Travel Bucket List: India – West Bengal Part 2

Our next destination is Kolkata’s twin city, Howrah.

Located on the western bank of the Hoogly and known as the doorway to Kolkata and also its twin city, Howrah is a part of the greater Kolkata area and an important transportation hub. The word Howrah comes from the Bengali word, Hoar which means a fluvial swampy lake, a depression where water, mud and organic debris accumulate. Howrah’s history dates back to over 500 years historically occupied by the ancient Bengali kingdom of Bhurshut. In 1713, the Bengal Council of the British East India Company, on the accession of the Emperor Farrukhsiyar, grandson of Aurangzeb, to the throne of Delhi, sent a deputation to him with a petition for a settlement of five villages on west bank of Hooghly river along with thirty-three villages on the east bank and by 1728, most of the present-day Howrah district was part of either of the two zamindaris: Burdwan or Muhammand Aminpur. On 11 October 1760, as a result of the Battle of Plassey, the East India Company signed a treaty with Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal, to take over the control of Howrah district.

The Santragachi Jheel, is a lake which attracts different migratory birds over the winter months and is a perfect day-trip destination for birdwatching. The lake is situated right next to the Santragachi railway station and covers an area of 32 acres. Most of the lake is fenced, barring one or two spots, but the lake is not well maintained leading to contamination of the water body causing a steady fall in the number of birds flocking to this area.

The Hooghly river, also known as the Bhagirathi-Hoogly and Kati-Ganga river is a stunning waterbody and an important source of water, seafood and the lifeline of Howrah. 260 km long with the channel flowing through the city and finally merging with the Bay of Bengal. It’s a local picnic hotspot where they spend time taking in the morning sun or a ferry ride across the river. The river also known as Bhagirathi Hooghly which means created by Bhagiratha, the prince of the Sagar dynasty who was destined to bring the sacred Ganges from heaven to earth which is why the the waters of the Hooghly river is considered as holy as the Ganges.

The Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, better known as the Botanical Garden, is a sprawling garden spanning an area of 273 acres located in Shibpur, Howrah, near Kolkata. Established in 1787, it used to be known as the Company Garden at that time and today is under the Botanical Survey of India, under the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Considered to be one of the most stunning landscaped gardens in the country with undulating land topography and astonishing artificial lakes, the garden is home to 12,000 living perennial plants as well as thousands of dried out plants that have been collected from across the globe. The major attraction of the garden, however, is the vast and widespread banyan tree, which is popularly known as the Great Banyan tree reputed for forming the second most extensive canopy in the world. A fun fact is that the tea that now grows in Assam and Darjeeling was first developed in these gardens. The flora is nurtured in 25 divisions, glasshouses, greenhouses and conservatories with rare species of trees that have been specially brought in from Nepal, Malaysia, Java, Brazil, Sumatra and Sicily among other places. The Botanical Gardens also has a serpentine lake where visitors can enjoy boating and the library in the Botanical Garden also boasts of an extensive and impressive collection of books. The gardens are open from 8 am to 5 pm and Indians need to pay INR 10, foreigners INR 100 and to take photos, a camera fee of INR 20 is charged. An annual membership fee for daily walkers is INR 200.

The Great Banyan tree which is about 250 years old is located in the botanical gardens and is popular due to the gigantic size, expanding to about 4.67 acres. The tree continues to grow beyond the 330-metre long road that was built around it circumference and has been mentioned in many travel books since the 19th century. More than an individual tree, it appears like a dense forest with the highest branch rising to 24.5 metres, and the crown of the tree having a circumference of 486 metres. There are 3772 aerial roots that connect to the ground. It is unknown when the tree started growing, but references of it can be found in travel books dating back to the 19th century.

