Baranti, a name not known to all, not heard by many and not seen in much of the travel articles, is a remote village in a remote corner of the remote district of Purulia in West Bengal. With the name of Purulia, the first thing that comes to mind is the ‘Chau’ mask and the dance. Is Baranti in some way related to Chau or is it famed differently? Ending all such speculation let me take you through the soulful journey to the scenic landscape of Baranti.
I would start this post with a small introduction on how I came to know of Baranti. In search of Palash at the beginning of spring, I ended up to Purulia. (Read my previous post on Holi to know the story of my search.) My research on the internet for Palash dominated place in Purulia led me to an eco-tourism resort named ‘Palashbari’ in Baranti. On further research and word of mouth from people who visited Baranti, we were on the track.
The cover picture of ‘Palashbari’ website enticed me to stay there at any cost even for a single day. The small resort has few rooms which are mostly pre-booked during the season. I somehow managed to get a room for two nights. The small property was full of Palash trees and 10 cottages with just the basic amenities. This is not a review of the resort, just my personal experience of staying there.
It is not a kind of luxury resort so one cannot expect the comfort of air-conditioned rooms (which are just not required during the season comprising of the winter and the spring months). The attached geysers in every bathroom are operated by the master switches in the kitchen by the employees (as there is no reception), there is no option of any RO or other purified water (though one can purchase mineral water bottles).
Trust me the normal tap water that they provide is better than any packaged or purified water. Initially, we were little sceptical about drinking the tap water later with the assurance of the employees we were more than comfortable and loved the water for its taste and digestive properties. The food is simple and resembles the homemade taste. The employees are helpful (they are the local residents) and take care of every need of the borders. Early in the morning, local villagers come to sell the fresh juice from the date palm trees, while in the evening others come with garlands of Palash to get you completely indulged in the mood of spring in Baranti.
On a late afternoon, we arrived at Palashbari and as we were walking around the property two adorable local kids in a bicycle approached us to sell their Palash garlands. I was so excited to have them and was quick enough to engage in conversation while buying the beautiful garlands. They were from the nearby village called Manpur and they picked up the flowers themselves and weaved the garlands to sell it here. Their names were Lakhai and Ashim. They said that there are a lot of trees in bloom in Manpur and I asked them to take me to their village the next morning as there were fewer trees in bloom within the resort this year.
My little friends kept their promise and came to take me to their village with lots and lots of flowers in bloom. This is where I filled my bag with the flowers to bring it back home. By now you must have read my previous post and know the context well. Baranti comprising of tiny villages is situated near the Baranti lake also known as the Muradi dam. A peaceful hamlet with a handful of hotels and few tourists with the nature dressed in its best spring attire is a perfect getaway that I mostly search for.
The weather conditions and the soil type here does not favour cultivation to a large extent. Some low-quality rice is grown during the monsoon while the rest of the season the field remains dry. The major vegetation in these regions are the tall trees that range from Palash to Eucalyptus to Sal and others. With an undulating topography and scattered villages, Baranti and the nearby areas are differently beautiful.
The major city close to it is Asansol which is famed for the Raniganj coalfields and IISCO Steel Plant. With all these introductions let me take you to the major places of attraction and when we do so let’s start in a divine way visiting the Kalyaneswari Temple. This is an old temple built by the Panchakot Rajas, the ancient temple was near Garpanchakot which was later transferred to this place by the kings. The Goddess in the form of Shakti is the presiding deity.
The present temple is on the bank of Barakar river and the river acts like the West Bengal-Jharkhand state border. On this river, with the purpose of flood control, the Maithon Dam was built. It is also the first underground power station in South East Asia. The dam is located in the state of Jharkhand. With the area receiving little rains this monsoon, there was less water in the reservoir, yet the view was pleasing enough with tiny islands in between the blue waters. Ample of speed boats were available for those interested in boating or visiting the islands.
Very close to this dam (and again back to West Bengal) is the Panchet Dam built on the Damodar river. Damodar river was earlier known as the sorrow of Bengal because of the devastating floods in the plains of West Bengal. With many dams on Damodar and its tributaries, the floods have been in control since then. Panchet Dam is beautifully located on the Panchet Hill just above the confluence of Damodar and the Barakar river. Series of boats anchored by the bank of the reservoir adds to the character of the blue water.
