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.

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

KASHMIR TRAVELOGUE-FIND YOURSELF IN THE LOST PARADISE….

When I first googled Kashmir, the video that came up had this question as its title,

“Why are India and Pakistan fighting over Kashmir?”

I could only guess and not fully know the answers to this until I visited the place myself.

Kashmir is every bit of the heaven, people have always claimed it to be. Every panorama etched in front of my eyes was a poem in itself and every frame was a painting which seemed too surreal to be true. However, there’s so much more to this place than the magical blue skies, sun-kissed snow peaks and breathtaking valleys. This place has stories that you can only read through your hearts, a history that you can only unfold with your eyes and a mysterious charm which you can only feel with your senses.

Since It was impossible to sum it all up in one article, I will be writing about my trip in three parts, starting from it’s chaotic but mesmerizing capital – Srinagar.

THE CITY OF LAKES, GARDENS AND MOUNTAINS.

First of all, let me tell you that I’m a Mumbaikar. So traveling to a cold destination is always a good idea for us. What made it even more exciting is that the flight journey to Srinagar offered us a magnificent and up-close view of the Himalayan range from my window. Yes, I was literally in the hills! White, gigantic mountains that I had only ever seen in movies or geographic channels were suddenly so close to me. Kashmir, you had me right there!

A four-hour long journey later, we landed in Srinagar, the summer capital or I would like to say, the heart of Kashmir. We were greeted with a pleasantly cool atmosphere coupled with landscapes of endless greenery. Since we had planned the trip with the help of a travel agency, it turned out to be hassle-free. Our driver, who was Kashmiri, was already waiting for us outside the airport. He definitely knew the city in and out and kept telling us about the landmarks as we passed them on our way.

TIP: Doing some research before you plan your trip gives you an idea of the place. You can also search for smaller travel agencies online, call them and get to know their packages and itinerary like I did. I found them to be much more reliable and affordable than the bigger, known ones.

Srinagar has its own charm. It’s a beautiful and well-maintained city with colourful houses, buzzing markets and people with the warmest smiles! While the city’s centre boasts of a happening neighbourhood around the lake, drawing tourists into its contemporary life, the outskirts dotted with historical Mughal Gardens placed beautifully within the mountains bring back the old world charm, making this side of the city perfect for romantic getaways.
Getting back to our arrival, we drove towards the interiors of the city and soon reached the shore of the famous Dal Lake. Got to know that our first stay was on a Houseboat. And how do you reach one? By a Kashmiri boat.

Boating is one thing but rowing on a Shikara? It’s one hell of an amazing ride. Too bad it ended just as quickly because it didn’t take much time to reach our houseboat named ‘The Ambassador’. How fancy! Just like its name, this masterpiece was both a royal house and an elegant boat.

From the moment we stepped on it, I and my brother wanted to explore every corner of it. We just couldn’t wrap our minds around what we were experiencing. We were tired but couldn’t sleep. Such was the joy of the idea of living on that fascinating houseboat. Every element here added to its grandeur, be it the dazzling chandeliers, the vintage furniture or the luxurious carpets.

“The Britishers were fond of all things fine”,

said the owner of the houseboat who was happy to have us as his guest.

DAL LAKE – THE CALM AMIDST THE CHAOS.After spending some time on our houseboat, we went on a proper Shikara ride as we couldn’t wait to explore Dal Lake and it’s beauty. The breeze was turning cold and the sun was setting, leaving behind a golden tinge in the atmosphere.

If I were to define this evening in one word, it would be peaceful. As we started moving away from the houseboats towards the middle of the Lake, the evening kept getting darker and the views, better. Tracing a dimly lit city and faded mountains, the lake’s reflection game was indeed a specimen of nature’s work of art. For all I remember, this wasn’t just a ride, it was a mood, a beautiful state of mind.

Since we couldn’t finish the entire lake tour that evening, we came back again the next morning to visit the floating market and other attractions in and around the lake. The morning views didn’t disappoint as well. Apart from the colourful scenes of Shikaras and city banks, this is what I was able to capture.

