Destination : Peerless Resort, Mukutmanipur, Bankura, West Bengal
Departure : Howrah on Saturday 27.10.2001, 0605 hrs by train ‘Ruposi Bangla’ to Bankura at 1040 hrs
Return: Bankura on Tuesday 29.10.2001, 1700 hrs by same train to Howrah at 30.10.01, 0030 hrs
Participants : The usual BECA gang
The journey : Bleary eyed, the dawn after the immersion ceremony of Durga Puja, we reached Howrah station. Buro, our great organizer, had arranged a novel “on-the-wheels” packed breakfast, comprising of “Chicken Tikka in Croissant”, a Franco-Iranian dish and cakes, washed down with milk tea followed by lemon tea. Jiban & family joined the next morning by the same train. In the train we evicted the usurpers of our reserved seats and made ourselves comfortable. The South Eastern Railway train ran smoothly on well maintained tracks. The eyesore jumble of bricks, concrete and rusting tin roofs of Howrah melted away to the soothing greenery of Medinipur, as the train made its first halt at the enormous Kharagpur station. Here, the compartments were detached from the composite train. The front part moved away as Dhauli Express. The tail part as Ruposhi Bangla Express branched off towards Adra, Purulia with a different electric engine. By and by, the commercial flowerbeds and the swamps of ‘hogla’ & lotus of Medinipur gave way to the red, rough soil of Bankura district. Presently, we reached the railway station of Bankura town, a mere 10 min. behind schedule.
The place : About 240 kM by road from Calcutta, at the western edge of Bankura district lies a large reservoir formed by diverting and damming the rivers Kangsabati (or Kñasai) and Kumari, which now join at a new confluence upstream of the reservoir. This is one of the longest earth dams in the world. Three Ambassador taxis took us to Peerless Resort, Mukutmanipur, Police station Ranibñadh. The driver of one of the taxis could do well with training in politeness and courtesy to passengers. The 56 kM, 1½ hour drive took us through towns, villages and market places with such quaint names like Bheduasol, Hatirampur, Boyramari, Dangarampur, Kuabagan, Shunukpahari, Dhaldangmor, Supur, Indpur, Batra, etc. We drove on a Sanghati Setu (Union Bridge) over River Shilabadti. The resort is on a hump, right on the edge of the Kangsabati reservoir and with a commanding view of the water body and distant banks and hills.
Young men ran thriving extortion rackets in the highways. We found them holding up goods vehicles at 3 or 4 places, soliciting “subscription”, at some pretext or the other. We were however, held up only once during our taxi journey from Bankura railway station to Mukutmanipur. The “subscription requested” by 7/8 boys and young men (some of whom were sitting on the highway blocking traffic) was on account of worship at some nearby, albeit invisible pir’s mazhar (= Muslim saint’s grave). The taxi driver dodged the issue, by requesting deferred payment. The “subscription collectors” let us go, warning the driver, that they were on duty only upto noon, by which time he should come and pay. They even gave him some ‘blessing’ in advance. I wondered what the local Mollah would have to say for performing puja and distributing prasad at a pir’s mazhar, especially if he is like Mollah Mohammad Omar of the Afghan Talibans or Syed Ahmed Bukhari, Imam of Delhi Jumma Masjid. Anyway, the money for the pir’s mazhar in question will probably spent in the nearest country liquor shop.
Landscape : The Bankura district was predominantly dry and unproductive, until it was vastly improved, when Dr B C Roy, the visionary late Chief Minister of Bengal, caused the Kangasabati dam and extensive canals to be built. Now, all the areas we passed through were pleasantly green with small plots of ripening paddy dotted with date palms and ‘Tal’ trees, crowned with shimmering green fan-like leaves. None of the tal trees showed the typical notches for toddy tapping, though the locals obviously know the technology, as proved by toddy tappers’ notches in some date palms. Particularly lush paddy fields formed green carpets in the rich soil of the original riverbed of the River Kñasai river.
