Category Archives: Travel

The Ultimate Escape

Standard
Paddy Field

Paddy Field

Bolpur is far away from the flashy buzz-a three and a half hours drive from Kolkata, India. We were on a trip to a village – Panchshoa, Bolpur for the Holi (festival of colors) celebration. We took the Durgapur Expressway (NH 2).  This motor able route is exceptionally smooth & we had a glitch free travel. The four lane dividers are beautifully landscaped. The route had an extensive paddy farm land and the hues of green on either side looked magnificent! The enchantments included many other small observations, like the bullock carts, mud huts, cow dung cakes, etc. The greenery was flourishing as we were nearing our destination.

“There, can you see the Tata Building?” Manhawar, our driver pointed at the huge deserted land. We were taken aback by the stretch and its vastness. The infamous Singur is significantly a huge barren land we crossed by. The gigantic Tata building lies abandoned. It is the disputed land of Tata Nano project. What a waste!

Shaktigarh was our tea break, a famed stopover popularly known for “langcha”, a sweet meat made of fresh cottage cheese.

The setting sun

The setting sun

 We watched the orange haze casting over the nearby trees with a glowing light on the horizon. A warm sensation splashed onto my face from the beaming rays of the setting sun. We finally reached our destination through muddy and dusty road. On arriving, we were transported to a different place altogether. The surroundings dazzled with lightings and all preparations were on for the big occasion – Holi that was on the very next day. We were welcomed by cousins and relatives.

As we tried to settle down and relax, within half an hour tea with puffed rice and some yummy fries were served. Eat like locals with locals as they say.

The huge area of land, consisting of the main building is my hubby’s cousin’s house. It has a rajbari (palatial) look. Just beside the Rajbari (as I call) is the temple of Radha-krishna along with a shiv mandir and opposite is the temple of Shinghabahini (Durga) with a podium on both sides. bolpur2A part of the temple area is the guest house and just opposite is the area where hay is stacked from the recent harvest. Basically, the family owns a huge farmland where rice is grown in abundance. Adjacent to it is a community kitchen and a dining hall. The stage was already set and the evening saw some soulful numbers by some local baul singers. This continued till late at night.

The Dhakis

The Dhakis

Early next morning, the temple reverberated with Rabindra Sangeet accompanied by the beats of drums. Some 12 dhakis (drummers) were gloriously drumming in majestic rhythm bringing a typical festive aura. What amused me were the decorative drums and the number. I’ve never seen so many dhakis at a time, not even in Durga puja celebrations.

It was after 11.00 a.m. the pujas started and soon after, the head priest applied abir (color) on everybody’s forehead. The festival of colors came alive.

Evening saw some wonderful music by Shantinekatan students performing dance drama and the likes. The ground was filled with all village folks from young to very old. This continued till the wee hours.

Food was exceptionally sumptuous all through our stay. Dinner on “Holi ” night was just awesome. The menu was tastefully set with crunchy fish fry and salad to start with, followed by lobster curry dipped in coconut milk, mutton curry steaming out of the serving bowl and an array of  vegetarian food & desserts to wrap up. Not forgetting a pint of the best scotch whiskey and many other I don’t know drinks( i don’t drink 🙂 ) for some, to honor the celebration before diving to the dinner table.

Shobuj Bon

Shobuj Bon

To wind up, we set out to Shobuj Bon (Green jungle) the next morning. The entrance made me feel very excited. It had a rugged pathway. A flash of memories of our jungle adventures came back. The owner, a bald headed middle aged man greeted us and we made rounds to the 120 acres of land cover. The amazing part was the variety of flowering plants that were carefully handpicked to landscape the property – noteworthy natural attraction. As we explored, we came across few thatched houses. It is a Jungle Resort as well. We met few tourists here and their experience was good. “If you want a real jungle experience, this place delivers”, said one of them.You are sure to love the exotic and once in a lifetime experience of staying inside the jungle. Where the heat, humidity, and discomforts, this place can be met with considerable comfort. Perhaps this will be my next destination very soon.

Shobuj Bon

Shobuj Bon

Wedding in the Land of Rivers

Standard

There is always a reason to feel elated with any celebrations in a family. With so many ups and downs till the D-day is a bit of an experience I would like to share. It was indeed a journey to knowing so many little things that makes up for the big event. It is also a reason to rejoice. You need the planning thing done & planning a wedding away in another country presents some unique challenges.

Well, its my brother’s  wedding! My sister and brother in law, who lives some thousands of miles away in another country, traveled all the way just to arrange everything for the wonderful event. The day was fixed with few formalities and within 2  sweltering weeks, the budget setting, venue & purchases. etc was done.

