Get a taste of the royal life at these renovated old homes across West Bengal
Picture this: you are on a path that was once used by freedom fighters and government dignitaries on their way to a zamindari palace for tea with a side of political debate. Now, you too can walk that same path to the same dining room. If politics isn’t your cup of tea, you can explore the hunting grounds, old temples, palaces made of glass and armouries, and get a glimpse of zamindari life before Independence.
In the last few years, West Bengal has seen a royal renaissance. Once abandoned and derelict rajbaris (old royal houses) and zamindari baris (homes of landlords) are being renovated and transformed into heritage hotels or museums. These are located in and around Kolkata, once the capital of the British empire. Visitors get a chance to live amid this history, learn about the glory days and walk in the footsteps of many historical Indian figures. Here are a few rajbaris open to the public.
Itachuna rajbari, Hooghly
One of the oldest and most popular of the rajbaris, Itachuna became famous as the shooting site for the Bollywood film Lootera. The rajbari was built in 1766 by the Kundans, a Maratha warrior family. The present inheritors, the Kundus, worked with travel company Mylestones & Journeys to restore the abandoned house and they now run it as a heritage homestay with a rural touch.
The red-and-white structure has 15 rooms (named after members of the family that lived in it), with a pond, swimming pool and an open shooting range. Activities include a tour of the different palaces, an evening aarti, flying kites in the garden and fishing.
Bari Kothi, Azimganj
Built in the late 1700s by the Dudhoria family, Bari Kothi was named after the elder brother, Rai Bahadur Budh Singh Dudhoria. Rich in Greek, Roman and French architecture, the newly opened boutique hotel has 15 suites.
A tour of the premises includes the Darbar Hall, the Ghaddi Ghar, Sheesh Mahal, Halwai Khana, the fountain garden and the 100-foot ghat. Guests can go for a heritage walk, have tea or breakfast on the Ganges, taste the local cuisine, or walk to the nearby Kathgola Palace.
The Jhargram Palace, Jhargram
Jhargram Raj was a feudatory kingdom that came into being in the 16th century and later was recognised as a zamindari estate by the British. It is now the residence of the Malla Dev Royal family. The family has converted 10 rooms on the ground floor into a heritage hotel. The most-coveted room is the Royal Guesthouse, which has housed dignitaries, including Bengali artist Uttam Kumar and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
There’s much to do in and around the region – a trek to the Gurrasini Hill, a visit to the Tribal Museum at the nearby eco-tourism centre, or watching a cultural programme by the Santhal tribes.
Chowdhury Zamindar Bari, Amadpur
The Chowdhury’s Boro Bari (big house) is 375 years old and is surrounded by mango orchards, a 400-year-old Durga Mancha (stage) and a terracota Dol Mancha. The house is part of the Chowdhury Zamindari Bari complex, and has four rooms open to guests.
There is a dighi (deep water body) near the house, open for fishing and bathing. Activities include exploring the 500-year-old terracota temples, attending the evening aarti (prayer) at the Radha Mandav Temple, fishing, birdwatching, or gathering around a campfire and listening to stories from zamindari history.
Rajbari Bawali, Bawali
Businessman Ajay Rawla saw the ruins of the 250-year-old Mondal Mansion in Bawali and fell in love with it. He spent two years convincing all 18 owners to sell it, and another five years restoring it – repairing roofs, recreating two ponds, reclaiming pavilions and putting recycled material to use. The mansion is now Rajbari Bawali, a heritage hotel with 30 rooms.
The luxury space has an open courtyard that doubles up as a theatre space in the evening for dance and musical performances, a spa offering yoga classes and reflexology treatments and culinary demonstrations for those who are interested in local cuisine. Other activities include a sunset boat ride on the Hooghly river and a walk through the village.
CossimBazar Palace, Murshidabad
The palace is the home of the Roy family and once housed a wrestling ring and a rose garden. Today, restoration work is attempting to bring back the glory of the place and open it for overnight visitors. Till then, guests can visit the restored front gates, Andar Mahal, Sri Sri Radha Gobindo Mandir, Lakshmi Mandir and interior gardens.
Words: Joanna Lobo