‘People come to Jharkhand not just to visit places, but also to other times,’ someone had once succinctly remarked. Not just times that you can look back and trace vignettes of, but a time that tags the vast, hill-topped Chotanagpur plateau as one of the oldest – perhaps the oldest – settlements in the world. You might debate the antiquity, but whichever way you carbon date Jharkhand, there is something pristine and beautiful about it even today. Walk anywhere and you would find landscape hemmed with unending hills that are interspersed with gurgling waterfalls and dense sal and teak vegetation. In the dense forests of Betla, Saranda and Hazaribagh live wild elephants, deer, big cats and countless rare birds. The sunrise at Kiriburu and the sunset at Netarhat can take your breath away; handiya, the fermented rice brew can have you tipsy in a moment, and Chhau, the masked dance-drama can make you tap your feet. Nature has blessed the state with precious minerals and the gods have found their homes in Deoghar, Rajrappa and Parasnath. Jharkhand is not just about places, it is about unforgettable moments.
Ranchi: The capital of Jharkhand is shedding its humdrum tag. Skyscrapers now dot the skyline, ritzy hotels and restaurants are luring the foodie and the traveller, infrastructure is setting new standards, and better connectivity is resulting in more footfalls. But before you step into the city, chart out a must-see, must-do plan. There are so many things to see/do in Ranchi that you might easily get stumped. If you are a bookworm, Tagore Hill could be your first stop. The pristine white house might leave you breathless (it is on the top of a hill), but remember, it was here that Jyotindranath Tagore, the elder brother of Rabindranath Tagore translated Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s Geeta Rahasya. If piety is why you are in the capital, go to Ranchi Hill. The Shiva Temple atop this hill is where the devouts go; at night, people go for a panoramic view of the Ranchi town. The ancient Jagannath Temple near HEC is more than 300 years old, and is now being renovated to look like the Jagannath Temple in Puri. The annual Rath Yatra in July-August draws huge crowds. The Sati Temple is in the heart of the town. As the name suggests, this Temple is dedicated to Sati.
For fun, head to Kanke Dam and Rock Garden. The Rock Garden has waterfalls and sculptures, and offers a spectacular view of the Kanke Dam. It is, of course, the hippest GenX hangout. Drive a few miles to Fun Castle in Ratu, an amusement park with Ferris Wheel and boating facilities. Do not miss the Ratu Palace, the living quarters of the erstwhile Raja of Ratu whose descendants still live there. Beyond city limits lie several interesting places. The gurgling waterfalls are the first choice for anyone looking for a day-picnic. You can take your pick from Dassam, Hundru, Hirni, Panchgagh and Johna waterfalls. Not too far from Ranchi, these waterfalls are great for picnics. However, carry food and water, for you might not find too many eateries around. On Ranchi-Jamshedpur road, there is the Chandil Dam. Once you drive over the bridge on the barrage, you go downhill on a dirt road and can see the colourful boats lined up. You can hire a four-seater pedal boat for INR 40 or choose the more expensive jet scooter for INR 150 for three minutes.
Popular pilgrimage spots include Angrabari, a temple complex near Khunti, also known as Amreshwar Dham. You can drive off the Tata-Ranchi road towards Bundu. On way falls the Sun Temple. Touted as one of the largest sun temples in Asia, it has seven horses drawing an 18-wheel chariot. All in stone, of course.
Amabudi: This Rural tourism project has not only redefined tourism in Jharkhand, but has also made the art lover make a beeline for this art village for its aesthetics. The two-acre village is sprawled in Amadubi, a village in Dalbhumgarh block in East Singbhum District, nearly 66 km from Jamshedpur. Purported to be a one-stop destination for all things arty, Amadubi has been known for its chitrakars (painters) and the not-so-heard-of art form called pyatkar. The painters of Amadubi use tree barks as scrolls and narrate tales through their paintings. Pyatkar is not only an ancient form of tribal painting; the artists also compose songs using their paintings. Now, Amadubi is more than the home for chitrakars. You can book a bed in the Swiss tents or eco-friendly cottages and soak in the art forms of Jharkhand. No, the cottages are not ordinary. Their architecture borrows from the traditional Santhal huts – the walls are embellished with artistic borders, the courtyard is sun-dappled and all around there are mahua, kadam, neem and palash trees. You will be served traditional meals in clay utensils and when afternoon melds into evening, you can tap a foot at the oompah beat of the drums. If you are in Amadubi, you can also buy a package that includes tours to Ghatshila, Galudih, Burudih dam, Guihapat, Chitteshwar, and Bendh. Not many know that famous Bengali litterateur Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay had a home in Ghatshila and that noted filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak shot Subernarekha at the deserted airstrips of Chakulia and Dhalbhumgarh. Other local attractions include Rajbari, the palace of Dhalbhum Raja; Rajbari Temple; Trivineshwar Temple that’s known for the three lingas that symbolise Bramha; Dasbhuj Mandir/Durga Temple; Paanch Pandavas, a rock north-west of Ghatshila shaped like the five Pandava brothers; Kotwal Temple; Ruam, a small village where remains indicating the former settlement of the Sravakas or lay-Jains were discovered.
