Spring time nip in the early morning, a small station, the train chugging off, sounds of the chai wala, we reach Adra enroute to our destination in the district of Purulia, West Bengal. Baranti is a small village about 265 kms from Kolkata that is becoming a popular weekend holiday destination. An overnight journey from Howrah by the Chakradharpur Passenger takes us to Adra from where we take a car to Baranti. A local train is also available that takes one further to Muradi station which is just 6 km from Baranti. One can also travel to the place via Asansol. As we move towards Muradi, the condition of the road deteriorates and further there is just a mud road that makes our journey seem somewhat like a roller coaster ride. The green all around is broken by brilliant flashes of orange as we get a taste of the palash, the flame of the forest (butea monosperma).
Nestled between hills referred to as Baranti hill or Muradi hill is Baranti lake or as some call it Muradi lake. A mud dam constructed here and maintained by the irrigation department created this huge lake. The road to Baranti almost circumvents the lake on one side and fields on the other. We reach our place of stay just in time for breakfast.
It is completely quiet here, the rustle of leaves, the occasional dog bark, the cuckoo in the trees, these are the sounds that one gets to hear. The orange flowers strewn on the ground, the black seeds on the trees that will soon be all blooming, the red simul flowers (red silk cotton, bombax malabarica) here and there, are a visual treat. There could be no better place to experience the colours of spring. We walk down the streets of Baranti, mud houses all lined up, grain being dried in courtyards, men sitting out enjoying a puff between work, little children playing and posing for us, women at their chores, a bullock cart lying idly. Another wonderful thing about the place is the beautiful view of the sunset that one gets to see. It is a delight walking by the lake observing the changing colours of the setting sun and the reflection it casts on the calm waters of the lake. We see men and young boys use huge tyres to float on the lake, a wooden plank laid on the tyre as a seat, armed with fishing nets. Sitting by the lake, we lose sense of time and place. Darkness soon descends and we head back to the resort.
Baranti is surrounded by the Panchkot and Biharinath Hills. The forests around are full of teak and mahua trees, apart from the palash and simul. Day two, we decide to explore nearby places and begin our day with a visit to a Santhal village, Jibanpur. Village folk at their daily work, beautiful mud houses with geometric patterns on the walls, small open structures, their roofs covered with straw that serve as places that the villagers gather to celebrate, the drums tucked up in the lofts tell us of the place of music in the lives of these simple folk. Contentment writ on the face of a woman who when asked if their house has a bathroom replies that there is so much of space all around, where is the need for a bathroom? It was good to see hand pumps here and at Baranti and other nearby villages but our driver, Chandi, a local, tells us that the water level is very deep here and hence setting up these pumps is a very costly affair.
We travel further to the Jaychandi hills, about 21 kms away, the setting of Satyajit Ray’s masterpiece, Hirak Rajar Deshe. About 500 steps take us to the top of the hill from where we get a wonderful view of the place. The ruins of Garh Panchokot are about 12 kms from Baranti. Situated close to the Panchet Hill and lake, Garh Panchakot was a fortified area owned by the Rajas of Panchakot, who belonged to the Singh Deo dynasty. The ruins of Garh Panchakot stand as witness to the ravages of time – part of the gate of the fort, ruins of temples constructed in different architectural styles and ramparts with trees and creepers enmeshed in them stand guard. The Panchet dam is close by. Other nearby attractions are the Maithon dam, the Biharinath temple and the Kalyaneswari temple.
Baranti is a nature lover’s paradise, time stands still here and a calmness and serenity overpowers our senses. We leave Baranti with the images of the beauty of the place, the palash in bloom, the dry leaves strewn on the ground covered with the petals of the flowers all around adding so much colour to the place, small children picking the fallen flowers to suck the honey, the smiles on their faces, the gentle pace of life that goes on undisturbed, the simple villagers, the colours of the setting sun reflecting on the waters of the lake, the languid walk along the mud roads – the quietude that has energized us.
This essay appeared in The Sunday Statesman, 23 August 2015