Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Cooling your heels in Kolaghat


Being bogged down in lock down can be agonizing. With the lock down phase giving way to unlock phases, the tired soul searches for an opportunity to escape from the four walls of frustration. The balancing between the possibility of an infection from the virus that razes the globe and venturing into a spot that gives succor to the weary mind is like walking on a razor’s edge. The options were varied and opinions multiple. Finally, Sonar Bangla Kolaghat stood out till the end for a day-out in the lap of nature with all the creature comfort needed for an opulent outing.

From Kolkata the resort is hardly a two hours drive and is within 60 KM from Vidyasagar Setu. The drive up to Kolaghat on NH6 is satisfying but one has to be cautious. Just before embarking the Kolaghat bridge, there is an inconspicuous diversion which can be missed by a casual driver. The miss can cost you time and some extra fuel as the crossings are far off. The diversion ends up on a bumpy track and the all the hotel heading cars dance their ways keeping the sprawling Roopnarayan to their right. The road is possibly upon a dyke, elevated up to a few meters above the banks to protect the village for the high tides of the monsoon or the topical cyclones.

The hotel sits on the northern bank of the river in the village of Orphooly, at Bagnan, Howrah. It actually overlooks Kolaghat on the opposite bank. It has 110 rooms all sumptuously furnished and each facing the river. Between the rooms’ balconies and the river are lush green lawns, a full-size swimming pool and a strand along the bank. The strand is a walkers’ delight. One can also enjoy cycling in and around the property on cycles provided by the hotel. Kids can enjoy swings or trampoline placed on the lawn.  For the youngsters there are indoor games like Table Tennis and carom. Otherwise they can try their hand in badminton. Of course there are regular outdoor games like football and cricket to boot.  Had there been a gym, the sports facilities would have been more or less complete.

There are two halls of 6000 and 12000 square feet for banquet or conference. The restaurant is well decorated but without a bar. Food is at standard and served with deference by the waiters. The halls and the restaurant face the river and one can enjoy the expanse from every corners.  Breakfast is complementary but not for the ones taking a Day-out. For them the hotel offers 20% discount and 4 guests can  book a single double bedded room. The check in usually is at 1200 hrs but can be preponed on request by a couple of hours for the day out guests, if rooms are available.

A temple of lord Shiva stands inside the gate for those with a spiritual bend of mind. But here in this land of luxury, the lord of renunciation is a tad bit lonely. Only a few boarders pay their reverence by the customary pranam  while passing by. Even I did the same. Somewhere from His holy abode the Lord must have pardoned my hasty salute. 

At Sonar Bangla one can see a confluence of diverse cultures. The nouveau riche and the elegant urbanite walk cheek by jowl and enjoy the ambiance in their own way. While the suave aristocrats stroll the strand, exuberant youths or even flabby upstarts dive in the pool oblivious of their raucous they sometimes create much to the consternation of the aged. But all these are well accepted as each individual has the liberty to enjoy their vacation in their own way. While returning one can visit the famous novelist, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's house at Deulti, 5 Kms away.

Hotel Sonar Bangla, Kolaghat can be a whiff of fresh air from the jostle of the city. Its luxurious ambiance doesn’t dig a hole in your pocket. It’s a perfect location for a short getaway for the city dwellers who doesn’t cringe to spend a few extra bucks to escape from the clamour of the city’s din.

 For details visit :


Nawpala, Orphooly, Bagnan, Dist. Howrah Pin-711303, West Bengal, India


Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Dam good escape - Maithon

Hemmed by hills, Maithon dam is a place to loll in the winter sun, enjoy the boating facilities and click the variety of migratory birds during this period. The birds throng in the submerged island that sneak a look up the surface. Though it looks like an densely vegetated island, this is actually a submerged hill which acts as a temporary shelter to Common coots, Teals, Wagtails, Pintails etc, and can keep the bird watchers busy all day. The gushing water from the lock gates on the opposite side can be an awe inspiring sight. If you can acquire permission from the PRO of DVC, you can visit the hydel power plant below the dam. It produces 60 mega watt of electricity. 

