Khoai – Serenity at its best
Khaoi was perhaps my last resort to run away from my hectic life, recharge my spirit and enjoy complete leisure.
By profession, I am a banker. After the nerve-racking year ending, I was feeling like escaping from my stressful life and the chaotic city at least for a day or two. I was talking to my schoolmates in our Whatsapp group about my irksome mood and my wish to go somewhere to have sheer relaxation when one of the friends, Susmita, suggested me to visit Khoai, a nearby destination from Shantiketan. Though heard I was not much familiar with the name before my friend shared brief information.
Susmita is a frequent visitor of that place and knows almost all local nitty-gritty. She booked one room on my behalf in Ram Shaym Village Resort for the approaching weekend and there my connection with the place actually initialized.
On the next day, I did my reservation online for Maa Tara Express that leaves from Sealdah Station for the coming Saturday. There were only two days between and I was very excited about visiting a place all alone for the first time though was a little bit tensed too. However, Susmita and other friends who visited the place earlier assured me that the place is absolutely peaceful; there is nothing to worry about.
Anyway, finally THE day came. I took a cab from my place and reached station timely. The train started on right time, i.e., @ 7:25 hrs and run almost smoothly. I reached Prantik station at about 10:45 hrs as scheduled.
Prantik is a small station of Birbhum district. As I landed the station, I found that Prantik is not a busy station like Bolpur though the distance between the two is only 4 to 5 km. I just fell in love with the place at first sight. I took an auto from there and instructed the driver to take me to Ram Shaym Village Resort. The way to the resort was initially through non-clumsy residential area. Apart from beautifully architected houses, some lodges and quiet garden resorts were also there along the road. After about 1 and a half kilometer the auto came to a junction of four points and took the straight road along the Khoai river though according to the ‘Autowala’ it is a canal rather than a river. The local folks call it as river which is mainly used for irrigation. After moving forward for a while, I discovered a forest of both the sides.
It was Sonajhuri forest – tall Sonajhuri trees comprise the thick forest as informed by the driver. Khoai area actually starts with the Sonajhuri forest. Birbhum is often known as the ‘Lal Matir Desh’ (land of red soil) and the reason is very much evident in Khoai. The driver (who worked as a local guide later) took me to Khoai keeping Khaoi River and Sonajhuri forest along side. It was a rusty village path burnt in the sun even one year back. But to make the place tourist-savvy, administration have taken the decision to concretize it and accordingly the work has been started.
The red path probably inspired the Nobel laureate bard – Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore – to pen down the famous lines – Gram chhara oei ranga maatir poth…the red way beyond the village. The unpaved red path really stirred my soul.
It is pertinent to mention that as I was approaching the resort, I found some local rural people were trading clothes, jewelries, cane products, wooden products and lots more. I was not sure about what was that but was curious and so asked my driver. He told that Khoai becomes a popular trading venue on Saturdays – it is commonly and popularly known as Khoai Haat. Every Saturday, local rural people (mostly tribal) from nearby villages come to Khoai to trade their products. Previously it was the market day especially to the villagers, but with the widespread of tourism, Khaoi haat has become a popular tourist attraction.
Nonetheless, a typical auto-ride along the Sonajhuri forest and of course the Khoai Haat ended at my destination – Ram Shayam Village Resort.
It is a small two-storied resort comprising two buildings. After checking in, the bearer took me to a room on the first floor. The resort looks like a typical two-storied mud house but with all modern facilities. A bullock cart was kept in front of the building just to give a more rural feel.
I freshened up and had my breakfast. As I had a look of the outside from the balcony of my room, I saw that the haat had been extended up to my resort. And the place was crowded with people both rural and urban, like me and even foreigners.
I was very interested about exploring the haat and so entered the village market. There was no conventional stall; all the sellers were sitting on the ground spreading a sheet of cloth or a mat and placed their commodities on that. All the items, I found. were exclusively hand-crafted and so unique that I couldn’t keep myself from buying some of them like hand-woven (Kantha Stitched) saree, stone jewelries and dokra showpieces and artworks. In my view, each of them was fine artisans; they may or may not have conventional degree in fine arts but their level of expertise is simply unbelievable.
After shopping I returned back to resort and had my lunch. Lunch at Ram Shyam was simply sumptuous. Mooger dal (moong), alu posto, alu potol chingri, shorshe ilish (Hilsa cooked with mustard), mutton curry, chatni – everything was mouth-watering. I could indulge my taste buds so well after a long time.
After taking a nap, I called up that auto-driver who brought me from the station and asked him to let me have a quick tour of the surroundings. It is pertinent to mention that I cautiously avoided the crowd of Shantiniketan where every tourist has a visit to. He understood what I meant and wanted and thus he took me to the bank of the river Kopai. I sat by the tranquil Kopai – there was no tourist but only one lonely baul sitting under a tree and crooning a touching baul song (mystic and syncretic religious musical form of Bengal) – a song on life, love, God and of course death. The song might not of be high quality but the tunes of Ektara (singled stringed musical instrument), tenor and tempo took to me another mesmerizing world – actually the place and its quietness did the magic.
While the side I was sitting was being floated with the paranormal harmony, I suddenly saw the other side was experiencing the ultimate truth of life – death – there was a crematorium on the other side. While I was enjoying every drop of the tuneful lonely music others sitting on the other side of the river were mourning for losing their dear one forever. The ambience suddenly became heavy that I left the place and asked the driver to take me back to the resort.
It was dusk when I returned back. By that time the Haat was over and the crowd was not there any longer. I preferred sitting in the balcony for a while with some snacks. When people stay alone they often recall memories – old and bad and I did no different. But the nearby calm forest, chirping of the crickets, the rural feel and everything out there were so enchanting that I just forgot the rest of the world – busy work schedules, thousands of challenges of my day-to-day life and everything that I didn’t want to keep in mind – at least at that moment.
The bearer who served me evening snacks informed me that they have arranged a Santhal dance at night. I became keen to watch that as I never got the opportunity to watch a live Santhal dance show. The group reached on time and started their show. They start dancing in the rhythm ‘didim didim’ of their Madal (a rhythim-keeping drum). The rhythmic Santhal dance under the vast sky and in such a romantic and calm ambience was breathtaking.
I woke up early next morning though I am not an early riser by nature. But somehow, (the essence of the place may be the reason) I woke up early and had a walk amidst the Sonajhuri forest. The morning breeze, rusty way, tall trees, intermittent tweeting of the birds, pleasant weather, occasional meeting with the rural folks – it was simply out of this world – I never had such an experience in my life.
I went to a nearby village namely Palasbani before I got back to the resort. A few small home-based industrial units of wooden (Sonajhuri wood), bone china products and Dokra showpieces and jewelries were there.
I couldn’t stay in Khoai for a more; my reservation was already done for that very day.
Though I stayed in Khoai for only a night, the memories created there will be remembered, nourished and cherished for rest of my life.