Motijheel-The lake of pearls
Motijheel, the Lake of Pearls, is an artificially excavated lake on the southern banks of Bhagirathi River. It is one of the most beautiful yet unexplored places in Bengal.Centuries ago white lotuses bloomed on the lake water, which owes to the etymological history of the waterbody. It took us close to 6 hours by road to reach Murshidabad and another 15 minutes to reach the lake. The final 5 kilometer stretch by the Ganges was no doubt the best part of our journey.
The shape of the lake resembled a horseshoe, gardened with flowers along the shore. It was surrounded by waters on all sides except a narrow collar at the north which connected it with the mainland of Murshidabad.
It was 1740 AD. Within the inner core of the lake, Nawab Muhammad Ahmed Khan had built a palace with deluxe amenities exclusively for his beloved Ghaseti Begum. The building was raised using special basalt pillars brought in from the ruins of Gour and was hence called the Stone Palace or Sang-i-Dalan.
Local guides narrate scintillating stories of its rich past but sadly, nothing much exists today except the outer skeleton of the mosque, ruins of Ekram’s mausoleum and a dilapidated royal entrance with ransacked walls on all sides.
The beautiful lake too has reduced to a mere pond full of water hyacinth. The backside garden is the best maintained part of this heritage site. Since we had been at the time of dusk, the mystic beauty of the place added a special touch.
How to reach:
Best way to reach is by train from Sealdah. By road, it takes around 6 hours (200 kilometers) via NH34. Road conditions are not conducive for long drive.
Where to stay:
Government tourist lodge is available at Berhampore, around 10 kilometers away from Motijheel.
What to see around:
Hazar Duari Palace, Katra Mosque, Jahan Kosa canon.
Bidhyang-Relli river calling
Hardly anyone has heard about this remote riverside village named Bidhyang in the Kalimpong circuit, but it has a tremendous potential to bid you one of those everlasting travel memories. Around 90 kilometers from NJP, Bidhyang does not take more than 4 hours by road.
Bidhyang is only 12 kilometers down the hill from Algarah, which means barely a quarter to an hour drive via 14th mile crossing. It can be reached by shared transport till Kalimpong and the remaining in a reserved car. However, it is highly advised to book a direct drop to Bidhyang from the plains as not many cabs will agree to drop you at this isolated riverbank, especially in offseason.It is one of the unexplored places in Bengal.
The river here in Bidhyang is Relli which originates from Tiffin Dara near Lava and eventually streams down a short length of 10 kilometers through Bidhyang before meeting Teesta. The rivulet flows through a rocky terrain full of big boulders creating a milky white foam. During winter there is not much of water but for the remaining months, it is quite superfluous. Numerous water birds, butterflies, low altitude Himalayan flora and fauna can be found here. We spotted a treepie, water redstart, mountain bulbul, shrike and many varieties of flycatchers.
Lepcha Village of Charkhole
Charkhole, a forested hilltop, is the new find of Kalimpong’s offbeat circuit. It takes five hours to reach Charkhole from Bagdogra, around 100 kilometres by road. ‘Khola’ is Nepali means river. So, Charkhole owes its name to four streams of Rangeet river which could be seen from the summit.
Nestled amidst towering conifers, this quaint Lepcha village offers panoramic sight of the Himalayas throughout the year. On sunny days, don’t be surprised to witness a 180 degree view of the Kanchenjunga range from your room.
As of today, there are only three Lepcha families who run a handful of home stays at Charkhole. Most of them offer very basic amenities, but magnificent mountain views from the rooms will outdo all shortcomings. The altitude is not so high, around 5500 feet above mean sea level, but due to unobstructed aerial distance from the snow-caps, Charkhole is cold round the year.It is one of the unexplored places in Bengal.
Forest walk, captivating landscape from private balcony, viewing Kanchenjunga over Kalimpong town, glasshouse dinner hall, a fur blanket, steaming Darjeeling tea and munchies in hand made our weekend.
The soft trek to Gamphus Dara was a thrilling experience. The view from top would have been better on a clear sunny morning, unlike ours. However, the complete detachment from urban cranks makes Charkhole a virgin destination. Experience the beauty before it loses its sanctity.
Gour & Pandua – The Land of Terracotta Mosques
I was really amazed to discover an array of antique terracotta mosques at the lost capitals of Gour and Pandua in Malda district of West Bengal. It was a planned fort city belonging to the medieval period.It is one of the unexplored places in Bengal. Historians have mentioned about twelve mosques inside the citadel of Gour and couple of more at Pandua, the Afghan capital. But as of today, only seven have been renovated and opened to public by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). These are – Boro Sona Masjid, Qadam Rasool Masjid, Chika Masjid, Lottan Masjid, Gunmantam Masjid, Tantipara Masjid and Chamkati Masjid.
