Amongst many other things, those days we were just vagabonds, and haphazardly wayfairing.
This memoir is one of those many occasions….
It was a stormy late summer afternoon. We two got into the Howrah station (our most bourgeois starting post), already mostly wet by then. Wontedly, we commenced our contemplation about our destination then. There were no parameters, there were no criteria of choice.
A train showed up in a nearby platform – almost broken compartments, through and through murky, a handful of local labour people as hapless passengers.
“Where this train is going?” my friend demanded.
Void face replied with silence upon startled expression.
“Leave them, let’s check with the guard” we were habituated with this reaction.
“What?? Where this train is going?? Who are you? Where you want to go?” we, yet again, were accustomed with this.
“No no, don’t get troubled, we missed our train to Kolaghat. It’s pouring outside. In a hurry to get some alternate conveyance” our trusted type of answer.
“Well hmmm, this one is not going to Kolaghat, it is going to Adra, via Asansol” thank you Mr guard.
Adra. Fortunately the place was new. The ruinous outlook of the train along with the showery ambience bewitched us more. We boarded into one of those grimy carriages. No doors, no windows, All wooden benches utterly wet. Looks like home.
Not sure at what time the train decided to move ahead.
“Oh, what about something to eat?” I realized suddenly.
“Oh, you still need anything to eat? Look around you, fill your mind” quite unerring.
The journey went on eventless. Calmly silent. Noise of the wheels scratching over those iron bars. Music of the rain drops. Voice of the passing air.
Few stations came, few stations gone. People got up, people got down. They kept on staring at us, we kept on smiling at them. We eagerly waited for some hawkers to turn up, but probably that was not a night they wanted to feed us something.
It was apparently midnight, our medieval wain stopped in a pitch dark location, and kept frozen for a long while.
“Where are we? A train can’t be stopped in a main line for so long”
Long pause. Probably both wondering.
“There is a faint light at a distance, looks like something (or somebody) should be there”
“Oh is it? Interesting. Let’s get down here”
“Yes let’s. The train might start off while we are out”
“Huh, you mean we should be bothered?”
The wind was chill. The rain drops were pinching. Hard to find a safe path to reach to that feeble light. That was indeed a halt station, a miserable looking hut was the only flag-bearer of indian railways. Couldn’t discover the name of the station anywhere though.
The door was half shut, the dusty poor kerosene lamp was only succeeding to increase the gloominess of the place. To our pleasant surprise, the man sleeping on the chair was in contrast to the surroundings. Not sure who was more stunned to see each other.
“Ww-hh-oo aa-r-e you?” his stammering was not by birth.
“We just got out of that train, want to explore nearby…” why did we actually came here? And what should we tell him?
We had to show our college Id cards to make him believe that we were indeed human. Gradually, he could calm down. Quite gratefully, he did shared some of his leftover foods also with us, we grabbed with four hands. Meanwhile he went out to release our waiting train.
Finally we knew what place we have landed into. Joychandi Pahar.
“What a stroke of luck!!! We heard about this earlier, but never actually planned to come here!!!” I couldn’t stop screaming.
“Thank you, thank you Tapan to make our life memorable” there goes my friend, over passionate.
Tapan, the station master and the sole employee of that station was just ecstatic to have us, at least he could find some human beings to talk to. He was from Asansol town, cursing his job that has made him stay in this god-forsaken place all alone.
“The pahar (hill, in Bengali) is not a very big one, but surely very beautiful. You know, the movie Hirak Rajar Deshe was shot here?” Tapan looked proud.
“Wwhat?? Really?? That film was shot here?” my friend again, bursting.
“Yes, this can be a good tourist spot, if somebody cares. There are two train routes from Calcutta (it was not Kolkata that time). One via Asansol, another via Kharagpur.” Tapan was quite thoughtful.
“Well, see? We are here!!” however, Tapan was not quite impressed. May be could not quite picture us as tourists. Won’t blame him.
The rains continued for a couple of hours more.
”It will soon be clear. The hill is around 6 kms from here. No proper road, and no vehicles of course. If you are lucky, might get some gorur gari (bullock cart, in Bengali).” Tapan was all for help.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find our way” we always used to.
