“Why are you staring at the sky? There’s nothing there.”, one of my friend asked, as he had caught me stargazing.
“Stars, see“, I told and pointed towards the sky.
“Yeah, so? Those are always there, what’s so amazing about it?“, my friend still bemused.
“I don’t remember the last time I saw a starry night.” I told my eyes still transfixed at the stars.
So, when was the last time you saw a star filled sky?
I bet it must be ages ago. Truth be told, our city skies are bereft with so much smog and ambient light that stars have all but vanished from our sights. It’s only when you are at a place far away from cities, that you would be able to see them.
Table of Contents:
1. How to Reach & Budget
2. The Plan
3. An evening drive
4. Dark, Empty Roads
5. First Impressions
6. An unintended digital detox
7. The Fire.
8. The Details
9. The food
10. Taptapani Hot Water Spring
11. A photo tour of our trip
12. In conclusion.
How to reach and budget:
Taptapani Panthanivas also known as OTDC Taptapani, is located 216 km away from Bhubaneswar and 55 km away from Behrampur. One can reach the guesthouse either by a rented or self drive car. Public transport is scarce in the area, but there are a few busses plying from Behrampur to Chandragiri, which makes a stop at the guest house.
An AC suite costs Rs. 3500 per night, the non AC family room (4 beds) costs Rs. 1500. Wooden cottages range from Rs. 2000 to Rs 3000. Food costs around Rs. 200 per person per meal. Bookings can be done over phone (Akash: 9831173924).
It was my very first outing, since the covid 19 pandemic hit India, and what better way to do it than do it with my best friends. We ganged up and decided to undertake a weekend road trip from Bhubaneswar, our home town to Behrampur which is around 170KM. The plan was to explore touristy and offbeat places in and around the city, over the period of a weekend. The locations on the list were:
What the list didn’t include was a night at Taptapani Panthanivas. After all who puts the name of a guest house in a bucket list? Back then I didn’t know that the stay would be so memorable that I would be dedicating a post to it.
An evening drive:
Starting from Bhubaneswar, we had planned to reach Behrampur in 4 hours, that included time for a couple of chai breaks (how is it a road trip without tea?). That plan however went for a toss, as we found ourselves encircled in heavy traffic and constant road diversions owing to construction activities.
It was already dark when we reached Behrampur and our destination was still 50 KM away at Taptapani. We hopped off the car for a quick snack of heavy mix fruit shake, filled with dry fruits, and jumped right back in. Delaying any more would be foolish, as a February night may cause foggy roads, making driving a nightmare.
Dark, Empty Roads:
From Behrampur we had to take the national highway 326, which connects the nearby districts. Post berhampur, there aren’t any big towns in this part of the state, hence traffic was negligible on the road. The empty roads, ensured we were covering a lot of distance very quickly, crossing small towns in the blink of the eye. As we crossed a town, Digapahandi, the landscape changed drastically from plains to hilly. A steady tree cover started to engulf the road, growing denser and denser as we progressed. We had entered the Digapahandi Forest Range.
The string of street lights which had followed us from Brahmapur had disappeared. besides our own headlamp, the outside was pitch dark. The monotonous black, broken at erratic intervals by small villages and little flicks of light. We were moving from one hill to another counting down the numbers on the milestones, wherever they were visible.
Somewhere on the hairpin bends, we lost our cell phone reception. Seemed like hills and trees turned our phones into fancy bricks. It was like we were driving into an abyss, with nothing in sight, and no option of navigation and cell phone calls.
A faint light started to appear on the end of a bend, two distinct street lamps, shining brightly. It definitely has to be an important place we felt, craning our necks trying to confirm if we have reached. A red gate on the right read ‘Pathanivas Taptapani’.
In total it took around 2o mins of driving in complete darkness, with no cellphone reception to reach the guesthouse. Those were like one of the longest 20 mins of our life. We parked our cars, stretched our legs and started with the formalities. I took the liberty of skipping it and went out to explore the property. The guesthouse comprises of wooden cottages and duplexes, scattered all over the property. A thin barb wire boundary wall separated the forest from the property. One side of the property skirted the road and the other end faced the downhill side of a hill.