Hemmed by hills

Maithon got its name from Maithan, or the abode of the goddess Kalyaneswari. It lies in the border of West Bengal and Jharkhand, upon the Barakar river, a tributary of Damodar. The Barakar River flowed through the Damodar valley, devastated its catchment area in monsoon while relegated it to barren lands in dry summer. Finally it was harnessed by the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) in 1957- 12 km before its confluence with Damodar- by a 44m high 4700m long dam which has a water surface of 65 sq km. The presence of the goddess gave the dam its name- Maithon.

Those having a religious bent of mind can visit the famous Kalyaneswari temple, rebuilt by the Panchakot raj 500 years ago. The original was built by one Maharaj Hari Gupt. The deity is a variety of Goddess Kali, worshipped as Shakti. It is said that body parts of goddess Parvati fell here. The devotees are mostly childless women who come to this place to pray for fertility. Hundreds tie knot to fulfill their wishes. Hundreds come here to redeem their pledge after achieving their coveted aspirations.

Finally Maithon dam at a full moon night is amazing

The main place of stay is Maithon tourist lodge (WBTDC, 3/2, BBD Bag, Kolkata), CPRO of DVC for Mazumder Lodge 033-2355-0647, Forest Department Bunglow ( 6A, Raja Subodh Mullic square, Kolkata, ph-), Neptune Holdays-033-40229591).  

Maithon lies in between Asansol (26km) and Dhandad (52 km). Numerous express trains like Black Diamond Exp, Coal Field Exp, Shatabdi Exp are available in this main route. One can hire a car to get to Maithon from each end. Alternately one can alight at Chittaranjan railway station which is closer to the dam. Volvo and AC busses are available upto Asansol. The 230 Km journey (from Kolkata to Maithon) will take 4 hours through the Durgapur Express way by car.
  pics : Dilip Banerji

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Haflong - The Switzerland of East

Tired of the sweltering, concrete induced heat and the noise, humdrum and squalor of the Indian urban living? Take up the backpack and escape to Haflong, the headquarter town of Dima Hasao district of Assam and the only hill station (1683 feet above sea level) of the state.
One cannot go to Haflong directly by train. First he has to come to Lamding from Guwahati and take the Hill Queen express which will chug its way on meter gauge tracks amid the hilly terrain. The five hour journey through the woods, crossing the streams over century old iron bridges built in the British era, or negotiating the numerous tunnels en route, is a revelation of Mother Nature itself. Dotted in between are the asbestos thatched, bamboo fenced hutments masquerading as stations along the rail route.

We decamped at Hoflong station at lunch time.The distant Cachar hills far off is as if painted in dark blue on the sky blue canvas, dashed by puffy white clouds. The cool breeze from the north pumped pure oxygen in our lungs and extracted every bit of tiredness that adhered in the alveoli.
Next day we headed for the Haflong Lake, the bird watchers’ delight in winter. Arguably the biggest of the natural lakes in Assam, this place is hemmed by trees and has a cantilever bridge to boast of. Boating has started and you can enjoy this maiden initiative. You can take an auto which will take about 200 bucks and drop you to Jatinga hills on the Borai range. The hill is famous for the suicide of the birds, which in the evenings of moonless, misty, monsoon, months fly down to any source of fire on the ground to sacrifice en masse. Ironically, locals feast on this bizarre aviary phenomenon. “You can return seeing the pristine beauty of the hills hemmed by the river or stay there with the Nature Lover Club, where they will let you stay in their tents amid nature” said Ms Silvya, the Tourist Information Officer, Haflong. You can trek to Hempeopet peak for sunrise, the next morning.

If you have enough time left drop at Maibong, 5o kms away, on the way to Lamding and chill out on the banks of the Mahur River. On her eastern banks lie the relics of the centuries old Kachari Kingdom. We visited the Maibong waterfalls and the monolithic Ramchandi temple before heading for to the sultry streets of urban chaos.

