East India: Weekend Escapes

Chandipur: Tranquility by the Sea


Chandipur, in Odisha’s Balasore district, is an ideal beach destination to relax and  rejuvenate your senses.When the unrelenting summer sun licks the parched asphalt of the city streets, it’s time to take a break and head for the coast. A couple of days are good enough to head for Chandipur, one of the beaches closest to Kolkata.


When the Dhauli Express nudged its way out of the train station at six o’clock in the morning, we were still wiping the last traces of sleep from our eyes. Four hours later we alighted at Balasore, the historical port city in the state of Odisha, which is now a business and tourist hub. We hired a car (for INR 250) while autorickshaws charge between INR 80-100 for this 16-km journey, depending on the season.


We headed for OTDC Panthanivas where we had a room booked. As we walked to the beach, the whiff of moist and salty air welcomed us. The breeze whispered through the casuarina trees that dotted the coastline. Refreshing ourselves with chilled lassi, we headed for the sea, but not before gorging on delicious prawns for lunch.


Luckily, it was high tide and the water was beckoning us, as it generally receded up to five kilometres during the ebbing tide. This bizarre phenomenon is rarely encountered anywhere else on the entire coastal belt of Odisha.


Photo by Subhasisa Panigahi

The rough sand below our feet stuck to our feet as the semi-transparent sea rippled over them almost as if inviting usin. We had to walk half a mile before the water became waist deep and we could float. Anyone who wants to learn swimming can head to the Chandipur beach during high tide. In the evening, west rolled by the sea as the tired sun shone the last vestiges of orange before plunging under the horizon.


When we were returning to Balasore to catch the evening train to Kolkata, it suddenly occurred to me that it was here near Balasore that the great freedom fighter Jatindra Nath Mukhopadhyay (alias Bagha Jatin, for he had killed a tiger with only a knife) laid down his life fighting the British empire. Somewhere, a paradoxical yet equally strong pain touched our joyous weekend.


Kolkata to Chandipur
240 km


Getting There


By air:
The nearest airports are Kolkata (206 km) and Bhubaneswar(294 km).


By rail:
The nearest railway station is Balasore (16 km), located on the Kolkata-Chennai mainline and well-connected to all major cities.


By road:
Chandipur is 16 km away from Balasore.


Where to Stay
Book your stay at OTDC Panthani-was at Kolkata at Odisha government’s tourist office (+91-33-22493653, 22654556). Other options are —Shanti niwas (+91-67822-70018), Anandamayee (+91-33-23970427).


Taki: Songs of the Ichhamati


Retreat to Taki, this sleepy, river-side town is perfect when you are looking for a quiet weekend and fresh river fish.


Our boat, flying the Indian flag, floated slowly down the river, careful to keep to the Indian territory and keeping away from the boats flying the Bangaldesh flag, on the opposite bank. But the invisible divide could not stop us from exchanging smiles and greetings. We waved to the people on the other bank, and they waved back. Nearly 100 km east of Kolkata, lies the quiet-flowing Ichhamati river.


On the western bank of Ichhamati is  Taki, a non-descript but locally-important commercial town. So, if you are looking for typical touristy attractions, then it is a disappointment. Taki’s USP is a pollution- free, serene riverscape. It is not easy to believe that this gentlest of rivers marks the international boundary between India and Bangladesh. Almost oblivious of its role, the river meanders past villages and paddy fields, to join the Bay of Bengal. Our tourist lodge overlooked the river.


Ichhamati River


During late afternoon, we took a boat ride, and the country boat glided past the rural landscape dotted with farmlands, plantations and homesteads. Most of these families – now spread all over the globe – still gather in their ancestral homes to celebrate Durga Puja. But the most attractive moment is the immersion, when the borders are thrown open and boats from both countries intermingle along the river. ‘If the Indian side triumphs with their idol laden boats, the Bangladeshi people overwhelm with their camaraderie,’ said the boatman.