A narrow partially paved road connects all the cottages together. Humble street lamps line up the narrow pathway, lighting up the street with enough light so as not to overexpose the streets and marr the entire ambience. The area around the guesthouse is devoid of any settlements, hence the outside was just a dark figment of foliage.
We were handed the key to our room, which was a 4 bedded room priced at Rs. 1500 per night. At this price and this ambience, I must say it was a steal.
Digital Detox – Unintended but welcome:
Our lives now a days revolve around our phones. Calls, texts, wattsapp, social media, navigation every thing is controlled by our phones and internet. The guesthouse that finds itself pinned on a side of a hill, receives cellphone reception from only the state run BSNL, that too on 2G.
None of us had BSNL, so this meant an entire stay with phones only serving as camera and nothing else. This was not intentional, but turned into a boon as we could spend time talking to each other, experiencing the ambience, walking around exploring rather than typing away on wattsapp, posting pictures on instagram and checking our twitter feeds.
I didn’t know I needed a digital detox until I had one. everyone should try it once in a while, it might sound scary, but when you are surrounded by people you trust, the cellphone don’t matter.
There were not many guests in the guesthouse that night which meant we had an undivided attention of the staff all to ourselves. Though the guesthouse has a restaurant, the person managing the property had set up the dinner table for us in garden. He also offered to set up a bonfire, turning a normal dinner into a camping experience.
The cold night, dark hills, splendid company, desi music on jukebox, a raging bon fire and Old Monk in hand, ensured I had a splendid start to a very promising tour.
When dawn broke, I went out to explore the place further. The road goes up and down like a meandering wave of the ocean. Party covered in asphalt, it seemed like it’s being used by vehicles as and when needed. The sides are covered with some ornamental plants and flowering shrubs. Tall trees find space on all sides of the property painting the whole area in multiple shades of green.
The cottages are made completely of wood, all decked up with thatched roof. There is a small porch in front of the cottage, which has a couple of chairs and a coffee table. I could not help but fantasise just how amazing it would be to sit on that porch, while sipping away hot cup of coffee in a foggy winter morning.
The whole guesthouse is placed on the ridge of a hill, one side of which is a downhill and the other uphill. Most of the cottages are located on the downhill side, and hence to maintain a flat floor, concrete stilts were used.
Apart from the cottages, a few duplexes also find place on the property. These duplexes are mostly family rooms, meant for large groups, with balconies, dressing room and closets. I particularly envied the balcony as it was so huge, that I felt that it could give my living room a run for its money.
The guesthouse has a restaurant quite aptly named as Hill View Restaurant. Aptly named because the huge restaurant provides panoramic views of the hills around, while one enjoys the sumptuous food. They serve everything from typical Odia dishes like pakhala to Chinese stuff like hakka noddles, from basic omelettes to finger licking sea food.
Taptapani Hot Water Spring:
The primary reason for the existence of this guesthouse is Tapatapani hot water spring which is located a few meter away. Tapta in Odia meand Hot and Pani means water. The name of a hot water spring cannot be more ominous than this.
The natural hot water spring is rich in sulfur and is quite famous among tourists and locals for its medicinal properties. A small temple is located atop the spring and a couple of small pools are created adjacent to the spring for bathing.
The pools or kundas don’t look very inviting as they are not very well kept. Littering around the pool is rampant, and changing rooms are in a derelict state. Some folks use soap, despite restrictions, thus clouding the water. These are menaces the authorities are trying to curb, but haven’t been able to eradicate completely.
A photo tour of our trip:
The guesthouse is situated besides a natural hot water spring called Taptapani, which is a kind of tourist attraction in the state. It is situated at a comfortable 50 KM from Jirang, the Tibetan village housing the largest buddhist monastery in Eastern India. Two waterfalls, Khasada and Mankada Dian are also closeby. Strategically speaking, it makes perfect sense to stay at this guest house while traveling to all of these places, as they don’t have a lot of accommodation options.
The serene natural environment along with the helpfull staff is however the main reason why one must choose the guesthouse. Staying in the hills, experiencing the ambience of nothing but nature, a much needed digital detox, are all the things one needs from a holiday after all.