Navigator: From Guwahati by train or car via Lamding ( Total -350 km), From Silchar Airport-107 Km (by train or car).
Contacts: Tourist Information Officer Haflong : 3673-272694 / 09854176866; Mr Winsonal Massa ( Nature Lover Club, Jatinga ) : 09957002809.
Places to stay: Hotel Landmark, Hotel Elite (03673-236708), Hotel Eastern (03673-236708), Hotel Nathao: Lodge( 03673-236112). 

  Pics : Courtesy Mr.Joshringdao Phonglo / Sylvia Suchiang ( Tourist Information Officer, Haflong)
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Pabitora – the land of single horned rhinos


“On a hard jungle journey nothing is so important as having a team you can trust.”
Tahir Shah

Nothing can be truer even in the safe journey of a jungle safari in the wild life sanctuaries or reserve forests. Our trip to Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary got almost blotched up since group of upstarts thought forest is a place of frolic rather than savouring the beauty of the flora and fauna in silence. Luckily they left and peace was restored peace in the Prasanti Lodge of Assam Tourism Development Corporation.

Pabitora boasts of being the densest habitat of single horned rhinos, almost 90 in 38.81 sq km. You can find Leopard, fishing cat, barking deer, wild pigs, feral buffalos, 9 species of amphibians, 27 species of reptiles, and more than 300 species of migratory birds.
Haduk Hanging Bridge

 We undertook the Elephant ride which took roughly one and a half hour.We were lucky to see two rhinos locking horns to regain territory while the air was filled with revengeful squeaks and snorts. Soon, though, the weaker showed a clean pair of heels. We were guided towards the Haduk bill, a water-body where migratory birds flock in winter. Here there was a constant sound of their chirps which was silenced by a greater sound of their flapping of feathers when they rise up en-mass following some unseen command.  Green jeeps came there some time ago carrying in its wake a cloud of dust and some tourists clad in bright clothes. Probably this group is also one of those first timers who hardly know the basic rule that bright clothes should be avoided in the forest. Boating can be arranged here. The jeepwallas went off as hastily as they came crossing the Haduk Hanging Bridge. 

We returned to our lodge and went to see the adjacent museum which tells about the history of the sanctuary and some details of the plant and animal life. We were told that we can trek to Mayang Pahar (hills) or go to the Mayang Village to have first information of Black Magic, of which this place is famous. We decided the second. Many local pundits were engaged in clairvoyance or apparently shooing off chronic ailments of their customers in a jiffy. I didn’t try my luck. Probably, I wanted to keep the darkness in me in the dark, rather than to let a rustic conjurer throw some light on it.

Navigator: By Bus from Guwahati ( Guwahati – Marigaon Town Bus of ASTC) 50 Kms or by car.
Safari:    Elephant safari Rs 500/-;  Jeep- Rs 1300 ( for 6 persons including tax).
Best Season: November first to March end.
Place of stay: Prasanthi Lodge: For booking Manas Thakur ( Manager) -09854092192; Hiren Kumar Saikia (Tourist Information Officer)-09854945261.

Pics: Courtesy Hiren Kumar Saikia (TIO, Pobitora) / Concept : Joyjit Sinha Roy

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Taki – Weekend escape

Vijaya Dasami at Taki

I landed in Taki in the monsoon month of July just to savour nature’s cache of green and enjoy the spillover of river Ichamati that divides India and Bangladesh. A van-rickshaw took us from the station to the Nipendra Atithisala, a guesthouse of Taki Municipality.
The strand

Just a cup of tea boosted us up and we headed for the river side. A watch tower stands on the strand which has a row of chairs where the visitors can sit and enjoy the river view. We sat there as the sun went behind the veil of the cloud. On the opposite bank lay the Bangladeshi villages of Bhatsala, Sakhipur, Sripur etc, which had been cut off from India by an imaginary line somewhere in between the river, a line that Sir Cyril Radcliffe drew decades ago on a map; the line that disappears during the Vijaya Dasami, when idols from both sides are taken in boats into the middle of the river for immersion. The last traces of solitude are wiped off in the festive fervor as thousands throng both the banks to watch the immersion and see the exchange of brotherly love between the two peoples having the same mother tongue.
Golpatar Jongol

