4 day trip including journey dates – 20/12/2017 – 23/12/2017
Twenty four structures including temples, ruins and a museum in town; a temple 25 km to the north-west, another 10kms to the northeast, a village 22 km to the south-west and a popular pilgrimage 43 km to the south-east; that’s all we had planned for the 3 day trip to one of West Bengal’s hottest tourist destination in winter – The temple town Bishnupur.
Bishnupur town is around 200kms in the northwest direction from Kolkata located in the district of Bankura (one of 23 districts of WB) that is included in the area known as ‘Rarh’ in West Bengal, India. ‘Rarh’ popularly means ‘land of the red soil’. Bankura finds a mention in Mahabharata where it is called as ‘Suhmobhumi’.
We started on a Wednesday, last December, early in the morning and boarded a train from Shalimar station. The station gets its name from Shalimar Paints; who have painted the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Howrah Bridge, the AIIMS and many other prestigious structures since 1902. One can still see their dilapidated guest house and grounds near the station.
The train was on time, we hopped on to it and settled the little luggage we had on the rack above our seats. I directed my gaze towards the tea stall where the mob was, interestingly it was called Pillai tea stall. Rajib went to get us the steaming cuppas. A helpful gentleman educated me about the terminal station which had a name, that I thought was quite funny – Bhojudih.
Bhojudih is in Jharkhand. It is surrounded by three rivers, Damodar, Ijari and Guwai. It also has a famous kund (lake) that our epic Mahabharata hero ‘Arjuna’ created while the ‘Pandavas’ were in exile.
The journey in a reserved chair car on a winter morning is promising from the word go. I missed my boy, who loves trains just as we do. We omitted him from the trip as he would get bored spending hours around the brick temples as we study, survey and document each of them from every angle, brick to brick.
I suggested we move out right after lunch so as to be able to cover the huge list, but Rajib was craving for a little rest after the good meal. Lunch was simple yet delicious. Daal(pulses), aalu-posto(poppy seed curry), aalu-bhaja(finger chips, really thin) and a fish curry. The WBTDC lodge is the favorite eat out for day tourists as well.
The train having reached almost on time we had checked into WBTDC lodge after a medium rickshaw ride from the station that is to say the distance was neither short nor too long.
So we went into the AC deluxe room with a full stomach, body yearning to retire having been subjected to activity since the wee hours of the morning, put on the AC and slept off.
At about 3ish in the afternoon we pulled ourselves up from the alluring comfort of the bed, got ourselves and our gear ready and came out to conquer the land of the Malla Kings, Bishnupur was the capital of Mallabhum for almost a thousand years; and the sun gave us a wink! He was taking an early off and we were caught unawares. It was no good for photography.
Stunned by the sun’s stance we decided to just walk around heartbroken and headed to the museum that is less than a km down the alley from the guest house. It was open but photography was allowed. It’s a nice old structure with many artifacts.
Dihar, around 10-12 km north of Bishnupur was a site of human habitation as the Chalcolithic people settled on the north banks of the river Dwarakeswar by 1000 BCE. Excavations have revealed many utensils and tools used in those and later times. Some are on display at the museum.
The stone and brick sculptures we saw at the museum had interesting formations and names. They were mostly Shiva and other Gods from Hindu mythology alongside the ‘Jain tirthankars’.
Once out of the museum we walked along the directions on the roadmap and also google maps to reach a group of temples we knew was lurking somewhere around the corner amidst the development happening in terms of apartment sites scattered here and there.
We walked beside a school/college campus that was big and a very old one too, stretching from the beginning of the road till the pond that was a long way ahead. It had many hostel blocks and grounds, that’s definitely a student’s delight.
Uncertain about the distance and the navigator girl at google which like Cuthbert’s pendulum kept on pointing north we decided to ask a human being and in a short while reached our destination.
We tried a few shots but the sun said “Sorry! Expiry underway” like the stockbroker who won’t let one buy or sell any more stalks after 4 pm and we just sank in the dusk amidst ages of history day 1 went by.
As we strolled back to the hotel this time by another route, we passed by a live temple which was rather crowded and had many shops adjacent to it selling terracotta artifacts. I started peeping into them while Rajib quickly did a handy work with his camera getting snapshots of the goddess. Most live temples in India do not allow photography.
It was not until I had seen the picture Rajib shot that the name struck me, the goddess is called “chinnamasta” which means “severed head”. She is worshipped as a form of power and according to mythology had severed her own head to satisfy the hunger of her two mates, Varini and Dakini.
The road from the temple to the guest house had shops all along; apart from terracotta the shops also had “dokra” crafts; there were the famous “baluchori” and “bishnupuri” sarees, some woodcraft and the usual tea stalls and sweet shops.
A mega fair was to start the day we were supposed to leave Bishnupur and it being on the grounds right opposite to the guest house there was a lot of hustle bustle, preparations were on a full swing. We indulged in local made sweets and chops, the medium of cooking showed its true colours a day later and we didn’t try to brave them ever again.
Accuweather predicted that the next two days were going to be foggy with the sun mostly working undercover. We sat down with the list of “to be visited” with a grim face, no sun meant no shoot and we had only two and a half days in hand.
It reminded me of our honeymoon trip. Traveller’s cheques were in vogue back then, but by the time we managed to visit the bank anticipating a probable cash crunch, it was closed; we were supposed to leave for Geyzing from Gangtok(Sikkim, India) the next day thus were left on a shoestring budget until we could get a bank that was operating.
Back then it was money and now it was time. We would have to be very prudent, take wise decisions using all our experience and ration time.