If you are a resident of Kolkata, planning a short/weekend trip might prove to be challenging at times. Quick trips mostly are limited to the various Bay of Bengal beaches — Digha, Mandarmani, Shankarpur, Chandpur and many other ‘purs’ that tend to become monotonous after a while. The closest hill station is Darjeeling, which is nearly impossible be covered in two days.
So, we decided to go for neither sea not mountain, but something little out of the way. Maithon is a small town in the West Bengal-Jharkhand border. I did not know much about the town except that it has a dam built on the river Damodar, and a huge hydel power station. Truthfully, I was not very excited about seeing a dam and had already pegged the trip as boring.
Anyhow, we started had booked the 6:40 pm Agnibina Express from Howrah to Asansol (Kumardhubi is the closest station to Maithon but transportation from there is uncertain). The journey took around 4 hour and was pretty smooth.
When we reached Asansol, it was already around 10. As it was the month of August, we were greeted with light drizzle, which was very refreshing after a hectic week and train journey. Our hotel had arranged for a bus to pick up us from the station.
Asansol to Maithon took about an hour via NH 60. I had never travelled on a national highway at night as it always seemed scary. But this ride was something memorable. The light rain, the smooth road, the gust of chilly air almost made the entire experience surreal.
As we were closing in on our destination, the further from civilization we seemed to go. The signs said we were in Maithon, but the only things we could see at first were trees and lots of trees. The intermittent street lights also seemed dim. After a while the hotels came into view. Oh my my, who had ever though that Maithon would have so many hotels. It was then I realized I might have underestimated the place’s tourist appeal a bit.
Our hotel was pretty decent, spread over quite a big area, and the best thing – just next to the dam, which obviously we did not realize just then. The rooms were pretty big, clean and well furnished. After gorging on a homely meal of rotis/rice, chicken/fish, we called it a night, ready to explore nature the next day.
The light drizzle continued the next day as well. This was actually a blessing in disguise as the alternative of heat and humidity would have been a challenge to the day we had planned. After a hearty breakfast of puri and sabji, we went to visit the dam. With the vast stretches of blue water and the surrounding greenery, the dam is beautiful. We walked up to the banks of the river damodar, which was filled to the brim. The river is notorious for its devastating floods and the hundreds of accidents, especially during the monsoons. We could see several boats docked on the sides, but not a single one in action.
Maithon apparently has a number of other tourist attractions. We hired two auto rickshaws for the whole day for the sightseeing. The price was decided 900 per auto. These autos are not like the ones you see in Kolkata or even other states. These are 9 seaters and the people sitting in the back are likely to experience a whole lot of jerking, given the woeful conditions of most of the roads.
Our first stop was the hydel power station. Well, actually a distant view of the station would be more apt. The auto stopped on the road on top of the dam. From there the sluice gates were clearly visible. In the month of August the gates were opened and the force with which the water passes through is truly a sight. There is also a deer park there, tough we did not visit it. We went down a long flight of stairs to take a closer look at the area, but time constraint made us continue our journey.
The next stop was Garparchakot. Though this is not exactly in Maithon, it was supposedly not far. “Nor far” constituted of 60+ minutes of auto ride with numerous lefts and rights, number fields and ponds and unending stretches of trees. We kind of joked nervously that is the auto driver decided to ditch us somewhere here, we would be hopelessly lost.
Finally, we reached Garpanchokot around noon. The rain had stopped and the first thing that struck me was the greenery. It is semi-forested area with hillocks creating a picturesque aura. There are a few ruins like watchtowers, temples belonging to the Sen dynasty which tell the tale of long ago. The place also has a resort belonging to West Bengal tourism. There are also modern-day watchtowers but we did not climb them. Overall it is a great place to relax.
From Garpanchkot we went to a couple of more places like the snake park and the coal mines. We returned to the hotel past 4 pm and had a very late delicious Bengali lunch. We relaxed away the rest of the day.
Our train next day was at 4:30 pm from Asansol junction. So, with some time to spare, some of us went to Kalyaneshwari Temple. The temple is more than 500 years old and attracts thousands of worshippers every day. At 10 am the temple was already immensely crowded. So, we satisfied our devotions by praying from afar and later gorging on delicious kachuri and dal.
The trip taught me that some out of the way destinations can also satisfy the traveler inside you in the most unexpected ways.