About a hundred years ago, Kolkata was called the City of Palaces. It was true, as the gorgeous mansions and Rajbaris could be seen all around the city. In the 21st century, it is hard to imagine the city that way. Only a handful of those magnificent buildings remain. Thankfully, some of these have become heritage stays giving us modern folks a chance to experience the grandeur of old Bengal.
All over Kolkata and West Bengal, magnificent estates and mansions were made by the zamindars and the British officers. Then there are also the gorgeous Rajbaris built by the regional rulers. Along with the owner, the architecture and design has varied. The structures glorify indigenous styles of the rajas to the European motifs. One grand mansion will bask in the splendor of Bengal while in other you may enjoy European luxury amidst the tea gardens.
As much as these magnificent mansions are grand, so is their maintenance. It is not easy to carry on regular repairs in terms of cost and it is equally difficult at times to find the right artisan to do it. Naturally some of these mansions have been left in neglect and others have been torn down to build more modern constructions. However some people have realized the value and beauty of these mansions and have come up with the idea to turn those into heritage stays.
All over India, palaces and grand mansions are being seen in a new avatar. Similarly many magnificent structures are being restored and are being called as the heritage stays.
The idea of turning palaces and estates to heritage stays has been popular in Rajasthan for some time and has been a booming hospitality aspect. In the same way, the Rajbaris and heritage stays of West Bengal have saved a lot of history and art from getting lost forever.
What sets apart the heritage stays of West Bengal is the love for food that is inherent in Bengalis. A royal stay will always have a grand palate but there is something special about the grand food of the Bengali zamindars. It can be best expressed by experiencing the feast itself.
From the tea estates of Kalimpong to the palaces of Jhargram, here are some fantastic Rajbaris and heritage stays of West Bengal open to the public. Most of these are super premium home stays and be prepared to enjoy the Bengali hospitality. Keep in note that heritage stays do like to maintain and also expect guests to follow some decorum, so make sure you do and keep up the royal ambience.
Heritage Stays in West Bengal
This 250 year old Rajbari is an architectural masterpiece. Owned by the Mondols of Bawali, you can trace its history to the great Akbar. However as the zamindari system fell from grace through time, maintaining such a colossal building became a challenging task.
Changing with the times, the owners offered Bawali Rajbari for shooting movies. It soon became a very popular spot. People loved to visit and spend their time in this palace. Located in South 24 Paraganas it is very close to Kolkata and takes about an hour or so to reach there.
You have four staying options to choose from – Classic Room with high ceilings, bookshelves and poster beds; or choose between the more spacious Zamindari Suite and the Royal Suite with separate living room. You can go for your very own Dak Bungalow to enjoy a royal privacy.
Approximate prices for the rooms are in a range from Rs. 6000 to Rs. 15,000 subject to change. Breakfast is included, with free WiFi, parking and 24 hour room service. You can also enjoy activities like having a relaxing spa, a swim in their pool, going for a bicycle ride in the green countryside or have a walk in the tiny villages surrounding the area.
Here is a video clip of the beautiful Bawali Rajbari.
Related: Best long drive routes from Kolkata
Here is a travel blog of the Rajbari.
The Maheshganj Estate Balakhana is two century old mansion. It has interesting snippets of history attached to it. At one time, it had been used as a Neelkuthi. It was used by the British residents who managed the indigo plantations from it. Later this mansion was bought by the family of the Palchoudhry, one of the Bengali landlords.
Situated near the Jalangi River, it is one of the best heritage stays of West Bengal and also ranks as one of the best in India. The hospitality and the food will make you feel really special.
The zamindar family still stays at this 16 acre estate, dedicating a portion of it to heritage lovers. Their presence makes sure you will get the best out of your tour. To know more on Balakhana estate, click here.
About 85 km away from Kolkata in the village of Itachuna in Panduah, stands the grand Itachuna Rajbari. Built in 1766, it is also called the ‘Bargi Danga’.
