Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tribal tour of Metekhali and Dhanyakuria - a village of Palaces

Tour in brief


The village of Metekhali (on the way to Nazat or Nyajot), sandesakhali, with its natural beauty and indigenous culture transports you to a different world . It is a tribal village where you can go and come back within a day. We (Phejin, Peter,Sanjit-da and son, Koyeli and her family,Sujoy & me - 9 in total) left for Metekhali in the Tata Winger.

Directions to go there:

By train

Take Hasnabad Local from Sealdah station -  get off at bhybla.

Train timing are 5.18 am, 6.12 am and 7.47 am. It take less than 2 hours to reach Bhyabla. Train fare is Rs 20.
From the Bhyabla rail gate take a bus / auto etc which is going towards nazat and you have to get down at metekhali

By Bus

Buses from Science city takes you to Malancha Bazar and then you take an auto/Trekker to reach Metekhali on the way to Nazat. Malancha Bazar comes after Ghatakpur.

By Car
We went by car. From Ruby Hospital More, we went straight (without taking left turn towards Science city) and took the route of Basanti Highway. From Ruby Hospital, in 10 minutes, we were transported to a different world.

We had our snacks/breakfast at Malancha Bazar. From Malancha Bazar we took a right turn after crossing the Malancha bridge, to go towards Nazat. There is no need to go Bhyabla if you are going by car. On the way to Nazat we took a small road (towards left) to reach Metekhali. This is part of Sandeshkhali near Sundarban. The moment, after entering the village you will be stuck with the natural beauty and Indigenous culture - you can get acquainted with their day to day life . When you come here you will suddenly feel you are in a tribal village in Jharkhand.

With Trees all round and pure air – it is a good place to go for people like us who are living in a city.

When the dam was made by the Britishers on Ichamati river - the English brought some tribal people – Munda,Oraon from Jharkhand. Ultimately when the damn was done - they settled there. Their main source of income is fishing.You cannot go there during the rainy season because area becomes flooded.

We took our car till the ferry ghat. At the ferry ghat we crossed the river (ferry charges Rs 1 per head ) and had some tea and snacks after crossing the river. Then we started walking . After spending some time in the village ( we went inside the homes of the villagers) it was time to come back to the ferry ghat and cross the river by taking the boat again. We took the car , stationed at the ferry ghat, to go back to the main road.

Special breed meant for cock fight - apparently costs Rs 3000-4000 approx

The village is also home to various festivals like Tushu. We learnt that every Sunday, cock fight takes place at Nazat.

Honestly there is not "much to see" ! You can persuade the villagers to cook lunch for you. In fact I did ask them to make it for us. There is a chicken farm near the ferry ghat. It is possible to buy it from the farm and tell them to cook for you - while you roam around the village.

We had our lunch at Murarisah Choumatha (at the T junction - where one road goes towards Taki. Initially we had planned to go to Taki Guest house for lunch - Ph no. 0321 7233328. They serve lunch @ Rs 80. We even talked to them over phone. But for dearth of time we changed our plan)  and left for Dhanyakuria. There is no eatery in Metekhali. The food was good and really cheap. The chicken at Rs 40 with 3 pieces was really a good deal at Adarsha Hindu Hotel.

We took Basirhat Nazat road (instead of Taki road to reach Taki) to reach Basirhat, in North 24 Parganas district, near Bangladesh border. From Basirhat we took Taki Road (NH 2 - it forms a loop at Taki - see the map) to reach Dhanyakuri , which is nearby.

"Dhanyakuria is also about 30 km from Dum Dum. It takes two hours to reach Basirhat from Dum Dum and another 30 minutes to reach the village which is a little-known treasure house."

"Not featured in the list of tourist destinations of West Bengal, the settlement showcases plenty of lavish mansions of fusion architecture, belonging to zamindars and merchants of yesteryear."

"Few families of zamindars belonging to different castes once held sway over the village of Dhanyakuria. It may not be their fiefdom any longer but the palaces they constructed, which were show-pieces of fusion architecture, have survived and are still well looked after."

"Once a part of Sunderbans, Dhanyakuria was converted into a proper settlement for living in 1742 when one Jagannath Das settled here with his family. 

Likewise families of many traders like Gaine, Sawoo and Ballavs came and settled in the village and became affluent. This is when these families built up several mansions. The area was famous for Rice and Sugarcane. Vaishnav culture was predominant in the area.

Out of the many mansions in the vicinity, the mansions of Gaine, Ballav and Sawoo are still well maintained.

The first structure that attracts a visitor is European Medieval style gate with two towers on the main road. The gate is the entrance to a high walled enclosure. A signboard in Bengali states it to be State run orphanage.A smaller signboard says “No Entry without Permission”. 

There is a caretaker, who after lot of persuasion allowed us two steps inside the enclosure and the first thing to attract the visitors is a mansion which resembles like an English Castle! With water body in its front and green vegetation around, a first time visitor on a cold winter morning can be virtually transferred to English countryside.

But the “Castle” was never the property of any English nobleman. This was the Summer House alias Baganbari alias Gayen Garden of the local Gayen or Gaine family, who were one of the early descendants of the area. This vintage structure was built by Mahendranath Gaine, a wealthy landlord and businessman during the beginning of 20th century. "

Incidentally Somen Gaine our friend from my neighbourhood belong to this family. He helped me by guiding me to reach the destination.

