 10 hour long bike ride so we had our dinner and went to sleep with the mountain rides and river valleys in our dreams.

Sarahan village.

Hindustan Tibet Highway.

 

Next day our kinnaur story starts with the legendary Hindustan Tibet Highway which runs from Sarahan and ends in the last village of India to Tibet,Chitkul. My inspiration to engage more into road trips is highly motivated from this adventure in Himalayas in this beautiful valley of Himachal Pradesh. The hanging mountains over the roads,the green himalayas,snow capped peaks in the background,snow melted fast flowing rivers,apple avenues,beautiful villages and the  sweet hospitable people were always accompanying us in the mesmerising land of Himachal Pradesh.

Mountains being manually drilled by BRO

 

As the road curved its way through the edges of the mountains we crossed numerous suicide points which are extended rock cliffs from the highways.I was astonished to see the world’s most treacherous highway being established in such a precarious way by the Border Road Organisation.We are grateful that such organisations take such heroic steps that helps us to visit The Himalayas as humble tourists.

The mountains were rich in vegetation and fortunately we were greeted with terrific landforms. Sometimes there were wild asses grazing on the mountains carelessly.We passed through numerous power stations built over the Sutlej river basin.Due to the rapid flow of the river in this region the state government has set up numerous hydro power plants in this valley. Karcham being a famous industrial town where the state has few important power stations .

Sutlej river basin near the power plants

Karcham Hydro power plant and its reservoir.

 

What more a traveller can ask from nature when he is gifted with such adjectives of this beautiful places.Visit Kinnaur in September to see the apples in full bloom and the weather all clear with blue sky.Grab an enfield and meander around this valley to experience Kinnaur in a perfect road trip.This combination of the ruthless machine with the most beautiful mountains on this planet will surely be the most scintillating journey.The road to kalpa as we go towards the upstream of sutlej river made us spell bound as it unleashed its scenic painting.

Few kms before Kalpa

 

Kinnaur offers some real breathtaking views one of which we found it in the Hindusthan Tibet Highway near kalpa. Though the road was tough to ride but such breathtaking views motivated us for long exposures to nature and build our strength to fight the tough roads.Bike trip never becomes so significant in life until we venture to the Himalayas.

The most astonishing scenic place that I have ever been was this unnamed village which was few kms before chitkul in the kinnaur valley.I was stunned by so many apple trees on both sides of the roads that seemed like greeting the tourists with the symbols of kinnaur.

Apple Trees before Chitkul

 

We felt lucky that we arrived on the month of september as the apples were full grown by that time.We were behaving like kids ,jumping over the fences and climbing walls to pluck those delicious apples.It was a memorable moment of my life when I could pluck those wild apples directly from the tree,which otherwise are so costly down into the plains.I will always crave more for such road trips in bikes as it provides an ideal platform to explore our beautiful country in a more detailed way.

Colourful farmlands in Chitkul valley.

 

After crossing the huge Apple farmlands we proceeded towards chitkul. The road became worse with symbols of landslide .We arrived at small river crossings made by narrow bridges which were made pit stops for photo sessions due the waterfalls in the background. The water was coming down from melted snow that formed a gushing river in the downstream.

The roads were getting tough but the natural scenery was getting equally more picturesque.

What arrived 5 kms beore the village made us spellbound.There were a series of colourful farmlands of red and yellow plantations equally garlanded with pine trees.The mountains were like transforming into a wall of collage with colours of green and grey.The rocks were shining its grey dust while the green vegetation were soothing our vision.There is a millitary checkpoint before entering the village since chitkul being a border village to Tibet.

At the millitary checkpoint before entering Chitkul

 

After the checkpoint the road unleashed itself into a whole new paradise world.It was like a painting done by God ,being recently coloured for the new passionate travellers like us.The view became panoramic with a wide angle vision.We were at a height of more than 3500 metres above sea level.In our vision there was this distant village surrounded by the mighty himalayas in its most colourful form.

After a 9 hour bike ride through the toughest terrain in the himalayas we arrived in a paradise village of the Himalayas.The village is situated on the banks of one of the tributaries of sutlej river,The baspa river.Earlier we had planned to come down to Kalpa and stay in a camp.But after watching the entrance view of this heavenly village we decided to have our night stop in this village to have a surreal experience in the lapse of nature.Indeed the splendid scenery of Chitkul will trap a travellers ‘mind for atleast a whole day in this most beautiful village.

Chitkul village along the Baspa river.

 

The village is the last vilage to Tibet so the people living here has culture and living styles similar to Buddhism.The Kinnaur kailash peak is clearly visible from this beautiful village which makes it more important for hindu pilgrims.We witnessed a memorable sunset on the banks of the baspa river with the snow capped peak of the kinnaur kailash glazing like a fireball in the last rays of the sun.The memory of chitkul will remain in my blood deep enough for a lifelong impact whenever I will visit the himalayas.

On the banks of the baspa river with the last rays of the sun on the Kailash peak.

 

The hotel Alpine view is situated just at the starting of the village amidst stunning scenery surrounded by lofty colourful mountains.The hotel is run by bengalis who will provide the tourists with delectable vegeterian dishes.The caretaker even surprised us with a local Apple drink for just rs 250 for half a bottle.He told us that it will keep us warm under the shivering cold at night.Indeed it was .It acted like super Rum.The rooms are cheap but the power is out for most of the time,which actually is a pleasure to experience the wilderness of the surroundings.The location turns even more heavenly at night when the galactic sky gets lightened up with the stars and the sound of the flowing baspa river in the vicinity of the hotel.Due to less pollution and free air the visibility of sky at such high altitudes is totally mesmerising and I experienced my best view of planetorium on that day.

Having an early morning breakfast we bid goodbye to this dreamland and proceeded for Spiti valley.In this trip I missed many small towns of Kinnaur valley like Kalpa,Rakhcham and Rekong peo which can be explored in another two days.We were short of time so we proceeded towards the tougher and drier part of our country.

The mountains hanging over the roads never stopped.

 

Spiti is a cold desert lying on the leeward side of the mountains.The scenery changes from green fertile landscape to a tougher and rusty atmosphere as we approach from Spiti valley from the Kinauur valley.Now the roads were turning into dusty .The Hindustan Tibet highway transformed itself to the most treacherous highway as the hair pin bends increased and roads were filled with numerous potholes and shooting stones.The roads now become even more worse and mountain colour changed to shining gold.There were mostly long wooden bridges with prayer flags with settlements of Indian army base camps.

The tougher terrain of the Himalayas.

 

Sutlej river turned into grey colour as it dried down accumulating the eroded mountain rocks from the surface.Our journey slowed down at this point as after few kms from chitkul the roads were in terrible condition.As we moved on to Pooh which is the last village in kinnaur district,the terrian changes drastically.The sutlej river changes to a muddy form into spiti river which then guides us to explore the greater remote part of himachal pradesh.

Muddy form of the Sutlej river.

 

We had our lunch in one of the few highway dhabas in Pooh.The dhabas provide excellent homemade potato stuffed parathas with curd made from local cow milk.The temperature is high enough in the morning so a curd provided us with a healthy diet.Now our journey was headed to the least populated region of our country -The Spiti valley,the introduction of which we felt in the change in geography.

Spiti Diaries.

 


Spiti district welcomes us with golden mountains reflecting bright colours of sunlight and a splendid rock drilled road made by BRO.If the introduction is so mystic then at the end of this trip we will have so many pristine memories.As we gained height ,the sky was never so blue and beneath us was the dry Spiti river that was ready to guide us to the remaining wonderland.

Hats off to BRO ,without them no tourists could have explored this mystic place.The lands were dry,devoid of vegetation but yes I havent seen such wonderful colours before.This is Spiti district for everyone.

 

Our pit stops increased as we followed river Spiti because the scenery was gradually turning into martian which stimulated us to take more memories of this allien terrain.I have never seen such mountains with colours of sand and tinge of vegetation adding borders amidst arid lands.

We were amazed to see small villages after a span of 80 kms taking its shelter on the foothills of the gigantic himalayas. How people live here with minimum resources is such a stunning experience for the metropolitians.

It was the best afternoon of the setting sun to view as I was standing high above the ground on the winding roads ,with my glances to the tiny villages. Soon the light became dark and to our adventure journey we came across a checkpoint of a village called Sumdo where we needed to cross the river. Just before the crossing , we saw two cars waiting before us .Soon due to a distant blowing dust we realized a landslide is going in between us and the crossing.We were puzzled and I was strictly against moving in the forward direction, when some millitary officers arrived and asked us to move forward as soon as the landslide stops for a moment.We rushed our bikes and Mukul leaded the way over the stones and boulders  when the landslide stopped for a few minutes.Obeying the signals of the millitary officers we were rushing over the boulders when my bike fell down since it was heavy with the luggages behind in the carrier. Behind me were two more cars and Jaykrishna with his Classic.I did’t know what to do and stood  speechless in the middle of the falling stones.Luckily few stones jumped over us into the river .Jaykrishna arrived and helped me to pick the bike up and quickly I rushed on to the other side.It was not enough for the adventure when we found out that Mukul lost his bike key in the accumulated stones .But he was fortunate enough to avoid the falling stones and pick up his key.We felt so lucky to have escaped the wrath of the nature .We were afraid and thanked god enough for saving us.Yes we expected high adrenaline in this Transhimalayan highway but not like a fatal one.It was already dark and then we drove for an hour in the dark with even more adventure, the moonlight showing us the narrow lanes along the river.The mountains looked like tall horrifying dark ghosts giving us narrow pathways to Tabo.

