Tag Archives: Grand Trunk Road

Chandernagore: Down Revolutionary Road

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A trading town older than Calcutta, the erstwhile French enclave by the banks of the Hooghly was a sanctuary for merchants, philanthropists, littérateurs and revolutionaries, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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Without much fanfare, the Grand Trunk Road abruptly brought us to a halt in front of the Liberty Gate of Chandernagore. Built in 1937 to mark the fall of Bastille during the French revolution, the motto ‘Liberte Egalite Fraternite’ emblazoned on it seemed incongruous amidst a medley of billboards in Bengali and posters for circuses and magic shows. A traffic policeman tried in vain to make some order out of the snarl of rickshaws, pedestrians and vehicular traffic. It was a far cry from a few centuries ago when British soldiers had to seek permission to enter what was once French territory!

Much before Calcutta was carved out of Sutanati, Kalikata and Gobindapur and Fort William was established in 1698, Chandernagore too was created out of three villages – Borokishanpur, Khalisani and Goldalpara. It emerged as the main center of European commerce in Bengal and became a key trade centre. Boats docked here for rice, wax, saltpeter, indigo, jute, rope, sugar, even slaves, as the town became home to seths, zamindars, Muslim and Armenian traders, besides men of enterprise – Louis Bonnaud, the first European to commercially cultivate indigo in India, Dinanath Chandra who ran the first European tincture factory in the area, Batakrishna Ghosh, the first Bengali owner of a cloth mill, and Indrakumar Chattopadhyay, first publisher of a map on Bengal.

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We entered through the Liberty Gate and scoured around for a map or some kind of guide on Chandannagore, which led us by sheer chance to Kumar & Company. On learning of our interest in the historic town, the shop owner Kalyan Chakravarty dropped everything mid-transaction, barked an order to an assistant to take over and quite graciously agreed to come along to guide us around the key sights. Passionate about conserving the heritage of his little town, Kalyan da was also involved with the local chapter of INTACH.

“At one time, Lakshmiganj Market used to be India’s largest rice mart and Chandannagore was hailed as the Granary of the East. Back then, the area was called Farasdanga (Land of the French). Urdi Bazaar is actually named after the vardi or khaki uniform of soldiers who stayed here during colonial times,” he explained. In 1730, Joseph Francois Dupleix was made governor of Chandarnagore while Indranarayan Chowdhury was appointed by the French Compagnie as Diwan. Chowdhury built the temple of Sri Nandadulal and a rest house and later received a gold medal for his philanthropy from Louis XV, the King of France.

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Kalyan da pointed out the marks of cannon fire on the exterior walls of the squat Nandadulal shrine during the sack of 1757. The temple is believed to have a secret chamber where Chowdhury stashed his wealth! We strode into St Joseph’s Convent, built in 1861, to the little chapel and stood at the historic door through which the British had marched into Chandernagore. Colonel Robert Clive and Admiral Charles Watson of the British army pounded Chandernagore and razed the French fortification of Fort d’Orleans to the ground.

The horseshoe shaped town was divided into the French Villé Blanche (White Quarter) and a native Villé Noire (Black Quarter) that lay inland. Located midstream between Murshidabad and Calcutta, Chandernagore was easily the most celebrated ghat on the 2500km stretch of the Ganga and the only part of Bengal outside British control. At its peak, the city’s population was over a lakh while Calcutta was at best a poorer country cousin. However, with the French loss, Chandernagore’s bustling trade was eclipsed by the emergence of British Calcutta.

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The town still has a wealth of beautiful colonial mansions. Kanhai Seth’er Bari, home to the Nandys, was a lovely edifice with the gatepost marked by ornamental urns. Further down the road Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir was a fusion of native and colonial styles where Corinthian columns shared space alongside ornate Hindu motifs. Built in 1860 by Sri Harihar Sett, it was donated to the people of Chandernagore as a theatre hall and library.

