It has become our habit to go out for short trips at a gap of around 3-4 months. Now it may be on a staycation in one of the hotels, or somewhere outside. So this time, it was a trip to Jhargram. Frankly, I’ve heard a lot about the place, but have never been there. Ideally, it’s just 4 hours drive from Kolkata. My son was super excited and so was his grandmother. packing was done the previous night and we were ready to start by 7 in the morning.
Kolaghat and breakfast at Express Plaza
There are two routes for Jhargram from Kolkata. One goes via Kharagpur and another via Midnapore town. But both crosses Kolaghat. An excellent drive of 1.5 hours (yes, I drive pretty slow) and we reached Kolaghat. Yes, we’ve all been there and done that. Kolaghat is made famous as a food joint by none other than Sher E Punjab Hotel there. But recently during the last few trips, our loyalty had shifted to its neighbor The Express Food Plaza. The primary reason being the cleanliness and good toilet facility. Food is mostly the same in both the places, even slightly costly in the latter. But still …..
Firstly, it’s a damn big place and on weekends, if one is lucky, the superbike gang can be seen in their black riding gears. However, the food variety is mindblowing and one can enjoy anything from Pizza (pretty ordinary home-style ones) to Dosa to Chicken Pakora to some Gigantic Chola Batura. The portion size is quite heavy and should be ordered accordingly. The Kesaria Tea there is just great and definitely recommended, over the usual CCD machine made coffee.
Road to Jhargram
We took the route to Jhragram via Kharagpur and that was the mistake. The 30/40 Mk stretch from Kharagpur was a nightmare for drivers. New roads were being built and that zone took me around 1 hour 15 min. Bypassing trucks and heavy vehicles and zigzagging in that single lane highway is no mean task. Otherwise, the drive was fantastic. Superb highway, lovely weather, and family- what else one can wish for? From Kolaghat, it took us around 3 hours to reach the Jhargram Tourist Complex, considering the bad drive.
Jhargram tourist complex
For last so many years, we’ve been avoiding the WBTDC tourist lodges. But I must say, it has undergone a tremendous change. We’ve called beforehand to order for the food. And the manager confidently told us “Sir, we have your booking and you can come and order from menu “. And it felt great. We had done the room booking online via the WBTDC site and the check-in was super smooth.
The complex was spread on both sides of the road. The road went inside the Rajbari Complex gate. We somehow booked the cottages outside. A well-maintained water-body was there inside the complex and cottages were built on the side. The good part is, view from the cottages is damn good. The bad part, it’s a good 200 mtr walk from the main gate/ reception/ Dining area to the cottage. We got the last two cottage buildings. Each block comprised of two rooms with individually covered verandah and a common sit-out joining the two.
Rooms were pretty well decorated with split AC/ LCD TV with dish connection running Bengali channels (my mom was super happy with that) and voila, a toilet kit, probably made by some self-help group. The toilet was decent with a shower curtain and a working geyser. At 1600/- per day with complimentary breakfast, we couldn’t really ask for anything else. The parking area for cars was properly locked and guarded.
Food, finally …
It seemed the Jhargram Rajbari Tourist Complex specialized on homely food. The variation was mostly fish chicken and eggs (at least that’s what we ordered), but we got desi cock curry. The service is smooth and efficient. If only the water service was as good, it would have been perfect. I must say, the food is good. It’s slightly less spicy as per my taste but suited well for the kids. On dinner, they suggested parota and voila, we got the proper maida made hole-style triangular shaped parota. The dry chilly chicken was pretty good as evening snacks and doubled up as the main course at dinner. The aloo chochchori was homely too.
For breakfast, the choice was between Toast omelet (3 pcs toast and double egg omelet) , 4 pcs poori sabzi and cornflakes with milk. Needless to say, we chose the first two on both the days.
I am probably emphasizing on the word “homely” a bit more, but that’s the actual adjective I could find. It was less spicy, less oily and yet tasty. The thalis were slightly over-priced, but for a single traveler, justified.
