Land of the tiger- Sundarbans

The season for vacations and outings are almost here and ideas of getaways are surely in your mind? If taking a break from the maddening crowd and the clichéd grey city skies lurks in your thoughts, then here is an idea of a quick escape that does not need a lot of planning.

Visiting a world heritage site that is the largest mangrove forest in the world- a misty, swampy land of narrow tidal waterways, crocodiles and man-eating tigers; a place that is close in vicinity and is also easy on the pockets… Rings a bell? Sundarbans would be the answer that fits the bill.Sundarbans-2

Before we start off with places to venture and things to expect, some commonly known points about the land of the Royal Bengal Tiger:

• Largest tidal halophytic mangrove forest

• UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Journey:

A two-and-a half hours’ road journey will drop you off at Gosaba. From here, a launch ride will take you onwards to what is the last inhabited island in this part called ‘Jatirampur’. The broad expanse of the river is very calming for the mind, and this is also where you can catch a glimpse of the majestic Crocodylinae (Crocodiles). Both sides of the river are covered with lush green foliage and white herons are an addition to the serene canvas.croc

What to expect:

Brace yourself for an unforgettable adventure as you charter through the narrow tidal canals in a boat, amidst the dense forest. You are sure to catch glimpses of crocodiles sunning themselves in the muddy banks, spotted deers, olive ridley turtles, Gangetic dolphins, various species of birds and if you’re a lucky one, you might even have an encounter with the mighty and majestic Royal Bengal tiger!Bengal_tiger

While venturing, do stop by for a performance if you come across the ‘Baul’s- a group of wandering singing minstrels who are sure to enthral you with their singing performance that has a unique, rustic charm.

The major tourist attractions of the Sundarbans have lyrical names – ‘Shudhanyakhali’, ‘Sajnekhali’ (the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve) and ‘Do Banki’ (meaning from where the road curved into two directions ). The ‘Bon Bibir mandir’s are a must visit, this local deity is believed to protect the people from the man eaters.

Best time to visit:

September to March is a great time to visit the Sundarbans when the weather is sunny and temperatures are moderate. The summer months are quite hot and humid, and although monsoon has it’s own charm and appeal, the heavy rains might cause water levels to rise, which can make the boat rides a risky affair.

Image courtesy: the Internet

Advertisements

MURSHIDABAD- GLORY OF BENGAL

Have you always been fascinated with the history of Bengal? Have you been smitten by the architecture and heritage of Bengal? Then Murshidabad is the place you should be visiting next.

La Historia

Murshidabad used to be the capital of Bengal during the Mughal reign. This is a land which has been equally divided by Bhagirathi, the prehistoric channel of the Ganges. History has it that Murshid Quli Khan, who was the Diwan of Bengal under emperor Aurangzeb, had shifted his capital from the erstwhile Dacca (what we currently know as Dhaka) to new place which he named after himself as Murshidabad, in around the year 1704.

Even after the British conquest of Bengal in the middle of 18th century, Murshidabad for some time remained the main seat for administration and the residence of the Nawab. Even after the removal of Supreme Civil and Criminal Courts to Calcutta in 1772, the subsequent courts were brought back to Murshidabad again in 1775 till Lord Cornwallis moved the entire revenue and judicial staff to Calcutta.

Places of Interest

hazarduariHazarduari Palace: The one name one can always connect Murshidabad with is the magnificent Hazarduari Palace. Located in the campus of Kila Nizamat, it was built during the 19th century under the reign of Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah, by Duncan Macleod. Previously known as “Bara Kothi”, the foundation stone of this place was laid on August 29th, 1829 by Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah of Bihar, Bengal and Orissa. The name Hazarduari surely speaks for itself, for it means a palace with a thousand doors. Previously known as Bara Kothi, amongst the 1000 doors, 100 of them are false. But why so? This trick was used to confuse enemies between the false and the real doors.

Nizamat Imambara: Built in 1847AD by Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah, it happens to be one of the largest imambaras not only in Bengal but in the whole of India.

katra-mosqueThe Katra Masjid: The tomb of Nawab Murshid Quli Khan, it is located in the north eastern side of the city. The Katra Masjid was a great centre of Islamic learning. The tomb of Murshid Quli Khan is buried under the entrance stair case. The most appealing feature is the two large corner towers having loopholes for musketry.