All the mosque premises are beautifully decorated with flowering plants by ASI.The Boro Sona Masjid (Great Golden Mosque) is the most remarkable of all the monuments of Gour, the largest of its type, if not in the entire state. It earned its name due to the gilded gold ornamentations on its domes and cornices. The arcaded aisle of the long corridor is the grandest among its other features. The brick walls and stone pillars stand straight; however, none of the gold ornate carvings exist today. But the Indo-Arabic style of architecture makes it a matchless destination for tourists.
Baro Duari Masjid
The erection of the mosque was started by Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah and was completed in 1526 AD by his son Sultan Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah. It is a rectangular edifice comprising of a colossal prayer hall and twelve doorways, out of which only one is closed and rest all are open. Hence many call the mosque as Baro Duari Masjid (Twelve Gated Mosque).
The Boro Sona Masjid (Great Golden Mosque) is the most remarkable of all the monuments of Gour, the largest of its type, if not in the entire state. It earned its name due to the gilded gold ornamentations on its domes and cornices. The arcaded aisle of the long corridor is the grandest among its other features. The brick walls and stone pillars stand straight; however, none of the gold ornate carvings exist today. But the Indo-Arabic style of architecture makes it a matchless destination for tourists.
A few yards from the Baro Sona Mosque stands the Qadam Rasool Masjid, built in 1531 AD by Sultan Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah. From the name itself it can be made out that this mosque houses the footprint (meaning ‘Qadam’ in Arabic) of Hazrat Muhammad (meaning ‘Rasool’ in Arabic). As per Islamic belief, whenever Prophet stepped on a holy stone, it bore a permanent impression.
The next remarkable religious monument of Gour is the Chamkan Masjid (Bat Mosque); located hardly a few steps ahead of Qadam Rasool. The name has a very unique origin. The mosque is colloquially termed as Chika alias Chamkan Masjid because it was swamped with huge number of bats (‘Chika’ in Arabic, or ‘Chamchika’ in Bengali) in past. It is a single-domed building, but now almost in ruins except the exterior walls and the backside stone pillars.
Though named as a mosque, it was originally a Hindu temple which is also evident from its architectural pattern and stone carvings. Impression of Hindu Gods on the stone pillars and lintels are still sparsely visible. Was taken over by the Mughals in the year 1450 AD, replacing the original stone works with enamelled bricks, typical of Islamic style. A few years later, during the reign of Sultan Hussain Shah, it was used as a royal prison house from 1493-1519 AD. After his death, it was finally converted to a mausoleum.
The Strand of Chandanagore
Chandannagar, renowned as the French Colony of Bengal, is located around 35 kilometers from Kolkata.The best way to reach the place is to take a local train from Howrah station. It would not take more than 40 minutes to reach Chandannagar. The alternative way is to drive straight through the historical Grand Trunk Road.Though earlier it was known as Farashdanga (‘Farash’ meaning French, ‘danga’ meaning Land), due to the half circular shape of the Ganges here (resembling a half moon), it was later renamed to Chandannagar.It is one of the unexplored places in Bengal.
Right from Rani Ghat, the historically famous Strand begins. It’s a tree shaded stretch of around one kilometer along the river – considered as the most beautiful promenade of the Ganges. Both the sides of Strand house a number of prominent buildings of historical importance. It is also a very romantic spot – perfect for a fine dating or a casual afternoon stroll along the boulevard enjoying the soft Gangetic breeze. Even today it is well decorated with French lampshades and ornamental iron railings of typical old European style.
Another important ferry ghat of Strand is the Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat. It still boasts off the elegance of its ornate works on the pillars. Just opposite to it, on the other side of the road, stands the famous Governor (Duplex) Palace. It has been recently turned to a museum which houses a wonderful display of his antique French collections. Little ahead is the French Fort, now turned to a local court cum correctional home.
Off the Strand, lies the French architect Jacques Duchatz’s piece of excellence – the Sacred Heart Church. The gate remains open for public during the prayer time in the afternoon.The church’s prayer hall is well decorated by stained Belgium glasses, spectacular frescoes and painted relics of ancient beautifications. At the entrance there is an equally amiable statue of Jesus Christ heartily welcoming all the incoming visitors.
Footi Masjid – The Mosque With A Hole
Of all the architectural wonders in Murshidabad, the edifice which aroused highest interest in me was a century old incomplete mosque with a hole and a captivating story surrounding its past – the Footi Masjid. Any tourist visiting Murshidabad will tell you hundreds of legends about the major palaces and cemeteries, however, hardly anyone would tell you anything about this mysterious piece of incomplete art.Undoubtedly it is one of the unexplored places in Bengal.
