Chandratal

chandrataal

The enigmatic Chandratal, the origin of Chandra river that ultimately forms the Indus river, the majestic glaciers melting into ice, the greenish blue colour of the lake all these thoughts come to my mind as I try to recollect the adventurous trek to  the Chandratal. The thought of the trek with UV burning the uncovered skin, the sound of the wind like aeroplanes flying overhead, the dried vegetation, the colourful stones  and the icy cold wind caressing the cheek still send goosebumps on my skin. Yes, it has been one year and still I can feel the excitement, the loneliness, the howling wind, the beautiful surrounding and the lack of oxygen making you breath harder drying your mouth.

Even the most daring drivers are afraid to take you there and I do not blame them. That we could finish the journey safely was due to our driver Prakah Thakur. We may blame him for many a things but not the least his driving skills. He was a cautious driver, and believe me, all his caution were required on that day. It was 7th October 2016. We woke up early before five in the morning, and believe me it was difficult. Hotel Spiti was the most comfortable place at Kaza and at 3800 m in the Spiti valley this comfort was necessary to keep one fresh. The less oxygen makes sleeping difficult, especially for people from the plains, like us. We started from the hotel at six in the morning. I think I caught a glimpse of a red mountain fox before we crossed the Spiti river. We wanted to have a cup of tea as we crossed Rangrik, but it turned out that we were too early. The road through the Spiti plains was good as we crossed Khurik. We brought out some of the packed breakfast we were carrying as food was essential to fight the cold. The sun was out and we were enjoying the morning adventure.

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Soon we crossed a bridge and then crossed a village called Hull.

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There were some snow clad mountains to the left of the road and the Spiti river was flowing at a distance on the right. The Himachal Roadways bus from Losar to Kaza was the only vehicle we saw until we reached Losar. We reached Losar in just after eight and stopped for a plate of paratha and hot tea. There we met other tourists who encouraged us for the trip to Chandratal. As we started from Losar the road security cautioned us against the treacherous road conditions which have damaged many a vehicles on the road. As we were on a new Innova, and our driver Prakash ji being a cautious driver, we thought this will not be a problem for us.cows

As we left the grazing cattle of Losar we started our assent for the Kunzum la. We reached Kunzum Pass (4590 m) by 9:30, 78 km from Kaza. It was all surrounded by snow clad peaks.

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kunzumla

After a brief photo-session we  started for Chandratal.

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The Chandratal or Chandertal Lake situated at a height of 4290 m can be reached by treking from Kunzum pass by covering 8 km. However we chose a motorable road which is 2 km from Chandratal.

After leaving Kunzum la our driver Prakash Thakur  took a route to reach Batal instead of Chandratal at a diversion at approximately 8 km from Kunzum La. This was in spite of the fact we had repeatedly told him that we wanted to go to Chandratal. As we were very keenly looking at the road, we asked where did the other road lead to, to which he answered to Chandratal. We said then stop and take that road. He reluctantly backtracked. After returning to the diversion to Chandratal we saw that the road was very narrow. So if we saw a car coming from the other way we had to stop and wait sometime as much as three four minutes, at slightly wider places. The poor road condition and this process of stopping to make way for other vehicles made the progress very slow. We reached the (official) car parking around eleven o clock. We started our slow walking (at this elevation, geographical location and also the time of the year it is advisable  to walk slowly for lack of oxygen). The gusts of wind made sounds like a moving plane, and then died down as suddenly as it had started. The green grass of the spring had turned yellow. It appeared we were the only souls in this part of the planet.

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After trekking for about two kilometers, we stopped for sometime. We shared an apple that a Kinnauri lady had gifted to my son near Kamru fort at Sangla. Then we saw a car coming from the  other side. We stopped the car and asked how far are we from Chandratal. The driver said we need to walk another two to three km to to reach our destination. Seeing that cars ply on this route, we requested him to send our driver along this way giving him our car number. We thought we will wait until he arrives.

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Suddenly I felt a burning sensation on my hand. I soon realized it was the UV burning my skin. I asked my son and wife to cover themselves as much as possible. There was no shade and time was passing slowly since the car has gone carrying our SOS message. Another car came from Chandratal and we requested this car also to send our driver. I started walking downhill to see whether our car was coming and then I saw our car. The car was tiring its way up and I instantly knew that due to lack of oxygen the car engine was having trouble at this altitude.