The balancing act between work and organizing things needed a lot of scheduling. Inviting guests was the major and final task. Undoubtedly, this was perhaps the most challenging of all as we had to visit the invitees’ family individually.

I share this as I thought that this was something that made me more me in the process of handling situations and knowing more people. Besides, it was the calling, as my father was bed-ridden for nearly 3 months till few days of the D-day! So he could not participate in the whole process.

Oh! Wow! Now that we are traveling to another country was something which made me a bit both excited & nervous. Well, it is Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh where the wedding will take place. Definitely the bride is from this very country. Arranging for the VISA  was one foremost task before the travel.

Our journey was two days ahead of the wedding. We, me and my hubby took the Greenline bus service to Dhaka from kolkata, India. The roads were just excellent and the views on both sides saw the yellow blooms of mustard and marigold plantations. The village life was prominently visible as we moved further. We crossed the Padma River on a huge barge. This was another very interesting experience!

onwaytodhakaIt was the Benapol – Petrapol immigration checks that surprised me. If you wish your luggage to be unchecked, you definitely need to scoff out some extra bucks to the officers, well, on the Bangladesh border.

After about 12 and a half hours journey we reached Dhaka. It was 6.45 p.m. We had to wait for nearly 2 hours at the bus depot for the bride’s family to take us to their house. Now, the horrendous journey started with a snarling traffic jam, very unusual, unlike Kolkata.

We reached our destination around 10.00 p.m. with showers of flower petals!! I was just taken aback by the arrangements made for the haldi ceremony for the bride. The bride looked astoundingly beautiful in a yellow sari. A blend of Muslim-Hindu rituals was prominently visible. After the rituals, it was followed by the beats of the latest hindi film song, “chor charke apne saleem ki gali ,“ with friends and relatives dancing to the tune. It was full masti, fun and frolic! No, no not us. The exhausted bones couldn’t take it any more. After a quick dinner we were taken to a hotel nearby where we were to lodge for the next 2 days.

Both my hubby and I on reaching the hotel, our expectation zeroed down.  It was a mosquito infested room; the telephone was dead and no attendant for the night. Rooms looked very shabby. Oh! What a nightmare!

sleepy-eyes

During my bus journey I was dozing to sleep and jolting awake throughout. I badly needed sleep. It was 1.30 a.m. and I was still wide awake. With the hope, I turned on the television if this can lullaby me. Hubby was rhino skinned (to mosquito bites)..he was snoring to glory and yelled back to lower the volume.Now, what? The volume button doesn’t work. I’m always an over packer and this experience made me think twice to definitely carry a mosquito repellent for all my travel. You really don’t know what surprise awaits you at the destination.

I desperately wanted the dawn to break. Well, the night passed by with no sleep. Woke up around 7.30 a.m. the next day and took a quick shower. It was a bandh day here at Dhaka. That day the groom (my brother) with my sis and brother -in -law (BIL) were flying. Unfortunately, on reaching, they were stranded for 4 hours at the airport before they joined us.

Another strikingly annoying situation was every one of us was put in different floors of the hotel. Communication was so poor, that we needed to run to each room to co-ordinate.

The previous evening my BIL’s aunt expired. He was busy till the wee hours on the day of travel. Their flight was around 7.00 a.m. He couldn’t sleep a wink and to top it they haven’t yet come over the jet lag thing. So, in fact every one desperately needed sleep except my hubby.

It was 3.00 p.m. and as we all tried to sleep, meanwhile, my hubby made rounds to the nearby markets. He didn’t smoke since he came here (though not a regular smoker) was pretty tempted by the variety of foreign branded cigarettes sold in one of the stalls. In Kolkata you need not buy the whole pack. A cigarette lighter in a sling always hangs by the shop, so u need not even buy a match box either. Here in Dhaka no loose ones, so he bought a pack. Just after his first puff, he saw a rickshaw puller puffing the same brand :0!

 I was just trying to get some more sleep when some of our cousins were at our hotel to visit us. This was perhaps our first meet and we were quite excited. They took us around the city and the lighting in and around looked brilliant! I bravely let my spirits high despite being exhausted. One very interesting observation was, we haven’t seen even a single woman on the streets. Every second vehicle is a BMW and what a contrast with endless rickshaws. Heard Dhaka has one of Asia’s largest number of these cycles 🙂

The next day was crucial. Since previous night and the next morning we decorated all the gifts boxes for the bride’s family. In a Bengali wedding fish is supposed to be a very auspicious element. Buying one from an unknown country was pretty tuff but definitely the main mode of communication was Bengali, so it was a hassle free shopping. Decorating a fish is another interesting part, which goes along with the other gifts.

