Trekking in the Mountains of Singalila Ridge

Sandakphu Trek

The mighty ranges of the Himalayas in the North of West Bengal offer the phenomenal viewpoints, to begin with, one of the most classical adventure treks. Darjeeling Singalila Ridge is in the middle of Eden, as you cross from one ridge to another through a narrow trail. The uninterrupted view of all-encompassing snow-topped mountains with the family of Mt. Kanchenjunga including Mount Everest makes the landscape unique and renders loveable experience.

The small trails apart from the road are better routes for a trek from Manebhanjan.
The small trails apart from the road are better routes for a trek from Mane Bhanjang.

If you find happiness in messy hair, dirty feet and chilled water falling on your skin, then you can wander and wonder at the same time! Trekking is the most inspired activity for nature lovers as the trekking sites allow you to witness the best form of nature. The fascinating aspect of this trek is to reach the summit, Sandakphu, by crossing the India-Nepal border a dozen of times. The love and affection of local people are similar for their guests irrespective of their origin. 

Best Time To Visit:

A monk in Chitrey, route from Manebhanjan to Tumling
A monk in Chitrey, route from Manebhanjan to Tumling

Best time to trek is throughout the year except during the monsoon. March and April is the best time when the rhododendron flowers add life with a blush shade to the valley. From June to September Singalila ridge National Park is closed. 

If you are looking for clear mountain and sublime sights of dawn from Sandakphu and Phalut, then September-November offers a better view. You can experience early snow in November and even may come across the slippery red panda if your luck bestows!

How to Reach?

The nearest airport is Bagdogra and railway station NJP. You have to reach Darjeeling More to get the shared taxi for Ghoom or Sukhia Pokhari. Both are relatively well-connected to Mane Bhanjang. Mane Bhanjang is the last town where you will get access to ATM and Pharmacy. No shared taxis are available for Sandakphu, so either you have to hire or trek. 

My Journey in Singalia National Park- Itinerary

The entrance of Singalila National Park.
The entrance of Singalila National Park.

The pandemic has hit harder to the travel industry and its people are changing their professions to survive. We, the travellers, can help the travel industry to revive it. My first plan was to take up a challenge to push me out of my comfort zone and second, to explore my state. A friend of mine had already implemented an idea of Sandakphu trek. It was the perfect plan to rejuvenate myself and perceived the benefits of solo travelling. 

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What makes Sandakphu outstanding?

The view of Sleeping Budha from Aal.
The view of Sleeping Budha from Aal.

Sandakphu means “Height of the poisonous plants” as aconite plants grow in abundance at the height. The other notable aspects of the trek will take you through many hidden gems. It is one of the highest peaks in West Bengal at 11,930 ft above sea level and is truly breathtaking. Once you reach the summit you will be the part of an ethereal 180° panorama view of the four highest peaks of the world. Four lofts of the Sleeping Buddha are Mt. Kanchenjunga, Mt. Everest, Mt. Lhotse and Mt. Makalu. If you are a trekking enthusiast and nature lover, you cannot miss out on the Sandakphu Trek for sure.

Day 01: Mane Bhanjang

The morning in the beautiful town Manebhanjan.
The morning in the beautiful town Manebhanjan.

I took a bus from Kolkata for Siliguri, which reached in the next morning. After a few hustle and bustle, I grasped a shared taxi of Darjeeling to pass on Ghoom at the cost of ₹300. After three hours journey from Siliguri, I was at the Queen of Hills. The chill air of the mountain welcomed me at fuzzyGhoom station. I walked down the hill to reach my next pickup point for Mane Bhanjang. A few minutes later, I hopped to the next shared taxi for Mane Bhanjang at ₹100. 

The Land Rover, an antique vehicle which is still operating.
The Land Rover, an antique vehicle which is still operating.

The journey was not smooth, the rough road didn’t matter me as I was preparing myself for the next day. It took around two hours to reach a small town divided by two countries India and Nepal. The local people were friendly, which made me comfortable making new friends. One of them was going to be one of my best friends forever and guide me for the next six days in the ridges of Singalila National Park. 

Places to Stay: Homestays are a cheap place to halt for a night. If you are looking for a cheaper place, you can book for Dormitories offered by many homestays which will cost around ₹250-₹300. Hotels are also available in the town. 

Day 02: Tumling

Beautiful monastery of Chitrey at the peak of the mountain.
Beautiful monastery of Chitrey at the peak of the mountain.

The first day in the hills with a beautiful view of sunrise at the horizon boosted me up for the rest of the day. Suddenly, I was a different person, charged up for the new challenge of 52kms trek. Before I finished my breakfast, my friend Dawa Bhutia was already at the doorsteps. Quickly I packed my bags, settled my bills and moved towards Singalila National Park Office for the pass and other official formalities. 

The excitement was at full throttle after I walked out the gates of the office. The trek began complimented by the toughest challenge of the route. The first 4kms of the trek is steep climbing to mountain till Chitrey. It took every breath away, but the beautiful monastery at the peak of the mountain reinvigorated me for the rest of 9kms trek. We took a break in the fields of Chitrey, filled up water and moved on.  

The view of Tumling village. The second-day camping spot.
The view of Tumling village. The second-day camping spot.