The car stopped at a place about 1 km from Chandratal. We covered this distance in 15 minutes and were overwhelmed at the first site of the lake.

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glacier

To the left of this lake is a glacier which is melting into a stream that is joining the Chandra river and to the right is this beautiful greenish blue lake. The backdrop to this lake is a mountain that is so colourful that I could not stop clicking my camera focused on it.

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While I was busy clicking the panorama, my wife and son made a cairn with stones as a post of our success. We were glued to this place for some time and the strong icy winds reminded us that we had a long journey ahead of us and so we took our steps towards Batal.

The journey to Batal and beyond is a story in itself and demands a separate post. But one thing has been a puzzle to me. The green stones of Chandratal were so attractive my son picked up a few pieces. By the time we reached Batal, the stones had given up its green colour and appeared ordinary grey. We initially thought it was due to the UV radiation which made the ordinary rocks appear grey, but it was not so. When we returned I illuminated the stones with lot of UV light in the lab but it appeared ordinary. Any idea?

 

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An itsy-bitsy tour of Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

The megaliths of Pankhri Barwadih, near Barkagaon, were probably erected in its position, somewhere between 2000 and 1500 BC. On the days of vernal equinox and autumn equinox, the Sun is observed to rise from the V in between these megalithic stones. Obviously the people living in these parts, 3500 years ago had developed some observatory over here.
After his discovery  in 2000, Subhashis Das published these in his books Sacred Stone of Indian Civilisation and Unknown Civilisation of Prehistoric India. Das was fascinated to find that during the two equinoxes on March 20 and September 22, when day and night are equal in length, the sun seemed to spring out of the twin megaliths at Pankri Barwadih. He started calling it the Equinox site.
Sacred Sites International Foundation, the US, — an organization that envisages preservation of natural and built sacred places — has identified Punkri Barwadih as the second most endangered heritage site in the world. For, the ancient menhirs present at the site have writings all over it. The following are excerpts from one of its articles by Bulu Imam:

“The Hazaribagh region in the state of Jharkhand has evidence of a very rich Palaeolithic as well as Neolithic heritage, and over two dozen rock shelters have been brought to light in the last decade which have rich microlithic beds in association with Paleolithic and Neolithic habitation sites. Comparative studies of the folklore of this ancient and culturally rich region has demonstrated that it was a part of the pre-vedic cultural complex which had one of its manifestations in the Indus valley. A series a studies focusing on megaliths, folklore, and rock art, including a series of documentary films, have shown that the Hazaribagh region and its environs was probably a part of the foundations of Indian civilizations. It is perhaps one of the oldest continuing cultural manifestations to be found in the world. The valley of the Damodar, especially in its upper watershed represents a site of Early man, tribal villages, priceless rock art and archaeological sites, sacred groves and one of the most important series of megalithic sites in India all of which are relevant only in situ, and are unmovable.”

Of course, we went to Urwan Tourist Complex, Koderma as tourist. But as we searched for tourist places in and around our base we came upon a lot of information on the rich cultural heritage of the place. Our original intention to visit some of these places were disturbed by the intense heat of early summer. We had to cut short our plans and restricted ourselves to only Pankhri Barwadih.
We started at around seven in the morning and stopping briefly at the Padma Palace before proceeding to Rajderva, Hazaribagh WLS. The Palace was probably built by the Ramgarh rulers more than 150 years ago. The Main gate, Rani Talao and the Hawa Mahal are all very beautiful.IMG_1750 copy
The Hawa Mahal or Kashmir Palace
Rani Talao
The Rani Talao
The second place in our itinerary was the Hazaribagh Wild Life Sanctuary. The Hazaribagh WLS has two forests the Rajderva side and the Salparni side. We decided to visit the Rajderva side. We were received by a Sambar Deer. There were numerous birds in the forest. We also had a glimpse of a spotted deer.
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A Kite
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The Rajderva Lake
IMG_1811Lake View from Watch Tower
And then we left the WLS and proceeded towards Hazaribagh town. After having lunch we proceeded toward Pankhri Barwadih. There were no signboards to welcome us. Only the GPS of our mobile guided us to this place. IMG_1868
We reached there at about half past one. The place was quite hot. After a brief photo session we decided to move back to Urwan. The ISCO cave paintings eluded us this time. We will be back soon.