Tabo is a main village in Spiti district and the second habitable tourist place after Nako as we enter Spiti.

We felt so rellieved on reaching Tabo at night .The rest of the few hours in night was spend in discussing our adventure with the mountains .Next day morning I woke up with scenes of green apple tree surrounding our hotel.This was the first time I was witnessing green apples hanging from a tree.

Tabo has an ancient monastery and the whole town is situated in the vicinity of the monastery.Fortunately we got petrol in one of the shops to refuel our tank to Kaza.

Then as we drove towards kaza ,and after 30 kms we came across an uphill road leading to the Dhankar monastery,precariously built on a cliff.The uphill road from the main highway gave us splendid views of the confluence of the Spiti and Pin river.I found this amazing spot on the uphill road to the monastery.The monastery is now an UNESCO world heritage site.

It is now being reconstructed by the local people to prevent it from breaking down due to the erosion in the hills.Its exciting to explore new places on the earth but at the same time the pollution created due to the heavy influx of the vehicles destroys it.

After Dhankar monastery we now diverted our way to follow the pin river towards our destination i.e The Pin Valley.Before coming to this tour I always dreamt about this place and searched google images impatiently.Pin valley is the home to snow leopards,Himalayan Tahrs and the wild yaks.I was very excited to stay in one of those mudroof top homestays in the villages of the park.The diversion for this valley starts 18 km after Dhankar village from the main Tabo Kaza highway.

As we go onto the other side of the river we get to see this martian shapes of the mountains standing up high like huge piles of sand and dust.The formations were of single colour,unorganised but the geography will surely transform you to an alien land.The introductory view towards my dreamland left me spellbound and yes it wiped out my flashbacks of the dreams ,only to be replaced by more colourful ones.

Mud is the last village in pin valley national park where we stayed in the summers of 2016.Even in this remote village the people have provided excellent homestay facilities for the travellers. Mud village is a major base camp for many trekking routes including Pin Parvati. From Dhankar to Mud one has to travel a total of 55kms along the Pin river and trust me the views are the best in this world in terms of landscape panoramas.

The sky and water revealed kaliedoscopic reflections of the numerous colours in the mountains.There were wild horses and yaks grazing in the field.At intervals there were small villages with farming grounds and mud thatched roofs with trees of yellow colours of autumn.

After the last homestay in Mudh one can walk towards a rift created by a waterfall that flows into the Pin river.The water is chilling cold being formed by the melting snow high up in to the mountains.

In the night climb up into the roof in a ladder and enjoy the starlit galactic sky which looks ever so clearly visible at such an altitude.

Village kids in Mudh

Villagers in their Daily Activities.

The villagers here provide awesome food with numerous choices of dishes which really surprised me.There was porridge,custard,momos,cornflakes and many other delectable dishes for breakfast.The villagers here do farming in the morning and provide helping hand to act as a guide for travellers. Spiti tour is obviously incomplete if you dont visit The Pin Valley national Park.


Next day after 50 kms from the Pin valley we arrived at the district headquarters of Spiti ,Kaza.Kaza has all major facilities like a town with hospitals and luckily a petrol pump after 150 km of driving.To our astonishment we saw that kaza has the highest petrol pump in the world owned by IOCL,so that counts to another achievement of our Himalayan geography.

So a simple advice to all the riders is to refuel the tanks and check your gears in the workshops of Kaza.have a oxygen saturation level check up in the district hospital because after this place the route will be to even more high altitude level roads .

As we drove towards the major town,the Spiti river got broader and the colour changes to that of the sky.The mountains are still dry as sand but it holds the colours of Spiti.

Kaza offers a wide range of commercial hotels and it is the major pit stop to visit the key monastery and the three Spiti villages of Langza,Komic and Hikkim. After checking into our hotel,we continued our bike trip to the high altitude villages of Spiti. We took an 18 km uphill drive from a diversion from the Kaza Kunzum highway to reach the three high altitude villages of Spiti.

 

The three villages had distinctive features. Langza welcomes us with a Giant Buddha Statue with the snow capped Sheila peak in the background.

 

Komic is the highest motorable village in the world and Hikkim has the highest post office in the world.

Travellers will be surprised to see such disciplined farming at the top of the himalayas which is only possible due to the tough life and hardworking people of the mountains.Many historians once believed that Spiti was the part of the Tethys sea millions of years ago from where the himalayas were born.We can aslo find some local people selling ancient fossils that are worth to be taken as symbols of ancient lifeforms.

As we reached to a height of more than 14000 feet the land became flat like a football field surrounded by snow capped peaks with panoramic views of the valleys.

Don’t forget to send your postcards back to your home from the highest post office and carry water as much as you can due to the low levels of oxygen in these places.So a piece of advice to all the tourists is to check your oxygen saturation level in the government hospital in kaza and then proceed to these mystic picturesque villages of Spiti.

Now here is the wallpaper of Spiti -The Key Monastery.I always dreamt about visiting this place whenever I scrolled over the google images and used to come over this symbolic wallpaper.Key monastery is the largest monastery in the district which is a half an hour drive from Kaza.

As soon as we entered the monastery we saw several monks of different age and gender assembled together to listen to the evening speech by their head monk.Tourists need to dress properly and behave decently inside the premises as per the rules and regulations.The monastery is made up of several rooms decently piled up like small boxes that make this picture most photogenic symbol of Spiti.

On reaching the gates of the monastery one can see such mesmerising views of the Spiti basin below with the concrete winding road looking like a crawling snake..Visit the monastery at the sunset to have a glimpse of the last rays of the sun on the the valley with the last prayers of the monks in the evening.

As we continued our journey the next day from kaza to kunzum pass we came along a colourful part of our journey yet again. I felt like my eyes acting as a prism and refracting seven colours of nature.For sometime I thought  I was in a country like Afghanistan and in a landform that of the Pamir knot.

We were driving above 3800 metres above sea level and the entire valley was like a concrete field gifted to us for coming this far  as adventure travellers.

The valley was mammoth like a football field with no grass and surrounded by different colours of dry mountains.Though the region has no vegetation and is without a single trace of human settlement,but the surroundings were so colourful and rejuvenating like a painting in the mind of a child.We were fortunate enough to have a prefect climate that added the blue colour of the sky mixed in this wonderland.This was my best stretch of bike trip in terms of smooth road along with the scenic feast to our eyes.

Surely Spiti valley is the most colourful valley in the himalayas inspite of being devoid of any vegetation and being the driest part of our country.

After driving for around 70 kms there is a checkpoint for entering the kunzum pass just after the village named Losar. For indians it is just a formality but foreign tourists need to carry their passports for their entire trip in Spiti. The road became terribly worse after that and it was like dirt biking with the hard rocks.We were slowly gaining height as Kunzum pass was situated at an altitude of 16500 feet above sea level.

The road will be accompanied by the Spiti river on the right side and the dry mountains on the left.After an hour drive the river vanished and we arrived on a flat land as if we were on the roof of an elevated land.The road looked nowhere to go surrounded by snow capped peaks and we were standing in the middle of a desolated field.Luckily we found a signboard which showed the kunzum pass as 2 kms away to the destination. Kunzum pass separates the lahaul valley with the spiti valley.So we bid good bye to the spiti valley with lots of memories and photos.

The wind was blowing very strongly which created a fluttering sound of from the numerous prayer flags being hung all around the pass.Prayer Flags are flags of worship that signifies the heroics of the local residents and their bravery.There is also a small shop that offers maggi and hot tea.We were also surprised to see The Himachal State Transport services running buses in such tough roads and remote destinations.That surely makes them the lifeline of the state.

 

Road trips do build the bonds of friendship and teamwork.Till now we faced strenous roads,landslides,water streams and scorching heat of the sun .But as a team we overcame every tough situations in front of us.

We rejoiced to have completed this far and opened our packed parathas for our lunch.I must say the cold parathas gave us some energy to continue for the rest of the day.

After an hour pitstop in the kunzumpass we started our journey to the only lake in this trip i.e the Chandertal lake.

The road degenerated even more badly and I toppled with my bike twice on the way.Our energy was still high on the air to fetch the memories of the alien scenery around.The 12 km diversion to the Chandertal lake is in no way a route for the bike.Snow melted water streams and numerous boulders on the road made the ride even more tougher.Finally after reaching the base camp which is 2.5 kms away from the lake we booked a tent for us .They charged Rs 500 per head from us that included breakfast and dinner.This is quite cheap pertaining to the living conditions at such an altitude which is more than 14000 feet above sea level.

Chandertal is also called “The Moon Lake” due to its crescent shape when seen from the above.The lake is a preserved area for wildlife. So no camping is allowed in the vicinity of the lake.The lake on one side is surrounded by eroded mountains and on the other side with snow capped peaks.It is as blue as one can imagine which may be due to the clear reflection of the blue sky at this height. Chandertal lake is the most famous destination in the Lahaul valley that is even more prismatic than one can imagine from the picture.The mountains,green fields,blue water along with the clear blue sky makes it a dream and colourful destination for every hikers and travellers to the Himalayas.