The small trails apart from the road are better routes for a trek from Mane Bhanjang to Tumling where nature is at its best, a layer of fog will suddenly cover-up the whole path and suddenly the bright sun will appear in the sky. The beauty of mother nature and its show bewildered me, which took us eight hours to reach Tumling, though it is six hours trek.

Places to Stay: There are many homestays in the village. They mostly provide customized package as bed charge, dinner, breakfast and tea. The total package is ₹700-₹800.

Day 03: Kala Pokhri

View of Sleeping Budha from Tumling.
View of Sleeping Budha from Tumling.

The morning in Tumbling greeted with a crystal view of Sleeping Budha. With morning prayer to Lord, “Om Mani Padme Hum”, we finished our breakfast and moved for next destination to Kalipokhri. Another steep climbing of 3-4kms made it difficult for every single step. Sooner, fatigue grasped me and my bag seemed heavier. The motivating mother-nature and my friend encouraged me to reach the next stop at Gairibas. We walked through trails of jungle leaving behind the motorable road.

We took a break for half an hour with refreshments by red tea and momos at Gairibas. We refilled our bottle and went to the check post of Singalila National Park. The total distance we had covered was 6kms. Now we had to trek more 7kms for Kala Pokhri. We took stairs from Gairibas for a few steps then we followed the road. 

The Black Lake, Kalipokhri. The second-day camping spot.
The Black Lake, Kala Pokhri. The third-day camping spot.

It took us eight hours to complete the trek up to Kalipokhri where airtel network is available at a few particular spots. The place gets its name from the Black Lake which in local means “Kala Pokhri”. 

Places to Stay: Homestays are available in Kala Pokhri also. They treat their guests with the utmost compassion. The dormitories are cheap to stay. It will cost ₹250-₹300, food is available at a reasonable rate. 

Day 04-05: Sandakphu and Aal

The unwinding trails to Sandakphu from one ridge to another.
The unwinding trails to Sandakphu from one ridge to another.

We had our breakfast and tea in the new day at Kala Pokhri and moved on for Sandakphu. We decided to move further 2kms from Sandakphu to Aal. After leaving Kala Pokhri, we moved towards the trail led by stairs. A new zeal to reach the summit charged me up for the rest of the route. We passed along the pine forest with different species of birds chirping around. 

We took long breaks during this route as it was the shortest route to cover 7kms to Aal via Sandakphu. The scene along the way is something to be cherished. The final route to the peak was quite difficult and exhausting, as the climb from here was sharp. It took us six hours to reach the summit of Sandakphu and other thirty minutes to Aal.

180° panorama view of the four highest peaks from the summit, Sandakphu.
180° panorama view of the four highest peaks from the summit, Sandakphu, the highest peak of West Bengal.

I think it is a wise decision to move to Aal, as it is a cheap place to stay, thinly populated and gives the best view of Sleeping Budha. Aal and Sandakphu are at the same altitude. The evening becomes more cherishable if you love playing football. You can be a part of the team and have fun along with the play. I was not lucky to watch the sunset due to mist, but it smiled next morning when the view of Sleeping Budha was clear and spellbound. It is indeed something to remember for a lifetime.

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Places to Stay: There are very a few homestays at Aal at ₹300. Homemade food is available. Most of them rely on solar panels. If you are planning to stay at Aal remember to charge all your electronic gadgets at Sandakphu. 

Day 06: Gurdum

Morning view of Aal.
Morning view of Aal. The fourth and fifth-day camping spot.

A thin layer of frost on the grass makes Aal as if it came out from a fairytale. The small village with a handful of people around and the panoramic vista of the entire Sleeping Budha encourages for the most exciting day of the trek. After spending a day in the beautiful village, it was time to move down. We had our tea and breakfast at Sandakphu and prepared ourself for 13kms trek down to Gurdum.

The trail from Sandakphu to Gurdum is the most isolated route that makes it perfect for the trek. The trails are in the midst of the dense forest with tall bamboo grass and no sign of human settlement. We took long breaks in the jungle, yearning to spot any wildlife. We met a few local peoples on the way with horses carrying their goods. The unwinding route to the small village, Gurdum, in the thick of the jungle guided by Buddhist flags raised my self-esteem. 

The picturesque little village Gurdum.
The picturesque little village Gurdum. The sixth-day camping spot.

The village is encircled with steep diving valleys with dense evergreen forest. The variety of flowers grown around the hamlet show the taste of its people for gardening. It was my last night in the ridges of Singalila National Park. The sky, full of stars with a comet passing over the horizon, gave me the farewell for leaving the paradise

Places to Stay: There are a few homestays available at Gurdum. Food and hot water are also available. The charge of Dormitory is ₹250-₹300.

Day 07: Srikhola

The variety of flowers grown around the hamlet, Gurdum.

The final day in the ridges of Singalila, a fine morning with a mesmerizing sunrise and fresh air elated me. The experience of adventure that revealed my limits and strong-will. We moved to the beautifully decorated courtyard of the homestay. After a delicious homemade breakfast, I tasted salt tea for the first time recommended by my friend. Soon, it was time to say Goodbye to the picturesque little village Gurdum.