 

The Himachal Tribal Circuit

The Beginning

When we planned a trip to Kashmir and purchased the air and train tickets on 11th June 2016 we expected to complete the tour smoothly. On 9th July 2016 we saw in the newspaper that Burhan Wani has been killed at Kokernag, Kashmir valley. We never anticipated that the fallout of this incident will have on our tour. On 10th July 2016 I visited the Travel and Tourism fair to talk with different hotel owners and tour operators of the valley. And then all hell broke loose. We lost hope of visiting the Kashmir valley.

When we started planning the alternate locations we found the tribal circuit of the Himachal  Pradesh as a wonderful adventurous tourist destination. My cousin brother and childhood pal Nantu(da) helped me to finalize this location. However, it was too many places to be covered within a span of 10 days. But we agreed to explore this destination, and what an adventure it turned out to be!

Outline

We planned the following tour plan. Although it was tough, we completed it. Here is an outline for those who would like to plan a few days in the lofty mountain desert.

Day 1: 30th September 2016 (Friday) Started at 8:00 from Baguiati, Reached NSC Bose Kolkata airport and boarded AI – 21. It turned out to be Dreamliner 787. Reached IGI Delhi at around 12:15 pm. Fare Rs.12,570/- for three of us. The request for car to Shilma via Wiwigo was accepted and the driver met us at the airport parking. It was Rs, 4781/- for dropping us at Kiarighat (plus airport parking charge of Rs. 180). We took our lunch after Panipath. We had to change cars at Chandigarh wait for 20 minutes and then resumed our journey at quarter to seven. I paid the full amount to Mr. Singh. The new driver (Mr. Rajesh Mobile no:9459200896) was a better person and after a few stop over reached Kiarighat HPTDC at 10.00 pm. It was quite late and the gates were locked. With the help of other boarders we called the staff who welcomed us. We had a quick dinner which the friendly staff of HPTDC arranged for us even at the late hours. My son had a rough day as the food served on board did not suite him. He vomited a number of times during the day and felt sick. After dinner he quickly went to sleep.

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Prakash Thakur (left) with a Kiarighat guest house staff

Day 2: 1st October 2016 (Saturday) Shri Prakash Thakur (Contact:9418555276/9805612470) met us at 8:30 in the morning with his Innova. He was our driver for the rest of the tour. Kiarighat is a nice dreamy village with the beautiful Apple cart Inn, the HPTDC guest house. We had a good breakfast comprising of Alu-parathas.

We left Kiarighat at 9:15 and started for Sarahan. After moving through the crowded streets of Shimla we had lunch at a Hotel near Kufri. We stopped briefly at Rampur Palace, had tea and reached Sarahan at 5.00pm. We had booked our stay at the Bhimakali Mata Mandir Guest House. At Rs.500.00 per day it was the best deal one can ask for in the area. We visited the temple in the evening. Dinner was available at the temple premises @Rs.70.00 per head.

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The Rampur Palace

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The Bhimakali Temple

Day 3: 2nd October 2016 (Sunday) After a quick breakfast we started for the bird sanctuary at Sarahan.We had to turn down the offer for Bhandara (Prasad offering for all people) at temple premises as we would be late in reaching Chitkul otherwise. After a quick visit to the Bird sanctuary (which opened just a day before) we came down from Sarahan and reached Sangla after 2pm. However, we could not find any descent restaurant there and had to satisfy ourselves with Tibetan momos and chow. Even the Bisleri bottle we bought smelt of kerosene. However as we crossed Sangla the valley appeared with all its beauty. When we reached Chitkul we could easily locate our hotel Alpine View, just across the only telephone tower of Chitkul. But there was nobody to welcome us. The hotel was locked and nobody appeared when I shouted. My cellphone (vodafone) towers had vanished. So our driver Prakashji helped us to make a phone call to the numbers on the booking slip. (I had booked this hotel over internet and had earlier called them for confirmation). Now the voice over phone asked us to come to some place which Prakashji understood and drove accordingly. After a few minutes of driving we entered the Chitkul village. Again after calling over Prakashji’s BSNL phone the hotel fellow appeared. Another person led us back to the earlier stopover point and showed us into our rooms. A light drizzle has started and we took shelter in the hotel room. The room was very basic and we were the only boarders. After a while the most beautiful rainbow appeared and we stepped out for visit to the China boarder. On our way back we went down to the Baspa river and the visited the Chitkul Kali Mandir. We returned back long after sunset and waited patiently for the dinner.

