This year I could not go out for a long time and was feeling suffocated with the situation of Covid-19. Like a pleasant breeze I came across a post on Facebook where two retired Himalaya lovers were organizing a short trip to the above mentioned places with few enthusiastic but novice travelers. So I decided to join them. It was risky for me to arrange this trip solo as I was afraid to encounter strangers in public transport. Sandakfu is in West Bengal, and is the highest point of Singalila National Park and the whole Kanchenjunga range is visible from there. It was one of my dream destinations since childhood. I only became capable of making this trip a reality this December.
I reached Sealdah Station and met the two organizers for the first time. They were amiable. We started our journey on Padatik Express (a Covid special train). After reaching New Jalpaiguri they arranged vehicles for us with the help of their local representative. We had a pretty late breakfast at Rohini. There were traffic jam in multiple places. We reached Lepchajagat at 3:30 PM and had our lunch there. Food was good and everyone was hungry. Lepchajagat felt very cold to me. Later I came to know that during winter Lepchajagat gets very less sunlight as it is surrounded by huge pine forest. It is only few kilometers away from Darjiling town.
Next day after viewing sunrise and having breakfast we started for Sandakfu. After reaching Manebhanjan at around 10 AM we changed our vehicles and boarded four old land-rovers. It was quite difficult for us to sit properly due to the zigzag turns. We had breaks for tea and photography at Tonglu, Kalipokhari, Chitre and Gairibus. From Gairibus it was almost impossible to sit still even for a moment as the road was too uneven and made of stones, it was not a paved road. We reached Sandakfu in the afternoon and had our lunch. Few of our co-travelers got sick due to high altitude and cold weather. They had stomach problem, lack of appetite and headache. But the beauty of sunset and sunrise of Sandakfu was indescribable, only those who have witnessed it can understand, it was a heavenly experience for me. The whole range of Kanchanjunga, sleeping Buddha and other peaks like Everest, Makalu, Lhotse were clearly visible. Sky was very clear by the grace of God.
Next day after breakfast we started for Falut. We were late because there were some young guys in the group, and few of them kept on having excess alcohol every night. So every day they woke up late. It is one of the disadvantages of a group tour that one can not get every member to be like minded. We witnessed Himalayas from some view points on the road. After a particular point our organizers decided to return as we were getting late. The road was also very hazardous. This was the most hectic day of the trip. We came down to Tumling in the afternoon and had our lunch. After lunch I had to take a bath to clean myself as I felt very dirty and dusty. I changed my clothes too. Then I went to see sunset at Tumling. Tumling is a small beautiful hamlet. There were some trekkers and travelers came for Sandakfu summit. Next morning I witnessed my third sunrise of this trip. Then after breakfast we started for Manebhanjan. Kanchenjunga accompanied us till Manebhanjan. From Manebhanjan we changed our vehicles and went for Shiliguri.
Birbhum (a district of West Bengal) has many tourist spots , mythical as well as religious places related to ancient Bengali culture and it is also famous for Shantiniketan, place of two Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen, and also for its natural beauty, red soil etc. This year I went to spend my Durga puja holiday at Kachujor, Bakreswar Thermal Power Colony, with my aunt and cousin. From there we visited some mythical and religious places hiring a car.
Bakreshwar temple and the hot spring was very near so we started from there. We did not bathe as this place was visited by us previously. We went to the Shiva temple and the hot-springs. My cousin and I took two three photos of a local girl. Her face was very impressive. She was wearing few plastic bangles. She was proud of her bangles and showing them off but her two friends didn’t manage bangles from their mother. I heard their discussions and bought bangles for three of them.
Then we headed for the Temple near Gaurangapur, made by Ichhai Ghosh, a local feudal lord of 15th / 16th century, crossing Ajay river through a temporary bridge. It seems strange that how that so tall a temple was built in those days and how architecture and materials were of high quality in those days in such an interior part of Bengal.
Then we went to Garh Jangal, a natural fort and hide out of Ichhai Ghosh to save himself from foreign invadors. this place is also related with Hindu mythology. According to Markandeya Purana first Durga puja was held here, here Rishi Medhas told Chandi Mangal Kavya to Raja Surath, the Chandi temple here is considered as the first Chandi temple. We visited the natural fort wall within the forest and the temples.
Jayadev was a famous Vaishnava poet of medieval age. There were so many stories about him and his love for Lord Krishna. It was said that Lord Krishna himself came to complete a couplet when he went to bathe at Ajay river, for which he was confused and could not come to any conclusion. We visited his house at Kenduli. An annual fair, popularly known as fair of folk singers (Baul Mela), is organized at Kenduli, at Ajay river bank, on the occasion of Makar Sankranti( Mid January) in the name of Jaydev. After visiting his temple we came back home.