The floating market was full of shops that introduced us to the craftsmanship of Kashmiri artisans. From Sarees with delicate embroidery to cozy winter coats, these shops had them all. The best part of this market (apart from it being floating) is that there are a lot of vendors and varieties of designs to choose from. Couldn’t find the colour you want? The next shop might have it. Couldn’t find something unique to gift someone? The next lane might be full of treasures.

OF FEISTY FOOD AND GORGEOUS GARDENS

Srinagar is home to one of the tastiest cuisine of India – The fiery Kashmiri Cuisine. Here, we got to relish meat like never before. While on our expedition to the gardens of Kashmir, we stopped at a local restaurant to get our hands on Kashmir’s traditional dishes like Wazwan and Goshtaba. Unfortunately, I was so hungry that clicking pictures completely slipped my mind. However, the memory is still very fresh and I can clearly remember how delighted each one of us was at the end of that grand lunch.

Jaw drop and hands down!
One cannot help but marvel at the wonderful creations that are the Mughal Gardens of Kashmir. It’s crazy how big and beautiful they truly are. I had never seen such precisely planned and intelligently constructed gardens in my entire life. How could they not be? They are the living examples of Persian style architecture brought by the Mughal Dynasty in India during their reign.

We started off with the beautiful Nishat Bagh, a state-of-the-art garden which resides on the Eastern Bank of Dal Lake. Once inside, expect to see a series of fountains surrounded by rows of Chinar trees. When you climb up to the higher levels, you start to realise that this garden is made up of terraces, each overlooking a beautiful view of the Dal Lake. When you reach the top, you’ll also notice that the lowest terrace is in fact connected to the lake. Genius!
Next up, we visited a similar (yet unique in its own way) garden called Chashma Shahi which is built around a natural spring. Water from the spring falls and forms the first level, which then continues to pour into a pool with fountains at the centre, forming the second level. We went to the source of the spring and drank the cold, clear water. To our surprise, it was really pure. Just FYI, even Indira Gandhi had visited this fountain to drink the spring water because it’s considered to be full of medicinal properties.

Surprises, I found out had just begun for me. The garden I visited after this i.e. the Shalimar Bagh was undoubtedly the finest of all. Built by Jahangir, this one exudes royalty on every level. As you keep going higher, it feels like walking into a Mughal Darbar made up of multiple Diwans. That’s because this garden has some architectural gems built at the edge of every terrace, setting it apart in terms of design. Huge pavilions that create mesmerizing shadows in the fountain water were the highlight of this place, at least for me. This isn’t just another garden, it’s a fine example of how the Mughals mastered the art if merging architecture with nature and built an experience out of it.

Writing the first part of this article has definitely brought back some fond memories of my trip. However, my journey and my quest to find out more about Kashmir has just begun. So stay tuned as we’re about to travel deeper in the next chapters.

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.

 

 

GLIDING ALONG THE GOLDEN COAST.

Every trip should not be about reaching some pre-fixed destinations.Instead trips are made of journeys through an anxious traveller’s eyes.The mind of a true traveller seeks every byte of information from the surroundings and nature.Sometimes some trips should be unplanned with enough emotions of zeal because our nature is always a “Treasure Island”.So a traveller should go out without any limits of exploration ,into the road that fetches them the ultimate pleasure of enlightenment.Road trips are most ideal for a passionate traveller as it is benevolent in bestowing eager tourists with surprises that a traveller expects from nature.

I have always been an eager traveller and due to my past experiences in travelling I am always keen to do as many road trips as possible and traverse the versatile geography of my country.In that regard I always dreamt of flying above an ocean guarded by mountains ,where the roaring waves of the sea splashes on the foothills of the mountains.The dream inspired me to do a coastal road trip along the Western Ghats in India ,because that is where the state highway of Maharashtra intersects the slanting mountains that fall into the Arabian Sea.

The journey to discover the golden coastal highway inspired me to go on an unplanned road trip on the second week of February .It was unplanned since I did not book any hotel along the western coastal highway nor did I fix any destinations to travel.So I set off from Panvel in Navi Mumbai with a portrait of mountains and sea in my mind.

