DHONEKHALI Saris – six yard dreams

Dhonekhali Sari is a cotton sari made in Dhonekhali, Hooghly district, West Bengal. It is a sari with 80 x 80 cotton thread count normally, borders between 1.5 and 2 inches or even more and 5.5 metre long drape and it has its GI Status Registered, with an application no176.

dhone1The FISH design seems to have become representative of Dhonekhalis but make no mistake, this existed even so many scores of years ago, just like other patterns… my humble attempt is to showcase what the traditional authentics were all about.

To the layman, these are also familiar as what our discerning Chief Minister Madam dons,but Dhonekhalis have always reigned supreme in Bengal by the sheer dint of being chic, sophisticated with an elegant and understated charm.

dhone3.jpegDhonekhali is a traditional Bengal sari that is woven from cotton threads and distinguished by its lightness and transparency. It’s light and airy texture makes it suitable for the warm and humid summers of coastal Bengal, and thus these are loved by women during the hot weather. These are distinguishable as a square-fold sari with a thick border, most of them embellished with decorative woven motifs

Weaving of Dhonekhali Sari is an age old crafting.The craftsmen skillfully weave cotton to thread, using two shuttles in weaving a Dhonekhali Sari. In the weaving process, bundles of cotton threads are washed, sun-dried, bleached, dried again, and then dipped in different colours to dye them. Once the thread gets coloured, it is starched and processed to make it finer and stronger. When this entire process gets completed, then artisans use hand looms and weave the Dhonekhali Sari.

dhone4GLOSSARY

Used mainly for DHONEKHALIS, even TANGAILS, sometimes

MATHAPAAR -Very Broad Borders in a Solid colours, sometimes going up to almost 12” or more. They were often woven in either of the two colours – Red or Black

JOL DUREY-Fine stripes. Jol = Water. Durey = Striped

CHURIPAAR – Fine Striped Border. Churi = Thin Bangles. Paar = Border

JHARNA design -As in Waterfall

KORA RONG – Natural shade, Offwhite / Broken White. Rong = Colour

KHORKI DUREY-Extremely fine stripes, especially found on the body of Dhonekhali saris. Durey = Stripes

GAYE DUREY – Stripes on the Body

DHAALAPAAR – Single coloured Solid Border.

RESHAM PAAR – Border woven with Satin thread / Resham

DUREY PAAR -Durey = Stripe. Paar = Border

NAKSHI – referring to intricate Patterns and Motifs

KHEJUR CHHORI – Typical of old Dhonekhali Saris , design thread, an arrangement of special weft threads of twisted cotton yarns in two colours woven in the Pallu; a kind of intertwined V, plaited, woven motif, in the basic colours of the Sari … however, a lot of the saris found these days do not come with these ones.

DHOOP CHHAON -Shot Colours .A fabric woven from warp and weft yarns of two or more colours, producing an irridescent appearance. A “shot” is a single throw of the bobbin that carries the weft thread through the warp.

MISSING LINES’ WEAVE -Weft yarn missing regularly or at intervals while weaving a fabric

About the author

mahuaMahua Sarkar

Born and brought up in Kolkata; Hold a Masters’ degree in English Literature along with a B.Ed qualification. Taught the same for a couple of years and then went in for a total switch in career … working with a multi national Bank, who were the pioneers in financing Auto loans. Thus, my life has been ‘crafted’ in a non – linear trajectory.

Soon I made up my mind to pursue my passion … Ethnic Handwoven Handlooms & Antique/Vintage Tribal Silver Jewellery.

I’ve had no formal training in designing. Just that I hail from a background where most of the family members were/are intrinsically artistic. From a very young age, all that I saw around me, be it furniture, jewellery, clothes, were mainly custom made.

I believe, that the fact that I have not gone through any course in jewellery designing helps in an openness of imagination that more often than not comes up with something unexpected. At the same time, this openness allows me to interact and incorporate various sensibilities and make it into a cohesive whole.

 

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Khejur Gurh- Bengal’s Sweet Agent Provocateur

[Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Gurh’ as a kind of unrefined sugar made from boiling
sugarcane juice until dry.]

Gurh is the price winter pays to set foot in Bengal. It adds mystique to nearly
anything, renders sweetness less evil, and sweets far from ordinary. In short, Gurh,
or Jaggery, is a delicious agent that makes Bengalis fête winter like a parched land
soaking in rain.

