Rustic charms of Purulia, India
The land of red soil and Chhau mask of Bengal
Debjani Lahiri, 15-12-2021
When it comes to the East Indian state of West Bengal, the top mentions apart from the capital city Kolkata, are the famous Darjeeling, Digha, Sundarbans or Shantiniketan, mostly. But the rustic charms of the western district of the state of Purulia still remain untapped and under-exposed to the tourists outside Bengal, for it has got minimal highlight in the world map compared to the above.
Purulia has a galore of vast natural surroundings, where the flora and fauna are in bounty and the breathtaking allure of nature is sure to blow one’s mind. While each season has its own charm out of which spring is the best time to visit various regions of Purulia, where the red Palash (flame of the forest) flower adorns the place with its colour and aura. Purulia is also known as the ‘land of red soil’ because of its sub-tropical location which also lies in the Chota Nagpur plateau region. And because of this, Purulia comes with rocky and rustic landscapes with verdant hilly vistas & amazing green landscapes side by side over a large region.
Purulia is a big district and has vast regions which can be covered sector-wise. Ideally, one can either spend at least 8-9 days to cover the entire place or if not, it can also be covered in parts in 2-3 days time but not at one go.
The First Circuit is the Panchet Circuit where the places which need a mention are Garpanchkot and Maithon Dam, Telkupi, Duarsini Forest, Joychandi Hills, and the Baranti HiIls.
The second circuit is around the Ayodhya & Susunia Hills, where the places of attractions are Khairabera Dam, Matha Forest, Murugma HIlls, Charida Mask Village, Bamni Falls, Turga Falls, Deulghata and many such places.
Purulia is famous for its red soil because of its geographical location. The soil is very alluvial but not very fertile because it receives moderately high rainfall during June - September and has cooler temperatures. The hilly terrain, forest areas are in abundance. And along with that, Purulia is also known for its numerous archaeological excavations. When it comes to exploring the relics of ancient temples and monuments, Purulia is very interesting for those who keep a keen interest in architecture and history. There are multiple stories and folklores from this region that can take one into a time capsule to know Bengal during the yesteryears.
When the art and tribal culture of Bengal comes into mention, Purulia gets one of the top spots. The famous tribal dance form with the Chhau mask is very popular and iconic and performed by several tribal communities of Purulia. The Chau dance is performed by the dancers, mainly men, wearing traditional and elaborate masks made locally by Charida village artisans and depicting various mythological characters as well as reflecting life events in the form of dramatisation of the same. It is absolutely a wonderful and a must-watch thing to do, while in Purulia. There are other forms of tribal art forms like Jhumur folk songs, which mainly originated from this region. They use local tribal language to sing these folk songs about life and its nuances.
Garpanchkot and Panchet
At the foothills of Panchet Hills, lies Garpanchkot and Panchet Dam which is a scenic hilly place to visit. It is located on the northeastern side of Purulia and is in the border of Bengal and Jharkhand. This place offers many scenic dams and vast lakes which is a site to see for all nature lovers who want a peaceful ambience. There are plenty of accommodations options around this area, as West Bengal is emphasising on eco-tourism in this sector in a major way, many home-stays are there too. There are many ruins of the dilapidated forts and ancient temples which are archaeological wonders. The hilltop offers a panoramic view of the dam and the entire forest belt.
This place is also known for its huge underground hydroelectric power station, which is one of its kind in Southeast Asia. There is a famous goddess Kali temple known as Kalyaneshwari Temple which attracts thousands of devotees from all over the world. The nearest railway station is Kumardubi railway station.
Joychandi Hills & Telkupi Village
Joychandi Hills is another popular place in this circuit that can be covered on a day trip from Panchet. It offers many adventure opportunities like hiking/rock-climbing by all the adrenaline junkies. Telkupi Village is a traditional village located very near to Joychandi Hills. This place has a number of temples out of which few are half-submerged underwater which makes this small village even more significant among the heritage enthusiasts.
Baranti is another small and scenic place in Purulia that attracts many tourists for its rustic charm. This place is a birder’s paradise especially during winters, as one can spot many rare migratory species of birds. Baranti Dam is also another worth-visiting place. One must explore this area during the springtime for its alluring beauty which is highlighted during the Palash flower bloom season. Actually, the entire Purulia district is adorned with red colour as this flower blooms in plenty around here. It is a part of the Rarh countryside. If someone is looking to rejuvenate and unwind in the lap of nature, then Baranti is the right place.
The Ajodhya Hills, a vast area that comprises several small tourist places. It is a part of the Dalma Hills and an extended part of the Eastern Ghats mountain range. In fact, this is another place for all adventure and nature lovers who are especially interested in trekking or rock-climbing and exploring the unadulterated beauty of this region. The area is vast and scenic and has plenty of undulating land with hilly slopes, lush green patches and large lakes making it a wonderful place. Some of the nearby spots are Baghmundi, Muruguma or Khairabera Dam, which can be covered while staying at Ayodhya Hills.
There are also plenty of waterfalls because of the hilly terrain around Purulia. The famous ones are Bamni Falls and Turga Falls. Marble Lake is another major attraction in this circuit because of its ruggedness. While exploring the topmost point in Bamni Falls, one can also get a panoramic view of the natural oasis of Marble Lake.
Charida Mask Village
The tribal artisans make the world-famous mask in this village which is situated in the Baghmundi town. In fact, they are now exporting these masks as part of the Bengal handicrafts outside India as well. There are about 180 families which reside in Charida village and are involved in mask-making. There is an annual festival of mask dance which takes place around January. This place attracts several art lovers and enthusiasts from places far and beyond for workshops/ demonstrations as well. Chhau dance of Purulia was also included in the list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO in 2010.
Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Purulia
Purulia is also very popular for having one of the best educational institutes in the country, the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith which is known for academic excellence and spearheading the teachings of legendary Bengali youth icon and the Cyclonic Monk Swami Vivekananda into young students. Founded in 1957 by the resident monk Swami Hiranmayananda, the huge academic campus built in the middle of big undulated land of natural landscapes in Purulia aims to provide the best learning on humanity and character building for students from a tender age. It is a large sprawling property built over 75 acres of land attracting visitors and tourists coming in the district to have a look around the campus. The majestic architectural buildings in the campus are awe–inspiring not only for their exquisite beauty but also for the deep ideas they convey. You can find sculptures of the renowned sculptor Sunil Pal and large wall paintings of Ramananda Bandyopadhyay making your visit worthwhile.
Best time to visit Purulia
Purulia can be visited throughout the year. However, considering the extreme weather, it is preferable to visit during the winters from Nov to March. Winters are comfortable exploring around this rustic place. During the springtime, one can witness Purulia painted with red Palash flowers.
How to reach Purulia
The nearest domestic airport is Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi of adjacent Jharkhand district but the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata is the one for international tourists. And from Kolkata, there are several trains which take about 5-6 hours to reach Purulia Junction. However, to get the feel of the rustic vibes of Bengal, it is preferable to take the winding roads of Bengal. It takes about 7-8 hours to reach Purulia by road which is now a very comfortable journey.
Where to stay in Purulia
There are several private eco-resorts that offer budget to luxury accommodation options around Purulia. Purulia is also a great place to camping. West Bengal Tourism’s website offers information about some of the best forest resorts and circuit houses which can be booked from the city offices as well as online. However, one needs to plan and book well in advance to avoid unavailability.
Purulia is an untapped tourist destination in Bengal that will never fail to amaze all for it offers everything that one wishes for, from nature to architectural excellence.
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