The old mansions of Kolkata tell a story of their own. A rich history that defined the erstwhile way of living from their amalgamated architecture that incorporates the best bits of Hindu, Islamic and, of course, Colonial styles to their exorbitantly lavish lifestyles.
Of the few “Zamindar Baari”s that have been maintained and not been completely taken over by moss, mildew and age is the Naya Bazaar Mullick Baari, a beauty clad in white with unmistakable white pillars at the entrance with an apparent Corinthian influence. The mansion’s white facade is a welcome respite from the red-sandstone mansions the British had cropping up all around the city.
The Shobha Bazar Rajbari is a must visit. Practically the whole neighbourhood is a jumble of old and new yet completely harmonized. It is like seeing a very clichéd painting of the city with rickshawpullers and old buildings in shambles. The Krishna Debs of the Rajbari were rulers of almost the whole of Sutanuti, which is one of the three villages that constituted Kolkata at that time. The place is famous for their centuries old festivities during the Durga Puja where they celebrate the Ma’s power every year without any external help. The thakur dalan, or place of worship of the goddess, is looked after very well.
Next on the itinerary is the Jora Shanko Thakurbaari, most famous for being the home of Rabindranath Tagore. Recent renovations have completely transformed the old building into the masterpiece it used to be. I remember when as a child I was completely mystified with the never ending spiral staircases and old chambers that smelled of old things and even older memories. A part of the building has been converted to a museum and the building in its entirety is now a branch of the Vishva Bharati University.
Just a brief walk away is the Marble Palace, possibly the most pristine and beautiful of all buildings in Kolkata. Just beyond its wonderful pristine white exterior is a garden with elaborate fountains and ponds which double up as a birdwatchers’ paradise during the winters when they are frequented by pelicans. The most remarkable are the marble lion sculptures that dot the garden. The mansion in itself is a museum that records important milestones in the freedom movement of our country with animated mannequins.
Another nearby mansion of importance is the Laha Bari near College Street. The interior is exquisite with over the top chandeliers and amazing stained glass windows. It is a thing of awe, really.
Winter would be the ideal time for visiting these places because the summers in the city tend to be hot and uncomfortable for tours. By October there is already a nip in the air and mansions celebrating Durga or Kali Pujas can be visited to result in a more well-rounded tour.
IMAGE COURTESY: Flickr, West Bengal Tourism.