Bengal’s affinity with sweetness is perhaps a logical upshot of once being the maker
of the finest sugar. Legend has it that abundance of Gurh had lent it its ancient name
‘Gaud’. And, it was not until Bengal Renaissance in 19th century that native
confectioners first turned ingenious by lacing Portuguese pot-cheese with native
Gurh, eventually elevating tame sweets to objects of desire – a pattern that soon
spread far and wide.

Taste and seasonality together fuel the cult of Jaggery. Khejur (date-palm) Gurh,
referred to as ‘Gurh’ henceforth, is high-born, wintry, polymorph and redoubtably
surpassing in flavour and versatility an all-year Akher (Sugarcane) Gurh. Let us
celebrate a ripe winter peeking at the method that runs this seasonal madness like
clockwork. Bengal always made a generous host to Khejur trees that grow best in
dry parts of Indian Subcontinent. Its sugary-sap is tapped in earthen pitchers and
boiled over wood or coal to yield an earthy, nutty and most toothsome Nolen Gurh.
Molten gold is what rivals it best in resplendence. Though roundels of stubborn
‘Patali’ upstage by lasting well past fleeting winters of Bengal, semi-liquid Gurh is no
less cherished in households as side with Luchi, bread and whatnots. Sap-tapping
being a seasonal pursuit and Gurh a rarefied delight, wellbeing of those who live on
it finely hinges on the fortuity of lush harvests of Khejur. So, coming of winter sets
both the gleaners and artisans alike after fashioning the choicest lot of Gurh-infused
sweets.
If Gurh is that raga a handful can deliver, the likes of ‘Sri Gobindo Bhandar’ of
Bagbazaar or ‘Makhan Lal Das & Sons’ of Notunbazaar can safely be named as
consummate exponents of it. But such establishments are now on the wane due to a
rising shortage of Gurh for reasons that include a heightened use of date-palm trees
as inexpensive fuel. In winter, sweetsmiths from all-over Bengal pitch tents across
Kolkata to sell Gurh-based confections, namely Roshogolla, Kanchagolla, Gujia,
Norom-pak [soft ones], Kora-pak [hard ones], Chandrapuli [lunar shaped made of
grated coconut], Naru [orbs made of grated coconut and Gurh], Moa [a fluffy
sweetmeat made with Gurh and Kanakchur Khoi], besides raw Gurh both as Patali
and Nolen. Jalbhara, that once came into being to confound newlywed sons-in-law,
trades in winter a lowly rose water for gooey Nolen as filling. Badamchak, or, Brittle made of roasted peanuts dipped in molten Gurh is another seasonal delight that
sees one through any length of boredom. Though starting with any of them is always
deliberate, ending is never. No wonder the owners and patrons of flourishing
sweetshops are seldom found pleading almighty for everlasting winter.

End of chill in Bengal is both mourned like bereavement and tempered by stowing of
Gurh to sustain until winter reappears. Some kind confectioners are now onto
offering taste of Gurh round the year through preservation of Patali by Freezing.
Besides, availability of Nolen Gurh in tubes by notably raising its shelf-life has buried
a recurring woe of Bengal forever.

Enough said. Indeed, with Gurh it’s always easier to start than end. Let’s wind up
quoting the inimitable Sukumar Ray who so decisively extolled molten Gurh as one
of the finest relishes of humankind –

“…kintu shobar chaite bhalo, pauruti aar jhola gur”

(Notwithstanding, what trumps all is runny Jaggery lapped up with Bread)

About the author

img_0075Abhik Bhattacharya: A Chartered Accountant by profession, Abhik travels extensively to experience diverse cultures and cuisines for both fun and work. After a 18-year stint as executive in global behemoths he has decided to devote himself to doing things he loves most, namely reading, writing and Photography. A foodlover who can’t cook, Abhik is an unwavering champion of Bengal’s household cuisines and hopes that someday they will find their rightful place on Global culinary map.

