Beyond the lonely roads


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February 21st 2016
Published: February 21st 2016
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India is a diverse country. Many from all over the world travel to destinations like Taj Mahal, Delhi, Jaipur, Udaypur, backwater of Kerala, Mysore and many, many more. Each place has its own signature, own story to tell. They have their historic footprints, natural beauties, lovely sea beaches, or tropical forests. I have travelled to many of these tourist meccas when I grew up in India and later, when I visited during my trips. But the places closer to my heart are not one of them. It is my love for the obscure hills of Santal Paraganas, now called Jharkhand, that always drove me crazy. Chahal, Chungru, Latehar, Daltonganj, Ranchi, Hazaribag, Baghmundi, where the red dusts from the dry earth fly around in the summer winds, the big Sal trees make canopy over the lonely roads that has winded miles after miles through the rolling hills of the Chotonagpur belt. The naive, Santal people who are born poor but always with a smiling face, leisurely sit down in a circle and smoke ‘chutta’, a handmade cigarette from tobacco leaves, or you can find them working in the field to grow the crops of the season. Santal girls are seen with pots on the top of their heads coming from the Suvarnarekha river bringing water, or perhaps carrying a bunch of straw on their head for taking it home for cooking. You will not find many tourists in the villages, or on the roads or in the weekend markets. This is a vast tranquil land where I can absorb the sights and sounds of nature in every molecule of my body, in every empty space of my soul. This is a place where I would like to die and to be born again. I grew up from my early days loving this beautiful place.



When I made a trip to India last year after my tour in Vietnam, I planned to visit my cousin Himadri and his family in Jamshedpur. But a day trip to this part of the nostalgic world was not in my agenda when I boarded the train from Kolkata to make the four hour trip to Jamshedpur. It was a lovely wintry afternoon when the express train was passing through the panoramic Jhargram, Dhalbhumgarh, Ghatshila in a soft afternoon sun. Oh, so many years now have passed since I last saw this landscape, but nothing has changed. The same rugged fields of Jharkhand with the scattered bushes and Sal trees are spread miles and miles to the horizon as I have seen them thirty some years ago. I could see the lonely telephone posts standing there from eternity and they became the picture postcard of the whole landscape; the picture is not perfect without them. When the train reached the Jamshedpur station, the sun was already setting down under the western sky and a soft, somber evening was slowly wrapping the world with its blanket of darkness. Barnali and Ruku, were waiting in the station. I looked around. It is the same station where I came so many times when I used to live in India. I remembered when we used to arrive in the station in the wee hours to catch the early morning train to Kolkata. Vendors used to sell hot teas, “Chaye garam”, means 'hot tea'; we used to settle down in our seats in the train and sip hot tea until the train blew its whistle and slowly rolled down on the track. I was walking down the memory lane while heading towards the gate with Barnali and Ruku. I remembered the time when I arrived here one early morning from Sambalpur station hitchhiking a goods train and without a ticket. All night I was riding in an empty open wagon in the goods train watching the silhouette forest of Sal trees around me. The mystique forest was passing us quickly as the train was traveling at a modest speed. The only sound I could hear is the sound of the engine and the rattle of the wheels. In the semi darkness of the moonlit night, the forest was showering in the drops of silver rain from the full moon sky. I sang with my heart’s content “Aaaj jyotsna rate sabai gache bone”, a Tagore’s song..'we all have gone to the forest in this moonlit night'. Some Thirty years later, the old memories were passing in front of my eyes in a slide show as I was walking on the platform. I was in a different world. Suddenly I felt Ruku grabbed my hand saying,- “Let’s go”. I came to my senses. The driver was waiting in the car. We headed home.



Next day I woke up early in the morning. It was a lovely winter morning. I wrapped myself with a shawl and came outside. There is a bit of chill in the air. The temperature recorded in the mid teens; a light blanket of fog was hugging the trees. The flower garden was just waking up soaked in the morning dew. Himadri, Barnali joined me in a while. We had our morning tea with breakfast sitting in the porch. I was enjoying every moment of it. I felt comfortable in the chill. It was lovely. We finished our breakfast and got ready. The rented minivan was waiting in front of the house. Himadri and Barnali planned a day trip to visit the Surya temple and Dassam Falls today with me. Barnali arranged for some packed lunch to carry with us. We headed down the main road. Soon, we were traveling through the outskirts of the city towards Ranchi. Our first stop was a roadside temple. I believe it was a Hanuman temple. All cars stop here just for a while to get blessing from the God before heading out on the highway…it’s a standard ritual. We met a newly-wed couple and I wanted to take photo. They agreed but the priest inside the temple objected vehemently to any form of photography. I was a bit disappointed, but there was nothing much I could do. No point engaging in an argument, which would have spoiled the mood of the day. Soon, we headed north towards Ranchi along the National Highway 33. The driving distance is around 132 km, but we would not travel all the way to Ranchi. Our first stop would be to Surya Temple, some 90 km away.



