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Next weekend you can be at... Mukutmanipur

This small hamlet in Bankura could be the perfect healing place for your weary soul. A giant lake with deep blue water, an open-air temple and a small forest with rare birds make it an ideal destination to satisfy a weekend wanderlust.

Mukutmanipur is situated on the confluence of the rivers Kumari and Kangshabati at the Bengal-Bihar border. It's a little-known fact that Asia's biggest earthen dam is in Mukutmanipur, constructed in the early 1970s. The tourist destination grew around the dam.

The 86-sq-m lake provides an irresistible temptation to take a boat ride. One side of the lake is rocky and draws the border between Bengal and Bihar, while the other is dotted with green patches, part of the Bangopalpur reserve forest.

The 11-km-long and 38-m-high dam has a solid concrete road with wide pavements. A stroll along it helps to relax and also allows you to enjoy the beauty of the lake and the small rocky hills dotting the landscape. Sunrise and sunset are particularly magical moments.

If the sunrise over the lake is like a volcano in action, then the sunset is fireworks on a dark Diwali night. A moonlit night is no less beautiful by the lakeside. However, you have to obtain permission from the irrigation department office to get atop the dam. Taking pictures of the lake, temple and hills is allowed, but not of the lockgates.

The open-air temple is also located on the dam. The rocky surface on which it stands is known as Parshwanath Tila. There's a shiva linga, a statue of the Jain god Parshwanath Swami and a statue of a bull at the location, which were excavated during the construction of the dam. Two stone statues of Vishnu were also found at the same site time and are exhibited on the Tila. The place is considered sacred for both Hindus and Jains.

Four km away from the dam is Ambikanagar, an important place for Jains. The old name of Ambikanagar was Amainagar and the place was ruled by a king named Anatadhabole. The place grew as a cultural centre for Jains. A devastating flood in 1898 reduced this town to a deserted hamlet.

The old temple of Devi Ambika was destroyed long ago and was later rebuilt. The image of Ganesha and Ma Shashti are placed as sentinels in front of the temple. The idol of the temple's deity was brought from Jayrambati. The image is a little frightening at first darshan, with the black face of the devi sporting several eyes and covered with red sindoor. The goddess is worshipped by both Hindus and Jains.

For the sight and sound of deer, visit the Bangopalpur reserve forest. Besides a glimpse of the fleet-footed animals or the sound of their running feet on dry leaves, rare birds can also be sighted at the deer park, only 1.5 km from lake, and is an deal spot for bird-watchers.

Jhilimili, a peaceful spot near Mukutmanipur, could be another stopover spot. If you are an admirer of the folk dances and handicrafts of Bengal, there are two important dates for the visit to Mukutmanipur. The local administration organises a tourism fair on January 1 while on January 14, a baul mela is held. Needless to say, solitude takes a backseat during that period.

Going:

Mukutmanipur is 382 km from Calcutta. Take an express train like the Rupashi Bangla or Purulia Express from Howrah station at 6 am, which reaches Bankura at 10.30 am. It is also well-connected by road. A bus ride from Esplanade takes seven hours. Hire a shared car for Rs 300 to 350 for the hour-long drive to Mukutmanipur from Bankura station. You can also go from Bishnupur, 82 km from Mukutmanipur. Try catching the late afternoon Rupashi Bangla from Bankura on the way back

Staying:

The Peerless Resort is a good place to stay, but it is now closed and will reopen in August. There are a few budget hotels available. Try Sonajhuri Prakriti Bhraman Kendra, the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation resort (call 22370060/1 for advance booking).

Boat rates vary from Rs 50 to Rs 150 per hour. The reserve forest has an entry fee

(Metro on Sunday thanks reader Somen Sengupta for this contribution. Pictures by author)

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