Kolkata Christmas Festival- in the spirit of Yuletide

IMG_20181221_182746Kolkata is truly a cultural melting pot. Kolkata believes in assimilating the uniqueness and revelry of all cultures and religions and makes them it’s own. That is what makes Kolkata so special.

kc8Come December, Kolkata decks up in the Yuletide spirit with Christmas celebration in the air.

kc1The Kolkata Christmas Festival in Allen Park, Park Street is a must-go hotspot to experience Christmas revelry.

kc12Park Street lights up beautifully during the last week of December in celebration. Makeshift community stalls with delicious and authentic eats line up the sidewalks and the air fills up with music from various choirs and bands performing in Allen Park and a gala Christmas pageant marvels the spectators.

This year, join this joyous tradition and revel in the fun and celebration with all your family and friends! The Kolkata Christmas Festival awaits you…

kc10

STR-EATING UP CALCUTTA- Part 2: Café and Cabin Crawl

Kolkata aka Calcutta, hereafter referred to as Cal, is one of the best cities to be in for food lovers on a budget. From snacks to meals to desserts, everything is available at almost throwaway prices on or just off the streets. This series of articles include short summaries of some of the places you can go to. There are a lot more of course but it is virtually impossible to fit them all into anything less than a food encyclopedia!

allen-kitchen-special-prawn-cutlet

Part 2 – Café and Cabin Crawl

Winter is here and the year is drawing to an end. Buzzing markets; storefronts displaying Christmas trees with twinkling lights; restaurant menus with delectable season’s specials…Yuletide spirit is palpable in the air.

In the run up to what promises to be a nippy Christmas, let’s hop a little off the streets, on to kerbs and find food to warm the soul. The little establishments on this list were set up decades ago, some before independence and thankfully haven’t lost their quaintness to rapid modernization. A chat with the owners at the counters will give you a peek into their inception and history.

Started more than 130 years ago and handed over by a certain Mr. Allen to his trusted ally, Allen’s Kitchen is sparkling clean despite being on the very busy main road close to Shobhabazar Metro Station. Items fried in pure ghee, especially their legendary Prawn Cutlets have people thronging. Try their Chicken Steak – a medium sized minced chicken patty topped with a piquant sauce and caramelized onions, this one leaves the taste buds tingling.

mitra1Diagonally opposite Allen’s is the famed Mitra Café which over the years has established branches all over the city. Their Diamond Fish Kobiraji is exceptional. For the truly adventurous, there is Mutton Afghani – a cutlet who’s crisped exterior survives the onslaught of a decadently rich gravy. You might get to converse with strangers on a shared table as you concentrate on mopping up delicious gravies with thick, golden slices of buttered toast.

If good books and good food are your things, pop into Dilkhusha Cabin after a book browsing jaunt through College Street. With generous portion sizes of Kobiraji, Cutlets and Biryani, Dilkhusha which translates to ‘happy heart’, truly lives up to it’s name.

mitra5For the locals, Anadi Cabin in the Esplanade area needs no introduction. Try their famed Duck Egg Moghlai Porota, with Kosha Mangsho if you are ravenous as well as brave.

The cavernous kitchen seems to swallow the otherwise ubiquitous man who takes orders from each table at Café De-Luxe near Basusree Cinema off Hazra More. Wait patiently and you shall be rewarded with a plate of Kobiraji Moghlai. A marriage of frothy Kobiraji with robust Moghlai Porota, this is definitely stairway to food heaven.

mitra4You might just miss the tiny Das Cabin while walking towards Golpark from the bustling Gariahat More. But time stands still here as dozens devour what is touted to be one of the best Moghlai Porota on the planet. They also make a mean Kobiraji.

The small Hotel Priya in Shyambazar is significant though it doesn’t have cabin or café in its name. The clear winner here is Mutton Tikia which has big balls of minced mutton cooked in gravy so deliciously rich that it stops just short of being illegal. Team it with roti or even biryani if you wish to compound your sins. You can sample a plethora of Bengali dishes here at lunchtime.

A lot of small eateries suffered when Cal was reeling under the ‘carcass meat’ racket earlier in the year. To counter this Hotel Priya launched ‘Nirapod Niramish Kochi Gachh Pathar Mangsho’ which became their hottest selling item during those months. The name literally translates to ‘Safe Vegetarian Tender Tree Goat Meat’! Tree Goat? It is raw jackfruit which cooked with the right spices, tastes just like mutton, chuckles the owner!

mitra3Slices of history, great food and sparkling anecdotes – all available in little outlets ready to bring in Christmas cheer for you in Calcutta.