The van was cruising at a comfortable speed along the NH33. The winter mornings are very picturesque in this part of the world. The road, the trees, the fields on both sides of the road, - all were soaking in the soft sun. The harvesting season is over, the rice fields on two sides of the road were golden yellow. One could occasionally see a Santal girl carrying some loads of straw on her head and walking down the road. I was listening to the song coming out from the radio in a low volume – “It’s a wonderful world” ; it is indeed, I thought! I was deeply absorbed in the nostalgic landscape around me while we were driving towards the Surya temple. We left Dalma range on our right hand side. Soon we crossed Chandil; the NH32 crosses here NH33 and goes north towards Purulia. On our left we could see the Chandil-Gamaria range at a far distance. Further west, there is the vast Saranda-Singbhum range, which we could not see from here. We crossed Suvarnarekha river on our way. Suvarnarekha is nostalgic to me for many reasons. I walked many times to the river whenever I used to travel to Jamshedpur in the past. It’s not a vast river like Ganga or Mekong. I pay me respect towards those rivers for their vastness, I get mesmerized by the sheer might and awe of those rivers, but I never could fall in love with them. Suvarnarekha is special. It’s not a navigable river by boat, especially in the winter. It hugs the shores and makes its way through the rocks and stones like a little girl dancing in the rocks. It’s a river which flows like a poem, it has many tales to tell if you want to listen, it has a rhythm that matches with the Santal life style around here, it is a river one can easily fall in love with. In the past, sometime I used to sit down on the stones by the riverside watching the river flow, talking to her and listening to her story of love for this place that she is destined for ever. I used to have a romantic relationship with Suvarnarekha. Since then, I have left the country, but she hasn’t, and she cannot, because she loves this place for ever. The memory pained again when I saw her after thirty some years.



It was close to mid day when we arrived the Surya Temple. It’s a short drive along the Talab Road after we took a left turn to it from NH33. The temple was right there. I usually stay away from any temple where scores of priests and their agents are chasing the pilgrims to show them a shortcut to success, prosperity and happiness. It’s a racket where sharks are there to extort money from the naive people who are so eager to fall for it with a blind faith. I despise those temples. But I liked the Buddha temples in Thailand where none of these menace are present. Temples there are for the common people to come and pray for few minutes and leave, no nagging, no bullying by the sharks; a true shrine of peace and quiet. Surya Temple is like that. I loved it. The temple is in the middle of a sprawling compound. There are seven horses made out of stone standing on the compound as if they are ready to pull the chariot of the God Surya. In Hindu mythology, horses are the carriers of the God Surya. We walked around. The sun is now slightly hot in the high noon. Children from the nearby village schools came to visit the temple. We could see a faraway hill where the peak resembles a head of a person. We went inside the temple. It’s so peaceful. We paid our respect and slowly came out. We were hungry…it’s lunch time. We went to the van and Barnali arranged food for us. They were home cooked food and OMG, so delicious. I was about to lick the empty plate, but decided against it. We found a garbage spot and dumped our used plates.



I wish we could spend some more time in the temple; the place is so far away from the main tourist tracks. It’s a place I could sit down with a nice book and spend the rest of the afternoon listening to the sounds of nature and watching how a soft, lovely day fades away into the world of darkness. But we didn’t have much time. We settled in the van and started towards our next destination- Dassam Falls.