The Rail Museum is considered as the second rail museum to be constructed after the National Rail Museum in Delhi. It has a wonderful collection of preserved old and rare steam engines, electric locomotives, tracks and signals. Located very close to the Howrah railway station, the museum consists of handmade replicas of various trains, locomotives and engines as well as a miniature of the Howrah Railway Station. An open-air establishment, the Hall of fame inside gives insights into the history, the engineering and the evolution of trains from steam engines to diesel to electric. Entry fee is INR 10 per person and children below three enter free. The museum is open from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm and is closed on Mondays.

Gadiara is a quaint little hamlet located south-west of Howrah and is where the three rivers, Hooghly, Roopnarayan and Damodar converge. Fort Mornington which is the ruins of an English fort is a must visit place here and the village is a magnificent spot for nature lovers and photography enthusiasts. One must make sure to take the river cruise during sunset to take in spectacular views.

Barrackpore
Barrackpore was where the the British first set up their cantonment in India. Here, one can find some of the best green parks and temples. The name comes from the English word Barracks and this is due to the first British East India Company cantonment. Another reason given for the name is that it comes from the word Barbakpur penned by Bipradas Piplani in his famous work Manasa Vijaya. In the 19th century two major revolts took place in Barrackpore in the war for independence including the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The Mangal Pandey Park is built in honour of Mangal Pandey the first nationalist to rise against the British who was hanged on 8 April, 1857 in Barrackpore. There is a splendid statue of him situated in the park. The Gandhi Museum is a grand museum with five galleries, a study centre and a huge library filled with some rare books. The museum is open between 11 am and 5pm every day except Wednesday and does not have an entry fee. Built in the 18th century, the Tarakeswar temple houses a lingam in the inner sanctum while the open veranda is used to hold congregations and is built of white marble. Also known as the Garrison Church, the Bartholomew Cathedral was built in 1847 in the gothic style. Believed to be over seven centuries old, the Kali temple was built to honour Goddess Kali and was also where nationalist leaders gathered to hold meetings. The Jawaharkunja Garden is situated near the Gandhi Ghat and is popular as a picnic spot. The Gandhi Ghat was built as a memorial to honour Mahatma Gandhi and comprises of many murals depicting Gandhi’s life, including some of his ashes which were spread here. The Nishan Ghat was built by the British for the Governer General and the East India Company and is close to the river Hooghly. The ghat is surrounded by verdant trees. If possible try to witness either a sunrise or a sunset from here as the scenic beauty during this time is splendid. Built near the homes of the washermen, the Dhobi Ghat is also located on the banks of the Hooghly, though today this ghat is only used to take people to Serampore by boat. The Flag Staff House was constructed by the British in 1863 and used by the secretary as his home and came to be known as Flag Staff because of the flagstaff built near it. After Independence the house was transformed into a weekend retreat. Barrackpore is the oldest cantonment in India and has a lot of warehouses surrounded by rich green trees and creepers.

Chandan Nagar
A former French colony on the western bank of the Hoogly river, Chandan Nagar, also known by its former name Chandernagore and French name Chandernagor would have been where Kolkata is today has history gone in its favour. First ruled by the Nawabs, then the French and finally the British, the town has a a unique Bengali-French culture. The name Chandernagor is possibly derived from the shape of the bank of the river Hooghly which is bent like a half-moon, so originally it was Chander Nagar as from the river bank, it looked like a crescent moon-shaped necklace. Local tradition holds that the city was once the major hub in the trade of sandalwood or Chandan in Bengali which could also account for its name. One more possibility for the name is a temple of the Goddess Chandi. The city was also known as Farasdanga or France dongi as it was a French colony and this appears in Bengali literature. The town, which started as a French colony went into the hands of the British in 1757 after a war between the British and the French and Chandan Nagar’s importance was soon eclipsed by Calcutta situated down river. Chandernagore was restored to the French in 1763, but retaken by the British in 1794 during the Napoleonic Wars. The city was returned to France in 1816, along with a 7.8 sq km enclave of the surrounding territory and was governed as part of French India until 1950 under the political control of the governor-general in Pondicherry. After India’s independence, the French government held a plebiscite in June 1948 which found that 97% of Chandannagar’s residents wished to become part of India and so in May 1950, the French allowed the Indian government to assume de facto control over Chandannagar, officially ceding the city to India on 2 February 1951 and de jure transfer took place on 9 June 1952. The inhabitants were not given the option to retain French nationality, unlike their counterparts in Pondicherry. On 2 October 1954 Chandannagar was integrated into the state of West Bengal. Today Chandan Nagar is seen more or less as an extended suburb of the greater Kolkata region.

