A Sudden Plan
It had been more than three years since our Cambodia & Vietnam trip and life had transformed a lot, but I guess what hadn’t changed was our love for travel. I was meeting my best friend, Apala, after 2 years, only for 4 days! She was flying from Dubai to my place in Kolkata for the New year’s. We just had 30th Dec to 2nd Jan with us and I had literally not planned anything. I just wanted to sit and talk and keep it quiet & simple. We had a lot to catch up and I wanted to play with her toddler. But she kept nagging me to plan some trip which forced me google “weekend gateways from Kolkata”…
It did not take much time to decide on ‘Bawali Rajbari’, a heritage building, just two and half hours’ drive from Kolkata. Luckily, I got a one-night booking on Jan 1st, 2020. It was the last available room and felt pretty pricy, but I booked it irrespective.
Apala, her son Kian and I left after breakfast from my place on the New Year’s Day and reached the Bawali Rajbari around lunch. The road was not very straight forward but GPS guided us well. After crossing the second Hooghly bridge, a.k.a. the ‘Vidyasagar Setu’, we took the Khiderpur road and then the Budge Budge Trunk Road. We crossed the Budge Budge Institute of Technology and it was another 14 mins drive to the Rajbari from there. On the way, we stopped for ‘bharer cha’ (tea in a clay pot) and some roadside snacks. The roads were busy considering it was the New Year’s Day but our driver did well to drive us on time. The Rajbari was inside the village, Bawali. What’s interesting when you are travelling in India is that it’s easier to ask the route to the bystanders than looking into the GPS! So, with the guidance of the locals, we soon were entering the old yet beautiful heritage building of the Rajbari of Bawali.
We were greeted with the blowing of a conch shell, a tradition from the old times, some delicious sweets and a welcome drink. The welcome was grand, yet warm. In the Indian culture, guests are considered equivalent to the Gods and our welcome made us feel no less.
Walking the lanes of History..
“The Mondal Dynasty of Bawali has an extraordinary family history, dating back over four hundred years, one which started with the Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great, His Commander in chief, Maharajah Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur and a promising army officer, Shoba Ram Rai, originally from Uttar Pradesh. In return of having quelled a rebellion of peasants and pirates, he was gifted over 300,000 acres of land in far from present Bengal.” (excerpt from the official website of the Rajbari).
The Rajbari (King’s Palace), was built around 250 years ago. With time withering and the “Zamindars” (landowners) loosing most of their wealth after India’s independence in 1947, conserving this huge palace was more a burden than a pride. Finally, in 2010, the building was restored, yet every corner of the Rajbari still has the essence that went back to the famous Mughal emperor Akbar’s time. After the property was restored to its glory in the small homestead of the district of 24 parganas in West Bengal, it is now a luxury heritage resort.
The Rajbari has very distinct sections, like the main rooms where we stayed, the dining area, the pond, the rooms in the ground floor, the corridors, the library and the huge portico. There was also a courtyard where a traditional dance event was organised for the guests during the sunset. The ambience took us back to history and made us feel quite royal.
Every piece of furniture, décor, photo frames and even the clay utensils spoke of the royalty and yet closeness to the earth and the villagers. There was an underground prison, which has now been transformed into a museum but might send a few chills to think of how prisoners might have spent some tough days in there.
We spoke to the staff in the property and most of them were locals. The resort had given them a source of employment in their own land. The big bucks I had paid for the stay, felt justified.
There was a separate area where the Rajbari conducts “Durga Puja” (Dussehra) every year and the staff said that it’s worth visiting the place during that time. We could only imagine how amazing that could be considering “Durga Puja” is the biggest festival in Bengal and lasts for five days!
Let’s talk food
What’s travel without food! When in the Bawali Rajbari, don’t miss the “Zamindari Thali”, an exceptional unlimited buffet lunch, which might fill your tummy but surely not your soul! Served with delicacies which are now almost forgotten by the present generation and were only prepared by our grandmothers and mothers. There was both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options and each and every dish was made in the utmost traditional way! From “luchi” (fried puffed bread made of white flour, popular in Bengal), to the “kosha mangsho” (slow cooked mutton with potatoes, another traditional dish in Bengal), the taste was exceptional and the clay utensils which were used to serve the food, simply added to the taste and the ambience. In Bengal, the dishes are served in courses and the waiters kept serving us non-stop until it was time for the incredible desserts, “notun gurer sandesh” (sweet made of milk and jaggery which is found only during the Winter months in Bengal), payesh (sweet rice pudding), to name a few!
Many tourists had come on a day trip, only to visit this remarkable architecture and taste the “Zamindari Thali”. There was live music being played by two local artists, one who played an antique piano and the other sang songs of the famous Indian poet and scholar Rabindranath Tagore. Overall, felt magical and heartfelt! The real taste of rural Bengal!
The Starlit Evening
They say it darkens quicker in the villages and it was true. The evening gave a completely new experience, which we had not expected. After the dusk, there was a prayer held inside the main building with the traditional “arati” (illuminating candles for the Gods) and chanting of the mantras. It felt so serene and peaceful. Multiple oil lamps were lit and suddenly the Rajbari looked like a beautiful bride! The quietness, the sound of the night, the starlit sky and long pending conversations with my best friend, I couldn’t have asked more on the New Year’s Day.
We had a few drinks and then a delicious dinner. We walked around the estate, the night felt beautiful and we could visualise the glory of the royals from the past! Every piece of brick told a story untold. We didn’t want the night to end, but I guess every good thing comes to an end.
The next day, we had breakfast and then were bid a fond goodbye, with the same warmth as we had our welcome!
We live in a world where technology rules and tradition and culture have taken a backseat with modernisation being the sole definition of progress! However, our roots make us who we are, and our traditions and culture are the backbone of our future. This sudden plan, the amazing stay, the warmth of the staff members, the rare & delicious dishes, the ambience, the royalty, the company of a beloved one and the history, made our experience an everlasting one! A place so near to Kolkata and yet relates so long back to History. A place worth spending your bucks because it gives employment to the villagers and an unforgettable experience. The smiles and hospitality of the villagers are priceless after all!
Bawali Rajbari, you will always be in our heart, until next time!