Ajodhya Hills - A Short Travelogue

To be absolutely honest, when uncle (D’s father) called me up to inform me about the upcoming weekend trip, I could not hide my scepticism and lack of exuberance. Seriously, Ajodhya hills? However as D was leaving Calcutta in less than one month’s time, I thought it was our last chance to do some crazy sh*t together, well, of course until we met again.
Our train was scheduled to leave by 11 o’ clock at night from Howrah station. The short journey from D’s place to Howrah was a dramatic and memorable one. The EM Bypass-Park Circus connecting flyover had been inaugurated for public vehicles on that very day and every one tried to take the ‘superfast’ flyover route from Bypass as well as from the Park Circus end. Result? We were stuck on the flyover for about 40 minutes. We had already started late and auntie began to freak out and at one point we thought she might actually get out from the rear seat and ask to drive the car herself. However, thanks to our driver, when we finally reached at our destination it was reading 10.43 pm in big, bold red on the station clock. Although both D and my heart did skip a beat on the way when we saw the speedometer of the car was showing  100 while we were crossing (read flying past) the Red Road.
No matter how posh and comfortable you feel on a flight, train journey is always way more charming and fun; especially a whole night train journey. I could not help reminiscing about my West Sikkim trip with D. (Not this D, the other D. The evil one) That was the best train journey of my life till date, despite the crazy snoring noise that I had to put up with.
We reached Purulia junction at around 6 am next morning. We could feel the slight chill of October morning in the air. The warm ray of the sun felt like heaven, although I knew this might not be the case as the day would grow older. Purulia is famous for its crazy dry, hot climate.
Our guide was waiting outside with the car. Our destination was Baghmundi hill which is about 59 km away from Purulia town. Purulia is small but a very crowded town with a total population of 113,806 as per the 2001 census data. And the station area is most congested with myriad of roadside shops and maze of rickshaws and bicycles. Soon we left the town behind and the car picked up the speed. We were running via the NH 32 and as far as we could see, it was green everywhere. And right where the green fields touched the widespread horizon, the hills raised their heads high above the sky. This part of West Bengal is basically a part of Chhota Nagpur Plateau and hence it consists of hills with a total elevation of 2,805 ft.

We pre-booked the PPSP hostel which is run by the WBSEDCL. The place was neat but the lack of maintenance was visible at places. The moment we switched on the AC, it woke up from a long hibernation with a violent start spitting rat poop on the bed. D and I occupied the last room along the hallway as we needed privacy to do our own evil deeds. Dear men, do not get too imaginative. It was nothing like that, not even remotely. When we hang out together, it both looks and sounds like two cool dudes having a blast, except the shopping talk and the selfie marathon.

After freshening up and satisfying the hungry rats that had been practising for the Olympics in our stomachs since we got off the train, we went out on our day trip to Ajodhya hills.
Here, people might wonder why it is named after the ancient capital city of the mythological Ikhsvaku dynasty. The legend says, during their banishment period, Rama and his wife Sita came to this place and stayed here for some time. The area around Baghmundi forms the lowest step of Chhota Nagpur Plateau. The highest peak of Ajodhya hills is Gorgaburu. Dear reader, remember my Kiriburu trip? This might not come as a big surprise that Ajodhya hills region is nothing but another extended part of Eastern Ghats range and hence the geography as well as the demography seem to be very similar with those of the Kiriburu region.
The biggest attraction of Ajodhya hills are the dams. Our guide said most of these dams were created by storing rain water. However I highly doubt the accuracy of this statement.
The first dam we visited had two parts, namely, the upper dam and the lower dam. Now for the rest of the day I asked several people what the name of the dam was. Upper and lower dam of what? But sadly every time I got the same reply. Just upper dam and lower dam. The dam is owned by the Purulia Pumping Storage Project, the same people who owned our guest house.

The upper dam
It was the first week of October, the entire place was blissfully devoid of tourists. We were the only tourists there and I could not feel any more happier about it. I hate my fellow tourists wherever I go. It’s a weird pet peeve that I have.

The lower dam

The day started to become hotter and every time we were stepping out of the car, we could feel the scorching heat on our exposed body parts.