Parsanath: At 4,480 feet, Mount Parsanath is the highest point in Jharkhand. But that is not the reason why millions trek it up. It is the holiest place of Jains. On top of Parasanth Hill, also known as Sammed Shikhar, 20 out of the 24 Jain Tirthankars (except Tirthankars Rishabhdev, Vasupujay, Neminath, and Mahavir) are said to have attained salvation. They all came to liberate themselves from the cycle of rebirth to become Tirthankars, the prophets or founders of the path. The mountain takes its name from Tirthankar Parasvnath who, like several others, attained salvation here.
he temples on Parasnath Hill are said to have been built around 1765, though an inscription at the foot of the images indicates that the idols were sanctified in 1678. Archaeologists believe that the present edifices are substitutes of the original structure, which, in typical Jain tradition, are often demolished and rebuilt. If archaeologists confirm the antiquity of the temples, the architects marvel at the design that looks complicated with double-storied buildings and pillared cloisters. Mostly, the idols are chaumukh or four-faced – not essentially four moods of one Tirthankar; in some places four different Tirthankars are bunched together back to back to face the four cardinal points and make one idol. That entailed variation in architecture. So, here’s not one entrance to such temples, the shrine chambers have four doorways.
Roughly 190 km from Ranchi, Parasnath Hill is nine kilometres uphill from the base. The only way to reach there is by walking up the steep incline, or shell out at least Rs 550 to sit in a doli (nylon rope woven cots or palanquins) and be carried up by two men. The palanquin bearers keep no weighing machines, they look at you and quote a price, haggling is not the norm. And remember, it is a five-hour trek or being carried in a cot, whichever you have chosen – 18 km for the round trip, and nine kilometres to see the two temples and 24 shrines on the highest point in Jharkhand. If you want to look around all the temples, allocate at least one day to Parasnath; if you want to walk up the Sammed Shikhar, avoid travelling in summer, it can be absolutely cruel. Start early for the shikhar, and you can come back and stay in one of the tourist lodges or dharamshalas in Madhuban.
Netarhat: What’s in a name? The bard would have quipped. Perhaps, there is, especially if it is a distorted name that is near the heart. Ignore the pun, but Netarhat is actually an imprecise interpretation of ‘Near the Heart.’ The verdant hills, the meandering streams and the salubrious climate reminded the Scottish Raj soldiers of their home, and they referred to it as a place ‘near the heart.’ Or so the oft-repeated story goes. Spread over 50 sq km, Netarhat evokes three strong images — that of bright boys studying in Netarhat School, the sunset at Magnolia Point and endless nashpati (pear) orchards. First, the school.
Established in 1954, at one time, the Netarhat School was like the pearly gates of heaven — all young boys wanted to enter it, such was its reputation. The school, perched 3,622 ft above sea level, has, perhaps, produced more top-notch bureaucrats than all other schools put together. If the school is all about academics, Magnolia Point is about poignant love of Magnolia, a young British girl, and a local tribal shepherd. Nearly 10 km from Netarhat is a granite plaque at the viewpoint that reminds visitors of this jinxed love story. When Magnolia’s love for the shepherd was derided, and she realised that her love would remain unfulfilled, she plunged into the valley with her horse. It is to this love that the sun sings an elegy every evening as it enters into the lap of Vindhya Hills. Beyond the rails of the viewpoint is a tall, denuded tree that adds to the allure of the viewpoint. Next morning, when it is time for the sun to rise, walk to the pink watch tower. You can get a bird’s eye view of Banari village. Wait for the first rays of the sun to fall on Koel river; the crimson river is a sight to behold. When it is time to head home, do not forget to pack a basketful of the luscious pears and guavas that Netarhat is so famous for.