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The beautiful Chitkul

Day 4: 3rd October 2016 (Monday) I again had a poor nights sleep probably because of poor oxygen. I went out in the morning and enjoyed the beauty of Chitkul. We started at 0830 am and after a hearty breakfast we started our journey to Kalpa. On the way we stopped at Sangla. We climbed uphill to Kamru Fort.

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The Kamru Fort

There a beautiful lady gifted two apples to us. On way to Kalpa we stopped at Recong Peo for lunch. After seeing the standing buddha at Recong peo we reached Sun and snow cottage of HPTDC. This was the best accommodation we enjoyed  in the entire tour. The view from the balcony was great.

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Day 5: 4th October 2016 (Tuesday) We started at 830 am in the morning and after traveling through Pangi, Spello and Pooh reached Nako. We had a good lunch comprising of daal and rice. We visited the Nako Lake and started our onward journey.IMG_0575

The Nako Lake

We crossed the dreaded Mulling Nullah and took diversion after Sumdo towards Gue Village. We visited the Gue mummy. We stopped at Hurling for afternoon tea. We reached Tabo just after sunset. We stayed at Siddarth Hotel with warm hospitality of Mr Dharmendra.

Day 6: 5th October 2016 (Wednesday) After breakfast we visited the famous Tabo Mud-Monastery. The paintings and carvings in the monastery were very beautiful. We started for Dhankar Monastery. Reaching the new monastery we made ourselves comfortable with a nice rice and daal lunch. Then we went to visit the old Dhankar Monastery.

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The Dhankar Monastery

After visiting Dhankar we skipped the Dhankar lake and proceeded towards Kaza. We skipped the Pin Valley National Park also and reached Kaza in the afternoon. We took rest for the oxygen level at The Spiti, HPTDC was better for us.

Day 7: 6th October 2016 (Thursday) We went to Kibber Monastery, Key Monastery and Langza.

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The Key Monastery

Langza is a wonderful village that was once buried under the Tethys Ocean. When the mighty Himalayas were formed this place was pushed up and is evident from the numerous fossils available in this village. A beautiful mountain peak is visible from this village is called Chau Chau Kang Nilda. A story was told by a local priest who showed us the monastery of Langza.

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The Langza valley Medicine Buddha and Chau Chau Kang Nilda

The story of Chau Chau Kang Nilda the peak behind Langza village.
Chau Chau means princess, or Rani Maa, Kang is a snow-capped mountain,
Ni or Nima means sun and Da or Dawa means moon.
So this is the princess mountain on which the sun & moon shine.
This story starts years ago. Langza village gets its water from this mountain’s stream so every summer someone was sent to check the stream and remove any obstacles. They also had to watch over the stream through the season.
One day Landup, a lazy man, was sent to check the stream. Landup enjoyed playing his flute. So off he went to the base of the mountain. After he had checked the stream he sat down by it to play his lute and was soon lost in its music.
After finishing his piece he opened his eyes to find a beautiful woman standing before him. She stared at him transfixed and slowly said. ‘I love your music would you play for me again.’
Landup couldn’t say no to such an ethereal beauty so he started to play again.
The beauty told him after he finished that she was the Chau Chau Kang Nilda fairy. She would like him to come often and play. Landup agreed and left at the end of the day. From then on he kept trying to get the job to check the stream. Over the season they fell in love and continued to see each other during the summers that followed.
It was during the winter a few years later that Landup was lazing about after drinking. His wife saw this and reminded him of some work he had to do. Drunken Landup got upset and shouted back that he rather be with the Chau Chau Kang Nilda fairy who didn’t ask him to work. To this his wife asked him to stop dreaming but by then Landup had passed out.
In the morning Landup woke up covered in boils & pain. He then remembered what had happened the night before & also remembered that the fairy had asked him never to mention her.
Now he was really worried, the boils marred his handsomeness & he tried everything through winter to be rid of them. But nothing worked.
As soon as summer came & he was no longer house bound he ran to the stream. He played his lute, called out, cried & even screamed but the fairy didn’t come. He never saw her again. And every time he went near the mountain the weather turned nasty & he had to turn back.
Even today when a man tries climbing up Chau Chau Kang Nilda the weather turns nasty. It is said the fairy is still nursing her broken heart and will not let any man come near her.

We returned to The Spiti and took a late lunch. We again settled down preparing for the longest day the day eight.

Day 8: 7th October 2016 (Friday) Started our journey at 6 am in the morning. Stopped at Losar for breakfast. Crossed Kunzum la at 10 am.

