Kurumbera Fort – Tucked away in oblivion

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Just as the car took the final turn on the dusty trail, a brown stone wall suddenly emerged on the horizon, indicating our journey has come to an end. Each of us felt the sheer joy of discovering a treasure hitherto unknown, tucked away in oblivion by the passage of time. It won’t be an exaggeration to say it was a discovery since the 600-year old Kurumbera Fort is certainly not on the state’s tourist map though it does get occasional visitors from nearby places. The fort is located about 163 km away from Kolkata and 52 km from Kharagpur. Team WHEELS can claim the credit for spreading the word and tracing out the route to this historical structure which though under the Archaeological Survey of India, is hardly known to the wanderlust Bengalis.
As Team WHEELS took the last turn on right after Gaganeswar Bazaar it was the ramparts of the Kurumbera Fort which came into view. Despite facing the vagaries of time and nature, the fort shrouded in legends and myths, still manages to excite and captivate visitors.
Unlike many states, West Bengal is devoid of majestic structures built by the rulers of bygone era. Most of the structures have been either destroyed by invaders or ravaged by time. Besides Gour in Malda, the fort at Kurumbera in Paschim Medinipur has somehow survived the onslaught of time.

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Route
Initially the name ‘Kurumbera’ could hardly cut any ice with our team members but were convinced to visit a ‘fort’.
Kurumbera Fort is located in Gaganeswar village near Kesiari in West Midnapore– close to Belda beside NH-60 and Kharagpur town. It is well connected to Kolkata via Kharagpur by the fabulous new generation highways of NH-6 followed by NH 60. The total drive would take roughly 4 hours from Kolkata.
From Vidyasagar Setu enter Kona Expressway. At the end of Kona Expressway turn left to enter NH-6. Thereafter, continue straight on NH-6 and cross the toll tax plaza at Dhulagori, Uluberia and Kolaghat. Thereafter continue straight towards Kharagpur and cross Deulia, Mechogram, Debra toll tax, Basantpur, till you reach the bifurcation on NH-6 just before Kharagpur town. Here the traffic informatory board reads: ‘Kharagpur and Mumbai – on left’ (while going onto a flyover). Do not take this left towards Kharagpur/ Mumbai but proceed forward to take a soft left which passes under a flyover and enters into NH-60 (also known Baleswar highway) to proceeds towards Orissa.
Once you are on NH-60, continue on the concretised surface with the few diversions since the carriageway is under repair at some places.
On NH-60, pay toll tax at Rampura and enter ‘Baleswar-Kharagpur Expressway’ (continuation of NH-60) and proceed till you reach Belda junction, about 38 km from NH-6. Belda would be the first prominent intersection after Makrampur with a road entering on right from NH-60. Enter into this road from Muhammadpur at Belda, leaving behind NH-60 and continue driving forward towards Belda Police Station. Continue a little further to take the first right from the intersection which leads to Kukai and Keshiari. Follow this road SH-5, popularly known as Hospital Road for another 10.4 km to reach Kukai before Keshiari. From Kukai Morh take an insignificant left into a narrow red lateritic road – wide enough for two vehicles to proceed towards Gaganeswar village. Drive on this picturesque pathway which cuts through the green paddy fields on both sides. After about a km on this quaint road take the right fork and continue on the same stretch for another 2.1 km to reach the small village bazaar at Gaganeswar. At the other end of the bazaar turn right which would lead you to an open area and you will finally set your eyes upon the astonishing Kurumbera Fort.
The USP of the drive was indeed the route which kept changing as we cruised on the new generation 6-lane NH-6, then eased into the 4-lane NH-60, followed by the SH-5 and finally entered into the village pathway of red laterite soil. Nevertheless, the drive was engrossing and smooth without testing our driving skills severely.

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History

Despite being a protected monument under ASI, there is no data available about this fort which is quite surprising. However, according to few local intellectuals, it might be because of a Hindu-Muslim dispute over the demolition of the Shiva temple which prompted the decision to keep its history under wraps.
According to folklore, this fort was built overnight to welcome Lord Rama and his consort, Sita when they visited the place during their exile.
Fort Kurumbera is maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI) which had taken over the site in 1920 and has been preserving it quite impressively. According to ASI- the enclosure was originally a laterite temple of Shiva built according to the shikhara style of architecture.
The only survivor to narrate the history is an inscription on a white stone block, to be found on the extreme western wall of the corridor behind the domed structure. According to the inscription the structure was originally a temple or Shivalaya dedicated to Mahadeva built by Gajapati king of Orissa named Kapilendradeva who ruled probably between 1438 and 1469 AD. Later on, it was expanded to provide shelter to the pilgrims.
The triple domed mosque, according to the inscription, was built by Muhammad Tahir in 1699 during the reign of Aurangzeb. It was during this period the temple complex was converted into a military cantonment by the Mughals who invaded Bengal. It was then, the place was converted into a fort.
Later on, in 18th century when Marathas (Bargis) stormed Orissa and Bengal under the command of Bhaskar Rao Holker and Raghuji Bhonsle, it was wrested from the Mughals but the temple was never rebuilt.
The fort later came under the control of Dutta family of Hashimpur near Kukai. We visited Prasad Kumar Dutta of the Dutta family to dig out some more details. Sadly, no authentic record of the fort was available with them apart from hearsay.

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Kurumbera Fort
In local language ‘kurum’ means stone and ‘bera’ means fence. Thus ‘Kurumbera’ means ‘an area fenced by stone’. The Kurumbera Fort has a 12 feet high enclosure, constructed with stone. The enclosure is 172 feet long and 253 feet wide. Red laterite or ‘makra’ was used for construction of the structure.
The enclosure houses three spherical domes – a vacant mosque-like structure on a raised platform of 3 feet height with 3 steps. Lying opposite to the domes is an altar on small stone enclosure filled in with soil.
The entire arena is surrounded by an 8 feet wide arched corridor running on all four sides with 69 pillars out of which 62 still exists.
It has a single point entry – a sikhara-style entrance with a wooden door opening towards the north. Beside the fort, there is a huge pond known as Yogeshwar Kunda.
The stepping stone structure of the gate clearly indicates an Orissa school of architecture known as ‘pida’. Although the massive iron gate is no more, it has left its mark on the stone floor which is still intact.
On entering through the gate, one can either proceed through the arched corridors on both sides or walk into the open courtyard in front.
Inside, we found a vast corridor with pillars running on almost all four sides. The pillars on the outer edge were built at an equal distance of 6 feet 9 inches. The upper roof of the corridor is built of inter-locking stones with designs of lotus, thereby proving once again its affinity with Hinduism.
The pillars supporting the outer edge of the corridor have close similarities with 17th century chala temples of Bengal. The western part of the corridor behind the mosque-like structure has collapsed.
Inside, the laterite stone on the roof has various floral designs and Hindu motifs such as lotus. ASI has constructed many pillars at the middle of the arched corridors to give support to the roof and prevent it from collapsing. Lime mortar and cement has also been inserted inside the gaps of the stone pillars to strengthen and block reptiles from seeking refuge between the cracks.
There are two theories on the actual location of the Shiva temple. According to Prasad Kumar Dutta, the owners of the fort and Yogeshwar Kunda in front, the square altar at the middle of the compound was actually the base of the Shiva temple which was later razed. He explained that it has a channel on the northern side of the base to drain out the water poured on the Shiva linga in the temple.
However, according to another popular belief – the temple was much bigger than the present altar and was located at the same place as the mosque. It was destroyed later to give way to the mosque. The altar was actually a well which was later filled up with soil.
Sadly, without any confirmed official history other than the 5 sentence-long description sent to us by ASI, not much authentic information is available. But it was apparent from well-maintained structure that there are definite reasons behind the veil of ambiguity that cloaks the fort.
Few visitors choose to explore Kurumbera Fort and it remains embarrassingly empty throughout the day. For motorists from the city, a day trip to Kurumbera Fort is a must to experience the historical wonder shrouded in obscurity.

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Sarva Mangala Mandir
On our way back from Kurumbera Fort, Team WHEELS visited the Sarva Mangala Mandir 1 km inside from Keshiari bus stand. Devi Sarva Mangala is the most revered goddess in the area and so no idol other than in the form of pot or paintings are worshipped in the nighbourhood. The idol of Sarva Mangala is shining red – housed inside a large temple with a huge prayer hall at the entrance.

Food Joints
Enroute we stopped at Motel Midway Sonar Bangla just before the Dhulagorhi toll plaza on NH-6 for a quick breakfast. The spread was particularly delicious because of the veggies from kitchen garden and dairy products sourced from their own farm.
Although the other two popular food joints are Azad Hind Dhaba at Uluberia and Sher-E-Punjab at Kolaghat, we felt that Motel Midway was the best stopover on NH-6 for food, on way to Kolaghat or Kharagpur

Fast Facts: Kurumbera Fort
Open: All days
Timing: 8 am to 5 pm
Ticket: Nil
Photography: Allowed
Car park: All around

Fast Facts : Sarva Mangala Mandir
Open: All days
Timing: 6.30 am – 1.30 pm /
6.15 pm – 8.30 pm
Photography: Not permitted
Car park: Inside temple complex or vicinity

Buxa Tiger Reserve

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On the last day of our drive tour to north Bengal, it was turn to visit Buxa Tiger Reserve. In north Bengal, beside Gorumara and Jaldapara, Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) is the predominant forest. The forest reserve lacks usual amenities extended to tourists yet one can get a glimpse of nature in its wildest form at BTR. If you want to enjoy forest, its depth, silence, the eeriness of nights without expecting too many wildlife sightings, head towards Buxa. Our team chose to put up at Alipurduar town to explore this huge natural treasure

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Route:
For Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR), one has to reach Santrabari Range Office– the main base of BTR. The 27 km road from Alipurduar town connects both Jainti and Buxa forests. It is actually Rajabhatkhawa-32 km from Alipurduar from where the forest of Buxa Tiger Reserve begins. After crossing the forest check post at Rajabhatkhawa, the road continues through the wilderness for another 10 km inside BTR and finally bifurcates into Jayanti and Buxa forest ranges at Buxa Morh. Having covered Jainti forest the previous day, we proceeded forward from the traffic island indicating ‘Buxa-5 km straight/Jainti-5 km on right’. Road condition on this final 5 km stretch to Santrabari was awful– simply shows gross neglect.

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Buxa Tiger Reserve:
With an area of 758 sq km, BTR is in fact the biggest forest in north Bengal, encompassing Jainti forests within its periphery. Although tourism has not picked up in BTR due to its remoteness, it is no less rich than other forests in terms of its flora and fauna.
The unoccupied wasteland comprising the forests in Buxa Tiger Reserve was taken over by the Forest Department in the year 1866. The forests came under British rule and the first reservations were made in 1879 under the Indian Forest Act. Much later, in 1983, Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) was constituted and became the 15th Tiger Reserve of the country. Finally, in 1997, BTR was constituted as a National Park.

Fauna
According to Range Officer Dhirendra Chandra Dutta, in BTR, the wildlife range from Indian tiger, leopard, jungle cat, sloth bear, civet cat, hyena, elephant, gaur, sambar, chital to wild pig. There are 40 cameras installed by the Forest Department inside the Buxa Tiger Range which have sighted many of these animals.
Additionally, the streams of Jainti and Raidak get migratory birds every year mainly during the end of monsoon and these fly away before summer. The migratory birds include the beautiful Ibis bill, pretty minivets, yellow crested sultan tits, wagtails, leaf warblers and sandpipers.
However, due to rare sighting of animals, Buxa Tiger Reserve is not a very popular forest when it comes to tourism.

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Tourism
BTR being a tiger reserve, the core area is out of bound for tourists. As a standard strategy followed by the government, tourism has not been much encouraged unlike the forests of Gorumara and Jaldapara in north Bengal.
Difficulty in sighting of wild animals due to dense vegetation, lack of grassland and non-availability of tourist recreations – all these facors have prevented tourism from picking up in BTR.
In addition, due to absence of standard accommodation facilities other than the local home stays, tourist footfall is negligible in Buxa. Thus, the tourists who visit this forest are mainly day visitors.
The final death knell was struck in September 2010 with the car safaris getting banned under the guidelines of National Tiger Conservation Authority – BTR being a tiger reserve. However, on persuasion by several state governments for removing the prohibitory orders, in October 2012, Supreme Court lifted the ban on tourists’ trips inside the core areas of tiger reserves. Now, according to the fresh guidelines, tourists are allowed to visit 20% of the core reserve area on a regulated, low-impact tourist visitation process.
But for some inexplicable reason, in spite of the fresh Supreme Court guidelines, car safaris were not revived in Buxa. Interestingly, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on her visit to BTR in June 2014 initiated the process of revival of car safaris to boost tourism inside BTR.
Speaking to the media, Bhashkar J.B., the Deputy Field Director of BTR (East), said: “We have already proposed to reintroduce the car safari in BTR. From Jainti, the tourists used to be taken to various spots on a trip that lasted for at least one hour. Another proposed route is from Rajabhatkhawa to 25th Mile and Shikari Road. I think the proposal is in the final stage and will start from next season (15 October 2014) as the forest will be closed from 15th June.”

