It’s 249km from Kolkata, yet Mukutmanipur rarely makes it to guidebooks or weekend getaway lists. Bordering one of Asia’s biggest earthen dams, the Kangsabati, Mukutmanipur is nestled between the Kumari and Kangsabati rivers. Lying on a gentle plateau of sal trees, above the baked Bengal plains, it somewhat resembles a hill station.

An easy long drive from Kolkata, Mukutmanipur proved to be a pleasant departure from a packed itinerary. There was little to do beyond exploring the unsung town and its handful of sights at my own pace—a weekend gave me ample time for this and more.

The deep blue Mukutmanipur lake, the key attraction, was my first stop. Even though I was a little unnerved by the motorboats (each of which can accommodate six persons), the tranquillity of the surroundings inspired me to take the plunge. It costs 350 to hire a motorboat for 4 hours of sightseeing—the rate is negotiable, but if you really want to save money, you could find a group. The rocky side of the shore acts as the border with Jharkhand. The other side is dotted with patches of green scrub and hillocks that are part of the Bangopalpur Reserve Forest. The 86 sq. km lake is home to several islands.

The throb of the engine and the cool breeze was soporific, but there was more to see.

I stayed till sunset, listening to temple bells and birdsong. I would have loved to see how the scene played out in moonlight, but one needs special permission from the state irrigation department to access the dam area after dark.

Having spent more than an hour soaking in the view, I hopped back on to one of the ubiquitous cycle rickshaws. There were no other passengers but I chose to sit at the back just for the thrill of it, with my legs sticking out. It was great for a giggle and probably easier than managing a permit from the irrigation department to take my car into the dam area.

The Bangopalpur reserve deserves a day to itself, and if you’re equipped with binoculars, it’s easy to lose yourself in birding.

The Banpukuria Deer Park.
The Banpukuria Deer Park.

After roaming the reserve for the entire morning, I had enough time to drive down to Ambikanagar, a town just 3km away. It has an old Kali temple, sacred to both Hindus and Jains. Ambikanagar is known for the grass and bamboo work of the Adivasis who live in and around the area.

I had just finished roaming the narrow lanes of the town when someone suggested Jhilmili. The hilltop, 32km away, promises a spectacular drive through the forests. But I had run out of time.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The writer tweets at @AnjanaBasu.

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