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The tree-shaded Chandan Nagar Strand is a promenade along the river about 700 m in length and 7 metres in width, lined with trees and lights with many buildings of historical importance along the way. The most important pathway in the town, it is also the most popular spot to to stroll. Along the Strand one can find the Vivekananda Mandir, a meditation centre which protrudes into the river. The Chandan Nagar Museum was established in 1961 and boasts of a collection of French antiques such as cannons used in Anglo-French war, wooden furniture of the 18th century, among other things which are difficult to find anywhere else in the world. The institute still teaches French through regular classes. The Museum is closed on Thursday and Saturday. The Nandadulal Temple was built in 1740 by Indranarayan Roychoudhury in the Do Chalha style. One of the few temples in the area, the walls are covered with idols and carvings. The temple’s old idol of lord Krishna was thrown away into the pond behind the temple by a general and later the pieces of the idols were fished out and submerged in Varanasi. The Bishalakshmi temple is situated near Brahmin para, in the western part of railway station and is an ancient temple with an obscured history. The deity is worshiped regularly by the local people. A temple of Lord Jaggannath, Sabinara Thakurbari is situated on Rather Sadak or the road of Lord Jaggannath’s chariot. Mahaprabhu Chaitanya is said to have visited this place in his time and currently this temple is maintained by the Chattopadhyay family. The Sacred Heart Church of Chandannagar is situated near the Strand and was designed by French architect Jacques Duchatz. Over 200 years old, the church is a beautiful example of French architecture. The white stone church looks even more stunning at sunset. The French Cemetery contains 150 tombs and is located on Grand Trunk Road opposite Lal Dighi, a large lake. Constructed in 1937, to mark the Fall of Bastille, the Chandan Nagar Gate has the slogan of the French Revolution, Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality Fraternity) etched on it.

Patal-Bari or the Underground House has its lower floor submerged during monsoon when the level of the river rises. Rabindranath Tagore frequently visited the place and appreciated the building and felt it influenced him to a large extent and broadened his intellectual capabilities and mentioned Patal-Bari in many of his works. Built by Harihar Sett and donated to the people of Chandan Nagar, the Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir still serves as a theatre hall and a library. It was first of its kind in the entire locality and has one of the largest collections of books in French, English and Bengali in the district.

The KMDA Park is a popular park and picnic spot which was opened in 2002. Also known as Wonderland Park, the park is spread across 44 acres and is well-maintained, with manicured and lush green gardens, a variety of shrubs and herbs and a plethora of various flowers adorning the each part of the park. The park has many sections such as a children’s park, a boating complex, a games section, a restaurant and a guest house for those wishing to spend a night. The best time to visit the park is during the Jagdharti Puja when the park is lined with lights. The park is open from 8 am to 7 pm and has an entry fee of INR 10 per person and INR 200 for a group of maximum 40 people in a group. The Mango Gardens are now privately owned and maintained and are a popular picnic spot situated west of the railway station near Mankundu. The gardens have been operational since 2009.

