The primitive faces of Bengal and Jharkhand merge in Jhargram. An island surrounded by a sea of greenery, the town, lying beyond the Gangetic plains of Bengal, is an unusual getaway.

The region was once known as Junglekhand — a land of dense forests, populated by tribes like lodha, mal, bhumij and santhal.Not much historical data is available till the time a young Rajasthani of the Chandrabansia clan named Sarbeshwar Malla Deb established his rule here in the 16th Century. Eighteen kings of the family — which has no links with the Malla Debs of Bishnupur —ruled over Jhargram for more than 400 years.

In between, portions of the region were invaded by the rulers of Mayurbhanj and Murshidabad. The urbanisation of Jhargram started in 1929-30. Thankfully, the natural beauty is largely untouched by the developments.Our first stop was the palace of the Jhargram royal family. The massive pink stone building reveals influences of Islamic and Gothic architecture. The compound covers more than 70 bighas and houses the temple of Radharaman, the royal deity. A part of the palace has been converted into a hotel.

The visit to Kanak Durga was the most thrilling part of our trip. The century-old temple is located in a forest, 12 km from the town. A charming river named Dulung flows past it. The original structure, built in typical Pancharatna style, is now deserted and dilapidated.The new temple, constructed in the mid-70s, is uninspiring, but the ambience is simply magical. A 30-minute drive through a dense forest, home to several uncommon species of monkeys, will take you there.

There’s a spot called Kendua on the way to Kanak Durga. Migratory birds visit the area in huge numbers in August-September.

Chilkagarh Rajbari, a deserted palace, is on the other side of the river. Even from a distance, it looks like the set of a horror movie. The compound, however, is safe. It houses two temples. One of them looks like a three-storeyed tower and is still in use.Alampur is a must-visit. It got its name from Shah Alam, the son of Aurangzeb. A twin temple founded by a local zamindar and dedicated to Madan Mohan is the primary attraction.

If you have children with you, drop in at Jhargram deer park. This small zoo, 3 km from the town, was opened by the state forest department. Built around a large artificial lake, it houses deer, snakes, peacocks, bears, crocodiles, black rabbits and various types of monkeys, in addition to several varieties of trees.The 350-year-old Savitri temple is perhaps the oldest structure in Jhargram. Legend has it that Savitri Devi inspired Rajput warrior Sarveshwar Singh to stay back at Junglekhand. The stone idol of the Devi is being worshipped for several centuries.Jungle Mahal, a small and beautiful rose garden set against the forest, is popular among couples.

The real attraction of Jhargram is its evergreen forests. Everywhere you go, you see endless greenery. Towering trees stand in pin-drop silence as sunlight filters through the leaves creating shadows in complex patterns on the ground. Amid falling leaves and the sound of cricket, bare-bodied tribal youths walk past, taking you back to another era.

Jhargram is in West Midnapore, 250 km from Calcutta. The journey takes three hours by train from Howrah and nearly four hours by road from Esplanade.

There are hotels suited to all pockets in Jhargram. MPS Resort is the most luxurious. The Royal Palace, a joint venture of the state tourism development corporation and a private firm, is a good option. Reservations can be done from the city office of the corporation. Hire a car to visit the tourist spots. Ask the residents before venturing into deserted areas. Return to the hotel by 7pm.

This article was published on 6th April, 2008 in The Telegraph

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