In the night it was shivering cold but the localites arranged born fires and hot apple drinks .They explained how in the mountains life is impossible without helping others.The people living in the mountains have their motto of helping each others without which according to them life is impossible here in the mountains.So they arranged a vehicle for us to carry the luggages up to Batal which made our 12km trip to the main highway a lot easier.Here  I learned how consuming juice of garlic helps in maintaining saturation level of the oxygen in our blood.Next day in the early morning hours we started our journey back to Manali to avoid the heavy streams of water created from the melting snow.Now the road was all along the Chenab river with numerous water streams flowing over the road due to the melting snow as the sunlight rays were brightening up the mountains.

Thanks to the tough build up of the royal enfield bikes which could sustain such ruthless roads.There were boulders on the roads of various sizes which were being carried down due to the rocks loosing their ground as the soil softened in the mountains. Lahaul valley was much greener than the spiti valley and the weather was much more chilling.The mountains were now grey in colour with more concrete rocks and grasslands beneath them.On an average the speed of the bike was not more than 25 km/h.

Amidst such tough and strenous journey we were energised by the changing terrain of the landscape.There were waterfalls over the roads,river forming rifts along the highway,mountains with vegetation and wooden bridges motivating us with the prayer flags.

We felt like freedom birds driving over the roads as if flying due to the vastness of the landscape beneath the clear blue sky.

As we proceeded more towards the windward side of the Himalayas,we can clearly see the contrast in vegetation as the mountains turned from brown bald to grasslands.We were approaching the Rohtang Pass which separates the Kullu valley from the Lahaul valley,with the Kullu valley receiving the maximum amount of rainfall.

The route to Rohtang pass from Batal offers spectacular scenic views of the mountains covered with graceful garb of white snow. Rohtang pass-the gateway to ladakh,is the nature’s most bewitching and pristine pass of the mighty Himalayas and hence is a must visit for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts.It also acts as an escape from the heat of the plains during the summer which we availed in the month of September 2016.As we apptoached Chatru from Batal we crossed numerous Tea dhabas which kept boosting our energy,most importantly The Chacha Chachi Dhaba in the stressful Transhimalayan highway.The water streams became broader over the roads as now the melting snow created watefalls like the one in the picture.

Our bikes got stuck numerous times in the rocky bed of the water streams that was even more painful as our clothes got drenched in the chilling cold water.

As we approached Rohtang pass the roads widened up and became crispy smooth due to the efforts of the BRO.The dark clouds began to hover over us as we were approaching the windward side of the mountains.We chased the rainfall and arrived in the mighty Rohtang pass which were crowded with tourists.I imagined Rohtang pass to be a snow covered wall when I used to scroll over the google images.But to my amazement I was spell bound by the greenery.

It was not snowing in the late september but it was raining which rejuvenated the colours of the vegetation.The valley was lightened up with with green grasslands all over the place,refreshed and cleaned by the water droplets from the cloudy sky.

The rain was pouring down continuously so after an hour pit stop we continued our journey now along the Beas river towards Manali and bid goodye to the magnificient Lahaul valley with lots of memories in our mind and heart.

IN SEARCH OF KHAIRI

Before proceeding into the detailed story I want to thank my juniour collegue Syam Sunder Rao in assisting me with the camera and in providing some mindblowing images.Follow i_syam7926 for more delightful images in Instagram.

Man machine and forest combine together to give a cycle of relief and stress for some people in our society.I am one of them.My work life is heavily oriented in maintaining huge machines but at the same time my working schedule provides me ample oppurtunity to explore my surroundings.Machines cannot dominate our emotions until we have our beautiful nature to explore.I live in odisha which provides the best oppurtunity to explore forest wildlife in our country.According to my shift rota I get three holidays in every month which I believe I have not wasted a single time since I got my job.

 

Fortunately the last week of December 2017 I availed that three holidays to spend my new year night in the second largest reserve forest in our country in Simlipal. Sometimes I feel so lucky working in shifts which gives me that oppurtunity to avail the rest days in exploring this beautiful state. Odisha is the soul of our country in terms of tourist attractions. It has a long coastline with the bay of bengal,the largest brackish water lake which is chilka,Eastern ghats with highly dense forests and numerous unexplored waterfalls.This state is also an important supplier of rich minerals that contributes in the economic development of our country.Hats off to the government in odisha in preserving such pristine destinations amidst heavy industrialization.Visit odisha and you will get to know about the versatality of our country’s terrain.

After two days of strenous night shift we started our trip in the early morning hours of 30 th December from our NTPC township in Talcher kaniha. Talcher boasts of a heavily power capital of the state with the largest reserves of coal in India.Many tourist destinations of north western odisha is well connected by roads from Talcher .So we booked an Innova for a road trip to Jashipur. Well Jashipur is a major town in Mayurbhanj district which acts as an entry point to the Simlipal National sanctuary.

We crossed the Samal barrage which is a hydro power plant built over Brahmini river.Within an hour we were travelling ont he highway surrounded by fertile plains and coconut trees.The countryside of odisha is beautiful and it still holds the purest form of rural India.There is a definite difference in the colours of the villages in monsoon than in other seasons.While now we were watching golden crops in paddy fields but in the monsoon the whole of Odisha turns delightfully green.Still the scenery offered much green forests ,thanks to the plantation initiatives which has been taken up by the head of the companies engaged in doing business in the state.

We had our pit stop in a dhaba after passing through numerous avenues of teak trees for lunch.After lunch due to our strenous schedule on the previous days we went back to sleep inside the car while our skillful driver reached Jashipur by evening .On the way we crossed another famous destination of Odisha i.e Keonjhar which also boasts of three famous waterfalls and ancient archaeological site.

LOCAL TEA JUNCTIONS BY THE HIGHWAY.

After reaching Jashipur our only task was to find a hotel for our night stay since we planned to explore Simlipal on the next day in the early morning hours.We found out that in this small town there were only two decent hotels  which was obvious for this small town in this district.Hotel Shivam Palace is a good option for staying here .The hotel is run by an old man who is very cooperating and simple .He also arranged for us the contacts for jeep safari and a guide to explore the Simlipal forest.

The only food options we found out in this small town were dhabas by the highways.The dhabas cook excellent delicious foods with many options for the menu.So we too had our dinner in one of the many dhabas. One additional advantage to to eat in these dhabas is that for chicken they dont provide the poultry meat.They provide the rural hens of the villages which are rare to find and even more tasty than the poultry chicken.After a delicious dinner with the countryside chicken we went off to sleep as we were tired due to the full day journey.

Next day we woke up in the early morning hours to avail an early morning safari.We gave our documents to our guide necessary for the entry to the reserve sanctuary.Here comes the first drawback and frustrating moment in our tour.The total formalities took over for three hours to take permission for the forest check gates.The documents required for permission from the forest department are the print out of the ticket for staying inside the Eco tourism Guest house inside the forest house with the original Identity card mentioned when booking the Guest house and the driving licence of the car drivers who will go for safari.They charge Rs 600 for a guide which they provide to each and every tourist vehicle going inside and Rs 200 each for the vehicle to enter.We took two cars inside the forest so we need Rs 400 in total for entry pass inside the forest.Unfortunately the people in the tourist office were into some confusion to relate to our printout of our bookings inside Eco tourism.They gave us two papers to fill in the details of the passenger and the car.Since we were also going inside with our Innova so we had to submit the driving licence of our driver.

FOREST OFFICE WHERE PERMIT IS TO BE TAKEN.

To our surprise we saw the office was devoid any computers.So all the entry forms were being handled by a single aged man .All these process took a healthy time from us.I think when tourists are carrying the printout format of their bookings in the government Eco tourism guest house then it is not necessary to again fill up a form mentioning the details of the passengers since the printout carries the details.To avoid the heavy rush of the tourists ,staffs in the office must be increased with computers which will reduce the waiting time. Infact after the formalities of the office there were even more two checking points for a throughout check up of the vehicles.They check for any alcoholic drinks since any type of alcoholic drinks are not allowed inside the forest.

FOREST ENTRY GATE.

After such strict security checkup we proceeded to move along the Khairi river inside the dense forest.Now this river has some historical significance.It was on the banks of this river that in the year 1974 the then field officer Saroj Raj Choudhury found a tigress cub on the banks of river Khairi. He took care of the cub as a foster father and that was how Simlipal National sanctuary came to limelight all over the world due to the tiger and human relationship.The muddy road will pass by the river amidst dense forest of sal and teakwood trees.

HOUSES OF KHADIA TRIBALS AS WE ENTER THE FOREST.

There will be rocks scattered on the free flowing river bed with tribal people taking a bath on the water.I knew I was totally inside a rural village of our country.Shortly after few kms we were completely driving on the red soil into the deep forest cover.We arrived in a spot which described about a 300 years old Sal tree.Instead of seeing an old tree I preferred to see the different types of flora and fauna inside the forest.

Simlipal is famous for orchid plants and has been already declared as a biosphere by the UNESCO world heritage site.It has a core area of more than 300 square kilometres making it the second largest national park of our country.There were different variety of money plants of various shapes which astonished me completely.The smell of the fresh forest cover with the red soil transported me into a whole different ambience away from the daily smokes of the chimney.

FAUNA AS WE PROCEEDED INTO THE FOREST.

At intervals we came across small villages consisting of local tribes known as khadia with their typical mud thatched roof houses.There were open valleys plenty with rice plantation ,surrounded by the dense forests of the Eastern Ghats.Sometimes we crossed river khairi meandering its way into the forest below the wooden bridges. Sometimes we came across small shops with roofs made of straw making tea and omlettes for the tourists.

