The lunch and the setting sun we remember
At mid-noon we reached Manoharpur from Kolkata by the morning train starting at 6.55 from Howrah station. Ispat Express ran well, but a seven hour day-journey was a bit tiring. Abhijit Ganguly’s place was not far from the station and was a well known destination. We found him to be a 64 year old amiable gentleman with a smiling face and twinkling eyes. He was all welcome and hospitality personified. I found his match only in Bhaskar Dasgupta of Salboni Retreat, but that would be much later and another story.
Abhijitda made us comfortable without any delay. We were elated to get a long room with no less than six beds all to two of us. Thanks to the lean tourist traffic and courtesy Abhijitda.
It was already late—past 3 in the afternoon. After a quick bath we went for lunch. Abhijitda personally accompanied us to the cozy little open air food hut. The garden path leading to the food hut lined up with colorful flower pots looked cute and warm.
Cute and warm colored garden path
Other guests had already finished their lunch. We were the only ones left because of our late arrival. All through our lunch Abhijitda directed his men for our maximum comfort. Number of items in the menu and food preparation were excellent-even a non-foodie like me had to admit. But Tukai is a foodie. For him the first experience was very good which means a lot. Tukai goes through his meal all concentration. But I am a bit different. Time to time I looked around to feel the surroundings. Open walls brought in the colors and scent of flowers that seeped in. I suppose food taken in the midst of nature tastes better and digested quicker.
Open air food hut, a place to enjoy food
After lunch Abhijitda accompanied us showing his place. Apart from the six bed room hut there were other cottages for guests. He lived in a larger house in the same compound. “My wife has not yet come back from her workplace.” Abhijitda told us. “No problem, we will meet tomorrow.” I said. Already there was a mutual liking, you couldn’t but like the man.
“What is your plan?” he asked. “We would like to be in the forests, it is your place—you should be our best advisor.” I placed the decision making in his hands fair and square.
“There are three rivers nearby—Koel, Karo and Koina,” he started describing the place around. “But I knew Koel to be in Betla towards the north, isn’t it?” I interrupted him. He explained, “Yes, you are right. That is North Koel. This is South Koel and carries a lot of water during monsoons. I suggest tomorrow morning after breakfast you start for Koina and then in the afternoon move on to Karo. I will provide packed lunch for you that you may have near Karo.”
The plan looked perfect to us. Two rivers in one day! What a joy! These rivers I knew. Such a river in such a region flows snaking through the low hills surrounded by Sal forests. In March now there would be little water in either of the rivers; but I felt happy—most probably we would be able to wade in and walk on the river bed.
“Conveyance?” I asked. “That has been arranged already. I have selected a relatively new Bolero jeep for you. My man Suresh will accompany you. He will be your guide and my representative in these forests. You can move around freely with him accompanying you.” He paused, “It is getting late. Take some rest now. Rest of the plan we would chalk out tomorrow evening after you return from the forests.” We parted.
Neither Tukai nor I are inclined to cover all attractions around a place in quick time. We prefer a relatively slow pace. But after a while in our large room, Tukai stirred, “Let’s go out and see the place around.” Fair enough—I felt rested and with not much daylight left, it was time to go outdoors.
We had no idea of the layout of the place, but at least we can go out of the gate and walk on.
After a short walk along the narrow road running in front of the Guest House, the view on the left opened up. The ground rose gently to a small hillock and then went down again. Just time enough to watch the sunset from atop the hillock, we decided. Leaving the road we walked up through brambles and dried up short grass towards the top of the hillock.
It is always a special happiness for me to stand on top of a high point and enjoy the bird’s eye view. We turned around slowly to absorb the surrounding landmarks. Behind and below lay our guest house and more human habitation. In front the bare ground went down—a pencil thin railway track crossed the view from right to left—further ahead strips of river water glistened on the last rays of the setting sun. Our train had gone on its onward journey along this track only a few hours ago.
“Look,” Tukai pointed forward excitedly—a train showed its head on the right. Tukai took up the camera and took shots following the path of the train. It looked like a giant caterpillar moving across the plains.
Train moved over the plains like a giant caterpillar
It whistled along and quickly vanished behind a small rise on the left, its whistle waning, and then silence again.
Train vanishing round the bend
I remembered a faded picture from my childhood. I stood on such a small rise looking down on a railway track not far from us. My father was beside me. It was dusk. A train approaching hurriedly from the right blew a long loud whistle and quickly sped out of our view whistle waning into silence.
Some traces remain and come back, I guess.
Here, slowly the sun went down. Another train like a toy jogged across the plains. Strips of water on the thin river sparkled red. Father and son sat still watching.
Evening fell. We came down through the brambles and spiky bushes; it was a dry arid region. Water is scarce here as well as the ground rocky and dry.
Manoharpur evening was dim-lighted and the air scented with the aroma of summer flowers. We couldn’t do much outdoors in near darkness. After a brief walk along the dark path in front of the lodge, we went in.