Bacchawali Tope: On the beautiful garden space between the Nizamat Imambara and the Hazarduari Palace to the east of the old Madina Mosque, lies the very famous canon popularly known as Bacchawali Tope. The cannon was manufactured during the 12th and the 14th century, and consists of two pieces of unlike diameters.

kathgola-palaceKathgola Palace: This magnificent edifice surrounded by gardens belonged to Raja Dhanpat Singh Dugar and Lakshmipat Singh Dugar. This four-storeyed palatial structure has an impressive collection of priceless paintings, mirrors and furniture. The premises also host the Adinath temple with it’s typically Jain style of intricate stucco work.

How to Reach:

Murshidabad is connected to Kolkata by local and express trains available from Sealdah and Kolkata Stations. The destination station will be either Berhampore Court or Murshidabad.

Regular long distance buses are also available from Kolkata.

Bus service is available from Kolkata to Berhampore and then one can avail an auto rickshaw or car to reach Murshidabad town, which is approximately 11 km from Berhampore.

Bandel Church- a Portuguese legacy

If you’ve been thinking of visiting a place where peace envelops you slowly…where you can witness the beautiful amalgamation of culture and history, then Bandel Church is the place you should plan to visit.

One of the most significant historical churches, not only in West Bengal but in the entire India, is situated in Bandel , in the Hoogly district of West Bengal . The district Hoogly in itself has a fascinatingly rich heritage, and The Basilica of Holy Rosary adds more historical value and charm to it.

Shrine_Basilica_Bandel_Kolkata_18428HISTORY:

The Parish Church, which is a part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta, has a very interesting history of its own. It is known that by the middle of the the 16th century, the Portuguese settlers had started using Bandel as a port. Around the year 1571, the great emperor Akbar permitted the Portuguese to establish a town in the district of Hoogly. As immigrants  started settling down in the new established area, the priests started baptising the natives of that area.  Captain Vedro Taveres earned the emperor’s complete permission to preach Christianity publicly and thereby the Bandel Church was constructed in the year 1599.

Unfortunately the original church was burnt down by the Moors in the year 1632. Captain Pedro Tavares later constructed a new church over the ruins of the older one in the year 1660.

Layout of the church:-

The layout of the church is mesmerising with a touch of colonialism in every nook and corner of the edifice.

  • Mast of a ship – This particular installation has an interesting history. This piece had been presented to the church as a token of gratitude to Mother Mary by a Portuguese captain of a ship who had survived a storm in the Bay of Bengal.
  • The church has three altars, many tombstones, a shrine to Mother Mary and an organ.

Did you know?

Bandel Church, which is known to be the oldest Christian place of worship in the whole of Bengal was founded in the year 1599 , the same year as Queen Elizabeth sanctioned the establishment of East India Company.

Places of interest around Bandel:-

  • Hoogly Imambara
  • Chandanagore Museum
  • Chisurah Dutch Cemetery
  • Shrine Basilica

How to reach Bandel?

Bandel is about 54 kms. away from Kolkata and can be reached by bus, train or car.

Digha- of sun kissed beaches

digha4Over decades, Digha has been the most popular seaside destination in West Bengal. Conveniently located only about 190 kms. away from Kolkata, Digha, in the East Medinipur district, is a great weekend getaway with flat, hard sandy beaches lined with casaurina trees.digha1

Digha was nicknamed as ‘Brighton of the East’ by Warren Hastings, the first governor of Bengal. The serene coastline, breathtaking sunsets and breezy cashew and casuarina plantations reminded him fondly of Brighton, and he envisaged this little village to emerge as a beach resort.

digha6Getting there:

By bus:

Digha is about a 5 hrs. bus journey from Kolkata. Bus services are available from Dharamtala, Golpark, Garia, Kasba, Kudghat, Dumdum and other places.

By train:

There are trains available from Howrah like the Duranto Express, Kandari express, etc., ensuring a comfortable journey.

By road:

Digha is connected from Kolkata via the NH-16 and NH-116. En route, one can stop in Kolaghat or Mecheda for excellent meals.

digha5Nearby attractions:

The entire East Medinipur coastline is strewn with beautiful beaches like Mandarmani, Tajpur, Shankarpur, Talseri, etc. which are all within an hour’s distance from Digha.

Other than visiting the beaches, one can check out the Amarabati Park which is a great place to have picnic with the kids.

The Chandaneshwar temple is a very popular Shiva temple in Balasore district and is about 6 kms. from New Digha.