By the time we returned from the ride, the fresh air, apart from rejuvenating our mind and body, had whetted our appetite. And the chai-pakora at a small stall by the river bank was helpful. At night, we feasted on some fresh river fish that were served in various avatars – fried to curried. As we retired for the day, the river singing us a lullaby from far, we could not agree more with Rabindranath Tagore who was won over by the river’s charm: If I ever acquired the power to change myself at will, I would like to be the Ichhamati river



Getting There

Taki, nearly 100 km east of Kolkata, is best approached by road. It takes around two to three hours driving time, depending on the traffic.


Where to Stay

Accommodation is limited.There are a couple of private lodges along the river bank. But the municipal guest house (Nripendra Atithishala) is the best place to stay yet. Booking (+91-3217-233328) has to be made well in advance during weekends and long holidays. It is also possible to return to Kolkata on the same day.


Travel Tip: Carry mosquito/ insect repellents and a powerful torch.


Kolkata to Taki

100 km



Garchumuk: The river song



Garchumuk, at the confluence of the Damodar and the Hugli river, is just being discovered by tourists.


Most people staying in and around Kolkata have their respective lists of been-there- done-that destinations. This one is beyond de-riguer and hence unlikely to be part of many of those lists. However, given its proximity to Kolkata (just 60 km away) it is fast emerging as a popular hangout destination. Welcome to Garchumuk – a paradise at the confluence of the Damodar and the Hugli river.


The drive of 60-odd km from Kolkata was a pleasant one as the highway has been maintained well. The route isn’t too complicated either. Just cross the Vidyasagar Setu and take the Kona expressway. Drive to Salap and turn left to get on NH 6. Beyond Dhulogarh and Uluberia lies Shyampur. Another hour’s drive will get you to the lock gate bridge over the river Damodar.


east august garchumuk



The bank of the river is enveloped in a thick canopy of trees and makes for an ideal picnic destination especially in winters. The barrage on the river is made of 58 lock gates (also called the Atanna Gate) give a bluish-green tinge to the near stagnant water. There’s a deer park nearby. Tourists also have the option of boarding CSTC buses from Esplanade in Kolkata and alighting here. Pedalled vans are easily avialble here and the ride to the bungalow is a short one. The bungalow has cottagetype dwellings in the middle of a sprawling garden and a park. The entire complex is located at the confluence of the Damodar and Hugli rivers. Arrangements here are modest and fulfilling but in no way lavish.


Make sure to cruise the river on a small boat, especially if it is drizzling. The experience is magical. It’s equally a good idea to laze by the river side and watch the ocean liners (heading to and from the Kolkata Port) pass by. Though it’s usually the subtle waves of the river that tend to occupy ones senses.


If not the monsoons, make sure to visit this paradise during one of the winter months.


Kolkata to Garchumuk
60 km


Getting There
By air: Kolkata, 60 km away, is the nearest airport. By rail: Take a train from Howrah to Uluberia and then hire a car. By road: Board a CSTC bus heading for Gadiara, from Esplanade.


Where to Stay
The best option is to stay at the Howrah Zilla Parishad Bungalow. (+91-33-26384633/34 Ext: 147). Download the application form from www.howrahzilaparishad.in/ and apply to the secretary, Howrah Zilla Parishad or contact WBCADC (+91-33-22377041-43)


Massanjore: Break by the Sea


Before sultry summer kicks in, it’s the best time to explore new destinations over the weekends. Massanjore can be one of them, where the main attraction is the Canada dam (built by the Canadian Government in 1956) on the Mayurakshi river.


Massanjore (Photo by seaview99)

Canada Dam


The pristine green-blue expanse of water spreading over an area of 67 sq km is hemmed by hillocks, providing a visual feast. The lull that hovers around merges with the mist above the water surface to deliver an intoxicating feel of being lifted on a white, fluffy cloud as you sit on the lawns of the Irrigation Bungalow.


Massanjore falls on the state highway between Suri (West Bengal) and Dumka (Jharkhand). We took a cab from Bolpur 75 km off and travelled through Dubrajpur and thick forests to reach Massanjore. Once we reached the site, we indulged in light refreshments on the roadside tea stalls and straightaway headed for the dam. As we walked along the 668 m-long dam, hundreds of green parrots greeted us. Some sat on the iron girders of the bays or dangle perpendicularly clawing at the small fissures on the 47 m-high wall of the dam.


