A few hundred kilometres and a mere three-hour journey from the humdrum of Calcutta is a serene spot called Garh Salboni. As the train travels towards Jhargram, the soothing greenery on either side gives way to red rocky soil.
There are quite a few guesthouses, resorts and lodges here, about 10-15 minutes from the station. If you book in advance, the pick-up jeep will be at the station to welcome you.
After a rejuvenating cup of tea at your chosen resting place, go for a walk through avenues lined with sal, piyal, segun and eucalyptus trees, to Jangal Mahal.
The place bears no resemblance to its name. It's a beautiful garden with rose, dahlia and bougainvillaea in a riot of colours, and a wide variety of trees ' neem, mango, guava, sal, segun, cashew' You can't help but admire the passion and painstaking effort of the person behind this lovely garden.
Tranquillity and serenity are the keys to the forest experience here. The fragrance of the mohua may intoxicate you more than a peg of an alcoholic beverage. Silence reigns, but as you tread the path, the murmur of dry leaves under your feet will announce the arrival of visitors.
There are some textile workshops here. In fact, they will print designs chosen by you on bedsheets and pillow covers. The quality of the material is good, the colour lasts long. What else could you ask for'
Wandering around Garh Salboni in the evening is not safe since elephants from the nearby Dalma mountains sometimes venture down for a stroll. You could just sit back and relax under the starry sky and listen to music of the forest. The eerie silence and the calmness act as a balm on frayed city nerves.
A sightseeing trip the following day is a good idea. First on the list should be a visit to the Kanakdurga temple in Chilkigarh, situated on the banks of the Dulung river. The waterbody looks like a nullah during summers, but blossoms and takes shape in the rainy season.
At the temple, Durga is three-eyed, four-handed and on horseback. There's a myth surrounding the temple, originally founded by Raja Ballabh Dev about 600 years ago.
When he was killed by one of his subordinates, his wife cursed the goddess saying she would never get her offerings and that the temple would be destroyed by thunder and lightning. The new structure is in the same courtyard as the ruins of the old one.
The Jhargram palace has been converted into a government tourist lodge. Staying here takes you back in time, but without the grandeur of the past. If time permits, visit the Savitri and Manasadevi temples. Children will enjoy the deer park that also houses monkeys, bears, star tortoises, wolves and peacocks, besides playthings like see-saw, slide and swing.
We also dropped in at a neighbouring village, Jitusole. Most houses are made of mud with roofs of hay, but the villagers are very friendly. Don't be surprised by an invitation to have muri, roasted on clay ovens.
A weekend trip to Garh Salboni is enough to recharge your batteries. Silence and serenity, words we city slickers find only in the dictionary, are life itself here.
From Howrah, take Ispat Express in the morning or Tata Steel Express in the evening. Get off at Jhargram station and hire a car to Garh Salboni
Joydip Guest House (953221-262377). Calcutta contact: Ashok Kumar Mazumdar (25295640). Room rates vary from Rs 88 to Rs 440 per night. Food, including breakfast and snacks, available at the guest house dining hall