KHADIA TRIBAL SETTLEMENTS IN THE VILLAGES INSIDE THE FOREST.

The first village that we arrived inside Simlipal was Gudgudia.It is similar to like one of many tribal villages in Odisha with Government Eco Tourism Guesthouse making the centre stage with two baby elephants.Tourists can touch and feed the two elephants at their will.

Meandering down the quaint roads with the smell of red laterite soil we proceeded our picturesque journey to Uski waterfall. Uski waterfall is situated deep into the forest with excellent flow of water gushing down from the cliffs inside the forest.Next we proceeded our journey to Barehipani waterfall.

USKI WATERFALL

ON THE WAY TO BAREHIPANI FROM USKI.

Barehipani waterfall is one of the highest plunge waterfall in India covering a height of more than 400 metres .The splendid form of the waterfall falling in steps like a white ribbon will mesmerise the tourist to  praise the subtle things of nature.The shape of this waterfall is so unique than many other waterfalls in India .

The view point is made of cliffs so tourists should be careful of taking the photographs carefully. Barehipani waterfall gushes down with huge volumes of water to form a part of Budhabalanga river.So one can imagine the mineral content in the sweet water of the river due to the water eroding the rocks while its journey to the river.The origin of the river is Balanga compartment which is 25 kms south of Barehipani.The minimum temperature of the water is 7 deg celsius in winter and 35 deg celsius in the summer. Dont forget to take a wallpaper picture of this marvelous waterfall in odisha.

It was already 5 o clock in the evening and the sun was seting down .We had some snacks in of the local shops of the Khadia tribals and quicky proceeded for the safari to the core of the forest.Chahala is a village 35 kms inside the forest where animal sighting is possible.

The forest officials have put up a watchtower for animal sighting inside the forest.In front of the watchtower there is a huge field into which the forest officials spread salt over the grasses for the herbivorous animals.The animals need iodine for the proper functioning of their digestive system so The come to graze on the field to taste the iodine rich grasses.One can spot the barking deer,spotted deers,elephants and wild boars here.It was already sunset so we only saw the glowing eyes of numerous deers in the dark.

FULL MOON IN CHAHALA.

The forest officials discussed with us his experiences during animal survey when they go deep inside the forest.According to him there are 35 Royal bengal tigers and 100 leopards inside the forest.He gave us a detailed knowledge of the behavioral skills of various animals in the forest which enlightened our evening discussion with lemon tea.We spent an hour there and then quickly proceeded to our Eco tour guest house in Kumari village.

ECO TOUR GUEST HOUSE COTTAGES.

When we reached our homestays it was 8 o clock in the night time and it was pitch dark.We refreshed ourselves with some cold water and prepared ouselve for the overnight party inside this remarkable moonlight of 31st december.It was my best new year celebration under an open sky with no mobile tower thus no notifications to disturb me.We arranged bornfires and enjoyed every bit of the marvelous campus which the Government of Eco tourism has set up in kumari.

In the morning we were amazed to see the views from our rooms.There were huge farmlands blooming with golden crops all around us.The khadia tribals were ploughing their field with the cows and sometimes the kids were running around in freedom.

This intense rural natural ambience will always pull me again to visit the village kumari. The garden inside the campus was blooming with flowers with fresh colours of nature.We took every oppurtunity to take photos in detail for the lovely memories of our first day of 2018.After breakfast we packed our bags to return back to our homes bidding goodbye to the khadia tribals of kumari.

On our return journey we took a single pit stop on the beautiful banks of the river khairi.

Now this is the river where in 1974 The khadia tribals found a tigress cub and they immediately brought it to the then forest field officer Mr Saroj Raj Choudhury. Immediately the forest officer took care of the baby cub like a foster father.The tigress ate from his hands and cuddled into the saree of her foster mother.The incident became famous all over India.A tiger that ate and slept with the human beings.The tigress grew up into a healthy one and died in 1981 due to rabies.Mr Saroj Raj Chodhury died soon after.He was forever known as the person who lived and died for a tiger.
On the banks of the river khairi we tasted the sweet water of the river and played with the rifts formed due to the rocky bed on the river.The temperature and taste of the clean mineral rich river water was out of this world.I felt like the soul of the forest officer,the khadia tribals and that of the numerous tigress cubs reaching out to us to help and preserve the subtle geography of our mother Earth.Tourist visiting this second largest national sanctuary must take care of not polluting inside the forest and spread the message to save the tiger which is a pride of our country. Simlipal is rich in flora and fauna so tourists must take enough time to explore this beautiful part of odisha.

 

Year’s First Sunrise from a Heritage Hotel at Kalimpong…

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

This New Year, we planned to visit the hilly terrains of Northern Bengal to treat our eyes with a cloudless glimpse of the majestic Mt. Kanchenjunga range. Since my childhood, I remember my grandma’s description of the mesmerizing views of Mt. Kanchenjunga on a January morning. She had spent her juvenile days at the queen of hills, and so it was through her eyes, I visualized the mountains till the time I experienced it myself.

Kalimpong is a beautiful hill station of North Bengal, situated at an average altitude of 4100 feet, around 80 kilometres (three hours’ drive) from the Bagdogra airport. It was not my first visit to Kalimpong though, but yes the first winter visit for sure.

31st December 2017 – we took an afternoon flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra and landed by 2pm. It’s an Indian Air Force maintained airport and hence photography is strictly prohibited within the premises. It did not take much time to collect our luggage as the airport had only two conveyor belts with very limited civilian passengers.

We hired a pre-paid taxi (Kalimpong drop for Rs. 1400) from the airport counter but soon realized being trapped when the driver loaded our luggage onto a car with different number than the one mentioned in the prepaid booking slip. He tried his level best to convince us that both the cabs belonged to him and it did not make much of a difference whichever we get in. Somehow, we managed to free ourselves from his suspicious clutches and reported straight to the prepaid booth, finally ending up in cancelling our booking at the end. Luckily, we noticed the discrepancy, but it could be damn risky for elderly people to anticipate such hazards.

Time was hitting hard on us as from our previous experiences we knew that after 3pm, no taxis tend to agree driving up the hills. On top, since it was winter time so the risk was mounting up faster. We gave ourselves some time at the adjacent coffee shop when an old gentleman (supposedly a broker) approached us to offer a ride to Kalimpong at the same prepaid booking price. Initially we did not pay much attention, but when he said that the driver was a local resident of Kalimpong and was waiting for a return trip, we agreed to talk to the driver directly. He looked trusted and we geared off without wasting much time. But honestly speaking, where so many foreigners visit round the year, the transport authorities must work towards strengthening the governance, in interest of the tourists.

TEA BREAK ENROUTE

 

We continued on NH10 for major part of our journey, crossing a rail bridge near Sevoke. All the while the superfluous turquoise waters of Teesta River were on our right till the time we crossed it near Rambi bazaar. We met a Y-shaped bifurcation near Chitrey Waterfalls where we took a right turn towards the Rishi Road leading to Kalimpong. The road we left headed straight to Melli in Sikkim.

TURQUOISE WATER OF TEESTA RIVER.

RAMBI BAZAAR

Kalimpong was just twelve kilometres from Chitrey Khola but the remaining road was the toughest part of the route. Here lies the famous two-and-half turn of Rishi Road which was like a series of sharp hairpin bends, ascending steeply over three thousand feet at one go. A chilly wind pierced our skin as we kept climbing up the hill for next thousand feet. We avoided the overcrowded downtown area by taking the Kalimpong Bypass route. Fortunately, the driver knew the roads well and we faced no issues reaching our hotel.

We had done a prior booking at the Kalimpong Park Hotel (Superior Deluxe DBR at Rs. 3900 + applicable taxes) and it took us around two hours forty five minutes to reach there from Bagdogra airport. Ample parking space was available in front of the hotel, no parking hazards at all where today most of the Kalimpong hotels fall short of. Darkness had totally engulfed the place by the time we reached the hill station.

The hotel entrance was beautifully lit and decorated with flowering plants to add a celebration touch. Our check-in was hassle free. We were given a front side room at the third floor. The wood works of the hotel lobby and reception area were noteworthy. However, the room quality and cleanliness must be improved compared to the tariff. No tea coffee kits were provided, wall to wall carpets were not available, no slippers in room, toiletries provided were of very poor quality, bathroom was very clumsy, drinking water was not purified and so on. These are some basic amenities which any boarder would expect from a star hotel.

Keeping aside the hotel amenities, the building has a very attractive fact attached to its existence. It was earlier known as ‘Dinajpur House’ when it was inhabited by the Maharaja of Dinajpur as a summer retreat. It is positioned around a kilometre above the Kalimpong town, facing north-east, with a panoramic view of the landscape from the entrance podium. It still belongs to the Dinajpur royal estate, however some portion of it has been recently renovated and leased out to the luxurious Park Hotel group for tourist accommodation.

I would like to highlight an important point here – location of the hotel is splendid only for tourists who want to avoid the crowded Kalimpong market area, otherwise one might feel very isolated. That also implies that there was not a single shop in and around the hotel within a kilometre’s range. Since we were in an utterly relaxing mood, we loved the seclusion.

VALLEY VIEW FROM THE ROOM

It was 31st December night and the prevailing weather was just complementing the calendar dates. The outside temperature was way below ten degrees with a frosty breeze blowing all the while. Being there on the year end night, a small bonfire was arranged by the hotel staff and we were warmly invited to attend it while completing our check-in formalities.