Digha’s Marine Aquarium is India’s largest inbuilt aquarium. Maintained by the Zoological Survey of India, this facility hosts a staggering variety of marine life.

digha2

Eat:

Digha offers great seafood options, be it in the seaside shacks or various restaurants. One can also buy fresh fish, crab or shrimps from the market and get them cooked according to personal preference in the cooking stalls inside the market.

Digha is a charming seaside resort with it’s own unique beauty, and has been a major tourist attraction. Although it is crowded due to the great influx of tourists, still, with it’s great beaches, delicious food and laid-back fun, Digha is a perfect weekend getaway.

digha3

Image courtesy: 

raj

Raj Sarkar

Purulia- in search of ‘Palash’ and ‘Chhau’

IMG-20180719-WA0020Purulia –

Thinking of a rugged terrain, with rocky hills and lush green forests – Think Purulia.

Situated by the Kangsabati River, Purulia is also known as Manbhum city. In ancient times it was known as Vajra Bhumi. It is a district steeped in a blend of nature, history and folkart. The undulating landscape is of red soil and the blazing red of the Palash flower in bloom. A rich Tribal culture adds to the mysticism of this land.

Temple Run 

While in Purulia, Deulghata is a must see. 27 kms away from Purulia, these temples are believed to date back to the 11th – 13th Century. The walls of the Deuls(Temple Tower) are covered with decorative bricks and are believed to have been built by the Jains.

Banda Temple is also in all probability a Jain Temple and is the best preserved one.  The 75 mt sandstone temple was built in the 11th Certury AD. It has an ornate and beautiful lotus shaped finial, which unfortunately Deulghata temples don’t have. The outer walls have intricate and beautiful floral and geometric patterns.

Cheliama , the big village contains the temple most richly decorated with intricate terracotta work and one of the few surviving ones from the 17th century.  The Radha- Govinda temple have archways depicting Krishna Leela or avatars of Vishnu.

IMG-20180719-WA0021Purulia Chhau

Having seen the temples, if one wants to witness the original folk art and culture of Purulia, one must watch the Chhau Dance. Chhau is a semi-classical dance form with martial, tribal and folk origin. The dances have various sub-texts which can vary from religious themes like Shaivism, Jainism, Shaktism to martial arts, acrobatics or celebrating a particular festival.  The Purulia Chhau Dance is listed on the UNESCO’s world heritage list of dances. The Purulia Chhau is distinctly different than the other two forms of Chhau, namely the Seraikella Chhau and the Mayurbhanj Chhau; in using distinctly different and crafted masks.  The dancers don the masks of the characters they are depicting. For example, someone depicting a lion has a face mask of a lion and the body costumes too, with the dancer walking on all four. The Chhau masks are works of great craftsmanship and is registered un der the GI or the Geographical Indications tag.

IMG-20180719-WA0022Did you know Hindi films have also shown the Purulia Chhau?

Well… The Hindi film Lootera opens with a Chhau dance sequence depicting the Ramayana. Barfi too had several scenes of Purulia Chhau.

Jhumur –

Jhumur songs are extremely popular among artisan communities like the Kurmi, Kumhaar, Rajwer or tribal communities like Santhal, Munda, Oraon, Kharia, Birharh tribes. Jhumur is known for its lyrical and literary significance because of the use of ancient language. Different Jhumur songs are sung at different times of the year

IMG-20180719-WA0019Eco-Tourism

Pakhi Pahar in the vicinity of the Pardi Dam, Tugga and Bramni Falls,Matha Hills amongst numerous other places deserves definite visit while in Purulia.  Numerous nature and rock climbing courses are conducted in the Matha Pahar region, which is known for its aesthetic beauty.

Visit the area around Bagmundi or Ayodhya Hills, which are parts of an extended plateau. Sit and revel at the serenity of Khairabera and Saheb Bandh.

IMG-20180719-WA0018How to Get There

Purulia can be reached by train, bus or any private vehicle from major cities like Kolkata, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Bokaro and Asansol.

Useful Links –

https://wbtourismgov.in/

http://www.purulia.gov.in/distAdmin/departments/dico/fair_festival.html

Image courtesy: Raj Sarkar

raj

Canning- just a heartbeat away from the city

c8Canning – The city named after the erstwhile Lord Canning. Situated on the southern banks of the Matla river; which forms a wide estuary in and around Sunderbans, this was envisaged to be the port which would be an alternative to Kolkata and would be almost be a rival to Singapore. Though that ill-considered move did not happen, Canning has emerged as the gateway to the Sunderbans.  During the monsoon, Matla becomes a formidable force.c3

c9

Apart from various private accommodation, the Government of West Bengal, Tourism Department has also got PathaSathi motel in the Canning Town.