Excursions : After lunch on the day of arrival, we visited the Kangsabati Barrage. The water was low. We climbed the Louha pahar (= iron hill), where the stones appear to be rich iron ore. There were a few stone images of Lord Shiva’s bull and a few other deities at varying degrees of erosion, which were recovered from the old riverbed and brought to this high ground. A metre high, cracked image, lying on its back, seemed to have once been best carved. The heavily eroded image could belong to Jains, declared Chitrita. An emblem of Lord Shib and a trident along with the supine deity accepted all pujas. A brilliant and well-photographed sunset closed the day. After sundown, we drove to a tourist area near Bonpukuia Mrigadab. It was quite dark. In the wooded area no deer was visible. Two pottery shops made good business, selling many burnt clay tiles, figurines, gods and goddesses to our group. There was a decaying Youth Hostel in the vicinity, which is sad, considering the tourism potential of beautiful Mukutmanipur. Onward we went to Ambika temple in Ambikanagar, at the original confluence of Kñasai and Kumari rivers. The deity is obviously very old. A marble plaque said, that the temple was extensively renovated in 1302 (Bengali calendar). A new Manasa temple stood by the side, with Manasa riding a conch shell shaped chariot, pulled by a donkey and adorned by 3 snakes. On one side knelt Ram with bow and arrow in front of Durga, about to offer his eye in lieu of a blue lotus. On the other side stood Behula and Lakhinder, garlanding each other. A good potter seemed to be the maker of all these images.
On 28th, a dilapidated Jeep took Buro, Ratna, Giri, Loken and Kamal to Bankura and Bishnupur. Every 10 kM, there was a halt, while the Jeep’s radiator took in water from any nearby pond and Buro gave some out in the bush. At Bankura railway station, Jiban, Karabi and Tinti joined and we drove off to Bishnupur. Buro and Ratna went to market to buy 12 silk saris, including 2 on order from Giri. The rest drove on for sight seeing, with the reluctant presence of Jiban, Karabi and Tinti, who had already seen Bishnupur and were looking forward to some rejuvenating rest after the strain of leaving bed at 4 am and a 5½ hours train journey. They were voted down and on we went.
In all the temples of the Malla kings, this terracotta bas-relief, showing an open lotus, appears in important places, such as above the keystones of archways.
Typical Terracotta tile on temple walls
The unique architecture and stunningly beautiful terracotta surface embellishments of the Bishnupur temples will make the jaws of the most jaded visitor drop in awe. A few of the temples have been taken over by the Archeological Survey of India, who has blocked close access. On inquiry, it was found, that this is to save these heavenly terracotta tiles from vandals, who carve their names on these priceless objects, thereby destroying them forever. So the adimiration of their beauty has to be limited by views at the outer walls only. In spite of the ravages of weather and vandals, neither pictures nor thousands of words can do justice to these extraordinary pieces of art. One can merely list them :
Rashmancha built by the Malla King Birhambeer in 1587 AD. It is a square stage, built on a high laterite square plinth with pillared passageways and domed roof. Used for general congregation on the occasion of the Rash festival, when all other images of Radha & Krishna were brought here from neighbouring temples.
Shyamray Temple built by Malla King Raghunath Singha so…p in 1643 AD. It is a square temple on a square plinth, topped by 5 pinacles of which the outer 4 are square and the middle and largest one 8 cornered, sitting just over the sanctum sanctorium.
Jorbangla (Krishna Roy) temple built by Mallaraj Raghunath Singha the second in 1655 AD. It looks like a pair of back-to-back double sloped thatched roof huts topped with a 4-cornered crown. The terracotta tiles on its walls are reputed to be the best of Bengal.
Radhanath Temple inaugurated in 1737 AD by Churamani Dewi, eldest daughter-in-law of Mallaraj Gopal Singha.
Radheshyam Temple built by Mallaraj Chaitanya Singha in 1758 AD. It has a square plinth and domed roof. There are residual traces of superfine a plastering technology now lost with carvings on the smooth surface.
A wrought iron canon named Dolmadal (or Domardan), 3.8M long, muzzle bore 29.2 cm manufactured by welding together 63 rings, which are quite visible from the surface. It is said, that in 1782 AD, to save Mallaraj Gopal Singha, the royal family’s primary god Lord Madanmohan himself came out of his temple and fired this canon to repulse attack by raiding Borgi (Maratha) robbers lead by Maratha Chief Bhashkar Rao.
All the above-mentioned temples have been taken over by the Archeological Survey of India and are beautifully maintained as relics. Only in Madanmohan Temple regular worship continues. We missed it due to lack of time. For this omission, we suffered the displeasure of Lord Madanmohan.