To our right lay the reservoir with its immaculate sprawl of crystal clear water dotted with bright yellow boats plying tourists. Migratory birds pranced in unison above the water as if they were following some unheard orchestra. To our left was the rocky terrain where the river wriggles and hides itself from our view. The water was scarce as it was winter, the lock gates were barely open, just enough to feed the river. As we tried to trace its meandering path, we saw a picnic spot where groups revelled in the soft December sun. We crossed them and went down the rocky steps for boating. The experience of paddling in the cool water and being encircled by birds was sheer bliss. We headed back to the Irrigation Bungalow for lunch. In the evening, we sat out in the terrace with the setting sun gathering its russet-coloured cloak just as the moon got bolder and glittered upon the tiny waves.



Getting There


Take a train to Rampurhat, Suri or Bolpur. From there, hire a car to Massanjore. Regular bus service is also available from Suri to Dumka, enroute to Massanjore.


Where to Stay


Mayurakshi Bhavan of the Irrigation Department, Govt. of West Bengal. A double-bed room costs Rs 300 per night. For bookings, contact: Deputy Secretary, Irrigation Department, Water Resource, Development Building, Salt Lake City, Kolkata or call at 033 23212259.


Rambha: Lake, boat & the turtle


The rain lashed the window pave of the AC compartment as our train was whizzing past inconspicuous stations on the Howrah-Chennai track. We were, actually, heading for a lesser known town south of Puri and the gateway to Chilika, Asia’s biggest salt water lagoon on the Bay of Bengal. Next morning we got down at Balugaon and headed for the OTDC Panthanivas at Rambha. Being clustered in the city, our souls long for open space. So we didn’t waste much time at the hotel and headed straight towards the jetty connected by a straight road inside the lake. The jetty is a makeshift fishing harbour from where you can hire a boat to take a short trip. But for sightseeing tours it is advisable to opt for the OTDC packages. Next morning we headed for the Kalijai Island. It has the famous Kalijai temple where thousands of devotees throng during Makar Shankranti. OTDC arranges a boat if there are 10 or more heads and they charge a total of ` 300 for Kalijai and back, which takes six hours. One can see the Bird Island, Nalbana, Breakfast Island, Honeymoon Island, Ghantashila hill island en route. These places are a bird haven where Siberian birds flock in during winter. But the most attractive part of this tour is a visit to Rishikulya Beach 18 km away, where Olive Ridley turtles visit for nesting and hatching. The turtles come in February for nesting and in April and May for hatching. One needs to get there at midnight to see the nesting when the turtles dig holes using their flippers to lay their eggs and floats back. During the harvesting season, one has to visit Rishikulya in the early morning during the harvesting season. It’s better to have precise knowledge of the timings of the turtles’ visit at Rishikulya, as the window is slim, a week at the most. The evenings are pleasant and one can stroll in the resort premises which has a large garden compound. It’s also the time for a cup of tea with pakodas, or a bottle of beer to chill out.


Getting There


By Air: Nearest Airport is Bhubaneswar from where Rambha is roughly 130 Km By train: Take a train to Balugaon from Howrah and then by auto or car to Rambha.


Where to stay


OTDC Panthnivas Tel: 06810-278346, email: otdc@ortel.net Bookings at: Utkal Bhavan, 55 Lenin Sarani, Kolkata Tel: +91-33-22651195/ 22654556


Shantiniketan Tourist Centre- The Abode of Peace



Sometimes, a small change in the routine can bring immense joy and freshness to your life. And travelling a small distance can take you farther away from all things monotonous and predictable. From Bolpur station (Kolkata), we hired a cab and proceeded north. We continued straight at the crossing to our destination — the Shantiniketan Tourist Centre, a resort by WBTDC. Fresh breeze from Bhubandanga and Melar Math greeted us, and the luxuriant freshness of the landscape was overwhelming. Over undulating laterite soil, lush green fields of paddy, orchards of mango and grooves of sal, shimul and jamun created an ambience where any tired traveller could take a break.


Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, father of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had instantly liked the spot, seeing it from a boat en route to Raipur, and established an ashram here which he named ‘Shantiniketan’ or “abode of peace”. After refreshing ourselves at the lodge, we headed for Shantiniketan’s Visva- Bharati University campus. Entering the main gate, we saw the Hindi Bhavan (department of hindi languages), China Bhavan (centre of Chinese studies), Vidya Bhavan (college of humanities), Sangit Bhavan (college of music), and Siksha bhavan (college of science). Nearby was Gurudev’s house Dehali, where he used to live with his wife Mrinalini Devi. Soon, we came to the famous chatim tola where Devendranath meditated. The famous Samabartan Utsav — the annual convocation ceremony is held here.



Shanti Niketan University


At the north of the campus is the famous Uttarayan Complex consisting of several buildings where the poet lived and worked. You can visit the Kankalitala temple, four kilometres away, by the Kopai river. The journey along the river will be etched permanently in your memory, so arresting is the verdant landscape here. Three kilometres away is Sriniketan, where traditional handicrafts, kantha embroidery, dhokra crafts and batik paintings are manufactured and sold. Shantiniketan is best visited during the Pous Mela in December or Basanta Utsav (Holi) in March.



Getting there:


The nearest airport is Kolkata (181 km). The Bolpur railway station is two kilometres away. Train is the best option to reach Shantiniketan — catch the Shantinikatan Express, Bolpur Express or the intercity express from Howrah or Kolkata. Shantiniketan is 214 km from Kolkata.


 Where to Stay:


West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation’s Shantiniketan Tourist Lodge at Bolpur (Tel: +91-3463-52699), Camellia (Tel: +91-3463-262043 ), Mark Meadows (Tel: +91-3463-264870 ), and Chhuti (Tel: +91-3463-252692 ) are some of the hotels.


Gour-Pandua: Ancient seat of power


Gour and Pandua were significant towns of trade and commerce for the Mauryas. Their reign was followed by the Guptas, the Karnasuvarna King Sasanka, the Palas (Buddhist), the Senas (Hindu) and finally, the Muslim rulers when the last Sena King Lakshmaniya was defeated by Bakhtiyar Khilji, the general of slave Emperor Qutb-ud-din Aibak. Various monuments that were built during these reigns were demolished when the city of Pandua was built by the Afghan kings in the 14th century.


Photo of Gaur and Padua


Hiring a cab from Malda town, you can easily visit Gour’s historical places in one day. Lakes built by ancient rulers are dotted all over this town — Piyasbari Dighi, Sanatan Sagar, Rupsagar, are the prominent ones. The Sagar Dighi, built in the 12th century, attracts thousands of migratory birds from Siberia during winter. The Madanmohan Mandir and Vaishnava Akhara are very popular with pilgrims as well as visitors, and so is the small temple where Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s footsteps are preserved in the village of Ramkeli.


The Barasona Masjid, built by Nasrat Shah in 1526, is the biggest mosque of Gour. Dakhil Darwaza is the remains of the gate of a lost fortress. A kilometre away lies another monument, the Feroz Minar. The Kadam Rasul Dargah lies nearby, and contains preserved footsteps of Prophet Mohammed. The Chika Masjid, Lotan Masjid and the Luka-chori (hide and seek) Darwaza are other attractions.


The next day, you can visit Pandua, situated 16 km north of Malda. Here, the Adina Mosque, built in the 14th century by Sultan Shikandar Shah, was considered the biggest mosque in the sub-continent. The Eklakhi Mosque and the Chhoto Sona (Qutb-Shahi) Masjid are other attractions where burnt brick façades showcase history. An idol of Ganesha can be found in the Eklakhi Mosque, highlighting the religious flexibility in its builder. Finally, don’t forget to taste the varieties of mangoes grown in Malda.


Getting There:


Kolkata/Howrah is an important junction and a gateway. By road, take the NH 34 that links Siliguri with Kolkata, but a more enjoyable but longer route is to drive to Dankuni then take the Durgapur Expressway then go to Pandua. After stopping at Pandua, take the road to Saktigarh (stop by to taste the famous Saktigarh sweet, lengcha – a huge gulab jamun made of chhena, khoya and flours of different cereals and weighing half-akg or more), Moregram, Bardhaman, Panagarh and upto Gour in Malda.


Where to Stay:
The only good stay option around is WBTDC Malda (Tel: +91-3512-220123)