In March, my two fellow riders and I were travelling on National Highway 5 (NH 5), en route to Kolkata from Bhubaneswar, on two 1000cc Yamaha R1 motorcycles. Kolkata was still about 100km away, and it was lunchtime when we veered off the highway, looking for a place to eat. Our big bikes always attracted attention and we tried to steer clear of crowds—any damage to the bikes could put the trip in jeopardy.
Also See Inside the haveli (Click here)
As chance would have it, we ran into a group of three-four bikers who knew of a nice dhaba (roadside eatery), and all of us headed there. We were eating and swapping stories when one of the bikers noticed my camera and told us about this 170-year-old haveli nearby. He said only two people lived there now and no outsider was allowed to enter, but added that he could get us in.
We rode for another 10-odd kilometres and there it was—adjoining a village, inside a big walled compound and surrounded by a reasonably maintained garden, a vast double-storeyed mansion with weathered and blackened exterior walls. It looked intimidating and mysterious—but inside, it was pleasantly cool. We didn’t see the people who lived there but a khaki-clad caretaker opened and showed us the different rooms, some of which were locked. You could easily get lost in the plethora of rooms, long corridors and verandas which overlooked the garden and its waterholes. Most of the rooms had high ceilings, with fans hanging from long rods. One had a red velvet throne, another had stuffed leopards, bears and even a crocodile. I was told to shoot discreetly since photography was prohibited; we had only 40 minutes or so and I tried to make the most of it.
Publicity was not something the owners of the place wanted and, as it happens, I don’t even remember the name or the location of the place we visited.
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Journeys in Light, a solo art photography exhibition through a motorcyclist’s lens, is on till 11 August at IndiPix Gallery, B2/1, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi. All photographs are for sale, prices range from Rs5,000 to Rs10,000.