About the author

IMG-20181110-WA0003TARAA VERMAA SENGUPTAA

An internationally certified Image Consultant, Executive Coach and NLP Practitioner, Taraa is an alumnus of the prestigious Institute of Hotel Management in Mumbai. After 16 years of corporate work experience including management positions in organizations like the Taj Group of Hotels, The Leela, Regus Group, United Healthcare, and Indiabulls she has decided to devote herself to developing brands and people.

Taraa’s love for food and travel is a result of her father being in the Merchant Navy and her subsequent exposure to the hospitality industry. She is an avid reader, writer, learner and above all a person passionate about travel, food and people.

Pathra- a lesser known terracotta hamlet of South Bengal.

Attachment-2Most often we venture out for a vacation to far flung locations or maybe for a weekend trip nearby, to places which are well known or bustling with activity.

My quest for similar places around Kolkata led me to a place which is about 140 kms from Kolkata. You need to take the Kolkata – Kharagpur highway and then take the route to Midnapore Town. At Ballavpur, you need to exit the road to Midnapore and take the diversion onto the right. As you proceed through Hatihalka Road, you will slowly immerse yourself into the sights and sounds of a place, so widely differing from our usual city life. The road tends to alternate between well laid tar road and red soil stretches. The mud cottages start appearing on either side. An old man sits on the small mud extension at the entrance of his home. The kids follow their mothers or are busy playing in the courtyard at the centre of several such mud houses. Couple of men carry haystack on their shoulder balancing across on a bamboo rod. And then suddenly your vehicle needs to find a stretch where the red soil road is wider, as there is a hay laden bullock cart approaching from the other side. Life seems to have a pace so different than what we are used to, yet something, we have started yearning for. Slowly the surroundings alter a bit and you are back on a tar road with paddy fields separating you and Kasai River.dsc_9040

And then the first glimpse of the temple top juts out. You are almost there. And as you cross the pond on your left, the first building of the Terracotta temple town Pathra crosses you. Safely park your car on the field on your left. Once out of your car, you will sense the smell and sight of this place. It is not a place like many other popular sites where the temple buildings are as well kept. They have partly been left to fend for themselves. It is not a place where the sound is polluted with sounds of vehicles. The occasional passing by of a bike or cycle is the only welcome distraction you have. There are no guides to pester you. You are all onto yourself to explore, and at your own pace, and at an extent you want to soak yourself into.Attachment-1

There are 18 temples in this area which has been salvaged from being rendered into rubble. These date back to more than 200 years. Thanks to the efforts of Yaesin Pathan and some scholars – they took the initiative to salvage whatever possible of this rich history and architecture, from being completely destroyed because of neglect.

The history of Pathra goes back to the Gupta age, when the place was the hinterland of Tamralipta port, a gateway to southeast Asia. From 8th Century to 12th Century, it was an important hub for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. A majestic Vishnu Lokeshwar statue dug out in the village in October 1961 revealed both Hindu and Buddhist influences, indicating that practitioners of both religions frequented Pathra.dsc_9013

The turning point in the history of the village came in 1732, when Nawab Alivardi Khan appointed Bidyananda Ghoshal as the revenue collector of Ratnachawk pargana. Bidyananda established temple after temple in the village, making it a major draw for Hindu pilgrims. The nawab, however, was not too pleased with Bidyananda’s work. He was thrown into prison and then sentenced to death. Legend has it that the elephant that was to crush Bidyananda’s head refused to do so. The village reportedly gets its name from the incident.

The Ghoshal family changed its surname to Majumdar and continued building temples till the end of the 18th Century. Another branch of the family, with surname Bandopadhyay, also started constructing temples. With indigo cultivation and silk trade boosting the family’s fortunes, funds were not difficult to come by.

The decline started as the rich families shifted base from the village and ignorant local residents started vandalising the temples. Many of the structures were reduced to rubble.

As you reach the place, the structure on your right is the Navratna Temple and probably the largest amongst the ones I saw there. The temple faces west and had wonderful terracotta artwork on the walls. The view of Kasai flowing by, through the leaves of the trees around, and you standing in front of a structure built more than 200 years ago with no one around you, transcends you in to a state of tranquillity we often long for.