Buxa Forest Villages

The main villages in Buxa are Santrabari, Lepchakhawa, Lalbungalow, Tashigaon, Daragaon and Sadarbazar. Since the forest villagers here are totally dependent on the forest for firewood and cattle grazing, 62 Joint Forest Management Committees have been formed by the Forest Department to involve local people in forest protection. In turn, the revenue generated is shared with the employed villagers. Additionally, the Forest Department also provides employments to local people for various forestry works such as Plantation Watchers, Fire Watchers, Eco Guides etc. They also constitute the chief labour force in various development works taken up all through the year. With these employments and initiatives on eco-tourism, the relationships between the local villagers and forest officials are cordial.

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Buxa Fort
Apart from the wilderness of the forest, a major attraction of Buxa is the ruins of Buxa Fort. The mountain here is known as Sinchula Range which is followed by Bhutan border. Buxa Fort is a historic fort built on this remote mountain range which takes around 2 hours to trek up and an hour to get down.
The actual history is shrouded in mystery though many believe that the first Koch King of Kamtapur (present day Cooch Bihar) Sangaldwip constructed the fort with bamboo and wood in 7th century. The fort was a subject of dispute between the Kings of Bhutan and the Koch Kings, as the military importance of the fort was very high since it used to guard the famous Silk Route that connected Tibet with India through Bhutan.
The fort was later occupied by the Bhutanese army. There after, the Koch King requested the British to reoccupy the fort by defeating the Bhutanese which the British did and captured the fort which was formally handed over to the British by the Koch King on November 1865 as part of the Treaty of Sinchula.
The British rebuilt the fort with stone and converted it into a high security prison to detain the freedom fighters who fought against the British. The fort, almost inaccessible at that time, was only second to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Island in notoriety. The small cells devoid of basic facilities, cruelty of guards, dense forest surrounding the fort with wild carnivorous animals roaming freely and the inhospitable terrain of the area as a whole made the fort-cum-prison a living hell on earth.
After India’s freedom, the prison-fort was abandoned. In 1959, after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, a number of Tibetan monks fled to India and started living in the abandoned fort. They set up a monastic study centre and a refugee camp here. In 1966, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was alerted about conditions of the Buxa refugee camp. Later, in 1971, the Tibetan refugees were relocated to Karnataka on a request from the Dalai Lama.
After that, the fort was again left vacant and abandoned. Gradually the forces of nature took over once again. Trees began to grow on the roof and walls and the whole structure crumbled into ruins.
Though there were several proposals to renovate the fort as a heritage structure, sadly the fort is in ruins till date. Except for two stone blocks at the entrance, one etched with the words of a scroll of honour which the inmates presented to the Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore on his birthday in 1931 and the other with a heart-touching poem by the poet dedicated to the freedom fighters who were imprisoned there and a newly constructed monument dedicated to the martyrs.
As one enters the ruined fort through a gate with the inscription “BUXA FORT”, only the roofless rooms and cells greet one with sights of neglect. Vacant rooms, small windowless cells, thick walls, broken gates, all seem to echo the sighs of the imprisoned freedom fighters – “O lonely visitor, remember that for your tomorrow we gave our today”.
There is nothing to see in particular but reminisce history which haunts the visitors. As one looks up, there is the beautiful Himalaya all around. The small village of Sadar Bazaar is just opposite the fort with a vast open field in between. Beyond the village, the Sinchula mountain range looks down with an inscrutable muteness with the highest point called Rover’s Point perched like an ancient monk in meditation.
The Buxa Fort stands alone amidst the nature, the hills, the flora and fauna, waiting for the occasional visitors who care for history.

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Route to Buxa Fort
Ahead of Santrabari Range Office, a road cuts through the forest proceeds to Buxa Fort. From Santrabari one can start trekking for the Fort – about 3.5 km away. Expert hill drivers can take their vehicles further up for about 1.5 km along a dirt track which is quite dangerous and unsuitable for drivers from the plains. The last 2 km is to be covered by trekking which is not very tough. Normally, a local guide is essential as per the Forest Department rules. The trek route passes through dense forest-covered mountain and is extremely beautiful with majestic trees lined up on both sides of the pathway. One can have a glimpse of wild animals or birds en route, if luck permits.
Other tourist attractions in BTR:
1. Lepchakhawa – It is 3 km from Buxa Fort. It takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to trek to this picturesque village from the fort. Located on the faraway mountains, the beautiful village of Lepchakhawa can be seen from a distance with villagers moving about, doing their daily chores.
2. Poro North and South Eco Parks – The places are very popular centre for picnicking, boating and enjoying the natural beauty of forests. The spot is located on the bank of Poro River.
3. Sikiajhora – The place is on the bank of a perennial stream originating from Buxa Forests. There is a watch tower for bird watching. The place is a popular spot for picnic.
4. Narathali Beel – This is a natural wetland. Every year thousands of birds visit the area in winter.
5. Garam – Dima Nature Observation Tower – The watch tower is on the bank of Dima River and the vast grassland along with a good view of Buxa Forest, Sinchula and Bhutan hills makes this spot picturesque

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Accommodation
There is no proper hotel or accommodation facility for night stay at Buxa. There are, however, several private home stay facilities which are unreliable.
With the non-availability of decent accommodation facilities in Buxa, Team WHEELS chose Elite Hotel in Alipurduar town. The property is reasonably good with comfortable rooms and wide range of food from their in-house restaurant.

Best time to visit: October to February
Forest Guide: Rs 200-400 available from the Santrabari Forest Office.
Range Officer: Dhirendra Chandra Dutta Telephone: 03564-216070
Mobile network: Not available
Drinking water: Carry your own drinking water since the local drinking water may not suite you.

Contact Info

Field Director – Buxa Tiger Reserve
Alipurduar Court, Alipurduar – Jalpaiguri District, Pin – 736122
Telephone: 03564-256333
Fax : 03564-255577
Email: fdbtr2012@gmail.com; fdbtrwb@gmail.com
Forest Guide: Dipu, Cell: 9609734058

Jayanti – Queen of Dooars

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Dooars lifted its misty veil to reveal its mind blowing virgin beauty to Team WHEELS during its third round of drive tour to North Bengal. After covering the marvelous Jaldapara, Cooch Behar and Rasik Bil, the team reached Jayanti – a serene forest retreat and was overwhelmed by its green splendour

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With just three days left in the last leg of our drive tour of North Bengal, we shifted to Alipurduar town (the latest district of West Bengal) – 24 km from Cooch Behar town. We chose this as our base town due to its close proximity to Jayanti and Buxa Tiger Reserve forests.
After a quick breakfast on reaching Elite Hotel in Alipurduar where our team had put up, we left for the forest. Jayanti and Buxa are twin forests, adjacent to each other. A common road stretching for about 27 km from Alipurduar town, links both these forests. At its last leg beyond Rajabhatkhawa, the road bifurcates for Jayanti and Buxa. After travelling for about 5 km on the right, it leads to Jayanti. Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR) is equidistant and proceed straight from the bifurcation.
It is actually Rajabhatkhawa – 17 km from Alipurduar from where the forest cover of Jayanti and Buxa begins. The name Rajabhatkhawa originates from the story of Maharaja Dhirjendra Narayan of Cooch Behar who ate his first lunch here after being released from captivity by the King of Bhutan. It has a small settlement with a Nature Interpretation Centre and a forest bungalow.
The wilderness began once we crossed the forest check post at Rajabhatkhawa. Thick undergrowth and tall trees greeted us on both sides of the road. We rolled down the window glasses to get a feel of the green exuberance which left us captivated. Only the sound of the ricocheting gravels under our wheels interrupted the all-pervasive silence. The incessant call of the cricket grew wilder as we rolled inside the forest.
It was green all around. The numerous colourful butterflies only added to the beauty of the verdant nature as we penetrated deeper inside Jayanti forest. Finally, we passed by a base camp of the Border Security Force and reached the Jayanti Forest office compound.
The enclosed compound has the Forest Department’s office, a few staff quarters, six brand new forest bungalows for tourists, a sitting enclosure called Hawa Ghar and a modest eatery Aranyak for the visitors run by a self help group. A souvenir shop, right outside the compound – sells souvenirs, books and photographs on Dooars.
Adjacent to the office compound are a few small houses of the locals, many of whom offer home-stays to tourists.

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Once we crossed the dry river bed, our car dashed through the dense forest; suddenly the hills appeared before us. Rows of undulated green hills rise through the white clouds and stretches beyond the Indian territory deep inside Bhutan.
A massive forest watch tower appears across the river and the deserted Bhutia Basti is perched at the edge of the forest from where the hills abruptly rise. It is one of the main attractions of Jayanti. We patiently sat here for a long time watching the thick forest around us. Animals frequent the small pool beside the watch tower-our forest guide informed us. Various quirky sounds and surprisingly beautiful butterflies were our only companions at the tower, while we could see the hills at a distance.
The other attractions of Jayanti include the two Mahakal caves. The Choto Mahakal is located at a distance of 5 km inside Bhutan and the Baro Mahakal is 7 km away. Both are pilgrimage spots and have to be trekked with the help of a forest guide – the last stretches are quite steep though. It was due to lack of time, we couldn’t trek either of these. In the Baro Mahakal one can see stalactite and stalagmite formations of natural lime.
Apart from these, there is also the Pukhri Hill – a small pond with clear water at about 1100 feet height. Fish and turtles are visible because of the clear water. One must stay for at least two days to explore these spots.
Unlike other forests of Dooars, facilities for safaris on elephants or in jeeps have been withdrawn because of the National Tiger Conservation Act. Jayanti constitutes the core area of BTR. The Range Officer however informed that the safaris are likely to be introduced soon.

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Mr Ghosh also warned us against hiring local, unlicensed guides or agents who tempt the tourists with promises of night safaris and often rob them. Home stays were also not advisable as they are not under any regulatory authority.
The day was drawing to a close and we had to return to our base as the Buxa visit was scheduled on the following day.
Options of quality accommodation are limited at Alipurduar. Team WHEELS had put up at the Elite Hotel in Alipurduar and found it to be reasonably good. A wide array of dishes are also available from their in-house restaurant and has an impressive service.
Later, at the end of our tour in North Bengal, we concluded, although Buxa Tiger Reserve is more popular, it is Jayanti which is more enchanting and tourist friendly, having a wide range of spots to discover.

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Best time: October to February
Range Office: Jayanti Range, BTR (East)
Telephone: 03564- 203186
Forest Guide: Provided by Forest Dept @ `200-300
Mobile network: Not available in Jayanti
Drinking water: Carry your own drinking water since the water locally available may not suit your stomach

Rasik Bil

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After exploring Cooch Behar town for two days – ‘Team WHEELS’ drove to Rasik Bil in North Bengal. Rasik Bil is 42 km from Cooch Behar town- a 1 hour 30 minutes drive. Connected with good roads, the route from Cooch Behar town to Rasik Bil is quite simple. Leaving behind the town from Station Morh, enter NH-31. Continue on the national highway proceeding towards Tufanganj, passing through small villages on both sides of it. On reaching Haripur Morh turn left to enter into the road which leads to Kamakshaguri. Follow this for another 14 km, passing through rural surroundings. And then, all of a sudden, a huge bil (lake) mostly covered with hyacinth looms up on your right. Small wooden boats with lone boatmen balancing on the edges, complete the picturesque surroundings.
Within a short while, the lake disappears and a huge concrete gate pops up on the right with ‘Rasik Bil’ etched on it. We understood that our uneventful drive in search of the great Rasik Bil has come to an end. We drove through the gate and found a few stalls along with the ticket counter.
While we were planning our itinerary in Kolkata, we had a very limited idea about Rasik Bil. We thought it was just a huge lake, centering which the bird sanctuary has come up.
Instead, from the multiple directional sign boards on display at the very entrance, we gathered that it is a massive sanctuary with local and migratory birds, enclosures with leopards (a tiger rehabilitation centre as they call it), separate areas with peacocks, tortoise and snakes, a deer park, a suspension bridge, facilities of boating, a watch tower and a forest rest house.
We were amazed to find that in spite of the West Bengal Government’s Forest department taking over the place in 1996 and possessing a variety of tourist attractions with an impressive maintenance, due to the dearth of publicity and promotion, Rasik Bil has not been able to attract enough tourists so far.
On entering, we found the road bifurcating in two. The one on the right goes across the suspension bridge into the deer park, watch tower, lake, boating facilities and leopard enclosure and the left goes to the mini zoo set in the backdrop of the forest.