"Since this a girl’s orphanage the caretaker will not permit an unsolicited visitor further beyond the water body. 

The entry to the settlement is through a mid-sized lane from the Taki Road just beside the Gaine Baganbari. Going through this lane named Dhanyakuria Benepara road, one can see the pink building of Dhanyakuria High School on the left. Around 300 metres from the main road comes the first grand mansion."

I. "The first grand mansion which greets a visitor to Dhanyakuria is that of the residence of Gaine family. Adorned with light pink colour, the L shaped Gaine Mansion is an excellent example of fusion architecture. The two storied mansion is studded with several Ionian pillars besides the long open corridors in both floors."

"The Founder of Gaine Family was Gopinath Gaine. The Gaine family had a joint venture business with the Ballavs and the Sawoos. They dealt with trading of Jaggery, Jute and other Commodities. From the profit of that business, they invested in real estate and set up colleges and donated to charity.

Mahendranath Gaine, the worthy son of Gopichand Gaine, built this mansion about 175 years ago. He had direct business dealings with the British. Benefiting from business dealings in Jute, he started a Rice Mill at Dhanyakuria. He started Durga Puja in this house.

The descendants of Gaines are still well off. Except Kanchan Gaine who is in his 70s, the rest of the family members have settled down in Kolkata and other cities.

There is a family get together at the Gaine residence during Durga Puja which is held every year with pomp and show. The idol is placed on the Thakurdalan inside the mansion. Durga Puja is celebrated maintaining old rituals. On the last day of the festival, involvement of people from Kahar community is still prevalent. These people carry the idol on their shoulders for immersion to the water body.

Gaine Mansion has been a film makers favourite since long. From yesteryear Saheb Bibi Golam to present day Satwenashi by Rituparno Ghosh, many a films have been shot in these premises.

Just besides the Gaine Mansion, there is the temple of the presiding deity of the family – Shyamsundar Jiu. This one storied building is also painted in pink. The Temple is said to be established during 1821.

II. Coming out of the Gaine Mansion, a brief walk on the opposite lane takes to the Sawoo Mansion on the right. The white coloured building has embedded Corinthian Pillars on its walls along with stucco decoration over window arches on its exterior.Some of the windows have shades on the arches, while some arches are subdivided into two smaller arches with stained glass design on them.

In 1885, descendant of Sawoo family – Upendranath Sawoo along with Mahendranath Gaine founded the first English School of Dhanyakuria. At present no one of the family resides in the house."  When we reached there it seemed to me no one stays there.

III. "Walking straight down the road leads to another lane on the right in the corner. Strolling down this path besides a pond leads to another magnificent mansion on the left – the two storied residence of the Ballav family.

Ballav Mansion alias Ballav Bati was built by Shyamacharan Ballav almost at the same time when Gaine’s Mansion was constructed. Shyamacharan Ballav became rich by trading in Jute. The present generation of Ballav has their descendents spread over various parts of West Bengal. Near Shyambazar area of Kolkata, there is a huge mansion of the Ballav Family.

There is a beautiful and well maintained garden in the Ballav Mansion premises.  The most interesting part of the Ballav Mansion is the presence of some idols on the terrace of the house. Locally this Mansion is known as “Putul Bari” alias “House of the Dolls”.  

IV.  At the end of the premises of Ballav house, there is a three storied tower which is design wise similar to the Nazar Minar of the Gaine family. Unlike Nazar Minar, this structure is outside the premises of Ballav House. Also it is painted in yellow and has two human figurines on the top. It seems there were more figurines, but at present only two remains."

V.  "Walking down further this road one encounters a huge Nine Pinnacle two storied Rasmancha on the right .The strucuture looks like a typical navaratna temple so common in Bengal. Except that the nine-tower structure supported on Corinthian pillars bunched together is perhaps the only one of its kind. Corinthian pillars are a rarity in navaratna temples. The structure has 5 arches on each side of the ground floor supported by pillars. The first floor has 3 arches. Each floor has 4 towers and one on the top. It has cast iron railings on top with floral designs."

VI "At a stone throw distance from the Rasmancha is the gate of Sawoo Baganbari alias Sawoo Summer palace. A huge gate adorned with Corinthian Pillars leads to the garden. The premises have an extensive area much like the Gaine Baganbari. The Sawoo Baganbari mansion is impressive too, but nowhere near in glamour and grandeur as compared to the Gaine Castle.

A trip to Dhanyakuria can be a refreshing weekend day tour especially during Durga Puja."

If you want to go to just Dhanyakuria by train, take Basirhat local from Sealdah and get down at Kankra Mirzanagar Station. The journey is around 1:30 hours. From the station take a local transport which will take you to Dhanykuria via Kankra Kachua Road. There are many transportation options available.On reaching Dhanyakuria you may hire a cycle rickshaw for sightseeing. 

Or get down at Basirhat and come here by hired autorickshaw.

Now it is time to come back and we returned home in 2.5 hours time to South kolkata.


The part of article in italics is an exact copy of the articles written in these two blogs.



Chronological order