Sunday, December 4, 2016

Park Street Cemetery: No longer welcomes the dead, but attracts the living

“Sacred to the memory of Henry Davies who departed this life on the 8th December 1823. Aged 32.”

“This life”, the phrase transfixed my attention to a great extent when I first saw the epitaph. Bible opposes reincarnation. I am not going into details but ‘this life’ phrase implies there would be another life. This was the first shocker in a Christian burial ground, but during the meandering walkabout in the cemetery, I found many other surprises. One thing that surprised me a lot was the age of people who buried there. There may be more, but I found only two people who crossed 60 and not even crossed 70, otherwise most of them died at a very early stages of their lives. It was also noticeable that women generally died young; I saw teenage girls epitaphs, women in their 20s, 30s and a few 40s buried in the cemetery. I thought for a while, but couldn’t find a possible explanation except that probably women and children couldn’t tolerate the hardship and disease laden in Indian tropics.

The cemetery is located at Mother Teresa Sarani amidst cacophony and traffic, but inside, the place reminds me of archetypal eerie cemetery type environment. It was unusually silent, and those crumbling colonnades, mossy mausoleums, obelisks, stone cupolas and sarcophagi created an idiosyncratic image of the cemetery. I saw lots of youngsters in that place, the credit goes to Satyajit Ray and his son filmmaker Sandip Ray who created a movie based on father’s famous book ‘Gourasthaney Sabdhan (Beware in the Graveyard). The story features famous household sleuth Prodosh Mitter aka Feluda solves a mystery that involves Park Street Cemetery. Also, there are a few horror stories revolved around this graveyard that attract college goers to the graveyard, which is otherwise a heritage place.

History of Park Street Cemetery

The history of this cemetery is also very interesting along with the architecture. The cemetery began in the year 1767 and initially closed, but then again reopened. It continued for a while and the burial board was formed in 1881 to look after about 7 public cemeteries. All of them were active cemeteries except the South Park Street Cemetery, which was closed before 1881. The cemetery represents cross section of human civilization of a period spanning of 3500 years of colonial cemetery culture. The cemetery architecture is a cauldron of all kinds of tombs, obelisks, cupolas, sarcophagi, gothic structures including one Hindu temple. It is one of the earliest non-church cemeteries in the world. It is very special in that sense.

This was the colonial cemetery in the sense that at the point of time when British ruled most parts of the world, they wanted to perhaps build the cemetery, which would reflect the colonial sentiment and colonial architecture across the board of 3500 years of various civilization Egypt, Greece, Rome, Turkey and others. So, this colonial sentimental aspect had been kept in mind while constructing each of these tombs, so you can witness very much heterogeneous structures, not homogeneous like in church cemeteries.

Architecture of South Park Street Cemetery 

Colonel Charles "Hindoo" Stuart Tomb
The most remarkable feature I noticed in the cemetery was the culmination of diverse architectural presentations through tombs. These tombs are essentially a collection of various ancient and medieval Gothic and Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. Even there is a temple tomb of Colonel Charles “Hindoo” Stuart who was famous for his love for this religion. He was considered by many as an eccentric when he had constructed a temple and married a Hindu woman. His bizarreness went berserk when he urged the military to start wearing Indian attire. In his article, he had urged upper class white women to leave heavy corset and embrace the sari. His tomb is constructed in the form of a Hindu temple and the lotus motifs seem odd among overwhelming Gothic cemetery.

These tombs are unique in a sense these were built in the ‘Panchyatana’ manner with a central dome flanked by miniature replicas of Orissan ‘rekha deul’ on four sides.

The loneliness of this cemetery was somehow inescapable. Those tall tombs, big trees, birds chirping and fading light, all of these elements created a peculiar sense of vacuum in heart, which was not sadness but a sense of comforting feeling – with all great deeds, intensity, luxury – in the end, it doesn’t matter.