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Top of the World: Kanzum La

The drive to Chandra Taal and the trek was very adventurous.

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The treck to Chandrataal

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We returned from Chandrataal and reached Batal to have the lunch with rice and musoor daal. We left Batal after 230 pm. The road from Batal to Chatru was very perilous. We reached Grampu at 630pm, crossed Rohtang La at 700 pm  and reached Manali at 830 pm.

Day 9: 8th October 2016 (Saturday) We started from Manali after visiting Hadimba Temple, reached Nicholas Roerich Art Gallery at Naggar. After having our lunch we visited the different art galleries. We made a brief stop at Kullu for shopping. We stopped at hotel — when we reached Mandi.

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Roerich Art Gallery at Naggar

Day 10:9th October 2016 (Sunday) We started from Mandi at 9:30 and reached Chandiarh at 5:30 in the evening. Checked in at Hotel White in a OYO room. Here we said goodbye to Prakash Thakur. It was a uneventful evening we spent in a cosy company. My son recovered from the fever that started at Mandi. And we looked at the photos we took along the tour. After an nice dinner we went to sleep happy to complete the tour successfully.

Day 11: 10th October 2016 (Monday) Chandigarh to New Delhi by  Chandigarh Shatabdi Express. Boarded Sealdah bound Duronto Express.

Day 12:11th October 2016 (Tuesday) Reached home after 2 hours of scheduled time of 12 noon, due to late running of train.

 

Prospects of missing the train

Everytime I plan to visit a new place, the excitement gets over me. Then there comes a feeling what if everything does not go well? There are hits and misses in everyone’s life. But some incidents trouble us more than the others. We learn from our mistakes, and our next planning improve from the past failures. Fear of missing trains must have troubled everyone who travels regularly.

The first time I missed a train was when I was travelling from Howrah to New Delhi by Poorva Express. It was 1st July 2006. The train was scheduled to leave at 9:25 am and I thought I had reached well in time when I checked my watch to see it was only 8:20 am. I enquired about the train to a TTE, who was standing in the platform. It is a common practice in Kolkata and Howrah to ask Samaritan Railway Staff about trains who willingly tells us every detail of the train, time of departure, platform number, etc. To my utter surprise the person replied oh no, you have missed the train. I showed him the ticket, it is supposed to leave at 9:25 am, I said. Don’t you watch TV, today is 1st July, time table has changed, the train left at 8:05 am.

A flashbulb memory is a highly detailed, exceptionally vivid ‘snapshot’ of the moment and circumstances in which a piece of surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) news was heard. That’s how Wikipedia defines it. But the sinking feeling in your stomach, the sudden rush of adrenalin, or amygdala response can never be described. After the initial shock, I felt happy. It meant in spite of the financial  loss, I can spend an extra few hours with my wife. So missing trains can make you happy!

Well, the last time I faced it, it did not felt so good. We planned a short trip to Darjelling. We planned to start on Wednesday night, reach Darjelling on Thursday afternoon, spent two days and return from Darjelling on Saturday afternoon, and reach home on Sunday. My junior colleague Sampurna made a detailed plan of the tour and my wife booked the hotels, and we were ready for the short tour. The weather forecast also seemed to improve. We had our early dinner and left for the station on OLA cab.

We had one hour time in hand. I went to railway enquiry to ask about the departure of the train. I was shocked to learn that the train was delayed by more than eight hours. Now we had to return home even if we plan to take the morning train the following day. So again a cab to take us back from Howrah station to Baguiati. My son started crying, and it was my shortsighted plan that has cancelled the tour. Even if we did take the morning train, we would reach Siliguri in the evening. That meant another night stay at Siliguri. So we would be left with two days and a night in Darjelling. That would be a very short tour, we thought and consequently we cancelled the tour.

We learn from mistakes and I promised that henceforth, I will not buy tickets for special trains  or trains which runs weekly, because you can never predict, how late they can be, especially while planning short tours. Ultimately we planned a tour to Mandarmani, on the same weekend which I will post in my next post.

In search of the Himalayan Salamander

The earliest salamanders were known from their fossil which existed on the face of earth in the Middle Jurassic age at present Kyrgyzstan[1]. Himalayan Salamanders are one of the rarest and oldest amphibian that exists  from the Jurassic age in the hills of Darjeeling. They were considered extinct from this planet before they were found living in 1964 at Jorepokhari, Darjeeling. When we went to visit Namthing Pokhri in 2013, the Jorepokhri had lost its oldest inhabitant due to tourism promotion initiative of some foolish people[2].

