When I decided to travel out of Kolkata to spend a weekend in Berhampore with relatives, my prime motivation was to sneak in some time to explore neighbouring Murshidabad (11km away), the erstwhile capital of Bengal that features extensively in the history of the state. At the time, I had little idea that I would find it difficult to tear myself away from the irresistible allure of Berhampore and its surroundings.
Family obligations over, I set off to see the town with my uncle. Over the next two days, Murshidabad’s appeal seemed to pale in front of Berhamprore, a city that has its own share of vivid history and a legacy of complex political dynamics.
As we drove past the arterial streets, my uncle explained how the British had become dominant in the region once Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah was defeated in the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The Berhampore cantonment was set up soon after. It was in its Barrack Square that one of the first uprisings of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 broke out. I could almost visualize the passion-fuelled, bloody insurrection. The square is enveloped in the thrum of commercialization now, but in the golden light of the setting sun, the buildings from that era looked grand, proud to have witnessed this crucial epoch in India’s modern history.
The short but intense trip to the square was eased by the sweetness of manohara sandesh and chhana bora (cottage cheese-based sweets) at a local favourite, and window-shopping at the glass-fronted establishments crammed with famous Murshidabadi Tussar and Muslin saris.
The next morning, we hopped aboard a cab that took us to the edge of the Bhagirathi river, winding down the edge of the town like an unobtrusive full-bellied snake. On the opposite bank lay Azimganj, where Rani Bhabani, the queen of Nator, built the Char Bangla Mandir in the 18th century. Along the way, skirting the river, lay Murshidabad. I only glanced at it from the perch of a boat, saving it for another trip.
The sight of the Char Bangla Mandir brought my attention back to the current trip. The temple complex remains an exquisite example of intricately decorated terracotta temples in the Bengal style. Thankfully, these survived the British, but the cruel hand of time shows in the dust and grime on the walls. Exploring the near-empty complex proved to be a complete contrast to the jostle-walk-stop routine in the streets of Berhampore the previous evening. My mind stilled in the company of this temple, till it was time for Karna Subarna, our next stop.
Stretches of green fields and ruins of Buddhist monasteries, maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, dot the village, also known as Kan Sona. Excavations have led to precious findings that are proudly described on a board at the location. It claims that Huen Tsang, the Chinese traveller, stayed there, and described these monasteries in his travelogue. I marvelled at Huen Tsang’s discoveries and was pleased that the great traveller had surveyed this unassuming slice of Bengal.
I was struck by the thought that this area, where he had set foot, still lay hidden in Bengal’s countryside, just miles away from Kolkata’s heaving concrete jungles. I secretly hoped it would stay that way.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @Swati_Sanyal_T.