Betla: This National Park is the perfect place to begin the wildlife adventure in Jharkhand. Here, you can spend a night amongst cheetals, your morning on elephant back tracking the tigers or watching a bunch of elephants slough off mud and grime in the innumerable waterholes, and your afternoons amidst the ruins of the Palamu Fort. If you want more, you can sit in the watchtowers or hide-outs and mull over life or keep an eye for the tiger. Taking its name from the village of Betla, the National Park is sprawled over an unending 226 sq km, and was one of the first nine tiger reserves constituted in 1974. It borrows its fame not just from the 47 species of mammals and 174 species of birds that have made homes in the bamboo, teak and sal forest, but also from the fact that the country’s first tiger census was held here way back in 1932. It has 119 tiger trackers, several hide-outs and machans, 322 watering holes and a mixed vegetation forest.
Spend a night in the Tree House, a lodging facility on stilts. At night, from the glass balcony, you can see hundreds of pairs of cheetal eyes shimmering in darkness. Instead of the digital alarm, you might be woken by the fluting weela-wee-ooo of the golden oriole or the honk call of the langurs. If you want to take lessons in wildlife, walk into the Nature Interpretation Centre that not only has stuffed animals and birds, but houses snakes and lizards in formalin, tiger paw cast in plaster of paris, and animal scat bottled and labelled. To add a little history to your adventure, take a small detour and drive to the Palamu Fort that was built by Chero king Raja Medini Rai, nearly 400 years ago. The Purana Qila stands as a sentinel on a hilltop on the banks of river Auranga while the Naya Qila sits proudly on a neighbouring hilltop. Ask an old-timer, and he would tell you how the torches on the fort’s ramparts could be seen from miles away. If you want to pick something chic for the house, stop at a basket weavers’ village; you can learn a trick or two in making baskets.
Deoghar: If you have not been to Deoghar (literally, home of the Gods) in the month of Shravan (July-August), you probably will never decipher what devotion and religious fervour is all about. During the month-long shravan mela, the 120-km stretch between Deoghar and Sultanganj acquires an orange hue. Devotees wear orange, pick up water from the Ganga at Sultanganj and walk barefoot for days to offer prayers at the Shiva temple in Deoghar. The tradition began with Lord Rama, who, it is said, picked up water from the Ganga in Sultanganj and offered it to the lingam in Babadham.
The temple town of Deoghar comprises 22 temples, with the Babadham Temple acquiring the pride of place. The 72 ft-tall Shiva temple houses the jyotirlinga, one of the 12 such lingams found in the country. It holds greater sanctity with the Hindus because of the 12 jyotirlingams it is the only kamnalinga, a lingam that has the power to fulfill your dreams. It is believed that Lord Vishwakarma himself carved the temple, built in the typical Nagara style, out of a single rock. The Raja of Gidhaur, who also donated the gold vessels that adorn the temple’s crown, built the entrance to the main temple. The temple is also noted for its panchshula, unlike a trishul (trident), Lord Shiva’s usual accoutrement.
The holy city is rimmed with hillocks and Lord Shiva is the presiding deity, but there is more to Deoghar. Trikut Pahar is known for its three hills, and the fact that several saints have attained salvation here. There are temples dedicated to Goddess Parvati and Shiva Temple, and plans are afoot to turn it into a tourist spot complete with a ropeway and other facilities. Mohan Temple is a marvel in white, and dedicated to Mohanand Brahmachari, a disciple of Balanand Brahmachari, who made Deoghar his home. The Satsang Ashram set up by Thakur Anukul Chandra, was one of the prime reasons for a large number of Bengalis to leave the grime of Calcutta and settle in Deoghar. Even today, more than five lakh devotees visit the Ashram during the annual celebrations. Navlakha Temple is dedicated to Radha and Krishna, and was built at the cost of rupees nine lakh. Deoghar also finds mention in the travelogues of Megasthenes who set foot in the holy city around 302 BCE, while Chinese chronicler Hiuen Tsang mentions the beauty of Rajmahal Hills and Baidyanath Dham in his famed treatise on India.
About the author
Kshitiz loves to travel, read and write. And yes, second love: theatre.