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Old 22nd February 2017, 11:49   #1
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Default Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

I slowed down our car just after crossing a small bridge. A little sign board that we had just crossed was silently telling us that the distance to Khandarani was around 2 km from there. However, there was no road in that direction except for a dirt track. It was just about noon. There was hardly any traffic through the stretch of state highway 5 (SH-5) which was passing through a dense jungle. I was in dilemma. In fact, a bit of worry was arousing in the back of my mind!

Should we take the u-turn to drive on the dirt track? I asked my better half who was sitting with our little daughter in the back seat. There was a period of silence. However, after the initial bit of hesitation we decided to take the plunge. Soon we started crawling along the dirt track after leaving the state highway behind. This moment of firmness somehow helped me to unshackle the invisible grip of fear that I was having in my mind for last few days.

After driving for a kilometer or so we reached a tribal village. There was a young lady who was doing her household chores. I asked her, "Didi Khandarani kotodur?" (Didi, how far is Khandarani?) She showed an unusual shyness for a while but quickly regained her composure. She then pointed us the direction with a smile. As soon as we left the village, I heard a scolding voice from the back seat of the car. "You seem to have lost your senses! She was much younger than you and still you called her 'Didi' (elder sister). You should have called her 'Bon-ti' (little sister)! You better know that ladies are sensitive about their ages!" I kept quiet for a while but felt relieved nevertheless. They are no different from us!

About an hour ago, when we were driving through the little town of Silda, I could vividly recall the news reports that we had seen in TV. In 2010, in this very town, a full strength camp of Eastern Frontiers Rifles was overran in broad daylight by the Maoists. At least two dozens Jawans lost their lives in the attack. Naturally, our apprehension about leaving the main road to drive deeper into the jungle using the dirt track was palpable.

A lot seems to have changed since then. A new state government has taken over in Kolkata. The Jungle Mahal, the tribal regions of West Bengal, bordering the state of Jharkhand, are limping back to the normalcy after reeling under the Maoists insurgency. The region which was neglected for too long by the state, has seen a slew of new projects to improve the infrastructures and the livelihood of the people. The infrastructure improvements made by the new government are quite visible. So for sometime we have been thinking about visiting the region and a recent post (West Bengal - A treasure for tourists) by Samba in West Bengal - A treasure for tourists (West Bengal - A treasure for tourists) thread finally helped us to firm up the plan.


The Colour of Spring
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The Beautiful Road
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The Lake
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The Cottages
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An Idle Afternoon
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The Evening
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The beats of Music and Dance
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... and the delicious food
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_6874.jpg

Last edited by gmhossain : 28th February 2017 at 10:12.
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Old 22nd February 2017, 18:49   #2
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

During last few months I had gone through a rather hectic working schedule. So the inner urge to take a break was growing stronger everyday. In the second week of February the urge turned into a desperation and I decided to go out in the next weekend wherever it be. One of the tour plan that I had been thinking lately, was to drive through the Jungle Mahal region. After a fair amount of online search, I booked our stay at the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation (WBFDC) Eco-Tourism resort at Jhargram. However, I could get booking for the nights of Friday and Saturday. It meant I had to take a leave on Friday and our daughter had to miss a day in the School. So be it!


Day 1 ( Kalyani - Magra - Dankuni - Kharagpur - Jhargram):

It was around 6 am on Friday when we began our drive from home. The morning turned out to be a foggy one but the visibility wasn't that bad. The shortest route to our destination would have been to drive to Kolkata along the eastern side of Hooghly river. From there one would cross the river using the Nivedita Setu for connecting to Golden Quadrilateral at Dankuni. However, given our destination was just around 220 km, I thought of trying out the new highway which was being constructed along the western side of Hooghly river. Once completed this new highway would connect NH-34, the key north-south highway of West Bengal, at Bara Jaguli to the Golden Quadrilateral at Dankuni via Kalyani and it would bypass Kolkata entirely.