Alibaug was the first beach that I encountered when I started my western coastal road trip to Goa from Mumbai.A famous weekend destination from the financial hub,it offers adventure sports and a muddy trail to the Alibaug fort.The beach is crowdy with a large trail of shallow sands guiding the tourists to the fort.The landscape was normal like other sea beaches except that one can walk deep into the sea to visit the fort when the water retreats from the shore.It was a good introduction for me to start my coastal route to the most famous tourist destination in India as my journey proceeded towards less explored sea beaches.

Empty vast Revdanda beach with a rocky shore.

A half an hour drive from the famous Alibaug beach took me to this serene lonely beach which is known as Revdanda beach.We were proceeding towards the Karshid beach when suddenly from nowhere we reached a vast stretch of rocky shore with a magnificent clear sky enhancing the panoramic sea view.The Western ghats were visible by this time ,surrounding on the other side with a series of mountains of yellow dry grasslands.As we proceeded towards the south the bridges over the backwaters mesmerised me with the backdrop of standing and moving waters in a single frame.Sometimes I could see a small settlement of dilapidated port and ships making an equally different vision with huge constructing machines on the beach.I was stunned and anxious like a humble amateur child ,so I stopped on every bridge till I could capture the finest moments of landscape in my camera.The changing scenery kept me preoccupied as the road meandered along the Ghats and showed me a distant picture of an empty beach  full of coconut trees and a sea that was reflecting the colours of sky.

Since the beach was devoid of any crowd,tourists could get a wide angle view of the three horizons meeting in its most purest form.The state highway gave me the feeling of a parallel coastal road within a couple of hours in my journey to Goa.I became more anxious to travel further and explore the beautiful untouched Konkan.

A dilapidated port under construction.

Bride over the backwaters on the state highway.

Mumbai to Goa road trip through the Maharashtra state state highway unleashes itself after Karshid beach.The Konkan highway meanders all along the vicinity of the Arabian Sea coastline with the Western Ghats and its valleys adding to the pristine beauty.

This road trip travels in between the valleys and mountains with a panoramic view of the backwaters and the crystal blue sea.The beaches are clean with very less crowd that adds to a clear serene view of the landscape.What more does a traveller needs for a memorable road trip when the nature is providing them with mountains and sea together in a single view.True respect for all the labours who have devoted themselves in building such a scenic highway.This again proves that if we believe in our nation’s geography,it proves to be a continent covering the versatile geography and terrain.

Janjira Beach

My anxious moments of visiting a landscape of mountains and sea together came to reality when I arrived few kms after Rajapuri in Janjira beach.The place was windy but the ambience was peaceful for a travel freak to capture the stunning views of the Janjira beach and the fort.

After a hectic road trip and encountering numerous clean beaches of Western Maharashtra, I arrived at MTDC Harihareshwar in the evening.I was totally unaware of the trail to the beach in the evening but I could hear the roaring sound of the waves from the MTDC campus.I woke up early  in the morning in the hope of finding my way to the beach  to capture the sunrise. Delightfully I was impartially awarded with an awesome view of the sunrise.

MTDC Harihareshwar.

The beach was reflecting hues of gold and the water looked like waves of the blue sky.The beach was Rocky with black sands that surprised me even more.The locals told me about another clean beach in Harihareshwar but after arriving into this splendid beach I was sure enough to take my colourful memories in this black sand beach.People go to Greece to watch the black sands in Perissa but most of us are unaware of this sparkling beach of the MTDC Harihareshwar resort.

I felt fortunate enough to get an accommodation on a weekend in this beautiful campus made by Maharashtra tourism.Undoubtedly this beach ranks first on my list of the numerous  beaches in the Konkan trip.

After a surreal sunrise from MTDC Harihareshwar we took a ferry boat service from  Bagmandale to catch the National highway to Ganapatipule. Ferry rides are frequent to avail the shortest route along the coastal state highway in Maharashtra .On our way to Ratnagiri the first ferry we took was in Agardanda to Dighi and the second ferry was from Bagmandale to Bankot. The ferry also takes the car on to other side of the sea for Rs 150.The cars have to park  themselves in the reverse gear into the ferry so that when the ferry arrives on the other side ,the cars can directly face the road.Ferry services are available from 9 o clock in the morning till 10 o clock at night.

