Variety

Rediscover Bengal

POOJA JALAN | Updated on: May 26, 2011

lf27west_10.jpg | Photo Credit: Pooja Jalan

Tourists to India often boast about their visit to the Taj Mahal, Qutub Minar or Ajanta-Ellora. However, we all know that these landmarks have been digi-clicked and done with. And, more tourists are bypassing the tried and tested, and heading to newer destinations.

Let's take West Bengal! You've visited Darjeeling, trawled the beaches of Shankarpur and lost count of the number of times you've been to Digha. You've even managed to squeeze in trips to Shantiniketan, the Dooars and the Sundarbans. What's left, you ask? Plenty. Bengal offers unique getaways, each more fascinating than the other. It may be just what you need for a refreshing weekend break.

Gopiballavpur

The panorama of the blue Subarnarekha River with banks of golden sand, milky white Kash blooms, a vast green jungle of Sonajhuri and eucalyptus, and ancient historic ruins dating back to the Ramayana make Gopiballavpur ideal for an exciting day trip. Formerly known as Kashipur, this little known tourist spot falls on the border of Orissa and Jharkhand.

The Subarnarekha River etymologically derives its name from Sanskrit/Bengali words — “Subra” meaning gold and “Rekha” meaning streak. Gold nuggets are occasionally found on the river bed, tempting villagers to keep panning for the precious metal. The Sidhu-Kanu-Birsa — a ramshackle wooden bridge — offers spectacular views of the river with country boats and fishermen casting their nets.

Brush up your history before visiting Gopiballavpur; knowledgeable guides are rare. The Rameshwar Temple, now in ruins, has a series of impressive black stone pillars and bears characteristics of the Orissa School of architecture. The three flying lions and the Shiv lingams are impressive.

Near the Rameshwar Temple is Tapavan — a dark green forest that locals believe was the hunting ground of Ratnakar, who later became Valmiki and wrote the Ramayana . There is an ashram here where Sita supposedly gave birth to Lav and Kush. The forest is full of monkeys, presumably descendants of Ram's vanar sena.

Getting there

By rail: Train services are available until Jhargram, from Howrah. Take Ispat Express from Howrah station in the morning to reach Jhargram. The duration is three hours. Then hire a taxi to reach Gopiballavpur.

By road: 48 km from Jhargram. A drive from Kolkata to Jhargram takes four hours.

Burdwan

For those looking for history, heritage and religious inspiration, this town is a transcendental adventure. Situated on the bank of the Damodar River, Burdwan is only 100 km away from Kolkata. The town's landmarks are fine examples of colonial architecture. The majestic peach-coloured Curzon Gate or “Bijoy Toran”, flanked by lions on the side and eagles on the top, makes a pretty picture at night. In close proximity is the Christ Church constructed with red bricks. It is open to the public Sunday mornings. The Town Hall is another display of historical architecture. This hall was handed over to the Municipality of Burdwan on May 25, 1894, for preserving the memories of Lala Bansogopal Nandey. The municipality reformed the hall in 1990. It lies over an area of 2,400 sq.ft and seats 485.

Among the most venerated temples in Burdwan is the one dedicated to Sarbhamangala, the tutelary deity of the Burdwan Raj. It is the oldest Navratna temple of undivided Bengal.

Don't miss the 108 Shiva temples at Kalna, housed within a single complex. Maharaja Tejachandra set up these temples in 1789 after receiving divine instructions in a dream. Built in two concentric rings, the first row has 64 temples, out of which 32 have white and 32 black Shiva lingams. In this row all the Shiva lingams point northward. The other row consists of the rest of the temples, of which two are empty. All the constructions are in the typical atchala style.

West of town is the Krishnasayar Park where a big lake was excavated by the royal family of Burdwan.

Getting there

By rail: All important trains of Eastern Railway going from Howrah to Delhi stop at Burdwan.

