RADventure 2016/2

July 08 - 10, 2016

Team: Manab Kar (Navigator), Tattini Kar, Runa, AD.

Places visited: Tarakeshwar, Joypur Forest, Bishnupur, Garpanchkot, Biharinath

Distance: 550 Kms

Vehicle: Linea Emotion (Diesel)

Having lived most of my life in West Bengal, I must confess, I have seen very little of this gorgeous state. I am sure my co-travellers too feel the same. Lack of infrastructure, bad roads and unsafe conditions where the top issues every time that you planned a trip in this state.
I did hear from news & media that the West Bengal Government was taking keen interest in encouraging tourism in the state.

Surprisingly while I was surfing the internet, I realised that quite a lot has been done in the past 5 years, and it is a sea change! Researching on the Internet, I could make out there are numerous Eco Tourist Lodges that have come up, moreover state highways are in fact better than national highways in most stretches. In short its a travellers delight!  

I realise there are numerous pristine locations, lush forests, sanctuaries, lakes, rivers, hills ..... what more can a nature lover ask for?

I am really aghast at the little available information about such places. Hopefully as more of us popularise these locations, more information will be available for others.

Now about the trip.
The idea was to experience the rural country-side of West Bengal, more specifically get a tinge of forest and hills in lesser known places, and to avoid over crowded spots. Like any other activity, team mates are one of the most critical elements on a trip apart from meticulous planning. I am lucky and glad we had some great team players in Manab & Tattini during this trip. Both of them are travel enthusiast and have healthy appetite for adventure.  

The route map

We setout at 6.30am from Home (Sarat Chatterjee Avenue). It was an overcast day, drizzling every now and then. Our first pit stop was at Taraknath Temple, Tarakeshwar. Though none of us were overly religious kind, it was more of a curiosity to see the place. Tarakeshwar is an easy drive along NH2 upto Singur and then along the State Highway. There are road signage along the entire route.

Tarekeshwar Temple exit route - a test of patience and skill

Getting into Tarekeshwar was cool, no issues, getting out was a nightmare. On the exit road, from the temple, a local daily market had encroached the road space, it was overcrowded with cycles, motorbikes and shoppers there was hardly any space for any vehicle to move.
 Bhole-baba's way of testing your patience & driving calibre.  

Kamarpukur (Ramkrishna Mission Math) 

- The birth place of Thakur Ramkrishna 
- 115 Kms from Kolkata.

Moving on from Tarekeshwar, we hit SH 2 upto Arambagh and thereafter SH 7 to Kamarpukur. 
Kamarpukur is a sleepy little town, apart from Ramkrishna Math, I guess the only other activity here is agriculture. The country side during the monsoon is simply unbelievable, a treat to the eyes, just like a picture postcard. The road is smooth as silk.

State Highway 2 - world class road condition
Believe it or not, off our entire 550 Km trip, the condition of the road has been more or less like the picture above.

This Mango tree was planted by Thakur himself
The Math
RKM - Kamarpukur (photography is prohibited inside the Math)
Thakur's Kuthi
What can one say about any Ramkrishna Mission property. They are meticulously clean, noiseless and beautifully maintained. There is an awesome aura in the place! Quite naturally it inspires you to sit down and meditate.  For the followers of the Ramkrishna faith this is perhaps a major pilgrimage destination. I am told thousands congregate at Kamarpukur to commemorate the birth celebrations of Thakur Ramkrishna.

From Kamarpukur mere 7 kms away is Jairambati, yet another historic and significant location. The birth place of the holy mother, Thakur Ramkrishna's wife.The beautiful temple has been built exactly on the spot where the Holy Mother was born and it was here that her father Ramchandra Mukhopadhyaya had his original dwelling-house.

Joypur Forest (Banalata Tourist Resort)

30 Kms from Jairambati right on the highway you encounter Banalata Toursit Lodge. It is on the edge of the forest. Not that Joypur forest is huge, but its a distinct spot with a concentration of Saal trees. The forest does not boast of many wildlife as such, but the forest is lush green during monsoon, and it makes you feel elated and excited.  