Srikhola village
Srikhola village gets its name from the beautiful stream that passes through it.

I packed my bag for the last trek of 6kms to Srikhola village. The village gets its name from the beautiful stream Srikhola that passes through it. The trek route is easy from Gurdum with the tortuous trail that took us around three hours to complete. Very few transports, mostly the small carriage trucks, are available from Srikhola. We hitched from Srikhola to Rimbick at ₹40 per person. The shared taxi for Darjeeling, Ghoom and Mane Bhanjang are available from Rimbick.

An Alternative Way:

Fields of Chitrey
The fields of Chitrey, We took a long break to enjoy the view.

If you are not a trekker and looking for a comfortable way to travel, then you can travel to Manebhanjan with your personal/ hire car. From Mane Bhanjang you have to hire Land Rovers for Sandakphu. As per rules and regulations, you cannot drive your vehicle to Sandakphu. The journey is uncomfortable that may take 7-8 hours. The one-way cost of Land Rovers to Sandakphu is ₹3500-₹4000 per person. There are better hotels at Mane Bhanjang and Sandakphu. It is preferable to book in advance.

The Artists Behind the Scenes of Chhau Dance [Day: 03]

My childhood memories in the beautiful town of Puruliya have always attracted me to visit it time and again. This was my first experience when I left the town and headed to explore its beautiful countryside. This trip has recreated my perception of the place and helped me to bond further with its culture and tradition. This post is to adore the incredible people who are trying to endeavour their lost tradition and art.

Artist behind Chhau Dance

The wonderful performance of Chhau dance by the native Santhal tribe is the prime attraction of Puruliya as well as the anecdote from my childhood. I have skipped a few of the destinations known to the people in this belt and stretched myself to the offbeat places. My trip would have remained incomplete without exploring one of the inspiring and patronage villages of Baghmundi which gives an insight into Puruliya’s Chhau masks.

Jharnakocha Cave

Jharnakocha Cave Purulia

Next day, early in the morning I left for Balrampur from Puruliya town. The excitement and the challenges of trekking always rejuvenate me with new energy. This unusual place is very little known even among the locals. Jharnakocha is a small tribal village at a distance of 15km from Balrampur. The village is surrounded by lush green hills followed by a muddy road.

Jharnakocha Cave Purulia

The first challenge I faced was to locate the place but with the help of locals’ guidance, I was able to reach the destination. The dense forest of Sal trees surrounding the area is not easy to trek as you have to make your way from the bushes. After an hour of adventurous trek, I reached the top of the hill. The beautiful panoramic view from the hill will leave behind the exhaustion of trekking.

Jharnakocha Cave Purulia

After spending a few peaceful moments at the top, I moved for the second challenge- in search of the trail to the cave. Though I was not able to get the glimpse of the cave but trekking in the forest and climbing up the hill was real excitement. If you are looking for the cave then I suggest hiring a local villager as your guide would be better.

Chorida Village

Chorida Village Chhau Mask Purulia

After a thrilling experience at Jharnakocha and a delicious lunch at the foothills of Ayodha, it was time to move for my last destination in Puruliya which was a small beautiful village name Chorida. Its most important ensemble for the performers brings spectacular Chhau dance to its glory. The large Chhau masks represent the specific mythological characters that are played during the performance.

Chorida Village Chhau Mask Purulia

The charisma and allurement of the dance massively depend on the dramatic detail of the mask. The handwork of the artists of Chorida has been listed in Geographical Identification tag in India. The art of mask making is facing gradual oblivion due to economic pressure and decreasing participation from the grassroots level. But the active zeal of the villagers has kept the tradition still alive.

Chorida Village Chhau Mask Purulia

When I reached here, I was amazed by the radiant and distinguished coloured masks that were hanging on the walls of the houses. I was dazzled by the Chhau dance and its agile and energetic performances. The part of the costume that always grasped my attention was the large masks of the dancers that narrate the story behind its artists’ handiwork. This led me to include this interesting destination on my list.

Chorida Village Chhau Mask Purulia

It is the home for the artists of Chhau mask that devised me with the appreciation of their hard work. More than 200 families of the village are involved in the creation of the masterpiece. Strolling in the streets with the encompassing workshops can comprehend the intricate process of mask making. You can also purchase these masks for decoration.

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Recline of Abandoned Temples [Day: 02]

A successful trip on day one exploring the unusual place accompanied by glorious weather was a day to be cherished. It was day two to The Land of Red Soil and the places in my list was far from Purulia town. As I mentioned earlier, Purulia’s existence can be found in the 5th century and was one of the 16 Mahajanapadas of Jain religion. The classical architectures of Jaina temple reflect its royal history.

It is a rare place of interest for tourists although a few of the temples are in the conservation of Archeological Survey of India. Yet their existence is steadily disappearing which is sad to witness. My closest friend from Purulia assisted me by bringing me his motorbike to explore these places. The places are well marked in GPS and the help of local guidance is always a choice.

