A lush green landscape, hills covered with dense forest in the backdrop, ruins of nearly a millennia old and almost forgotten kingdom…. Well… this is just the perfect mix of cocktail what travel addicts like me actually needs (especially the ones who are fascinated with places of historical significance).
Although, one might find multiple places with similar distinctiveness in other parts of India, but in the state of West Bengal, places with such uniqueness is extremely rare. Located at the foothills of Panchet hill in the district of Purulia, West Bengal, lies the ruins of Garpanchkot. This place used to be the kingdom of the Singh Deo dynasty, but at present only the remains of a few temples stand as silent spectators of the rise and fall of what used to be a mighty empire. So, if you are looking to spend a weekend away from the hectic city life in a place having blend of history & nature, then Garpanchkot should definitely be your next destination!!
So What Is The Story Of Garpanchkot?
The story of Garpanchkot is in fact a mix of history and local legends. The Panchkot Royal Dynasty or the Panchkot Raj was established by Damodar Shekhar probably around 90 A.D. with the help of Sardars (Chieftains) of Jhalda. Later Damodar Shekhar expanded his kingdom over several other parganas. The kingdom perhaps assumed the name Panchkot as recognition of the part played by the main five clans (Panch) in building the empire.
The capital of Panchkot Raj was shifted to Garpanchkot much later at around 940 A.D. The Panchkot Royal family abandoned their capital around 1750 A.D due to constant attacks by Maratha invaders, locally known as the Barghis. It is assumed that the Barghis entered Bengal through Panchkot or Panchet and started ransacking village after village. Eventually, these attacks lead to destruction of Garpanchkot and also forced the royal family to abandon their capital and move to Kashipur (presently at Jharkhand).
What Can You Discover In And Around Garpanchkot?
Well, the main attraction of Garpanchkot is obviously the ruins of the Garh (Fort) as it stands today. I visited the place in 2015. By then Garpanchkot was not a very popular tourist destination. As of now, Garpanchkot is quite popular amongst those travel freaks who likes to discover off-route places.
At present almost all of Garpanchkot (or whatever of it is left) is in ruins. Once you visit this place you will have a genuine feeling that these ruins have so many hidden stories beneath them but all lost in course of time.
You will find some temples built in terracotta style (Jor-Bangla style). The most important of these temples is the Pancharatna Temple (Temple with 5 Pinnacle). The temple has some of the most delicate terracotta work in its arches and pillars. When I visited the place, I found that most of these exquisite works were either badly damaged or destroyed due to lack of preservation. As of now, the Pancharatna Temple and some other temples have been preserved and renovation work has been done.
Some of the temple like structures was used as Watch Towers to keep an eye on the enemy. There are also the ruins of a 'Singha-Dwar' ( main entrance gate). The main palace was about 7 km away from the 'Singha-Dwar' above the Panchet hill. I could not make it up to the remains of the main fort as the path is covered by dense forest and is almost inaccessible.
What Else To See Around Garpanchkot?
Once you are done enjoying the serene landscape of the Panchet Hill and visiting the Panchkot ruins, you can discover a few more places nearby. So let me just provide a list of few more places to visit nearby.
1. Telkupi – According to the Historical records and local legends, Telkupi was the capital of a kingdom that dates back as old as the 11th century A.D. During construction of the Panchet Dam over Damodar River, ruins of an ancient village were discovered. It was later identified as Telkupi (formerly known as Tailakampi), the Capital of Rudrashikhara, a local ruler who ruled during the 11th century. The ruins of the actual village has submerged under water but remains of about five temples can be still seen, rising above water, signifying their ancient glory. The work of architecture of whatever is left of the temples is simply stunning.
2. Panchet Dam - Panchet Dam is one of the major dams build on the river Damodar as part of the Damodar Valley Project (DVC). Built in the year 1959, this huge dam actually falls on route while you are travelling from Kumardubi towards Garpanchkot. From top of the dam you can find a spectacular view of Damodar. There are a few picnic spots near the dam, usually crowded during the year end.
3. Maithon Dam – Another place you can visit nearby is the Maithon Dam. This place is approximately 24 Kms away from Garpanchkot. Built on river Damodar this is also one of the major dams of the DVC project. You enjoy the spectacular view of the lake while paddle boating. You can also visit the Kalyaneshwari Temple nearby and offer prayers to the goddess.
4. Baranti – Baranti is a small village located only about 12 Kms from Garpanchkot. At present the Govt. of West Bengal is promoting this place as an eco tourism destination. You can enjoy a beautiful sunset on the Baranti Lake. In fact you can also opt to spend a night at Baranti. Several accommodation options are available at Baranti.
5. Joychandi Pahar – Joychandi Pahar (hill) is located about 20 Kms from Garpanchkot. It is one of the major tourist attractions nearby. You have to climb about 450 steps to get on top of the hill. On the top you will find the Chandi Mata temple. The panoramic view of the surroundings from the top is truly spectacular. There are two barren hills beside Joychandi Pahar where you can find people practicing rock climbing. Another major attraction of this place is the ruins of a Semaphore Tower, probably built during East India Company rule around 1818 to 1830 A.D. These Semaphore Towers were used as a medium of sending information even before the invention of Telegraph.
How To Reach Garpanchkot?
Garpanchkot is located about 256 Kms away from Kolkata and the best way to commute is by train. If you take the Howrah-Asansol train route you need to get down at Kumardubi, the nearest station to Garpanchkot. This comes station is just before a major junction Dhandbad. You can click here for more information about train timings etc.
Once you get down at Kumardubi you can hire auto rickshaw or a car to reach Garpanchkot which is about 20 Kms away. The fare is negotiable and costs around Rs.500 to 600.
Those who prefer long drive, either on a four wheeler or a bike, can also try this option. The road from Kumardubi to Garpanchkot is dotted with picturesque landscape which makes the tour a ride to remember.
Where To Stay?
When I visited in 2015 the options for accommodation were relatively fewer. As of now, there are number of hotels available for staying. Below are names of few hotels which are worth mentioning:
Palash Bithi Lodge / Eco Resort (Contact: +91 8001702087)
Train Fare may vary depending on the class you choose to travel and the actual fare at the time of your travel.
Cost of car / auto rickshaw from Kumardubi to Garpanchkot is negotiable and is usually around Rs.500-600.
Accommodation cost in Garpanchkot varies depending on the type of hotel you choose. The rates are usually on the higher side during peak seasons.
Sightseeing can be arranged from the hotel you stay. It can cost you around Rs.3500-4000 (negotiable).
Usually simple Bengali meals are served in the hotels. The charges are not too high.
Best Time To Visit
I recommend visiting Garpanchkot during the winter season as the weather is pleasant and you can enjoy sightseeing without much hassle.
So if you are a nature lover…. a history buff…. an off-route traveler, then visit Garpanchkot. You will definitely take back some amazing memories of the place with you.