Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Trip to Maithon - the "Kashmir of Koyalanchal"

A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
"Kashmir of Koyalanchal", the name itself might be confidence inspiring for many travelers. But, if you are lured enough to visit Maithon anytime in summer be ready to confront its unforgiving warm weather. After all, coal belts of eastern India are meant to be hot, dusty and rough; aren't they? You must be wondering whether I belong to that elite group of high spirited wanderers who does not hesitate to accept challenges offered by extreme climatic conditions. Certainly I am not. Ladakh in winter does fascinate me, but not Jaisalmer in summer. So, why did I still choose to make a trip to Maithon in the ugly afternoon of 31st March? Those of you who know me personally or follow my blogs regularly are quite familiar with my status of being a solo traveler. Yes, solo traveling has its perks. But once in a blue moon when you get to take the highway and spend some quality time with your old school comrades then group traveling itself turns out to be boon!
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
This time it was four of us. Few weeks back, we met in a cafe (not by any coincidence though). All four of us were desperate for a short road trip which necessarily would include a night halt. After few lazy permutations and combinations we agreed upon Maithon. Maithon is barely 135 kilometers away from Bardhaman and the better part is, Maithon doesn't have many distractions to fatigue those visitors looking for an idle weekend stay. To top it all, I must admit, we cared very little whether our destination was Maithon or Madison. What kept us excited were the imposing thought of a journey together and of course, the anticipation of a blissful gentle-men's night out. Maithon is a small town located on Jharkhand - Bengal border, famous in the map of eastern India for its dam built on the river Barakar, which not only controls flood but also generates a huge amount of hydroelectricity.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
Maithon Dam is independent India's first dam project under Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) which contributed immensely in turning the erstwhile wild river Damodar from "River of Sorrow" to a "River of Opportunities". Our subject of interest was bit off-center though. The mini travel plan was pretty simple- to reach Maithon by evening, find a comfortable stay, make every minute count in our exclusive style (because, one should make hay while the sun shines), wake up early, witness a mesmerizing sunrise from the dam-side (totally cliché I know), indulge in boating over the picturesque lake and commence our return journey with the usual, yet never-materializing consolation of planning another group trip very soon.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
None of us had a SUV/MUV, and hatchbacks we have couldn't provide us the space we needed. I wasn't ready to settle with a Mahindra vehicle but now I'm glad that I took a chance. The white Xylo we hired was sufficiently smooth and roomy. Other than our expected brouhaha the drive to Maithon was almost uneventful. I was overjoyed to discover complete absence of toll booth on NH-2, from Bardhaman to Maithon. Happy toll-free days won't last long as NHAI is setting up a toll plaza near Rajbandh. Although it was dark by the time we left highway and took the Barakar-Kalyaneswari Road, there was perceivable change in landscape. The surrounding was hilly which signaled us that we were not far from the "Kashmir of Koyalanchal".
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
From the list of accommodation options provided in Wikitravel we decided to start our hunt from Hotel Shantinivas. Luckily the room was fine and the tariff was negotiable. We submitted ourselves to the hotel confinement and untied our inhibitions in search of Nirvana. For obvious reasons parting with the bed early was an onerous task, but the call of a rising sun over Maithon Dam was too shrill to ignore. We stepped out of the hotel only to discover an overcast morning sky. Somehow I wasn't disappointed. There were half a dozen of tea stalls outside. It'll be a gross understatement to call them tea-stall as you can find a wide variety of beverages, bread-omelette, puri-sabji and "what not?", all under the same tin roof. You'll find auto-rickshaws eager to take you for a spin around the dam for 100 bucks or so. Avail them if you're not ready to walk 2-4 kilometers, or if you visit Maithon in odd hours of scorching noon.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
The boating dock was small, adjacent to a strategically located hotel run by DVC- Majumdar Niwas. Majumdar Niwas sits picturesquely on an isle, surrounded by green water and connected to the land by a long footbridge. I could only fantasize how ethereal it would be to spend a full moon night in that hotel! On the spot booking is not entertained there. So, you've to make prior reservation through DVC. Soon we reached the dam to explore the real essence of Maithon. Photography is strictly prohibited over the dam and there are enough security personnel to ensure that. Take a leisurely walk over the bridge. Although vehicles are not allowed to halt over the bridge, as a pedestrian you can take that leverage. Enjoy the vast turquoise (being overly poetic) reservoir at your left, studded with tiny islands of myriad shapes. Spot a distant fishing boat or try to figure out faraway rock forms. Just settle down, take deep breathes, curse DVC for their anti-photography policies, imagine how majestic the view would be during the monsoon time and start walking again to discover Jharkhand on the other end of the bridge. Oh hold on, do gaze at your left too, to find a herd of deer grazing undisturbed. We were back to the boating harbor, managed by Salanpur Panchayat Samiti.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
There are three options to choose from- speed boat, country boat and paddle boat. A friendly, tribal boatman took us for a hour long ride to Sabujdeep. Only a non-motorized country boat, sluggishly cutting through the emerald lake water could satisfy our boating appetite. We were in no hurry to reach. We wanted to smell the water and gulp its surrounding visuals with wide open eyes. A speedboat ferrying tourists went past our modest boat and the waves it created kept swaying us for a minute. Instead of feeling threatened we felt more pampered! The isle, Sabujdeep has certainly lost her chastity. Tourists have littered this once pristine piece of forest land with everything from liquor bottles to snacks wrappers. Otherwise, the local Pachayat authority has spent money generously in shaping this island tourist friendly. Occupy an umbrella shade at the extreme edge of Sabujdeep or hike the little hillock in front of the jetty to capture the best possible 360 degree panorama of the lake-scape.
A Trip to Maithon - the Kashmir of Koyalanchal
Good times get spent rocket fast. We had to check out of the hotel by 11:30. Our sole aim was unadulterated relaxation. But if you're visiting Maithon for the sake of exploring, do also visit the 500 years old Kalyaneshwari Temple and Pahari Baba Mandir. Owing to its close proximity to NH-2, Maithon is well connected to other places by road. Nearest railway station is Kumardubi, just 9 kilometers away. You have plenty of hotels and lodges to choose from. My half cent- visit this Kashmir of coal belt only in winter months. Safe traveling folks. Summer is on. Drink ample fluids and keep yourself adequately hydrated. 

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