The wedding day started off by visiting the bride’s house with all the gifts early morning. The decorated fish was the major attraction. This is the first part of the ceremony.

We spent the wedding afternoon at one of our cousin’s house. The sumptuous lunch and the adda was just incredible. It was a huge house with spacious rooms. They made us feel so much at home. We decked up for the wedding event from here and was ready by 5.00 p.m. By 5.30 – 6.00 p.m. we were suppose to reach the wedding hall.  A very distressing thing of Dhaka is the traffic jam. All vehicles reached so late that we were already totally drained out. I definitely didn’t want to look tired on the wedding day. My fatigued eyes looked puffy. We reached at around 9.30 p.m. At the destination, we were taken back by the road side onlookers.Hindu wedding in a Muslim dominated country is some what a great attraction!!

 Gate dhora is another interesting part before entering the venue. The bride’s friends and cousins make demands in currency which the groom has to negotiate otherwise no wedding would take place. It is just part of the fun in a Bengali wedding and many Indian weddings.

Finally when we were inside the hall, we were greeted by our other relatives whom we met for the first time. The hall was very beautiful and well decorated. We were taken aback by the bride yet again. She looked gorgeous! Now, let me tell you one very interesting part of the Bangladesh Parlors. They can make anyone look exceptionally beautiful by their skills. Even the ugly duckling will look like a queen! This is one trade I would certainly appreciate. But, it does come with a cost unlike that in Kolkata. I was just awe -struck by most of the women guests. I had no energy to capture them for my camera. Just Google search “Bangladeshi bride”, you will definitely fall flat. The make-up business is doing real business.

By 11.00 p.m. I was already drooling and the ceremony was just on the final stage. Dinner table was very tastefully decorated for the guests and food looked really good – Badshashi layout!  The worst part is when over exhaustion kills your appetite and the display of all yummy dishes becomes a sore to the eye. If only there was a retake.

food

By 12.30 p.m. we were at one of our cousins’ place at the Army cantonment. We spent the night with comfort but the mosquitoes were very cunning here as well. Well, I told myself, next time no risk. I’ll surely be geared up for such menace.

The next morning after a simple but superb breakfast, we headed to the bride’s place for the final bidai (farewell ceremony) for the bride. This is one situation I really hate to see as parents and relatives of the bride weep as she sets out to another family.

Our flight took off at 4.30 p.m. The fifteen minutes flight from Dhaka to Kolkata was just unbelievable but the immigrations and the luggage checks took away nearly all of the time. We finally reached home at 7.30 p.m. In spite of the few hitches, we had a great stay. The warmth and love showered on us was indeed memorable.

Wild Fury : Vengeance & Survival !

Standard

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

In the forest of the night….

~ William Blake

Sunderbans has always been one of the destinations in our wish list. The above lines have so much relevance to the Sunderbans (largest mangrove forest) of West Bengal, India  for the Royal Bengal tiger.sundarbans-1

Few years back, in one of our trips, we met an interesting old boatman, who spent nearly two decades or so in the Sunderbans. He shared some of his captivating & hair raising experiences. I was overwhelmed by his story telling ability.This inspired me to share one of his story  :

One fine winter morning, four young tourists from Kolkata made it to the Sunderbans . They put up at a resort. The tiger stories they heard made them quite excited. “Baag dekhbo ee dekhbo”( will make sure we get 2 see a tiger) was in their thoughts.

sundarbans-3Raghu, the boatman, was reluctant at first with their idea. He knew all about the jungle and the movements of the wild.The forest cover is spectacular and maneuvering through the spiky forest floor is one tricky job.It is amazing to note how humans & tigers evolved to co-exist in this harsh conditions as in weather & jungles. God rightly chose the colors to camouflage the King of its stripes.

After much coaxing by the tourists, Raghu agreed on extra bucks they promised. So it was a temptation & a “confused yes”. “Amader baag dekhate hobe”, ( you got to show us a Tiger anyhow) said one of the tourists.

It was 3.00 p.m. in the afternoon. Sun was just on the western horizon and the sky looked brilliant. They all set out, crossing by other tourist boats. The chirping birds seem to trail out as they moved further. The silence of the surrounding was very visible with few chirps here and there. Excitement started building up as Raghu stirred the boat toward one of the creeks. The tourists brought snacks & some beverages along. Boozing seems to have made them over excited. Raghu alerted them to maintain silence.

boat-11Accepting the idea was a difficult proposition for Raghu now. Every time they go unruly, they break the jungle rule. He kept signaling them to maintain calm. The creek was narrowing & the sun was almost descending. Raghu sensed something moving among the camouflage. ” Sssssh…I think we’ve almost seen not one but two following us”, Raghu alerted.. As he moved to turn the boat, it got stuck! Oh! it was a crazy day, he thought. In no time one tiger was face to face with the boat! In self-defense, Raghu instantly turned the oar’s sharp edge pointing towards the tiger. The tiger didn’t move. He could hear the rustling of another invisible cat following. Raghu whispered to the tourists to light the crackers.