Itachuna Rajbari has an interesting history to it as it was built by the so called ‘Bargis’. Bargi comes from the Marathi word Bargir. Bargis were Maratha soldiers who have a history of attacking and looting Bengal countryside. After the battles were done over in the course of time, some Bargis or Maratha soldiers settled in Bengal.
One of these Bargis was the Kundans and they settled in Bengal and came to be known as the Kundus. The Kundu family built for themselves the Itachuna Rajbari. This piece of history makes it one of the best heritage stays in West Bengal.
A part of this mansion has been opened by the owners to the tourists. They have several options for you to choose with interesting names for rooms – Boro Boudi, Choto Boudi, Thakuma, Boro Pishi, Kaka Babu and Jatha Mashai. You can also opt for the cozy mud huts with modern facilities – Aparajita, Madhabilata, Kanaklata and Jhumkolata. Check in time is 12 noon and check out at 10 am. Range for rooms varies from Rs. 1500 to Rs. 8400. Free Wi-Fi is available with doctor’s facility for emergencies.
Food is prepared by the cook whose family has been in the service of the royal family for generations. It is served in a royal way and some of the utensils used are the family heirloom. The dishes served are traditional Bengali.
There is a lot you can do here. To admire the splendor of the palace, you can request a guided tour. If you like music, they can also provide for a Baul singer to keep you entertained. You can go for outdoor activities like flying kites, gardening, fishing and barbeque.
There are many spots around Itachuna for you to explore like the Jateswar Shiv Temple, Mahanad Kali Bari and the terracotta temple of Debipur. Do not miss the 125 feet high Pandua tower.
Here is a chance for you stay in the same palace where many Presidents, Governors, Chief Ministers and other dignitaries had in the past. Jhargram Palace has a list of illustrious visitors like Dr. Bidhan Chandra Ray, Field Marshal Cariappa, Prafulla Chandra Sen and Uttam Kumar. The guest list is enough to make it one of the most prestigious heritage stays of West Bengal.
Jhargram Palace also has an interesting historical background that shows how truly Bengal is a melting pot of all cultures. This grand mansion was built by the Malla Dev Royal family. Raja Narasingha Malla Dev Bahadur commissioned this magnificent structure styled with ethnic and Italian architecture style. The palace is surrounded by sprawling lawn and picturesque garden. The Jhargram kingship was established by Sarveshwar Singh, who was a General of Raja Man Singh. Sarveshwar Singh defeated the Mal rulers of the region and was rewarded the land by the Raja. In the course of time, the Rajput king became a part of Bengal and its cultural heritage.
The Jhargram kings were known particularly for their benevolence towards their people and their contribution towards the development of the township of Jhargram.
The descendants of the Jhargram Palace have tied up with WBTDCL (West Bengal Tourist development Corporation Ltd) to open up to tourists. The ground floor of the palace has been offered for hospitality while the rest of it is still occupied by the royal family. Many room options are available varying from Classic Deluxe to Royal Suite. Prices start from Rs. 1600 per night. Do book before you go there.
Jhargram Palace offers a lot to do for the tourist. Apart from exploring the grand mansion and its wonderful premises, you can also go for a village walk and experience the life of the farmers closely. There is also angling and cultural activities for visitors.
Jhargram is blessed with natural beauty. Experience this by camping and enjoying a personalized barbecue. You can also go for a nature trek through the forests of Belpahari. Climb Gurrasini Hill, enjoy Khandarani lake and the Ketki Waterfalls.
The Boro Bari of the Choudhury’s is one of those heritage stays you should not miss. Along with the hospitality of the zamindar family in their 375 year old estate, you will also enjoy the 550 year old terracotta temples surrounded by evergreen foliage.
The Amadpur Rajbari is the classical ‘jomidaar’ mansion. High ceilings, ancient furniture and lovely verandahs adorn this historical building. The Boro Bari which means the big house is the part of the zamindar house open for tourists.
This Rajbari complex along with the Boro Bari also has a Baithkkhana, Dol Mancha and Shiva temple. The Amadpur Rajbari has been celebrating Durga Puja, Kali Puja and Dol Jatra in the traditional way since generations. Overall, Boro Bari of Amadpur will fill you with joy.