“From earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rediscover India in 2017 with new passion and reasons to rekindle love

India, the mystic land where wisdom put her first step before it went to other lands. Here, the land whose soil is sanctified with so many great sages of all time. Here, in this land foreigners keep coming from time immemorial for various tangible and intangible wealth. The land stands firm like rock and tall like Himalayas aftershocks of so many invasions. It is the same land where a culture continues to linger after thousands of years. Who will see such a country where cultural colors, heritage and traditions challenge the tightest of logical buffoonery? The aura of India bears witness about her eternal nature, neither a beginning nor end.

India travel overwhelms you for the first time, and it is nearly impossible to travel the whole nation in one go. Many travelers come again and again to rediscover and to understand the essence of it. Sometimes people fall in love in such an intense way they simply can’t leave the country. There are many probable reasons to visit the country, so let’s us find some new ways to rediscover the land.

1. Experience village life to experience unity in diversity

Diversity overwhelms travelers, especially who are absolutely strangers to this land. India is accumulation of myriad ideas, beliefs, social norms, symbols, values and material objects. Culture is the total culmination of all these aspects, so it ought to be complex, and it’s hard to define in a simple way. You have to experience it to understand it. Sometimes, it is enjoyable; many times it is sort of cultural shock.

Although India is the one of the fastest developing nations with massive growth in technology, digitalisation and changing the social habits, the fabrication of this country is essentially spiritual and philosophy, which may seems lost, but it is the foundation of Indian morality. To understand country’s cultural diversity, you need to go deep into the fabrics of Indian life.

I wouldn’t recommend to blindly landing on any village and try to experience it, but with some research, you can find villages in India, which are hospitable and fun to experience it. It is an extraordinary journey to explore the villages in India with natural beauty, culture and tradition to amuse anyone. First ground rule is to understand the unwritten rules of the place, especially villages. Being careful and find a local friend who understands the intricacies of the place. 

As for my experience, villages in mountains are always safe. Also, villages in southern most states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala are quite good to get first-hand experience.

2. Revisit Himalayan wilderness

munshiyari uttarakhand, kumaon india
Munshiyari in Uttarakhand
Himalayas were the first thing that triggered my fascination with traveling. India is extremely fortunate to be guarded with these mighty peaks, but apart from mightiness, these mountains preserve myriad of mysteries that intrigue many intrepid travelers. Whether the stories of faceless, nameless yogis live in the caves of Himalayas, or mysterious skeletal lakes of Roopkund or extremely rare flora and fauna in Himalayas, all of them make it extremely fascinating to visit these mountains at least once. There are many treks, most of them start from April or early May, but if you really want to visit the place in a complete seclusion, you must visit it during winters.

One best part of India is you can get accommodation even in the remotest area of a terrain. And from my own personal experiences, I know for sure, mountain areas, especially North India; places are safe like anything else. I don’t find a single police station or any patrolling guard for miles, but I never faced any difficulty in mountains.

Kashmir is on the other side is a different story altogether. You need to be careful, vigilant and need lots of permission to visit certain places.

For more info on Kashmir read

Ladakh & Kashmir Travel in Monsoon 

3. Volunteering in India

Organic Farming volunteering in Solitude (Auroville)
If you want to pack your philanthropic ideas along with your flip flops, then you should consider volunteer work in India. Helping others, especially in culturally diversified country like India is not just fulfilling, they are also a spectacular way of getting know the country closely.

It is important to accept the culture, however different from your own, plays a pivotal role in doing a volunteer job. You may not experience luxury or things that you are conditioned to enjoy, but there are some magical aspects of it that a true backpacker or traveller can’t just ignore. It is wonderful for self-esteem and confidence; nevertheless, volunteering is not and shouldn’t be a part of escape from your personal suffering.

There are hundreds of option and it’s not easy to pick the right project for your. You should have a cause or thing you are passionate about. For example, animal conservation, rural education, children education, organic farming or community based action project.