Agardande ferry station.

Availing the ferry clearly saves half an hour drive around the coastal highway.People may drive back along the backwaters on to the state highway but that will be a much longer route.After Bankot avail the NH66 highway for a faster route to Ganapatipule.

NH66 Highway.

Bagmandale ferry station provides a scenic landscape with a mangrove forest in the backwaters of the Arabian sea.That attracts a tourist for capturing numerous memories until the ferry arrives to board the passengers.

Mangrove trees and fishing boats in Bagmandale ferry station.

Bagmandale ferry station.

I was surprised to see such a decent waiting hall in Agardande ferry station that proves the efforts put down by the government for public welfare.Avail the two ferry rides before Bankot to enjoy a new adventure in the coastal highway drive to Goa. The ferry ride will show you a different geography of the Konkan along with the meandering roads in the Western Ghats.

The view of the landscape as the highway curved away from the sea and moved towards the mountains.

The famous NH66 highway to Goa was covered in 6 hours as we reached Ganapatipule by the sunset to watch the majestic last ray’s of the sun in the Arrey ware beach road to Ratnagiri. Instead of going directly to the beach we came across a panoramic sea  view of the beach from a cliff .The view was more than expected as the late afternoon sun rays camouflaged the crystal clear water of the sea with the blue sky.

The western ghats were bordering the road on the left hand side while on the other side there were sharp reflections of the Arabian sea.The beach was devoid of any heavy crowd and sometimes there were glimpses of a lonely fishermen walking over the yellow sands.It is said that Ganapatipule beach resembles that of a crystal clear long stretches of beaches like those in the Maldives. Well I havn’t been to the Maldives but I am sure enough that this beach is one of the cleanest beach in Maharashtra with pastel colours of the sea.

The view provided a visual treat to the tourist.The reflective colours of nature along with the top view from the cliff helped us in capturing the scenic Konkan terrain as it merged with the Arabian sea.Undoubtedly the trip was fetching me numerous coastal landscapes with the mountains that I was dreaming of long before I started my journey.

After taking my best snaps of the surrounding landscape from the cliff ,I proceeded my journey towards Ratnagiri , the mango town of India.The elevated coastal road was like that in Rajapuri with Western Ghats cliffs on the left side of the road, bordering the clear blue water of the Arabian sea.

As I drove down the curved path of the highway I saw a sign board mentioning Aare Waare beach road.Prior to my trip I have heard a lot about this beach nestling in the foothills of the Western Ghats situated just on the Ganapatipule and Ratnagiri highway.In few minutes I reached down to the plains of the sea shore and arrived at the beach.The beach was less populated with white sands glowing due to the last rays of the sunlight.I did not waste anytime in capturing the beautiful sunset over the sea.

The landscape was new to me as I had never seen a beach at the foothill of a mountain.The Western Ghats and the sea were merging together in the same place.The beach gave me numerous moments of photography as I tried to sketch the kaleidoscopic moments with my shutter and lens.

As I commenced my journey, eventually I came across a bridge over the backwaters of the sea.On my right side the shallow sands were reflecting hues of sunset while on the left side the calm blue water of the backwater reflected images of the mangrove trees.I decided to stay in this heavenly place till sunset to capture this illustrious moments of photography in this trip.

The backwater near Aare ware beach.

Our second day Konkan journey concluded with a sunset hue in Ratnasagar beach resort.Spectrum of clouds lingered in the sky creating rolling waves of hues ,glowing along the vast sky.The distant hill was dark and looked like a giant whale with numerous neon lights of the city, establishing the modern civilization. The magical view of the sky seemed to me like an illusion but the hot sands and the cool land breeze assured me of the vibrant sky on the beach.

