About the author:
Pitam Chattopadhay- Trainer, traveller,an avid bird watcher with excellent lensemanship. He refuses the lucre of permanence and trotts around India with an admirable zest for living.
Either the serene tranquillity of a half known rivulets or a peculiar call of an elusive Warbler or some distractions of the winged fraternity have always interrupted my flow of thoughts or self introspection. Why I love to travel? Even after spending nearly 17% of solitary nights with status reading: single, I still can not resist the temptation of exploring near and far destinations.
This time when my childhood friend Niti( Nitideep Maiti, a father of lovely princes called Sairindrhi) asked me to join his family in Saranda trip, I was more than happy. Deba ( Debasis Bhunia my school pal – a domestic bohemian) added the cordial in the drink by clubbing himself in. It was kind revisiting my lost territory, as I had frequented these parts of land long back while I was still with the Insurance Industry.
Saranda – the land of seven hundred hills are one of the most inviting green I ever came across. The place in situated at the junction of Jharkhand and Orissa and is heavily leafed till date. The onslaught of ‘Maoist’ activities prevailed over these mystic woods until very recently. Here the soil is actually red because of the presence of Iron ore and during rainy seasons the muddy nascent rivulets and streams gets filled up with thick reddish waters which flows here in this rocky wild terrain. Being a diehard trekker, I enjoy this natural ‘Green and Maroon’ color palette of nature.
There weren’t many options available as far as communication was concerned -so we boarded the Barbil bound Janshatabdi express on 12th August‘ 12 morning at around six o clock.
We had already booked Saranda Guest House by paying a hefty advance and were informed by Md Latif that a car will be waiting at the Barbil sation to pick us up.
In this long and tiring journey of almost 7 hours, within the gloomy claustrophobic atmosphere of the AC chair car we could somehow manage to have our stake of indispensable laughter and fun only because of the li’l champ Sairindhri alias Dithi. Her wondering eyes and spontaneous flow of bizarre questions kept us alive.
Just beside the station there was a market with the flavour of rustic and raw lifestyle of the neighbouhood hamlets.
The journey began- and within couple of minutes we left the hustle and bustle of the market, the hum of civilian life and human cacophony.
It was lush greenery with a fresh August flash on the leaves of Sal, Tick, Sishome, Eithrina leaves and lots of other not so frequently seen trees and bushes and plantation. Our journey resembled the typical Bollywood backdrop of ransom fetching hooligans and goons, amidst the green canopy and never ending meadows. After couple of kilometre we could spot small jungle dweller’s hamlets and nomadic settlements. There was one small village adjacent to Saranda Guest House – our shelter for next 2 nights.
Just after we reached the huge property where our guest house was situated, I got a mild shock saw the property. I was told that it was a huge property, encompassing an area of 65 acres but sadly it was not at all maintained with a least amount of dextity.
Just near the residence of the owner Md Latif, there was a remnants of a king size swimming pool – forbidden now- must be a reservoir of good number of helio thermic reptiles!
The entire plan is co-centric with the dining hall being the centre. Staying arrangements are made in to cottages and dormitory. The main cottage with classical Japanese architectural structure is actually a treat to any one’s eyes.
There were 7 – 8 separate cottages which were at the fringe of the property and just behind the cottages the mighty river Koel was flowing with an apparent docile red sluggish flow. Her anger is textured on the walls of every cottage. One cottage was abandoned as it was partially eaten up by the raging water.
Not a very pleasant feel or view at first sight as far as the maintenance and first look of the property is concerned.
Being deprive of an AC, every cottage was aided with an extra table fan.
In front of the master cottage there was a cemented Tennis Court, subsequently accompanied by a Basketball court and in the middle portion, adjacent to the dining hall was a tiny nine hole golf ground! Needless to say all the other necessities like the rackets, golf clubs and balls were also provided with.
A golf course in front of my cottage was enough to tinkle my imagination a bit and feel like royalty at leisure.
The first meal arrived in the same car – fortunately we were the only boarder, so the multi talented son of Md Latif, – Koko rushed with our food with a spectacular wheelie named Bolero.
Here comes the next blow of surprise, I was not prepared for the ‘classical ‘ Kolkatian Biriyani and Firni with the finest set of cutlery that was provided to us.
This was not the first show gimmick at all, as the same range of gastro- mental exaggeration we had to face subsequently in every meals during the total stay.
Normally I prefer to utilize the silence of noon and afternoon for bird watching activities but this delicious Mughlai retreat compelled me to in sync with the mellifluous mumbling sound of a dozing Koel, accompanied by distant call of a Great Barbet. The pampering wet breez of nearby rainfall was actually a precious luxury to let go.