BONFIRE AT HOTEL IN NIGHT.

 

We quickly freshened up as we had midnight plans for the day. The beautiful aroma of hot Darjeeling tea refreshed our weariness in a jiffy. And we decided to take a walk within the hotel premises. The heritage aspect of the hotel was the most attractive part of our stay and it was quite evident from the well maintained trophy room and outhouse turned to bar. There were wonderful antique collections of furniture, utensils, grandpa’s clock, a Victorian wall clock, a magnificent fireplace, stuffed animals etc to add up to our grand experience. From one of the hotel boys we came to know that the building has been often portrayed in old and new Bengali films including some recent releases like Bastu Saap, Chhaya o Chhobi etc.

 

Bonfire had already started by the time we came back to the reception area. We planned to have our dinner at the adjoining restaurant. Food taste was good and of sufficient quantity but they did not have water purifiers at all. Only option was bottled mineral waters being sold at elevated prices. They serve natural spring waters without being cautioned. People planning to stay with kids, beware.

The receptionist told us that on a cloudless morning, Mt. Kanchenjunga peaks are best visible from its top floor observatory (fourth floor) and the ornate garden adjoining reception area. But we must wake up early to experience that. It would be the first sunrise of the New Year and so we were extremely excited to enthral the first glimpse of the regal snow peaks.

Alarms rang sharp at 4.30am and we rushed to the top floor observatory. It was still dark outside. After an hour’s wait, morning sun’s first glows started appearing and slowly the hilly outlines became visible. Luckily it was a truly cloudless morning. It was right at 6.15am when the Mt. Kanchenjunga main peaks could be seen.

 

By 6.30am, the entire snow clad Kanchenjunga range was grandly visible on our left while the sun rose from our right. The view of the changing colours on the snow was not just great, but grand. We also went to the garden to experience the view and it was worth the efforts. We came back to our room ordering a pot of steaming Darjeeling tea. Nevertheless, most of the hotel rooms did not face the snow peaks.

 

11 am and it was time for us to check out. Unfortunately, our end note was not that sweet. The hotel had arranged a private taxi (car with white number plate) for dropping to our onward destination. Upon asking the driver, he said in front of hotel staffs that “in Kalimpong white board cars are allowed to do commercial trips.” Whatever be the fact, take our words, do confirm the rates with the driver before starting your journey from hotel.

We faced serious concerns with the driver booked through hotel reception regarding the trip cost at the end of the day. The amount told to us by hotel receptionist was way less than the driver actually charged us at the dropping point. The overall taxi experience during the entire trip was horrible which reinstates the need of governance by transport authorities in the region. Till the time that happens, at least the hotels must take care of these subtle issues in the long run because when tourists books a taxi through the hotel, they will not expect such discrepancies and impolite driver behaviour.

Whatever be the ups and downs, our winter tour to Kalimpong was a memorable one, heartened by a lifetime stay at the heritage hotel. We thoroughly enjoyed the grand view of the mountains, ultimate solitude, lovely bonfire, tasty food, aromatic Darjeeling tea and the prevailing chilling climate – exactly what we had planned as part our New Year celebrations.

Mysterious Temple Ruins of Gopiballavpur

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee.

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

Gopiballavpur, approximately 200 kilometres from Kolkata, is a small village on the banks of Subarnarekha River, which presently falls under the domination of newly formed Jhargram district of West Bengal. It takes around four hours to reach by road from Kolkata along the Bombay Road. It is a mysterious historic temple town, which dates back to the mythical Ramayana days.

 

During the Diwali holidays, we planned for a long drive to Gopiballavpur. As there were no accommodation facilities in and around the place, we had booked our stay at the nearest Jhargram Rajbari (old Palace), about 50 kilometres away.

Jhargram Rajbari (old Palace)

We started early from Kolkata and kept driving along the NH16 (popularly known as Bombay Road). Had our first break at Kolaghat after a couple of hours’ drive. There were lots of roadside dhabas to feed our stomach. We headed straight towards Kharagpur and continued till Lodhashuli junction (about 160 kilometres) without any diversions.

Crossing Rupnarayan River over Kolaghat Bridge

The lush green jungle stretches of Jhargram could be seen long before we entered Garhsalboni forest – the starting point of Lodhashuli range. The road condition was by far good till this point, but we had to pay multiple heavy tolls on way. Needless to say, our driving experience of Jhargram so far was like a paradise for nature lovers with bountiful timberlands of Sal, Teak, Oak, Eucalyptus, Sonajhuri and Mahul with momentous sighting of wild Dalma tuskers, deer and Serbian migratory birds. On the way, we also experienced various types of ancient temples, a deserted citadel, tribal villages and couple of dilapidated tea shops playing folk rhythms which made us feel like in a complete bliss. In short, we were taken aback at the absolute natural grandeur of the place.

Driving Through Garhsalboni Forest

Dilapidated Ancient Temple

A Deserted Citadel

Our pains started once we crossed Lodhashuli. There was a forest check post where they verified all our credentials and basic vehicle details before allowing a private car to enter the forested area. It really felt sad to ponder that how could such a serene place be dominated by notorious bloodsheds just a few years back.

Entering Lodhashuli Range

Soon after we entered, the road literally vanished among the ominous greens. Actually, years ago there had been a proper road, but due to repeated Maoist outbreaks, it’s all pathetically broken now and is often referred as ‘red corridor’ by the officials. However, from Lodhashuli till Sardiha, the road reconstruction work has begun again, and we were assured to drive safely till Gopiballavpur.

Red Corridor Forested Way to Gopiballavpur

Sardiha was a tiny rural marketplace from where we took left and drove till Bartola, from where we got onto the famous ‘Sidhu Kanu Birsha bridge‘ for crossing the bountiful Subarnarekha River. A panoramic view of the river with fishermen boats could be best seen from this bridge – a treat to your eyes indeed. The river got its name from the golden sands which were glittering brightly against the blue canvas of Autumn sky.

Sidhu-Kanu-Birsha Bridge over Subarnarekha River

 

Panoramic view of Subarnarekha River from Sidhu-Kanu-Birsha Bridge

At the other end of the bridge lies our destination – the historic temple town of Gopiballavpur. Due to the broken roads, it took us more than two hours to drive a stretch of just 30 kilometres from Sardiha.

There were no formal parking areas near the place. Leaving our car on a green splash of land, we walked into the temple complex. As expected, there were no tourists other than us. Looking at the curious expressions of the kids playing in front of the ruins, it seemed that they were not used to see outsiders visiting the place.

Ancient Temple Complex of Gopiballavpur

As such there were no boundaries to define the premises, nevertheless we could figure out the periphery guarded by a leafy wall. There were a series of ancient temple skeletons made up of brick mortar. Amazingly, in most of them, there were no deities except a few had Shivalingas and couple of them were dedicated to Lord Krishna and Goddess Radha.

Beside the ruins, we saw a beautiful garden named ‘Gopiballavpur Eco Park’ along the bank of Subarnarekha River. While buying the entry tickets (Rs. 10 per head), an old gentleman approached us with a hesitant smile. He could perhaps anticipate our curiosity regarding the temple ruins. As we offered him to walk with us inside the park, he happily accepted our proposal. It was from him that we came to know various mysterious mythological connections surrounding the place.

 

  • There are different schools of thought about Rishi Valmiki’s ashram in Ramayana and one of the legends say that it was right here where the dacoit Ratnakar got enlightened to sage Valmiki after a spell of tough meditation. Through our personal experience, there were multiple anthills around the place indeed.

 

  • Rishi Valmiki had started writing Ramayana at the footsteps of Rameshwar Temple built by Lord Vishwakarma. Where we stood, there was an array of temples one of which appeared prehistoric. Though not much information is available about this ancient temple in the pages of history, yet the architecturally rich remnants still have a series of ancient brick pillars and domes with Shivalingas housed inside which again presumably bore a resemblance to the description of Rameshwar temple depicted in Ramayana.

Mysterious Temple Ruins of Gopiballavpur

  • Tamasa River was perhaps the mythical name of Subarnarekha River and its descriptions match very closely to what we find in the epic.

 

  • The dense canopy of forests around Gopiballavpur was the hunting ground of Ratnakar and is even today notorious for dacoits and Maoists.

 

  • The adjoining jungle is full of red faced monkeys, drawing resemblance to Rama’s Vanar Sena. We too encountered innumerable of them during our walk.

 

  • Valmiki’s ashram was then known as Tapovan where Sita had taken refuge after being disowned by Rama. She also gave birth to her twins Luv & Kush at this place. Surprisingly, even today some of the locales still refer to the holy place as Tapovan and firmly believe that Gopiballavpur relates to Ramayana in many aspects.

 

A comparatively recent belief about Gopiballavpur says that it got its name from the deity Gopi Ballav (a form of Lord Krishna), established by Shyamananda Mahaprabhu during 1400 AD. Its earlier name was Kashipur, belonging to the Mayurbhanj kingdom. For years, the temple complex is managed by a Vaishnava Goswami family, headed by the Mahanta who renamed Rameshwar temple complex as ‘Gupta Vrindavan’, housing deities of Gopi Ballav, Radha Rani, Jagannath, Balaram, Subhadra and Lord Shiva. Of late, restoration work has been underway for some of the temples to preserve their archaeological significance.