Telkupi Temples

Telkupi Temples Purulia

Telkupi village is well known for its half immersed temple. The construction of Dam in 1959 at Panchet by DVC led to the disaster for the historical temples. It is located at a distance of 8km north-east of Ceheliyama in Raghnuthpur-II block. According to an Armenian-Indian archaeologist Joseph David Belgar, there were twenty finest temples made of bricks and stones in a confined area. Due to the frequent release of water from the Panchet dam the area is now converted into a swampy field. The two temples are visible that are half-submerged into marshy land.

These temples around Telkupi village were divided into three clusters with an architecture similar to that of Banda Deul. The deserted area with a vast lake is also a perfect place for bird watchers. I was accompanied by one of my friends from Purulia town for this trip. We entered our destination in GPS for the Telkupi Temples which is at a distance of almost 53kms from the town. GPS was working well though we reached a few dead ends, with the help of local guides, we crossed the barriers.

We left the main road and followed the shortcut route as shown. The longer route might have taken the same time as the village roads are tough to drive. It took two hours to reach the secluded part of the lake. The vast lake covered with wild aquatic plants and a view of the submerged temple will leave you speechless. It is a bit difficult to reach near the monument but a distant view in silence with no living soul around and the great species of bird will not let you leave the spot.

Banda Deul

Our next destination from Telkupi was 16kms towards Banda and 36km from Purulia. The temple of Banda is the finest stone structure found in Purulia. The stone of the temple is incinerated with patterned carvings inspired from the Odisha style. The site is under the Archaeological Survey of India with despicable maintenance. As no inscription stone was found and badly defaced temple makes it difficult to identify as a Hindu or Jaina temple. The temple is surrounded by Palash trees. During Basant when flowers are in full bloom, it looks more spectacular.

Banda Deul Purulia

Four pillars porched with a roof of the stone slab is placed at the front gate of the temple. A solitary abandoned temple is special for those who are interested in Bengal’s history. With a new experience of bird watching, we moved for our next destination, Banda Deul. Crossing the narrow lanes of the small villages along the widespread fields took a bit more time. The final destination was showing a vast field covered with Palash trees. The heritage temple frozen in time was standing tall a little far inside the field.

Banda Deul Purulia

It has remained neglected by the authority. The broken boundaries around the temple allow the herd of cows to enter the premises. It’s the local people from the village who have initiated to preserve our heritage. The change in weather has deceived me to refrain the full bloom Palash flowers. The temple, a masterpiece of the era, the huge stone blocks carved with artistic sculptures and the huge door of the temple, is mostly overlooked by the tourists.

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Chasing The Mystical Land [Day: 01]

Puruliya The Land of Mystical

Puruliya is an exciting travel adventure and well suited for family holidays. It was difficult for me to make a plan for a short time. It is enriched with heritage and mystical places made of natural beauty, folk culture connected by mythological stories and friendly people. One must visit Puruliya once in a lifetime and add in a bucket list for an adventure trip. Mythological stories add a lot of vigour needed for tourists visiting the place.

A walk through the forest of Sal, Tamal, Sonajhuri and Palas will rejuvenate you with its rare aroma. My first night was planned in the jungle at the foothill of Joychandi Pahar. The hooting of the owls breaks the silence of the night and the giant inactive volcanoes standing tall beside youth hostel is a thrilling experience. My first day began at Joychandi Pahar.

Joychandi Pahar

Throughout my childhood, I heard stories about this place. Those days, climbing to Joychandi was quite difficult without stairs. But now there are well maintained 490 stairs to reach the top of the hill making it much more convenient for travellers. It is famous for rock climbing and it was also the location of the famous film Hirak Raja Deshe directed by Satyajit Ray. The hill is now an inactive volcano surrounded with jungle and is named after a beautiful temple of Ma Joychandi located at the top.

It is about 3km from Raghunathpur and a small Joychandi station at the foothill is well connected. The best time to visit is during Charak Mela and Makarsakranti. It is easy to travel to attractive places but it’s difficult to find a perfect spot. I decided to stay a night at the Youth Hostel which is at the foothill of Joychandi. Online booking is available for Youth Hostel which is a place at a very cheaper cost to stay a night in the mids of the jungle that gave a thrilling and adventures experience.

Next day, I left early in the morning to reach at the top to catch the first glimpse of sunrise. I took a shortcut from Youth Hostel through the jungle to reach the base of stairs. The well-maintained stairs will guide you to the top of the hill. I took a break at one of the main locations of Hirak Raja Deshe, which is a disintegration of the watchtower.

After spending a few moments at the top with a beautiful view of a wide range of hills, plain field and ponds, I took blessings from Ma Joychandi. Now it was time to get down. As the temple was closed I left offerings for the temple at the tea stall at the foothills. The jolly man with his various types of stories was entertaining and uncovered some new facts to learn about the place.

Panchet (Panchakoot) Dam

With a splendid sunrise at the Joychandi Pahar, I moved to the next spot. Thanks to my new friends from Raghunathpur, who accompanied me to cover a few other spots. Our trip began from a massive Panchet Dam under Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC). It is the 4th oldest dam in India inaugurated in 1959. The reservoir shares the border of Jharkhand and West Bengal on the foothills of Panchet hill, one of the favourite tourist destination among the locals. A small beautiful park near the dam is a place to move around for a better view.