Chinsurah
Chinsurah or Chuchura, as it is called is situated on the bank of the Hooghly river, 35 km north of Kolkata. Chinsurah is also the home of the oldest Armenian church in India and old Hindu Temples. The state highway 6 or the Grand Trunk Road passes through the town. The Portuguese founded the town in 1579, but was part of the kingdom of Bhurshut and flourished as a trading port. In the 17th century the Mughal governor of Bengal expelled the Portuguese who lost the statue of Mary in the river which was found by the local. The Portuguese was awarded the death sentence after being taken to Delhi but was granted amnesty by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and granted a piece of land on the bank of the river Hooghly, where the statue of Mary was reestablished. There the Portuguese constructed a church to house the statue, which still receives pilgrims today. The church was renovated in the 1980s and has been declared as a Basilica. In 1656 the Dutch erected a factory here and at this point, it was Calcutta which was the principal settlement in Dutch Bengal. In 1759 the Dutch garrison of Chinsura, on its march to Chandernagore, attacked a British force in a battle that lasted less than half an hour and ended with the rout of the Dutch attackers. In 1825, the Dutch ceded many of their possessions in India to the British, in exchange for the British-occupied possessions in Sumatra. India’s national song, Vande Mataram was composed by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay in Chinsurah.

Also known as Ghorir More, the Edwardian Clock Tower is a piece of British architectural marvel. Located at the centre of the town, this clock tower was built around 1914, in honour of Edward VII and serves as the town’s prime attraction. Located on the riverfront, the Sandeshwar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the temple complex also houses numerous small temples. A ritual held here on the last day of the Bengali calendar which involves taking out the brass Shiva Linga and two brass drums belonging to the temple for public display. The second oldest Christian church in Bengal and the oldest Armenian Church in India, the St. John the Baptist church was built by the Armenians around 1699. The annual feast of John the Baptist is celebrated with great enthusiasm between 13 to 14 January. Founded in 1599, Bandel Church, also known as The Basilica of the Holy Rosary is one of the oldest and most prominent churches. Dedicated to Mother Mary, this church has three altars, an organ, numerous tombstones and a shrine to Mother Mary. One will find a mast right in front of the Church, which is said to have been presented by the Captain of a ship that came across a storm in the Bay of Bengal. The Captain remained unharmed, who then credited his rescue to Mother Mary and presented the mast as a token of gratefulness. The Dutch Cemetery of Chinsurah, a site protected by the Archeological Survey of India has numerous graves from as early as 1743. Built in 1861, the Hoogly Imambara serves as a congregation hall as well as a mosque for the Shia muslims. The walls of the mosque are engraved with intricate designs and texts from the Holy Quran and a striking feature of the monument is a giant clock on the main entrance, right between the twin towers. The clock has two dials and three bells with the smaller bells ringing at an interval of 15 minutes while the bigger ones ring at an interval of one hour. Two people wind the clock for half an hour each week. The twin towers are approximately 150 ft. in height and have about 150 steps. Bankim Bhavan at Joger Ghat is where the iconic poet wrote the soul stirring song, Vande Mataram. But the house is in ruins today. The best time to visit Chinsurah is between October to March when the pleasant weather and a plethora of festivals in Bengal make it unforgettable.

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Bardhaman
Bardhaman or Burdwan has a history from about 5000 BC or the Mesolithic or the late Stone Age. The origin of this name dates back to the 6th century and is attributed to Vardhaman Swami or Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankara, who spent some time in Astikagrama, according to the Jain scripture of Kalpasutra. This place was renamed as Vardhamana in his honour. During Jahangir’s rule, it was named Badh-e-dewan or the district capital. It was the headquarters of the Maharajas of Burdwan. The most unique structure in the town is the 108 Shiv Mandir because there are 108 smaller temples lying side by side in a beautiful vertical pattern. The best time to visit the temple complex is during Shivratri when the entire place is lit up with lights and decorations. The Kankeleshwari Kalibari is an intricate structure of Goddess Kali is located in Brishnu Mandir where Goddess Chamunda is depicted through this sculpture. Made from precious stones and black rocks, the structure is so finely detailed that even the veins running through her many hands look real. The sculpture is also believed to be a symbol of the continuity of life as its made from the stones found on Damoder riverbed after the devastating floods of 1923. The Sarbamangala Temple, which is highly revered is believed to fulfil all wishes and is believed that Sarbamangala is actually Goddess Durga in a different form. Another very interesting feature of the temple is that the statue of the goddess and the surrounding temple were built a few decades apart. The goddess was established in 1740 A.D. by the king Kirti Chand while the temple structure was built by king Mahatab Chand. Located on the Grand Trunk road, the Kalyaneshwari Temple is a beautiful temple dedicated to Goddess Kali which has a unique story. Built around many decades back, the temple is believed to have been a haven for dacoits, where they stayed and also offered prayers. The temple has been preserved in its simple original form with minimal renovation and is believed to fulfill wishes for offsprings of childless women. The red brick Christ Church was built back in 1816 and is still very well maintained, set in the midst of a well trimmed courtyard.