4. Experience yoga in Indian retreats

Mayavati Advaita Ashram, Lohaghat (India)
You don’t have to be flexible as a piece of rubber to experience the joy of yoga. Yoga, from Indian context doesn’t need a prequalification but a way of life. It however demands commitment and a penchant for lateral thinking. Yoga in West is popular for its health benefits, a series of exercise that primarily aim to cure physical problems. Although physical aspect of yoga is undoubtedly important, it is just a tiny part of this whole process.

There are many courses, holidays and retreats around the world to choose from but if it’s your first introduction to yoga or you don’t practise much, then a beginner’s getaway would be ideal. You need to decide what you want from the holiday before you start looking; some retreats are quite serious and you are expected to participate in practice at least twice a day, eat vegetarian food and not drink, whereas some specialist tour operators have designed sun and sand holidays with yoga thrown in.

5. Traveling in comfort in India

Laksman Sagar in Rajasthan
When planning a luxury or comfort tour in India, it is difficult where to begin because the country offers some of the best luxury hotels, trains, resorts and restaurants. Whether you want to spend some days in tranquil luxury backwaters in Kerala, or chugging along luxury Palace on Wheels, you can surely travel in comfort and luxury in India. There are many hotels in India that offer some of the best luxury experiences in the world.

Many hotels give you authentic taste in their restaurants, while some also offer attractive packages. If you come for meeting or events, staying in comfort and experience the royal treatment is something that one can look for.

6. Visit the Taj once again

You can truly appreciate the work of genius when you see by yourself. It is not just once, but this iconic monument, a wonder of the world, must deserve multiple visits. From a distance it doesn’t really look real. When you see it closely, you can imagine the work and what a fantastic masterpiece it is! The Persian-inspired garden teems with tourists, but you never find it overcrowded because it is so large.

7. Beautiful forts and palaces of Rajasthan

Ajab Garh in Rajasthan
Rajasthan, a city of royal and a cauldron heritage, is a popular in tourist circuits. There are enough reasons for that popularity. Unless you visit some of these imperial palaces and massive forts, your journey to India is never complete. The state is full of these exotic palaces and forts, some are very popular, some are less, nevertheless not small to be ignored. The biggest sand dunes are in the Western Rajasthan states of Bikaner and Jaisalmer. 

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Life of fishermen in Pondicherry

pondicherry sea beach

Every day is a day of struggle for people who brave high waves and going deep into the ocean at the crack of dawn to get the best catch. Life of fishermen is indeed a brutal struggle. Life is not nice, for them it’s mean, brutal, and often unapologetic. The conditions of fishermen in Pondicherry are relatively better in comparison to many eastern and western coastal areas but their struggle to keep things up is pretty tough. Well, in a way struggle is everywhere; folks who go to the office in chaotic cities, are also struggling, but the physical and financial plight of fishermen is extraordinary.

I had a good fortune to live adjacent to fishermen villages. Just before the sunrise, men at work travel more than 50 km away from the shore, deep into the Bay of Bengal to find their daily income. Sometimes they catch good deal; many times they return back empty handed or small crabs. Those small colorful boats barely hold three people along with their extensive net. Most of them venture out in two, sharing the burden, cost, profit and loses alike. Sometimes I saw a lone fisherman was coming far from the bay, incoming waves helped him to reach shore faster. 

fishermen children beach pondicherry
Fishermen kids playing beach volleyball
The most extensive process is to sort out the fishing net. Mostly two people involve in the process of removing the catch and sort out. It’s not just fishes but crabs, snails and different other species are caught in the net. The most common types are Red Snapper, Blue Fish, Butter Fish, Cat Fish, Mullet, Smelt, Salmon and more. After removing the catch, they take half an hour more to sort out the tangled net. Once sorted out, they go to Pondicherry market to sell that stuff. 

