Part 1: Heritage Palaces & Rajbaris of Eastern India.

Updated: Nov 29, 2020


Sitting in a lounge room on the 29th floor (Australia), overlooking Sydney’s Hyde Park, my eyes were busy looking up the elegant 'One Barangaroo' brochure of the Crown Residences. The luxurious address with its extraordinary Sydney views, London architecture and Manhattan interiors is getting readied up to be opened by the end of 2020.

This mammoth luxurious development in the east coast of Australia is seen to be providing employment opportunities for many, will be a luxury residence for few and have a significant impact on New South Wales state tourism once finished. Just then a realization dawned that One Barangaroo will be on the path to becoming a heritage property of tomorrow, like we saw happening with many luxury properties in the Indian subcontinent. For centuries in India, affluent families were building mammoth luxury residences which were just like One Barangaroo at their time of being constructed. Who doesnt know of the luxury palaces of India which are now heritage properties today, and form an integral part of India tourism. India had more than 550 princely states and all of whom owned luxury palaces which includes properties such as Belgadia Palace (Odisha), Wasif Manzil Palace (West Bengal) and Neer Mahal Palace (Tripura). Some of those palaces are also located in diverse geographical locations in eastern India, surrounded by magnificent forests to high Himalayan trails to tranquil sea beaches. One is just spoilt for choice. Like rest of India, palaces of eastern India are also locally known as Rajbari especially in West Bengal ( WB). In some cases as Rajbati too. For example, Itachuna Rajbari, Rajbari Bawali and Rajbari of Burdwan in West Bengal. And some of the Rajbatis are Hetampur Rajbati, Raipur Rajbati and Taltore Rajbati in West Bengal. They are palatial buildings or stately homes compared to the bungalows which have been traditional residences of native Bengali people. Photo 1 : Sobhabazar Rajbari, Kolkata, WB