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Gopal Bagh which means the garden of roses is the most beautiful place in Bardhaman and is the Botanical and Zoological garden established by King Bijoy Chand Mahatab in 1884. The garden is believed to have nearly 150 different types of trees including mango, casuarina, eucalyptus, jaam and shimul and is full of structures, statues and beautifully landscaped areas. In 1691, the then king of Bhardam constructed a huge artificial lake, Krishnasayar on nearly 33 acres of land and later a park was built around it by the Krishasayar trustee board. Visitors can enjoy rowing in the lake or enjoy the various flowers and art exhibitions as well as the aquarium within the park. The Deer Park has numerous animals including deer, leopards and tigers as well as a guest house for overnight stay. Bardhaman is located on the banks of the Damoder river and visitors can enjoy evenings on the riverside and enjoy the cool breeze or hire a boat and enjoy the gentle waves, especially on a pleasant day. The Rajbati or Mahatabmanjil was built by Mahatab Chand Bahadur, in 1851.The imposing building houses the administrative office of the Bardhaman University. The Maharajdhiraj Uday Chand Women’s College and the settlement office lie on the sides. Rajbati. The majestic Curzon Gate was erected in 1903, by the king of Burdwan Maharaja Bijoy Chand Mahatab to celebrate Lord Curzon’s visit. Though just an archway towering over the road, the majestic structure easily grabs attention, especially at night and the Royal Palace is situated one km from the gate. Numerous tales surround Sher Afghan Khan, the tuyuldar of Bardhaman during Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s rule and who was accused of having conspired with the Afghans against the Emperor. He was eventually killed in this confrontation and his wife, Mehrunissa, famously known as Nur Jahan, who was believed to have been extremely beautiful eventually married the Emperor Jahangir. His tomb is a popular ssite with the tomb of Qutbuddin adjacent to that of Sher Afghan. The Science Centre has numerous displays along with interesting classes and seminars and is open daily between 11:30 am to 7 pm. The Meghna Saha Planetarium, innagurated in 1994, was built by a Japanese optical company with assistance from the Japanese and Indian governments.

Haldia
Often considered as a river port assisting Kolkata, Haldia is an industrial port city. A major river port and industrial belt located approximately 124 kilometres southwest of Kolkata near the mouth of the Hooghly river, Haldia Township is bordered by the Haldi River, an offshoot of the Ganges and is a centre for many petrochemical businesses and is being developed as a major trade port for Kolkata.