“Beer makes you strong.” One young fisherman proudly said it to me. Later on that guy became my friend and told me some aspects of their life, how Pondicherry people were doing business, how he bought second hand motorcycle and even asked me to go with him to catch fish. He seemed to me a novice one, wearing a Dexter T-shirt offered me taking to their local bar. Their enjoyment is to lead a merry alcohol drinking evening, relaxing and talking about local politics. In the afternoon many of them sit on the beach and play cards. Older men generally spend time with their families and watch television.

This age old traditional occupation is in serious question as many fishermen do not want their children to struggle and live an uncertain life. Many children are going to school, some old ones go to even colleges.

After seeing their life, I wonder if their kids would be happy when they find jobs, going every day to offices mired in a chaotic life. Will they ready to do that sort of struggle? Will they able to smile without pretension as their parents do?

Challenges of Fishermen and occupation

The occupation of fishing in India’s coastal regions is age old. Generation to generation they have perfected the art and pass the occupational skills to their successors. However, the changing environmental condition particularly after 2004 devastating Indian Ocean tsunami has permanently changed the dynamics.

Still maximum fishermen rely on the traditional way of knowledge. Things have changed considerably, most of the time they can’t find enough to sustain their livelihood. The changing environmental condition makes it difficult to do the job properly. All in all their traditional knowledge is obsolete.

Many fishermen, particularly who are unaware of technology have difficulty in judging the climate and safety. In addition, it is common scenario when they find it difficult to locate the best places to fish.

In the past it happened that fishermen accidentally crossed the line of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lank and faced the penalties under Sri Lankan law. It happens because the International Border Line (IBL) between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka is not marked.


Many technology companies and NGOs provide knowledge and information on ocean conditions such as wind speed, wind direction and wave height. This information is very useful to determine fishermen to venture into ocean when it is safe.

Some mobile companies come up applications leveraging GPS features to map the coordinates. 

The government also works proactively to alert the fishermen when they are approaching international ocean boundary.

Also fishermen should be educated on the current market prices, how to negotiate them well and get the best prices for their catch.

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wandering and meeting sadhus during my Yamunotri pilgrimage

For a long time I was not traveled far distance to mountains but in 2015 Autumn I found a chance to go to my beloved place – Himalayas. I had no work as I was officially unemployed, which gave me the opportunity to travel. I went on thus for a long time, I may say without boasting, faithfully minded my way of living for at least a few days in the Himalayas. I had no laptops, no calls from clients or office; it was absolutely bliss to travel with freedom.

Himalayas have trapped me years ago. It is not just because I like mountains; earlier I thought I liked mountains more than anything else, but there are more things than just stiff mountains that keeps me hold tight for so many years. If you are perceptive enough, you can get certain hints about the true nature of Himalayas, or other way round is to visit those places recurrently to get such a habit, the mountains won’t let you go for rest of your life.  I have learned from my eight years’ experience, it would cost incredibly low to travel in mountains and you are enriched with such wisdom, not just looking at snowy peaks, but the ambiance, people, pilgrimage, overall life all around. To me, Himalayas present the most surprising elements, and one of the elements is various types of sadhus. I have met lots of these wandering monks, most of them were very old, majority was peaceful, and a few were flamboyant. It is a small place to write down all people here; still I try to recapitulate some impressive sadhus and my experiences with them.

 (Because of the nature of brevity in the blog writing, I just cite here 2015 experiences)

Ram Bharose Ji in Yamunotri

Living there in his small temple cum living room for last 50 years, it is said this ever smiling 80 something saint never crossed the bridge that joins the Yamunotri temple and the road. In winters Yamuntori is shut down completely because of heavy snowfall, but this devotee lives there and every day he does all the regular rituals. He wears minimal clothes and pretty much active doing all his daily chores including cooking, washing etc. 