It was the intense summer heat that prompted us to go for a short vacation in North Bengal. We planned to stay three days at Mongpong a little hamlet close to the Coronation Bridge, also known as the Sevoke Bridge.  This was to be followed by a one day trip to Kalimpong. 

The WBFDC cottage at Mongpong is a nice little nook to stay for a day or two.  The cottage we stayed at Mongpong: P1020400  Our stay was made even more comfortable by three nice people who took care of our worldly needs, providing us with steaming food and drinks whenever we requested.

References:

  1. Marjanovic, D.; Laurin, M. (2014). “An updated paleontological timetree of lissamphibians, with comments on the anatomy of Jurassic crown-group salamanders (Urodela)”. Historical Biology. doi:10.1080/08912963.2013.797972
  2. http://darjeelingtimes.com/archive/magazine-edition/eco-darjeeling/272-himalayan-salamander-facing-extinction-in-darjeeling-hills.html

Enchanting Bengal – The Beautiful Sundarbans

The people we see around us mostly belong to the privileged class of the society. I myself belong to this class also. We have food when we are hungry, clean water when we are thirsty, clothes to suit to our taste, access to hygienic environment and a roof above our head while going to sleep. We have quick access to the medical help to take care of our ailments. We secure the future by investing our wealth. We send our children to have the best education. And then we do not see (or pretend not to see) those people who survive without the basic amenities of life.

A few months back I had the opportunity to visit the Sundarbans – the largest mangrove forest in the world and home to the famous Bengal Tiger. It was a two day one night safari, organised by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. The forest and its bio-diversity, the suspense and wild beauty of the place is definitely worth a visit. Yet in spite of the awe inspiring romance, the misery of the poor inhabitants of the place would definitely touch upon your soul.

The last week of May in 2009 saw a huge tropical cyclone called Aila hit the Sundarban. The samaritans had come and gone with their share of publicity. But the damage that was caused is still visible in the region in 2014. The catastrophic disaster left one million people homeless. The misery of the destitute people affected by such a calamity was insurmountable. The broken embankments, the desolated agricultural fields are a tell tale picture of natural devastation. Yet the local people, braving the tigers and snakes, still go to the forest to collect honey; the fishermen go out to net the fishes.

While traveling through the estuary, one can see pieces of red cloths tied to the trees in the forest. We thought it probably signified dangerous areas. However, our guide explained that wherever the tiger kills a human being, the local people tie a fabric to the tree as a danger signal to future visitors. The number of people killed by tigers each year is astonishing. But people still go to these areas in search of their daily livelihood.

One feels pity even for these tigers. The tigers swim across rivers in search of food. They go hungry for days together. Once a tiger was killed from the venom of a snake; it had killed and consumed a poisonous snake. One can make out the extreme dearth of food for the tigers from this incident. Some photos in the end for you dear reader for taking trouble of going through with this mundane blog.

Bonbibi, Dhakhkhinray, Kalu Khan and Gazi Shahib idols in temple.
Bonbibi, Dhakhkhinray, Kalu Khan and Gazi Shahib idols in temple.
Wild Bore at a distance.
Wild Bore at a distance
Spotted deers grazing from Sudhanyakhali watch tower
Spotted deers grazing from Sudhanyakhali watch tower
A fine boat M.V.Chitrarekha, our home for 24 hours
A fine boat M.V.Chitrarekha, our home for 24 hours
The forbidden land of the tiger reserve
The forbidden land of the tiger reserve
Capturing a coconut from the river...
Capturing a coconut from the river…
...and enjoying it in the afternoon sun
…and enjoying it in the afternoon sun
The setting sun at Sajnekhali
The setting sun at Sajnekhali
Waiting for breakfast
Waiting for breakfast
The colours of life
The colours of life
The mysterious mangrove forest
The mysterious mangrove forest
Fishing in the wilderness
Fishing in the wilderness

In the lands of Terracotta

Most of us like traveling. In spite of the problems that we may encounter, we like going places. Memories of the cosy warmth, the comfort, the laziness of our homes, vanishes the moment we pick our bags and move out to explore the world around us. The hustle bustle of the railway station, the crowded trains vanishes from our mind once the smell of morning freshness, the sight of passing villages and trees, the feel of the cold winds caressing our cheeks is felt. The excitement is all out there. No matter whatever difficulties come our ways the peregrinator’s delight is an wonderful experience. Our recent weekend visit to a small village in Bankura, West Bangal was such a memorable experience.