Country side highway 
Mera Gaon - Mera Desh .... green is my country

Chai & Shingara (samosa) break at Kotulpur! enroute to Joypur Forest.

We were in time for real yummy hot Samosa's (shingara). I have found that the local snacks taste better than the urban variety.  

Banalata Tourist Resort - Joypur

Until we planned this trip, frankly we were not aware about the existence of Bantala resort. I am glad, that we could read about it on rupasibangla website, there were other travelogues as well (not too many) that we researched, and I thank all the travelogue writers for their contribution.

Banalata Tourist Resort

Built on 60 acres ( I may be wrong, that's what I recall) of farmland, this lodge is an ideal place for a night stay. Its an integrated farm, which rears ducks, turkey, emu, fish, and it has a small diary unit, and vast farm. We were told that most of what is served in the restaurant is in-house farm produce. There are retail sale counters of the farm produce at the entrance.

The Tourist Lodge is most likely a PPP initiative, and I can say it is decent place. Its does not offer 5 star luxury and it should not. The idea is to provide basic comfort to dwellers and at the same time should maintain the  rustic rural flavour.

Banalata Tourist Resort - an integrated farm

Most of the workers employed at Bantala are rural folks, which is surely a great initiative. It is not only a major differentiator, more importantly you can feel their humane touch and simplicity.

The resort offers conducted guides into the forest. We really liked the Bishnupur / Bankura flavour in the dwellings within the resort.  We did not opt for it, rather we simply drove around the forest to the extent we could. Could'nt venture much due to rain, since most of the mud road was soggy at places. 
Residential huts within the resort

Joypur Forest
State Highway through Joypur Forest

As you step out of Banalata Resort and head towards Bishnupur you get into Joypur Forest area, which lines both sides of the highway. The forest boasts of rich flaura & fauna. We heard that there is an airstrip and a forest tower at the core of the forest.

We tried venturing inside the forest in our car, soon realised it could be risky. My teammates vociferously opposed to the adventure into the forest since it was drizzling and the wet soil could render the car getting stuck, much alike the truck below.  
Truck that veered of the road, stuck in soft mud
the vagaries of monsoon
While monsoon portrays the sheer beauty of the forest, spring and winter will be a treat for nature lovers too. Specially the blooming flowers and the game trails. Inside the forest I am sure there would be good camping sites in winter.

Waiting for hot tea & pakora 
Retail outlet at the entrance of the resort

Life in the forest consists of death and pleasure 
While butterflies dance in all kinds of weather
A hawk swoops down to talon its prey

To feed its young to live another day
The heartbeat of the forest is a noisy one 
it's a great place to be since time begun..... 
.... Life in the Forest - Mark Bell


July 09, 2016 around 0930 hrs, we departed from Banalata (Joypur) to visit Bishnupur - the Mallabhumi. A short 10 km drive, as soon as we hit the municipal limit, stark reality of a neglected township was evident (municipal neglect). As you drive into the capital city of the Malla kingdom, you feel as if no major development activity has been undertaken here (perception one gets). The road gets very narrow, and is a thoroughfare for bus, auto rickshaws, manual rickshaws and every conceivable form of transport. Inspite of the huge tourism potential, it is evident that the administrators seem to be ignorant or in denial mode. My honest personal opinion, this rich land of art, culture and architecture is grossly neglected. Hearing about the history of the land, and the eminent stalwarts who represent this 'mati' (land), makes you feel bad. I wonder why the high and mighty of Bishnupur do not wish to leverage this huge capital that has been created by their forefathers.

We were keen to look at some of the historical artefacts of this famous land and therefore headed straight to Rasmancha. Like the Taj Mahal, Rasmancha, I guess is iconic to Bishnupur, apart from the terracotta horses and baluchari sarees, which too are very epochal.
Mesmerising architecture!

We hired Mr Madhusadan Mukherjee (+919434998944) as our guide. It was good that we found him, very enthusiastic and upright gentleman. He is an encyclopedia of  Bishnupur knowledge and folklore. He did full justice to the task assigned.