I had heard his name at Janki Chetti and wanted to meet him. At first when I reached the temple, first thing that captured my attention was his honest and beautiful smile. He meticulously cooked food, served it to his worshiping God and Goddesses. He asked me to take the food and at least asked me four times whether it was all right. We had some talks and then returned back. I would love to stay there for some more time, perhaps couple of days, but somehow I returned back.

Naga sadhu en route Yamuntori

This huge sadhu lives in a cave with a DVD player, mobile phone, speakers, lots of containers and a thick photo album. A druggist with his own whim but calm and composed stature, he offered me smoke, which gladly accepted but unfortunately felt nothing after smoking three rounds. He showed me his photo albums, displaying lots of younger days photographs, naked, stoned, doing all sorts of austerity and acrobatics including twisting his penis with a rod etc. 

He asked me to donate something for his cave that I silently denied. He also said I could stay in the cave as long as I wished but I also refused. He asked me whether I was married or not, and after knowing my marital status, he suggested me to get married. When I rebuked and said I didn’t feel to do that, he asked me to become a ‘baba’. 

I sometimes wonder why it’s necessary to take an extreme step when there is an option to live a good life within the boundary of a regular living. At least I am living it without a pinch of dishonesty in my statement.

Ram Das Mauni Baba

Although he was said to be a mauni (silent) sadhu, he spoke to me a few words. Undoubtedly, he was the best sadhu I have seen so far. Too old to stand straight properly but I never saw him sitting idle in three days. Sometime he was cleaning his temple, sometimes he was feeding his cow, sometimes cutting fruits, but never sitting idle. His worn out loin cloth didn’t properly cover his private parts, but it hardly mattered to him.  Earlier he was completely silent sadhu for more than 20 years, but now, I learned he spoke a little. We had a brief conversation when he asked me what I do. 

Every time I was about to return back from temple, he offered me a piece of fruit. The most impressive feature of this sadhu was his eyes, blood shot, big with a bright glow. It was remarkable eyes, penetrating deep into my hearts and it seemed read all the content.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Things that you probably don’t know about Kolkata

handpulling rickshaws in kolkata

As for a city, I will not deny Kolkata has such a life that I haven’t seen so far in other parts of India, though there were instances when I saw lives of people just vanished in a gust; on the roadside, within the darkest miasma of politics, sometimes surrendered to the irresistible initial inertia, unable to break the self-created delusion of grandeur. I may imagine a time when, in the infancy of this city, it would be like a child who began the world, to some extent, and loved to stay out of the doors, even in wet and cold. The city opened to British Raj more openly than any other city in India. The decrepit architectural structures, British relics of erstwhile splendor cast a shadow of past on the present. Things have changed, however. The city has now secured itself into a cocoon that not allows the outside world to take certain inspirations.

There is an entirely a different facet of Kolkata. The city is not a despicable alternative but a precious tenement of those who nurture life from a different dimension. People aren’t the same way deal with daily life, as the emotions run riot and go beyond the regular struggle of survival.  In a way, Kolkata is still saturated with imaginations, laughs from simple pleasures of life, strongly hold the past musing and let the future born out of the present. Despite every adversity the city bears, nobody can deny the simple fact that the city has this queer and irresistible charm that holds everything in a fine balance.

Everybody knows Victoria Memorials, Maidan, Dakhineshwar, Kali Temple etc. In all fairness, these are great places to visit, but many places visitors are not aware that actually reflect a lot about the city of joy.

Old Heritage Buildings in Kolkata

If you go through the lanes of old Kolkata, you find some amazing structures that take you to erstwhile era of British Raj. I am talking about heritage buildings, I call it heritage though most of them are residential houses where people live and celebrate life. If you research on these buildings you will find these were not created by architects like modern times, but built by anonymous builders. These buildings from the architectural point of view are extremely refined.