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Bird sanctuary
We first went towards the lake, crossing a silver-hued iron suspension bridge which enhances the attraction of the place. Originally, Rasik Bil was a hunting ground for members of the Cooch Behar royal family replete with plenty of wild animals and birds. At present, the water body is spread over 175 hectares and surrounded by vibrant green forest. It is basically a shallow swamp covered mostly with hyacinth. In size, it is massive-much bigger than Kulik bird sanctuary at Raiganj in Uttar Dinajpur- its nearest competitor.
The lake and adjacent forests are home to innumerable birds. The local and migratory birds found in Rasik Bil are Lesser Whistling and Common Teal, White eyed Pochard, Red Crested Pochard, Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon duck, Grey headed Lapwing, Northern Lapwing, Pied Kingfisher, Stork Billed Kingfisher, Small Blue Kingfisher, Little and Large Cormorant, Gadwall and so on. However, we could not see any bird in the lake since it was mid April. We were told that the migratory birds arrive in late October and leave by mid February every year.
A few garden umbrellas along with wooden benches on the edge of the lake promote the natural ambience. While resting under the shades, the forest guards answered all our queries.

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Watch Tower

The concrete watch tower beside the lake is around 70 feet tall and can accommodate atleast 20 people at a time. We found this was the best place to enjoy Mother Nature’s creation. The lake along with the bordering forest stretches to an unending misty horizon. It had two islands, veiled with trees. A sense of peace and serenity prevailed overall. A small white house with a red sloping roof beside the lake was visible beyond the foggy façade. For a moment we felt that the spot could be anywhere in South East Asia. No wonder, the beauty of Rasik Bil had attracted the film-makers from Bollywood with Shah Rukh Khan and Sushmita Sen some time ago to shoot for Main Hoon Na.

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Deer Park
Adjoining the watch tower is the enclosure for deer. There are about 60-70 deer, some with big horns and of different sizes. They come near you to eat grass slipped through the fence. A long photo session by our team continued in close proximity of the docile beings.

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Leopard Enclosure
Next, we strolled towards the leopard enclosure. It was the best sight we could ever get of a leopard. The agile cats were resting peacefully on stands made out of logs in close proximity to the netted fence in a massive enclosure which has been left open on the top. The leopards were totally unmindful of the visitors – busy lazing off in the sun. The deep black patches on the bright yellow velvet coat were stunning. We could spot two of the leopards – a total surprise inside a bird sanctuary- compensating the lack of migratory birds.

Boating
You may head for a ride in a paddle boat in the canals at a reasonable rate of `20-30 per head for a duration of 30 minutes. And then the stall owners also whispered to us boat rides on the jheel outside would cost `300 per boat carrying four. But with the small oar-boats shown to us from a distance, we were not convinced that they were safe considering our body weights and thus didn’t negotiate anymore.

Accommodation
In order to visit Rasik Bil, staying at Cooch Behar town would be the most sensible decision. However, for the exceptionally keen tourists there are two options for accommodations at Rasik Bil. The first is WBFDC’s forest bungalow, set inside the park right next to the lake and the second is the Panchayat Zilla Parishad Guest House just outside the park.
The forest department’s rest house has two double bed non-AC rooms and a 16-bed dormitory- both in a shabby state and unsuitable for urban tourists. The Panchayat’s guest house is in slightly better condition. It has 11 double rooms ranging from non-AC to AC Deluxe and dormitory.

Food & Refreshments
When it comes to food and refreshments, we must state that Rasik Bil woefully lacks such amenities. However, as the sole option, the roadside stalls came in handy serving us omelettes and soft drinks. They even offered simple fish-meals to us and informed that they supply meals to the boarders at the local guest houses as well. If you are travelling with children, do carry snacks and drinking water without fail.
Our visit to Rasik Bil was a fascinating one tinged with sadness. It was really disappointing to see that despite the fantastic scenic beauty of the lake and its natural surroundings it has not really found a place in the tourist map of the state. No wonder Tagore said that we often miss what is near us, dazzled by the outer world. Team Wheels hopes that after our visit, Rasik Bil would feature in the itinerary of tourists, particularly our readers.

Rasik Bil

Entry fee: `10/- per head
Watch tower: `5/-
Timing: 10 am – 6 pm
Days open: All
Photography: Free
Car Park: Free parking in front of the ticket counter
Best Season: October to February

Boating:
Timing: 9 am-12 pm/2 pm-4 pm
Trips: 30 minutes duration
6 seater – `30 per head
4 seater – `20 per head

Cooch Behar

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Route Description: To reach Cooch Behar, you have to first travel to Siliguri from Kolkata by the recently renovated NH-34 followed by NH-31. From Siliguri, there are two routes to Cooch Behar – the first one via Dooars and the second one through Jalpaiguri.We preferred the first one which goes through NH-31 and NH-31C passing through Sevoke and the beautiful Dooars–Malbazar, Chalsa and Jaldapara.
The second route from Siliguri is via Jalpaiguri and Falakata. Although the second route is shorter, it loses on the scenic beauty and remains congested due to heavy traffic and bad road condition.
Now the details of the first route; turn right from VIP Road at the intersection with Jessore Road (adjacent to Kolkata airport) and proceed straight to Barasat. From Barasat just follow the NH-34 which goes straight through Krishnanagar (101 km), Baharampore/Murshidabad (191 km), Farakka Barrage (292 km), Malda (326 km), Raiganj (406 km) and Dalkhola (451 km). At Dalkhola, hit a ‘T’ junction with NH-31 coming from Bihar on the left. Turn right from Dalkhola (interestingly, the first right after Kolkata’s VIP Road) and get into NH-31 – a 6-lane expressway going straight to Bagdogra (574 km) followed by Siliguri (588 km).
From Siliguri, follow the same NH-31 and proceed towards Coronation Bridge. Once you cross the bridge, turn right to enter the Dooars region. Keep on following NH-31 passing through Damdim, Odlabari, Malbazar to reach Chalsa Morh. NH-31 turns right from Chalsa Morh towards Gorumara but you have to continue straight towards Jaldapara (66 km) from Chalsa Morh. NH-31 after Chalsa Morh becomes NH-31C and continues straight through Nagrakata, Banarhat, Binnaguri, Birpara to pass through Jaldapara (locally called Madarihat) with just one left turn at Telipara ‘T’ junction – 24 km after Chalsa Morh.
Cooch Behar from Jaldapara has two routes. The first one is through the forests of Chilapata and the second one is via Falakata. We prefered the first one.
For the first route, proceed towards Hashimara from Jaldapara by the NH-31C. At the Gurudwara/BSF camp at Hashimara – NH-31C has a ‘Y’ fork. NH-31C on left goes to Alipurdur and the right – a narrower Cooch Behar Road goes through the Chilapata forest to Cooch Behar. The scenic beauty while traversing through the zigzagging road across Chilapata is awe-inspiring. It is adventurous too, passing through the dense forest cover on sides, incessant cricket calls and very few passer-byes. We pulled up for a while, got out of our car just to soak in the ambience and enjoy a one on one moment with nature. However, it is not advisable to opt for this road after sun down.
The forest will abruptly open into tea gardens. The road thereafter, goes through green paddy fields and villages leading ultimately to Cooch Behar. For further details, follow the route map surveyed by Team WHEELS – given in the following pages to reach the palace of Koch kings.

Road Condition
In April 2014, the road condition from Kolkata to Baharampore (Murshidabad) through the NH-34 was quite satisfactory with all the required patch works done, offering normal driving comfort. After Baharampore, once you cross the bridge over River Bhagirathi, you enter a brand new 6-lane expressway stretching for 88 km almost up to Farakka Barrage. You can cruise through this modern expressway which has wide medians, proper lane markings, overhead traffic signage and solar traffic signals. Fly through this expressway to once again meander through an average road leading to Farakka Barrage. Cross over the bridge to enter the renovated NH-34 once again to reach Kaliachowk. The road and traffic condition deteriorates here after and continues up to Malda town. (NH-34 will be actually bypassing Kaliachowk and Malda town after full completion and hence the stretch has not been renovated).
For night halt, we advise you to stay at Malda (or Raiganj). Malda Tourist Lodge under West Bengal Tourism is a convenient location at Rathbari Morh which offers all standard amenities.
Presently, several road diversions connecting the renovated highway, on and off, have to be carefully negotiated.
After Malda, the NH-34, up to Dalkhola via Raiganj offers quite a smooth rode. Dalkhola is perennially busy with rough road condition and a railway crossing lying across the main town thereby creating heavy traffic congestion. After crossing the railway tracks, continue a little before taking a right turn into NH-31 from NH-34 immediately after passing below a flyover in Dalkhola. NH-31 is an old 6-lane expressway with a fair surface condition for most of the way. After Islampur, it’s butter-smooth upto Siliguri via Bagdogra.
After Siliguri, the highway from Sevoke passes through a beautiful stretch through the cantonment and forest area. Then it crosses the Coronation Bridge over River Teesta to enter Dooars. From there, initially the road goes through hilly undulations for a few kilometers with several twists and turns.
In Dooars, the NH-31 runs along River Teesta on one side and verdant greenery – mostly tea gardens, on the other. Here, the road condition is at its best with a silk-smooth surface devoid of any inclination. This part, by-and-large, is the most pleasant to drive in the whole route continuing upto Jaldapara. After Hashimara, the road condition is moderate passing through Chilapata forest followed by small villages.

Sagardighi 2

COOCH BEHAR
Cooch Behar, a modest district and town in North Bengal, used to be the seat of royalty. Even a few years before independence, the princes loitered across beautiful marble floors as the servants wearing heavy silver insignia waited on them. The grandeur of the Cooch Behar’s reigning Narayan-Koch Kings lasted till India’s independence in 1947 when the princely states were merged with the Indian Union and the zamindari system got abolished soon after.
It’s easy to explore the town since it was originally planned with the roads intersecting each other at right angles. This neat little imperial legacy has architectural splendours scattered all over, interceded by 22 massive tanks.
Deep red brick structures highlighted by pale arches, cornices and Corinthian columns lay all over, particularly around Sagar Dighi – a massive rectangular pond that marks the town’s epicenter. A cluster of restored colonial structures form the hub of the city’s administrative block around Sagar Dighi.
Home to peace-loving, friendly people known for their scholarly and artistic pursuits, it has a noticeably high number of music, dance and academic institution. Spiritualism evidently overflows with a large number of temples dotting the town too – almost one on every road. The burnt red bricked colonial structures punctuated by the temples painted in stark white are striking.
Biswa Singha Road (BS Road) runs north-south, cutting Cooch Behar town through the middle. If you draw a straight line from Sagar Dighi to the East, you will arrive at Madan Mohan Temple on BS Road. The major hotels and shops are located along the ‘L’ formed by BS Road and Rupnarayan Road, which leads towards the private taxi stand and old bus terminus in the east. A clock tower stands at the centre of the city.

History

The history of Cooch Behar has roots in Assam. In early times, the territory was known as Pragjyotisha – mentioned in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Later, the western part of Pragjyotisha came to be known as Kamarupa. Kamarupa remained under the sovereignty of the Guptas and Palas for some time. Here after, it was conquered by the Muslim army in 1498 AD which could not keep it for long. After the defeat of the Muslim army, there was anarchy in the region. During that period, the Koch kings came to the forefront.
King Viswasimha assumed the title of Kamteshwar. He died in about 1533 and was succeeded by his second son Naranarayan, who was also known as Malla Narayan following a civil war with Nar Singh who fled to Morung and then to Bhutan. Narnarayan died in 1584 and was succeeded by his son Lakshmi Narayan. After a series of other rulers during the reign of Modnarayan the influence of Bhutan on Cooch Behar began. He died in 1680 without a male heir. Bhutiyas became king makers. In 1765 Dhairyendra Narayan was placed on throne. The influence of the Bhutias had by then increased so much that an officer of Bhutan was permanently stationed at Cooch Behar with an army. In later years Dhairyendra Narayan was kept confined in Bhutan. His son Dharendra Narayan was installed on the throne. The East India Company was watching with concern the growing power of Bhutias close to their borders. An appeal for help by Nazir led to the treaty between the young Maharaja Dharendra Narayan and the East India Company in 1773. Thereafter, peace was concluded between Bhutan and East India Company on April 25, 1774. Consequently, Dhairyendra Narayan was released from captivity. The modern phase of Cooch Behar began when only one year-old Nripendra Narayan ascended the throne in 1863. Since he was a minor, the administration was run by a Commissioner, Colonel J.C. Haughton, appointed by the English Governor. During this regime, the administration of Cooch Behar entered into a modern phase.
During the regime of Nripendra Narayan the town developed its own power house for generation of electricity which can still be seen. Water supply began during this era. Roads were planned and laid crisscrossing one another at right angles with water tanks dug up to beautify the town.
On March 6, 1878, Maharaja Nripendra Narayan was married to Sunity Devi, daughter of Keshab Chandra Sen, the Brahma reformer. In 1887, the construction of the new palace was completed. Maharaja Nripendra Narayan died in 1911 and was succeeded by his eldest son Raja Rajendra Narayan. He died in 1913 and was succeeded by his brother Jitendra Narayan who married Indira Devi, daughter of Gaekwad of Baroda. He died in 1921 and was succeeded by his minor son Jagaddipendra Narayan in 1922. He was the last Maharaja of the Cooch Behar.
Here after, the Instrument of Accession was signed by Jagaddipendra Narayan and as a result Cooch Behar joined the Indian Union. The transfer of administration to the Government of India took place on September 12,1949. Cooch Behar was merged with West Bengal on 1st January 1950. Since then, Cooch Behar is a district of West Bengal.
Gayatri Devi (1919 − 2009), wife of HH Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and Maharani of Jaipur who was included by the Vogue magazine in its list of ten most beautiful women in the world, also belonged to this Koch dynasty and was the daughter of Jitendra Narayan of Cooch Behar.