Water is the essence of life, so any river or waterbody beautifies a landscape in every possible way. The undulating plane with small hills in between them creates a painting of a surreal world. The Jai Chandi hill within the vast plain stands tall creating a landmark from large distances. A small temple dedicated to Goddess Chandi is located on the top of the hill. A total of 503 gentle steps take you to the summit that provides a panoramic view of the area.
Long stretches of empty land that are used for paddy cultivation during monsoon lies dry, intercepted by the railway track with the handsome building of the Jai Chandi Railway station. Colourful houses cluster on one side while the rest is like an infinite plain until it meets the horizon. I met two little girls selling Palash garlands while I climbed up the steps. It seems the Palash garlands are quite favourite among the tourists and for the locals it is a way to fetch some quick income.
The two little amiable garland sellers without any inhibition got engaged in conversation with me. Everything was good until I pointed my lens towards them. They were so camera shy that one immediately turned away while the other covered her face with her hands. Then went a lot of persuasions and request and some toffees to finally have their pretty smiles captured in my frame. Kids are so innocent and are really fun to be around.
I have always felt so good to interact with the simple village people, there is no complexity no attitude no glamour just the simple souls interacting with you and welcoming you with warmth and love. Not only did the kids win my heart so did the elders and the aged villagers. In Garpanchakot we interacted with more locals, they treated us like their family. The small shack where we had our lunch had no fancy menu or utensils but some pure souls serving homely simple Bengali food with love and care. The aged lady who was selling Palash happily posed for me with her flowers she also claimed herself to be the guide of the place.
She reiterated the known history of Garpanchakot, the story of the fort (called Garh Panchakot) that used to be in this serene setup surrounded by the Panchet Hills. The fort belonged to the Singh Deo dynasty who ruled the area since 90 AD. During the 18th century, Alivardi Khan became the Nawab of Bengal defeating and killing his brother Sarfiraz Khan. His brother-in-law declared war to avenge his death but failed so he sought the help of the Maratha ruler, Raghoji Bhonsle and thus welcomed the ‘Bargis’ (the Maratha men were known as Bargi) to Bengal.
The Bargis looted and plundered Bengal committing many atrocities for ten long years to finally end the battle with a settlement between the Nawabs and the Maratha rulers in the year 1751. In the meantime, Garpanchakot came under the Bargi attack where the king’s soldiers and guards were defeated and killed and the fort was destroyed. It is said that the king escaped the pillage and settled in Kashipur Palace (at some distance from here in Purulia) and his 17 wives committed suicide jumping in a nearby well to save themselves from being captured and dishonoured.
It is said that the Kalyaneshwari temple used to be here in those times. Now the scattered ruins remain in this scenic forested place encircled by the small hilly range. The approach road winding through the thick tree cover was itself enticing and the small boards with few lines from local folk songs did the rest to set the mood that can transform any prosaic person to a poet. A group of women travellers suddenly sang out loud a snippet of a song written on a board near the temple area. The lovely scene, the gentle breeze, the melodious song and a few steps of their synchronised dance moves appeared to be like an open-air show. The charming landscape cast its spell to set free all inhibition and let the soul dance to the music of joy.
Then driving through the country roads within localities, through fields and beside ponds we were near a small pretty temple. It seemed to be a new structure beside a rocky hillock. This is the Bero hill, it is said that there used to be a temple within the caves at the foothill of this hillock. Due to some antisocial activities in the cave in the recent past, the deity has been moved to the new temple beside and the cave entrance has been sealed.
It was time for the birds to end their day, they were flying back to their nests while the bats were warming up to start their activity. A couple of trees beside a pond was the colony of fruit bats. Hundreds of fruit bats were hanging upside down from every branch. There was a lot of activity among them signalling the sunset time. We had a plan to watch the sunset from the Baranti lake so we rushed to be at the spot at the correct time.
As our vehicle speeded through the dirt track within the villages so as to cut short the distance many obstacles in the form of hens, chicks, ducks, cows, goats and humans (some decorating the roads for a local marriage party, some gathered to watch the cockfight, some walking towards the fairground to enjoy the week-long annual fair) were enough to nullify the shortcut effect. When we finally reached the spot, the sun was already down leaving behind the red-orange smeared sky and its reflection on the still waters. There can be a no better way to end a soulful and soothing trip of a serene place called Baranti.