During the return journey, after collecting Buro, Ratna and a bagful of saris, we visited Mashak Hill. A brilliant sunset coloured a partially cloudy sky. After photographing the sunset, Buro and Tinti climbed to the top to visit the hilltop temple and a bat infested cave standing next to it, complete with a sadhu.
Thanks to the jerking jalopy jeep, we were convinced, that the human body did indeed contain 206 bones as claimed, since we could feel the pain individually in each bone.
The balance ladies gang, accompanied by Dip and Gautam went on a shorter local excursion to the barrage, Mashak hills and Sutan forest. There was a watchtower in Sutan forest. While climbing it, Dip fell (literally) in love with the beauty of the forest.
On 29th morning, a small ladies troop ventured out to bathe in the reservoir. After testing the water and finding the bottom very muddy and slippery, with the risk of the slope dipping sharply into deep waters, they lost interest and returned after a cursory bath. A few accompanied Dip to Ambika temple, where he offered puja in the name of BECA.
Boarding & Lodging : The lodging comprised of two 7-bedded dormitories, with a bathroom and a toilette each. The womenfolk occupied one room and the menfolk the other. The pitch and volume of noise in each room reflected the gender of the occupants. A long nylon rope supplied by the ever thoughtful Buro provided a community drying line for towels and saris, strung between a tree and a railing, giving our temporary abode the appearance of an encampment of rescued flood victims. There was a pair of swings in the foreground for those who were young in body or in heart. The main attraction of the Peerless Resort was the huge dining room, a hexagonal hall with 2 rows of pillars and sloped roof, but with no walls, except on the kitchen side. Through profusely flowering hibiscus, roses and elegantly trimmed ferns in a well-maintained lawn, there was unrestricted 270° view of the lake shimmering like a silver sheet in the bright sunlight. The soft tap water was nice to drink and good to shower in. The night temperature was soothingly cool. The food was simple and not too spicy. So overall, it was a comfortable and relaxing stay.
Cultural : Our famed singers Mishti, Tultuli and Ratna enlivened the night of our arrival. Singing commenced again next night, when we lost Mishti to a cold and sore throat, but gained Karabi. Tultuli and Ratna obliged on both nights. Loken was criticised for snoring occasionally during the singing, in spite of his protestations of relaxation and enjoyment. On the style side, Giri went around in a ‘fatua’ (= vest), on which Binu had done a glamorous fabric paint of Durga, her armaments and ornaments.
Disaster at Bishnupur : In the return journey on 29th, when the train just rolled out of the Bishnupur railway station and it was clear, that we are really going to leave without visiting the temple of Lord Madanmohan, the Lord gave expression to his displeasure. The train suddenly decelerated and stopped. Newshounds brought back the news, that the vacuum hose has ruptured in the first compartment next to the engine, in which we were relaxing in our reserved seats, while a standing crowd looked on in envy. No replacement spare was available. Information was sent back to Bishnupur, while the train waited. In due course came the advice, that the train will have to be rolled back to Bishnupur, where spares and expert help may become available, failing which, our compartment will be detached to allow the rest of the train to move on. The surplus passengers hurriedly departed to seek space in other compartments, leaving us to regret our lack of religious fervour and the consequent prospect of standing in some unreserved compartment for the rest of the journey. Eventually Lord Madanmohan relented. After rolling the train slowly back to Bishnupur and with better tools, the engine driver himself managed to repair the damage and on we went in the same train, same compartment, only 2 hours later. We actually reached Howrah on the next day, 0030 am of 30.10.01. The extortion by the taxiwallahs was also no worse than expected : Hail Lord Madanmohan.
Memories of Mukutmanipur :
Repeat visit : The overcrowding of Puri and Digha, the deterioration of Darjeeling to a filthy slum leave people of Bengal few choices for a quick, short getaway. For those wishing a calm and beautiful couple of days, the following information may come handy : Reservation at Peerless Inn, 12, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Calcutta 700013, 228 0301 (7 lines), email firstname.lastname@example.org or Peerless Resort, Mukutmanipur, Khatra, Bankura STD (03243) 53 214-5 or local call from Calcutta 953243 53214-5. Nearest to the boundary wall on the reservoir side stands room # 11, with 2 beds, but the best is room # 14, with 4 beds. The going rate in season is Rs 500 and Rs 1,100 per day respectively. Off-season rates apply in summer and monsoon.