The nearest Kumardubi railway station is at the distance of 10kms from the dam. Due to lack of communication facility, it is comparatively less populated than Mython Dam. With heavy breakfast, we left from Raghunathpur for the Panchet dam. The countryside view of Panchet hill on the way will enrich you with calmness. You may also try the famous beverage of date palms in the village. On the way, we tried the seeds of Khesari, a type of pulses from the field.

The scenic beauty will force you to stop for a moment and gaze upon the simplicity and integrity of the locals. They always have time to help and query about you with a cheerful greeting. It took around one and a half hour to reach by bike from Raghunathpur including the recess that we enjoyed. The great reservoir can be enjoyed in months of monsoon as the water level is higher and can be seen in the full flow. The backdrop view of Panchet hill with a small amusement park makes a nice relaxing spot for the traveller.

Garh Panchakoot

Our next destination Garh Pachakoot. As the name suggests Garh which means fort in Sanskrit. The relics of the fort is frozen in time bearing the witness of the plundering of Marathas speaking for the ambushed dreams of Kashipur King’s defeat on the foothills of Panchet.It is said that the King fled away leaving back his 17 wives which later committed collective suicides.

The interesting fact is that it is made of all huge stone labs in area of around 500 square meters. The hollow gate of the palace is the only entry point from where the entire palace was watched. The distance view of the temple at the entrance of wrecks will make you forget all the tiredness in the journey and will greet you with new nirvana.

The roadways along vast fields with friendly people give you a feeling of comfort away from home. The amazing fact about Garh Panchakoot is the natural resources used by people to build and protect the palace. The most important part of the history of Bengal, unfortunately, documentation about this beautiful place is missing from our book.

The grand temple is dedicated to the Lord Vishnu’s avatar, Shri Chaitanya a protector of Vaishnuism. The temple is a masterpiece of stone blocks used in the architecture. It is said that the palace was once surrounded in a semi-circle by a defensive ditch and to enter the main gate the people have to cross by a boat.

Baranti Lake

Sunset view from Baranti Lake is mind refreshing. Spending a few hours in the relics of Grah Panchakoot and rehydrating ourself with fresh sugarcane juice, we moved for the lake. It is around 12kms from Garh Panchakoot with favourable roadways. It is located at Santuri and the nearest railway station is Muradi which is well connected by local trains. The landscape from Baranti Lake makes it more special. The view of two mountains merging at the horizon of the lake makes it a perfect sketch of countryside view.

The lake is well-bounded with stones and few places add immense beauty for the tourist however there are a number of cottages available for the peaceful stay. I was fortunate enough to get so many friends in Raghunathpur with their great company and visiting these many places in one day was an incredible experience. We moved down to the rocks of the lake near the water to grab our perfect sit for the perfect sunset.

My friends had carried some soothing musical instruments, the evening became more colourful with the beautiful view of the sunset on the horizon. Some of the other tourists were residing near cottages, they grabbed our attention with a few interesting stories and facts. It’s so truly said, “you get out from home as a solo traveller, sooner or later you are surrounded by friends”. It was time to get back to the town, as we had only breakfast and no meals in between, we decided to move back to the famous Dhabas of Raghunathpur on the way and cherished the day spent.

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The Land of Red Soil- Puruliya

After wandering in some of the offbeat places in India, I always had a soft corner for Purulia, which is also one of the most awaited destinations I ever wished to cover in my life. The sub-tropical part of our country Puruliya is also known as the Land of Red soil of West Bengal has gained its popularity among the tourist of this state. This is my homeland and as a traveller, I decided to bring out some of the best places in Puruliya.

The Land of Red Soil "Puruliya"

The geographic Surroundings of the place is carved by hills, forests and beautiful streams. Amid jungles, Puruliya also is known for inactive volcanoes that have not erupted in years, and the fact, the Arms Dropping happened in Puruliya back in 1995. Although Puruliya was famous during the Maratha period for their raids and plundering of the palace.

Joychandi Pahar

However, The name Puruliya was first mentioned in the Jaina Bhagwati Sutra. A few remains of Jaina temples also states its presence. It was during the British reign when it came under Jangal Mahal. Later on, 1st November 1956, it was declared as a separate district. The lush green, dense sal forest with blossoms of Palash flowers in spring gives a rustic ambience to Puruliya district.

The Land of Red Soil "Puruliya"

The remains of the archaeological sites in dense forests unwind its pioneer mystery. The mystic charm of different tribes enriches the region with tribal ethos. The famous martial dance Chhou and song Jhumur are an inherent part of the lives of tribal people. A short trip to The Land of Red Soil in a serenity of nature is also pocket-friendly with a challenging adventure.

My Tour Itinerary

Chasing The Mystical Land [Day: 01]

Early morning I left for mountain climbing in Joyachandi Pahar. Later we went to Panchet Dam and took hold near the relics of Garh Panchakoot. Shortly we went for the sunset at Baranti.

Recline of Abandoned Temples [Day: 02]

Spending a night at Purulia town, we left for our next destinations. The day began with a long-journey covering, Cheliyama block’s Telkupi and Banda Deul (Jaina temple).