A stretch of upcoming Dankuni - Kalyani Expressway
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NH-6 : Kolkata - Kharagpur section of GQ
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Despite the fog, our drive through this new highway went rather smoothly until Chandannagar. The road work in this stretch was almost complete and traffic was sparse. However, from there onward we got slowed down considerably as there were lots of construction diversions. We reached NH-6 at Dankuni little before 8 am. The traffic turned out to be heavy on NH-6 even in the morning hours. It took us more than 15 minutes to cross through the Dhulagarh Toll Plaza alone. We could reach Kolaghat at around 9:15 am and decided to have our breakfast there. After half an hour or so, we resumed our journey from there. After Kolaghat, the traffic started to ease up. Soon we crossed Kharagpur and exited from GQ. The six-laned NH-6 then turned into a 2-laned highway as we headed in the direction of the Jharkhand Border.


Breakfast at Kolaghat
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NH-6 - Heading towards Kharagpur
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Kharagpur Industrial Zone
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NH-6 - After Kharagpur
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Our Estilo along NH-6
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At Lodhasuli crossing we exited from NH-6 and started driving along the north bound state highway 5 (SH-5). This state highway is the key highway of the Jungle Mahal region. In the last few years, most state highways in West Bengal have seen dramatic improvements. This state highway also turned out to be in a prime shape. As we moved further north, the highway started passing through the beautiful rural landscapes. Occasional encounters with the Shimul trees with their fiery red flowers was making the drive a memorable one. Around the noon we entered the Jhargram forest range. Our destination was near the other end of the forest. We stopped several times along the road to enjoy the astounding views of the forest which was dotted by the Sal, Shimul, Palash, Mahua trees. After a while our drive through the jungle ended as we had reached the gate of the WBFDC Eco-Tourism resort at Jhargram.


State Highway 5 (SH-5) towards Jhargram
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Shimul Flowers - along the SH-5
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Which flowers are these?
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The Figs
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Direction to WBFDC Eco-Tourism Resort
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The Cottages at the WBFDC Jhargram
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_6821.jpg

Last edited by gmhossain : 28th February 2017 at 10:22.
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Old 23rd February 2017, 22:54   #3
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It was half past twelve when we checked into the resort. We were wondering whether it was too late for ordering the lunch. So we asked them about it. They replied that if we won't mind a bit of delay then they would be happy to prepare lunch for us. Anyway, we had all the time of the day. In fact, when the lunch got ready we were not even ready to eat! Nevertheless, the lunch turned out to be delicious at the end.

After resting for a while we went to see the Jhargram Rajbari complex in the afternoon. We could simply walk to it as it wasn't very far from where we were staying. Later we took an e-rickshaw to roam around the town. We returned to the resort just before the evening. We retired for the day soon after having a light dinner at the resort.


In the Swing
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The Rhythm of Madol
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Where is she?
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Tourist destinations near Jhargram
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Jhargram Rajbari
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E-rickshaw ride through the town
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Near Jhargram Station
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Jhargram Station
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Dinner at WBFDC
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_6938.jpg

Last edited by gmhossain : 28th February 2017 at 14:39.
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Old 25th February 2017, 22:23   #4
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

Day 2:

We did not have any specific destination in mind for the day but wanted to drive around the region as much as possible. So while having our morning tea, we started to chalk out a tentative route plan for driving around. We didn't know much about the condition of the road. So we kept our plan flexible. However, we definitely wanted to return to the resort before the evening sets in.


Jhargram - Jamboni - Chilkigarh

We completed our breakfast little after nine. We then walked around the jungle near the resort for a while before beginning our drive. Soon after leaving the resort we exited SH-5 and started driving on a west bound road that was heading toward Chilkigarh. Continuing along SH-5 would have taken us through the centre of the Jhargram town. The morning sun was playing hide and seek with a mildly dark cloud. So it wasn't too bright nor it was too dark. The road soon entered the Jamboni forest area. The views of jungle were simply breathtaking. We stopped there for a while. Nevertheless, an uncanny feeling was lurking within us that we were travelling through a region which, not so long ago, was out of bound even for the armed forces let alone the commoner.

An early morning in the Jhargram forest
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The Road through the Jamboni forest
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Our Estilo in the Jamboni forest
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The Road through the Jamboni forest
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The Sal trees in the forest
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We drove past the forest area and continued our journey along the western direction. We could soon see green paddy fields and other vegetable growing fields. Due to the lack of water not many areas of Jungle Mahal are suitable for agriculture. So it was clear that we are approaching towards some sources of water. As anticipated soon we reached to a small river called Dulung. Incidentally, the name of the cottage where we were staying at WBFDC Jhargram was also Dulung.


