Saturday, January 26, 2019

McCluskiegunj in May

I have been meaning to tell you about McCluskiegunj, a small town about 40 kms from Ranchi. This small, hilly town has figured in several stories in the Bengali language and several writers maintained their retreats here. I did not know the story about the origin of the town however, which I found out only after going there. 

It appears that a certain Anglo Indian gentleman, Ernest T McCluskie obtained lease of ten thousand acres from the local Raja of Ratu in the early thirties of the last century and invited fellow Anglo Indians to settle here. At that time, Anglo Indians, though somewhat looked down upon by the conservative Indian society being of mixed parentage, occupied most of the important positions in the Railways, mines, post offices etc and much after independence, India has also had an Air Force chief from the community. Anyway, the Colonisation Society of India founded by Mr McCluskie was not eminently successful and only about 200 families came in. Over the years, almost all of them drifted away for the town did not have any independent economy or industry. Only a handful have remained and the bungalows fell into disrepair. Some were bought by wealthy Indians and some were commandeered by the Maoist guerillas. It is only very recently that a few residential schools have come up and some of the bungalows have been put to use as hostels for the students. And yes, some of the same Maoist guerillas also have their children studying in these schools.

The road to McCluskiegunj was being repaired and it was quite an ordeal getting our car to navigate the broken road. Soon however, we were surrounded by forests and McCluskiegunj appeared suddenly, down a slope. We came down to the railway station and over cups of tea, came to know about the place. This is the fountain erected in memory of Mr McCluskie, lying forlorn in a corner

Sights of the bungalows, of which there are a lot of stories ...

The railway station and the church, which opens only on Sundays

A Swedish organisation keeps a big farm with various welfare activities but no one seemed around when we went there, except some local boys intent on bringing down unripe mangoes

More of the once splendid bungalows

Plenty of stories associated with each of these houses and we particularly loved this one -

This is one of the bungalows that have been converted into students' hostels

About the only decent hotel that we could find, run by an Anglo Indian family

After a simple Indian meal of rice, dal, vegetable curry and omelette, it was time to go back to Ranchi because of the bad roads but not before tarrying awhile on the banks of the local river Dugadugi which had almost dried up since it was the peak of summer

Mrs B and Miss B liked it here, sitting in the shade with legs dangling over the bank and chattering away happily

On the way back, we came upon a place where someone had thought of building a temple, a mosque, a church and a gurdwara side by side but only the temple and the mosque had been built

This is where the church is yet to come up, and as for the gurdwara, obviously the funds ran out

What a strange, unique place!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A visit to Parasnath

The Parasnath hill is the highest in the Parasnath range in Jharkhand and it is known for the Parasnath temple on top of it. Many of us would know that the hill is extremely sacred to the followers of Jainism, for as many as twenty of the twenty four Jain Tirthankaras are said to have attained liberation here, of whom Parasnath was the twenty third. The last of them, Vardhman Mahavir was a contemporary of the Buddha (5th century BC) and is generally known as the founder of  Jainism. This will give you a general idea of the antiquity of the place. Fortunately, the Parasnath range and forest has to a large extent been protected so far. 

            Now that the office has decided to shift me to Delhi, I decided to visit the Parasnath hill and temple one day before starting to gag on the noxious Delhi air and I would have really missed it, as I found out. From afar, the sheer height of the Parasnath hill was quite intimidating (4484 feet) and I started to wonder as to how I could make it to the top and back, since I also had some official duties in the nearby town of Giridih. 

Even from about 20 kms away, the temple at the top is distinctly visible. The road to Shikharji, or Sammed Shikhar, as the hill is known among the devout, starts from a fork in the road to Giridih and it is 14 kms of winding roads from here.

The road ends at Madhuvan, a village largely consisting of Jain monasteries, temples, guest houses and the like. As you can see, the trek to the top is 9.65 kms from here, of which the last 4 kms are nothing but stairs. It takes at least four hours for the able bodied to tackle the hill and the path is strewn with numerous temples and streams. Many are carried by dolis, a chair like contraption carried by four people, or mules. I simply did not have enough time, for it was almost 11 a.m, four hours from Ranchi.

Precisely at that moment, some of these youngsters on motorcycles rode up, offering to carry one to the top. Not quite the top of the hill, the last 500 metres had to be done on foot. After some haggling, I settled for Rs 500/- and mounted the pillion while the fellow in the chequed shirt started the bike.

Almost immediately, I had to hold my breath for the fellow vroomed straight up the ramp and the narrow, winding path meant for walking. Soon, however, he veered off to a dirt track which, I was told, is 16 kms and takes a different approach.

The dirt track had some precarious bends and turns and since the earth beneath the tyres was loose and strewn with pebbles, one could hardly enjoy the climb. As we started ascending, the temperature started to drop noticeably

Soon, we came to a small mountain stream. One could take the opportunity to wash hands and feet, as one should, for the place is considered holy to so many people

The view became spectacular from now on but the temple was still some way away. 

Before long, my rider Hiralal dropped me to a place called Dak bungalow which has got an armed police camp and telecom tower. One has to walk up about 500 metres or so, arriving at a little cluster of fruit stalls and the stairway to the temple 

Having finally come to the top of the hill around noon, decided to look around at the world below and the view was unreal, not to mention the shivering cold for those less accustomed to the mountain air 

These are actually pictures with zoom and edited for clarity. To the naked eye, in the sudden chill, one truly felt rather unworldly, as if suspended between the earth and the heavens. 2600 years ago, it must have been an awesome place for the monks, immersed in their meditation

After one circumambulation, I entered the temple and found people chanting from booklets in front of them. The sanctum contained nothing but the footprints of the seer and one could offer a few sticks of incense and light a lamp 

The first surprise was that I was allowed to take pictures. The second surprise was that there was an inner sanctum below, which enclosed the piece of rock where the seer is supposed to have sat and meditated. 

Just stop to think for a moment. This place is no less holy than the Western Wall in Jerusalem or the contentious birthplace of Rama but there are no guns, no protection regime and no priestly class in evidence. 

I could only tarry a moment, touch the piece of rock and offer silent prayers for peace.  

Friday, August 3, 2018