Far from the cacophony
While for some, Durga Puja celebrations can never be missed, some others prefer a quick, quiet escape from the frenzied crowds and rituals. For the latter, here are some escapades that bring necessary sublimity with a taste of authentic Pujas
Over the last decade, a new, very evident trend has developed in West Bengal – not all residents of the state are as enthusiastic about attending the annual Durga Puja celebrations. Born and bred in this land of the grand Durga carnival, many now utilise this five-day break to schedule holidays away from the city's maddening crowds. With tough office schedules discounting the possibility of long holidays, short weekend breaks are gaining precedence, especially during festivals such as Durga Puja, Diwali, Christmas. The quiet mellow of distant places is now posing some competition to the frantic echoes of the dhaak.
These days, enthusiastic travellers are also opting to experience the rustic charm of villages that provide a taste of authentic Puja rituals, minus the commercialisation of carnivals, themes, DJs and with abundant servings of amiability and warmth. The pandals are simple, decorations ordinary but the warmth – remarkable. The places are well-connected and vehicles can be hired to reach these destinations.
Kashimbazar or Cossimbazar is a small town near Berhampore in Murshidabad district. It was a busy river port when Murshidabad was the capital of Bengal. The place had played an important role in the Battle of Plassey of 1757 when Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah was defeated and the East India Company took over the political control of Bengal.
The regal Cossimbazar Palace, belonging to the Roy family, has received a massive facelift. Its distance from Kolkata is just 203 km and it takes about five hours to reach. On the first floor, there are three double-bedrooms called Pakkhiraj, Mayurpankhi and Airabat while the suites have been named as King and Queen. The tariff of the rooms can vary between Rs 4,000 and Rs 6,000. Delicious Indian, Mughlai and Chinese food are also on offer at the restaurant. The dazzling white resplendent façade looks even more glamorous when decked up during Durga Puja.
The Roy family had earlier hosted the annual Durga Puja at their Pirojpur home, a tradition which they continued at Cossimbazar too. Even today, the Puja is observed at the renovated Chandimandap – a marble hall with an open courtyard in the middle, a reinstated char-chala roof and the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) where the deities are housed; on the opposite lay the majlish ghar (where musical events were held) with arched two-storeyed viewing galleries on both sides. One of the best times to visit Cossimbazar is during Durga Puja, especially for those inclined to learn about traditional rites and rituals.
Burudih, situated just 241 km from Kolkata, is another important destination and the place is famous for its scenic beauty. It takes around six hours to reach and is close to Ghatshila and Galudih in Jharkhand. Surrounded by the Dalma range, the area serves as the primary source for Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyay's famous novel Aranyak.
The vast areas surrounding the Burudih dam offer unique scenic beauty. Built in 1962, the dam is a lifeline for local agriculture. There are four resorts – Aranyak, Galudih, Bibhuti Vihar and JN Palace. Deluxe, air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned rooms are available and the charges can vary between Rs 990 and Rs 2,000.
Debanandapur, a small tribal hamlet in Birbhum, is another upcoming tourist attraction. Situated just 206 km away from Kolkata, it takes around four hours to reach the village. The natural bounty and bliss here are sure to refresh the tired body and mind. One can enjoy the mud houses with intricate motifs painted on the walls and the hospitality of the tribal women who adorn themselves in colourful sarees, armlets and bracelets made of flowers. Moram Eco Resort offers super-deluxe, deluxe and standard rooms and the charges vary from Rs 4,000 to Rs 8,000.
Narajole Rajbari in West Midnapore was the centre of activities till the abolition of the zamindari system. Narajole is derived from the word 'jola' meaning water and 'nara', which refers to the leftover stub of paddy. The palace is situated 111 km from Kolkata and the driving time is around three hours.
Narajole Rajbari belongs to the Khans and is more than 600 years old. There is a Durga temple that stands testimony to its rich past. The place is ideal for those who are inquisitive about history. The buildings need immediate restoration, which demands a lot of investment. The area is developing slowly as a tourist spot. One can visit the Rajbari and enjoy the prasad of the Joy Durga temple from 12 noon to 1.30 pm.
Motijheel in Murshidabad district houses a tourism project worth Rs 20 crore, an initiative of the state Tourism department and the District Magistrate. The place is situated 203 km away from Kolkata and the travelling time is around five hours.
Motijheel is an oxbow lake spread across 240 acres. The place derives its name from the extensive practice of pearl cultivation that was popular here during the Nawab's era. Motijheel is situated 1 km south of Lalbag. The lake was excavated by Nawazish Muhammad Khan, husband of infamous Ghaseti Begum. Robert Clive had celebrated his victory in the Battle of Plassey on the banks of this lake.
The Motijheel tourist destination offers staying facilities with all modern amenities. The tariff varies between Rs 1,800 and Rs 3,000. There are both air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned rooms.
Purulia, situated 350 km away from Kolkata, has become a major tourist spot in the past decade. It takes around seven hours by road to reach the district which is a tribal hub. The Ayodhya Hills offer lush scenic beauty and are frequently visited by bird-watchers and those interested in nature photography.
Kharibera Dam is situated 12 km from Bagmundi town and is mainly used for irrigation. Its serenity attracts hundreds of tourists throughout the year. The Comprehensive Area Development Corporation (CADC) guest house is a huge property with three cottages – Niharika, Malobika and Bibhavari. The tariff varies between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,500. There are many hotels in Purulia with all modern amenities and ample parking facilities.
Joychandi Hills is another major tourist destination in Purulia. The place is 265 km from Kolkata and takes around five hours by road. The sunrise and sunset at Joychandi Hills are a priceless experience, especially during full moon nights.
Joychandi Hill Resort, Pathasathi and Joychandi Pahar Yuba Abas offer accommodation with tariffs varying from Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,500.