The erstwhile Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) operated two highly acclaimed hotels in Puri and Ranchi. Set up by the British Officers who manned the BNR at the time, theses two properties developed into highly sought after destinations for the high brow. With the formation of the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) the properties passed on to it for development and operation. The BNR Hotel Chanakya in Ranchi is on a 19 year contract. I was visiting the hotel for the first time and it just took my breath away. It will most definitely rank among the finest in India. I could gather that the private agency that is now operating the hotel has done a lot of renovation and addition to the facilities. However, the heritage part of the hotel has been left largely untouched, save some exquisite refurbishment. My first destination in the hotel was ‘Mehfil’, naturally, since it housed the bar. The selection of spirits is quite impressive and very economically priced. I settled for a Kingfisher Lager with sprouts and gram salad to chew on. Youngsters have been drafted to service the bar and the restaurant. They served with a smile and a lot of respect for their customers. The dinner – the recommended Continental dish, Chicken Mercury - was top stuff.
This morning I started my journey to Kolkotta with a visit to the BNR Hotel to take some pictures. I met Munna there, the guard on duty. I was surprised about his familiarity in handling a camera. It transpired later that he had been working in Saudi and had to return home to look after his ailing father. He spent all his savings looking after his parents and had to take up the guard’s job. I got some excellent photos of the Hotel and the flowers that adorn the entrance.
The Ranchi-Jamshedpur leg was done in an hour and a half – the road is excellent. But, 15 kms either side of Jamshedpur the road is incredibly bad and a humungous traffic block set me back. Thereafter, the road upto the border was so so. At the border with West Bengal, there was a large board spanning the road, thanking the travelers for having visited the State – a first I found during this journey. Of all the States I have travelled through so far, I must admit that the State of Jharkand was the most traveler-friendly in terms of road signages, warning boards, road condition, attitude of the people to queries, etc.
Immediately as I navigated the border into WB, at Chichra I was consumed by a traffic jam of all sorts of freight carriers, with no movement whatsoever. Seeing the condition of some of the vehicles one wondered if they had moved in the past year! Yes, it was worse than the Walayar check post – I am sure my friends back in Kerala had this doubt in their mind. The enterprise of two occupants of a car ahead of me, with the help of the locals, helped me get out of the check post mess in about a half hour. The interesting thing one notices at the check post is the presence of a large number of Sales Tax ‘Clearing Agents’, some of whom promise a ’24 hour & Fast Clearing Service’. They did not seem to be walking their talk!
The saving grace of the mess in Chichra is that the road thereafter to Kolkotta is extremely good – possibly because all the freighters are held up at the check post! The NH6 from Kharagpur is a super NH stretch – one can do the 135 km stretch in less two hours. The difference is that this NH is tolled – the one thing I have noticed during the journey is the better condition of the tolled roads. The Sher-e-Punjab Hotel, on the Kolkotta highway near the Haldia junction, served me tough mutton curry and undercooked rotis.
Gopal Mohanty is the Chief Freight Transportation Manager of SE Railway, a coveted position on the IR as SE Railway used to be known as the ‘Blue Chip’ Railway. We have been colleagues in SE Railway and CONCOR. Besides being professionally accomplished, what marks Gopal out is his human qualities and is never one to spurn a request for assistance. Accommodation was arranged for me in the Garden Reach (HQ of SE Railway) ORH. The evening was spent planning the program for the next few days and catching up with friends in the SER office – I met with Ms Papiya Lahiri, my batch mate, who I had not met since our days as probationers in 1982. She holds the critical position of SDGM of SER. I was fortunate to meet her excellent team of young officers. KS Murthy was a Union Office bearer of the SER Men’s Congress when I was in Bilaspur. The spat we had in Bilaspur is now part of the history of the Division. I was reminded of it when I met the staff in Bilaspur. I came to know from Gopal that Murthy is now in Kolkotta, presiding over the larger fortunes of the Union. I paid him a surprise visit in his office, within the GR premises. To say that I took him by surprise would be a huge understatement – the first comment he made was about the ‘fight’ we had in Bilaspur!
The GR club, on the bank of the Hoogly, is a wonderful place to unwind in the evening, with or without spirits. That’s where Gopal took me for a dinner of noodles and an excellent chicken preparation.