A field growing vegetables
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A paddy field
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Near Chilkigarh
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Dulung River
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Dulung River
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Chilkigarh Palace

It was just around 10 am when we reached Chilkigarh Palace area. It turned out that we were the only visitors there. Two kids were playing in the compound ground and they confirmed us that we were not lost! The Chilkigarh Palace area looked quite grand compared to Jhargram Rajbari. However, the lack of its maintenance was apparent. We spent sometime roaming around and taking photographs of the ruins in the palace compound.


A temple inside the Chilkigarh Palace
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The remains of Chilkigarh Palace
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The temple inside the Chilkigarh Palace
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Another temple inside the Chilkigarh Palace
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7002.jpg

Last edited by gmhossain : 28th February 2017 at 14:41.
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Old 26th February 2017, 11:16   #5
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Tulsibani - Gidhni - Parihati - Dharsa


From Chilkigarh, we took north bound SH-9 to reach Silda. As soon as we landed on state highway 9, it gave us the first reality check of the trip. The road was too narrow to be called a state highway. Besides, it was full of potholes. If that wasn't enough, we were in the middle of Tulsabani jungle. My mind was already thinking of plan B whether we should continue our drive. Fortunately, the ordeal did not last long. A brand new SH-9 was waiting in front of us.

State Highway 9 (SH-9) After Chilkigarh
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The better road ahead!
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The brand new SH-9 in the Jungle near Gidhni
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Approaching Parihati
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Between Parihati and Dharsa
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7045.jpg

Another jungle stretch after Dharsa
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7049.jpg



Silda - Belpahari - Jhilimili

We reached the little town of Silda at around quarter to eleven. We stopped there for a few minutes. I adjusted the next destination in my mobile GPS and asked a bystander to inquire about the road condition ahead. At Silda we exited SH-9 and crossed over to SH-5. The road between Silda and Belpahari turned out to be a narrow one. Nevertheless the traffic on the road was relatively high. So we made a rather slow progress up to Belpahari.

From Belpahari, the road condition improved considerably and we continued our drive towards Jhilimili. This stretch was through a mildly hilly terrain. The road condition was very good. The surrounding views were simply breathtaking. The Palash trees were full of red flowers. These red flowers had turned this hilly stretch literally into "the country of red hills".


Between Silda and Belpahari
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-belpahari.jpg


Palash Flowers - The Spring is here
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Colourful stretches of the jungle
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Beautiful road through the jungle
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More flowers - along SH-5
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7070.jpg

... and even more flowers
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Country road take me ... wherever you want!
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-j1.jpg

Last edited by gmhossain : 28th February 2017 at 11:31.
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Old 26th February 2017, 14:15   #6
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We reached Jhilimili just around the noon. When we started our drive in the morning, we were not sure how far we would be able to reach. We did not know the actual conditions of the roads nor we wanted to drive after the sunset. So we kept our plan flexible.

However, our drive through the hinterlands of the Jungle Mahal turned out to be smoother than we had anticipated. So we extended our drive towards Ranibandh for a while before returning back to Jhilimili. Incidentally, on our way back we happened to find a weekly rural market in a jungle near Jhilimili. Out of curiosity we ventured into the market and we even bought few stuffs from there.


A weekly rural market at Jhilimili
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The items that are on sale ...
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... include cattle
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... and vegetables
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For the adventurous souls ... the taste of Jungle Mahal
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7093.jpg


After having a light lunch at a roadside eatery near Jhilimili, we started our drive back towards Jhargram. In a jungle stretch between Jhilimili and Belpahari, I noticed a signboard near a small bridge which said "Domohani Setu". I had seen this name on a printout that I had taken from the internet. Apparently, the unpaved dirt road near the bridge that was getting deep into the jungle leads to place a called "Khandarani". After the initial bit of hesitation we decided to take the plunge and hit the dirt track. And what a surprise! A beautiful, serene lake was waiting to sooth our eyes!


