The moment you set foot in McCluskieganj you realize the reason why Earnest Timothy McCluskie, a Scot-Indian gentleman choose it to be a permanent homeland for the Anglo-Indian community. There couldn’t have been a better location to have a home than at McCluskieganj, two hours drive from Ranchi in Jharkhand on the NH39 and nestled among hills. The roads are festooned with a luxuriant tall trees and wild flowering shrubs, rich forest and rambling streams a natural paradise where birdcalls still announce the daybreak. Yet, its inhabitants claim that this is only a shadow of its original charm.
History and culture
In 1933 Mr McCluskie, himself an Anglo-India citizen, founded the Colonization Society of India Ltd. under the Indian Companies Act – VII of 1913, in Calcutta, (now Kolkata), its objective to assure a ‘Home’ for his fellow community members. The area of 10,000 acres of land was acquired on lease by the society from Maharaja Nand Kishore Nath Saha Deo as permanent settlement for the Anglo-Indian colony. This paradise soon became home to more than three-hundred-and-fifty Anglos from around the country who came with their English piano’s, horses, rifles and hearts full of dreams of a homeland where they could live sans inhibitions despite their culture being a stark contrast to those living in their surroundings which comprised the tribal belt of Chotanagpur Plateau.
As one strolls through the tiny hamlet, now home to no more than a dozen of its original inhabitants, you definitely miss the colonial charm that has disappeared along with most of the Anglo-Indian families who left for England and Australia soon after the period India won Independence. Today, the only trace lies in the faded English style bungalows with their slanting rooftops and once manicured gardens now overgrown with brambles. You can’t help but wondering what it must have been like at its prime.
Its residents readily fill you with cherished memories from an era that can well be termed as a golden period of the ‘Gunj’, the name they fondly use for their hometown. They speak of evenings which resounded with country-western music coming from gramophones’. When the ladies in bell-bottoms played badminton and the men folk indulged in card sessions or big game while their children merrily sang I sent a letter to my…., only to break away to munch on a donut or a slice of cinnamon cake.
Things to do
McCluskieganj was once known as ‘Mini London,’ for its exquisite beauty mostly its colonial style bungalows. Now rundown , these bungalows still offer a glimpse back in time. There is a Protestant and a Catholic church and a graveyard. The homes which once belonged to popular Bengali author Buddhadev Guha and actress Aparna Sen also beacon Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut titled ‘A Death in the Gunj,’ slated to premier at the Toronto International Film Festival this September. The film was shot here a couple of months ago and its locations might interest you. There are a couple of rivers still flowing, but only worthy during monsoons.
The weather is pleasant most of the tourist season between October and March and ideal for nature walks. It gets extremely cold in December-January, however nature compensates with a profusion of wild flowers blooming everywhere apart from those in many gardens. Enjoy the misty mornings from your window, sipping your bed tea and wind up the day singing around a bonfire with a glass of sparkling ginger wine. Be sure not to miss those roadside souvenir shops because a place like McCluskieganj quickly gets under your skin and stays forever in your heart.
McCluskieganj, in Jharkhand is well connected both by rail and road. From Kolkata the Shaktipunj Express halts two minutes at McCluskieganj station. Ranchi is the closest town around 60 kilometres away connected by a number of trains. It is also the nearest airport from where you can hire a vehicle to McCluskieganj which takes around three hours, the last one hour of travel, when the road diverts from Bijupara, is particularly pleasurable past grassy meadows hemmed in by hills and forests full of Sal, Mahua and Banyan trees, once the den of fierce animals. On the way is an interesting sight, a Mosque, a Temple and traces of a Gurudwara standing together. Since accommodation is limited, booking must be done beforehand.