A tale of two cities: Hetampur & Rajnagar

Photograph published on 2011 in Outlook Traveller Magazine

Photograph published on 2011 in Outlook Traveller Magazine

AN INTERESTING STORY FROM AN ENGLISHMAN

Sometimes you travel your country thoroughly but overlook what is in your backyard. I had never heard of the place named Hetampur until I met this English gentleman named Ashley on a train journey to Bishnupur in 2010.  Ashley was fond of heritage structures of West Bengal. A few days back he had visited Shantiniketan. From his tour, Ashley had developed a fair idea of the place and its surrounding.  Apart from the usual tourist spots in the University town he visited Surul Rajbari and its surrounding terracotta temples.

“You see, I had a well-informed driver accompanying me.” said Ashley   “This guy named Sanat observed my interest in terracotta panels and guided me to similar temples in Supur and Illambazar.  Then he mentioned about this place named Hetampur, where he said one can see terracotta plaque showcasing Queen Victoria and the court of arms of British East India Company on the walls of a temple.”

Back in 2010, I was not aware of any such temple. So I urged Ashley to continue with his narrative.  Ashley said   “Hetampur is around 41 km from Bolpur on the way to Suri. I was not sure whether my chap was actually talking sense. I took a chance and asked him to drive on. Close to Hetampur is the settlement of Dubrajpur which has a small hillock which is uncalled for in that landscape.  For a tourist like me, the place was a relatively lesser know rural town of Birbhum district. The scenario was just like what I expected to see in rural India. Taking a detour from the main road we reached the temple in no time.  Indeed my guy was not bluffing. Apart from a European female figurine which he claimed as that of Queen Victoria, there were several European figures and somewhat amateurship attempt  to create the  court of arms.”

“… And then the most entrancing thing happened” added Ashley with a chuckle after a small interval.  Then he continued with his story.  “Sanat drove on towards Dubrajpur. Just after a few minutes of driving, I noticed a tall brick structure on the left side of the road. On first glance, it looked like a mansion with fusion architecture. However, on reaching in front of it I realized it was a European styled gate made of red bricks studded with pillars.  I could even see some figurines on the top. Finding such a structure inside a non-descriptive village was quite enthralling. Sanat took me inside the complex and all of a sudden I found myself in front of a huge palace, crudely painted in yellow. The mansion was in crumbling shape with a bad paint job coupled with numerous modification of extreme horrific taste.  It was past its glory days but you could not ignore its colossal structure. You see I had done bit homework before coming to India, and to my knowledge, the only similar style historical building which existed in West Bengal was the famous Hazarduari Museum at Murshidabad. I had not read about this Palace in any guidebook. So I rolled my eyes in amazement and I asked myself whether I was daydreaming.”

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Ruined Heritage of a Gloried Past

The Gigantic Thakurdalan - an indigenous design

The Gigantic Thakurdalan – an indigenous design

I have visited several Thakurdalans in West Bengal but none was as huge as this. A Thakurdalan is a common thing in old affluent homes of Bengal. It is actually an altar studded with pillars for worship, especially meant for Goddess Durga.

In this instance, six massive fluted doric columns introduced to the structure. The top of each pillar is decorated with stucco lotus flowers along with circle of stucco petals. On the frontal area there is a flight of stairs. I could see from the courtyard five archways beyond the pillars which were leading to the inner sanctum. Beyond that nothing was visible – only darkness.

It was ten in the morning. I was accompanied by three other fellow enthusiasts inside this nearing 150 years colossal mansion. Yet that darkness inside the massive structure gave me an eerie feeling. As if it was a never ending abyss or cavern. As I stood facing the Thakurdalan, I could see on my both sides long corridors with several pillars and window shades on both floors of the mansion. Plasters had worn off and in many places age old red bricks were visible. On the ground floor, one row of corridors were distastefully renovated in recent times with walls erected in between and around the pillars.

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A Castle in My Dreams

The Castle I saw in my teenage. Sketch by Ayan Mullick

The Castle I saw in my teenage. Sketch by Ayan Mullick

Childhood dreams

In my childhood and even up to my early teens I was a bit of day dreamer. I believed the character of Asterix did really exist. I also believed if an excavation can be made in France at the area pointed in the comic book, you may get the ruins of an ancient Gaulish village. I believed in Peter Pan and also believed there was a Never Never Land above clouds which someway is being missed by the airplane pilots! I was considered to be a kid having wildest of imagination even at the age of 14. So it was but natural for my parents to disbelieve me, if I said that I have spotted an enormous castle in the most unlikely place. However, the problem was that this time I did not dream it. I really saw a castle.

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Optical Telegraph in India: The forgotten Saga

Electrical Telegraph Post and Optical Telegraph Tower

Electrical Telegraph Post and Optical Telegraph Tower

Introduction

From 15th July 2013 onwards the term “Post and Telegraph” service will cease to exist in India. Instead it will be only Postal Service. Starting from 1855, Electrical Telegraph service had a glorious period in India. Getting a Telegram was no ordinary incident. The service was used for sending urgent information and before the arrival of Trunk call in 1960; it was the fastest mode to send information over long distance.

But when Electrical Telegraph leaves the stage with its head held high, few will remember that India too had an Optical or Visual Telegraph line, which extended over 400 miles from Calcutta to Chunar. Some information is available in the old Gazetteers of early 20th century and few books. In this article I will try to assimilate such information and reconstruct the line of events involving the advent of Optical Telegraph in India.

The Mystery Towers

If you are driving from the heritage town of Bengal – Bishnupur to Kolkata via Kamarpukur through the Arambagh Kamarpukur road, just before Goghat Bakultala you might have noticed on your far left an old Brick circular tower of around 100 foot in the middle of nowhere. It is quite different from the Brick Kiln towers or Rice Mill Towers which falls on your way in this route. You may have also seen as many as three such towers while on train from Bishnupur to Purulia. More near to Kolkata, one such tower exists on the middle of a busy city road at Andul – Khatirbazar, Howrah.

Tower Near Goghat

Tower Near Goghat

Tower as seen from Train  near Chhatna. Photo courtesy : Nishesh Singh

Tower as seen from Train near Chhatna. Photo courtesy : Nishesh Singh

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