By road: Inter-state bus services connect the town with key destinations in India. The four-lane GT Road is there for those who want to drive down. It is 95 km away from Kolkata.

Chinsurah

Explore modern-day Chinsurah, colloquially known as Chuchura and Chunchro, a vibrant town in the northern suburbs of Kolkata. This town is a historic Dutch colonial settlement located alongside river Ganges. Chinsurah is closely associated with the work and lives of the stalwarts in Indian history, such as Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Debendranath Tagore, Bhudeb Mukherjee, Rabindranath Tagore and Sarat Chandra Chatterjee. Marvel at the startling beauty of the Armenian Church in Chinsurah consecrated to St John the Baptist or walk around the Commissioner's House, once the residence of the Dutch Governor, Schiterman. Constructed in 1744, each floor of this building contains sixty-five arches.

Highlights include two cannons kept in the well-tended garden. Prior permission is needed to visit this ancient building. Stop over at Fort Gustavus built in 1628 during the reign of the Dutch, on land given by the Nawab of Bengal.

Another historically significant site is the Bandemataram House on Joraghat, residence of the great Bengali novelist and poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. The national song of India, Vande Mataram , was composed here, hence the name.

All of Chinsurah goes around a watchtower called the Gharir Moth. It was established by the British in 1914. You can enjoy solitude at the Shandeswara Temple. This Shiva temple dates back to the 16th century. There are two drums donated by a Dutch commissioner in the temple premises. The Shandeswar Talar Ghat constructed by Nilambar Seal is also worth a visit.

Getting there

By road: The town is a 50-km drive from Kolkata. The most popular roads taken are the Grand Trunk Road off Howrah Bridge or Delhi Road off Bali Bridge. You can also take the east-bound Jessore Road and then Kalyani Expressway to the Kalyani Bridge. After crossing the bridge into Bansberia, drive a couple of miles north to enter Chinsurah.

By rail: It takes 50 minutes to reach Chinsurah from Howrah by train. Alternatively, take a train from the Sealdah station to Naihati and then take a ferry to Chinsurah across the Ganges.

Pandua

If you like to walk into the dark recesses of history, a visit to Pandua is a treat. Exploring this town will remind you of its complex past that still reverberates today. Adina Mosque is easily the most intriguing of Pandua's attractions and the largest Muslim monument in Bengal. Built with red bricks and black marble, the structural remains speak of excellent craftsmanship and culture. Sultan Sikandar Shah built Adina between 1364 and 1374. The mosque is a beautiful combination of distinctive Islamic calligraphy and Hindu motifs carved on stone and in terracotta.

If you can see just one thing at Adina, let it be the open courtyard. It is the size of a cricket ground, replete with jharokhas and arches, besides an impressive nave with gorgeously decorated mihrab and platform.

The figurines of Ganesha, Vishnu and different goddesses have been installed as part of recycled panels to support the structure. The huge number of terracotta panels with bells, lamps, lotuses, the tree of life and Buddhist stupas plastered all over the western wall are incredible in terms of sheer magnitude and workmanship.

Make a stop at the Qutb Shahi/Sona Mosque. Less than a stone's throw from Adina, this large double-aisled mosque with 10 domes and corner turrets is dedicated to Saint Nur-Qutub-Ul-Alam. His grave lies in the Chhoti Dargah nearby. Built by Makhdum Shaikh in 1582, the mosque once had a gilded eastern wall and turret crowns. Solid stone pillars that previously held up a part of the roof lie scattered in the compound.

Don't leave Adina without purchasing luscious Malda mangoes. The sheer variety is alluring. Himsagar, Fajli, Langda, Golapkhas, each holds its own in terms of colour, taste, form and texture. Do taste the subtle aamsattwa, which looks like a tightly pressed piece of bark.

Getting there

By rail: Gour Express, Inter-city Express and Jan Shatabdi Express connect Malda town to Howrah/Sealdah. Pandua is 16 km from Malda.

Published on May 26, 2011
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