Spend a day in Canning… Drive by the 644 M long bridge over Matla, when the sky darkens visit the fisheries, see the iridescent colours of the sun  while it sets down on the river Matla, be amazed at the innocence of the children playing about or check out the ruins of what was Lord Canning’s abode.

c4 For a day… go back to nature.

About the photographer

facebook_1531244169480Kallol Bhattacharjee is a Kolkata-based street photographer. He has been featured in Getty Images, Streets Of India, Colours of India, Creative Image Magazine, India Today,  North East Style Fashion Magazine among others.

Pice Hotel- a legacy of food

Kolkata is not one city.

In the folds of the bustling metropolis with it’s ship-shape streets and fast flyovers, ritzy malls and state-of-the-art multistoried buildings, lives another city with it’s thousand years old heritage.

You can still get a peek of this unique legacy in the nooks and corners of the city- a legacy of art, culture, lifestyle and food- of course, food.

One such legacy of comfort food in Kolkata is the ‘pice hotels’. Although Bengali home food has made a stylish comeback in a big way over the last decade, often combined with exotic ingredients and culinary styles to create ‘fusion’ cuisine, the quintessential comfort food with it’s dal, bhaja, machher jhol, bhat still reigns in the Bengali’s heart. And a great way to sample these delicacies is to experience the pice hotels- with it’s fresh, homely food served in an age-old style which has not changed much since the British era.

The name ‘pice hotel’ originated from the fact that in these hotels, everything is individually priced, be it extra helpings of rice, daal, vegetables, fish, to wedges of lemon and even the banana leaves that the meal is served on!

Most of the pice hotels in Kolkata have been around for a very long time and still to business in the age-old, traditional way, making you feel that you have somehow transported yourself in time! They are completely non-frill, table and bench affairs with no fancy décor. The idea is to concentrate on food, and right after you take your seat, a brisk waiter will come to take your order, reciting the day’s specials much as it was done even a 100 years back.

The food will be served on banana leaf, with a wedge of lemon, a green chilli and some cut onions in side. A typical satisfying thhali meal in a price hotel will comprise of a steaming plate of rice- not Basmati, but ‘sheddho’ chal er bhat (parboiled rice), a generous helping of ‘daal’, be it sona moog, musur or the heavenly ‘machher mathha diye daal’ (fish head with lentils), jhuri aloo bhaja (matchstick size deep-fried potato wedges), a seasonal vegetable dish and a choice of chicken, mutton or fish, followed by chutney. Apart from these staples, one can choose sides like ‘shukto’- a medley of vegetables combined with bitter-gourd and bori with a hint of fragrant ghee, ‘postor bora’- the mouthwateringly crunchy poppy-seed paste fritters, ‘dhonkar dalna’ and other delicious seasonal vegetable curries like ‘enchor er dalna’ (green jackfruit curry), ‘phulkopir dalna’ etc. If you are lucky, you can also get the option of ordering ‘chanchra’- a unique Bengali mishmash of vegetables and fish head that’s truly out-of-the-world.

Coming to the non-vegetarian options, a delicious chicken or mutton curry with it’s fiery red soupy gravy awaits you if you so fancy. Otherwise, go for the fish. You can choose from a variety of fishes like rui, katla, bhetki paturi, parshe, etc., not to forget prawn delicacies like chingri machher malai curry.

Finish off your meal with a helping of sweet seasonal fruit chutney like mango, tomato, pineapple, etc. and your day will be made by a thoroughly enjoyable gastronomic experience.

There are pice hotels sprinkled all over the city, specially in the North, Central area where can you have an amazingly satisfying meal within INR 100- a phenomenon that is truly unheard-of in this present day.

Some places that you can try are-

Hotel Tarun Niketan

88/1b, Rash Behari Avenue, Kalighat, Kolkata – 700026

Hotel Sidheshwari Ashram

19, Rani Rashmohani Road, New Market Area, Kolkata

Mahal Restaurant

6/3, Raja Ram Mohan Roy Sarani, Amherst Street, Near College Street, Kolkata

Adarsha Hindu Hotel

212, Rash Behari Avenue, Ballygunge, Kolkata 700019

Jaganmata Bhojonalaya

Kailash Bose Street, Near Vivekananda Road and Bidhan Sarani Crossing, Kolkata