Quest for Mahua to Belpahari
Now being a certified glutton, it’s impossible to imagine myself coming to Jhargram and not searching for Mahua. Now, if one searches well and befriends the locals, getting mahua is seriously not a problem in Jhargram. And let me be honest, the last time I tasted mahua, it was some 20 years back and I didn’t remember the taste. But this time, one of my friends there had got a few bottles, but we were supposed to go and collect it from Belpahari. And as per google map, Belpahari was just an hours drive. The road condition, I must admit, is simply fantastic. And as soon as we got out of the hustle and bustle of the town, it was a breeze.
Okay, we got the mahua packed in 1 ltr water bottles, but what to do with it? My friends again came in handy and suggested to have it with some Sprite. And upon inquiry, I was guided to a place called Lalji Hotel near Shilda.
Lalji Dhaba, Shilda
Actually, if one comes back from Belpahari to Jhargram, just after crossing Shilda,Lalji dhaba is on your left. A small, quiet hotel or rather Dhaba. Once we got in with family, we actually got special treatment. Probably the place was not frequented by local tourists. The menu was usual, nothing special- the usual thali and Tarka & chicken. But being the inquisitive type, I started a chat with the cook and the server. And they agreed to cook a special chicken kosha for us. In fact, Desi cock was there, but it would have taken us at least an hour to get it. We got the plastic glass, salad and some lovely makhana and kul achaar to start with the mahua and life were getting set.
I must say, chicken is never one of my favorite meat. But the chicken that I’ve tasted in that small dhaba was mindblowing. The cooking was good, sauteed with proper ground spices and dried to go with the drinks- but I am talking of the meat quality. It was distinctly different from what we’re used to getting in the city, in the name of a broiler chicken. The fat percentage was significantly less and it was mostly like the desi cock meat. For a long time, I’ll remember that dhaba. It might be insignificant, but fantastic food.
Mahua is love, period …
Mahua, as a drink, was fantastic and it definitely has become my latest crush. It’s sweet in taste and subtle. The smell was actually a boozy aroma and tasted just like a cousin brother for local wine, if not better. We had it with Sprite, but I guess it could have been taken neat as well. Half a bottle in and an afternoon siesta- life actually is sorted.
Bhogobaner Dokan – the CSR
On the third and final day, we got an invite to be the guest of honor at the Bhogobaner Dokan (shop of God), Jangalmahal chapter. Now, this needs some introduction. If you haven’t heard of this gentleman called Chandrasekhar Kundu, please google it. He’s fighting poverty by managing the supply line of excess food from restaurant, events, and canteen to the needy ones. And Bhogobaner Dokan is the initiative, where he has managed to get an infrastructure, where excess good (like clothes, toys, pencils) are getting distributed to the needy villagers. It was opening of that chapter and we were honored to be there.
The event was organized by Subhashis Da from Chetona Eco Village Tourism. Chetona Eco Village is a homestay deep inside the jungle and is approximately 15 min drive from Jhargram Rajbari complex. The place is managed by locals to provide a sustainable livelihood for them. We were invited to lunch there. They grow everything there on their own and cooking is done on the wood fire. Resort rooms have all modern facilities including AC and LCD TV and a clean, proper toilet. I’ve tasted better cooking elsewhere, but fresh vegetables and fish from the pond made it a different experience. The service was done on plates by Sal leaves and kids got ecstatic seeing that.
We may not have done something big, but in the eyes of those villagers, we were from a different planet. Persons with clean clothes, kids armed with wristwatches and sunglasses, they were amused. And we actually felt ashamed of our inability to not being able to do enough.
The journey back was another beautiful drive. But this time, we took the route via Midnapore town. It was a bit narrow road, as compared the one via Kharagpur, but the drive was smooth and it took us just 2 hours to reach Kolaghat for some tea.
Overall, it was a great weekend. Nice drive, lovely hospitality, and Bhogobaner Dokan. We couldn’t have asked for anything more. Jhargram is a nice place for a weekend getaway from Kolkata and definitely, I’ll go back again sometime in monsoons. And this post will be updated.