Joychandi Hills

Distance from Kolkata: 265 km
Driving Time: 5 hours
Road Trip: 2 days

Particularly famous as the location where Satyajit Ray shot ‘Hirok Rajar Deshe’, Joychandi Hills in Purulia was the drive destination of Team WHEELS for a weekend escape. With winter showing clear signs of receding, Team WHEELS grabbed the opportunity to visit this ‘land of seven hills’ far from the urban cacophony, replete with unassuming natural beauty.

Route
We hit the roads at around 8 am and passed through Vidyasagar Setu to enter Kona Expressway and connect to NH-19 (NH-2). Within a short span, after passing through Dankuni, we drove into the 6-lane Durgapur Expressway (NH-19).

After a halt for breakfast, we resumed our drive and passed through Bardhaman, followed by Durgapur and Asansol, following the NH-19 (NH-2) by the newly-constructed Panagarh Flyover and the elevated roads over Durgapur town. It is always a pleasurable experience to glide through the buttery tarmac of the NH-19 (NH-2). The newly-constructed flyovers gave a wonderful boost to our drive.

After the Asansol town entrance on the left below a flyover, we entered the service lane on the left leaving NH-19 (NH-2), to reach the Salanpur Crossing just beyond Asansol. From Salanpur we turned left towards Purulia and entered Chittaranjan–Asansol Road to proceed towards Raghunathpur. At the Neamatpur T-junction, we took a short right followed by an immediate left to continue towards Raghunathpur by the Asansol-Purulia Road.

With no further pit stops, we reached Sarbari Morh by the Asansol-Purulia Road, followed by Gobag Morh (entrance to the Garhpanchakot Hill on the right). The Purulia Road is smooth and impressive, lined by green trees on both sides, making for a splendid drive.

We continued towards the Raghunathpur New Bus Stand in Purulia, which also demarcates the entrance to Joychandi Hills. We went over Saturi Morh with a statue of Khudiram Bose at Raghunathpur township on Purulia Road and rolled ahead a little to find the Raghunathpur New Bus Stand at Nonduara Morh where a signboard indicates Joychandi Hills to the left. We took the left into Adra Road from the Raghunathpur New Bus Stand and passed through a market. After a kilometre or so, a green board indicates Joychandi Hills to the right. Though the lane on the right acts as a shortcut to Joychandi, the main Adra Road is actually the prominent connector to the hills through a 3 km loop.

We took the right shortcut passing through a narrow lane. After emerging from the lane we found a huge open field with Joychandi Hills to our right and a big pond to the left. The tarmac road ends at the field with a kaccha pathway connecting the interior villages around Joychandi. We continued rolling forward by the pathway, keeping the hills to our right, to reach the Joychandi Eco Resort at around 1.30 pm.

Joychandi Hills
While driving down the Nonduara village, the sudden emergence of the vast expanse of virgin open land surrounded by hills and water bodies is an enchanting experience. The hills are by and large rocky with sporadic green patches. The blue sky with white cottony clouds and the clear water and cool breeze from the two ponds, Kulaha and Rai Shayar, were a sheer delight to our senses. We stayed there for a while to soak in the serenity before heading for Joychandi Hills.

The open field below the hills leads to the steps of the Joychandi Temple. You can refuel yourself in the non-descript shanties run by the local boys selling eatables like chips, biscuits, soft drinks and tea before you head for the steep climb.

The Joychandi Hills comprise of altogether seven hills, each bearing a legend of its own – Jigadhala Pahar, the tallest hill (approx. 600 ft), Joychandi Pahar (approx. 550 ft), Eksira Pahar (approx. 550 ft), Kali Pahar (approx. 580 ft), Sewli Pahar (approx. 200 ft), Nera Pahar (approx. 100 ft) and Sita Pahar (approx. 80 ft). These hills are mostly made of a single rock and are dormant volcanic peaks.