Our next stop was Bamni falls, the falls formed by the Bamni River. Bamni is basically a distorted form of the word Brahmani, the spouse of a Brahman. D and I discussed briefly and came to the conclusion that this was where some long forgotten Brahman pushed his poor wife or the Brahmani over the edge into the river and hence it became Bamni Falls. Although we could not decide whether the Brahman was an evil one or he was just too annoyed with his nagging wife. Very poor joke.

The trek
The upper part of the falls is beautiful with remains of an old dilapidated stone bridge scattered around. However it is the lower part that is truly spectacular. We had to take a steep descent of about 1 km to reach the lower part and it was totally worth it.

We were severely distracted by some dudes taking bath in the waterfall below and prancing about in wet gamchas tied loosely around their waists. I can bet their prancing became a little more vivacious the moment they saw us lurking above holding cameras and taking pictures. But I swear to Great Lord Padmasambhava that I did not take a single picture of them. Although no harm in looking, right?
We had lunch (free lunch) at the bungalow of Zilla Parishad Chairman Sristidhar Mahato in honour of uncle who happens to be a journalist. The courtyard of the bungalow was vast and picturesque with several farm animals like swans and rabbits roaming around. There were many other guests (or officials on tour) having lunch in the dining room and I pointed out to D that we were the most special as we were served lunch in fancy plates whereas the others got plain steel ones.

After lunch we headed off to another dam. Fortunately this one did have a name. This one is called the Murguma dam. An encounter between the Maoist militants and the CRPF took place near the dam a few years ago. Again, D’s face (the evil one) stirred up my memory. Oh but he is not a militant by the way.

The place still bears the signs of the Maoist mayhem. On the bank of the lake we saw the remains of a burnt down forest office and an adventure club.

The remains of the adventure club
Forest office
The sun was already preparing to take his leave for the day and the lake was emanating an unearthly, surreal glow in the melancholy, dim light of the twilight.  The village women were coming home after long day’s work that probably had started before the dawn. This part of Bengal has always been one of the important cards for the Bengal politicians. The Jangal Mahal. The Maoist movement. A-uncle was telling us about his conversation with an old, tribal man at the Bamni falls. Apparently every body gains from Jangal Mahal, But any ray of hope in the lives of the poor, tribal population of this place is yet to come. Their life is nothing but a sad, vicious cycle of poverty, militant turbulence and bags of empty promises from the politicians which only makes good headlines for the newspaper.

Chhou dance is the most popular dance form of Purulia. The dancers dress up in heavily decorative costumes & masks and perform various mythological dance dramas. These masks are very popular among the collectors and are sold separately as artworks. The Charida village of Baghmundi is famous for the workshops of Chhou masks and costumes. We stopped there for a while on our way back to the guest house. D and I bought two masks to take back home. The artiste guy kindly obliged to pose for us.

That night spent at the PPSP guest house was one of the craziest nights of my life. D and I boozed and danced in our room until we were completely exhausted and fell dead asleep. Next morning I realised I had slept under the thick blanket that was meant to be used in winter. Alcohol makes some of us crazy, some of us nostalgic, some of us flirtatious. Apparently it turns me into the damn snow witch.
Next day we wanted to go out again but sadly, that did not happen. We were informed that no car was available for hire due to some competitive exam taking place in the town. Mind you reader, it’s a village and transportation is a luxury good there. Our train was supposed to leave in the evening and we had the whole day at our disposal with nothing to do but roam about the guest house taking random pictures.

The view from the rooftop of the guest house
Picture says a thousand words
I fall asleep really fast on train. I guess it’s the magic of the swaying motion. I was fast asleep on my berth when I woke up by D’s voice calling my name. Whoa, it’s 4 am already and we had reached Howrah. Suddenly we remembered today was the Mahalaya. We got off the train and proceeded towards the taxi booth with sleepy eyes and the familiar, nasal voice of Birendrakrishna Bhadra chanting Mahishasuramardini on the radio. Pujo is here. And I had another reason to celebrate. D was coming. We would see each other after a LONG time.
Howrah station never sleeps. At 4 o’ clock in the morning, it was very much animated with people arriving and departing the city. We had to wait for quite some time to get a cab. We flew past the closed Arsalan shop, unusually quiet Quest through the empty Gariahat crossing to a deserted Santoshpur bridge and within 40 minutes we were home. The sky had started gearing up to welcome the sun. Birds were announcing the arrival of the dawn. The city would be fully awake in about half an hour. Supriti Ghosh’s melodious voice was coming out of the radio.

Bajlo tomar alor benu.....