The Mahishadal Rajbari or Palace was originally built to house Janardan Upadhyay of Uttar Pradesh, who often came to the region for business. The famous Krishna Temple, Gopaljee Temple, is situated in the courtyard of this palace. Built under the rule of Rani Janki Devi, the temple also has idols of Lord Shiva. A Jagannath Temple and Natmandir are positioned on either side of the entrance. The complex comprises two palaces, an old one and a new one with the new one inhabited by the successors of the royal family. The ground floor rooms have a good collection of paintings and furniture which can be viewed on request. The Muktidham Temple is made of white carved marble and idols of Goddess Kali, RadhaKrishna and Hanuman are worshipped in the temple. The temple has its private courtyard and the famous Shiva Temple is situated next to it. Maynagarh is unique in the sense it has a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple and a Muslim mosque in close vicinity. The best time to be there is during the evening when the sounds of prayers from all the three holy shrines can be heard all at once. The Ramjew Temple is a 90 feet tall temple that is dedicated to Lord Ram and houses idols of Ram, Sita, Laxman and Hanuman. The temple was established way back by Rani Janki Devi and has the huge Dubey Palace behind it. Another unique place in Haldia is Sataku which is a mini Japan due to having many employees of the Mitsubishi Chemicals plant who are Japanese living here. With many Japanese eating joints, cinema halls and a news station, Japanese culture lovers will enjoy a visit here. The Haldia dock was originally built to take some load off the overflowing Kolkata Port. The growth of the Haldia Dock Complex that started functioning in 1968 increased in momentum with the commissioning of the Haldia Port in 1977, when it started it’s international operations. The dock is the commercial epicenter of Haldia and a trip to Haldia, without seeing the dock, is incomplete. Matagini Hazra was a freedom fighter during India’s independence movement and during the movement, she, along with others marched towards Tamluk prison to protest and faced police firing and Matangi died on the spot with India’s flag still in her hand. The stone statue in her likeness was constructed on that very spot in her memory. The Haldia Marine drive is a beautiful 6 km road stretch from Coast Guard Jetty to the 3rd oil jetty point. The road is lined with palm trees and every now an then a ship can be seen anchored on shore. Perhaps one of the most beautiful sights in Haldia, it’s a beautiful contrast from crowded city roads.

Midnapore
Located on the banks of the Kangsabati river, Midnapore or Medinipur is a small town in interior Bengal where one visits to have a holiday of a different kind. There are conflicting accounts of how the name Medinipur came to be with one account claiming that Medinipur was named after a local deity Medinimata which means Mother of the World, a Shakti incarnation. The Kali Temple is very popular with evening prayer held at the temple especially crowded with devotees even coming from nearby towns. The temple construction is done in old Indian Panchratana style. The Chilkigarh Kanak Durga Mandir & Forest Area premises has a main building and a small tract of forest in the same vicinity. The forest has numerous bushes of rare herbs, some whose medicinal properties aren’t even fully known. There are many butterflies, swans, peacocks etc which run free in the temple and the forest. The Jagannath, Shyamaleswar and the Chandaneswar Temples are all situated in close proximity to one another and made from the same kind of rock with each housing a different idol. The temples are surrounded by trees and each have a shaded area for devotees to sit in peace. The Jora Masjid, which means twin mosques, are two mosques built side by side in white marble in the ancient Islamic architectural styles. Around Eid, the mosque is lit up and very beautiful. Close to Midnapore, Chandrakona’s must visit sites include the Fort of Ramgarh and Lalgarh, built by the Chauhan kings. The Palace of King Chandraketu is also worth visiting as is the ancient Mahadev Temple which has a long history of destruction and was later rebuilt by a Burdwan King. The Khirpai Temple, the Lal Ji Temple and ruins of Sobha Singha’s Fort are also worth paying a visit to. Tamluk city is situated on the bank of the Rupnarayan river east of Midnapore. Surrounded by the Bay of Bengal to the south and the Subarnarekha river to the West, it was historically known as Tamralipti or Tamralipta and has been a witness to the various invasions and migrations from the east, west and northern India. The history of Tamluk says that while Sanjay was describing the names of holy rivers and places to Dhritarashtra, he mentioned Tamralipta and that it was the capital of Venga kingdom and a well-recognised port. The Bargabheema Temple in Tamluk is dedicated to Devi Bargabheema, a form of Goddess Kali. Believed to be nearly 1200 years old, the temple is believed to fulfill all wishes of devotees of the goddess. It is also believed that the sculpture of the Goddess was crafted by Lord Viswakarma himself. This temple is considered as 51 shakti peth of mother Durga and it is believed that Sati’s left ankle fell here.

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In the next part, let’s see more of the state of West Bengal.

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