We heard the name SAMUDRA BANDH (embankment creating a large lake) when we went to Bankura and Bishnupur about four years ago. The name caught our imagination, and we thought some day we will go to this place. I came across the name of Joypur village while reading a blog post of Amitabha Gupta, and I was fascinated by the blog :Brick Temple Towns of Bankura – Part IV : Joypur & Gokulnagar. After making inquiry and bookings at Banalata Lodge, we ventured out one morning and boarded the Aranyak Express from Shalimar Station. The overcast condition and a depression over Bay of Bengal had robbed Kolkata of whatever tiny winter we experience in December-January and the chilly bite of the gushing wind was missing. The train route from Shalimar to Bishnupur is presently via Kharagpur and takes three hours to complete. However a new route via Tarakeshwar and Arambagh is presently under construction and once completed will make travel in this route much faster.

To Reach Banalata from Bishnupur station, one has to hire a car. We preferred a  auto rickshaw instead. It took us about 40 minutes, and after the initial hiccups through busy narrow lanes of Bishnupur, the journey was quite enjoyable through the road cutting through the forest. The driver narrated real life tales of elephants who lived in the forests. We reached Banalata at 12 noon, within six hours of leaving our home.

Banalata is a nice homely warm farm house cum lodge for tourists. As soon as we entered its campus we felt relaxed. I had requested a room on the top floor and was granted the same. The room offered nice views of Joypur forest on one side and the open farm fields on the other. However the best attraction for my seven year old son was the garden swing.

Enjoying Garden Swing with Grandpa
Malhar enjoying Garden Swing with Dadu

I was happy shooting the flowers. The extended breakfast we had on the train delayed our sense of hunger consequently delaying our lunch. After a sumptuous lunch we strolled around in the farmlands with the emus, the turkeys, the cows and rabbits.

Morning rose at Banalata
Morning rose at Banalata
Farm Broccoli
Farm Broccoli
Nice place to stay
Nice place to stay

With the sun on our back, we discovered a wonderful winter afternoon in the Joypur village. First we went in search of SamudraBandh. The reservoir occupies an area of 25,000 square meters but is mostly dried up now. After a short recess we continued our walk into the Joypur village to visit two old temples with some interesting terracotta motifs.

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Stucco work depicting British Soldier on the walls of house of Dutta family

Joypur is an old village in Bankura. There are quite a few old temples on the way to the Dutta babu’s and Dey babu’s temples. But the first feel of the ancient art work is the Old House of the Dutta’s. A few steps later we entered the Navaratna Temple of the Dutta family. The temple had intricate terracotta designs on its walls.

Navaratna Temple of Dutta family
Navaratna Temple of Dutta family
Another intricate piece of art
Another intricate piece of art

The temple has three entrance with terracotta adorning top of all three.

Ten headed Ravana fighting Rama
Ten headed Ravana fighting Rama

The history of Chandi Temple of Dutta family was told by Mrs. Annapurna Dey. She had come to visit her ancestral home from in laws house. The Dutta’s were Subarna Banik of this ancient village. She showed us the terracotta sculpture on the temple walls Bhishma lying over Bed of arrows and other sculptures based on stories of Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata.

The Temple of Dutta Family
The Temple of Dutta Family

After visiting the temple of Ma Chandi of Dutta family we visited the Lord Damodar’s Temple of Dey Family.

Lord Damodar's Navaratna Temple of Dey Family, Joypur
Lord Damodar’s Navaratna Temple of Dey Family, Joypur

After a long walk from Banalata we were tired and took rested for a while at the temple premises.

Malhar and Didu listening to Dadu's song
Malhar and Didu listening to Dadu’s song

There were similarities and differences between the two temples, but the artwork of terracotta were excellent.

Mother and Child and Date of temple completion
Mother and Child and Date of temple completion
Terracotta over arched gateway
Terracotta over arched gateway

After this it was time to go back to our lodge. We tried to make a short cut back but ended up walking an even longer way back. By the time we reached back it was dark. The only remarkable incident in the evening was that I ate seven vegetable pakoras. It was a nice weekend visit in the land of the Terracottas.