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A Weekend in Jungle Mahal

After a lot of deliberation, we finally zeroed in on a homestay called “Kojagar” at Amlasole village in Jhargram district, near Ghatsila.
Kojagar homestay in Jungle Mahal
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After our Class XII board exams, my friends and I were desperate for a getaway, even if just for a weekend. Not someplace too faraway or lavish, just somewhere we could hide from the bustling albeit monotonous city life. But planning for this trip proved to be extremely difficult, as we were all caught up with various entrance tests. After a lot of deliberation, we finally zeroed in on a homestay called “Kojagar” at Amlasole village in Jhargram district, near Ghatsila. The reviews on the internet looked convincing enough, so we thought, “Why not give it a try?”. 

However, there was still another obstacle on our way. Though the authorities of “Kojagar” assured us repeatedly that the property and area were absolutely safe (which it is, as we would discover later), our parents refused to allow five teenage girls on a trip, unsupervised. An endless amount of persuasion and several disagreements later, it was decided that my father would be accompanying us. None of us had any problem with it, as my father is quite popular among my friends, and he is, as one would say, a “fun dad”. This arrangement had another advantage: we did not need to look for a driver anymore, as my dad would be driving us in our family car. We called the number that was mentioned in the official Facebook page of the homestay, and booked a room for two nights.

The five of us were desperate for a getaway.

Early morning the next Saturday, we started for the place in our car. Despite stopping for quite a few short breaks, we neared our destination in less than five hours. The entire Jhargram-Baharagora-Ghatsila-Amlasole stretch of the route was extremely scenic, and the journey was very enjoyable. Monsoon had just set in, and there was a slight drizzle. Surrounded by hills and thick woods on all sides, with rain pouring gently over the landscape, the entire place looked like something straight out of a painting. While entering the village, we had a surprise – there was a peacock standing in our way. Monsoon had not yet reached Kolkata properly, so we were expecting Amlasole to be quite warm and humid. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see how cool the weather actually was.

The premises of “Kojagar” reminded me of an amphitheatre, with thickly wooded hills on every side. The main building stood in all its red hued glory at the northeastern end of the compound, while the dining hall and the kitchen were situated at the northwestern side. We were informed that during the months of October-April, four tents are also installed for the guests. There is a separate building with three washroom stalls (which are quite spacey and well equipped) for those staying in the tents. The caretaker opened up a room for us, which looked big enough to host six adults. It was well furnished with a total of three beds, a closet, and a cooler. Thanks to the large windows, there was an ample amount of light, as well as air. However, what impressed me even more was the huge and spotless washroom. There were two balconies– one at the front, and one at the rear end.  The views from both were simply breathtaking, with miles and miles of thick foliage and an uninterrupted line of hills ahead. There is only one word to describe the image, and that is ‘green’. 

We spotted a peacock on our way. Photo Partha Sarathi Moulik.

Having been subjected to the reinvigorating touch of rain after the long, dry summer months, the trees had all sprung to life. I inhaled deeply, and the familiar smell of wet soil filled my senses. Far away in the distance, there were two cows, grazing happily in the verdant fields, with people working nearby. Providing shade to the back verandah and the hammock was a mango tree hung with thousands of green and yellow fruits. It shouldn’t have been surprising, considering that it had been summertime not too long ago, but for someone who has spent her entire life in the city, it was still quite a foreign sight. I quickly took a snap of the view, and just as I tried to send it to my family group chat, I realized something– there was no network. 

Though the prospect of spending a couple of days totally disconnected from the rest of the world seemed welcome at that moment (and my friends agreed), I knew very well that that was all talk, and before long, our social media addicted selves would be craving to catch up with what was currently ‘trending’ on the internet. Sensing our poorly covered dismay, the caretaker told us that though there was no internet in the rooms, it could be found at two designated spots– under the mango tree, as well as in front of a house opposite the main gate of the homestay. The latter proved to be a “Wi-fi zone” in the literal sense of the term, as a lot of village children were huddled there, engrossed in their phones. To be honest, I quite liked the idea that I could contact anybody whenever I liked, but nobody could disturb my hard-earned peace.

There was an uninterrupted view of the hills. Photo Prithwiraj Pal.

After freshening up and settling down, we were called for lunch. The food was delicious. We asked the cook (whom we fondly called Nitya Da) where he got the vegetables from, as we did not recall seeing any shop nearby on the way.  He replied that all the vegetables had been freshly handpicked by him from his own garden. Even the fish was from one of the village ponds. He further stated that there was a pool nearby where we could go swimming, if we wanted. This excited us. It was only 12 p.m., and the rain had stopped. We quickly finished eating, took directions from the caretaker, and set out for the pool. It was only a four-minute-walk away, amidst thick woods, and the water was as clear as a mirror. And the best part was, there was no litter anywhere, either on the bank or in the water; no plastic bottles or shampoo sachets strewn carelessly over the grass. 

We put down our towels and lowered ourselves into the water, which was quite cool, owing to the weather. As I went in deeper, I felt all pent up tensions and worries leaving my body, and going by how relaxed my friends looked, I knew they felt the same. There were some villagers bathing on the other side, but they were far away. No other person in sight, and with the refreshing water beneath us and the clouded sky above, we felt truly at ease. I don’t know how long we stayed in the water, but after quite some time, my father decided that it was time to head back, and we reluctantly got out. I was extremely exhausted, and fell into deep slumber the second my head hit the pillow. 