 

 

 

Whatever be the historic or mythological truth related to this place, it did run a chill through our spine as we walked around the age-old temples of Gopiballavpur. Next weekend, you may also plan a visit here. But do keep in mind four key points:-

  • There are no places of accommodation nearby.
  • There are no restaurants other than couple of local sweet shops.
  • The area is very deserted and lies beside a dense forest on one side, and Subarnarekha River on the other.
  • It is advised to leave the place before 3pm as the road from Gopiballavpur till Jhargram is infamous even today.

 

Ratha Yatra, Jhulon, Gajon and Charok are some of the popular local festivals of Gopiballavpur and would be a better time to visit the place if you like to experience rural fairs and gatherings.

 

 

GLIDE AWAY YOUR WORRIES TO KAMSHET

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A city which never sleeps

Thousands of faces

Millions of vision

The city provides shelter to billions

Sight of rich and poor

A city that appreciates talent all over the world

No discrimination in religion and celebrates all festivals

The hub of opportunities ,the quintessential city of dreams

The city whose spirit is to fight back stand for each other and emerge as a winner after just about anything…”AAMCHI MUMBAI”.

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“UNPLANNED TRIPS ARE THE BEST ONES,

MORE THAN THE DESTINATION YOUR

JOURNEYS ARE MORE IMPORTANT”

Sunday’s are meant to laze around and spend quality family time ,so a few weeks back after having a leisure breakfast in bed I decided to rev up my car and hit the road . Before starting any road trip its advisable to check the car and tyres thoroughly and make sure you have your favourite playlist ready before you hit the road . Driving for me is therapeutic and a great stress buster when done on empty roads which is a near impossible to find in a city like Mumbai . So after packing my bag for an overnight stay grabbing all my must haves in a duffle I buckled up and hit the Mumbai Pune Expressway which is one of my most preferred route for a drive.

With no destination in mind and bored to death of going back again to Lonavala or Khandala I decided to go a bit further and explore the small hamlet of Kamshet which is paradise for adventure junkies and nature lovers alike.

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There are numerous ways to reach Kamshet but I chose to drive down via the expressway . Alternatively you can drive via the old Mumbai Pune highway which has lesser toll to be paid and also the solo choice for bikers as they are not allowed on the new highway .

Kamshet even has a railway station and one can reach here via train which runs between Mumbai and Pune route but there is only one passenger train which stops at Kamshet station and that too in the middle of the night at 2.30am . Most of the other trains would have a halt at Lonavala or Talegaon which are at a distance of 16 and 13 kms respectively ; you can hop on a local rickshaw or tuk tuk from the station and reach your destination . This is the cheapest option to reach as the train and rickshaw ride would cost around 250 bucks.

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After taking two intervals I reached Kamshet from Mumbai -Pune express highway which took 2hr 30min to arrive at my destination.It was 2pm in the afternoon there was nip in the air ,breezy and windy.It is advisable to avoid visit during monsoons as the winds are strong.Cool summers and winters are the best time to visit Kamshet. Waterfalls can be spotted here during monsoons.Beautiful place with lush green cultivation of land all around,clear sky,less pollution,mesmerizing view of lake and population of 1000 locals at maximum.Best time to visit the place is during winters in the month of December-February where the nights are chilly with a mercury drop of 13degrees Celsius and a maximum rise of 30degree Celsius.

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I wanted to have some masala tea since it was afternoon, experiencing breeze and sunlight at the sametime .What else you ask for a rare combination of weather.I Asked some locals who were working at concrete land with bricks.They guided me to go towards city which consisted barely few shops and chai tapris.I reached there after 15min and had my masala tea. Since I was totally new to this place with no google and no network I was totally dependent on the locals.

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Sipping tea I asked : “bhaiya yaha kya dekhne jaisa hy”

he replied:”lake aur paragliding,caves dekh sakte ho aap”

Kamshet located at an altitude of 2200ft above the sea level,is a major attraction for people interested in paragliding and other adventurous activities.There are 6 attractions in Kamshet :

1.BEDSA CAVES

2.BHAIRI CAVES

3.PARAGLIDING

4.KONDESHWAR TEMPLE

5.BHANDAR DONGAR

6.UKSAN LAKE

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PARAGLIDING,KAMSHET OVERVIEW

Kamshet is located at Sahyadris ranges in Maharashtra.There are few paragliding spots here including Shinde wadi hills,Kondeshwar cliff,Tower hill and Shelar.I took my car  to INDUS VALLEY as paragliding was the first thing that interests me.With much experienced gliding schools and trainers,Kamshet is that hub for paragliding where you can safely indulge in the sport and make it one of the most redefining experiences of your life.They have 4days course of 20,000rs at Indus valley, if you want to be a rider on your own.The school has great facilities to stay,home cooked food,run programs and mesmerizing view of lake.Its a paragliding school for beginners and those who want to learn the sport properly.This is the most popular group here which organizes excellent programs for paragliding.

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DARE you to experience most awaited adventure in your bucket list-One day Tandem Paragliding Flight at Kamshet. The best experience In my life and most memorabe one.The scenery was breathtaking as you fly in complete silence,and the world passes by under your feet.You feel on the top of the world gaining so much confidence while flying, feeling fresh,energetic and peace.A tandem flight is really a beautiful feeling which I cannot express in words..I was speechless..Feel the wind in your hair that the view offers you and sit back relax and enjoy the silence..feel yourself and breath deep..All you have to do is relax in your harness,while your pilot flies you around.

Joy ride will set you back by 3000rs -15min.

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After an amazing ride I reached Uksan lake which was my last thing to do since it was already about sunset time , The view is so calm and serene that it will definitely take your breath away . I just sat there on the meadows gazing into the clear blue waters and listening to the chirping of birds around . Beware of the stray dogs wandering in the area. They wont harm you but if you  act suspiciously you never know. I did bribe one of them with two packets of biscuits to allow me to sit there.

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Some beautiful bungalows were built near the lake .There are accomodations for travellers with every budget starting from 1000rs to 40,000rs per night.Places like Nirvana and Indus provides accomodation and paragliding activities too.Too many bungalows and hotels are available but make sure you do your bookings early as in weekends are the rooms are always full, or else you can book a hotel in Lonavala too which is nearby 16km away from Kamshet.

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A beautiful day comes to an end with most memorable experience and my decision to discover an offbeat place was totally  worth 2hr drive from mumbai.I decided to stay over for one night at Indus paragliding valley with impeccable view and had wonderful stay with different sets of people coming from different regions of India.We randomly started having discussions on different topics sharing our experience sitting near lake side view feeling cold without realizing it was 2am in morning  .. woke up the next morning feeling fresh and energetic and enjoyed a hearty breakfast of bread slices and tomato omelette along with a cup of freshly brewed lemongrass tea along with the majestic view of the lake.

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Goodbyes are always hard and this particular one was no exception .We exchanged pleasantries with the owners and others at the hotel before hitting back the road again and getting back to the mundane chores of the city life.

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THIS IS NOT THE END FOR ME ITS THE BEGINNING

TRAVELLING -IT LEAVES YOU SPEECHLESS,

       THEN TURNS YOU INTO A STORYTELLER”

– IBN BATTUTA.

 

Tomb of India’s First Chinese Forefather at Chinamantala

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee.

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

Chinamantala is a small village near Budge Budge, about 50 kilometres from Kolkata Airport via Diamond Harbour Road. There are no direct bus or train routes to reach the place, but can be easily accessed by private vehicle.

 

Today you will hardly find any Chinese families residing there, but the name of the place is still dedicated to them. Remnants of only two ancient Chinese settlements have survived the ravages of time – a traditional Chinese temple and the grave of India’s first Chinese forefather Tong Acheew. The silent hamlet gets back its life during the Chinese New Year week when plenty of Indian Chinese inhabitants visit the place, pay tribute to the great man, tune to the beats of ethnic drums and perform dragon dancing in typical Chinese carnival style.

 

Though the distance from Kolkata is very less, yet due to extreme conditions of Diamond Harbour Road and then Budge Budge Trunk Road, it took us almost two and half hours to reach the place. GPS guided quite well till Budge Budge but thereafter asking locales served as the easiest pathfinder.

 

Crossing Budge Budge BDO Office, we drove straight till Pujali (around 5 kilometres). Took a tea break at Shivtala which looked more like a local marketplace. We asked the directions for Chinamantala from the old Muslim tea vendor who guided us with confidence to our destination. He asked to take left from the next Y-junction popularly known as Boro Battala. From there, the Chinese temple was on right within a kilometre’s drive through the village road.

WAY TO CHINAMANTALA

We were very disappointed to find the temple closed after reaching there. The massive green painted entry porch seemed to have been built in recent times and appeared quite well maintained. There were some Chinese inscriptions on the marble plaque along with English engravings. The temple belongs to the God and Goddess of Earth and is maintained by Kolkata’s Gee Hing Church and Club.

THE CHINESE TEMPLE ENTRY PORCH.

Our watch showed, it was 12.30pm. Unfortunately, we could not locate a single person around to ask about the temple timings. Little hesitantly, we parked our car opposite to the main gate and peeped in through the grills. Nothing much could be seen except a green lawn and a red coloured insignificant construction at the right-hand corner of the ground.

PEEPING THROUGH THE GRILL GATE OF THE CHINESE TEMPLE.