Sairindri being the youngest and most lovable and cute member of the team woke us up after a just siesta and we started for the nearby ‘Leopard Cave’. Aunty and uncle stayed in the cottage as the road might be too demanding for them to negotiate. Koko along with his two young companions took us through the heavily wooded jungle trail to a mesmerizing place. Koel took a quantum leap here to showcase the smooth fall of her muddy gown, the shallow steps had created a miniature Niagara and the peculiar water accumulations were thus created. One pair of pied kingfisher were busy to gulp silvery meals with immaculate efficacy. I could also hear the call of Golden fronted leaf Bird nearby but was unable to spot them.
The hue of the atmospheric light grew warmer and the visibility started to drop gradually, so in spite of a supercool Sucharita ( Niti’s wife) and ever chirpy Sairindhri we further headed back to our cottage.
We were lucky to witness the tremendous rage of thunderstorm and heavy downpour that followed just after our return.
Sitting in the cottage balcony with a cup of warm earl grey and witnessing the untamed nature at its best is one of the loveliest experience we had. The rain stopped after a stint of 2 hours. The whole area was suddenly engulfed by solid silence and viscous darkness. With a backdrop of roaring Koel we could hear the rumbling droplets from the drenched canopy- the hissing of some reptilian slide.
And there arrived Md. Latif with a big bowl of Fish finger and Paneer Pakora and took the control of the situation in his hand. Maiti Kaku and Kakima both being spiritually dedicated to Rabindra Nath have already done the tone setting of the adda – I tried to give a pinch of my favourite Ruskin Bond to spice up, but these all were left aside when Latif stepped in. Being an excellent orator he started telling the most amazing stories of Saranda, the story of his own life. With an abnormal sense about the nature and this mystic surroundings he was time travelling in the corridors of his own sulcus and gyrus’s- we played the role of the overwhelmed audience to experience an unforgettable windy evening in an wild ambience.
The engrossing toned monotony of his baritone got disrupted by some cracking shrill sound nearby – ” oh that’s nothing but the hour yell of the nearby Dhol troop!” His stories were getting more hairraising as the night plunged into darkness.
The inviting preannounced menu was enough to create a salivation and rush forth, with 4 beams of our torch we traversed the slippery corridor to reach dining hall, and devoured even the tiniest ear bone of Scala tympanum.
The drama was not over yet we sat in the cemented tennis court as the traces of rain were gone and a full moon was serving us the unfathomed flow of Bengali romanticism! Our discussions ranged from Thomas Hardy to Sukumar Roy, from Agantuk to Antonioni, the world was encapsuled within our small wonders.
A dominant Jupiter on the moon flooded the ambience and the company of the most wonderful people of the world! Oh! what a night that was; I missed a bit of slick streak of Glen Fiddich in this setting! Hail Life!
A pair of persistent Greater Godenback woodpecker were the culprit and I was on the balcony before 6 am. Knowing Deba since my child hood I was not in a mood to spoil this lovely morning by even trying to wake him up! He made such faces that I was about to jump over the railing and run into the forest.
A minutes walk and I was just beside the broken bridge on river Koel. An early riser Indian Roller made my day by splashing the vibrant indigo in his lovely wingspan. The bushes were hosting cute flocks of Oriental white eye and a distant splash of vermilion made me walk through the lantana to see the probable group of minivets.
The moment I was walking a black panther appeared nonchalantly on my path, I didn’t wait for a disaster. I fled. My velocity propelled me through the closed bamboo doors of Latif’s backyard. I was wondering how I could escape such a deadly creature but was really annoyed to see Latif laughing loudly in his blue checked Lungi.
Koko was pacifying Kallu the Black Rhodesian alias black panther! Latif scolded me mildly for going to the river side alone as a female leopard have off late started straying with her cubs there, he said. Kallu have been trained to watch over enthusiastic city dwellers like me, it seemed!
I thanked myself for being alone and not keeping a witness of this mockery as Latif was surely not going to disclose this, and made my way straight to breakfast table. A steamy pile of Luchi with a bowl of gracefull Aloordum was waiting for my stomach to be pleasured!
The car was waiting for us – we have started for Zhikiya Falls en route Meghataburu.
The rout was slight different apparently, we have taken the uphill bumpy road which was even more coarse because of last evening’s rain. We have crossed several closed and open Iron mines, dust and rust made inseparable layer on our vehicle glasses and bonnet!
The skill full hand of our driver maneuvered the serpentine road along side, and sometimes crossing the small rivers, with ease. There were a big black hillock which looked like an elephant we were approaching. Weather was pleasant and after a journey of nearly 1.30 hr we stopped.