The hill has two temples at the top. Devotees seeking darshan have to climb at least 480 steps uphill to reach the top which is approximately 550 ft high. The steps are quite flat at certain stretches and unexpectedly steep at others. Fortunately, a number of seats are built at various levels for the pilgrims to relax and catch their breath before moving on. Quite welcome is the cool shade of the green trees surrounding the hills which makes the ascent very enjoyable, which otherwise would have been quite taxing.

Semaphore Tower
As you climb up the Joychandi Hill, you will come across the remains of a two-storey tall semaphore tower. These masonry towers are about two hundred years old and are found atop hills in the Purulia district of West Bengal. Often identified as watch towers, these are semaphore signal towers – key to the optical telegraph lines set up by the British between 1816 and 1830. The lines were part of a long-distance communication system based on towers with shutters or moving wooden arms using semaphore signals.

The longest semaphore line in India was four hundred miles long, stretching from Calcutta to Chunar. On a clear day, news reached from Fort William, a British outpost in the Bengal capital, to Chunar in fifty-odd minutes.

Temples and surroundings
The view from the top is spectacular. You can get a 360 degree view of the surrounding area which includes acres of open fields, winding kaccha roads, water-bodies, villages, the Joychandi railway station and the three picturesque tourist lodges in that area. If you can make it to the top in the early morning hours, the soft winter sun along with the cool breeze touching your skin is sheer bliss. The hilltop temples of goddess Chandi and of Bajrangbali are very well maintained, with the daily rituals being carried out by the local priests.

There is a miniature water reserve on a stone slab near the Joychandi Temple – about 5 ft in length, 3 ft in breadth and more than 5 ft in depth. According to Biswajit Acharya, Guide and Temple Committee In-charge, “When Ravana carried Sita to Lanka, the impression of the chariot-wheel in which they travelled was imprinted on one of the rocks on the hill-top and can still be seen there. What’s more? The tiny water reserve is supposed to have been filled by the tears that ran down Devi Sita’s eyes.” Locals believe that it is for this reason that this water has never dried up and that it is very pure and has tremendous medicinal value. Caught up in the pulse of the legend, we splashed the cool water on our faces to rejuvenate our senses.

A very intriguing spot on the hilltop is the tiger den (called Bagher Dera) amidst the rocks, where we were assured, the ferocious feline used to take refuge till even a few years back.

Other attractions
Apart from the seven hills around Joychandi, there are many other places of tourist interest in and around the location. For instance, the  Bero Hills are famous for rock climbing, Garpanchkot Hill, the Muradih Dam, Baranti Dam and Raghunathpur Palace are some of the nearby places worth a visit.

Silk aficionados can visit the sericulture cultivation in the nearby Nonduara village and can witness the rearing of silkworms on Arjun trees. It is fascinating to see the silken cocoons from where the famous Tussar silk of Bengal is obtained. In fact, there are houses around 3 km away from Joychandi, where Tussars are woven on hand looms. They are not of the finest quality but are of exquisite variety and worth the price. Eco enthusiasts can pay a visit to any of the tribal villages near Raghunathpur, viz., Jeebanpur, Pratappur, Joradihi and Pathorthikri.

Every year a fair is held between 28th December and 2nd January known as the Joychandi Mela. People converge from far and wide to participate in this fair. If you plan a visit to the hills during that time, you will be able to buy tribal artefacts and jewellery and get a taste of the local delicacies. However, the best time to visit Joychandi Hills is either in the beginning of winter when the weather is cool and enjoyable or in the monsoon, when the surroundings are lush green with the trees in full bloom all around.

Accommodation
▶  Joychandi Hill Resorts: If you are planning to visit Joychandi Hills at Raghunathpur, the best place to stay is at the Joychandi Hill Resort, formally known as the Joychandi Pahar Eco Tourism Project. Joychandi Pahar Resort is a project developed by the Tourism Department of the West Bengal Government in November 2015. The place was taken over by Raghunathpur Kisalay who run the property.

