A much awaited long weekend was fast approaching last winter and we two friends suddenly decided to venture into some offbeat getaway in West bengal. As decided , after finishing our respective office works on Saturday , we boarded the Black Diamond Express from Howrah Station around 5 pm in the evening. As we hadn’t reserved our seats, we experienced the general bogey ambience.
It was a mere 2 hour journey and we enjoyed the door side self made seats in the train. We got down at Mankar Station around 7:30 pm and the station was desolate and pitch dark all around. We booked a van and started for our destination Aranya Sundari Resort of Bhalkimachan.
Bhalkimachan is an ideal weekend gateway from Kolkata located in Ausgram Panchayat of Birbhum District in West Bengal. Earlier the place used to be known as Bhalki after the adjacent village. It used to be covered with dense forest and was infested with several wild animals including bear.
The Zamindars and the royal family members of Burdwan used this place as a hunting spot and constructed several Machans for their convenience. Thus Bhalki and Machan combined to give the place its current name Bhalki Machan. The etymology can be broken down into Bhalu ki Machan. Bhalu means bear. Machan means an elevated resting place for the hunters to hunt down wild animals. Thus aptly the place came to be known as Bhalkimachan.
Resort: Aranya Sundari
The local panchayat committee maintains a beautiful resort called Aranya Sundari Resort for the convenience of the tourists. Currently the ownership of the resort has been transferred to private hands.It is surrounded by Gazebos, playing parks and other amenities. There is a huge water body adjacent to the resort. The entire bank of the water body is beautifully decorated with walkways, parks, seasonal flowers, resting shades and view points. Boating facility is also available in the lake. A statue of a bear stands in front of the tourist complex signifying it to be the land of the bears.
The walkway along the water body will lead you to dense forest adjacent to Birbhum and Jharkhand. Although one can hardly find any bear these days , but the forest area is full of other wild animals and the most dangerous among them are the herd of wild elephants that often come from the adjacent Dalma elephant corridor and create havoc in the place.
In the other direction of the resort, there is a designated place for the picnic parties but is strictly prohibited after the evening hours. In the same direction just on the opposite side of the highway, stands the most significant landmark of the region. It is one of the lone surviving Machans or the hunting sheds of the erstwhile kings and Zamindars. It is locally called Chaukhamba Machan which roughly translates to elevated hunting shed resting on four pillars.
It is basically a ruined tall brick structure with four tall pillars. On the ground level , centrally located there is a deep water hole which is currently covered with iron structures. Most probably the wild animals used to come there to drink water and the hunter used to shot it down with bows , arrows and rifles sitting on top of the Machan. According to popular local legend , it is a tunnel which opens into the palace of the Burdwan kings which is around 25 kms from the area.
Aatchala Terracotta Temples
If one strolls a few kilometers along the red clay roads to the adjacent village, one can experience beautiful rural landscape of Bengal with its prominent mud houses. There are ruins of some aatchala styled terracotta temples which once adorned rich terracotta decorations clearly visible from its ruins.
Adjacent to Bhalkimachan , there are a few places of interest like Jamunadighi – a beautiful retreat along several water bodies maintained by the state fisheries development corporation, Dariapur – a village of Dokra artisans which is gradually growing into a popular place for Handicraft tourism and the forest retreat cottage of Orgram near to Gushkara.
How to go?
One can take a train from Howrah station and drop down at Gushkara or Mankar. Local modes of transports are available from the railway station to Bhalkimachan.
If one comes by car , one can take the Panagarh highway after reaching Durgapur to reach Bhalkimachan
The accommodation facility at Bhalkimachan is the Aranya Sundari Resort maintained by the Panchayat authority.
Other nearby accommodation facilities are Amrapali tourist complex at Jamunadighi, Amontron tourist lodge at Abhirampur, Orgram forest cottage and the home stay facilities in the houses of the local artisans of Dariapur