IMG_7867Walk upto the road and on the opposite side; you see three aatchala temples and a small navaratna temple called Shivalaya. Terracotta artworks adorn these temples, too.

Behind them is a Durga dalan, a temple-like structure made of stone.

Some distance away, inside the village of cluster of few houses, you will get to see a few Pancharatna temples with Terracota works.

Heard that City Planning students of IIT – Kharagpur have proposed heritage tourism for this place after extensive research. It will surely be exciting if this place receives its due. The fact that I experienced the place in its tranquility and silent grandeur is a takeaway I am gifted with, for not waiting till the time this place dots every travel package’s itinerary.

Tips: you can visit Pathra and come back the same day to Kolkata. You may also want to combine a visit to Pathra with a stay at Jhargram (1 hour away) for a 1 or 2 night weekend trip.

About the author

DPAn Information Technology professional, Pratik is a nomad by spirit. He loves capturing the world through his lens and and in recent times decided to append through writings, whatever can’t be captured through the lens.

 

Sisamara- a hidden gem in Dooars

WP_20171204_055The misty blue hills standing as sleepless sentinels in the distance–the long asphalt road running through the greenery all around– a lush green tea garden tucked here and there– suddenly a river(or rivulet?) emerging out of nowhere— this is the first glimpse of Dooars that greets the visitor . The land of infinite charm and breathtaking beauty.

DSCN5163The word ‘Dooars’ is derived from the word ‘duar’ meaning a door or a gateway. This region is characterized by eighteen such doors or entry points opening into the neighbouring country of Bhutan. Among these eighteen, seven are located in West Bengal and the remaining eleven are in Assam. The western Dooars or Bengal Dooars as it is commonly called– is a vast region stretching from the Tista in the east to the Sankosh in the west and is unique in its diversity– natural, socio-cultural, linguistic and ethnic.

WP_20171204_005Sisamara, a new destination at the southern margin of Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, is located away from the din and bustle of the tourists, some 28 km from Falakata in Alipurduar district of West Bengal. The river Sisamara divides the quiet, non-descript village Natunpara from the wildlife sanctuary. This region, just a few years back, had been a free territory for wild animals from the dense forest crossing the river and entering the village. Now a mud- embankment somewhat deters the entry of rhinos and bisons, but an unequal fight against marauding elephants is almost a daily routine there. Villagers spend sleepless nights, trying to guard fruits and crops, specially paddy during  the harvesting season. The nearest railhead to this idyllic destination is Alipurduar Junction but can be accessed from New Jalpaiguri or Jalpaiguri too. Bagdogra is the nearest airport, at a distance of approximately 130km.

WP_20171204_054There is no denying the fact that there are few spots in Dooars so magical! This place is vastly different from the Jaldapara we know at Hollong and Madarihat. With only two private lodges, the place still preserves the pristine beauty and uninterrupted solitude.

SHISA7The stillness of the dawn is broken by  a wild cacophony of  our winged friends and the sun-rays filter through the filigree of the foliage. On a full-moon night  the dark forest, bathed in the silvery glow of the moon, seems eerie and ethereal. Luck favouring , sighting of wild animals is a very strong  probability. The different seasons appear with their distinctive hues, sights and sounds. After spending a couple of days at Sisamara, one feels that  there is not much left to crave in life. It is a forest with a difference where  we, poor  urban souls, battered and bruised, are, at last, face to face with our selves.

About the author:

11844954_893985060679719_1839454040304620795_oDebjani Lahiri is a senior college teacher by profession. She is passionate about travelling. Singing, reading and writing( she is a regular travel-writer and blogger) are her other engagements.

 

ANANTA BASUDEVA TEMPLE: History etched in Terracotta

This blog is a part of my “Terracotta Temple Exploration” in various parts of Hooghly District, which still stand high above the ground to chant the stories of the glorious past. The facts that fascinate me the most are the terracotta panels used profusely for the ornamentation of these temples. The terracotta decorations are perhaps some of the best expression of artistic genius of the people of Bengal.

Each temple appeared to me as a repository, protecting the past events and human habits very compassionately, all that we need to do is to keep our sensory organs open to hear the facts inlaid and get a glimpse of the bygone days.