The resort offers excellent cottages on the Bhatye beach with free breakfast for Rs. 3500.With respect to the location, I would say that it is quite cheap in Ratnagiri, the mango town of India.I didn’t prebook any accommodation in my Konkan trip except that in Goa.For Harihareshwar ,MTDC provided me with an excellent black beach while Ratnasagar proved to be equally mesmerising with a vast private clean beach.

My sudden encounter with this beach was due to this magical view of the sky creating astronomical colours in the evening.After my eyes caught the spectrum in the sky,I rushed out to this lonely beach with my camera and discovered this marvelous property on the beach.One can locate this property on the main highway towards  Goa from Ratnagiri. The property is covered with plenty of coconut trees and well decorated gardens of flowers.I felt fortunate enough to find such beautiful locations without any prior booking.

Ratnasagar Beach Resort.

A road trip always brings us stress but at the same time it fetches us with such unaccounted stunning landscapes and new ventures that stays in our memories forever.

Bhatye Beach just infront of the resort.

With pristine memories of Ratnagiri I proceeded towards the beach capital of India with more zeal to explore the beaches and forts ,further along the Golden coast of India.I hope the readers have found a divine picture of Maharashtra and the towering Western ghats making its way to some clean beaches in our country.Keeping in mind the anxious moments of my journey towards Goa,I am concluding the coastal dream in Ratnagiri to give way to a different geography of the Konkan in my next blog.

 

FORTS ON THE BEACHES IN KONKAN.

Road trips have always enchanted me with new destinations and geography of our incredible country.The versatile scenery with different forms of landforms always keeps me anxious to continue further and explore my beautiful country.After a marvelous road trip till Ratnagiri I was eager now to set off in discovering the history associated with the Konkan .I wanted to visit the forts along the pictorial beaches.

After bidding goodbye to the elegant Ratnasagar beach resort I commenced my third day of the road trip towards Goa in the late morning hours.With lots of spectographs through my lens I prepared myself for more adventures towards Vijaydurg Fort.I imagined this day trip as visiting the floating forts before reaching the vibrant beaches of Goa .It was only after a few kms drive from our resort, when suddenly my eyes caught a glimpse of Casuarina forest and eucalyptus trees on a lonely beach.Immediately I stopped the car and rushed with my camera towards this unknown beach.

Waves were splashing on the sea shore which was filled with shrubs of mangrove leaves all along the entire stretch of the beach.On the two longitudinal ends of the beach, hills were standing high creating a rocky periphery around the foothills on the shore.To my surprise what I could see was a vast space of empty sand drenched by the crystal clear blue colours of the Arabian sea and fenced by a forest and two hills on its other sides.The beach was devoid of a single person which was the most fascinating experience for me to start off my journey towards forts and beaches.As a traveller I was overjoyed to see myself as the only tourist in the vast stretch of this scenic beach.The beach had every geographical feature of my entire trip till that date.Yellow clean sands, mangrove shrubs, forest and hills painted the shore as the waves were being dispersed due to cosmological efects from the clear blue sky, onto the shore.


As my car traversed the coastal villages further towards south , we took a diversion from the state highway towards Vijaydurg fort.I had never seen a seaside fort before ,so my mind was stimulated to know the history about this historical 12th century fort.Amidst the cool sea breeze with the paintily fishermen boats floating in the Arabian Creek, I took help of a native villager to get some useful facts about the fort.Although later I found out that the required information was already present in Wikipedia.

Vijaydurg fort is the oldest fort in Sindhudurg ,constructed by Raja Bhoje 2, which was later extended by Shivaji. This is the only fort other than Torna where Shivaji hoisted the saffron flag.The fort got its name after Shivaji won it from Adil Shah in the Hindu Solar month called “Vijay“(Victory).The original name of the fort was Gheria. In pre-Independance era the fort was known as the “Eastern Gibralter” since the fort was unconquerable.The large enemy vessels couldn’t enter the shallow water of the creek while Maratha ships would be anchored there, always ready for the onslaught.According to some data there also lies an under water tunnel which if proven can also serve as an important part in the tourist and historical significance.Though most of the structures inside the fort are in ruins now but the remains still serve as classic examples of the Maratha culture.