There are five AC cottages and two eight-bed AC dormitories, all brightly coloured with decent interiors, that meet all the basic requirements of the guests, built at different levels on a small hill called Sewli Pahar, bang opposite the Jigadhala Pahar. The cottages have various types of accommodation, from dormitories to super delux rooms. The view from each of these cottages is breathtaking. Our stay at Aranyok and Anandamath was quite decent and enjoyable. Sonar Tori, Meghmallar and Geetanjali are the other cottages with unique names which add to the enchantment of your sojourn. Two new cottages are being constructed in the lower level of the resort for the special convenience of senior citizens and the physically handicapped.

The resort sprawls over the entire Sewli Pahar. Enhancing the aesthetics of the entire hill, for example, by planting trees, flowering plants and fruit and vegetable plants, has happened under the initiative of Manju Kanjilal, a WBCS officer in the Land Department and a proud co-owner of the resort. Her love for nature and the idea of developing a nature resort was not only taken up for the sake of enhancing the overall experience of the guests visiting Joychandi Hills, but also to provide alternate employment to the local villagers in the hospitality sector.

The canopies of bougainvillea throughout the walkway, the brightly coloured gazebos with hand-painted polka dots on the shades and the uniquely designed, hand-painted stone tables and stools for open air dining at various elevations for the guests to relax in the lap of nature, are some of the special touches of Manju.

Concrete roads are totally absent in the entire area, which enhances the natural look and feel of the place. For beautification of the resort, Manju along with her partner, Malay Sorkel, who is also a teacher, engaged the villagers to develop and maintain the beautiful naturescape of the place.

There is a children’s park at the entrance of the resort with a beautifully manicured garden and a baby pool. Locals often come to the resort in the evening to visit the park and spend time with their family. There is a cafeteria adjacent to the park which sells basic snacks and beverages for the public in peak season.

Service in the Joychandi Resort is pretty good. The food is reasonably priced and served as the only option around Joychandi.  The fare though is modest and basic Bengali cuisine but with fresh ingredients available at the dining room located on the resort hilltop accessed by climbing easy steps. The meals available at the resort are not only for the guests residing at the property but also for the tourists visiting Joychandi Hills.

To maintain an eco-friendly environment, continuous awareness programmes are conducted by Manju and Malay on how to create plastic-free, noise-free zones. During fairs and festivals, vendors are specially employed to sell plates made of sal leaves and cups and tumblers made of clay and paper. Playing loud music is not allowed on the resort premises and in the entire vicinity to maintain the sanctity of the surroundings.

Pathasathi: Immediately opposite the Joychandi Hill Resorts is another beautiful accommodation of the West Bengal government run by the management of Joychandi Hill Resorts. Its sprawling lounge area with huge dining, living and conference rooms makes it a hot favourite of the corporate and business houses. The huge balcony overlooking the rustic village with red laterite roads in front is an enigma. With Joychandi Hills in the backdrop and the vast expanse of open fields in front, Pathasathi stands as a very attractive tourist lodge. With its chic decor and modern amenities, Pathasathi is a tourists’ paradise. Interestingly, both, Joychandi Hill Resorts and Pathasathi have a common kitchen serving basic staples.

Joychandi  Pahar Youth Hostel: The Youth Hostel is located behind Pathasathi, tucked away from the main area amidst winding pathways, water bodies and a Kali temple. The roads with open fields on either side, lined by palm trees leading to distant villages, make a picturesque scene. You may want to drive aimlessly and lose yourself in the rustic enigma.

The Youth Hostel is a huge four-storey building with 64 rooms. The rooms come in every variety – single, double, four-bedded, both AC and non-AC, VIP and VVIP. There is also a 27-bed dormitory, and all this at a most affordable rate. This place is recommended for large groups looking for budget accommodation.

We started our journey back to Kolkata at around 2 pm the following day. Tracing back our way through the same meandering roads in Purulia, we reached the highway at Asansol. We halted for a tea break around 5 pm at Shaktigarh. Though NH 19 (NH-2) was heavy with traffic, especially commercial vehicles, we managed to have a smooth ride till we reached Kolkata at around 7:30 pm.

Attractions around Joychandi
▶  Bero Hills
▶  Garpanchkot Hill
▶  Muradih Dam
▶  Baranti Dam
▶   Raghunathpur Palace

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