An example of such exquisite terracotta excellence is the Ananta Badudeva Temple of Bansberia. Situated just beside the famous Hangsheswari Temple, this was built by Raja Rameswar Datta in the year 1679 in dedication to Lord Basudeva; which is another name of lord Krishna and is now protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Ananta BasudevaThe temple follows the typical ‘ek-ratna’ style of Bengal Temple Architecture, where the temple is crowned with a single pinnacle. Here the pinnacle is octagonal. Three sides of the temple along with the pinnacle are covered with the finest terracotta work. The panels show a lot many variety of scenes, like the religious, economic, daily life, recreation and wild game and war prevalent in the contemporary society.

I would be sharing some fascinating facts regarding a single terracotta panel found in the temple, the panel has always mesmerized me, but no blog regarding Ananta Basudeva temple of Bansberia in the internet could throw any light regarding it. It was only after consulting several books and some other documents I could stitch the probable story behind the panel.

THE UNIQUE TERRACOTTA PANEL

A lower panel of the temple shows two very different kind of boats- one long and shallow boat with dragon head and another foreign warship. The dragon headed boat has several people sitting and rowing the boat with oars in the lower deck, whereas the foreign warship shows two masts in the upper deck and the rowers are seen in the lower deck through the window like openings . Both the watercrafts have several people who seem to be aiming at each other with weapons that resemble matchlocks with both hands. The men on the foreign warship are clad in what appear to be short coats and trousers. Everybody wears a sort of headgear that resembles the European hat. Whereas the men on the dragon faced boats are different from the figures on the foreign boat both in their posture and attire.Terracotta Work (3)

The dragon head boat was not a common feature in India. It was however a feature of many war boats in Burma, Indonesia and Thailand, and it is not surprising to find this figure head represented by the folk artists, for the river of Bengal are a great mixing place of ancient traditions of boat building evolved in India and South East Asia. 

Let’s peep into the political scenario of Lower Bengal during the 16th 17th century that will help us to uncover the past account inlaid in this plaque. 

Terracotta BoatsThe Portuguese came to Bengal during the mid-16th century and settled in large numbers in the Chittagong-Sandwip area of current-day Bangladesh. Some traded and some preached, while a very large number of them took up employment with various local polities as mercenary soldiers, especially as matchlock men. In time, they also fought in the armies of the Mughal Empire and the Arakan Kingdom of coastal northern Burma. 


In the late 16th century the Portuguese together with the Arakanese pirated, ravaged, engaged themselves in slave trade and became the terror of the Bay of Bengal. The Portuguese, after gaining their trading control in Chittagong, turned their attention towards Satgaon, which used to be a thriving port town in Hooghly district. The Mughal Sultan gave them permission to build their customs house in this region and carry on trade. But Satgaon itself was in the grip of one irreversible crisis, with the decay of Saraswati river free movement of watercraft became difficult which hampered trade, the Portuguese now turned their eyes towards Hooghli. In 1632, the Mughal army expelled the Portuguese from the Hooghly owing to Portuguese association with the slave trade, kidnapping and refusal to support Shah Jahan. As trade in Bengal was very profitable that time, Portuguese couldn’t afford to bear this loss, so after amending themselves they again got the permission to carry on with the trade and returned back to Hooghly the year next.

The fact that all the men who are present in the said terracotta panel are aiming their guns and both the watercrafts are facing each other makes it evident that this is a scene of war, and as two types of boats are shown, one light foreign warship with men on board wearing costumes which fit the description of contemporary Portuguese attire, and the dragon headed shallow bottom boat with men in Asian dress certainly supports our assumption that this could be a war scene between the Portuguese and the Mughal which took place in Hooghly.

The Portuguese and Arakanese incursions left such a deep scar on the collective psyche of Bengali society, that the defeat of the Portuguese in the hands of the Mughals and their deportation from Bengal, though for a short period heaved a sigh of relief. The said plaque could have been inserted in the temple to commemorate the event.

Terracotta Work (2)The terracottas of Ananta Basudeva temple are unique in both narration and art form. The ornamental plaques give a brief description of the life and lifestyle of the contemporary society, a treasure trove which can only be felt when visited.  Be there any day to appreciate the beauty and to cognize the gone by days of Bengal.

About the author

ShreyashiShreyasi Bhattacharya

Ph.D in Archeology

Heritage tour co-ordinator in and around Kolkata