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Cooch Behar Royal Palace
The biggest attraction of Cooch Behar is undoubtedly the Cooch Behar Rajbari (Royal Palace). Designed by an English architect F Berkley, the Cooch Behar Royal Palace was built on classical Italian lines. Its construction began during the reign of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan and was completed in 1887. The artworks on the ceiling and walls, a lesser imitation of Venetian and Florentine are still quite vivid.
Located in the middle of a huge manicured garden, this is a grand two-storied structure whose arched corridors and ornamental gateways have the aura of a majestic English home. The giant metallic dome on top, beautifully illustrated on the inner surface is modeled after the one in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, or perhaps St. Peter’s in Rome. Underneath the dome, on the marble floor of the Durbar Hall, lies a giant image of Narayan dynasty’s Court-of-Arms, the Lion and Unicorn on the Royal Court of Arms of the United Kingdom, later replaced by an elephant and a monkey was added to the top.
The Cooch Behar Palace, 395 ft in length and 296 ft in breadth, has more than 60 rooms and halls of varied dimensions. The 400 mt long surki pathway from the main entrance to the palace passes through a garden of 64 acre, immaculately maintained with a huge pool.
Noted for its elegance and grandeur, the property is presently protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. The palace’s facade has a series of arcaded verandahs both in the ground and first floor. At the centre of the Palace is a projected porch to provide the main visitors entrance to the palace through the Durbar Hall.
The palace comprises various halls and rooms that include the dressing room, bed room, drawing room, dining hall, billiard room, library, toshakhana,
thakurghar, naachghar and ladies gallery. The heavy mahogany doors with illustrated frosted glass, imported oil paintings and exquisite chandeliers exude the richness of the lost glory. Unfortunately, most of the royal articles and precious objects of the palace were stolen or sold off before the ASI handover.
A part of the palace – 7 rooms precisely, has been turned into a museum. The exhibits in the museum include royal furniture, medals, arms, royal seals, cutleries and antiquities unearthed from the excavation site at Gosaimari. In the tribal gallery one might get an insight into the lifestyle of Cooch Behar’s indigenous people – Rajbanshi, Toto, Gorkha, Mech, Rabha, Lepcha and Bhutia. Laterite and sandstone sculptures from 7th century are also on display although few are intact.
Madan Mohan Temple: The dazzling white single-storied temple of Madan Mohan (Lord Krishna) is the second biggest attraction of the town. It has a fine blend of Hindu (low, sprawling porch in front), Islamic (scalloped arches and rounded pillars) and central-Asian (dome with tapered peak) architectural traditions.
Although named after Madan Mohan – the household deity of the locals, the temple complex also has idols of Joty Tara and Ananda Moyee Kali housed individually in two separate but adjoining temples. However, the brass idol of the flute-playing Madan Mohan wearing an oversized crown is the top draw.
The entrance from the main road is through the office building of the temple trust under the control of Dept. of Tourism, Govt. of West Bengal. The temple is beautifully lit up in the evening and is a wonderful sight after dark. A visit during the sandhyaaraati is memorable.
It was at the behest of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan, the temple of Madan Mohan was built, opened in 1890. It was visualised as a meeting place of people from different faiths. A family of Muslim carpenters was traditionally engaged to curve the elaborate Rasha Chakra (wheel with embellishments) which forms the focal point of the tableaus put up at the annual Rasha Utsav in October-November.
Sagar Dighi: There are 22 artificial tanks all over Cooch Behar town acting as useful landmarks. The most spectacular among these is indisputably Sagar Dighi- located at the heart of the city. It is surrounded by grand colonial structures all around it, at present housing most of the government offices of Cooch Behar, right from the District Court to District Library. The buildings, built mostly between the 1880s and 1920s, have now been turned into offices of the district administration.
To its north, a majestic marble sculpture of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan, stands in front of the District Court. To the south is a war memorial, complete with a tank used in battle. Sagar Dighi, a popular hangout in the evenings and lazy afternoons, is also used by the devotees of the Hiranyagarbha Shiv Mandir which lies on its bank for bathing.
Debibari: Also known as Barodebi Mandir, this is a temple which looks like a deserted mansion located inside a field. The beautiful red and white structure has scalloped domes and pillars on the outer side. The uniqueness of this temple is that it has no idol. During Durga Puja, a single idol of Durga or Bhabani is worshipped. In continuation of an earlier tradition of Naraboli (slaughtering of human beings), a local, Ponchu Bakshi still carries on with the tradition and sacrifices blood during the puja from his hand. A buffalo is still slaughtered during the festival.

Ranibagan

Rani Bagh: It is a beautifully maintained garden adjacent to the River Torsa separated by an earthen barrage located at one corner of the town. It is the royal cemetery of Koch kings. The main marble tombs belong to Maharaja Nripendra Narayan, Rajendra Narayan and Jagaddipendra Narayan placed together under a huge shade and look quite impressive.
In one corner of the garden is a small museum, housed inside a beautiful single-roomed cottage. The museum has photographs of the Koch kings and queens including the photos of the royal insignia, coins and old relics. The garden is maintained by Dept. of Tourism, Government of West Bengal.
Gosaimari Excavation Site: The mound at Gosaimari, 35 km for the Cooch Behar town, reveal bases of pillars of a palace that once stood here, built by the Koch kings, amidst rows of vivid green.
Said to be the seat of the Kamtapur kingdom till 1498, when Sultan Hussain Shah of Bengal defeated Khen king Nilambar, Gosaimari now is just a deserted mound in the middle of nowhere. It’s not difficult to recognise the channel, overgrown with weeds, running round the entire mound was once actually the protective moat. The relics found among the ruins are partially displayed in the Cooch Behar Palace.
Baneshwar Shiv Temple: The Baneswar Shiv Temple, 12 km from Cooch Behar town on way to Alipurduar, has an interesting roof, built in the Bengali Do-chala (parted on top and slanting on either side) style. Built at the time of Maharaja Prannarayan, between 1635 and 1650, the Baneswar Shiva temple has its sanctum in its basement. A short flight of stairs leads to the sanctum with a Shivling curved out in black marble. A metallic statute with the face of a monkey stands on the side. To the right of the raised platform on which the temple stands, is a vermillion smeared sculpture of Nandi (Lord Shiva’s bahan), half covered with marigold garlands.
Sacrifice to the God includes pigeon or duck which will cost you `15 and goat for `20. Presently it is managed by a trust under the Tourism Department, Govt. of West Bengal. The charge for Anna Bhog is `15 per head.
Don’t miss the numerous black soft shell turtles, living in the tank adjacent to the main temple. If you want to watch them stick their neck out, you may offer sweetened puffed rice available in the stalls at the entrance. Don’t go overboard to feed the turtles – they bite.

Hotel Ellora 1

ACCOMMODATION
Team WHEELS put up at Hotel Ellora – one of the best in town. With a nominal tariff, the rooms here are comparatively larger with all standard amenities. The best part is room service – one of the fastest we have ever experienced.
The massive restaurant of Hotel Ellora on the first floor has an elaborate menu and serves a whole array of fishes and other veg and non-veg items along with a bar. With very little car parking space on the main roads, the advantage of Hotel Ellora is the car park on the ground floor at the back side of the building.
Baneswar Shiv Mandir
Location: 12 km from Cooch Behar
Open: 7 am – 8.30 pm.

Fast facts:
Cooch Behar Royal Palace
Entry fee: ` 5
Timings: 10 am to 5 pm
Photography: Permitted inside the garden but prohibited inside the palace

Fast facts:
Madan Mohan Temple
Timing: 7 am to 9 pm
(No darshan between 9 – 11am)
Entry fee: Nil
Photography: Permitted inside the premises but not inside the sanctum

Jaldapara National Park

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Route Description
Contrary to common belief, the condition of National Highway 34 (NH-34) – the main connector between North Bengal and Kolkata has improved commendably. Team WHEELS now strongly recommends car owners to hit the roads and go on long drives to the hills and Dooars of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri from Kolkata.
The route to Siliguri from Kolkata is pretty simple. It’s absolutely straight on NH-34 from Kolkata – with just one right turn into NH-31 at Dalkhola (451 km) and there after following the same one until Siliguri. Also thereafter, keep on to NH-31 and NH-31C to reach Jaldapara – 715 km in total from Kolkata.
Now let’s elaborate on the route to Jaldapara. Turn right from VIP Road at the intersection with Jessore Road (adjacent to Kolkata airport) and proceed straight to Barasat. From Barasat just follow the NH-34 which goes straight through Krishnanagar (101 km), Baharampore-Murshidabad (191 km), Farakka Barrage (292 km), Malda (326 km), Raiganj (406 km) and Dalkhola (451 km). At Dalkhola, hit a ‘T’ junction with NH-31 coming from Bihar on the left. Turn right from Dalkhola (interestingly, the first right after Kolkata’s VIP Road) and get into NH-31 – a 4-lane expressway going straight to Bagdogra (574 km) and then to Siliguri (588 km).
From Siliguri, continue on the Coronation Bridge following the NH-31. Once you cross the bridge, turn right to enter the hills and Dooars region. Thereafter, follow NH-31 leaving behind Damdim, Odlabari, Malbazar to reach Chalsa Morh in Dooars. NH-31 turns right from Chalsa Morh towards Gorumara but you have to continue straight towards Jaldapara – 66 km from Chalsa Morh. The road name after Chalsa Morh becomes NH-31C and continues straight through Nagrakata, Banarhat, Binnaguri, Birpara to finally reach Jaldapara (locally called Madarihat) with just one left turn at Telipara ‘T’ junction – 24 km after Chalsa Morh.

Once you reach Jaldapara / Madarihat, look for the sign board on right for Jaldapara National Park. The WBTDC’s Tourist Lodge is 200 mts. from the forest gate on the NH-31C, located 600 mts inside from the highway.

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Road Condition
Team WHEELS went on the route survey on April 6, 2014. At that time the road condition from Kolkata to Baharampore through the NH-34 was satisfactory with the patchworks done to offer a standard driving comfort.
After Baharampore, once you cross the bridge over River Bhagirathi, you enter a brand new 4-lane expressway (toll plazas yet to be operationalised). It stretches for 88 km (202 – 290 km) almost up to Farakka Barrage. You can glide through this modern expressway which has wide medians, proper lane markings, overhead traffic signage and solar traffic signals. Fly through this expressway to land once again into an average road leading to a narrow constrictive iron bridge before Farakka Town. You may have to carefully drive along the wrong Kolkata bound lane for a kilometer keeping to the extreme right along with other smaller vehicles to bypass the heavy traffic congestion of the lorries bypassing this bridge to the left and blocking the whole way.
Immediately thereafter, enter the Farakka Barrage and refrain from overtaking or blowing horn on the Farakka barrage as warned by the CISF. Slowly follow the traffic on the 2.4 km bridge over River Ganga. Cross over to the other side of the bridge to enter the renovated NH-34 once again. Once you reach Kaliachowk the road and traffic condition deteriorates and continues up to Malda town. This stretch of 22 km took around 45 minutes for us to pass. (We found out that new NH-34 will be actually bypassing Kaliachowk and Malda town after completion and hence the stretch has not been improved upon).
As planned, Team WHEELS halted at Malda for the night. We had prior reservations at Malda Tourist Lodge under West Bengal Tourist Lodge, conveniently located at Rathbari Morh – the main intersection of Malda town on NH-34.