Past Hospital Mod (turn) was Nundy Bari, home of a rich Zamindar that now served as the Ruplal Nundy Memorial Cancer Research Centre. His great grandson Shashank Shekhar Nandy explained that the historic building was locally called Gala-Kuthi from the time it was a Portuguese warehouse of gala (shellac). In its heyday, it played host to eminent people of the time like Bengali poet Bharatchandra Ray and Maharaja Krishnachandra of Krishnanagar.

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After a quick stop at the Sacred Heart Church we reached the town’s crowning glory – The Strand. Reminiscent of Pondicherry’s Promenade, the 1km long 7m wide paved avenue was lined by historic buildings. The northern end was once marked by the 1878 built Hotel de Paris (now Sub-divisional court) and Thai Shola hotel built in 1887 (presently Chandernagore College).

On the south end was Underground House (Patal Bari), its lowest level jutting into the river. Originally a rest house of the French navy, it later hosted social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore, who even integrated Patal Bari into his stories.

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Also lining the Strand were Rabindra Bhavan, the Gendarmerie (police station), an 1845 Clocktower dedicated to Joseph Daumain S’Pourcain and Dupleix Palace. A former naval godown and residence of Governor Francois Dupleix, it was converted into Institut de Chandernagor, an Indo-French Cultural Centre housing one of the oldest museums in the region.

Its stunning collection included French exhibits like cannons used in the Anglo-French war, 18th century furniture, rare paintings, Shola craft of Bengal and memorabilia related to Dupleix and Tagore. We walked to Joraghat or Chandni, a decorated pavilion at the ferry point with a plaque dedicated to ‘Dourgachorone Roquitte’. Courtier of the French Government, Durgacharan Rakshit was the first Indian to be conferred with the Chevalier de legion d’Honour in 1896.

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From here, the river appeared to curve like a crescent moon (chandra) after which the town was presumably named. Some contend Chandannagar derives from the trade in chandan (sandalwood) or Chandi’r nagar after its presiding deity Boraichandi. Yet Kalyan da exhorted “The town is not as famous for its river or the French as for its revolutionaries!”

The French enclave was the perfect refuge for freedom fighters escaping the clutches of the British Empire. Rashbehari Bose, founder of Azad Hind Fauj, revolutionary leader Kanailal Dutta and social reformer Sri Harihar Seth were all based here. A bust of Bose stood outside Chandernagore College. In 1910 Sri Aurobindo followed an adesa (divine command) and sailed from Calcutta to Chandernagore where he stayed in the house of Motilal Roy for 39 days before heading south to Pondicherry. Roy later established the Prabartak Sangha and launched a fiery Bengali literary magazine in 1915.

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“But of what use is a Bengali tale that does not end on a sweet note,” exhorted Kalyan da, as he brought us to Surjya Kumar Modak. Local lore has that in 1818 a zamindar asked the town’s leading confectioner to create a unique sweet for the new bridegroom. He came up with the jolbhora, literally ‘filled with water’ – a sandesh with a filling of rosewater syrup!

His creation (besides the motichur sandesh, aam sandesh and khirpully sandesh) became a sensation and attracted patrons ranging from Rabindranath Tagore to Sri Syama Prasad Mookerjee, founder of Jansangh. We bit into a variant, the chocolate jolbhora as its gooey center dribbled down our chins. Sure it was no éclair as Chandernagore was no Pondicherry; yet the town’s mix of French and Bengali flavours held a tantalizing charm that was entirely unique.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Chandernagore lies 37km north of Kolkata, upstream on the Hooghly.

What to See
Liberty Gate, St Joseph’s Convent, Sri Nandadulal Temple, Chandernagore College, Sub Divisional Court, Sacred Heart Church, The Strand, Chandni, Patal Bari, Nritya Gopal Smriti Mandir, Nundy Bari, Rabindra Bhavan, Gendarmerie (police station), Clocktower, Dupleix Palace & Museum

Where to Eat
Hotel de Chandannagar, Barabazar, GT Road Ph 9051489311 www.hotelde.in
Surjya Kumar Modak, Barasat, GT Road Ph 9831178348 www.jalbharasurjyamodak.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 7 Dec 2018 in Indulge, the weekend supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

The Great Indian Road Trip

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Having criss-crossed India in buses, jeeps, rickshaws, trucks, tractors, tongas, jugaads, chhakdas and assorted transport, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY present 10 amazing road trips from their travels.

