Distance from Kolkata: 135 km
Driving Time: 3.5 hours
Road Trip: 1 day
This time Team WHEELS combined a historical tour with a natural trail for an exciting day-long drive to Nadia. The team first visited Bethudahari, a wildlife sanctuary and then after a short drive visited the battlefield of Palashi for a tryst with the history of Bengal and the country as a whole.
We started for our destination from Ultadanga traffic island at around 8:30 am. We drove straight through VIP Road towards NSC Bose Airport. At the intersection of Jessore Road (NH-34), we turned right and continued north towards Barasat. From Dakbungalow Morh at Barasat, we entered the left fork and continued past Amdanga, Barajaguli, Chakdaha, Ranaghat, Fulia and Beldanga on NH-34. We halted only once at Sarai Khana Dhaba for breakfast. Thereafter, we continued on the highway and reached Krishnanagar and went past Dhubulia to reach Bethuadahari at 12.30 pm – a drive for almost three and half hours.
Unexpectedly, upon reaching the forest gates at 12.30 pm, we found it closed. Apparently, as the board informed us, the forest remains closed between 12 noon and 2 pm. So, any average visitor from Kolkata will find the wildlife sanctuary at Bethuadahari closed after travelling for three and a half hours. Moreover, reaching before noon would not also help because visitors who are already inside the park, are asked to leave during closing hours.
So, our team moved towards the next destination – the historical monument erected in the middle of a field at Palashi – 27 km north of Bethuadahari on NH-34.
Bethuadahari Wild Life Sanctuary
Bethuadahari Wild Life Sanctuary is named after the area where it is situated. It covers an area of 165 acres. The forest land originally belonged to a zamindar until it was vested in 1919 and later handed over to the forest department in 1949. Teak saplings were planted to enrich the degraded forest land during 1950s. The forest was declared Reserved Forest in 1961 and a Wild Life Sanctuary in 1980.
This man-made forest area is known for translocation of deer population. In 1969, a pair of spotted deer along with a fawn, were brought from the Alipore Zoological Garden. In 1970, barking deer, sambar, spotted deer were introduced from Nandan Kanan Zoological Garden, Odisha. However, among the various species only spotted deer survived here and were bred. Spotted deer from Bethuadahari have been introduced in Gorumara National Park and Buxa Tiger Reserve in the past.
Commonly found wildlife here are spotted deer, gharial, tortoise, porcupine, mongoose, palm civet, jungle cat, jackal, rabbit, python, cobra, common krait and a wide range of birds and butterflies. Interestingly, spotted deer are known as chital in Bengali. Chital is derived from the Bengali word chitral or spotted. Generally, they move in herds of 10 to 50. Chitals often gather underneath trees where langurs are present and the latter make the alarm calls to indicate presence of predators in the area. The chitals also benefit from the fruits dropped by the langurs.
Experience inside the park
We returned to Bethuadahari Sanctuary from Palashi at around 2:45 pm. We entered after buying tickets for Rs 10, however, every visitor is reminded to leave the park within an hour – strangely enough.
There is a pathway leading into the forest and visitors are expected to go around the park which takes about 30 minutes.
Within 25 metres of the entrance there is a small forest bungalow on the right. The room rent is Rs 500 only. We were informed by a local visitor that the property is not maintained properly.
Located just opposite the bungalow is a newly constructed ‘Nature Interpretation Centre’ – a circular concrete construction, housing models of animals and the park’s layout. You will be required to buy tickets of Rs 5 per head.
In absence of tourist guides, we spoke to a security guard and came to know that there are around 200 spotted deer in the park. He informed us that the deer are fed with a mixture of grass, gram, molasses and black salt everyday at the pits near the entrance.
In spite of the presence of nearly 200 deer in the sanctuary, the entry ticket mentions that the forest authorities are not responsible in case animals are not sighted. However, after travelling 140 km, our team started looking for spotted deer – the most commonly found wildlife in the sanctuary. We followed the stoned pathway passing through the forest comprising sal, arjun, teak trees and thick vegetation. We were, however, lucky enough to find one spotted deer near the staff quarters. She was not in a hurry and gave our photographers enough time to shoot. The sanctuary has feed-pits located near the entrance where you can spot the deer and wild hogs. We came to know that with the rise in the number of jackals inside the forest, the number of deer fawns were diminishing.
The narrow pathway through the forest, led us to a square water tank with gharials inside. It is bounded by iron net, almost 12 feet high, on all four sides. Though the area was completely covered with green foliage, two gharials could be seen sneaking out of the water.
We followed the pathway named Salim Ali Nature Trail and turned left into Barringtonia Trail to find a big pond with two fibre-glass paddle boats. We waited for a while beside the water body surrounded by lush green trees and were ultimately rewarded by a lone deer which came to drink water at its farthest corner.
Farther ahead, we found the gate of a beautiful forest bungalow nestled inside a well manicured garden, overlooking the pond. We felt, a stay in the bungalow can be the best reason to visit Bethuadahari. The bungalow has two bed rooms on the first floor and drawing and dining rooms at the ground floor. However, to our disappointment, we were informed by a security guard, the accommodation at the bungalow is available to only VIPs.
While returning by the Brandis Nature Trail towards the main gate, the peacock’s enclosure on the left drew our attention. A few peacocks and emus were seen happily roaming inside the cage.