In the late afternoon we went to Jalalpur to visit Golpatar Jongol – a mini Sundarban - where a mangrove forest lays in the bank of the river and an elevated concrete road meanders through it for a walk into the woods. Somnath Mukherjee, the Chairman of the Taki municipality, said that that he is planning to make a Deer Park over there. On our way back we saw the Eco Tourism Park which is on its way to completion. It has a 7 bigha water body where a mini zoo is planned. A guest house of 5 suits is also planned there. An old zamindar house of Late Harendra Nath Roychowdhury ( Ex Education Minister) is two minutes from our Guest House. Another must visit project, the first of its kind in Eastern India, is Iswar Swarajit Dalal Water Purified Center at Hasnabad where 7000 liters of river water is purified and bottled daily. Sadly, the beautiful Machranga Island has been taken over by the brick kiln owners and has lost is sheen. Re beautification is on the cards once election is over, said the Chairman.
On our way back I heard that Taki is the place where the great scientist Prof Prafulla Chandra Ray used to disembark from boat on his way to Calcutta from his native place at Khulna, now in Bangladesh. Lastly, don’t forget to visit Dayamayee Mistanna Bhandar for Chhanar Malpo, a sweet famous in Taki.
Navigator:  By ‘Kolkata – Hasnabad’ bus from Esplanade. By car (80 Kms) through the Basanti Highway. By train on Sealdah – Hasnabad route, get down at Taki station, time 2 &1/2 hours.
Place of stay: Nripendra Atithisala ( Taki municipality guest House ) Ph-03217-233323-4/ 9331026585

Text: Amitava Chakrabarty
Pics : Swadesh Bhattacharya 
Courtsey : Discover India

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


The russet of the sky weaned away, leaving its space to the darkness. The sunset was sudden in the distant hills, when we got down at Lava. Just as we settled in our cottage, darkness knocked at our window panes. Along with it came the chill. As we set ourselves on the dining table at the Rachela (another one is the Nathula) forest canteen in the Lava resort, it certainly started shacking. Instinctively, I looked down. I saw my mother was trying hard to control her trembling legs. So ominous was the chill, it cut through her bone and sinew. 

Lava, a small town at the entrance of the Neora Valley National Park, has become a tourist attraction for quite some time now along with two neighbouring villages-Rishop and Lolegaon. Here metaled roads play hide and seek with pine forest. Ferns and mosses are strewn around like banned plastic bags in the city. At 2100 meters above sea levels, this place is converse of the bustle of the twin illustrious cities in its vicinity – Kalimpong and Darjeeling. But the view of Kanchanjanga is no less arresting here. If fog doesn’t play a spoil sport, you are in for a treat from the resort (Nature and Wilderness Tourist Complex of West Bengal Forest Development Corporation) itself. Otherwise you can trek up to Tiffindara early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise.

There are many types of cottages here with different names like Hill Myna, Gorkha, Dupka, Lepcha etc. Log cottages are also available here. It’s always better to book the range facing cottages like Gorkha 3 & 4 or Dupka 1 & 2.

The first evening was for acclimatization. Napoleon brandy came handy. In our log huts tugged inside our blankets, the warmth of the beverage spread over our skin which only hours ago, was perspiring in the October heat of the planes.

The sound the cricket sneaked in from the window sill. Soon, exhaustion got the better of us. The four and half our long drive up the hills plus the overnight train journey took its toll. Within minutes we were like logs inside the log hut.