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Be it rallies from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, trips down Asia’s oldest highway GT Road or funky tuk-tuks participating in the Rickshaw Run, there’s no better way to experience India than a road journey. Mountain roads take you through India’s ghats and passes while coastal drives are dotted with battle-scarred forts and ports that shaped the fortunes of traders and empires. From monuments, geographic wonders, wildlife zones to regional cuisine, each journey comes with its distinct sights, sounds and tastes.

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Andaman Trunk Road (Andaman & Nicobar Islands)

The megaphone crackles to life as the convoy of vehicles at Jirkatang police check-post stirs into activity. The inspector’s monotonous drone instructs people not to stop the vehicle, give food or money to wayside tribals, establish contact or take photos else their cameras might be damaged/confiscated. Red clothing is to be avoided. Thus, with a heightened sense of anticipation, the journey up the Andaman Trunk Road commences. The northward route from Port Blair on NH-223 is an amazing 360 km journey through Jarawa territory, a reclusive tribe of Negroid descent, who linger among the shadows of the forest. Fixed convoy timings and ferry crossings at Middle Strait and Humphrey Strait make the trip more exciting. From Chidiyatapu in South Andamans to Aerial Bay in North Andamans, the road weaves past the limestone caves and mud volcanoes of Baratang, Cuthbert Bay Beach near Rangat to Mayabunder and Diglipur in the far north.

Jet Airways flies to Port Blair

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Assam Trunk Road (North East)

From Goalpara in Assam to Roing in Arunachal Pradesh, the 740 km stretch of NH-37 is better known as the Assam Trunk Road. Start the journey from Guwahati for a 600 km run to Upper Assam along the Brahmaputra past tea estates, wildlife parks and old capitals. Cross the Bagori and Kohora ranges of Kaziranga National Park to the tea bungalows of Jorhat run by Heritage North East. Visit the Ahom capital of Sibsagar and the old capital Charideo, built by Sukaphaa, founder of the Ahom dynasty. Cross the historic Namdang stone bridge, a 60 m long bridge hewn from a monolithic rock in 1703. Pass by maidams or royal vaults as you follow the eastward trail to the Chang Bungalows of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, Jorhat and Dibrugarh

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Konkan Coastal Highway (Maharashtra)

Recreate the famous Bollywood route from Bombay to Goa using the less-explored Sagari Mahamarg (Coastal Highway) instead of the usual NH-17. Beaches, sea forts, temples, palaces, dramatic landscapes and Malvani dishes like kombdi vade (chicken curry) and Malvani fish curry make the drive worthwhile. Explore Portuguese forts at Chaul, Alibaug, Revdanda and Korlai, laze by the beaches of Kashid and take a boat ride to the Siddi bastion of Murud Janjira. Stop at Atithi Parinay, a beautiful homestay near Ganpatipule for the sattvik pleasures of Konkanasth Brahmin cuisine. Visit the birthplace of Lokmanya Tilak at Ratnagiri and Thibaw Palace, residence of the exiled king of Burma. Follow Shivaji’s footsteps from Jaigad to the forts of Vijaydurg, Devgad and Sindhudurg. Explore lesser-known beaches like Mithbav and Sagareshwar or coastal towns like Malvan and Vengurla while staying at Bhogwe Eco-Stay, Maachli or Dwarka Farms. Drop by at Tiracol Fort and Aronda backwaters before crossing the new Kiranpani Bridge to Arambol.

Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Dabolim Airport, Goa

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Manali to Leh (Himachal/Ladakh)

The Manali-Leh highway, a part of NH 21, is a 490 km adventure that pits a traveler against the world’s highest passes, nullahs (streams), windswept ridges, strange geographic formations and India’s most surreal landscapes. Open for only 4-5 months in a year from May-June to mid-October, the road connects Manali to Lahaul, Spiti and Zanskar valleys in Ladakh. Negotiate the treacherous loops of Rohtang Pass (13,051 ft) in the Pir Panjal range for a night halt at Keylong or Sarchu. Tackle the three great passes of the Zanskar range Baralacha La (16,050 ft), Lachlung La (16,598 ft) and Tanglang La (17,480 ft) with the high road bisecting the rambling More plains, like the Buddhist Middle Path to nirvana. Take an excursion to high altitude lakes like Pangong tso and Tso Mo Riri or continue past the Upshi checkpost to Leh.

Jet Airways flies to Leh and Delhi

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Malabar Coast (Kerala)

The 369 km drive from Kasaragod to Kochi down NH-17 or Edapally Panvel highway takes you along Kerala’s legendary Spice Coast that drew colonial powers for trade in pepper and cardamom. Start from the Malik Deenar Mosque in Kasaragod and forts at Bekal and Chandragiri with a houseboat ride at Valiyaparamba Backwaters. Watch a theyyam at Parassinikkadavu Muthappan temple and 150 species of snakes at the Snake Park nearby. Explore Kannur’s many beaches Meenkunnu, Payyambalam, Thottada and Ezhara while staying at seaside homestays like Kannur Beach House and Shanti Theeram or make a gourmet stop at Ayisha Manzil for ‘Tellicherry Pepper’ cooking holidays. Visit the museum and palace of the Arakkal Ali Rajas and see the colonial imprint of the Portuguese, British and French at St Angelo Fort, Thalassery Fort and Mahe. Chase the surf at Muzhappilangad’s drive-in beach and buy local handicrafts at Sargaalaya craft village in Iringal. Walk on the wide sands of Payyoli Beach where PT Usha learnt to run or watch sea gulls swoop at Kappad where Vasco Da Gama landed in 1498. Visit century old mosques at Kuttichira and feast on pathiris, biryanis, Kozhikode halwa, banana chips and Moplah cuisine. Continue to the ooru (boat) building hub of Beypore, Kadalundi bird sanctuary, past Vallikunnu and Ponnani to Kodungallur, with its Bhagavathy temple, St Thomas Church and Cheraman Juma Masjid, India’s oldest mosque.

Jet Airways flies to Kozhikode and Kochi

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ECR, Coromandel Coast (Tamil Nadu)

With Chola ports, Danish enclaves, French colonies and unique temples dotting the drive, the NH-45A or East Coast Road (ECR) is a journey down history. Drive south from Chennai for a cultural stop at Dakshin Chitra and Cholamandala Art Village or observe muggers, gharials and snakes at Madras Crocodile Bank. Mamallapuram, the maritime capital of the Pallavas of Kanchi, makes for a great halt with its shore temples, bas reliefs, monuments and stone carvers. Cover the stunning Nataraj Temple at Chidambaram, the mangrove forests of Pichavaram and the korai pai (grass mat) makers at Thaikkal. Stay at villas, mansions and boutique hotels at trading outposts from French Pondicherry to Danish Tranquebar. Nagore dargah, Sirkazhi temple and Velankanni’s churches add a spiritual dimension to the trip. Drive south to Ramanathapuram en route to Rameshwaram or continue southward on ECR to Thoothukkudi, a 643 km drive from Chennai.

Jet Airways flies to Chennai

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Karavali Coast (Karnataka)

Hemmed in between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, the 320 km Karavali coastline is a scenic marine drive. Start at Mangalore with the temple of the guardian deity Mangla Devi and the Udupi Sri Krishna temple. Savour Dakshin Kannada fare at an Udupi café or try Mangalorean fish curry and Kundapur chicken. Lose yourself in the dozens of heritage structures transplanted at Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village at Manipal. Take a boat ride from Malpe harbour to St Mary’s Island, relax in the gentle surf at Turtle Bay Trasi or drive past the ocean road at Marvanthe to Baindoor for backwater rides and high sea adventures at Sai Vishram Beach Resort. Say a prayer at the world’s tallest Shiva statue in Murudeshwar and worship the atmalinga at Gokarna while exploring its beaches. Go on banana boat rides at Devbagh Beach Resort and find your muse at Karwar, where Rabindranath Tagore wrote his first poem.