Seeing a tiger, a wild tiger  – a giant in attacking position, the tourists nearly froze. They lost control to even light a match.  The zing-ting of the drinks disappeared out of them. Somehow they managed to light the crackers. After a series of explosions, the tigers sneered and instantly descended back. They roared and disappeared. Sensing danger, Raghu jumped off the non moveable boat and pushed it fast to the waters.  We don’t have time and he nodded his head left-right with a sigh saying this was a very bad venture. All the four were so shaken, they huddled to each other in comfort. Raghu rowed as fast as he could. He has to reach the main stream before night fall.

In the meantime, the explosions alerted the jungle rangers. The route made Raghu feel longer now. The rangers shouldn’t track him, he prayed. The fear of getting caught was keeping him disturbed. Once out of the creek, he advised them to leave the jungles anyhow by that night. The risk he says, that, they are now identified and the tigers’ strong sense of smell will definitely pick any one of them by  that night.

Raghu helped them escape. The next morning a pal of grieve descended the village.

pictures: Google

Chills, thrills on the hills – Magnificient Dooars!

Status

View as we head to the mountains

Excitement filled in me with the very thought of adventure. The jungles gives me an instant vivid picture of childhood days in the North East! Yes, we planned for the Dooars – one of the breathtaking jungles of North Bengal, India

It was a late night train from Sealdah to Jalpaiguri by Darjeeling mail. Winter was just making its final retreat & the weather was absolutely brilliant. We had a pleasant journey.

1st Day

I could feel the fresh air on reaching Jalpaiguri . Antare Sherpa the driver a jovial guy lead us to his Marshal for the rest of the journey uphill. He will be our guide as well. We were late by few hours with few breaks for a flat tyre – unpredictable but no choice. Otherwise, the journey to Mutri (we chose this place as the base) was pretty good. After nearly 10 years or so I got to experience the hills. It was indeed breath taking!

Murti River at the backdrop from our hotel room

It was noon when we reached the Govt. lodge – Murti Banani with  the Murti River gurgling as a  beautiful setting at its backdrop. After a quick shower and lunch we were off for a jungle safari to Gorumara National Park at around 3.00 p.m. in an open jungle jeep.  We had a great time and got to see an entirely different side of Gorumara. As the jungle grew deeper we could hear a variety of birds chirping & sound of animals. Our guide helped us identify. From the watch tower we could see few rhinos, deer & peacock.

The sun now was descending and everything around was growing creepy and quite chilly; our guide changed route for an experience of local folk dance. We settled down around a podium. Tea and snacks were served. With the beats of drums & singing the dancers came alive. Later we joined the troupe & danced with only one simple step. It was fun & pretty tiring but that made us feel warmer in the cold. Finally we bid adieu and descended 2 our jeep. We asked the driver to hood up as it was becoming too chilly. We all huddled to each other to keep warm, crossing miles of the jungle and reached the lodge. We ordered hot tea and some sumptuous snacks and decided to spend rest of the evening chatting till dinner, before we retired for the night.

The next day we planned to go for a long ride. Early morning our driver was on time and so our next excitement is set to unravel.

2nd Day

We crossed Sipchu – a forest village where the houses are made of wood and about 2 feet above ground. Almost all the houses are adorned with flowering pots in their verandahs. They remind me of my childhood days. The ongoing GNLF’s protests and bandhs seem to have entered this village. They set up camps too, to spread their voices to the eastern section of the region. My heart skipped a beat fearing risk. Shortly two shaktimans zoomed past us and our guide said that the army was here to stop these protestors from going beyond this village. From the very start when we decided to trip to North Bengal the crises was boiling in Darjeeling and some adjoining areas and my in laws were pretty apprehensive about it. We took enough information before the travel.

View Point

Well, after we crossed Sipchu, our uphill journey started. We crossed Kumani – another village. On way we saw hills of Cardamom & Rubber plantations. The beauty of  seems to be coming alive. Saw two girls walking & learnt they generally walk 2 to 3 km to their home. That again reminds me of my childhood when we used to walk 2 km to school. Life is indeed very simple on the hills.

