Monchasha – quintessential Bengali abode of peace
A visit to Monchasha always tops my travel plan, whenever I can squeeze out a couple of days from the grind. I have been to Monchasha during every major season - winter, summer and this year it was sometime in monsoon. Monchasha is not a resort. There is nothing artificial about it. Monchasha is nature in full bloom.
Born and brought up in an urbane Kolkata, Monchasha brings out the traces of ‘greens’ still left in me. Set deep in a village of East Midnapur, Paushi is like any other nondescript Bengal village by the lazing river, locally named Bagda.The Monchasha concept had germinated in 2012 as an experiment to sustain, without any important tourist sites around and also provide opportunities for local residents. The place was built using locals and is a job generator for many villagers.
Monchasha is simple reality laid out for you to explore and fall in love with. The name, ‘mon’ meaning ‘heart’ and ‘chasha’ meaning ‘farmer’ in Bengali, literally speaks of the affiliation we feel with Mother Nature, given an opportunity. In case of my now-8-year-old son it is ‘becoming one with nature.’ Accommodation here is very basic. There are four thatched, very spacious huts for a comfortable stay. It is propped on wooden stilts overlooking the river. You can begin your morning, filling your lungs with the fresh air, as you stand bare feet on the bamboo cane veranda watching small fishing boats sail by. The caressing wind may send you off to another sweet slumber and nobody will hurry you to get ready for some site-seeing. This, surely, corporate workers like me, the 9-hours-extended-to-12-hours-duty kind of people will appreciate.
The more active ones, like my son, have so much to explore, so much of freedom. A walk by the ‘aal’ the mud barriers around paddy fields, chasing hens out of their enclosure, following ducks, feeding cows, swinging on rubber-tyres hanging from trees, learning names of plants around, seeing ‘real’ vegetables dangling from branches, watching the old local fisherman cast a huge net and pull up a variety of fishes, touching the fishes and feeling saintly when releasing them into the pond again, crushing food grains with the ‘dhekhi’ (grinder), or even pulling a cart around the earthen paths. There are so much more you can do, even before you are called for a sumptuous breakfast. I choose to come out of my lazy stupor and drag myself to the eating area and position myself on one of the hammocks hanging between the posts, surrounding the elevated space, only to watch the day go by and my son happily running after butterflies.
This year we were there on a Dashami morning. First time in 40 years I have been pulled out of Kolkata during Durga Puja, just to be in Monchasha. We had a very quiet Durga Ma baron and sindoor khela among ourselves at the adjacent ashram. It remained a no fanfare, no showoff, no face(book) kind of event, to be remembered with fondness later. The ashram -- Antyodoy Anath Ashram -- houses around 120 children and some abandoned, aged and physically handicapped inmates. Earlier in 2015, when we had visited Monchasha during Sharawati Puja, we were so impressed by the spontaneous affection of the children there. They came to invite us to their new ashram, showed us around and served bhog.
The canopy of green and blue, the feel of silken mud beneath, the stay at a non-AC thatched cottage is educational. You have to let go of all your city luxuries to soak in this freshness. The younger ones can do this much better than us. This time, my little one spent his day collecting clay from the banks of the pond to the potter’s wheel. Though nothing took shape, he came out mud soaked, unrecognizable and an immensely happy creature.
Winter is a good time to visit Monchasha. The place blooms with a variety of flowers and the wintry mornings are for a walk around the village and savouring on khejurer rosh collected from the neighbours. During summer a boat ride on the Bagda river on a moon lit night is a treat.
A quintessential Bengali, especially the lazier species like me, is happy with the setup. Frequent tea, lot of adda, no running around, what else would you want to rejuvenate. There is everything for all kinds of people. The musical lot can spend time with the dhol, the khamok, the ektara or summon the local musicians for some kirtan. The sporty type can swim in the ponds or play carom. The artistic kind can paint a canvas or call the potter from the village and try their hands on the potter’s wheel. You can also cast the fishing line on any of the twin ponds and spend hours looking at the reflection of the sky and the trees and may be, pen down a poem or two.
When you call yourself the quintessential Bengali you must be passionate about food. That insatiable love for food finds solace here. The hosts, Nilanjan-Debjani, understands it only too well. Bengalis have always been known for being great hosts. I have heard from my grandmother how all the time, throughout the year, there would be visitors – family, friends, friends of relatives, relatives of friends dropping in and no one ever left without a full hearty meal. Now at this age and time we are too busy to indulge ourselves thus, but come to Monchasha and you will be pampered to no end. It is not less than a seven-course culinary delight served in kansha r thala, enhanced with gondhoraj lebu and gaoa ghee peaking to chatni and sweets. You will simply polish the plates off without a word. Oh, did I forget, the breakfast was just as majestic with Bengali favourites like luchi, alur dom and rosogolla. A true Bengali knows that good food and adda goes hand in hand. So, the evening brings along muri chanachur served in a dhama (weaved bamboo strings) and tele bhajha along with tea, absolutely indispensable for the evening. A new addition to this green laden abode is a mancha all set with roak (place to sit for longish chats), and star gazing till you are ready for – yes – the dinner. This watch tower is also a good place for bird watching.
Well, we all know that everything comes with a price tag, but what I take back from Monchasha is priceless!