There are about half a dozen temples in an around the Bishnupur Royal Palace. Much of the stuff is ruined. But whatever remains is a testimony of the thoughts and maturity of the rulers. The structures are built using bricks, rocks, terracotta tiles, and often you are simply amazed at the creativity and vast engineering skills of the builders. How could they even conceive of such interlocking arches, way back in the 16th century? The styles use a mix of mogul, hindu & other influences.
Terracotta temples of Bishnupur

Terracotta temples of Bishnupur

Terracotta temples of Bishnupur

The temples have many folklore and epics etched on terracotta tiles. These temples stand testimony to the exquisite craftsmanship. Bishnupur through its royal patronage also emerged with its iconic Bishnupur Gharana in Hindustani Classical music and also boasts of the Bishnupuri painting style. An extremely rich heritage!

I hope there will be soon some PPP initiative to bring back the glory of Bishnupur. I see 4 or 5 key action items if addressed it can make a remarkable difference - a) improve the streets; b) restore the royal palace to the extent possible and convert it into a museum / heritage hotel; c) create tourist trails for art, culture & artefacts; d) massive marketing around brand 'Bishnupur'.  


Gar-panchkot is a scenic hill town, 110 Km from Bishnupur, in the Naturia block. It is part of the eastern ghats, more precisely it is the area surrounding Panchkot hill. Historically it is named affter the Garh (Fort) of the King of Kashipur. The Damodar flows by the hill, and the Panchet Dam is a nearby. There are many a scattered ruins of terracotta temples and a royal palace (Garh).

Garpanchkot is an ideal location for conducting survival training, trekking and nature trail. Essentially a green covered area with river, and pristine forest. I do hope an entrepreneur sets up a camping site in the near future. While driving to GorPanchkot, you follow the Durgapur - Raghunathpur State Highway. And drive all the way to Raghunathpur, till you meet Asansol - Purulia State Highway. Turn towards Asansol, and drive 25 Kms and Garpanchkot would be to your left.

Approach to Garpanchkot (in the background is Panchkot hill)
One advice to travellers, study the map carefully before start, specially if you are reliant on Google maps. A slight mistake, a wrong road choice, can lead you into a treacherous drive. Google is safe on National Highway, State Highway and major thoroughfares. If you steer off from the highway into unmarked roads, the condition & quality can be unpredictable. We made the mistake of relying entirely on Google Maps, while trying a short-cut, and Google has the tendency to make suggestions which takes you through a route which may or may not exist. We had to undergo 45 minutes of stressful ordeal, driving through extremely narrow lanes, which once upon a time was built like a road. This is not my first experience with Google maps, I have experienced this quite a few times when I blindly followed Google Maps..

In the absence Google, on Indian roads, local people are the best alternative, but their yardstick of distance or time is a different dimension altogether. For instance 'just a little distance' could mean double digit kilometers not merely a km or two, similarly good road could mean that a road existed and it is motorable. That does not at all indicate if your car will make it, yes tractors, motorbikes and bicycles do make it every now and then. Notwithstanding, their innocence and caring nature stands out at all times.

Panchkot Hill (backdrop)
Terracotta temple being restored
A temple in ruins

Our plan was to circle around the Garpanchkot hill through the forest and head eastwards to Biharinath. At Garpanchkot, we spotted 'Aranyer Din Ratri' a new lodge (likely to get inaugurated this year around mid August). We had the pleasure of having lunch at Aranyer Din Ratri. The meal was outstanding, though very expensive. We were also shown an upcoming resort near Panchkot hill.


Biharinath Hill
Not much is found on the net about Biharinath. It is 32 Kms east of Garpanchkot, and lies just north of Saltora (Bankura). Biharinath hill is the tallest hill in Bankura, 451 metres high, and one of the dense forest areas of the district. It is a part of the Eastern Ghat. It is situated about 14 kilometres north-east of Saltora town. Biharinath is also famous for its Shiva temple (Biharinath Dham).

We drove along Purulia - Asansol State Highway and turned right on to Saltora Road at Sarbari. From Sarbari the road continues until Madhukonda, where the condition of the road suddenly deteriorates. At Madhukonda railway crossing, the road is practically non existent, and is full of 5 - 6 feet wide craters that are easily 3 - 4 feet deep, which is ok for trucks and trekkers, but in no way fit for a Fiat Linea. The only consolation is that this precarious stretch is just about 4~5 km.