The verdant greenery soothed us. Photo Partha Sarathi Moulik.

Waking up at about 7 p.m., I found the room empty, but I could hear muffled voices from the outside. Curious as to what everyone was doing, I went out to the balcony, and was dumbstruck by the stillness that engulfed the place. My friends were all leisurely sitting around, as if trying to take the moment in. There was not a soul in sight, and it was pitch dark, barring the light from the kitchen. The only sound was that of the chirping cicadas. I looked up, and my eyes met with a sky embedded with countless tiny, shining celestial bodies. After a rainy day, the sky had cleared up. I had a hard time recalling the last time I had seen this many stars together. 

We all sat there for some time, chatting occasionally. But we were mostly basking in the comfortable silence. We were served some tea, and asked if we were interested in tasting the place’s local delicacy, ‘patapora chicken’, or marinated chicken wrapped in sal leaves (in ‘paturi’ style) and cooked on an open fire. We responded enthusiastically to this proposal, and did not regret the decision at all. We spent the rest of the evening playing games, or taking turns to lie in the hammock in the backyard or sitting in the swing in the garden. After dinner, my father took us for a night stroll. The entire village seemed to be asleep, as not a sound could be heard except that of our footsteps, our quiet breathing, and the wind blowing eerily through the thickets. It was quite exciting, and we clung to each other, just in case some ghost decided to emerge from the forest. At about 11 p.m., we went to bed, and let the chorused singing of the frogs and crickets lull us to sleep.

The tranquility of the night engulfed us. Photo Sommouli Sarkar.

After having breakfast the next morning, we set out for some sightseeing. This included visiting  three waterfalls– Ghagra, Dhangikusum and Chatra Kocha. The third one is actually a completely virgin spot, and very few people are aware of its existence. With no one around, we decided to plunge into its cool waters. When we went back to the homestay, it was still quite early. The caretaker informed us that there were two short trek routes nearby– Mayurjharna and Aamjharna. The first one’s specialty lies in the swarms of butterflies that flock the place. However, we were all tired from our exploits at the waterfalls, and were not in the mood to go out again. Besides, Kojagars’s front porch was full of butterflies– one need not go somewhere else to see them. It was a beautiful view– just flocks of butterflies, everywhere. One of my friends is an expert when it comes to butterflies – she told us the names of some of the scores of different butterflies we saw – the Peacock Pansy, the Lemon Pansy, the Yellow Pansy, the Common Grass Yellow, the Common Pierrot and the Common Emigrant, to name a few. But the most remarkable of the lot was definitely the Oak Blue. These tiny things look very basic, of a dull brown colour, while sitting still. However, the other side of their wings has an electric blue colour, which becomes apparent the moment they start flying. It’s like watching flashes of light in the sky. The rest of the day was spent watching and clicking pictures of them. 

Swarms of butterflies flock the place. Photo Sandipan Mukherjee.

In the evening, it started raining heavily. As we sat in the balcony enveloped in utter darkness, listening to the incessant sound of rain and croaking of frogs, I realized how much I had been craving for this tranquility. There are no deadlines to meet, no constant pressure of getting things done– it’s as if time stops at this place, right in the lap of nature. “I wish I could stay here forever,” I thought wistfully. At the same time, I let out a sigh, as I realized that this was almost impossible. We city dwellers are way too caught up in our rat races to appreciate the bliss that lies in simple pleasures. But here, far away from the city, away from all the commotion, you see people struggling every day to lead a decent existence – you see them walking miles just for a bucket of water, toiling day and night in the fields, and little children going to school in torn clothes, riding bicycles that are way too big for them. Yet they’re happy, yet they’re uncomplaining. I let out another sigh as thoughts of returning to city life filled me with a strange sense of sadness. 

Before long it was time to say goodbye. Photo Souvik Mitra.

We went back to Kolkata the next morning. On the way, we stopped at Ghatsila, to visit my father’s favourite author, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s residence. As fans of ‘Pather Panchali’ and ‘Chander Pahar’, this was a delightful experience for the rest of us too. We also stopped by a temple (‘Rankini Mandir’), which is situated in Ghatshila itself. We had lunch at a famous restaurant in Kolaghat, and though the food was delicious, the familiar urban hustle around us only made us miss the soothing quietude of Kojagar  even more. We looked at one another, and made a silent promise to return there as soon as we got the chance.

How to reach:

The nearest rail station, Ghatsila, is 24 kilometres/45 minutes away. Cars and auto rickshaws are readily available. It takes about 5 hours to reach Amlasole from Kolkata by road. 

Kojagar Homestay has 2 Rooms (for 5 persons each) and 4 Tents (for 4 persons each/October-April).

For booking and further information, contact:

Phone: 9088724541

Email: kojagarhomestay@gmail.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100086645287982&mibextid=ZbWKwL

Shahana is a first year student of English Literature at Loreto College, Kolkata. Reading and listening to music are her favourite pastimes. She enjoys writing and hopes to become a journalist.

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