Lava Monastery

“La” is the Bhutanese for the Lord and “Va” is presence. Ratnarishi Gumpha is where He is present at Lava. We walked from our resort to the market and then headed for this Lava Monastery, which was set up by the Third Kongtrul Rimpoche (Tibetian Bhuddist Lama). The brick read Viharas have roof top painted in jaded yellow. The inside is no different from other Gumphas at least in the eyes of a commoner like me. Lord Buddha is encased in a glass casing atop a dais. A series of giant prayer wheels and concrete bell like structures stood graciously beside the main building.

The Natural Interpretation Center in the vicinity gives a glimpse of the flora and fauna of the adjoining Neora Valley. We came out a bit more aware of the wildlife. After lunch we hired car for a trip to Changey Falls 10 km from Lava. For the three hour engagement we had to sell out a thousand bucks but it was worth it. The 50 meter high Changey drops gracefully and as we saw it from a metal bridge lying across the road. Lampokhari Lake, locally known as Aritar Lake is also an added attraction in the vicinity of Changey.

Next day the plan of an early morning stint to the sunrise point at Tiffindara had to be aborted as thick fog hovered around. Instead, after breakfast we headed for our next destination- Rishop. The 4 Km trek amid the mountain and woods is more enjoyable than the 12 km arduous journey on wheels as most of the road is in shambles. It’s not steep so anyone who can walk on the planes can take up this trek. We took the hilly trail above the metaled road and entered into the coniferous forest. Birch, Pine and Oak lay chick bye jowl. Their canopies miserly allowing flickers of sun-rays. The perennial damp undergrowth is a haven for leeches. So be careful as you trod. Crickets here sing never ending chorus. Often you see a dog on the trail escorting you if your guide has gone way ahead. There’s a Baretto lane (much to the glee of the Kolkata football fans) on the verge of the entering Rishop. Rhododendrons of myriad colours welcome you from the makeshift (actually benches) balconies of the cottages. Cute girls swathed in woolens smile at you. Their unpretentious parents acknowledge smilingly if you greet their words with toffees. Sometimes you can come across a lama clad in a brick red attire waving passed you. The snob of the city is still unknown here. But for how long?

Rishop gives 3000 view of Kanchenjunga. If you are a city buff avoid Rishop. Here solitude lies by your side just as your pet. Peace as if has found at eternal abode in this hamlet.

We hired a car for Lolegaon, another tourist spot nearly 30 Km away. Cloud wrapped the road intermittently and wipes it from visibility. The tall trees on both sides with thick undergrowth of ferns follow you although. We stopped on en-route to see the Samabeon Tea Estate in the valley below. Green step plantation dotted with colourful cottages is a visual treat. I saw a few tourists stretching their legs. We, on the other hand sat on the rocks enjoying our cuppa. Half an hour later we were again on our way to Lolegaon.

Lolegaon is locally called Kaffer. We stayed at the Dafey Munal Tourist Lodge of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. WBFDC has beautiful cottages (namely Hornbill, Orchid, Berch etc) with rents varying between 600 to 1700 Rupees. 
Hanging Wooden Bridge

The main attraction over here is the Canopy Walk in the heritage forest. Negotiating a hanging wooden footbridge between the two old Oak trees is an adventure not to be missed. You will be lost in wilderness, enjoying the flora, the orchids and the overall verdant greenery. Here solitude has a voice. Silence here speaks if you are not gaggled by upstart tourists.
In the evening, we invited the Lepcha cook who had a guitar. We lit a fire on the garden overlooking the Ralli Valley in front of the Lodge and started a campfire. Nylon strings accompanied Nepali, Hindi and Bengali songs in tandem. Suddenly, Lolegaon’s chill vanished. The warmth of oneness set in. 
A hilly track in Lolaygaon

Again early morning fog forced us to abort our venture at Jhandi Dara Sunrise Point.  After breakfast we headed for NJP Station, via Kalimpong, leaving the century old moss clad oak and cedars, the rustle of dead leaves on the hilly mud topped path. I made it a point to come back once again at this part of the world to savour the sunrise from any of the sunrise point that we missed.

Pics : Courtesy Chandranath Mukherjee
Text : Discover India