The place was magical, an absolute no man’s land. The problem arrived that to reach the actual destination ‘Zhikiya falls ‘ we would have to walk through the jungle for another 2 kilometres. We were not informed else uncle and Aunty could have stayed back in the resort. There was no specific trail or road to reach the spot. We decided to go back, got down at those place to stretch our axillary skeleton e bit! Here a lovely mating pair of Painted grasshopper inaugurate the shutter clicks and as Uncle forced us to proceed our driver saheb gave us the solution. He will drop us there in the falls and will come back to them. We accepted that and started to wards one of the loveliest surprises of our life.
Reaching the mighty water fall was not easy. There were number of streams and rivulets which had emerged from the fall, we would have to negotiate around them with a zigzag jumping and strolling and crawling at times!
Couple of places made us think of returning though, especially as we had a 4 year old kid with us, but Sucharita being an avid trekker herself gave us the courage to proceed. As always – small treks appear tougher than they are told to be, but with an exhausted muscle crumped leg and sweat drenched t-shirts when we reached the place- it was truly a mesmerizing sight!
I love mountains and have visited a few, en route encountered famous – in famous many waterfalls, which includes big names like Kanchenzangha Falls, Jawhar falls of Sikkim or even Kempty of Moosouri but Zhikiya is the best! Without having a slightest tint of bias I must repeat the statement it is The Best!
After the slog of 1.5 km we entered a huge natural amphitheatre! We witnessed the showstopper Zhikiya , cascading down from a height of 500 odd metre as a fine powdery dust of snow and sugar; creating a millions of mini rainbow! A natural swimming pool is observed with crystal transparency and icy cold water. We had an access to the farthest part of the pool and the multi-coloured rock face by crossing a water curtain so thick that it prevented the view of other side! This reminded me of my childhood memories of Phantom who’s Cranial cave was under cover of such a water fall! Once you cross the thick and smooth water barrier you enjoy the world’s best Jacuzzi with absolute privacy.Here the sprinter of scattered sun rays create the surreal crystalized atmosphere!
We carried a good amount of snacks and cold drinks with us, we were prepared with the dress too. Having the access to the exquisite swimming pool and wonder full atmosphere it was tough to leave the place early but as Niti’s parents were waiting, we had to refrain ourselves from spending some more time in that prehistoric yet hypnotic environment! The only source of light was the aperture where from the gushing water mermaid was sliding down- creating the area as magical as one can imagine.
We sang to the fullest of our cracked voice, swam – played within the emerald pool and then gathered the plastic packets of our snacks along with few pebble as memento. It was a phase of absolute melancholy when I had to say adieu to my latest crush ‘Zhikiya’ – ‘will come again’- were the words I murmured!
Next part of the story was another interesting journey, post lunch slumber in the moving car got interrupted a bit by the hairpin turns of the metalled road towards Meghataburu. Sarnda is famous for these twin mining towns of Kiriburu and Meghataburu, KIOM and MIOM. When I started my career I had visited these two dreamy duo several time and fallen in love. Many people termed these two places as Darjeeling of Orisa.
With an altitude of nearly 2500 ft Meghataburu is famous for the cloudscape of the place, average rainfall of this elevated deltoid of platu is 128 cm/ yr. The dreamy solace got its name itself from ‘megh- that’s cloud!
During last 2 days stint it was hot – we enjoyed the river bathing and our attire was also very light as usual- during this ascend we started realizing the folly! The SAIL guest house at Meghataburu is just beside the view point. Being the highest point in that area this place offer the picturesque view if entire Saranda Region! Almost 160 degree of undulated green with different shades of grey as the cloud got plugged in many pockets. Anyone who have experienced an early morning ascend in Nandi Hills near Bangalore can have a better pictorial formation of this place. Here the staying arrangements were so close –so it could be an wonderful week end retreat during winter as well as rainy seasons.
This time though the clouded queen refused to unveil herself to us, it was so clouded the visibility came down to a mere 5 to 6 fit. Our little princes was shivering with this unexpected chill with a trade mark smile on her face. Naturally uncle got bit worried , we hurried up our descent after sipping a classical malai cha in the sleepy Sunday market!
The last part of this tour was a continued spell of rain.
Continuous heavy rain fall was actually compelling us to watch the water level of Koel from the rear balcony. The dinner was served in our room with a bit more gravy in every preparation, the rains you see! Electricity was a farthest fancy! The series of rudimentary melted candle with their unpredictable ghostly shape and a constant concert of loudest troop of crickets made the ideal situation for Horror stories.
Earlier the next morning, after having an unforgettable mighty breakfast we literally sailed through the sloppy terrain .Majority of area was under water. We reached Barbil station with a great sigh of relief.
The adventure planned, got extended further as the train was late because of this heavy rainfall and ultimately we reached Howrah station at 2 Am in Night.
A soujourn with Saranda, the unforgettable queen of forest in Orissa.
Viajeros no STOP- se mueven en!