The unpaved dirt road that leads to Khandarani
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7134.jpg


The tribal village enroute to Khandarani
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Khandarani dam cum lake
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7117.jpg

The Beautiful Khandarani lake
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7104.jpg

Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7105.jpg

The Khandarani lake
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7109.jpg

The Khandarani lake
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7112.jpg


After spending some time there, we retraced the road up to Silda. Instead of taking SH-9, we decided to drive along SH-5 from Silda which was heading towards Binpur. The road turned out be even better. We continued through Dahijuri to eventually reach Jhargram at around quarter to four in the afternoon.

Last edited by gmhossain : 28th February 2017 at 11:36.
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Old 26th February 2017, 15:08   #7
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It turned out that we had clocked up more than 150 kms in the odometer by driving through the hinterlands of Jungle Mahal. Few years ago, the state government had set up a small Tribal Interpretation Center cum Tribal museum at Jhargram. This happened to be located within the same compound as our resort. So we paid a visit to the museum immediately after we got down from the car.

In the meantime, our daughter insisted that we must visit the Zoo as well. I was no longer in a mood to drive. So we booked an e-Rickshaw. The ride was quite enjoyable and I managed to start a conversion with the driver. I learned a lot from him about the current socio-political situation in the Jungle Mahal region. He seemed to be quite happy with the improvement that had happened in the aread in recent times.

Tribal Interpretation Center
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The cart
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The flute and the Madol
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The Dhamsa
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7153.jpg


Heading to the Zoo using e-Rickshaw
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Jungle Mahal Zoological Park at Jhargram
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A deer
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7176.jpg

At the Zoological Park
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7172.jpg


The evening was setting in as we returned to our resort after visiting the Zoo. We then ordered for evening tea and snacks to be served in our room. While waiting for the tea to arrive, the telephone in our cottage rang up. I picked up the phone and said hello. "Sir, we have arranged for a tribal dance programme at the resort and it would begin shortly. Please do join us.", said a voice from the other end. We rushed to the open area where sitting arrangements were made. Our evening snacks together with the tea were served right there. We couldn't have dreamed anything better, specially after having a memorable driving experience through the vast areas of the Jungle Mahal.

The programme started with the rhythmic beats of the Dhamsa and the Madol. These percussion family of musical instruments were loud enough to invite many people even from the surrounding areas. There were eight female and eight male artists. The programme continued for an hour or so.

Later I managed to talk to an official of the forest department who told me that these programmes were actually funded by the forest department. Usually they invite different tribal artist groups from the surrounding areas in rotation on every Saturday provided there are guests at the WBFDC cottages. It's a part of the government's new welfare programme to support these groups as well as to sustain the unique cultural heritage of the Jungle Mahal.


In the rhythm of Dhamsa and Madol
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7185.jpg


In the rhythm of Dhamsa and Madol
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A day before -- with the sculpture of the folk artists
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... and today -- with the real folk artists
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7208.jpg

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Old 26th February 2017, 15:16   #8
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Day 3 (Jhargram - Kolaghat - Birati - Kalyani):

After a very sound sleep we woke up bit late than the usual. The morning was charming and calm. I took the camera and went out for a stroll. Occasional breeze was causing the dry leaves to fall off from the trees. The sound of falling leaves was creating an environment for which I find no words to describe.

Just around quarter past ten we began our return drive. The route and the road conditions both were known to us. However, we drove rather sedately and reached Kolaghat little after noon. As planned we took our lunch break at Kolaghat and decided to try out the relatively new food joint: Express Food Plaza. The food was great and we spent almost an hour there. From there we drove non-stop to our campus. This time we crossed the Hooghly river using Nivedita Setu and then drove through the Belghoria Expressway followed by the Barrackpore-Kalyani Expressway. The road conditions were mostly very good to excellent.


The Morning at the WBFDC Jhargram
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WBFDC Jhargram
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WBFDC Jhargram
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The Morning Sky through the Jungle
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Lunch break at Kolaghat
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7279.jpg


A sumptuous lunch at Kolaghat
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7273.jpg


The flowers from the Red Hills -- some we carried home
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7244.jpg


The Land of Coloured Soil -- time to say good bye from yours truly
Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal-img_7250.jpg


In an early part of 1972, an automobile engineer who had worked with Hindustan Motors, was travelling in a train and had got down at Sreerampore station. There he happened to see a lonely Mahua tree at the outside of the platform. The Mahua trees are usually found in the Jungle Mahal areas. The very thought of this misfit Mahua tree in an urban environment had struck him so deeply that he penned down a poem. The poem was given a voice by Subhash Chakraborty who was a singer from Beliatore, a region of Jungle Mahal. This song was recorded by V Balsara in 1976 on a 45 RPM (revolutions per minute) disc under Enrico label. Although many of us may not remember this bohemian engineer turned poet, Arun Chakraborty, but the song he wrote continues to reverberate the musical air of Bengal even today.