Dassam Falls is not too far from Surya Temple. We took a left turn from the Talab Road to NH33 travelling north. It’s a short drive towards Lotung for about 20 km. After 15 minutes or so, we left NH33 and turned left to Khunti-Taimara road. It starts as a rural road through Santal villages, but it soon leaves the village and the winding road travels through the Sal forest towards Khunti. It’s a beautiful road with tall Sal trees on the both sides of the road. Sunrays were penetrating through the canopy of the Sal trees and sketching a montage of nature’s treasures on the clear asphalt path. Near a small intersection, we halted. The road in front of us goes straight towards Khunti, Kujram and further to Chamri. We turned left to a secondary road that is more desolate and travels through the rural Jharkhand. We crossed a small river. Occasionally we could see some goats and village boys, controlling the herd in a sunny afternoon. We drove for about 10 km when we reached near the Dassam Falls. We parked the car and walked around to find a wooden staircase that took us down to a stony platform, guarded by a rail. We looked around. It’s not a huge Falls that is famous for its height or the span. Typical of the Jharkhand geography, many small streams of rivers from upstream mountain are flowing through the stones and rocks, and at some point, the water body is falling 75-100 ft down in a water pool. The excess water from the pool flows downstream through the rocks again in the form of a small river. This is winter time, so there is not much water down in the main stream. But like many others in the region, the same stream becomes a mighty river in the monsoon time. The undercurrent becomes so strong that one needs caution to step in these mountain rivers in the monsoon season. We saw some kids were playing in the water pool. I looked around. The collage of the water Falls and the rocky landscape dotted with big Sal trees all around us blended so well with the simple but happy life styles of the Santals in Jharkhand. I know there are trouble spots somewhere in the forest, but it looks so peaceful from here that I would be tempted to pull a chair near the stream and watch the sun goes down beyond the Dassam Falls leaving a crimson red sky. But we were running out of time. There were only a couple of cars left in the parking lot. It’s late in the afternoon, and we have to drive close to 100 km to reach Jamshedpur. We started the van. There was another shortcut road that we could have taken to reach the Dassam Falls earlier, but we missed it. With that intent, we attempted to take a different route. But a guy came running and stopped our car. “What’s the matter”, the driver asked him in Hindi. “Well, you can’t drive that road; the road is dug after a while”, he said. We thanked him; otherwise we could have lost some valuable time. We traced back the same route we came earlier. At one spot we found a man lying on the middle of the road, most likely passed out from consuming too much of the local drink ‘Hariya’. We drove carefully around him. Perhaps not unusual, I thought. Soon, we turned into NH33 towards Jamshedpur. The sun was leaning towards the west, the rice fields were spread with pot of gold in brilliant sunlight. The shadowy distant hills were painted on the skyline. The blanket of nature all around us was glowing in the afternoon sun.



We crossed the Dalma Hills on our left when we were close to Jamshedpur. But a day never ends well unless we have a boat ride in Dimna, as Ruku always suggests. The day was lovely, so why not? From NH33 we took a left turn to Siroman Nagar and headed towards the lake Dimna. It has been my favourite spot since I was a student. History repeats itself. Ruku follows the same tradition. A forty minutes power boat ride in the lake was a bonus. The sun was distant behind the shadowy hills and the evening was setting in. A masked sadness was looming in the sky; nature has to deliver such a beautiful day to twelve hours of darkness. The birds were flying in a formation to return to their nest and call it a day. Some parrots flew overhead with their usual screams. Green reflection of the trees in the water was slowly fading away. A light blanket of fog has started wrapping the distant hills. “Good bye papa, it’s hard to die, when birds are flying in the sky..”, I was musing Terry Jack’s song while rolling my video camera. I felt a pain of nostalgia lumping in my throat, I closed my eyes; I wanted to be born again and again to absorb this beautiful sights and sounds of nature, and feel its joys and sorrows in my every vain of the body; I wanted to extend my arms miles long to hug the forests and hills so tightly and never to let go again; and I wanted to smell the red earth of the lonely roads of the Santal villages until my last breath. Nothing in this world could replace that delight!



Somewhere, an evening bell far away announced the end of a beautiful day.


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21st February 2016

Down memory lane
Beautifully written blog Tab that takes the reader there. Lots of delights but one I really like, "It hugs the shores and makes its way through the rocks and stones like a little girl dancing in the rocks. It’s a river which flows like a poem, it has many tales to tell if you want to listen, it has a rhythm that matches with the Santal life style around here, it is a river one can easily fall in love with."
21st February 2016

Down Memory Lane
Dave, with your comment, you really made my day! Thanks a million for your appreciation!! You were in my mind when I published it this morning. And sure, you commented first!! I am eagerly waiting for your blog on Bolivia that you told me last time it's coming.
2nd April 2019

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