Modernity is a misleading conception. Unlike many people who think these structures are not modern or kirsch, somehow have a false sense of modernity. Kolkata is tremendously modern city, in fact when you stroll around North Kolkata, see those big houses, people living there and see how relax and content they are when they sit on the front porch, talking about stuff that many city dwellers are not even aware of.

There is a distinctive difference between south Kolkata and North Kolkata old buildings. South Kolkata building architecture is part European and part Bengali. For example, you will notice rock or the cemented ledge in the front of a house, long verandas, open terraces, slated windows, ventilators on the sides of buildings, sunrise motif grills, art deco and in some case sophisticated artwork.

Haunted Places in Kolkata

Kolkata has some interesting history, not just with historical figures but eternal entities. The city shares its own haunted places where many places including buildings and even metro station are alleged to brag about haunted past. Some people don’t believe it, some people even try to find rational among those haunted stories.

1) National Library

national library alipore kolkata india
National Library at Alipore
The largest library in India has some haunted past. In early 19th century, British government ordered a renovation project where 12 labors lost their lives in an accident. Some people claim they still feel the spirits of these workers inside the building. National Library is a huge space and within this mammoth size, these types of stories are natural. In another story, it is said that an English student was killed in an accident while visiting for his research paper. It is believed and some eye witnesses said they saw paranormal activities in the library where letters were all scattered on the desks when they entered into the library in the morning. 

2) Rabindra Sarobar Metro

The station is notorious for its suicides and infamously known as “Paradise of Suicide”. There are stories people claimed they saw eerie images of figures at around 10:30 pm, when the last metro reaches the station. There are also rumors that shadows move on the platform on late evenings. 

3) Hastings House

There are stories where people witnessed footsteps in and around the Hastings House in the night. Warren Hastings, his wife and children all died mysteriously within this place. It is said that shadowy figures are seen within the campus.  Playing inside the campus is strictly prohibited because in many cases young students were mysteriously suffered from terrible injuries while playing football.

4) Putulbari, the House of Dolls

doll house, putul bari, sobhabazaar, kolkata india
Putul Bari, Doll House at Sobhabazaar
These old dilapidated building is located near Ahirotala Ghat. This is called doll house because of doll like monuments are mounted on the terrace. There is a notice of strictly prohibition to enter in the building. The building is itself beautiful and people say the upper storey is haunted. There are some inhabitants in the house but they don’t encourage people to enter into the house. The house was owned by wealthy owners in British era who sexually exploited young women and killed them. Deep in the night many eye-witnesses heard clinking of bangles and anklets.

5) South Park Street Cemetery

South Park Street Cemetery is the oldest burial ground built in 1767, also known for eerie occurrence. The story goes like this, when a few friends visited the place and clicked photographs, suddenly fell ill after a few days. Even one healthy guy had an asthma attack. There are also images captured where shadowy figures were moving, and even cameras were not working while clicking photographs. All of these incidences made the place amongst top haunting places in Kolkata.

Chinese Breakfast on Sundays 

Kolkata has a Chinese connection. There are many Chinese families who came to Kolkata during world war and British era and permanently settled here. Their descendants are now Indian but they maintain their Chinese heritage. A large portion of Chinese families live around Tiretta Bazaar where you can find a few Chinese temples. Every Sunday a group of Chinese food sellers sell some delicious and sumptuous Chinese breakfast just behind the Poddar Court. The “breakfast market” starts at around 6:00 am and continues till 8:30 am. 

Photo Courtesy Ramble On 

You can find authentic Chinese snacks like pork dumplings, rice pudding seasoned with sesame seeds, noodle soup, sweet stuffed buns, ham choi (salted vegetables), red roast pork and many other delicacies.

Best Luxury Hotels in Kolkata

Many people discard Kolkata as a hubristic city that denies industry, commercial establishments and modernization. The fact is the city boasts of some of the top 5 star hotels in Kolkata and wedding venues. Some of the prestigious properties are located in the heart of the city with impressive architecture and state of the art dining and winning facilities.  These are luxury paradise and some hotels like The Park, ITC Sonar Bangla, Novotel, Taj Bengal and others host regular business meetings, weddings and other occasions.