Jet Airways flies to Mangalore

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Desert Run (Rajasthan)

Rajasthani men in fluorescent turbans, rustic women in long veils and herds of camel nibbling on roadside khejri trees holding up traffic, a road trip of Rajasthan is a colourful adventure. From the Pink City of Jaipur to the Blue City of Jodhpur to the Golden City of Jaisalmer, the desert safari packs in many thrills. Near Rohet on NH-65 is the roadside shrine of Motorcycle Baba or Bullet Banna, where travelers pray at his garlanded photo and the enshrined 350 cc Bullet motorcycle for a safe passage. Participate in an opium ceremony in the Bishnoi village of Guda Bishnoi and visit the Khejarli Memorial where 363 people sacrificed their lives to protect a grove of the sacred khejri tree. You can expect milestones bearing strange names like Chacha, Lathi, Bap, Dudu and Luni, trailers ferrying strange equipment to Kandla Port and Hotel Shimla in Pokharan! Listen to Dr Bhang’s sales spiel as he stirs up a bhang lassi at the Jaisalmer Bhang Shop. Visit the ghost town of Kuldhara, an abandoned village of Paliwal Brahmins and ride camels named Michael Jackson and Raja Hindustani in the dunes of Sam.

Jet Airways flies to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur

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Rann of Kutch (Gujarat)

Surreal salt pans, ancient stepwells, miles of coastal roads and vibrant Kathiawari culture, Gujarat is a relatively unexplored driving destination in India. Driving up Surat and Baroda, arrive at the Gulf of Khambhat coast where the former vidi (grassland) of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar was converted into the Blackbuck National Park at Velvadar. Drive along the coast to the old Portuguese enclave of Diu, the temple at Somnath, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace Porbander, the ancient city of Dwarka and the erstwhile princely state of Jamnagar. Cruise around Mandvi, Bhuj and Dholavira to explore the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), a vast salt-encrusted plain of dark silt. In this remarkable landscape wild asses roam free and large flocks of Demoiselle Cranes and flamingoes breed in winter. LRK is an eco-tone, a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems and its location on the bird migration route makes it an important stopover for 300 bird species.

Jet Airways flies to Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot and Porbandar

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Punjab Road Trip (Punjab)

A trip to Punjab is more than a scenic ride past mustard fields. On the 300km run from Patiala to Wagah you’ll see rural hamlets with stretch limos, mansions sporting water tanks shaped like weightlifters and roadside restaurants churning lassi in washing machines! At Kila Raipur Sports Festival near Ludhiana, burly men twirl gas cylinders like toys as desi sportstars tug motorbikes and tractors with their beards at Punjab’s Rural Olympics. Follow the Sutlej river to Phillaur, developed by Sher Shah Suri as a caravanserai, used as a daak ghar (postal center) by Shah Jahan and the site of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s fort. The Police Training Academy houses India’s oldest fingerprinting unit set up in 1892 and a museum with weapons, burglary tools, Lord Lytton’s sword and the pen used to sign Bhagat Singh’s death warrant. Follow tractors overloaded with sugarcane to Phagwara with its Jagatjit Town Hall or Kapurthala’s Jagatjit Jubilee Hall featured in the film ‘Tanu weds Manu’. At Jalandhar, watch hockey sticks and cricket bats being handcrafted at the Beat All Sports factory. After a mandatory stop at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, discover bonesetters, kulcha makers and shops selling papad-warian. At Wagah, witness the border-closing ceremony with foot-stomping soldiers and BSF cheerleaders as foreigners pose against signs welcoming all to the world’s largest democracy.

Jet Airways flies to Chandigarh and Amritsar 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the Cover Story for the November 2013 issue of JetWings International magazine.