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Rebel hideout to revel getaway, Saranda’s come a long way

- Tourism makes a gradual yet definite comeback after a strife-torn decade in Asia’s largest Sal abode

Ranchi, April 20: West Singhbhum’s Saranda, which has Asia’s largest Sal forest and is touted as the “land of 700 hills”, is gradually getting back its lustre of being one of Jharkhand’s most sought-after holiday spots.

The slowly fading threat of Naxalite insurgency — seen in the big voter turnout this year — is paving the way for tourism to flourish in a land blessed with nature’s bounty — flora, fauna, hills and rivers.

But its very biodiversity seemed to help Saranda become a Naxalite hideout during the early 2000s. Living under the shadow of rebel guns, the charms of Saranda were lost to the outside world.

Two years after 2011 Operation Monsoon where Maoists were flushed out, things started changing in 2013. Local residents maintain adventure junkies and nature enthusiasts are turning towards Saranda’s forgotten roads once again.

Right now, this erstwhile Naxalite hub doesn’t have any high-end tourist facility.

But the lone resort in Manoharpur block is recording a good footfall, primarily from Bengal and Jharkhand, especially on weekends.

Nestling amid manicured gardens near Manoharpur block office, Santoor Resort is currently the only pit stop for visitors on short packaged holidays.

According to Sanatan Prasad, the middle-aged caretaker of the property popularly known as Ganguly Babu Villa, the 15-bedded accommodation had been buzzing with tourists this March.

“Four big groups from Bengal, comprising 41 persons in all, visited the place last month. Their stay varied from three to five days. Even this month, we got a few tourists. But as summer heat is getting intense, footfall is going down,” he said.

Prasad added the period between September and March was ideal to visit Saranda.

“In summer, load-shedding is a major problem, so we discourage tourists. Also, the heat is unbearable in Saranda, which is situated at an elevation. On the other hand, winter is extremely pleasant here. In the cooler season, the electricity problem is limited. We manage the shortfall through gensets,” he added.

Still, if anyone wishes to experience summer mornings or nights in the forest, the resort may take bookings on special requests.

In 1960s, then chief medical officer of Chiria and Gua late Dr B.N. Ganguly had built the property for his residential purposes. After Jharkhand was formed in 2000, Ganguly’s son late Abhijeet Ganguly came up with an idea to promote tourism in this region and developed it into a farm house-cum-resort.

“Tourists from Bengal and Odisha were the main visitors initially. We were perhaps one of the first in the state to come up with an idea of packaged tourism. But soon, as the situation (read Naxalism) worsened, tourism obviously took a beating,” he recalled.

Places like Thalkobad and Manoharpur also had vast forest bungalows. Today, they stand either destroyed by bombs or abandoned due to insurgency, he added.

But, things are looking up.

Giving details about offerings in Saranda for tourists, Prasad said Shankaracharya Ashram, 25km from Manoharpur in Samej area, was the biggest crowd-puller.

“The confluence of Koyal and Karo rivers is also a popular destination. This apart, Jhingri falls in Bolani mines, Kudrung falls near Kiriburi sunset and sunrise point are major attractions. It also offers scope for trekking and rock climbing. Roam village, on the bank of Karo, again some 10-15km from here, has some ancient stone carvings,” he said.

“We recently took a group to these places,” he added.

And how expensive are the packages? “It varies between Rs 400 and 1,500 per day per bed. In the 1,500 slot, we offer tea, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks,” Prasad said.