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Next morning we got up early and accelerated to reach Jaldapara before sunset. After leaving Malda town, the condition of NH-34 improved once again with the renovation work in full swing and most of it completed. We encountered several road diversions of 400 – 500 meters each connecting the renovated highway on and off. Just be careful at the meeting points of the diversions with the finished highways and negotiate carefully.
After Malda, the NH-34, up to Raiganj is quite impressive. There is just one more pot-holed stretch for 4 km just before Raiganj. After Raiganj, it’s smooth up to Dalkhola. Dalkhola is busy and unruly with a bad road condition and a railway crossing across the main thoroughfare creating heavy traffic congestion. After crossing the railway tracks, enter into NH-31 from NH-34. Take a right turn into NH-31 immediately after passing below a flyover in Dalkhola which is an old 4-lane expressway with smooth surface condition on most it. The NH-31 was originally made of concrete but has been patched with tarmac over years. For the initial 15-20 km you may have to follow the extreme right or left edge of the road to gain high speed. After Islampur, it’s butter-smooth once again up to Siliguri via Bagdogra.
After Siliguri, the highway passes through a beautiful stretch through the cantonment and forest area. Then it crosses the Coronation Bridge after Sevoke over River Teesta to enter Dooars. From there, initially the road has hilly undulations for a few kilometers with several twists and turns. Be careful here of the oncoming traffic. Keep to your extreme left, blow horn and slow down at the blind turns. Use lower gears to slow down instead of frequent braking to gain better road grip and avoid skidding or brake jammings.
In Dooars, the NH-31 runs along River Teesta on the right through verdant greenery – mostly tea gardens. Here, the road condition is at its best with a silk-smooth surface without any inclination. This part, by-and-large, is the most pleasant to drive in the whole route connecting Jaldapara National Park – home to the one-horned rhinos in West Bengal.
For further details, follow the route map surveyed by Team WHEELS – given here. Just be careful of the ‘Y’ forks throughout as given in the route map and we assure you of finding yourself beside the grazing rhinos inside Jaldapara.

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Jaldapara National Park
It was completely dark and drizzling when we crossed Chalsa Morh. Team WHEELS had checked all the lights, wipers and tyres of the Duster prior to the trip and hence was confident. At the huge gate of the Jaldapara National Park on our right on NH-31C, we caught a glimpse of the sign which read, ‘Welcome to Rhino Land’. Immediately thereafter we spotted the Jaldapara Tourist Lodge entrance on right and Manager Niranjan Saha welcomed us at the gate inside.
I was six when I first saw a rhinoceros in a film called Hatari and was awestruck. It had a breathtaking sequence where a one-horned Indian rhino was being chased in an open jeep through the African savannahs. Suddenly the rhino rammed its horn into the man sitting on the jeep’s ‘catcher’s seat’ on the bonnet. My fascination with the rhino began from then onwards.
Located close to the Gorumara Forest, Jaldapara is covered by tall elephant grasses with River Buri Torsa passing through it. There are 8 territorial ranges of Jaldapara NP – Jaldapara North, South, East, West, Kodalbasti, Chilapata, Lanka Para and Neel Para. Although there are 15 watch towers, 4 are set aside for tourists. These watch towers are named Harindanga, Jaldapara, CC Line and Mednabari watch tower.
At present, it is home to 186 rhinos (last survey in 2013) – second only to Kajiranga National Park in Assam. The other animals consists of elephants, leopards, deer, sambhar, barking deer, spotted deer and hog deer, wild pig and bison. A few days ago, the extinct Indian Wild Dogs ‘Dhol’ were spotted at Jaldapara.
Jaldapara, spreading over 216 sq. km is a paradise for bird watchers. It is one of the very few places in India, where the Bengal Florican is sighted. The other birds to be found here are the Crested Eagle, Pallas’s Fishing Eagle and shikra, besides Jungle fowl, pea fowl, patridges and lesser Pied Hornbill. Python, monitor lizards, krates, cobras, geckos and about 8 species of fresh water turtles are also found here.
The park, itself has much more to offer. The dense foliage and tall trees with thick canopies – evoke an uncanny charm. The best part is that one is able to drive his own car upto 6.5 km inside the forest till Hollong Tourist Lodge accompanied by a forest guide. The forest check-post at the main gates for the vehicles and tourists to halt and obtain forest permit and forest guides. Thankfully, our interaction was brief and we obtained our permit in no time. Our assigned forest guide Ajoy showed us the way inside the park.
The light grey dirt track pierced through the green foliage – looking verdant because of the drizzle last night. The ride was not very comfortable because of the uneven pebbles on the track. We trudged along as our guide advised us against stopping since it was not uncommon to come face to face with a rhino or an elephant.
Our team photographer, who recently got married, was warned by the forest guide before he got down to take photographs. Despite all the warnings, the eerie feeling with the incessant cricket cries in the background we did not spot anything save the monkeys.
Our Renault Duster slowly rolled over the main dirt track leading us to the forest rest house complex – 6.5 km from the main forest gate. We arrived at the Hollong Tourist Lodge – an adventurous place to stay within the forest. A small elephant of the forest department was lazing around in the complex and started to run away as soon as it spotted our vehicle.
There is an open space with a salt pit right opposite to the lodge across a stream. This salt pit is the main attraction for the tourists putting up at the Hollong Tourist Lodge. The rhinos and elephants come here in the early mornings and late evenings in search of food allowing tourists to click photographs from the first floor lobby of the lodge. We could see vast swathes of grassland and huge trees spreading beyond it.
We had been listening to a shrill sound which turned out to be the call of peacocks loitering in the open ground opposite the tourist lodge. It was the mating season and the sight of two peacocks trying to impress three peahens was wonderful.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t see any rhino or elephant despite our long and patient wait at the Hollong bungalow. Silence reigned all around, broken at intervals by the calls of the peacocks. We went back dejectedly to our car intending to come back for the elephant safari, the next morning.

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Elephant Safari
This is the best way to explore the national park. It is conducted early in the morning, every day. Taking you deep inside the grassland for the real excitement it also assures sighting of the rhino in a muddy pond, herd of elephants or deer running away at the slightest sound. The Assistant Wildlife Warden, Sweta Rai informed that at present there are 5 elephants for tourism activities while 58 assist in protecting the forest. A maximum of four people are allowed on each elephant. The ride starts from the Hollong Tourist Lodge, some 6.5 km inside the forest and has to be accessed by a vehicle – either own or hired. The elephant safari is subject to the availability of elephants since they are in short supply during the peak season.
The Forest Range office opposite to the Jaldapara Tourist Lodge provides all information and arranges permits and booking for the elephant and jeep safaris.

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Car Safari
The forest department has several Maruti Gypsy vehicles which can be rented from forest office. However, in car safaris you can’t get very close to the animals since the vehicles cannot enter the grasslands.

Day Safari in personal or hired car
You can also take your own car inside the forest accompanied by a forest guide and drive about 6.5 km inside the forest upto Hollong Tourist Lodge though possibilities of animal sightings would be the least.

TIGER REHABILITATION CENTRE AT SOUTH KHAIRBARI
Located 19 km from the main gates of Jaldapara NP lies the Tiger Rehabilitation Centre at South Khairbari forest – is a must see and would take about half a day.
It has two routes – one through the Khairbari forests entering from NH-31C and the other which goes 16 km through the main road to Falakata and turning right at ‘Paanch Mile’ with the last 3 km through the Khairbari forest. We recommend the second route.
The Tiger Rehabilitation Centre is like a huge zoo open from 10 am to 4 pm. A 20 feet high circular iron net runs along a canal with a watch tower. It has leopards and cubs rescued from tea gardens and villages. It also has several Royal Bengal Tigers rescued from circuses following a ban by courts. We saw 6 leopards restlessly pacing inside the ground and waiting their turn to be released. We also heard the growls of Royal Bengals tigers but couldn’t locate them.

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ACCOMMODATION
At Jaldapara, you are required to stay for 2 to 3 days. On the first day book the tickets at the forest department’s office so that you can enjoy the jungle safaris on elephant back or in a Gypsy, the next day. On day three, you can set out for Toto Para and South Khairbari Tiger Rehabilitation Centre.
The best accommodation option at Jaldapara is undoubtedly the Jaldapara Tourist Lodge under the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (see Accommodation box). It is 600 mts inside the NH-31C, connected by an unpaved pathway which goes over two wooden bridges, lending that adventurous setting. The Forest Range Office is located just opposite the Tourist Lodge and thus bookings can be done easily in peak season.
It has three types of rooms –wooden, bricks and cottages. Most of the rooms have balconies of their own and are fitted with all modern amenities and the best of brands. The restaurant here has a long menu to offer along with a bar.
The unique half-an-hour-long ‘Light and Sound’ show describing the flora and fauna of Jaldapara was an amazing experience.
Our Duster, parked inside the compound, got a much needed wash by a service staff of the Tourist Lodge even before we got up next morning.
The Holong Tourist Lodge located 6.5 km inside the forest has a locational advantage but is deficient in the superior amenities and service offered by the Jaldapara Tourist Lodge. The Hollong Tourist Lodge has 8 rooms – 5 out of which are booked by West Bengal Tourism and the other 3 rooms are kept reserved by the forest department for their official guests. The rooms are modestly furnished. Although it has air-conditioning, we were informed, they don’t operate.
Other than these, there are plenty of private hotels and lodges – most of which look impressive from outside but fade out on inspection. But the Jaldapara Inn, 3 km from Jaldapara gates, was impressive. It has 6 new cottages, a huge dining hall and a watch tower beside a tea garden with a good scenic beauty.
If you are fond of authentic Bengali cuisine you may try Jaldapara Wild Hut (Cell: 9832048343/9593711555). Although small in size, the hotel prepares real fine Bengali dishes such as Bhapa Mach, Murir Ghanta etc at very reasonable rates; it is for their boarders only and requires prior intimation for serving food to outsiders.

ELEPHANT SAFARI
• Timings: 6.00 am – 8.30 am
• No. of daily trips: 3 nos. of 45 minutes each
• Elephant Safari fee: `600 per head (4 persons on one elephant)
• Forest Permit: `60 per head
• Addl. expense: Pick and drop by cars – `800 appx. (incl. vehicle entry fee of `250)
• Total: `3440 appx. for 4 people

CAR SAFARI
• Timings: 6 am – 8.30 am / 3.30 pm – 5 pm
• No. of daily trips: 2 in the morning and 1 in the evening – 1 hour each
• Gypsy Safari fee: `750 per car with maximum 6 passengers
• Vehicle Entry Fee: `250 per vehicle
• Guide fee: `200 l Forest Permit: `60 per head
• Total: `1440 for 4 people / `1560 for 6 people

DAY SAFARI IN CAR:
• Entry Timings: 9 am – 2 pm
• Car Entry fee: `250 per car
• Forest Permit: `60 per person
• Forest Guide fee: `100
• Total: `590 for 4 people

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Toto Para
Route: Toto Para, about 26 km from Jaldapara Tourist Lodge, is another attraction for those interested in adventure and ethnic tourism. The whole trip would roughly take half a day.
The route begins from the road opposite to the Madarihat Police station and continues by the Oil India depot towards Bhutan Range, further north. The destination is across two river beds, accessible only in the dry season between November to May.
There are two routes to Toto Para – the first one is shorter- across a river bed with a relatively better road condition than the other which follows the course of a river for a few kilometers and crisscrosses forest tracks in between to offer a challenging driving experience along with a superb scenic beauty for the courageous ones. Team WHEELS drove their a Renault Duster across the tougher route and was comfortably through. Crossing the river beds were real fun. We followed the path which got somewhat flattened by the movements of heavy vehicles collecting gravels from the river bed. Maneuvering the steep gradients with sudden falls were really tricky.
Tips: Do hire an experienced route guide to Toto Para – preferably a driver who can guide you through the trail. Since sedan or hatchback vehicles will not be able to access the route, you will have to hire a SUV (if you are not driving one) to reach Toto Para. If you have not driven earlier on rough terrains and don’t have off-roading experience – do not try this on your own with your own vehicle – you might damage the under-carriage or suspension and get stuck and it might be difficult to extricate the vehicle.

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TOTO PARA: This village bordering Bhutan is the only settlement of Toto tribe in India. Totos are one of the most endangered and smallest ethnic communities in the world. The tribe was forced to carry tota (ammunitions) for the British troops in the battles against Bhutan and that is how the tribe got its name.
The number of Totos has dwindled to a few hundred. Toto Para is a small village with a market place. It has rows of tiny wooden houses belonging to a mixed population. The traditional huts of the Totos are hardly seen today. Made of flattened bamboos on lifted platforms, these are naturally ventilated with no doors or windows. The cattle and pets are kept below the houses and double up as guards. Totos are quite hospitable these days. The Totos, we met, were tall and handsome unlike other hilly tribes. The males carry big bhojalis (knives) by their sides and indulge in drinking haria during leisure. They earn their livelihood from betel-nut plantations and work as daily labourers these days.
Carry drinking water and light snacks since there are no proper eateries in Toto Para. Carry a few candies as well, to distribute among the children and make them smile.
Toto Para remains inaccessible during the monsoon – June to September due to the turbulent waters of mountainous rivers.
NOTE: For returning to Kolkata, follow the same route through NH-31C, NH-31 and NH-34. Although shorter, do not deviate to Siliguri via Falakata and Jalpaiguri for the heavy traffic and bad road condition.

