| Revellers enjoy at Bhimbandh Wildlife Sanctuary in Munger on Sunday. Picture by Amit Kumar |
Picnickers are back to the famous hot spring in Bhimbandh Wildlife Sanctuary, and without fear, after almost a decade.
For Ranjan Kumar, a businessman of Jamui, this Saturday was a perfect winter weekend as he enjoyed a day out with his friends and families amid the serene Bhimbandh forest. “Earlier, we used to visit this place every winter to take a bath in the hot spring but after the January 2005 incident in which Maoists triggered landmine blasts to kill K.C. Surendar Babu, who was Munger superintendent of police then, and his six bodyguards, anyone hardly dared even to enter the Bhimbandh forests,” he added.
Ranjan had a group of 27 who took bath in the natural hot water inside the dense forest of Bhimbandh, around 200km from Patna and 56km south of Munger.
The rebels also destroyed cafeteria and guesthouse, built by the state tourism department, in 2006-07 and unlashed a reign of terror in the entire forest, which is easily accessible Jamui with a 20km drive.
Braj Mohon Prasad, a friend of Ranjan, said he had resumed visiting the forest since 2012. “Only after the Maoists had announced to open the areas for tourists between January 1 and 14 from 2012, people like us could muster enough courage to enter the forest. But thanks to the police and the CRPF, which drove back the rebels, many like us now can move freely to enjoy the greenery of the wildlife sanctuary,” he added.
Sandeep Singh, company commandant, 131 Battalion, CRPF, said tourists, including from Jharkhand, in huge groups have started to visit Bhimbandh this season. “The presence of CRPF at Bhimbandh will ensure peace as the rebels could never return here. We have witnessed maximum crowd on December 25 and January 1,” he claimed.
According to Singh, two companies of the CRPF 131 Battalion have been deployed at Bhimbandh since June 2013. “Because of continuous intelligence-based operations, the forces have managed to drive back the Maoists from hilly and forest covers at Bhimbandh. The CRPF has taken control over the whole area, which once was the safe bastion of the outfit,” he added.
Jitendar Kumar, inspector-general of police, Bhagalpur zone, said the impregnable Bhimbandh area with the dense forest cover amid hilly terrains leading through Jharkhand had been a favourite haunt of the Maoists since mid-’90s. “The land link between Jamui and Munger apart from Banka and neighbouring Jharkhand via Bhimbandh forests and the Kharaghpur hill ranges were important route for the rebel movements. Whenever we wanted to initiate operations, we had to start it from outside the forest but without success on many occasions,” he said.
Besides the hot spring inside the wildlife sanctuary, two other natural sources of warm water — Rishi Kund and Sita Kund — are also popular among picnickers in the area.
IG Kumar said after the set-up of CRPF camp inside the sanctuary, the force’s area-domination exercises have made it more difficult for the rebels to operate. The camp at Bhimbandh had slowly choked the Maoists’ escape routes and supply lines in the area. Their grip over villages in the area was weakening also, the IG claimed.