After a gap of nearly a century, we globe trotters are seeing a significant shift in the ego centric mind set of the custodians of these palaces/ rajbaris in eastern India. They are finally opening theirs doors to both local and global tourists after a touch of renovation. And tourists are loving them. Unfortunately, on my part, this unique revival of heritage properties in eastern India did not get my attention until few years back. Even though, we had guests from Australia, United States and Sweden come and stay, appreciate our old Halder Bari property ‘Kamala Niwas’ in Ballygunge, Kolkata, I never bothered thinking deeper about eastern Indian heritage properties, where tourists could stay and explore. Over the last 25 years, whenever, I went back to India, I chose to stay at Taj luxury and heritage properties such as Rambagh Palace in Jaipur or Falakhnama Palace in Hyderabad, or Umidh Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur, India. Photo 2: Luxury Heritage Hotel, Rambagh Palace, Jaipur Photo 3: An afternoon in Rambagh Palace, Jaipur The idea of eastern Indian heritage properties was premature. They were few, I knew about like Glenburn Tea Estate in Darjeeling, The Elgin Fairlawn, Kolkata and Unique Lodge, Serampore in West Bengal but they did not attract my fancy. In 2019 Durga Pujo festive season, for the first time, I stayed at an eastern Indian heritage property named The Rajbari Bawlia,which had been carefully restored with modern amenities. I stayed there with my dad to celebrate Durga Pujo in Bengali grand tradition. During our stay, my dad revealed a secret from his memory. Photo 5: The Rajbari, Bawali ( Heritage Hotel) & Photo 6: interior, Kolkata, Bengal During his marriageable age, just like the novel The Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, his family had a beautiful bride for him arranged for marriage from the Mondal dynasty but he was against it. The same Mondol dynasty was the custodians of The Rajbari Bawlia heritage property for many generations. The property suddenly had a very special connection to our lives too, other then the fact that we love heritage properties. We also attended the traditional rituals of Durga pujo festival inside The Rajbari Bawlia with other global in-house guests.That love for heritage properties is common connection between all of us. The Durga Pujo traditional celebration in the opulent surroundings of The Rajbari Bawlia continued, as we enjoyed typical Bengali culinary delights cooked by local chef from Bihar and served in traditional terracotta plates. The Bay of Bengal - tiger prawns from Sundarbans in coconut red chilli curry was my favourite. In the same Durga Pujo festive season, I visited Marble Palace in North Kolkata which often promoted in social media by Experience Bengal, Tourism Department, Government of West Bengal. Photo 7: Marble Palace, North Kolkata My visit opened a world of art collection in the palace which included paintings of “Marine View" by Dutch painter Jan Van Goyen, "Madonna with Child" by Italian painter Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato and “The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine" by Rubens. The Marble Palace visit reminded me of my Murshidabad childhood days. During my childhood, I had visited many palaces/rajbaris like Kathgola Palace and Nasipur Rajbari and Hazarduari Palace in the region. Often the idea of staying in those heritage properties did sprung into my mind but I had keep it a secret as it was laughable in public in those days. I always wanted to stay in my favourite Hazarduari Palace (palace with thousand doors)which was built and designed under the supervision of Colonel Duncan MacLeod of the Bengal Corps of Engineers and the foundation Stone was laid by the Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa (1824–1838) on August 29, 1829. The thought of viewing the sunrise over the Bhagirathi river from the palace balcony with the world's second largest chandelier still lit up, enchanted me the most. Photo 8: Kathgola Palace , Murshidabad Today, the Murshidabad Heritage Festival showcases the history of former capital of Bengal with idea of promoting heritage properties to Indian tourist market and enjoy overnight stay at various heritage properties. It is already reported that the festival is looking at uplifting 97 heritage boutique properties that includes glamorous Art Deco properties, neo-Gothic façade of palatial buildings and elegant garden bungalows with marble statues. In 2018, John Zubrzycki , the author of The Last Nizam of Hyderabad wrote about Murshidabad, the former grand capital of Bengal , in The Australian newspaper titled Once Was Glorious and it started saying “On the forlorn palaces clinging definitely to once-glorious past , half ruined mosques and the mildew covered tombstones of East India Company employees are reminders of an era when India’s Murshidabad was as large and rich as London.” The Murshidabad heritage uplifting project is in collaboration with both private and public sectors.This revival approach will only help the region to be in the global tourist map, earn tourist dollars and create a sustainable heritage tourism. It does have a significant social economic implications too. With Bengal tourism board and state road and railway authorities upgrading their infrastructures, Murshidabad Heritage Festival it can only get better. The first ever Palace Day (19/07/2020) celebrated in India has a forward looking impact on elevating heritage tourism. This is the first time when Indian heritage properties took part in global celebration. Palace Day first began in Europe in 2016 at the initiative of the Palace of Versailles. The event was supported by UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund (WMF). It brings great collaboration opportunities between families with Indian and European heritage properties to leverage their knowledge for a sustainable heritage tourism. Palace Day marks the beginning of a new chapter for heritage properties of eastern India too. Amongst the 40 participating heritage properties in India, I found Belgadia Palace of Odisha and Cossimbazar Rajbari in Kolkata, West Bengal were the only participated from eastern India. This made no sense to me. Photo 9: Cossimbazar Rajbari, Murshidabad, WB According, to my understanding, there should be plenty more. History tells me that, if we go by the gun salutes given to the various royals of eastern India, there should be plenty more heritage properties. The Nawab Nazim of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa based in Murshidabad was granted a salute of 19-guns in 1838. As far as gun salutes of princely states is concerned Cooch Behar, in West Bengal got 13, Mayurbhanj in Odhissa got 9 and Darbhang in Bihar got 21 , where as the royals of Sikkim got 15, Tripura got 13 and Manipur got 11. These princely states were heritage homes to the Maharajahs, Maharanis and Nawab Nizam. Eastern India also had Rai Bahadurs , Zamindars and traditional business tycoons who also owned significant wealth, fortune and heritage properties. Londoner Archan Ghosh who is a travel enthusiast said, “ I have heard about some of these heritage properties but have never visited them.” That would be the case for many of us non resident Indians( NRI) living in London, NewYork or Sydney. My research on eastern India’s existing heritage properties ,made me feel, that they have immense soft power to attract both local and foreign tourists across all age groups but they have not been marketed properly. Rahul Singh from Shakarpura & Bahadurpur Estate in Bihar says, “ Heritage tourism is the future, otherwise they will all collapse.’ Photo 10: Mahisadal Rajbari , WB During my research, I found the following heritage properties:

