Maithon: The Cascading Waters

Distance from Kolkata: 210 km
Driving time: 4 hours approx
Road Trip – 2-3 days

Located some 210 km away from Kolkata, Maithon is one of the most picturesque driving destinations in West Bengal. Its beauty is both natural and manmade. While the lake, hillocks and the resplendent greenery are nature’s gifts to us the huge reservoir, the sluice gates and driveway on the dam are magic spun by engineering skills of mankind. Maithon is among the handful destinations which can be visited during the monsoon. After wheeling to almost 36 places across the length and breadth of the state, Team WHEELS vouches for this driving destination ideal for lounging during a long weekend

Route: The best thing about driving to Maithon is that you get to drive on National Highway 2 –one of the new generation highways. It is ideal for a new entrant to the world self-driven tours since it involves only highway driving.

Once you are through Vidyasagar Setu, enter into the Kona Expressway which is connected to NH-2 by a flyover at its end. The road condition in Kona Expressway is at present quite treacherous and as a result the traffic movement is dead slow. However, it is just a short stretch before you are on NH-2. Immediately after the intersection at Dankuni on NH-2, you will enter into Durgapur Expressway with a toll tax entry point of Rs 35/- for cars. The butter smooth tarmac of Durgapur Expressway gives you immense pleasure in driving and there are several food joints which would be ideal for a brief stopover for breakfast or lunch.

But then your woe begins because of the poor condition of the road at Panagarh Bazar resulting in terrible traffic congestion. Vehicles only crawl in this stretch; in case you get caught in a terrific congestion you may opt to bypass this 3 km long stretch through ‘Kota Morh’ which lies on the right i.e. on the Kolkata bound down traffic lane. The bypass will take you through the villages of Kota, Pondali, Sonai and ultimately meet NH-2 at a point beyond Panagarh Bazaar just before the Darjeeling Morh (intersection).

However, if you are lucky enough to smooth sail through the stretch near Panagarh Bazar continue on NH-2 leaving behind the Darjeeling Morh (also called Morgram Morh)– the junction from which you take right to proceed towards Santiniketan. Proceed straight through NH-2 and you will leave behind the intersections of Durgapur, Andal, Raniganj, Jamuria, Asansol to finally reach ‘Duburdih check post’ immediately after which there is a bridge on River Barakar marking the border between West Bengal and Jharkhand. Look out for the intersection at Duburdih; one can easily make out the spot from the large number of heavy vehicles parked on both sides of the highway at the check post while leaving only a constricted space for traffic movement on NH-2. ‘Duburdih Morh’ is the final intersection before Maithon from where you have to enter right, leave NH-2 and proceed for another 2 km to reach Kalyaneswari temple. The Maithon dam is another 3 km from the temple.

Maithon
Maithon is simply beautiful; the vast expanse of the clear blue sky, the emerald green water of the reservoir and the landscape dotted with vibrant green vegetation and the driveway on the dam in between- all merge to delight your senses. It is wonderful to take walks across the dam and watch the cascading waters when the sluice gates are opened. The sound is deafening almost like you are beside an ocean.

The catastrophic floods in the Damodar Valley before Indian independence led to the appointment of Damodar Flood Enquiry Committee to suggest remedial measures. The Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) came into existence in 1948 for the development and management of the basin as a whole. As a result, four dams at Tilaiya, Konar, Maithon and Panchet, along with the Durgapur Barrage were constructed.

The Maithon dam is located between the two neighbouring states of West Bengal (Burdwan) and Jharkhand (Dhanbad). The water reservoir at Maithon dam is supposed to be the biggest- built by the DVC on the Barakar River and the states lie at two opposite banks. The unique feature of this project is that it has also got a hydel power station which is located underground in the left bank of the river and is the first of its kind in India.

Maithon, as the name suggests, may have originated from the word Mai-ka-sthan (‘Mother’s Abode’). The ancient temple of Kalyaneshwari is nearby. On both ends of the dam are roadside refreshment stalls which sell everything – from telebhaja to soft drinks. On the West Bengal side of the dam near DVC’s guest house ‘Majumdar Niwas’ you will find the biggest attraction – boating facilities.

The boating facilities include all types of boats– speed boats, paddle boats and country boats. The charges vary between Rs 50/- and Rs 500/- per boat for a fixed period of time. If you happen to visit Maithon, a boat ride in the lake is a must.