We reached Garibashaka View Point. The view point is  adorned with a small open pavilion with thatched roof with bamboo seats. It is here, from where we could see way down below River Jaldhaka and the sounds seems to be quite turbulent even though part of it has dried up, being winter. A few yards beside the river we could see few official quarters of the electricity department of the Jhalong Hydel Project. Everything around was so scenic and serene.Its only the sounds of the river that made the whole area so captivating.

Brilliance of Autumn

We took off to our new destination and our downward journey began. The roads were too narrow, made me feel scary. We stopped often when we wowed to the ever changing picturesque landscape we came across and captured them. We reached Bindu, also known as Zero Point, from where we could view Bhutan border. Bridge constructed over Bindu Barrage is the connecting route of India & Bhutan. Just beyond the barrage, high up we could see the whispering Jaldhaka flowing crossing the barrage. We climbed down to however far we could but not to the river. The rumbling waters was quite prominently strong and it was not advisable to venture. The nearer we were to the River, the ripples was more clear and bellowing down through huge boulders. Bhutan was just few walks away. We wished to visit but the security at the Bhutan checkpost was away for a brunch. So we were not so lucky.

Dalgaon View Point

Dalgaon View Point was our next destination. It was now an uphill journey.  On way we came across Cinchona, Epicace, Cardamom and other medicine plantations. The more we were moving uphill, our excitement seem to increase. There were villages and I was pretty surprised to see that people had made their habitation so high up. We came across a very very old woman – the wrinkles were so prominent, made me wonder how old she might be. She was seated by her house for the warmth of sunlight.

When we reached Dalgaon View Point, it was already 12:30 p.m. It’s a section of the hill flattened & landscaped with flowers.It is from here one can have the best view of the neighboring hills. The watch tower at the edge,  gives a much wider view around. The pine trees, the bamboo grass used as hedges makes for a magnificent sight. We then explored the jungles walking through the pine path way. Every where the shrubs and grasses seem to brighten everything around – the hues were the red-yellow-brown combination of the winding winter. We never wanted to go back. It was already 1.30 p.m. when we decided to descend.

Jaldhaka River

Our return journey took less time as we moved down hill. We crossed Matelle Tea garden and came across miles of Gattamala grass – the locals grow this grass to soften the soil for tea plantation. Among the stretch of tea plantation there were Shirish trees among to shade the tea plants.These I learnt from our own driver-guide 🙂

It was already 3.30 p.m. when we reached our lodge. After a shower and lunch we ventured to the Murti River. The water looked still from far. On reaching it was knee deep & the current was quite strong. We collected few pebbles as memory.

3rd Day

Early the next morning at 6.00 a.m. was our 3rd day. It was Chapramari Wild Life Sanctuary . The travel was freezing.  We spent an hour or so as we expected to view wild elephants. We ended viewing some hornbills, eagles, peacocks, Mithuns & wild hen.We were not so lucky this time.

Elephant making a hurried escape

Our next destination was Jaldapara. Jaldapara Tourist Lodge was our next stay. After a quick lunch we started off to our new venture. We took along a guide for our tour to  Chilapata forest. The winding routes among the forest cover and a trail of other tourist cars kept us feeling safe. After a long ride, our guide sensed some elephant herd moving inside the jungles and most of them had crossed. Watching them wild is the prime attraction. We stopped in the middle of the jungle when our guide said we need to have patience. We had to wait for half an hour or so and was lucky to see a wild elephant hurriedly crossing the road. What magnificent it was! On our return back we stopped over at Baniajhora River where a large stretch of land on the other side looked amazing where most wild animals graze. It was already 6.30 p.m. &  getting dark. We couldn’t view any animals, so we decided to return  back to our lodge, but undoubtedly the trip was very refreshing.

4th Day

Elephant Safari

It was Elephant ride the next morning at around 6.00 a.m. to Jaldapara Reserve Forest at Hollong. It was in fact the most thrilling experience of all the ventures. The dews were still fresh on the grasses, shrubs & trees. The jungles reverberated with the cooing of the  Peacocks. The mahout was making strange sounds to track the animals he wanted to show us. We maintained silence and it was only whispers when ever we were curious 🙂 After two hour long ride we came across face to face with barking deer & rhino & a coiled up python! Well, it was an experience I’ll treasure.

Winding up, don’t forget to drop by at Bapi’s restaurant for the mouth smacking bengali cuisines – from chital,  AAr ,Chingri, Ilish, Patha maghsho., etc, at Mal Bazaar. And of course the famous tea leaves for friends and relatives! Ciao friends! Will come back with another of my travel experience!