While leaving, all entry tickets had to be returned by the visitors to ensure that they have left the forest area.
Bedu-Inn Jatri Nibas, under the Forest Directorate, is the third forest rest house located beside the NH-34, adjacent to the boundary of the forest. It has air-conditioned rooms and was recently renovated. It looked much better than the one inside sanctuary.
The best time to visit the park would be during winter when the chance of spotting deer would be greater. However, avoid the year end when visitors throng the park.
From the gates of Bethuadahari Wild Life Santuary, continue farther on NH-34. Upon reaching Palashi Phulbagan Morh, leave NH-34 to turn into the fork on left. Continue for another 3.2 km to come across a road with old shady trees and find the Palashi monument standing right in the middle of the historic battlefield spread over 18 square kilometers. The vast open field had witnessed the battle which changed the momentum of history and paved the way for British rule for the next 190 years.
We heard in rapt attention while having tea at the roadside stall as Kadan Chandra Roy, the chowkidar of the PWD bungalow overlooking the monument, narrated the shameful conspiracy by Mir Zafar, Siraj’s commander-in-chief along with the British, resulting in the deceitful defeat of Siraj-ud-Daula- the ruler of Bengal. This small village of Palashi witnessed the transformation of the British from mere traders to rulers.
“This is where India was sold to the British,” said Kandan pointing out to the vast open land where the historical ‘Battle of Palashi’ took place in 1757 between Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula, the ruler of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa and the forces of Lord Clive of East India Company.
Murshidabad, located 40 km away from Palashi, was then the bustling capital of the Nawab. Situated on the banks of river Bhagirathi, it was established in 1717 by Nawab Murshid Quli Khan as the capital of his province in Eastern India at a time when the might of Mughals in Delhi was on the wane. The British East India Company, which established a trading post at Calcutta a century ago, was becoming more interested in territorial expansion than mere trade. They were building walled bastions in Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. Other European colonial powers like the French, Dutch and Portuguese were also trying to make their presence felt, but their scores were limited.
Siraj-ud-Daula, ascended the throne in April 1756 at the age of 26, after the death of his grandfather Ali Vardi Khan, superseding other princes, senior ministers and nobles. This aroused extreme jealousy among close family members and officials. From the very beginning of his reign, Siraj was not in good terms with the British Company, particularly because of their continued efforts in strengthening the fortification in Calcutta. So in June 1756, Siraj attacked the old fort in Calcutta, captured it and held the British subjects.
At the same time, a conspiracy to overthrow Siraj was being hatched in Murshidabad, though the young Nawab was completely unaware that his enemies have come together. His most senior minister, Mir Zafar, aunt Ghaseti Begum and many others including wealthy merchants like Jagath Seth and Umichand, joined hands with Lord Clive, the commander of East India Company and struck a deal to oust Siraj and pass the throne to Mir Zafar.
So on June 23, 1757, a 3000-strong army of Clive met face-to-face Nawab’s 50000 men equipped with heavy artillery at Palashi, at the outer periphery of Murshidabad, now Nadia. However, the outcome of the battle had been decided long before the soldiers arrived at the battlefield. Nawab’s soldiers were bribed by Mir Zafar to throw away their weapons and surrender prematurely. Hardly were any gun fired and the battle ended within a day.
The traitor Mir Jafar’s son, Minar, went in pursuit of the fleeing Nawab who was sailing up the Hooghly in disguise. A boatman is said to have betrayed him and Minar’s soldiers captured and killed the Nawab. The young Nawab’s body was taken to his capital and paraded on an elephant. All his brothers too were subsequently murdered. Siraj had no children and Mir Jafar was content that the Nawab’s line had been wiped out. Siraj ud-Daulah’s faithful begum maintained his grave but after her death, that too faded into oblivion. No trace remains of Siraj’s palace either. Locals say that the river had long swallowed it, leaving hardly any trace.
Mir Zafar ascended the throne but remained a puppet under the British, who wasted no time thereafter to establish their reign, not only in Bengal but all over India. However, Mir Zafar was never forgiven for his treachery to his motherland. He was nicknamed Gaddar-e-Abrar in Urdu, meaning unfaithful traitor and his name has long been associated in common parlance with betrayal.
Monument of Battle of Palashi
The monument which stands at the ill-fated battle ground of Palashi is reminder to the visitors of the colonisation of India. In 1883, the British government erected a monument to commemorate the battle of Palashi. The inscription upon it consisted of words – ‘Battle Field of Plassey – June 23rd 1757’. This was later replaced by an obelisk. It was later renovated in 1998 and repainted recently in 2014. At present, the white obelisk is located at the end of an avenue and surrounded by a circular boundary wall and stands in the middle of paddy fields with a golden bust of Siraj in front. A tea stall in front and a few huts nearby are the only structures to keep company.
Kadan also insisted that we visit the Eklakkham Amrakunja – the mango orchard with one lakh mango trees where the British army had camped before the battle. It is now a part of a closed sugar mill en-route to a ghat by the River Hooghly.
Bethuadahari: FAST FACTS
Open: 9:00 am to 12:00 pm/2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Recess/Closed: 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm
Entry Fee: Rs 10
Car Parking Fee: Rs 10
Still Photography: Permitted
Video Camera: Rs 3000
Bethuadahari Wild Life Santuary
Nadia-Murshidabad Forest Divison