The Artists Behind the Scenes of Chhau Dance [Day: 03]

Early morning I left for Balrampur by local bus from Purulia town. After one-hour I reached Balrampur. Taking a few minutes to halt in Balrampur we went for trekking to explore Jharnakocha cave. From there we moved to look for the Jharnakocha cave after half an hour climbing through the dense forest. with few accomplishments, we moved to Chorida.

How to Reach?

Purulia is well connected by airport, railways and roadways. The new aerodrome at Andul is well connected by flights from all over the country. Regular available buses and trains are cheap to travel from one place to another. The main town has Totos for local travel, which is very cheap and affordable.

A Day in The Veil of Flowers- Khirai

A Day in The Veil of Flowers "Khirai"

A short excursion is barely to dodge the stressful ordinary life. Undoubtedly, A Day in The Veil of Flowers “Khirai” will leave you lofty in the fields of the countryside. This popular destination is famous amongst the few where you may find the majority of the people from the nearest districts of Bengal. The main attraction is the vast acres of farmland cultivated with varieties of flowers.

Chrysanthemum Flower Valley of flowers Khirai

The fragrance of the untouched countryside with warm-hearted people greets you with absolute adoration. Though the place doesn’t have any hill or valley yet it is known as Bengal’s Valley of Flowers. It is situated on the bank of Cossai (Kangshabati) river which later merges in the Bay of Bengal. Let’s spend a day in the field with outburst colours of flowers.

A Day in The Veil of Flowers "Khirai"

Bengal’s countryside is well portrayed by the poets as a shy bride with a veil covering her beautiful teenage face. The farms of Panskura and Khirai are the best illustration of poets mood. The farm produces some of the best ornamental flowers like Chrysanthemum, Karen and Marigold for the rest of India.

Best Time to Visit Khirai:

Best time to visit "Khirai"

During the winter season, the production of flowers increase and this is the best time to witness blooming flowers. From the months of December to February is the peak season when flowers are at full bloom. The increase in the level of pollution has affected the countryside which is a desperate time for the farmer. It is our respect to give applause to our farmers for producing some of the best flowers in our country.

How to Reach?

The Valley of Flower is well connected by roads and railways. The farmland is located in East Midnapore district between Khirai station and Panskura station. It is easily accessible by local trains from Kolkata at regular interval. It takes around two hours from Howrah to reach the destination. From Khirai station it takes 30-40min of a walk along the narrow lane beside the railway track.

On a Lazy Sunday Morning!

The dusty road of village West Bengal Khirai

Sudden plans always come up with more energy and excitement. Taking a short break from the city on a lazy Sunday wasn’t a bad idea. I have always been fond of vibrant colours and the place that I was about to go was A Day in The Veil of Flowers “Khirai”, attracted me while travelling by train long time ago. A vast field covered by Marigold flowers has always appeared to me like a trailer each time while crossing the field. So finally I made up my mood to explore the cinematic field of flowers.

Marigold flowers in Khirai Valley of flowers

The sun was up when I started my journey from home. I made sure to pack baked food and sufficient water and left from my place. I reached Santragachi railway station for a local train to Khirai. The total cost to Khirai and down to Santragachi on a train is Rs.30. The weather was surprisingly amazing and the train was not crowded so grabbing a seat near the window wasn’t a problem.

train to Khirai village West Bengal

Although I was carrying my food I couldn’t stop trying local snacks from every vendor from different halts simultaneously enjoying the countryside view. The two hours of the local train journey was quite pleasant. While I got down, I wasn’t expecting an isolated station with scarcely visible life around the busiest network of India that clearly gives the glimpse of the untouched beauty ‘Khirai’.

A Day in The Veil of Flowers "Khirai"

The main occupation of the people is farming and very few are interested in city life. After two mins of walk from the station, I met a humble lady who guided me through narrow lanes beside the railway track and also told me the best route to reach the Veil of Flowers “Khirai”. Such generous behaviour is uncommon to see in the urbanites.

A Day in The Veil of Flowers "Khirai"

Thirty minutes of walk along the trail I felt like Cossai River was treating me an anonymous petal being pulled towards the land of flowers. After exploring for a few hours from one field to other, leisurely the sun was at the horizon. I bought a few saplings of marigold from the field and then went to the local market.

local market in Khirai

The market was entrancing with local people selling colourful marigold flowers and especially the ladies making garlands of it. I became familiar with the story of the famous temple in the village during gossips with the locals at tea- stall. It was getting dark and no vehicles were available for the station. After, sharing the unconditional gratitude toward locals I took a walk back to the station.

The Charity of Care Helping Unprivileged Mankind:

Around the world, several NGOs, Missionaries for charity are carrying out extensive social work across different domains. Kolkata too has a large number of active NGOs with dedicated volunteers, that are committed to bringing about positive changes in the society in general, and for the weak and underprivileged in particular. It is a blessing to be born in a good family with all the basic needs,

so it equally becomes the responsibility of people to help the underprivileged sector of society. These NGOs are working in the field of human rights, gender equality, poverty, unemployment, and so on. The service of charity resonates heavily with Ramkriskhna’s “Serving the mankind is serving the God” and Mother Teresa’s works for which she has been canonized as St. Teresa of Kolkata.