“You will find the local village besides the foothills. I stay there only. But are you sure to go there now?” he continued.
“Is it? Then you can also come along!” we were definitely interested.
“Here is my address. Do write to me, please. Good bye. Wish I would come with you” no mobile phones that time, only physical addresses. It was hard to get separated from him.
The cool morning breeze embraced us. All greens everywhere. Our journey from the so-called station to the village was so revivifying. As soon as the pahar was in sight, spirits went high manifold.
“How can a single hill be there all of a sudden in the middle of vast paddy fields? No hilly area, mountain range are there in the vicinity…” we were amused.
True, the vista was unique, unlike any mountains or any hills we experienced before. It is like someone has toted a couple of hills from somewhere else, and accidentally abandoned here. Like HanumanJi had shouldered the Gandhamadan Parbat from some place, and left in the lurch. The singular landscape instantly catches you.
“Two cups of tea, and whatever you have to eat” we reached at the village, and found a small tea stall. The owner was just preparing to open his shop, his chulha was not even ready to serve anything.
“Babu-ra kotheke aaichen?” (where from you are coming, sir?) obviously nobody expects such customer at this hour.
“We are from Calcutta, you have got a beautiful place here”
“Ki je bolen babu, ki ache ekhane… khaowar jal parjyonto nai…” (what are you saying sir, nothing is here… not even water to drink…)
“Lok ashena ekhane ghurte?” (Don’t you get people visiting this place?)
“Ho, ashen bote. Majhe majhe chele puler dol ashe. Tabu lagiye thake oi okhane lake-er pare. Aar dori-dora niye pahar-e uthe. Pura jayga nogra kore diye jai” (Yes, indeed some group of youngsters come. Stay in tents near that lake. Do some rock climbing on the hill. And finally leave transforming the whole place as dustbins) certainly true, that is.
His petty house was behind his pettier shop. But his heart was bigger than anything. Since his shop was not ready to supply anything yet, he ordered something from his home – and we were served with a good meal. And more notably, we had to forcefully pay him.
“Babu-ra sokalbela khali pete aaichen, aapnader kach thika khaowar taka kemne lomu?” (Sir, you have come here so hungry in the morning, how can I take money from you for this food?) where have those people gone today?
The hill was indeed made for rock climbing enthusiasts. We found a slender path that goes to the up, probably used by the villagers to climb upstairs bringing back their cattle etc. Thanks to the energy we had that time, it took almost two hours to reach to three quarters of the height. Was not possible to ascend more without any equipment. Some stretches are slippery, probably because of last night’s rains.
The mise en scène was exclusively alluring from that height.
“Here, let’s sit here” found a relatively flatter turf beneath a huge rock.
Sat speechlessly, and soon found ourselves in hibernation. Not sure how much time was passed. Nobody around, only songs of numerous unknown birds. Place and ambience where one can discover himself. The view of the nearby lake from up there was just breathtaking.
Before long the sky was again dismal. Winds started to blow hard. We had to rush back down. By the time we reached back to any shelter we were totally drenched.
“Babu-rar sharir kharap korbo” (Sir, you will get sick in this way) our hideaway was yet again the same tea stall.
“Don’t worry, tell us how to get back from here?” our sojourn was concluding.
Pleasantly enough, the place is quite near from Adra – around 4-5 kms. Thankfully we found a Tata 407 from the village going to Adra station. By late evening we were there.
However, getting a train back to Howrah was not so easy one though. Got one around midnight. Reached back Howrah next morning.
“We will come back here, with all of us…” my friend declared.
“Sure thing” I murmured, assumably still dreaming about the place.
Came to know that the place is now one of the popular tourist destinations – both adventurous herds and families alike. There is a new station came up, only couple of years earlier. Rock climbing is a celebrated event there now. Some fancy hotels have come up nearby. Families flock there for day picnics. It is a tourist spot now… Tapan was right.
Wonder, how that heaven feel like now. Is the serenity still prevailing? Where is that tiny romantic halt station, and our dear friend Tapan. How the life of that tea stall now… could he swim along with the tide?
There were no smartphones then, nor any of those digital cameras. Can’t share any of those images with anybody now. But guess sometimes you got to treasure some places simply by closing your eyes, not by taking help of some colourful photographs.