The brick moulded building was in complete ruins, overgrown by bushy jungles, when we took our first step inside. It is believed to be one of the most haunted corners of Murshidabad located at Kumarpur, about two and half kilometres to the east of Qila Nizamat. The mosque, if completed, would have been the largest one in the city being one hundred thirty-five feet long and thirty-eight feet broad massive structure. It was to be mounted by five domes – four at the corners and one in the middle. Plans were there for specially designed spiral staircases to the top of the cupolas at all four turrets which could be easily found from its entrance at the base. All the walls and stairs were constructed, only the ceiling of three domes remained left to be completed. However due to a series of ghostly incidents, the workmanship was left unfinished at a half-done state by the then Nawab.
It was said, during 1740s, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan had started the construction of this mosque with five thousand workers. They had been working day and night for the timely completion of the structure. Suddenly one-day the young Nawab paid a surprise visit to the site to check the progress of the building. During his stopover, a master roll call was done by the site manager and an astonishing fact came out – from the first day onwards, there was a counting error for one extra labour whose wages were duly released every week, but no one knew him by his name. Upon such an enigmatic revelation, subsequently for over a month’s time it was being closely observed; but he did not turn up ever in reality. Nothing concrete could be inferred as such about the furtive presence of that unknown mason. Folklores started spreading notoriously about the mysterious labour and soon the workers boycotted the place.
To avoid further rumours, Nawab Sarfaraz Khan tried to spread a diluted message in the community saying that he had solemnly pledged to complete the construction overnight to compete with his grandfather Nawab Murshid Quli Khan who had built the famous Katra Masjid. Since he could not win the bet, it was left at its state. Three out of five tomb ceilings were left incomplete which appear like holes at a glance.
Nevertheless, the real story was never unveiled. People initially believed the adage but soon they started experiencing eerie incidents at the construction site. The erection of the mosque was thus permanently withheld since then, with hardly any footfalls in a radius of two kilometres around it for centuries. Due to its partial creation, it earned the uncanny name with time – Footi Masjid (meaning mosque with a hole).
Natives still do not enter the Footi Masjid as they believe that since no Namaz had been ever prayed at the mosque, it is surrounded by ill spirits. Also, it is not advisable for tourists to enter inside the building as due to scanty footfalls for years it has now become a cobra’s den. If you still cannot resist yourself from entering the abandoned mosque, then do take a few more steps up a dilapidated spiral staircase to climb to the top of the tomb turret. The view from rooftop is wonderful.
Chibo Kalimpong– A Quaint Hamlet
Chibo, an anonymous hill station of North Bengal, can be a city traveler’s true hide out. With nothing much to do, one can lazily roam around on foot, enjoy breathtaking Himalayas and savour homemade Nepali cuisine while at a day’s rest in Chibo Kalimpong. At an altitude of 4500 feet above mean sea level, it is only 8 kilometers away from Kalimpong’s 8th Mile, up the hills. Surrounded by Pine Dhupi on all sides, Chibo Kalimpong can be a pleasant weekend getaway
Considering the total time spent, it took us only three hours to reach Chibo Kalimpong from NJP station (approx. 75 kilometers). But the road from 8th Mile changed its biotic texture in a jiffy. A sharp U-turn and we found ourselves entrapped amidst dense Pine forest with intermittent huts of local people. A high pitched insect squeaking sound over and above the motor noise made us talk about its existence. during early winters.
It was the month of April, and there wasn’t a single house which was not decorated with bright Orchids and Himalayan flowering plants. The step cultivation of vegetables was also widely found along the hill slopes of Chibo Kalimpong.We reached our homestay by eleven o’ clock. The Nepali owner greeted us inside, however we had to carry our own luggage. The rooms were decent with a valley view from its balcony. They said, the view of sunrise and sunset can be widely beheld through the glass windows. Unfortunately we had been on a foggy day and hardly anything could be seen. We took a lazy stroll in the garden and adjoining forested trails, but came back well before sunset. Population seemed very less in Chibo Kalimpong, with barely twenty houses in the entire village. Interested travelers can hike upto Eagle’s Nest view point, but guided trekking is advisable.There is truly nothing to do at Chibo Kalimpong but enjoy unspoiled nature at its best. A handful of home stays offer simple accommodation facilities, tariffs do not seem that basic though compared to the amenities provided. But, a tired city dweller can easily find a day’s respite in the lap of untainted nature at Chibo Kalimpong.