One of my friends offered me a trip to Chandpur in a weekend in April 2019 when I had just come back from another long trip. I was tired but I accepted the offer because I don’t get much opportunity for short trips within West Bengal, and secondly they were going by car, so no hassle for transport problem. According to previous arrangement they picked me up from Rabindrasadan metro station. Chandpur and Tajpur are two sea beeches in the south of West Bengal, newly developed for tourism. One can also go there by bus which plies from Esplanade to Digha. In that case one has to get down at Balisai and hire Toto from there. The beaches are just one or two kilometers away from there.
We reached Chandpur in the evening. After viewing few hotels we found Chandpur Eco Hut as a suitable stay. They provided us sea side rooms. Though rooms were not large but they were clean and tidy. Food was good there. After tea and onion pakoda we walked along the road. The sun was already set. Probably due to breaking of bank the sea was barricaded by huge log fence. In some places there was no barricade.
Night was cool and breezy. We had a nice sleep with the sound of rhythmic waves . In the early morning we woke up to see sunrise but unfortunately the sky was partly cloudy. We enjoyed our morning tea and breakfast. After that we went to Tajpur beach. There we roamed for sometimes, had coconut water and kernel of green coconut. There were few sea side restaurants. Sea food was available there. They cook freshly in front of the customers as per their choice. In the evening we returned to Kolkata. It was a good place for serenity and peace of mind. I wished to stay a day more, but my friends were reluctant to come back.
Sundarban is a reserve mangrove forest in Ganga-Padma delta, at the coast of Bay of Bengal. The name Sundarban means beautiful forest though the word Sundar here is derived from the name of a particular species of mangrove tree called Sundari ( Heritiera Fomes) . It is also declared as UNESCO World Heritage site.
Whenever I thought of planning a trip, I never thought to plan short or weekend trips. This also was not a planned one. One of my students was a native of a village of Sundarban, near Jharkhali. Her father was a Christian and they would celebrate Christmas in their village and a fair was also held there on that day. She invited me to visit their place. I was ready to go there. One day before that occasion she informed me with regret that her mother was ill, so they were not going to their native village that year. I was very disappointed. I had made up my mind, so I tried to contact tour operators to go there, None was ready, mostly seats were full, and some rejected for being a single woman, but only one agreed, they said I have to accommodate with an Army major. I reluctantly agreed saying bed should be separate. It was a 2 days 1 night package. I paid for that package.
I reached at the Travel agent’s office at 5 -30 in the morning as per their instruction. Our sandwich breakfast was distributed. We all boarded in two traveler bus. The bus reached at Gadkhali at almost 11 AM, we were taken to Votvoti ( diesel motor boat of rural area ) and transferred to an Island. From there we reached a ghat where the tour operators boat were waiting for us to take us to another island among the mangroves. There I was introduced with that Army Major, to my surprise, she was a young, very energetic, fun loving woman. We had our lunch there. In the afternoon we were taken for boating in the river. There were many small rivers that meet with each other making a labyrinth of water ways in the place. We all enjoyed the boat ride in the afternoon. After evening tea there was a performance of local folk singers. We all enjoyed, specially few foreigners who had been staying there for a long period and danced with their music.
After dinner I was feeling tired and about to go to sleep, but the lady army officer was very enthusiastic and persuaded me to go for the night safari. Mostly people were enjoying Christmas eve with wine and other merriment. Only few people went for that adventure. Probably it was a new moon day. The whole environment was eerie. It was the time of low tide. So many mangrove plants came out, our boatman was going through the narrow canals and mangrove bushes. The sky was so starry that it was difficult to find empty places in the sky. Meteors were falling from time to time. It was an uncanny feelings we were all having. We saw the under water fluorescent plants. Till today I feel grateful to my room mate for forcing me to join that adventure. It was a unique and memorable experience.
Next day in the early morning we started in three boats to visit the Sundarban National Park ( Wild life sanctuary). Permission from the forest department was taken in the beginning of the journey. We saw many wild animals and birds. Huge crocodiles were having sunbath. They showed their annoyance as we got closer to them to take snaps. We were not so lucky to witness Royal Bengal Tiger. Animals are always skeptic about humans even the mightiest tigers. We had lunch on the boat. After lunch the boat returned towards Godkhali to drop us to return to kolkata. In the evening we reached Godkhali. Bus was waiting for us, we were delayed for a while because the bus broke down on the way, later it was repaired. I reached Kolkata at 10 o’clock at night when Kolkata was enjoying its Christmas. I went to my student’s village next year but that was another story.