By Nishi Pulugurtha
It is not just in the north of West Bengal that one gets to see hills. There are hills elsewhere in West Bengal, too. Unlike the hills of North Bengal that are part of the lower Himalayan range and are relatively younger, the hills located in the west of West Bengal are part of the Eastern Ghats. We needed a break from the routine and were not so keen about popular weekend destinations. As we were figuring out one, we were told about Susunia. August was not the right month for the place, we were told, since it would be hot and the rains would make roads bad. We decided, however, to go along. The break was badly needed.
Susunia is the name of a hill in the Bankura district of West Bengal. There is a village of the same name nearby, too. The hill is known for its flora and fauna and is a favoured destination for rock climbers. It is not a very oft frequented holiday destination. It is a quiet place, where one can relax and just be by oneself in close proximity to nature. There are very few places to visit here. One can, of course, travel to nearby places in Bankura and the neighbouring Purulia district, if one wants to.
The nearest railhead is Chatna, which is about 7 kms from Susunia and Bankura town is about 25 kms away. We decided to hit the road, though many did warn us that road conditions get bad during the monsoons. There was, of course, no cause to worry, as roads were absolutely fine. We travelled on the Burdwan-Durgapur highway, crossed the Durgapur Barrage and entered Bankura district. As we crossed the industrial belt, the greenery all around kept increasing. With trees lining both sides of the road and the greenery bright and beautiful after the showers, the ambience lent the journey a charm that lingers on. The blue skies and the myriad shapes of clouds added to the splendour.
After a ride of a little over four hours, we saw the Susunia hill in the distance standing tall. Susunia is an archaeological site and one where fossils have been found, too. Our place of stay was a resort nestled in the foothills and was a quiet, serene place. There were not many tourists around. The blazing afternoon sun made us decide to climb the hill very early in the morning. In the evening, we walked around the village. Susunia village is famous for stone carvings and there are many artisans in the village. Many of these craftsmen have won accolades and awards. We could find some at work chiselling away with great concentration. The surroundings of the hill are a popular picnic spot for locals and it is disheartening to see litter from such picnics strewn all over the place. In a nearby field, a group of youngsters played football, while local women fetched water, people caught up with local gossip, a langur peered into a locked gate, a few vehicles plied on the main road, and a small tea shop catered to locals.
In winter months, people interested in rock climbing and mountaineering flock to Susunia. There are a few hotels and guest houses that cater to them. There is a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali at the base of the hill. The path to the temple is lined by shops selling stone artefacts, bags, and knick-knacks. Near the temple stands a statue, which locals refer to as Narsingha, but it does not look like the usual Narsimha that the Hindu myths refer to. The statue is probably worshipped by the native tribes that inhabit the region. Locals seem to greatly revere the statue, as it is smeared with vermillion. A spring, whose water is believed to be holy by the locals who come from near and far to bathe in its waters, flows nearby. The water, we are told, comes from the hills and flows throughout the year through spouts that have been constructed.
The next morning we decided to get adventurous and climb Susunia hill. It was an arduous, difficult climb because the hill was very steep. We needed to take frequent breaks as we were not used to climbing. The heat was making it difficult, too. We had been told that the view from the top was wonderful. As we moved up, we paused for breath and to take in views of the place far below. The path up was rocky and strewn with stones. This was not the season for rock climbing and hence there was no one here. After about an hours’ climb, we were too exhausted and decided not to go further. The heat and humidity was tiring us as was the steep ascent. We sat down to rest and breathed clean, forest air. The quietness of the place was soothing and blissful. The climb down was equally difficult and tired us completely. We sat down for a cup of tea at a shop just beside the spring. The shopkeeper said, “The place sees more adventurous tourists in winter.” Most tourists, who have no plans to climb, make a day trip while visiting Bankura and other nearby places. We saw locals at the spring. A gentleman brought his small granddaughter for a bath at the ‘dhara’, as they called it. Another family, who were staying elsewhere, had made a day trip to the hill but they had no plans of climbing.
As we headed back to our resort, we were happy at the little adventure that we had. We drove around to the other side of the hill to see the rock inscription that dated to the 4th century. The journey took us through beautiful wooded roads. This rock inscription was built by King Chandravarman and was a little way up the hill. We were too tired to climb. Moreover, it would turn dark soon and we decided not to make the climb. As it became dark, a quietness descended on the place.
It was this quiet that charmed us. It is possible to make short day trips to nearby tourist spots like Baranti. The drive around the countryside in the evening with the rays of the setting sun endowing a calm glow to the place was sheer delight – a small stream nearby, the tall trees in the distance, the hills towering over all, locals at work, the cattle making the way home, sometimes obstructing the way, the clouds in the clear sky, the smell of the forest, the rustling of dry leaves in the forest trails, the sounds of the cicada at night, the calmness all around – Susunia is an ideal place to relax and rejuvenate.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor, Department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She is an academic with varied interests and writes on travel, too. Twitter: @nishipulu
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