I heard this question so many times while traveling through India: “But why would you go to Ranchi?!”. Fair enough. When picturing India, what first comes to mind are the magnificent Taj Mahal, the old fortresses of Rajasthan, a camel ride in the desert, the Goan trance parties or the beaches of Kerala… But certainly not Ranchi, the capital city of Jharkhand in Eastern India.
My friends and I spent 3 days in this lesser know region initially for a wedding. After checking the huge Lonely Planet India, we were worried to find so few pages dedicated to Jharkhand: only 19 pages for the regions of Bihar and Jharkhand together. While Bihar is more popular for the site of Bodghaya and Buddha’s enlightenment, Jharkhand is referred to as a tribal, and “off the beaten track” region. It could basically read between the lines: “Please, do not waste your time in this region”! And yet, the last sentence describes our experience perfectly: “this unfashionable pocket of India could be an unexpected highlight”. Indeed, we had the most memorable time of our trip in Jharkhand for at least 3 reasons:
A local experience
My friend Hanna arrived first in Ranchi and met up with a couchsurfer: Kanishka, who lives and works in Ranchi as a fashion designer. Throughout our stay, he proudly made us discover his region: from special meals, sweet treats, typical Palash trees, societal traditions, to a special visit of Ranchi’s cricket stadium.
The plan was to go from Ranchi to Betla National Park by bus. Knowing about the trouble to get there, he simply offered to drive us all the way to the park (180km) and stay with us. For 4 hours, we drove through a variety of landscapes: busy roads, small typical villages and a beautiful countryside.
We would have probably never made it without him as it turned out that the lodge we booked was not even open. Although another lodge was free, for some reason we were not allowed to stay in. This is when Kanishka’s Indian diplomacy skills came into play. Making phone calls and putting pressure on the right people can get you anything: large bedrooms, freshly cooked food and open Jeep safaris – for both sunrise and sunset. What a luxury!
A natural experience
It seemed like time had stopped, like we were in a bubble surrounded by wild animals. We just sat on the balcony overlooking the National Park full of monkeys and dears, sharing our philosophical thoughts, drinking beer and contemplating the stars at night. We were together, fascinated like kids by what the nature had to offer. And this was the only thing that mattered.
Safaris are best at sunrise and sunsets, when the temperature is a bit cooler and animals come out of hiding. Driving in a fresh morning air, we could spot bisons, roosters, wild birds, peacocks, and even elephants from far away! During the day, under a suffocating heat, we travelled back to the Middle-Ages and wandered around remains of old fortresses.
A moral experience
One of our conversations came to the conclusion that our most meaningful experiences occur when we get out of our comfort zone. And often when we least expect them. So go out there, explore the world, be spontaneous, be curious, try every kind of food, and mingle with people! You may have the chance to meet as welcoming, kind-hearted and tolerant locals as Kanishka.
Besides his job, Kanishka also runs the “Straws Suck” campaign against the use of plastic straws in bars, coffee shops and restaurants across the world. Indeed, straws are one of the 10 marine debris most found on our beaches. Thus they dramatically damage our environment and marine wildlife. A simple way to contribute to the campaign is to say “no straw, thanks” next time you order a drink. Or buy a reusable stainless steel straw.