ITC Sonar Bangla kolkata, india
ITC Sonar Bangla, Kolkata
For example, ITC Sonar is a country’s top 5 Star luxury Hotel in Kolkata that is known for its sleek architecture. The best thing about ITC is the culinary experience that has earned awards from many worldwide hospitality forums. 

Galiff Street Pet Market

People call it ‘Pakhir haat’ (flea market of birds). The market is not just bird lovers, but also for plants, fish, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, ducks and even chicks. The pet market starts early in the morning and continues till late afternoon. Many neighboring states also gather here to buy fishes, plants, pigeons and others pets. I particularly like aquarists and various types of fishes, aquarium plants and others. The price is cheaper than regular shops and most of the sellers are quite knowledgeable about their hobbies. You can find variety of flowering plants etc.

Howrah Bridge & Ganga Ghats

Howrah Bridge is the landmark icon of Kolkata, first cantilever bridge in India constructed without any nut and bolt. It took 6 long years to build this bridge and opened to public transport on February 03, 1943. It carries whooping 100,000 vehicles and possibly more than 150,000 pedestrians every day. This prestigious bridge is ranked 6th among all cantilever bridge in the world.

The ghats in Kolkata have rich history and significance. Like Varanasi, these ghats have special significance, for example, some ghats are exclusive for cremation, some ghats for pujas, some are for boatmen. The beauty of Hoogly River (Ganga) can be truly appreciated sitting on some ghat. If you go in the early morning, you can see people, even very old ones take their daily bath in the ghat. some people practice wrestling, some swimming, some just sitting idly. It’s a wonderful scenario and gives entirely a different perspective to this populated city.

Salt Lake Stadium and East Bengal Mohan Bagan Football Rivalry

East Bengal v/s Mohan Bagan Derby 2015

Kolkata is a football crazy city. If Brazil or Argentina lost in the World Cup, fans shed tears. However, nothing can beat the crazy rivalry between East Bengal and Mohan Bagan clubs. The Derby match between two clubs is considering as one of the classic derbies by FIFA. Salt Lake Stadium, the largest stadium by capacity in India holds almost 70,000 people, and during the match between these two arch rivals, you will never see one seat empty.

Mallick Ghat Flower Market

This iconic flower market is located near the southeast end of Howrah Bridge. The best time to visit the market is in the early morning when fresh flowers are brought by people on their heads and cycle vans. The flower market is photographers’ paradise where variety of flowers piles up on both sides of the road. The ubiquitous flower sold in the market is marigold. Other common flowers are roses, kum kum, rajnigandha and others.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Surprising castles and an oblivious history at Dhanyakuria in West Bengal

village rural life west bengal india

West Bengal rural areas are amazingly beautiful. It’s not just the greenery that creates a sense of calmness, but a sublime feeling that makes the place more enticing. I am not a village guy, probably this is the reason village life captures my imagination. I like to stroll around uneven village pathways, talk to people, eat in shabby little places and sometimes just relax under a big tree. West Bengal villages are famous for temples; you may find lots of known and obscure temples in various places in Bengal, but a few people know there is a village in nearby Kolkata that treasures a few extraordinarily beautiful palaces.

Dhanyakuria, a small village located just 60-70 km from main Kolkata city (by road). I had started early in the morning riding on my motorcycle. It was initially fun to ride in the morning, but soon the joy was gone once I landed on the Rajarhat to Taki Road. The road was terrible, stabbed by innumerable potholes. Adding insult to injury, people drove cars and motorcycles like crazy. It was a one way road, so I had to take extra precaution while riding.

The village was not typical of Bengal villages; there were big houses, sporting clubs, motorcycles and even cars parked outside the houses. The place has a rich history, unfortunately nobody really cares about it. Once eight wealthy zamindars belonging to different castes held sway over this village. They had no fiefdom but they liked the place so much, they built some massive palaces adorned with showpiece fusion architecture.