The Amadpur Rajbari is occupied by the Chaudhury family for hundreds of years. They have refused to leave their heritage home for modern comforts. They are sort of a living heritage of West Bengal.
Boro Bari is not every traveller. They do not offer AC or geyser. If you need hot water, you will be provided a nice steaming bucket of it. Do not expect bright fancy lights. Instead you can enjoy the evening lamps and a bonfire with the locals. They have many tales to tell of the bygone days. This is something you may not get in the other heritage stays of West Bengal.
There are twelve terracotta temples more than five centuries old. There are beautiful orchards and lakes and nature is evergreen here. You might even want to take a refreshing dip in these natural pools.
Food is traditionally Bengali. In lunch you will find your palate aroused with 11 types of dishes starting from ‘teto’ to ‘bhaja’, veg and non-veg preparations ending with doi and misti. There is ‘paan’ too. Room tariffs range from Rs. 2500 to Rs. 5000.
It takes about two hours to reach Amadpur village from Kolkata by car. Amadpur lies in Memari under Burdwan district. For booking see www.heritageamadpur.com.
More Rajbaris near Kolkata
Looking for a day visit? Take a trip to Mahishadal Rajbari, one of the most stunning Rajbaris you will ever see. Sadly, this stately mansion is not yet open for lodging but you can visit its premises in the daytime. This Rajbari makes a great weekend trip from Kolkata. It is about 60 km away from Kolkata situated in Haldia.
This heritage building of West Bengal is presently unoccupied. The premises have two main buildings (Phulbagh and old palace) with its own ghat, temple and a moat around it. It is owned by the Garg family who do not reside here now. They are originally from Uttar Pradesh who had been in Bengal for hundreds of years and have become a part of its heritage. The Rajbari was lying deserted for many years but presently it is being restored.
The Rajbari is over a hundred years old built in various architectural styles ranging from Indian classical to Colonial. Its rich style makes it visually stunning. The ground floor of the Phulbagh part of the Rajbari has been turned into a museum displaying beautiful paintings and family heirlooms. You can see the stuffing of the wild animals that the kings had hunted, rare furniture and valuable Belgian glassware. The royal family was fond of classical music and this palace had hosted some of the best Indian classical musicians of the day. Many films have also been shot here in the past.
The old palace of Mahishadal was built fifty years earlier than the other. This part of Mahishadal Rajbari is for those romantics who love old buildings. Although this Rajbari remains unmaintained, this huge two-storeyed mansion has an old world charm that tells many tales to the imaginative listener.
You can plan a day trip to Mahishadal from Kolkata. There are no options to stay at Mahishadal but some hotels are coming up nearby. Plans are going on to restore Mahishadal Rajbari and to add it to the list of heritage stays of West Bengal.
If you really have a fascination for deserted grand old mansions overgrown with trees, pay a visit to Chilkigarh Rajbari. In absolute stillness with no one around, stands the Rajbari alone. The only company it gets is the Dulung River that flows silently beside it. On the other side of the bank is the Kanak Durga temple. It is the new temple for the goddess as the old temple, also called the Baramahal is not in use anymore.
As you sit beside the Chilkigarh Rajbari and watch the river flow by, imagine how it would have been in the olden days. It is said that the temple had seen many ‘naraboli’, human sacrifice. The river of blood from the sacrificed would flow from the temple till it merged into the Dulung River.
Make a trip here only in the daytime. You have to stay in Jhargram. There isn’t much to eat except some snacks at the Kanak Durga Temple. The entrance to the mansion is barred by an iron gate as it may get risky to enter the dilapidated Rajbari. The Rajbari is today the home of overgrown trees, snakes and perhaps ghosts that lived here in the past. And also home to a good amount of monkeys. If you like thrill, solitude and away from everything else, Chilkigarh Rajbari is your calling.
Perhaps a little restoration can revive this Rajbari into those heritage stays in West Bengal that are so loved by tourists, historians and photographers alike.
Source: itachunarajbari.com, kolkataonwheels.com, folkgods.in