Serampore – Seeping history

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In our series on the historic mini Europe along River Hooghly, we present Serampore – the Danish settlement which became a major hub for missionaries, paving way for the flowering of Bengali prose

Route: Serampore can be reached from Kolkata by the old National Highway 2, also known as Delhi Road. For Delhi Road- enter into Kona Expressway from Vidya Sagar Setu. At the end of Kona Expressway take the flyover on the right flank connecting NH-2 and proceed towards Dhankuni (on way to Bardhaman). From the junction of new NH-2 and Delhi Road at Dhankuni (much ahead of the Dhankuni toll tax plaza) enter right into the Delhi Road (old NH-2) leaving behind the new NH-2. Thereafter, proceed straight on Delhi Road and cross the junction of Rishra to reach Choto Belur Morh. From the Choto Belur Morh on Delhi Road turn right and proceed straight towards Nogar Morh on GT Road in Serampore. Turn right from Nogar Morh and proceed to Battala Morh over a flyover on Serampore railway station. Turn left from Battala Morh and proceed towards Holy Home Morh. From this point, turn right for Serampore College beside the River Hooghly and left for Danish Governor’s House inside the Serampore Court.

Brief history of Danish Serampore (1755 – 1845): The success of European overseas trading companies led to the setting up of Danish Asiatic Company in 1732 with the Danish Government as a major stockholder. Danes arrived late in Bengal while other major European powers had already negotiated commercial treaties with the Nawab of Bengal, and acquired land and established separate posts or factories. In 1755 the Danish Asiatic Company was granted the right to establish a trading post at Serampore by the River Hooghly. The name of the place was officially changed to Frederiksnagore to honour the Danish King Frederik V. Subsequently, Serampore came under direct administration of the Danish Crown in 1777 and remained so with only a few interruptions until 1845.
It was due to Denmark’s good relations with the French that the French Governor of Chandernagore became an intermediate in their contact with the Nawab Ali Verdi Khan. After his death, the new Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula captured the British Fort William in Calcutta. War also broke out between England and France and its outcome determined the future domination of India. Following the victory of British in Battle of Plassey, the Danish settlement in Serampore was able to survive and thrive only with implicit British acceptance.

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Decline and sale (1845): Conditions changed abruptly in 1801 when the whole Danish fleet was seized in Copenhagen in 1807. The British took possession of Serampore and Tranquebar, as well as the smaller Danish factories till 1815. When Serampore was restored to Denmark, the lucrative trade had ceased by then. Early industrialisation in England largely extinguished the trade in Indian hand-woven cotton and silk textiles leading to the decline of trade in India and after 1815 only one Danish ship arrived directly at Serampore. During these years of economic recession, many of the well-to-do merchants abandoned the place. In addition, sedimentation and sand banks in the river impeded navigation of large ships, mostly with three masts to Serampore thereby increasing transshipment charges. Serampore came increasingly under British influence and was sold to them in 1845.
The Danish Government House: The Danish government house, established in 1755, was the centre of Danish administration, as well as the private residence of the Head of Serampore. Initially, the government house was a simple mud and wattle construction with a thatched roof consisting of a hall, four large rooms, two small rooms, two verandahs and a storeroom. A major part of this building collapsed during a dinner party in 1770 and the Members of the Council and their wives barely saved their lives by a narrow escape through the windows. In 1771, the Danish Head of Serampore, Johan Leonard Fix constructed a new brick-built government house consisting of a hall, two rooms and a verandah which still exist as the oldest Danish settlement in Serampore and is at present the court compound.
Main Gate: A brick-built gate on the northern side of the compound was first mentioned in the records in 1772. Shortly after the British occupation of Serampore between 1808 and 1815, the gate was rebuilt with paired pilasters headed by Ionic capitals and a triangular pediment. A drawing from 1827 shows this impressive and richly ornamented gate with a monogram of the Danish King Frederik VI, who ruled Denmark (1808-1838). Overshadowed by large trees, shanties and local rickshaws waiting for customers, the rundown gate still functions as the main entrance to the court compound.
Serampore College: For many years the British East India Company prohibited all missionary activities in their territories, fearing public unrest and loss of trade. Because of this restrictive policy, the first British missionaries to India sought protection under the Danish Crown and were welcomed in Serampore by the then Head of the Danish settlement, Ole Bie. William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward of the Baptist Missionary Society were the first Baptist missionaries to arrive along with their families in 1799.
Apart from propagandising the gospel, the missionaries showed strong interest in education and natural science. In 1800, a botanical garden was laid out at the ground of the present India Jute Mill and soon after a printing house and paper mill were founded, introducing the first steam-driven factory in India.
Carey made an outstanding contribution by founding the Serampore Mission Press in 1800 where the wooden Bangla types made by Panchanan Karmakar were installed. Carey became famous as the father of Bangla prose. The Mission Press published three books – the Bangla translation of The Bible, Hitopadesh and Kathopakathan. Munshi Rambabu Basu, the pundit appointed by Carey, brought out Pratapaditya Charit and the Bangla versions of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The first issue of the second Bangla daily, Samachar Darpan came out in 1818 under the editorship of William Carey.
Another outstanding contribution of the missionaries was the installation of India’s first paper mill, propelled by a steam engine. Between 1801 and 1832, the Serampore Mission Press printed 2,12,000 copies of books in 40 different languages. In this cultural development, the local inhabitants had only a passive role.
Serampore College was founded in 1818 and soon after the construction of a new building was initiated at a large site close to the river adjoining the botanical garden and the printing house. By a Royal Charter issued on February 23, 1827, the College was officially recognised and offered similar rights of conferring degrees in all subjects as enjoyed by the Danish universities in Copenhagen and Kiel. In 1845, when the Danish settlement was transferred to the British, the treaty of acquisition included provisions for maintaining the rights and immunities granted to the College by the Royal Charter of 1827. Serampore College is now affiliated to Calcutta University and it has earned a great reputation in providing opportunities for higher education. Situated within a pleasant and well-kept green area, the main building of Serampore College and the former residence of William Carey as well as the ancillary buildings are major landmarks of Serampore today. The spacious double high entrance hall is furnished with a large double staircase executed in cast iron, just as the main gate of the compound, which opens towards the river. All these elements were produced in Birmingham and granted to the College as a special gift from the Danish King Frederik VI in appreciation of the work carried out by the mission for the good cause of Serampore.
Carey Library and Resource Centre: It is housed in a new concrete building situated within the college compound. Constructed in 1993 with donations from the Norwegian and the Danish Governments, the building contains a conference hall, a library and a museum. The memorial museum exhibits artifacts, documents, pictures and paraphernalia illustrating the personal life of the missionaries and the history of the Baptist Mission in Serampore. Among the treasures on display in the museum is a replica of the Royal Charter issued in 1827 signed by the King of Denmark, Frederik VI. The lecture hall displays the portraits of King Frederik VI (1808-1839) and Queen Marie Sophie Frederikke which once adorned the Governor’s house in Tranquebar before being donated to Serampore College in 1845.

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St. Olav’s Church
Funded partly by private subscription in Denmark and Serampore and partly by public grants, the construction of St. Olav’s Church was initiated in 1800 by the Danish Governor Ole Bie. The church was completed in 1806, a year after the decease of Ole Bie, but the portico and the bell tower were completed in 1821. The church became a major landmark of Serampore, appearing at all the early depictions of the town. The steeple was – and still is – contributing to the town silhouette when seen from a distance, especially while arriving by boat or viewed from the opposite side of the river.
The St. Olav Church had a significant impact on the perception of Serampore as a Danish settlement. However, due to the small number of resident Danes, the services were performed by the English Baptist missionaries and never by any Danish priest.
The interior is sparsely decorated with some stucco work high on the walls in the choir. Otherwise there is no adornment apart from six commemorative tablets along the southern aisle wall. Three of them honour the former Danish heads of Serampore: J. O. Voight, J. S. Hohlenberg and L. T. Ole Bie. The remaining tablets were put up in memory of Juliane Marie Wallich, William Wollen and in collective memory of the British missionaries William Carey, Joshua Marshmann and William Ward. At the steeple are two bells of European origin, but none of them is in use anymore.
St. Olav’s Church is now under administration by Church of North India, but the day-to-day use and maintenance is taken care of by Serampore College.
The Catholic Church: Built in 1776 the Roman Catholic Church is the oldest church in Serampore. The building replaced a chapel dating from 1764, which had become too small to serve the growing Catholic community. Auxiliary buildings were constructed on an adjoining piece of land in 1780 for the accommodation of the priest. The buildings were further extended in 1841 and a second storey added to it.

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The Mission Cemetery: The cemetery of the Baptist mission is situated close to the present Dey Street. The ground is now maintained by Serampore College and three monuments of the prominent missionaries William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward have recently been restored under supervision by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), Kolkata.
The Danish Cemetery: The Danish cemetery in Serampore was reserved for Protestants and adjoining it, separated by a low wall, was the burial ground of the Roman Catholics.
A total of 33 burial places can be immediately identified of which 16 seem to be listed by number. Unfortunately, only few gravestones with inscriptions have been preserved. The three most notable commemorative epitaphs are of Factor Casper Top and the two Governors of the Danish possessions in Bengal, Ole (Olav) Bie and Jacob Krefting.
The Danish cemetery is a Protected Monument and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Almost all the masonry tombs have been renovated by the use of cement plaster and only few original details and ornaments have been preserved.

The Denmark Tavern and Hotel:
The peaceful, yet urban atmosphere of Serampore attracted a number of well-to-do inhabitants from Calcutta during the Danish period. With the easy access by boat on the Hooghly River and its proximity to Calcutta, Serampore offered a pleasant interruption from the busy city life, as a kind of recreational area. The British Governor General’s country residence was situated in Barrackpore, just on the opposite side of the river, further increasing the number of visitors to Serampore. A former owner of London Tavern had opened the ‘Denmark Tavern and Hotel’ in the ‘new upper-roomed house near the flag-staff in Serampore’.

The Goswami Rajbari: The open land on the west of the Danish canal was developed into a residential area with the arrival of the Goswami family in mid-18th century. Being the most influential Indian landlords in Serampore, they built large residences for the extended family. Three significant building complexes originating from the Danish period are still preserved.
The Goswami Rajbari was built around 1800 by Raghuram Goswami, who had earned a large fortune on private trade. His father, Harinarayan, had functioned as the Diwan of Customs (collector) under the Danish East India Company. When the Danish King planned to sell Serampore, Raghuram is even said to have offered to buy the town for 12 lakhs of rupees, however, this was not allowed by the British Government.

The Rajbari’s northern complex: The front part of the northern complex seems to have been changed at different times with each addition representing varying classical architectural styles ranging from plain Tuscan to a more elaborate composite order dominated by fluted shafts and rich ornamental capitals of Corinthian order. The interior is even more elaborately enriched with multiple mouldings and stucco decorations. The main entrance leads to a courtyard that has been turned into an open hall with the addition of a roof supported by masonry columns of the Corinthian style. The hall, called Chandini, serves as a community space for marriage functions and festivals. To the north is a temple of Radha-Madhav Jew. On the first floor, a room is preserved as a sort of family memorial museum, exhibiting easel paintings of their ancestors. Shootings of as many as 17 movies including Bhooter Bhabisyat took place at this grand building.

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Howrah water Works: River Ganga flows past the town of Serampore. Before independence, the British Government made an initiative to procure drinking water for the people of Howrah from the river water which is still prevalent. Howrah Water Works (HWW) though was set up to supply drinking water to the whole of Howrah, but nowadays only Bally Municipality procures water from it. The 116-year old system of purification of river water into drinking water still remains intact. The only change being the power on which it is run. Earlier it was run on coal and now it’s on electricity.
Built in 1894 by Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, Sir Charles A. Elliott, it was inaugurated by Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, Sir Alexander Macknenzie. At present, the HWW spreads over 55 bighas of land with three old buildings including a workshop, an abandoned superintendent’s quarter and a machine shop.

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Jagannath Mandir and Chariot of Mahesh: Mahesh Rath Jatra dates back to the 14th Century AD and is the grandest in West Bengal. In the 14th Century, Dhurbananda Bramhachari, a Bengali sage went to Puri on a pilgrimage. During his visit, the temple authorities at Puri prevented him from offering bhog to Lord Jagannath. Dejected, Dhurabnanda decided to fast till death. On the third day of his fast he heard Lord Jagannath advising him to return to a place called Mahesh on the banks of Hooghly in Bengal. The Lord also told him that he will find a huge Neem trunk at Mahesh, which he should use to make the idols of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra.
Dhurabnanda returned to Mahesh and carried out the Lord’s order and etched out the deities of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra in the Jagannath temple at Mahesh.
On the way to Puri, Sri Chaitanya reached Mahesh where he became absorbed in a deep Samādhi. Today the temple has been replaced by a new structure but the Ratha Jatra continues to take place with much grandeur.
Like the temple, the chariot has been replaced several times. The present chariot was donated by Krishnaram Basu and constructed by Martin Burn Co. The iron chariot, with nine pinnacles, towers to a height of 50 feet and weighs 125 tons. Running on 12 wheels with a diameter 4 feet each, the rath was made at a cost of `20,000 and in use since 1885.