Dhanyakuria was once a part of Sunderban, a small village with very little people. The forested area was converted into living settlement in 1742 when Jagannath Das, a trader from (now) Bangladesh settled here with his family. Within a few decades other traders from different castes like Mandal, Gaine, Sawoo and Ballavs followed and settled. The area was rich and fertile, and famous for rice and sugarcane. 

Related Story

This relatively obscure place is yet to be placed in West Bengal tourist map, but the extraordinarily beautiful palaces transformed the entire village into a treasure-trove of Bengal. The village was once ruled by the Sens, Lahas, Roys, Gayens and other clans. To show their wealth, they built large palaces and buildings. The first palace was built by the Dutta family more than 180 years ago. Unfortunately, most of them are now no more in the landscape, still there are structures, even after more than centuries; some of these structures look so young, well-maintained. 

Gayain Baganbari (Gayen Garden)

gaine bari palace mansion dhanyakuri west bengal india
Gaine Palace in Dhanyakuri
This was a surprise for me because it was a great architectural beauty, a castle that looked run down. The frontal area was unchanged and unlike other Bengal palaces, it looked like more of Windsor Castle than English Castle in Bengal. The arches, balcony and the entrance were well ornate. The architecture of this castle is an amalgamation of neo-classical and Indian forms. The Nazar Minar is more resembled with Islamic arches on the top floor. The dome of the pillar is influenced by 19th century western pillars.

The palace or Rajbari (called in Bengal), is L shaped with twenty one ionic columns adorn the front. The distinguished feature is couple of domes with coats of arms. It seemed to me Gaines were influenced by British heritage. The entrance or gate resembles the portals of a Roman temple.

There is a marble finished large temple adjacent to the palace that can be seen from any room within it. The building is surprisingly well-maintained with flower garden and trimmed grass lawn.

Gaine Nazar Minar
The mansion was built more than 175 years ago. Mahendranath Gaine was a trader of jute, dealing with the British directly and later on opened a Rice Mill at the village. Family Durga Puja that is till now celebrated, was started by him. 

The present members of the family have settled down in Kolkata, except 70 something Kanchan Gaine who still maintains the heritage of this house. Every year Durga Puja is celebrated when family member get together and celebrated like old times.  

Ballav Mansion

Royal Entrance of Ballav Mansion

The most interesting part of Ballav Mansion was some idols on the terrace. These dolls like structure made this palace known as “Putul Bari (House of Dolls)” by locals. The building was created almost at the time of Gaine’s palace. Shymacharan Ballav, the first owner of this beautiful mansion was a kind hearted and lavish businessman. Their descendants are now mostly in Kolkata and certain parts of West Bengal. The mansion is a fine blend of Indian and European architecture. The figure above the stucco peacock resembles a Roman centurion. 

Sawoo Baganbari (Garden)

It seemed a haunted place, but impressive with large porch and a big garden. Unlike other mansions, it wasn’t maintained, though I liked it because of the location. Behind it there is a huge pond, the trees and open field.

How to reach Dhanyakuria

I reached there on my motorcycle, so I suggest to go by own vehicle via Barasat. Don’t take Rajarhat road, it is a mess. From Barasat via Taka Road towards Bashirhar, Dhanyakuria is just a bit more than 30 km. After Beramchapa, you can ask somebody to look for Gaine Baganbari. The road condition is not good, and that is one way road, so be careful while driving.

If you want to go by train, take Bashirat local and drop down at Kankra Mirzanagar station. From there you need to take a local transport till Dhanyakuri via Kankra Kachua Road. The place is also famous for famous Bengal saint/mystic Baba Loknath at Kachuadham. At Dhanyakuria, you may hire a rickshaw or just enjoy a walking tour.

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