The poet wrote [1]:

Tui Lal Paharir deshe ja, Ranga Matir deshe ja.

Hethake toke manaichhe nai re, Ikkebare manaicche nai re

...

Go to your country of red hills, your country of coloured soil,

Here, where you are, doesn’t suit you; it just doesn’t suit you at all.



The poet later explained that the Mahua tree is actually a symbol for all of us who often find ourselves to be a rather misfit in the very surrounding where we happened to live. If the rhythm of the song reverberates within the traveler soul of you, then the country of red hills, the country of coloured soil, the Jungle Mahal, is waiting for you!


[1] http://www.openthemagazine.com/artic...aphy-of-a-song

Last edited by gmhossain : 28th February 2017 at 11:49.
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Old 28th February 2017, 16:02   #9
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section). Thanks for sharing!
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Old 28th February 2017, 21:05   #10
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

Quote:
Originally Posted by gmhossain View Post
Day 3 (Jhargram - Kolaghat - Birati - Kalyani)

Tui Lal Paharir deshe ja, Ranga Matir deshe ja.

Hethake toke manaichhe nai re, Ikkebare manaicche nai re [/i][/b]
...
Go to your country of red hills, your country of coloured soil,
Here, where you are, doesn’t suit you; it just doesn’t suit you at all.[/i][/b]
Awesome piece of info Golam saab. Never knew this. Thanks for enlightening.

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Old 28th February 2017, 22:27   #11
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

Great travelogue gmhossain with loads of information and pictures. West Bengal roads have drastically improved under the current government, but advertising of these places is still lacking. Hopefully people will visit these places more often after going through the travelogues posted on team-bhp, thanks to guys like Samba and you and lot of others.
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Old 1st March 2017, 10:28   #12
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

Great travelogue...reminds of 'Aranyer Din Ratri'
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Old 1st March 2017, 11:12   #13
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

Brilliant write-up Hossain da! Found it very refreshing and informative. The ambiance of the WBFDC facility looks inviting for a quaint weekend getaway.
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Old 1st March 2017, 13:36   #14
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

Beautifully penned travelogue and wonderful photographs to match.

Thanks for sharing with us.

Regards,

Siddhartha
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Old 1st March 2017, 16:07   #15
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Default Re: Jungle Mahal : A drive through the west of West Bengal

Quote:
Originally Posted by gmhossain View Post
As soon as we left the village, I heard a scolding voice from the back seat of the car. "You seem to have lost your senses! She was much younger than you and still you called her 'Didi' (elder sister). You should have called her 'Bon-ti' (little sister)! You better know that ladies are sensitive about their ages!"
I was laughing, sitting at my work-desk, as I read this. Very very true. Doesn't matter if the lady is city-bred or jungle-bred, we have to be very careful on this. Better to quote on the lower end

Quote:
Originally Posted by gmhossain View Post
In an early part of 1972, an automobile engineer who had worked with Hindustan Motors, was travelling in a train and had got down at Sreerampore station......The poem was given a voice by Subhash Chakraborty who was a singer from Beliatore, a region of Jungle Mahal. This song was recorded by V Balsara in 1976 on a 45 RPM (revolutions per minute) disc under Enrico label. Although many of us may not remember this bohemian engineer turned poet, Arun Chakraborty, but the song he wrote continues to reverberate the musical air of Bengal even today.


The poet wrote [1]:

Tui Lal Paharir deshe ja, Ranga Matir deshe ja.

Hethake toke manaichhe nai re, Ikkebare manaicche nai re

...

Go to your country of red hills, your country of coloured soil,

Here, where you are, doesn’t suit you; it just doesn’t suit you at all.

Thanks for the history lesson. Much appreciated. This is one of my favorite folk songs of Bengal. If I close my eyes and hear this song, I feel as if I am standing in middle of this Red Land!
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