Food Joints: Serampore is a busy town with all amenities. Right from small eateries to posh restaurants, all kinds are available. However, to name a few, Sukh Sagar on Rishi Bankim Sarani near Battala, Samrat on Netaji Subhash Road near railway station and Om on Netaji Subhash Road near Dhobi Ghat are recommended by Team WHEELS.

River Cruise:

West Bengal Tourism Dev. Corpn. operates river cruises from Kolkata to all heritage places on River Hooghly as packaged tours and also by chartering. Contact Tourism Centre at 3/2 BBD Bag East, Kolkata 700 001, Tel: 22488271 / 22436440

Digging History at Moghalmari

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Team WHEELS decided to explore Moghalmari – the newly excavated site of a 6th century Buddhist monastery. Though photography is banned at the site, ‘Kolkata on WHEELS’ got prior permission and brings you the first extensive glimpses of the site of ongoing excavation.
It is indeed a rare opportunity to go on an expedition and be a part of an experience where archeologists are unearthing pieces of history and establishing the missing links in historical chronology.

Route description:

The village of Moghalmari is situated near Dantan in the district of West Midnapore, very close to the Odisha border. It is well connected to Kolkata via Kharagpur by the fabulous new generation highways of National Highway 6 and National Highway 60 that would roughly take 3 hours 30 minutes from Kolkata.
From Vidyasagar Setu enter Kona Expressway. At the end of Kona Expressway turn left to enter NH-6. Thereafter, continue straight on NH-6 and cross Dhulagori (toll tax), Uluberia, Kolaghat, Deulia, Mechogram, Debra (toll tax), Basantpur, till you reach the bifurcation on NH-6 at Kharagpur where the direction board reads: ‘Kharagpur and Mumbai – on left’ (while going onto a flyover). Do not take this left towards Kharagpur/ Mumbai but proceed forward to take a soft left which passes under a flyover and enters into NH-60 (also known as Kharagpur Bypass) to proceeds towards Balasore in Odisha.
Once you are on NH-60, continue on the concretised surface with frequent diversions since the carriageway is under construction.
On NH-60, pay toll tax at Rampura and enter ‘Baleswar-Kharagpur Expressway’ (a part of NH-60) and proceed till you reach Moghalmari bus stand. From Moghalmari bus stand, proceed a few metres ahead on the main highway to find a small green sign board on the middle of the highway which indicates ‘Moghalmari Buddhist Monastery – on right’ directing into an insignificant village road on the right from the highway. Take this narrow entrance on right and continue for 500 mts over the rural laterite pathway to reach the excavation site at Moghalmari village.

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History
The Chinese pilgrim Huen Tsang who visited Bengal in 638 A.D. referred to four kingdoms in present-day Bengal in his travelogue, namely Pundravarddhana (North Bengal) with 20 monasteries and 3000 monks; Samatata (South-East Bangladesh) with 30 monasteries and 2000 monks; Tamralipta (Tamluk in East Midnapore and adjoining areas) with 10 monasteries and 1000 monks and Karnasuvarna (in Murshidabad) with 10 monasteries and 2000 monks. The recent discovery of the Vandak monastic complex at Moghalmari near Tamluk built during 6th century is a significant landmark in the history of Bengal.
It is believed that the Subarnarekha River once flowed close to the monastery but subsequently changed its course (at present it is 4.5 km away). Though the Tamralipta region began to decline from the 7th century, there are evidences to suggest that the Vandak Buddhist monastery continued to thrive until the 11th or 12th century. It is believed that the main reason for the prosperity of the monastery was perhaps the trade route near which it was built. There are historical references to this trade route which connected Tamralipta region with other areas, both by land and by the Subarnarekha River. According to researchers, the monastery would not have flourished if it was not for the patronage of the traders. Since it was located in the Tamralipta – a flourishing port, it is presumed that it was the traders instead of the king who were behind the prosperity of this monastery.

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Discovery

In 1996, a local school teacher Narendranath Biswas, informed Asok Datta, a professor of archaeology in the University of Calcutta about various ancient artifacts the villagers were finding near a huge mound at Moghalmari – popularly known as Sashi Sena or Sakhi Sena.
In 2003, the mound and two other adjacent sites were selected for excavation by Dr. Datta. Excavation began but proceeded slowly through seven stages over nearly a decade from 2003 till 2012 under the supervision of Dr. Datta. Researchers of Calcutta University were able to establish the existence of the monastery underneath through its preliminary excavations. Earlier, a gold coin and a locket were found here, bearing the Brahmi inscription ‘Maharajadhiraja Samachar Devo’, indicating the fact that the vihara was in use at the time of Samachar Dev who ruled Bengal during 6th century at the time of Kumar Gupta. Antiques were unearthed and a portion of the monastery was revealed out of the mound. Excavations leading up to 2012 revealed that the mound was the site of an extensive Buddhist monastery complex built over centuries and perhaps as early as the 6th century, the likes of which are yet to be discovered elsewhere in Bengal. Shortly before Dr. Datta’s death in July 2012, he wrote in a local magazine Ebong Shayak, that “Moghalmari possibly exhibits the largest monastic site so far discovered in Bengal.”
However, Calcutta University with its limited means and restricted permissions from ASI was not able to complete the mammoth excavation required to unearth the entire monastery and restore it simultaneously. Hence, in November 2013, the responsibility of excavation was passed over to Directorate of Archaeology & Museums, Information & Cultural Affairs Department, Government of West Bengal with Dr. Amal Roy as its incharge.
The excavations at the site revealed the most outstanding features of this monastery found so far. The discovery of the western wall of the monastery decorated with human figures and floral motifs, votive tablets (objects of offering made of terracotta, depicting symbols and inscriptions of specific religious affiliations) and decorative bricks, along with 14 life-size stucco figures established the fact that this monastery is the largest and perhaps the most prosperous Buddhist monastic complex found so far in West Bengal dating back to as early as the 6th century or even late 5th century.
As the partly excavated site stands now, it is an 11-feet high plinth ornated all over with divine, human, animal, floral and abstract stucco figures on it. It is a tri-ratha structure, typical of Buddhist monastic architecture, complete with innumerable cells for the monks to live in. The large number of cells indicates that it was a huge monastery. Besides royal patronage from King Shashanka, the monastery was patronised by merchants who used the Dantan port.
The nature of the architecture proves that construction and growth here happened in two phases. The first was between the 6th and 7th century while the second was in the 9th and 10th century.
Excavations revealed the remains at two levels of elevation. The construction patterns are distinctly different at the two structural phases enabling us to determine the different time zones in which they were constructed. The monastery was probably built in the Vajrayana phase of the propagation of Buddhism. At this time, deity worship was slowly making inroads into Buddhism. Thus, the walls have figures of Jambala (equivalent to the Hindu God Yama), figures of goddesses who can be equated with Saraswati, amorous couple figures like the ones found in Konarak.
According to Dr. Amal Roy, Deputy Director of Archaeology & Museums, Information & Cultural Affairs Department, Government of West Bengal and State Project Coordinator, National Mission on Monuments & Antiquities, West Bengal, it is evident from the excavations and the various artifacts gathered from all over the place that the entire Moghalmari village was the site of the monastery. Dr. Roy pointed out that “Only two other Buddhist monasteries have been excavated in West Bengal – the Raktamrittika monastery at Karnasubarna in Murshidabad district and the Nandadirghi monastery at Jagjivanpur in Malda district”.
According to Binay Muni, Exploration Assistant, Directorate of Archaeology & Museums, Information & Cultural Affairs Department, Government of West Bengal, “The nature of overlaps in structural components in the south of the mound possibly suggests a third structural phase which at the present remains hypothetical.”
It was at Moghalmari that for the first time such life-size figures and a large number of decorative bricks were unearthed. “More than 64 designs of bricks have been discovered and all of these were used to decorate the monastery. This indicates a very high level of craftsmanship and considerable prosperity,” said Binay. The votive tablets and the stucco art also suggest that a large number of artists and artisans had settled in and around the place. Perhaps, along with the development of the monastery, the region also grew into an important centre for artisans. The existence of a beautiful brick gateway of the monastery was revealed during the 2009-2010 excavations. The gateway is decorated with two beautiful brick pillars on both sides and crowned with ‘Purnaghata’ shaped on brick. A number of small cells were found on both sides of the brick platform and some are attached to the outer wall of the monastery in its northern side.
The excavations also revealed the existence of a massive and beautifully decorated stucco designs on lime plastered outer wall of the monastery. Stucco lotus and lotus petal designs dominate the whole composition in outer wall. Most important among the stucco figures is a human figure with folded hand. Among the stucco floral designs, a ‘Bodhi Tree’ is of special interest as it emphasises the significance of Buddhist ritualistic composition. Compact rammed surki pavement plastered with lime and termed as ‘Pradakshinapatha’ was unearthed from the southern part of the monastery. Evidences of demolition or destruction of the early structure of the monastery either due to natural calamities or human vandalism were also established.

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Experience at Moghalmari
What we saw in front of our eyes, gave us goose bumps. A huge mound, almost like a hillock is under excavation which has a brick staircase leading to a local club house of Moghalmari Tarun Seva Sangha at its top. It was astonishing that the archeologists have unravelled the biggest Buddhist monastery of Bengal dating back to 6th century A.D. at this site, so close to Kolkata. After 11 years of excavation, the site has ultimately revealed the actual name of the 6th century Buddhist monastery complex as ‘Vandak Mahavihar’ from the inscription “Sri Vandak Mahavihare arya bhikshu sangahah” inscribed on a terracotta-seal discovered at the site.
At present, although the area is cordoned off, visitors are permitted to enter the site at a fixed time every day. From 9-12 in the morning and 2-4 in the afternoon, the visitors are allowed. However, photography is strictly not allowed at the site.
We, from Team WHEELS, had prior permission to survey the premises and get a closer look. What lay in front of us was live history. It was exciting! The officials and club members showed us the site with patience and narrated their valuable findings step by step. Traversing through the site, we were awestruck. Like inquisitive children, we bombarded them with questions. Thankfully, the officials and the locals obliged us with valuable information about how it all started, the site plan and artifacts unearthed et al. The officials explained to us the process of slow unravelling of the structure of the monastery in details, the different layers of soil that lay before us and what might happen if they do not restore the stucco figures as soon as they are unearthed. It was quite interesting to learn that when these ancient stucco figures, mostly made of lime and sand, come in contact with atmosphere on excavation, would get immediately disfigured and hence require immediate attention and restoration to preserve the structures.
It is encouraging to note that locals such as Sanjoy Das, a member of the Moghalmari Tarun Seva Sangha and Atanu Pradhan, the Joint Secretary of the club have taken up the initiative to preserve the antiquities inside their club room and exhibit to the tourists. They are applying to the state government for a financial grant in order to relocate their club and transform it into a modern museum for the tourists.
At around 3 pm we realised that it was time for us to return. We bid adieu to the mystic Vandak monastery and proceeded for an eatery on our way back to Kolkata.

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Conclusion
Vandak monastery in Moghalmari contains extensive evidence of our ancient cultural heritage. It also has an immense scope to promote tourism. For many years, this Buddhist monastic complex was safely buried under layers of soil because no one knew about it. With excavation will come the challenge of protecting the structures from the over enthusiastic visitors, vandals and thieves. Preservation of this historic site is a real challenge which rest not only on the authorities but all of us. Let’s vow to preserve this historical wonder for generations to come.

Food Joints
Since there is no provision for having lunch nearby, it is advisable to carry packed meal for the drive out to Moghalmari. However, you may try out the local eatery, Hotel Sri Gopal, located 1.5 km further down towards Dantan, inside a left fork from a bifurcation on the main highway. Here standard rice meal at reasonable rate and quality are available throughout the day, should the rustic ambience suit you.

FAST FACTS:
Entry : Free
Photography : Prohibited
Visiting Time : 9 am – 12 pm
2 pm – 4 pm
Parking : Available

Serenity Beckons at Joypur Forest

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Team WHEELS forays Into another Serene getaway In West Bengal – The Joypur Forest in Bankura

Distance from Kolkata – 136 km
Driving time – 5 hours

Route description: From Vidya Sagar Setu get into Kona Expressway. At the end of Kona Expressway take the lane on right going onto a flyover towards NH-2 (proceeding towards Delhi). Continue on the NH-2 to pay toll tax at Dankuni toll plaza and enter Durgapur Expressway (NH-2). The 3+3 lane highway from Kolkata through Durgapur Expressway is a real pleasure for driving enthusiasts. Drive for 15 km from the toll plaza on Durgapur Expressway and look for ‘Tarakeswar-Baidyabati’ bypass on your left. Leave the highway and take the extreme left lane onto a bypassing flyover. At the top of the flyover turn left towards Tarakeswar and drive through Tarakeswar Road which is an old generation single road with moderate road condition.
Proceed through this road towards Tarakeswar. After crossing Tarakeswar, proceed forward to meet Arambagh Road which goes to Arambagh town- 28 kms from Tarakeswar. From here, the road changes its name to Kotolpur- Bishnupur Road and proceeds to Bishnupur via Joypur forest – 46 km from Arambagh town.
During our drive, the road condition between Arambagh and Joypur forest was pathetic. After trudging for about two hours from Arambagh we finally made it to Joypur forest. However, the final stretch of the drive for about 10 km was silk smooth with clear road markings and signage which compensated for the bad patch.

