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‘Imambara’, meaning ‘abode of the angels’, is a congregation hall of the Shia Muslims which is mostly in use during the holy Muharram days. There is a century old Imambara located on the northern bank of Hooghly River near Bandel, whose sun dial gives correct time even today. When the entire world is struck by COVID19, let me take you to a virtual trip to the historic Imambara which we had visited last year.
The Imambara is one of the vantage Muslim edifices of Hooghly district which dates back to the 18th century. The one at present is the new building which was reconstructed by Haji Mohsin Khan, a pious philanthropist, in the year 1841. Prior to that there used to be a one-storied lavish Muslim residence of the Motahar family. A Bollywood film (TEEN) starring Big B was also recently shot here.
We reached there by four o’ clock after a three-hour road drive via GT Road. Purchasing tickets, as we walked in, we were welcomed by a grand arched portico, decorated with motifs, broken glass lanterns and scriptures from Quran. Entering through which we discovered two giant tazias kept on either side of the main gate which are taken out for procession on Muharram every year.
The entrance of the Imambara has a clock tower supported by twin turrets. It was under maintenance during our visit. Many say the clock was manufactured by Big Ben and was imported from London by Mohsin Khan against a hefty sum.
There is a central courtyard, rectangular in shape, with an array of fountains; though none of them are functional at the moment. There are two identical wings – East and West, with two floors each and both are flanked by innumerable rooms with a long corridor. These rooms were earlier used for public accommodation during Muharram but now converted to a madrassa.
It is not allowed to climb to the top of the clock tower due to poor condition of the building but luckily we were allowed till the first floor. Separate stairways were there for men and women. Stretching ourselves through a flight of spiral steps, we finally landed at eastern balcony.
The northernmost end of the Imambara houses the Zaridalan, the main prayer hall which is still in use. Gender segregated seating arrangements are available on either side of the Muazzin’s chair. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the hall.
At the backside of Imambara, there is a private jetty. The sun dial is right here which indicates the exact time even in 21st century. The panoramic view was not only awesome, but also rare. The Hooghly River flows just behind the Imambara. On the opposite side we could see the red cross of Bandel Church. The hooter of an electric locomotive on the Jubilee Bridge brought us back from transience.
How to Reach:
Located at a distance of 60 odd kilometres from Kolkata, it can be easily reached by local train or road drive. If you are coming by train, better to board a Howrah main line EMU and get down at Hooghly station. Ample rickshaws are available to drop you at the gate of Imambara.
If you are self-driving, which we always prefer over any other medium of transport, best is to take GT Road and follow GPS for the inner lanes. There is a fee parking ground opposite to the entrance of Imambara. Road conditions are good but quite congested throughout the stretch.
What else to see:
Bandel Church, Mohsin Khan’s tomb, boat ride on Hooghly River
Fooding & Lodging:
No hotels or eateries nearby. Best suitable for a half day trip from Kolkata.
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