There was a rustic shop just beside the temple, which too was closed. Highly disappointed, as we were about to leave the place, a mid-aged lady smiled at us. From her attire, she looked like a local villager. With lots of courage, we too smiled back. This created an immediate air of confidence on both the sides and sparked a conversation. She was a primary school teacher and by our luck came out to be a very learned lady. She took us back to the rich history of the place through her narrative.

 

1718 AD, a young courageous Chinese tea trader named Tong Acheew had landed at the shores of Bay of Bengal, near Budge Budge with the hope of conducting trade with English East India Company. It took him years of struggle to establish a trading relationship with the Company. During late 1770s, after being successful in persuading Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of British India, Tong Acheew was permitted to start the first Chinese owned sugar mill of the country. That opened doors to the influx of hordes of Chinese workers from the Hakka and Cantonese communities, who settled in the villages in and around the sugar mill.

 

Since the locality was just beside the mighty Hooghly River (an indigenous name of Ganga), the land was very fertile here which flickered another bizarre idea in the trader’s mind. Within a year, Tong Acheew took on lease a huge agricultural land from the Britishers for cultivating sugarcane, which in turn would serve the purpose of sugar supply for his mill.

 

To support the entire supply chain, there was huge demand of cheap labour. Soon, the workers’ families too were immigrated from China and the small village flourished to a full-grown Chinese community. The native hamlet was renamed to Acheewpur in his honour and the exact location of the sugar mill got its name changed to Chinamantala. With the passage of time, Acheewpur has become modified to Achipur, the name by which it is known today.

 

Thrilled by the golden past of the place, we also asked her about the history of this Chinese temple. She said, as popularly known amongst the locales, Tong Acheew was a religious man and deeply worshipped aboriginal tutelary Chinese divinities named Tudi-Gong (God & Goddess of Earth). During his first visit to Calcutta in 1718, he carried two small idols of these deities which he established in the form of a small shrine. Later, the sugar mill was constructed just beside it. Natives, majority of whom were Hindus & Muslims, when revolted against the institutionalization of foreign deities in their homeland, Tong Acheew renamed the deities with an Indianized appeal – Khoda and Khodi. He also exhibited extreme liberality by creating a temple for Lord Shiva beside the Chinese shrine. However, no Shivalinga was allowed to be held within the premises. With time, it came to be known as Chinese temple, unlike by the name of the deities housed inside. Even today, a single priest offers daily prayers to both the deities with equal esteem and belief, making it a one of its kind. Hardly in the world there would be a second instance of such generous religiosity.

 

From the lady’s emotional attachment with the place, it was clear that the temple does hold a very special corner in the hearts of all the villagers. She felt very happy to see our curiosity about Acheewpur and thus guided us to the shrines through a backside exit gate. That gate was mostly used by the priest and strictly restricted for visitors. Nevertheless, standing at the gate itself, we could see the temple woodworks, Chinese pillar calligraphy, the shrines and the offerings. The red coloured insignificant construction at the right-hand corner of the ground which we saw from the main entrance was actually the original temple shrine. The ceiling height was so low that we had to literally crawl inside. It was such an unusual experience indeed. Regrettably, photography was restricted inside.

BACKSIDE EXIT TEMPLE OF THE CHINESE GATE.

 

CHINESE TEMPLE HOUSING SHIVA TEMPLE IN SAME COMPOUND.

Upon asking about the tomb of Tong Acheew, she advised us to park our car near the temple and walk half a kilometre along the tapering muddy road towards the river. Then, giving a second’s pause, she herself offered to accompany us to the place as it would be difficult for us to locate it as outsiders. Such an open helping attitude from a native touched our heart with contentment.

MUDDY ROAD TOWARDS TONG ACHEEW’S TOMB.

For the next fifteen minutes, she kept narrating Tong Acheew’s life story and his sad demise. Within few years of the settlement, the sugar plantations and factory both were running with heavy returns. Even the Britishers were happy with the huge profits. But luck was not his side. Tong Acheew was fatally diagnosed with an ailment and he succumbed to death very fast. Soon after he passed away, the Britishers took control of his sugar mill and started cultivating indigo on the same land, ushering nightmare for the Chinese labourers. The poor workers started worshipping Tong Acheew as a divine self. They also constructed a grave in his memory just beside the Hooghly River with the hope of protection from the clutches of inhumane indigo planters of East India Company.

WAY TO GRAVE THROUGH THE BRICK KILNS

 

AN AFTERNOON WALK ALONG THE HOOGLY RIVER TOWARDS THE TOMB

Within a span of just two years, thousands of Chinese nationals who had settled along the banks of Budge Budge, started migrating towards the mainland of Calcutta in search of peaceful work environment. Most of them landed near Tiretta Bazar, now popularly known as China Town and Acheewpur looks deserted since then. On a different note, if we flip through the pages of history, Acheewpur marked the beginning of Chinese settlements in India.

 

After walking for a while, she pointed us to take a shorter route through a brick factory as it was about to dusk. As time sailed through 250 years, the Hooghly River changed its courses several times. Years ago, the original graveyard constructed by the Chinese residents got engulfed into the depths of the river. However, to commemorate the memory of Tong Acheew, a U-shaped red coloured grave has been newly constructed near the present-day Budge Budge Ferry Ghat and is often used as a Hindu cremation ground.

WAY TO GRAVE THROUGH BRICK KILNS

 

TONG ACHEEW’S GRAVE OVERLOOKING HOOGLY RIVER

 

NEWLY CONSTRUCTED U-SHAPED RED COLOURED TONG ACHEEW’S GRAVE

 

CHINESE INSCRIPTIONS ON THE TOMB.

The view of the setting sun on Hooghly River from the holy site was a mesmerizing treat to our tired eyes. We thanked the lady for her time and valuable insights about the rich past of Chinamantala. If we did not happen to come across her, our trip would have been certainly incomplete. With the Chinese New Year knocking the door this weekend, why don’t you plan a day trip to this awesome getaway?

SUNSET ON HOOGLY RIVER IN CHINAMANTALA

Footi Masjid – The Mosque With A Hole

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)

 

During the Christmas holidays, we planned a road trip to the historic city of Nawabs – royal Murshidabad, around 200 kilometres from Kolkata via NH34, beautifully located along the banks of Bhagirathi River (Ganga is traditionally known by this name here). However, the road conditions were extremely bad at some places taking us more than six hours to reach Lalbag, the heart of Murshidabad town. There are no luxury hotels at Murshidabad yet, but the warm hospitality of the local residents will gratify any tourist visiting the place.

 

Hazar Duari Palace of Murshidabad

 

Our stay was booked at Hotel Sagnik – probably the best lodging facility (budget hotel) located centrally in front of Panch Raha Bazar’s Netaji Market – adjacent to all the prominent visiting spots. Boarders will get everything required within two minutes walking distance from the hotel. The best feature of the hotel were its staffs. They were very cordial, though lacked in trained hospitality services and professionalism.

 

We were extremely exhausted by the time we reached our destination previous night. It was a tough drive indeed, not to be judged by the distance alone. Tonga rides are a very common tradition of Murshidabad and thus we preferred to leave our car at hotel and take a horse ride around the historic town. Every corner of it was speaking about the grandeur of its past. Be it the Hazar Duari Palace, Dakshin Darwaza, Qila Nizamat, Motijheel, Katra Mosque, Imambara, Prince’s Quarters, Jahan Kosha, Wasef Manzil, Nach Mahal, Top Khana, Jaan Ghar, Royal Horse and Elephant Stables, Nimak Haram Deorhi, Jafaraganj Cemetery, Siraj-ud-Daullah’s tomb at Khoshbag, Nawab School and innumerable other royal monuments spread across every nook of the lost capital.

 

Dakshin Darwaza

 

Katra Mosque

 

Motijheel Jama Masjid

 

Jahan Kosha Cannon

 

Wasef Manzil

 

Siraj-ud-Daullah’s tomb at Khoshbag

 

Of all the architectural wonders, the edifice which aroused highest interest in me was a century old incomplete mosque with a hole and a captivating story surrounding its past – the Footi Masjid. Any tourist visiting Murshidabad will tell you hundreds of legends about the major palaces and cemeteries, however, hardly anyone would tell you anything about this mysterious piece of incomplete art.

 

Footi Masjid As Seen From the Road

 

The brick moulded building was in complete ruins, overgrown by bushy jungles, when we took our first step inside. It is believed to be one of the most haunted corners of Murshidabad located at Kumarpur, about two and half kilometres to the east of Qila Nizamat. The mosque, if completed, would have been the largest one in the city being one hundred thirty-five feet long and thirty-eight feet broad massive structure. It was to be mounted by five domes – four at the corners and one in the middle. Plans were there for specially designed spiral staircases to the top of the cupolas at all four turrets which could be easily found from its entrance at the base. All the walls and stairs were constructed, only the ceiling of three domes remained left to be completed. However due to a series of ghostly incidents, the workmanship was left unfinished at a half-done state by the then Nawab.

 

 

 

Abandoned Entry Porch of Footi Masjid

 

Way to Prayer Hall of Footi Masjid

 

It was said, during 1740s, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan had started the construction of this mosque with five thousand workers. They had been working day and night for the timely completion of the structure. Suddenly one-day the young Nawab paid a surprise visit to the site to check the progress of the building. During his stopover, a master roll call was done by the site manager and an astonishing fact came out – from the first day onwards, there was a counting error for one extra labour whose wages were duly released every week, but no one knew him by his name. Upon such an enigmatic revelation, subsequently for over a month’s time it was being closely observed; but he did not turn up ever in reality. Nothing concrete could be inferred as such about the furtive presence of that unknown mason. Folklores started spreading notoriously about the mysterious labour and soon the workers boycotted the place.

