The ORH is proximate to the Ranchi railway station. Hence, I dispensed with the service of the peon at the ORH and took a walk to the station for the morning tea and to buy the newspaper. The morning trains had arrived and the hawkers were busy selling their wares and the rickshaw walahs haggling with prospective customers. I realized soon that the Hindi spoken in this part of the country needs sharp ears and some proficiency to lip read. I bought some biscuits and cakes from a vendor at the platform for the journey tomorrow. The tea was almost ‘kheer’ like – felt as if the tea was made in sugar. The newspaper was full of the second phase of Bihar elections and how the political parties in Jharkand are trying to make their presence felt in the neighboring State.
The Ranchi Division of SE Railway was carved out of the erstwhile Divisions of Adra and Chakradharpur, taking cognizance of the aspirations of the Jharkand State, in 2003. The Divisional Office has been set up near the Hatia railway station. I visited the Senior Divisional Traffic Manager, Mr. SC Banerjee, who holds the responsibilities of Operations, Commercial and Public Relations. The three responsibilities have been clubbed since the jurisdiction is quite compact. After discussing with Banerjee, I decided to skip the halt at Dhanbad tomorrow and go straight to Kolkotta. The distance is short of 500 kms and is expected to take about 9 hours. I need an extra day at Kolkotta to get the car serviced before the North East leg of the journey. I have been advised to leave early to cover the sensitive areas during the day; but as a friend (or foe?) said: the Maoists have enough division in their ranks; a Malayali would be the veritable last straw!
I was planning to spend the day in idle mode at the ORH. Banerjee recommended the Johna Falls for a short visit. As I had all the time I took to the road and reached the tourist spot in just over an hour; it’s 45 kms from the city. Guides try to befriend you the minute you park the car. I hired the 35 year old Surjon Lohra. Surjon has been a guide at Johna for more than 6 years. The tourist spot is jointly run by the Jharkand State Tourism department and an NGO “Sasakth Nari Udhan”. Surjon is supposed to be paid Rs. 85.15 as daily wages; he says it takes a long time for the payment to be received as it comes out of some Centrally funded project. Therefore, he has to manage the household expenses from the tips given by tourists – he manages an average of Rs 5000 per month. He has three children (two daughters); the eldest is studying in Class VII. He aspires to educate all his children as much as he can so that they can get good jobs in the Government. He himself is a Metric Pass and regrets having left his first job with Hindalco, where he worked in the Guest House and learnt the ‘art of service’, as he says.
At Johna, one can get a sumptuous veg meal for Rs 45 and extras of egg curry for Rs 20 and Chicken curry for Rs 60. As Surjon said, rice can be had ‘per bhar’ (till your stomach is full). Apart from the 13 guides, there are also 5 artists who perform local dances and sing tribal ballads. Surjon was full of talk. He explained at length the various remedies provided by Nature for ailments ranging from stomach pain to BP; rounding up with the statement that local people seldom fall ill because they eat what Nature provides and bathe in the flowing stream.
The Gunga Nullah (that’s what I think Surjon told me) is what produces the Johna waterfall. It is not spectacular like the Jog or even close to Courtalam. However, I had some fun time beneath one of the branches of the Falls with Surjon clicking away (Mandakini would blush!). The deficient rainfall this season has affected the flow of water; but it is strong enough for a Jacuzzi effect on the neck and shoulders. The Gunga Nullah and the Rado rivers meet at Johna; 65 kms downstream it flows into the Subernarekha river. The Buddha temple at Johna is not maintained well, but the statue in marble is majestic. The presence of Gautama Buddha is the reason why the place is called Gauthamdhara.
On the return from Johna I picked up a kg of each of Custard Apple and Guava being sold by the villagers on the road side. The Custard Apple is super. The Kantatoli chowk is the most critical junction in Ranchi. All roads seem to be heading towards it. To those of us stuck in the traffic, to navigate through the chowk, it is apparent why the chowk (junction) is so named – “Kanta” (thorn}, it truly is.