Carved out of Bihar in 2000, after years of agitation by its largely adivasi population, Jharkhand yields almost forty percent of India’s minerals, but suffers from extreme poverty, lawlessness and Naxalite (Maoist guerrilla) activity, and is rarely visited by tourists. Although the area around the capital, Ranchi, and the main tourist attraction, Palamau (Betla) National Park, are now safe to visit, it’s vital to check the security situation before venturing out of those areas, and you should avoid travelling at night by road anywhere in the state.
Jharkhand’s capital, Ranchi was Bihar’s summer capital under the colonial regime, and must be the most laidback state capital in the country. Its main hub is Firayalal Chowk, two kilometres north of the train station, a busy road junction now renamed Albert Ekka Chowk after a hero of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War whose statue now stands in the middle of it. Ranchi’s top shopping and commercial thoroughfare, Main Road (officially Mahatma Gandhi Marg), runs north and south from here, crossing the rail line some 500m west of the station. Ranchi itself isn’t exactly thick with sights, but there are a couple of places worth seeing within easy striking distance.
Like its more famous counterpart in Puri, the Jagganathpur Temple is dedicated to the triad of Jagganath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, and like the one in Puri, it has a Rath Yatra festival in June or July in which their images are hauled out on chariots, attracting thousands of devotees. Built on a hilltop and originally dating from 1691, the temple even looks like a smaller version of the one in Puri, with a 30-metre-high daul (main tower). Unlike the one in Puri, however, non-Hindus are allowed to go inside.
In a remote corner of Jharkhand, the beautiful sal forests of the Palamau National Park cover around eight hundred square kilometres of hilly terrain. Although part of Project Tiger, Palamau has been hard hit by drought, and at the time of writing, there were no tigers or leopards. If lucky, you may still see elephants, nilgai (antelope), gaur (bison) and wild boar. The park is open all year, but October to April is the best time to visit, although it can be rather chilly then, especially in the morning. Most visitors take a jeep safari to explore the park. However, make sure you check the situation before you visit — in recent years, Palamau has seen movements of local guerrillas who spill in from the troubled north-eastern forests of bordering Chhattisgarh, and the park can sometimes be closed to tourists.
Top image: Top of the Jagannath temple, Puri, Odisha, India © Kali Justine/Shutterstock