The Missionary of Charity (Mother Teresa Memorial House):

The historic residence of Mother Teresa is in east Kolkata on AJC Bose road near Moulali. It is a holy place of pilgrimage and reverence to the selfless Mother. It was established in 1950 with some sisters and gradually many sisters joined the missionary. Now, this is the Headquarters for all the charitable activities initiated by the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity around the world. The members of the Mother House provide free services to the people in need regardless of their religion. A certain area of the house is for followers to pay their respect to Mother Teresa.

the missionaries for charity

Here, one can find Mother Teresa’s Tomb in a grand marble structure. An exhibition room that displays her work through photographs, awards, and articles in chronological order. Some of her belongings like sarees, sandals, and bags are also displayed. You can walk upstairs to see a small room preserved in all its simplicity where she lived. This is where Mother Teresa began her service to mankind, and this is where she ended her service to move to heaven.

the missionaries for charity
Ramkrishna Math, Barisha:

The math is another branch of Belur Math, which is the home for the elderly who has no one to take care of, or a proper place to stay. The place is spiritually inclined with devotees. The serene ambience of the Math at dawn and dusk with the vast expanse of green covering, the age-old trees, the lily pool, the chirping of the birds separates the environment of the ashram from the hustles and bustles of Kolkata. Spend a few moments with the monks and the elderly residents of the place. It will let you full of positive vibrations.

The place leaves with the credibility about the Indian tradition of Joint Family where our elderly people now live a pathetic life of loneliness. It does not receive any special benefits from the Government. Like all other Ramakrishna Centres, this Math also has no source of regular income of its own. It solely depends on the donations of the devotees. The Math is located at Barisha near Shaker Bazaar on Motilal Gupta Road. The nearest metro is Mahanayak Uttam Kumar (Tollygunge) from where take auto for Shaker Bazaar from the stand. It will let lay you down at the gates of the mission.

the missionaries for charity

The Crumbling of the glorious days of Rajbari:

Most of the great Mansions or crumbling Rajbari around Kolkata of which very few are still intact and restored. The Zamindars of Bengal had a life of pomp and show, unimaginable today. Magnificient estates and mansions give a grandeur feeling of old Bengal. The feeling of old zamindars which led to a combination of manipulation, battles, love, arts, and business, set bounded by the abundance and the finest luxury India offered at that time.

crumbling Rajbari around Kolkata

The gorgeous Rajbaris’ architectures and designs varied from one another and glorify the indigenous style of Raja and European concepts. The grand mansions are very expensive to maintain and carry on regular repairs by the right artisans. Unfortunately, few of the mansions are so neglected that they are crumbling. And few have been demolished by promoters. The few surviving Rajbaris are converted in museums displaying the lifestyle of the then people, few became the homestays and others are being used as the location for film/tv series.

Jorasanko Thakur Rajbari:

Thakur Bari as it is popularly known is the nerve of Bengal’s cultural life. The nearest metro is Girish Park and it will take 15 minutes to walk from the station to Rabindra Sarani. The entry fee is ₹20 per person and for photography the additional charge is ₹50. The building has been restored keeping the reflection of old Thakur Bari with a nice corridor and a beautiful courtyard. Rabindranath was born, spent most of his life and took the last breath in this house.

The rajbari is converted into a museum displaying around 700 paintings, rare artefacts, scriptures and antique items of various artists in different galleries that can be explored. The rooms of Rabindranath Tagore and the kitchen of his wife Mrinalini Devi display the lifestyle of the Era of Bengal Renaissance. The best time to visit the place is during the great poet Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday (25th Baishakh), the date of his demise (22nd Sravana) and Poila Baishakh when ceremonies and cultural functions are held. During that time, you can participate in those events and celebrations.

crumbling Rajbari around Kolkata
Rani Rashmoni House:
crumbling Rajbari around Kolkata

Pritam Das, Rani Rashmoni’s father-in-law, started constructing this mansion in 1805. It took around 8 years to complete. There is a Natmandir in front of the verandah, where the famous traditional Durga Puja is still held. Rani Rashmoni was a pillar of strength for women in the male-dominated society of that era. She was a well-known philanthropist and was engaged in numerous charitable activities. She constructed the famous Dakshineswar Kali Temple and funded for Babughat along Ganga.

Now the descendants of Rani Rashmoni live in this Rajbari. The family house is divided into three parts to three of her four daughters’ families. The families are finding it hard to maintain the house as few portions are collapsing as crumbling Rajbari around Kolkata. The falling apart aristocracy of Kolkata requires quick restoration for the future. The traffic along the junction of Surendranath Banerjee Road and Rani Rashmoni Road is extremely heavy, it is a scene of chaos. The best way to get around is by nearest metro station Esplanade and then 15 minutes walk to the place.

The Serene Presence of Buddhist Pagodas from Different Community:

Buddhist temples in Kolkata

Buddhism spread in Bengal during Ashoka. But its effect faded away in the successive period. The presence of Buddhist Pagodas in Kolkata slowly mingled with other cultures of the locals. Still, there are some monasteries in Kolkata and North Bengal. They reveal different stories of their presence with the calmness at their sites with prayer. The Buddhist monks from different parts of Asia as Myanmar, China and Japan came much later to the city and established the temples and prayer halls. But very few people know about these beautiful temples in Kolkata and the amazing stories behind it.