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Joypur Forest

Surrounded by the serene greenery of sal and segun, spreading a blanket over the reddish-orange laterite soil, the beautiful forest of Joypur in Bankura is a visual delight.
While you approach the woods, a road barrier across the road will mark the beginning of the Joypur forest. Immediately on the right, you will find the office of the Divisional Forest Officer under Panchet Division, which has a forest bungalow inside its compound too.
Joypur forest, spreading over 13,000 acres was once known to have spotted deer (chital), wild boars, rabbits and exotic birds. We were also told that if lucky, we may even see elephants passing through. We decided to explore the greenery and travelled through forest pathway in our vehicle for over half an hour but could spot nothing other than few birds – rare or not, best known to only Salim Ali.
On opposite side of the forest office on main road is a restaurant named ‘Banalata’ which has adjoining facilities for accommodation.
A three-minute-drive from the forest office will lead you to 60-feet tall three storied building with accommodation, doubling up as a watch tower. The lush greenery all around, looks magical once you reach the top of the building, provided you are permitted to enter the premise; the authority being the Divisional Forest Officer.
There is an open ground beside the watch tower which serves as a picnic spot for the locals overseeing a huge lake named Dhol Samudra – a huge fresh water lake. Although we were told there is boating facility we found none.

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During our visit in mid December, the level of water in the lake was low but we could very well imagine that in the monsoons the lake would be brimming.
Since the lake Dhol Samudra is surrounded by forest, wild animals come to drink water at night. On one side of the lake is a small dam – Samudra Bandh.
We also heard that there is an abandoned air-strip of the British era, 12 km from the forest, which we could not visit.

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Accommodation

The lodging option at the forest department’s rest house by the main road is not generally open to public unless one gets special permission in advance from the DFO. The bungalow has just two rooms on the first floor overlooking a beautiful garden and the road in front with a dining room below. The logs from the surrounding forest are stacked in separate blocks at the side of the bungalow. The premise also has a garden of medicinal plants with a large variety of rare species.
The other available facility for accommodation in Joypur forest is the building of the watch-tower under DFO located at the edge of the forest overlooking the Dhol Samudra lake. It has three rooms – Finge, Doyel Shyama – each one located at each of the three floors which are in dire need of maintenance. Reservation for this place is again through the same District Forest Office. However, the cumbersome system of reservation through cash payment in advance has always made the bookings a real problem and thus has made it out of bounds for the tourists. When interviewed, the District Forest Officer Kumar Vimal however did not admit the problems in reservation process and cited low bookings of all forest rest houses across the state of West Bengal.
The third option for accommodation at Joypur forest is Banalata Hotel. The property is located beside the main road at the outskirts of the forest. Originally, this was a roadside dhaba built five years back which gradually developed into a sprawling resort acquiring a huge area. It has accommodation options in cottages, mud houses and buildings of 2 and 4 bedded rooms having air-conditions and modern amenities.
At Banalata restaurant, meat of emu and that of Asian koel are major attractions. One may also try meat of duck or country chicken. However, being novice in the trade, the management and upkeep of the property are not up to the mark.
Although, the experience to Joypur forest was overall modest, it is still a wonderful getaway from the smog and clamour of city life.

Tarakeshwar & Dasghara

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The temple of ‘Taraknath’ in the temple town of Tarakeshwar in Hooghly district is the biggest pilgrimmage for Lord Shiva in West Bengal. No wonder that millions of pilgrims throng the place throughout the year

Distance from Kolkata: 61.9 km
Driving time: 1.5 hours approx.

Route: Tarakeshwar is very conveniently connected to Kolkata by Durgapur Expressway (National Highway 2). From the Vidyasagar Setu, get into Kona Expressway. At the end of Kona Expressway take the flyover on the right flank connecting NH-2 and proceed straight towards Bardhaman. After crossing the Dankuni toll tax plaza on Durgapur Expressway (NH-2), keep a watch for the ‘Tarakeshwar-Baidyabati’ connector on left (14.5 km from Dankuni toll tax plaza). Enter this bypass and get on to a flyover and turn left into ‘Tarakeshwar-Baidyabati Road’ also known as ‘Baro (12) Number Route’ to proceed towards Tarakeshwar after crossing Kamarkundu, Nalikul, Gopinagar, Banderpur Morh, Loknath Chowmatha on the way and finally reach the Baidyapur Chowmatha. Find the huge gate on your right at Baidyapur Chowmatha named the ‘Tarakeshwar Gate’ put up by the Tourism Department, Government of West Bengal. Take this road on right known as ‘Tarakeshwar Thana (police station) Road’ and proceed a little to find a lane to the temple on right called the ‘Temple Road’ which is quite narrow and becomes narrower as you proceed. At the last stretch of the lane, it is just about the width of a car and hence difficulty may arise in case a vehicle approaches from the opposite direction. Thus it is suggested, that the vehicle be parked on the road in front of Tarkeshwar Police Station- wide enough to accommodate cars – instead of entering the Temple Road.

History:
Historical facts reveal that the temple of Tarakeshwar was built in 1721 AD by Raja Bharamalla during the regime of Murshid Quli Khan in Bengal. Legend says that Zeminder Kesab Hajari migrated from Ajodhya with his family along with two sons Vishnu Das and Bharamalla to settle in Ramnagar, at present Hooghly. Later his youngest son Bharamalla became king of Ramnagar.

One day, Mukunda Ghosh, milk man of Raja Bharamalla, reported that one of his best cows named Kapila suspiciously yielded milk every day at a place inside the forest. On following the cow, Mukunda discovered that Kapila yielded milk on a black stone resembling a Shivaling. After this incident, Raja Bharamalla dreamt of Shiva in the form of Taraknath who urged him to construct a temple at the site. Immediately thereafter, Raja Bharamalla cleared off the jungle and constructed the temple and donated all his belongings for the maintenance of the temple. The original temple of Tarakeshwar, over the time, has been renovated many times.

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Tarakeshwar
The prime attraction at Tarakeshwar is the temple of Shiva known as Baba Taraknath. The first Mohanta of the temple was Mukunda Ghosh and presently it is under Sureswar Ashram Mohanta Maharaj.
Tarakeshwar is choked with millions of pilgrims from all over the state and other parts of India during the month of Sravan (July – August). During this time, several millions of pilgrims carry water from River Ganga, the nearest point being the Nemai Tirtha Ghat in Seoraphuli, 29 km away from Tarakeshwar. The water is carried in earthern pots hung from a pole called ‘baak’ which is balanced over the shoulders. The pilgrims walk the distance as a penance or sacrifice to Shiva and pour the water on the stone deity at the temple through a channel.
The temple follows the typical Bengali ‘aatchala’ architecture with a sanctum and a verandah in front. The verandah surrounding the temple has three-lane iron railings to control the flow of devotees towards the sanctum.
The temple has a ‘natmandir’ – a hall for offering prayers in front of the sanctum door.
The temple premise also host shrines of Kali, Narayan and Shankaracharya. It has also an adjoining pond named Shiv Ganga or ‘Dudhpukur’. It is believed that the wishes of devotees are fulfilled on taking a dip in the pond.

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The other important festivals here are Shivratri, held in March and Gajan during the Chaitra Sankranti festival in April. However, during the Durga Puja, devotees are not allowed to enter. There is quite a bit of rush at the temple on Sundays, Mondays and holidays. During these days and the listed festivals be sure to be crushed by the thousands of devotees thronging the temple.
If you wish to visit the sanctum inside the temple, the best times would be between 9 to 10 am and 1.30 to 2.30 pm when a special puja is performed. Buy the special entry tickets against a fee of Rs 51/- per head available at the estate’s office inside the temple complex. However, be careful of your pick-pocket and do keep in mind to carry some pranami for the puja by the priests and dakshina for the panda, all negotiable, without which it would be difficult for you to get a ‘blessed’ release from their clutches.


Daily Puja Routine

4.30 am – 6.00 am – Mangal Arti
6.00 am – 9.00 am – General Puja (covered deity)
9.00 am – 10.00 am – Special Puja (open deity)
10.00 am – 11.30 am – Puja by Mohanta Maharaj
11.30 am – 1.30 pm* – General Puja (covered deity)
[*up to 2.00 pm on holidays]
1.30 pm – 2.30 pm – Special Puja (open deity)
2.30 pm – 3.00 pm – Rajbesh Bhog Arti followed by sayan
3.00 pm – 5.00 pm* – Temple closed
[*upto 6 pm in summer]
6.30 pm – 7.00 pm – Sandhya Arati
7.00 pm – 9.00 pm – Nitya Seba
9 pm – Sital Bhog followed by sayan

Photography: Allowed inside temple complex but not allowed inside sanctum
Rush days – Sundays, Mondays and holidays
Special entry tickets to sanctums (for entries between 9 to 10 am and 1.30 to 2.30 pm) –
Rs 51/- issued from the Estate Manager’s office inside the temple complex
Puja pranami and Dakshina: Extra
Tarakeshwar Estate Manager’s Office: 03212-276417

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Dasghara
Dasghara is a village located 12 km north of Tarakeshwar. Dasghara is notable mainly because of two royal properties – the Biswas Bari and Ray Bari. If you are inclined to history, Dasghara will fascinate you.

Route:
Dasghara directly is 68.8 km away from Kolkata. The most convenient route for Dasghara from Kolkata is through Durgapur Expressway (NH-2). If you are going directly to Dasghara, do not go via Tarakeshwar and thus avoid the ‘Tarakeshwar-Baidyabati’ connector on the left on NH-2. Instead proceed straight by the highway towards Palsit / Bardhaman. After travelling for another 15 km more from the point you crossed the ‘Tarakeshwar-Baidyabati’ connector, look for the ‘Dhaniakhali-Chinsurah’ connector on left on Durgapur Expressway (NH-2). Enter into this Dhaniakhali-Chinsurah connector and turn left to proceed towards Dhaniakhali. After crossing Dhaniakhali, proceed straight towards Dasghara Morh which is 17.3 km away from Durgapur Expressway (NH-2). From Dasghara Morh, first look for the ‘Ray Bari’ nearby and then proceed to ‘Biswas Bari’ which is 2 km away. Otherwise, if you plan to visit Dasghara after Tarakeshwar – go out of the Tarakeshwar Gate take right towards Jai Krishna Bazar Morh and take right to proceed straight towards Dasghara. Dasghara is 13.4 km from the Tarakeshwar gate by this route.

Biswas Bari

In 12th century, Sadananda Deb, son of King Karnadeb of Orissa, came and settled in Hooghly on the bank of River Bimala. He constructed a huge palace on 10 maan (a unit to measure land in those days which equals to 4 bighas per maan). The house or ‘ghar’ built on 10 or ‘Das’ maan came to be known as ‘Dasghara’.
The family surname later changed to ‘Deb Biswas’ or ‘Biswas’. This zeminder family had, over time, generated a huge goodwill due to their philanthropic and development works unlike most other zeminder families infamous for their oppression.
In 1737, Anandiram Biswas established the Sri Radha Gopinath Jiew temple in Dasghara. Anandiram also started the Durga Puja here. The family continued worshipping both Durga and Gopinath, an unusual fusion of Shakta and Vaishnavite cults.
In 1818, during the time of Warren Hastings, Gangagobinda Deb Biswas built the present house at Dasghara with a huge courtyard, Nahabatkhana and office building. The terracotta tablets in front of Gopinath Jiew temple located at the back side of the house or Chandi Mandap are still intact. These are probably the best surviving terracotta relics closest to Kolkata.

Ray Bari

The architectural wonder of Dasghara will not be complete without the mention of Bipin Krishna Ray’s mansion, a stevedore of Calcutta Port. His huge mansion with a grand verandah overlooking an adjoining pond along with a clock tower and arched gateway, stand as mute spectators today reminding the glorious days of Dasghara.

ACCOMMODATION:

On the way to Tarakeshwar, the only eatery for breakfast and meals is Rupasi Bangla restaurant (Cell 08972820303) at Gopinagar on the Tarakeshwar-Baidyabati Road.
When it came to accommodation, we surveyed and found that although there are many budget hotels and guest houses, for the want of reasonable standard, none of these would qualify for our column. However, the only place for accommodation that can be recommended here would be Tarakeshwar Tourist Lodge under the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation which has all reasonable amenities and offer standard services.