During the British rule it was also believed that English astronomer Normal Lockyer observed helium for the first time on the surface of the sun from the observatory which was set up in the fort.Thus , every year on 18th August , since 2009 the world helium day is celebrated in the fort.The fort is now under the protection of Archaelogical Survey of India and they have undertaken the restoration work.

We commenced our journey further towards the sea food delicacy town in the konkan known as Malvan.As the road deviated from the shore line the journey again meandered through the plateaus of the Western Ghats.The vast highlands with strectes of yellow long grasses mesmerised me to imagine like a free  bird.The roads were empty ,intersecting the arid landscape along the centre to lead us towards the sea shore.

Malvan is a famous tourist destination in the konkan coast that boasts of some picturesque clean beaches , offering kaleidoscopic sunsets to the tourists. Chivla beach is one such pristine clean beach, which is a must visit to experience a romantic stroll by the seaside .It took me 2.5 hours to reach Malvan from Vijaydurg fort.On the way the Konkan coast kept me engaged with numerous beaches over the backwaters of the Arabian sea and plenty of plantations in the countryside.When the road was not along the seashore , it was intersecting huge plantations of mango and coconut trees.

After arriving in Malvan we decided to have our lunch since the coastal town is famous for seafood in the konkan.I took help of one of the locals from the area and he adviced me to visit Chivala beach.It was already late afternoon and since I wanted to spend more time in visiting Sindhudurg fort, I decided to appease myself with only one beach in Malvan.

Like all the Konkan beaches it offers some breathtaking view of the weekend coastal landscape with absolutely clean sand by the seashore.The beach had huge lines of coconut plantations on its right side .The right side of the beach was rocky while the left side had vast stretches of clean unpolluted sands that enhances romantic walk by the seashore .

Tourists can also try out scuba diving activities here ,which is organised mainly by the local fishermen.In the era of trawllers and motorboats people can still see numerous fishermen boats on this beach with which the fishermen catch fish manually in the early morning or evening.The fishermen still follow traditional methods in catching fish manually through fish nets in this beach.The huge contour of coconut trees, the pristine yellow sands and the delectable Malvani sea food were relevant enough to give me the jovial feeling of my presence in the konkan coast.

When I was planning my golden coastal route in konkan,I was ever so anxious to visit the Sindhudurg Fort in Malvan. Sindhudurg Fort was built by the great Maratha warrior Shivaji in the 17 th century on an island away from the Malvan shore.Tourists need to avail a motorboat ride for 10 minutes in order to reach the island. Sindhudurg Fort has a significant place in the history of the Maratha warriors as it was build to stop the advancement of the foreign forces and the Siddhis of Janjira. The fort is now a protected monument where some inhabitants still live.

The landscape around the fort consists of a rocky shore occupied by numerous sea gulls.The geography around the shore consists of numerous shapes of rocks creating rhythmic ripples,as the waves of The Arabian sea splashes on the surface of the rocks.A distant beach with numerous coconut trees is visible from the fort that adds to the delight of a photographer.

Learn history and enjoy the pristine blue Arabian sea with the splendid geography around by availing an adventurous bumpy ride in a long Trawler boat to this enigmatic fort of Maharashtra.

Last but not the least before the sunset and entering the vibrant city of Goa, I went to Tarkarli beach,my last pit stop in this coastal route. Tarkarli beach like any other Konkan beach is well guarded by a picturesque wall of casuarina and coconut trees along the length of the beach.The locals here charge Rs 50 for parking cars near the beach.The sand is clean and yellow and the beach is very less crowded

Perhaps Tarkarli offers a secluded vacation in the MTDC resort on the beach.As we move towards Goa the beaches become crowded with numerous shacks and resorts.The sunset on this beach has relevantly concluded the golden coastal trip with the golden hues of the magical refractions in the sky.Similar to the many konkan beaches a lonely standing wooden fishermen boat can be seen on this beach waiting for the high tides to sail it away.Capturing numerous photos of this scenic beach I commenced my journey with a fresh jovial feeling to spend my valentine vacation in Goa.