  1. Anand Bagh Palace, Darbhang,

  2. Navlakha Palace, Madhubani, Bihar

  3. Shakarpura & Bahadurpur Palace, Bihar

  4. in Kangla Palace, Manipur

  5. Salia Shree Palace, Balangir, Odisha

  6. Belgadia Palace, Odisha

  7. Gajlaxmi Palace, Dhenkanal, Odisha

  8. Dalijoda Palace, Cuttack, Odisha

  9. Aul Palace, Lokapada, Odisha

  10. Mahodadhi Palace, Puri, Odisha

  11. Sultan Palace, Patna, Odisha

  12. Gajlaxmi Palace,Dhenkanal , Odisha

  13. The Belgadia Palace, Mayurbhanj Palace, Odisha

  14. Kalahandi Palace, Bhawanipatna, Odisha

  15. Bolangir- Patana Palace, Odisha

  16. Sonepur Palace , Odisha

  17. Sikkim Palace, Sikkim

  18. Ujjayanta Palace, Agartala, Tripua

  19. Neer Mahal Palace, Tripura

  20. Victor Palace, Cooch Behar, WB

  21. Old & New Cossimbazar Palace, Murshidabad, WB

  22. Burdawan Rajbati or Mahatabmanjil, Burdawan, WB

  23. Hazarduari Palace, Murshidabad, WB

  24. Nawab of Oudh Palace (Garden Reach BNR House), Kolkata, WB

  25. Sobhabazaar Rajbari, Jorasanko Rajbari and the Marble Palace on Muktaram Babu Street, Kolkata, WB

  26. Kathgola Palace, Murshidabad, WB

  27. Wasif Manzil Palace, Murshidabad, WB

  28. Nasipur Palace, Murshidabad, WB

  29. Bari Kothi, Singhi Kothi & Nowlakha Kothi ( Stately Home), Murshidabad, WB

  30. Kathgola Palace, Murshidabad, WB

  31. Kalikapur Zamindar Palace, Burdawan, WB

  32. Itachuna Rajbari, Itachuna,WB

  33. Rangibasan palace, Mahishadal, WB

  34. Krishnanagar Palace, Krishnanagar,WB

  35. Tamluk Palace,Medinipur, WB

  36. Jhargram Palace, Jhargram, WB

  37. Bawali Rajbari, Bawali, WB

  38. Surul Rajbati, Birbhum, WB

  39. Mahishadal Rajbari, Mahishadal, WB

  40. Jhalda and Hensla Rajbatis ,Purulia, WB

  41. Halisahar & Taki Rajbati North 24 Parganas, WB

  42. Raipur, Taltore and Surul Rajbati,Birbhum, WB

  43. Hetampur Palace, Hetampur, WB

  44. Dasghara Palace, Dhaniakhali,WB

  45. Dhanyakuria Palaces, Basirhat, WB

  46. Andul Palace , Andul, WB

  47. Dubey Palace, Haldia, WB

  48. Panchkote Palace, Kashipur , WB

  49. Baganbati Palace, Chokdighi, WB

Photo 11: Ujjayanta Palace, Agartala, Tripua Photo 12: Anand Bagh Palace, Darbhang, Bihar If properly marketed, these heritage properties and their stories can definitely give the Buckingham Palace a run for its money.It can be presumed that there are many more heritage properties which I may not have picked up as they might already be lost due to negligence. My search also took me across the border to Bangladesh, there are three grand palaces that deserve mentioning, Natore Palace and Rose Garden Palace in Dhaka, and Puthia Rajbari in Rajshahi. Some of these heritage properties are grand in their appearances even though they have been utterly neglected due to lack of funds as India’s revenue plummeted during British rule from 37.5 percent of the GDP% to 2% according to William Dalrymple, author of The Anarchy. To me these eastern Indian heritage palaces are treasure troves of cultures, customs and histories. It is important for us to be able to identify them in the Indian and global tourist maps.The realisation that eastern India can be a Mecca of heritage tourism is like opening a grand Pandora box with unlimited treasures. Photo 13: Victor Palace, Cooch Behar , WB ( door)

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