A stroll in the forest - reaching Garu
That was mid-seventies, early September. Rains had stopped. Dark clouds cleared. Sun shone all day. Herds of friendly white cottony cumulonimbus clouds invited the earthbound us to ride them to wonderlands. This was the time when spirits of men in this part of the world lift. Sometimes while walking, even hard headed men stop to watch flocks of geese unhurriedly sailing away on the sea of blue sky. These days it is easy for the young to yearn for breaking out and go far.
Just a while ago graduation exams ended. Next stage of hard labor not yet in view—a period of total unconcern and freedom.
It happened naturally. One fine day six friends boarded a train to Daltongunge—destination Betla forests and beyond.
You won’t reach Betla straight from Kolkata by train. You had to stop and get down at Daltongunge, take a day of rest if you are not in a great hurry and then move on. For the six friends it was planning while on the move—decisions to be taken according to the state of affairs at the moment with only a sketchy plan agreed upon. They had a desire to see the famous Betla national park and then onwards to some more woodlands if possible. Those were not seasoned travelers yet—only twice before they had gone out together. They had not yet learned to expect and act in bounded lines.
Daltongunge didn’t disappoint them. Stay at Betla was arranged, a jeep ride assured and best of all, after Betla a two days' stay permission in a lonely PWD bungalow at Garu also achieved.
Refreshed after the rest at Daltongunge, they started for Betla.
Our story unfolds not in Betla, but how could we have avoided Betla as, only after spending a more or less happy two days at Betla, they could board a bus towards Garu!
They were on their own from then on.
It was morning. Mild sun and blue rain washed sky. All of them were on top of the bus, singing. In this fine weather that was the best seat to take. All around motley luggage of the passengers inside; the road running interminably through moderately dense forests on both sides and open skies overhead. You won’t easily imagine the deep pleasure of such a way of travel unless you actually had done it. And once you travel along a forest road on top of a bus for a few hours, you tend to forget that you ever walked on earth.
Nothing continues forever.
Suddenly faint roar of rushing water could be heard on the right side of the road. Glimpses of hint of a river could be caught through the now thinning wall of trees. Without any warning, the bus turned right and the wheels rolled on the surface of a bridge across the till now hidden river. Angry muddy waves roared on down below. After the rains river Koel had regained her youth this year. She was in full flow and a beauty. This was the famous North Koel river.
North Koel river in full flow after monsoon
Eyes looked up from the water below to the scene ahead. Breath stopped. Low hill after hill all around standing still in a blue haze; green blue hills as far as the eye could gaze—nothing else—no sign of human habitation anywhere. Shockingly beautiful—never to be erased from memories.
Bluish green hills from bridge on North Koel
In a few minutes the bus halted. On the right of the now narrow road stood the small building with three rooms—a modest abode. This is where the friends would stay for two days. They got down from the roof of the bus, took down their luggage and stepped on to the small path leading to the rest house.
After settling down, taking cue from the caretaker, they came out and walked further down the road in search of food. Midday meal was needed. They felt hungry now. They were told of the presence of a small village and an eating place.
The meal was simple but fulfilling. They were young and could easily get along with the villagers. While resting on the charpoys after the meal, stories were told. An old man casually mentioned an elephant trampling two men in the rice fields only two days back. He pointed his finger to an arbitrary direction. Oh yes, these jungles are full of elephants, he confirmed.
Those six were learned young men from a large city. Among many important pieces of knowledge they had also learned about the large animal called elephant; all of them had seen elephants in the zoo of their city and had even read stories about elephants.
Here now, they were soaking themselves in the primitive world around, enjoying its unexpected beauty. Elephants trampling people! Oh well, it happened some while ago. Now it is sun filled bluish hazy day; a lone eagle circling high above. They could see about a kilometer away the thick green wall of the dense forest on the other side of the river Koel, beckoning. Koel formed a boundary of the Betla forest. The progress of forest was abruptly stopped by Koel. This side of the river had only open fields and low hills.
They just had to cross the bridge and be inside the dense forest; those days the forest was still dense. They came here only to be near to this forest, to be inside the greens, to be one with the nature. They felt quiet happiness.
Befriending a forest guard they got up. The modestly uniformed confident looking guard assured them his company for a walk in the forest after an hour of rest.
Note: The two images are created for evoking a feel of the scenes the young friends had seen.