At around 4.30pm we hired a 4-seater speed boat; the rate was at Rs 300/- for 15 minutes and I must say it was an awesome experience.  Suddenly we reached a point inside the lake from where we seem to be surrounded by hills all around. There were quite a few islands raising their heads, each unique in its features. Sabuj Dwip was an island with green forest cover and located in the middle of the lake. Tourists can visit the island with a boat and spend time at leisure, sitting on the rocks with your feet dipped in the crystal clear water. Ananda Dwip looked flat and open; Sada Dwip – named so because of the white pebbles found there. Chamuch Dwip was shaped like an inverted spoon and Kargil Dwip was named so because it happened to be a firing range. In fact, we have big plans for holding an adventure camp in future in one of the many nameless islands, on a small hillock full of big shady trees only if we can secure permission from CISF- the agency in charge of the security of the dam.

Our speed boat slicing through the clear green water raced against the wind and it was real fun. However, one of our team members, a car racer in fact, clutched on to his seat, his face turning pale. He became the butt of our jokes for the rest of the journey.

We visited Maithon just after the monsoon and experienced the best part of the stay- the cascading water fall from the 165 ft high Maithon dam. We drove to the other end of the 4.85 km long dam at Jharkhand. There was quite a large open space at the Jharkhand end where there were plenty of cars parked. Since it is a popular picnic spot there were a large number of local tourists. It was a rowdy crowd, jostling around noisily and munching on to the tit bits from the refreshment stalls.

We drove down to the Millennium Park adjacent to the dam on the Jharkhand side to watch the water cascade. One may take the staircase adjacent to the car park space to reach at the bottom of the dam on the banks of Barakar. The sight of the water fall from the sluice gates of the dam is an amazing experience. Since the water level in the reservoir on the other side of the dam was rising beyond its permissible limits due to the monsoon, the sluice gates were opened to release the water. We could feel the spray on us and hear the booming sound of the water falling from such a good height.

The township of Maithon around the Kalipahari Morh was both untidy and quite unimpressive. We soon drove back to the West Bengal side to experience the sunset over the lake which really left us besotted with the resplendent colours of the setting sun.

We had put up at the guest house of DVC called Majumdar Niwas. Undoubtedly, it has best location in the middle of the lake with a bridge connecting it with the mainland. The tariffs are unreasonably cheap, but there is a dearth of amenities, particularly for tourists with their own vehicles. Primarily, meant for DVC’s employees, the booking procedure for the general public is quite cumbersome and can  be done only at the DVC headquarters at Ultadanga in Kolkata. Although there are a few suites which are airconditioned, all other rooms and the fare are very basic. Drinking of liquor is prohibited inside the guest house and hence you are not provided with glasses in your rooms. Our car had to be parked on the road across the bridge with the CISF guards posted at a distance of around 50 metres at the entrance of the property.

We felt that the best place to stay in Maithon is the tourist lodge belonging to West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation which is located on a hill side close by Majumder Niwas – though it has not been publicised much. It has to be booked in advance from Kolkata. The amenities and services are quite pleasant. However, since the kitchen is run by a local resident, the food quality is basic and can be rated as average.

There are a few stores in a single storied building just outside the entrance of Majumdar Niwas- selling all kinds of provisions. You won’t find anything else on the West Bengal side until you reach the Kalyaneswari temple area which is 3 km away from the dam.

The other two hotels have their deficiencies. Shanti Niwas which previously was the Youth Hostel is a lowly one and the other- the Maithon Hotel – although has the best food it is located at Sanjay Chowk across Barakar River and almost 3 km away from the dam.

In the evening we went to the Kalyaneswari temple at Maithon which is very old and renowned place for pilgrimage. The area around the temple is crowded- being a market place with plenty of small hotels for the pilgrims in the area. We were told by one of the priests that the temple site was originally a dense forest. It was built by the king of Panchakot Raj during the era of Ballal Sen. The temple generally opens at 5.30 am in the morning and closes at 7 pm in the evening. The deity of Kalyaneswari is actually that of Maa Durga but resembles Kali. Animal sacrifice by devotees is a common ritual here.

The best time to visit Maithon is either during the monsoon or winter months. The picturesque Maithon and the drive on its undulating roads, the green hills and a vast lake on its edge will please you mind and body.

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