 

Way to Spiral Staircase of Footi Masjid

 

To avoid further rumours, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan tried to spread a diluted message in the community saying that he had solemnly pledged to complete the construction overnight to compete with his grandfather Nawab Murshid Quli Khan who had built the famous Katra Masjid. Since he could not win the bet, it was left at its state. Three out of five tomb ceilings were left incomplete which appear like holes at a glance.

 

Incomplete tomb ceilings which look like holes

 

Inner view of Mosque with Hole – Footi Masjid

 

Nevertheless, the real story was never unveiled. People initially believed the adage but soon they started experiencing eerie incidents at the construction site. The erection of the mosque was thus permanently withheld since then, with hardly any footfalls in a radius of two kilometres around it for centuries. Due to its partial creation, it earned the uncanny name with time – Footi Masjid (meaning mosque with a hole).

 

View of Footi Masjid from inside

 

Natives still do not enter the Footi Masjid as they believe that since no Namaz had been ever prayed at the mosque, it is surrounded by ill spirits. Also, it is not advisable for tourists to enter inside the building as due to scanty footfalls for years it has now become a cobra’s den. If you still cannot resist yourself from entering the abandoned mosque, then do take a few more steps up a dilapidated spiral staircase to climb to the top of the tomb turret. The view from rooftop is wonderful. Caution – Dare only if you can fight with the venomous friends.

 

 

 

Channapatna – The Wooden Toy Capital of India

A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee

Connect with her on Facebook @: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee

 

It was a summer Sunday. Bored of sitting lazily at home, we decided to drive to a 200-year-old rural toy-making handicraft industry of Karnataka, around 65 kilometers south of Bangalore along the Mysore Road. Located in the Rama Nagara district, Channapatna is known for its indigenous wooden toys for centuries.

 

There is also a very noteworthy ancient temple nearby – Sri Aprameya Swamy (or Navaneetha Krishna) temple at Doddamallur. The significance of the place is that it is perhaps the only temple in southern India where Lord Sri Krishna is worshiped in the form of a crawling baby with a lump of butter in hand.

 

It was going to be a day trip of entirely different flavour this time. 7.30 in the morning. We zipped our backpack for the day with some light snacks, couple of mineral water bottles and a digicam to shoot our journey. We decided to take the exit to Mysore Road at the outskirts of the state capital to avoid city traffic.

 

Mysore Road – Way to Channapatna in Ram Nagara district of Karnataka

 

Within hardly half an hour we reached Kumbalgoduthe first prominent halt on the Bangalore-Mysore state highway. Since the driving distance was not significant, we took a quick smoking break, changed hands and started anew.

 

After driving for another 12 odd kilometers, we reached a very chaotic place called Bidadi with increasing number of road traffic and pedestrians around. It seemed as though we were approaching a village fair ground. From highest, we immediately geared down our car and started looking for a safe way out through the mob. All of a sudden, a young lumbering fellow came in front of our car with a wooden club in his hand – startled, we braked immediately. Initially thought he must be a local traffic controller or so. As we intended to slide down our front windows, he directed us to take left onto a huge muddy ground with numerous cars already parked informally. Highly astonished, we just followed his hand directions and found a suitable corner slot to park our car. Once we jumped off the car in utter curiosity, we saw hundreds of people were running around – most of them appeared more like tourists than traffic violators. It did take us few minutes to understand what had actually happened.

 

Thatte Idli shops at Bidadi

 

There was an array of rustic food joints in front of us and all the name plates read “Bidadi Special Thatte Idli”. We were at the Idli Capital of India – Bidadi. Oh! never ever imagined it to be such a happening place though. Just like Bengal’s Shaktigarh stretch is famous for fried sweets (langcha), Bidadi also holds a great importance to the natives for their special form of idlis called Thatte Idli. They are much bigger in size and softer in taste – that’s what we knew from our bookish knowledge, yet to be validated today.

 

We entered one of the bigger shops and waited in a long queue to just place our order. After about a twenty minutes’ wait, we got our coupons. Another fifteen minutes went in placing the order at the counter. Prices were mostly reasonable. In a while, a little boy served us plates of steaming Thatte Idli with filter coffee. Looking at the size of the idlis, we were left dumbfounded – almost triple the size of normal idlis and the taste had such a heavenly tenderness! It seemed to have coriander and mint leaves mixed in the batter, enhancing the taste to newer heights. With no choice of instant coffee or leaf tea in the list of hot beverages, we had to order South Indian filter coffee only. Honestly, the raw taste of coffee powder did not go well with the idlis. Nevertheless, we just had it more as a habit to include hot drinks in our daily breakfast.

 

After about an hour’s halt we resumed our original drive to Channapatna. The next 20 kilometers went in a whiff with almost no speed breakers to break us off in between. On way we crossed the rocky terrains of Rama Nagara – famous for Ramesh Sippy’s all-time superhit movie ‘Sholay’. The movie was shot here for more than two months. ‘Ramgarh’ village of the movie was inspired from the original name of the place. The small hillock visible from the highway was portrayed as legendary villain Gabbar’s den. Even today, legends say there are instances of dacoit attacks on tourists and villagers after sunset.

 

Gabbar’s Den – Sets of Sholay film at Rama Nagara

 

In another 15 kilometers we reached the toy city of Channapatna – a big welcome gate greeted us to the historic town. Soon after we crossed the gate, innumerable toy shops overwhelmed us on both the sides of the road. Some of them were so colorful that it engrossed immediate attention of even adults like us.

 

Wooden Toy Shops of Channapatna

 

We stopped at one of the shops which had a relatively open space for parking our car. Initial thirty minutes just went in scanning their enormous stock of wooden toys. Seeing our involvement with the exquisite craftsmanship, an old lady came out from the shop’s cash counter and explained us how do they prepare such wonderfully carved toys.

 

Variety of Toys Available at the Shops of Channapatna

 

There is a very special kind of aboriginal wood called ‘Ivory wood’ which is traditionally being used by them to make the toys. After procuring the raw logs, they season them under the sun for over a month, cut into pieces of different shapes as per requirements, paint with natural dyes and then lacquer it using special polishing techniques and finally dry them again under blazing sun. Drying is very essential as even a drop of humidity could be enough to grow microbes and termites inside.

 

However, nowadays with the commercialization of their business, the artisans have started using other varieties of wood like cedar, pine, teak, rubber etc. as well which are less prone to humidity. But one thing they did not compromise – even today they strictly use natural vegetable dyes for painting the toys so that they are safe for use by children of all ages. We really appreciated their concern for young customers and went on to buy a heap of toys, dolls, show pieces, wind chimes, hand exercisers, acupressure items, car seat decors and other household items of our choice. Someone rightly said Channapatna should be tagged as the ‘Wooden Toy Capital of India’.

 

Ivory Wood Made Toys of Channapatna

 

The origin of Channapatna’s wooden works dates back to the time of Tipu Sultan who had invited Persian skilled workers to train the local artisans on wood crafting. Later Bavas Miyan heavily aided the local workers in improving the overall quality of their products by educating them on a state-of-the art Japanese technology. As per a recent news, this 200-year-old traditional Indian art form has been brought under the protection of Geographical Indication by World Trade Organization and during U.S. President Barrack Obama’s last visit to India, he was presented a pack of Channapatna made wooden toys as a token of traditional Indian crafts.

 

Array of Wooden Handicraft Items of Channapatna

 

It was close to twelve noon. Spending splendid moments in the toy shops we headed towards Sri Aprameya Swamy (or Navaneetha Krishna) temple at Doddamallur. The temple arch is located just at a stone throwing distance of 3 kilometers from Channapatna bus stop. Entering through the arch for another 100 meters was the parking lot of the temple with the main building at a walking distance.

 

Way to Sri Aprameya Swami Temple

 

The overall architecture resembles that of any common south Indian temple but the main deity was the most eye-catching of all aspects. Also there was a gigantic Garuda statue right at the entrance. I had never seen such an idol before. It was amazing. Many religious Carnatic tunes have been composed in gratitude of the shrine’s eternity. From the architecture of temple’s black stone walls, it is likely to be a prehistoric one. Local communities faithfully believe that Lord Rama had spent several months of his exile inside this temple. It also houses smaller shrines of other deities outside the main temple.

 

Temple Complex

 

Temple Architecture

 

Ancient Black Stone Walls Inside the Temple

 

It was Arati (main prayer) time. The gorgeously decorated deity was being offered musical prayers in an ethnic style. We waited till it was over. A life changing moment must say. As we were walking out, an old lady politely requested us to stay back for some more time, directing us to take seats on the temple floor near the Garuda statue, as the holy prasadam was about to be served soon.

 

Prasadam Distribution in front of Garuda Statue

 

It made our day absolutely special. We were so lucky to have reached the temple during the prasadam distribution time. The freshly served holy food filled our mind, soul and stomach with an everlasting impact.

 

We also visited the souvenir shops in the temple complex selling wooden dolls, temple deity idols made of ivory wood, packaged snacks, local sweets etc. Enjoying an hour in the temple premises, by quarter past one in the afternoon, we slowly started walking back to the parking ground commencing our return drive.