Buddhist monk during prayer

The melodic chants of Mantra make one forget all worries, anxieties, stress and all tribulations. You will find yourself in the divine world of spirituality. The spiritual aura of prayers amidst the calmness and peaceful environment of the Buddhist Pagodas are the best places that one can visit. The best peaceful gesture is when Chinese and Japanese Buddhists jointly built a beautiful temple in Eden Garden leaving the impression of their respective culture.

Buddhism in Kolkata

The different pagodas have their typical architecture which looks out of place in the city of joy. It attracts a few Buddhist locals and some wandering tourists. You will surely experience peace and reconciliation yourself at these breathtaking monasteries.

In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.

-Lord Gautam Buddha

Hsuan Tsang Monastery (China Temple):

The monastery has been named after the famous monk and scholar Hsuan Tsang who travelled in India in 7th BC. The monastery was constructed by the local Chinese community in 1968. The locals call it China Mandir. The Monastery is two-storied with the monks and nuns residence.

Chinese Buddhist Pagodas in Kolkata

The temple is situated on one end of the premises and the main prayer hall is on the ground floor. The huge hall contains four giant Buddha statues, painted with bright golden colour. On both sides of the main statue, smaller statues of Chinese Gods and Goddesses are placed, creating a mesmerizing environment.

Buddhist Pagodas in Kolkata

The glass cover around the alter makes photography extremely difficult. Festivals like Buddha Purnima, Chinese New Year and senior citizen’s day according to the Chinese calendar are celebrated every year. The monastery also hosts special sessions of prayers on every full moon day apart from daily prayers.

Chinese Budhist temple

It is located on the outskirt of Kolkata. the Monastery is best approached from the Ruby Hospital on the EM Bypass from where regular auto services are available which takes 10-15 minutes for Adarsh Nagar, Chowbanga.

Nipponzan Myohoji Temple (Japanese Temple):

Few people living in the region are aware that there is a Japanese Buddhist Pagodas in Kolkata, and even fewer are aware that it is officially called The Nipponzan Myohoji Temple. The Japanese Buddhist Temple is located on the Lake Road at Kabi Bharati Sarani, in Dhakuria.

Japanese Buddhist Temple

The two-storied milky white building is lined with golden borders and a beautiful compound with manicured lawns and landscaped gardens. It has a prayer hall on the ground floor, where a marble idol of seated Buddha and the altar is marvellously decorated with colourful fabrics and brass lamps.

Buddhist Pagodas in Kolkata

There is a meditation room on the second floor and the Arya Dharma Library beside it. The temple was founded in 1935 by Nichidatsu Fujii (1885 – 1985), who held the opinion of the Lotus Sutra. At the entrance of the temple is signage, which reads “Na – Mu – Myo – Ho – Ren – Ge – Kyo.” meaning “I take refuge in the wonderful law of the Lotus Flower Sutra”.

Stupa in Kolkata

See if you can locate the residence of the ex-President of India, Pranab Mukherjee. To reach the site, come in the middle of the Dhakuria Bridge and climb down the stairs, pass below the bridge, walk a couple of yards away, on the left.

Few Synagogues are left to tell the story of Jewish Community

Few Jewish Community Synagogues in Kolkata are left to tell the story about the first Jew who came with his family to Kolkata in 1798 from Allepo in Syria was Shalom Aaron Obadia Cohen and established the first community. Many other families followed him from different parts of Europe, Baghdad, Iraq, and other Middle East countries. It is estimated that around 6000 Jews settled in Kolkata. But they started to shift to Israel & other countries leading to a decline in their population. At present only 20 Jewish as a legacy in terms of Kolata’s heritage remains in the city.

Well, it’s never too late to broaden your knowledge and know about Kolkata’s different communities & their culture. The beautiful Synagogues with long towers and beautiful interior, decorated by wooden architectures and chandeliers, are the holy place of worship for Judaism. There were five Synagogues in Kolkata of which only three are intact after restoration. All three synagogues are on the same campus. Each one is beautiful and has own architectural ambience. The synagogues are situated at China Bazaar near the junction of Brabourne Road and Canning Street in the locality of Baghbazaar.

Maghen David Synagogue:

Jewish community Synagogues

Maghen David is one of the biggest Jewish community Synagogues in Asia. It was built in 1884 by Sir Elias David Ezra in memory of his father David Joseph Ezra. The building, 40 meters high, is of renaissance style with a clock tower.

Jewish community Synagogues

Its interior stuns the visitors with its black and white checked tiles and in some places, the mosaic tiles, the large stained Belgian glasses, and three curtained doors at the entrance. In the centre of the hall, there is a wooden pulpit and beautiful chandeliers brightening the whole place. A wooden staircase leads up to the gallery having seating arrangements. The warm hue of synagogue presents the best portrait for photography.

Jewish community Synagogues

The caretaker of the Synagogue is a Muslim, the most heartening gesture in this period when the Jews and Muslims of the Middle East are not in good terms. But here in Kolkata, their relation with other communities is cordial. To visit Synagogue you have to take permission from Hony. Secretary/President David Ashkenazy. They are most helpful and will provide you with all the information. Please follow the instructions and respect the environment of the holiness.