Biharinath was our night halt destination. We had managed to book an AC cottage at the WB Forest Development Corporation - Eco Tourist Center. There are 6 odd cottages (not all cottages are AC equipped) at this center. Each cottage has two rooms with a hall. The Eco Tourist Center also has a decent size independent Dining hall with Kitchen. Since power is erratic, the AC cottage is  largely namesake only. This is a no frills forest shelter and not a resort! It is ideal for forest & nature lovers who simply yearn to enjoy the simplicity & tranquillity of a forest. The weather outside the cottage was far superior and fresh.

Biharinath - Forest Eco Tourism Centre

The AC Cottage .... electricity is a luxury

We spent the night chatting with Ajit Babu (the caretaker) who loved to talk about village politics, life as a forest guard and also the wildlife then and now. Dinner was cooked in the resort kitchen, the cook a local resident, runs a food shop at Biharinath temple. His recipe was quite unique, it tasted so different although the food items were simple local vegetables. To beat it all veg dinner, breakfast and 3 rounds of tea, for five of us (we four + Ajit babu), cost us Rs 400/- only.    
Path thru the forest

Trek to Biharinath hill
Next morning we, under the guidance of Ajit Babu, went up the hill, to meet a sadhu who pitched camp near a natural spring. The spring water is essentially the mountain rain water that emerges from under the rocks.

The forest boasts of a vast collection of birds, butterflies and some wildlife. Early morning I witnessed atleast a dozen species of butterfly in and around the center. At the same time one could hear the chirping of vast varieties of birds. The forest too has a huge collection of medicinal plants ( arjun, kalmegh, etc..) apart from sal, mahua, sonamukhi trees. You need to camp there for a week to experience the forest.

Mission midway
Days destination reached

Biharinath Hill - Sadhu's camp site... the sadhu (graduate) demonstrating a buffalo horn (trumpet)

After a successful mission i.e. back to base in one piece with no sprains or injury, we were treated to some hot lip smacking Kochuri and Chola dal at the temple tea shop. Really fulfilling and gratifying session. Should we get a chance to visit again, will climb the peak for sure. I am told the Government is about to open a rock climbing institute shortly at Biharinath (construction is nearing completion).

Post workout ..relaxation, awaiting breakfast

Biharinath Dham (the Shiva Temple)

Sunday 10 July morning, after a refreshing soulful breakfast and rest, we started our return journey. Our return route was fairly simple, circumvent Biharinath hill and hit the Saltora more. From there on get onto Mejia - Durgapur State highway on to Durgapur and thereafter NH2 to Kolkata.

Homeward bound - the road from Biharinath to Saltora

We finally made it back from Biharinath in 5 hours. A lovely trip.
I am sure with the development in infrastructure, our state is taking the right strides in progress.  

au revoir!

The Team (L-R : AD, RD, Manab, Tattini)


Unknown said…
Superb and thrilling description. Feels one is travelling with you. Great goiing. 👍
Manab said…
It was a treasured memory for us for such a lovely weekend trip with your gracious companionship....look forward to some more adventures with both of you. ����. ....... Tatini & Manab
Prasenjit said…
A very good travelogue with detailing in true AD style. For a moment I thought was reading thru India Unbound by Gurucharan Das. The serene rural Bengal soaked in monsoon is a pleasure for any nature lover. Had been to some places covered in the tour and could easily connect. Glad to know that infra in Bengal has improved much over the years. The photos are good and captures vividly the relics and historical places. Will wait for the next trip to get enriched thru the experience of a passionate traveller.
Prasenjit said…
A very good travelogue with detailing in true AD style. For a moment I thought was reading thru India Unbound by Gurucharan Das. The serene rural Bengal soaked in monsoon is a pleasure for any nature lover. Had been to some places covered in the tour and could easily connect. Glad to know that infra in Bengal has improved much over the years. The photos are good and captures vividly the relics and historical places. Will wait for the next trip to get enriched thru the experience of a passionate traveller.