A crowd of fireflies flickered outside the window as I drowsily checked the time on my watch. It was four in the morning and all I could hear were a couple of owls hooting. A lone dog barked briefly somewhere and a deep silence prevailed. Next, to me, Tarek and baby Akash slept in peace and it was our first night of deep undisturbed slumber. The open window brought in whispers of the trees in the orchard and the chilly night breeze smelled of manjari (young mango buds). In my semi-awake state, disorientation set in briefly and I almost strained my ears to get startled by the traffic noise of the city. It finally dawned that we were at a 375 years old heritage house in the village of Amadpur and the memory of our day brought a smile to my face. I fell asleep once again, in quiet hushed silence, thanking God for the serendipity that was Amadpur for us.
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Amadpur heritage roots which date back to the 11th century
It all started with a conversation on social media when a gentleman invited us as guests at his old ancestral home 90 kilometers outside Kolkata. By that time, the grand Eastern India city had completely exhausted us with the chaos and bustle and we took up his invitation happily. It turned out to be one of our best travel decisions and Amadpur was everything, that Kolkata was not. Located only 2 1/2 hours away from the city, it was a happy chance that Mr. Chaudhuri, our host, himself was visiting his village during the weekend and he took us along in his car.
This family history goes back to more than 300 years
Having family roots which go back to more than 300 years to Amadpur, Mr. Chaudhuri turned out to be also an excellent guide and he filled us up with the intriguing history of the place. According to historical records, his ancestor, a Krishna Ram Sen Sharma was gifted the title of Chaudhuri by the Mughals under whom Bengal was a Subah or district. That was centuries ago and our host proudly traced the genealogical tree of the Chaudhuris to the late 11th century. Quite, understandably, he took a fierce pride in his background and was equally house proud of his heritage mansion at Amadpur.
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The simple pleasure of Amadpur Baithakkhana
Aptly named, the Baithakkhana Amadpur, the heritage mansion is one of the grand houses of yesteryears of the village, which has been lovingly maintained by Mr. Chaudhuri. He took a step further in its preservation and turned his pride into a heritage homestay. Standing by a clean lake and surrounded by mango orchards, the Baithakkhana Amadpur has four old terracotta Shiva temples guarding its entrance like spiritual sentinels. The towering Dol Mancha sits at their helm and during the Holi festival (called Dol in West Bengal), the Chaudhuri family deities of Radha Madhav are brought out from the nearby temple to be seated at its elevated perch for public viewing.
And the exhorbitant cost of restoration
The four Shiva temples, which date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, have been repaired in a modern slapdash fashion and much of its intricately carved terracotta tiles are lost under coats of paint. The exorbitant cost of restoration often creates such necessary compromises, and I was happy to see the old structures standing strong under the 21st-century sun. We spent some of our most relaxing moments by the Shiva temples, basking in the sun, and watching Akash playing with frisky baby goats. With red earth roads and wide open space, Amadpur is a child’s dream and Akash ran around chasing ducks and hens.
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Enjoy rustic wholesomeness and mark your time by the progress of the sun
The old shady trees created scented shadows on the temples, and all around us crumbling abandoned mansions of the erstwhile wealthy stood in various states of unkempt. The sense of desolation is yet another bittersweet charm of Amadpur and the whole village is dotted with gnarly banyan trees, derelict terracotta temples, and bucolic pastoral beauty in its most pristine form. Imagine the joy of doing nothing in a place like that, losing the track of time, and sensing the progress of the day with the homecoming chirps of the birds.
The simple sounds of village life
The only sounds that surrounded us were of farm animals, a soft plop of flowers dropping on the next door lake, and coconut leaves rustling in the air. Our Amadpur Baithkkhana afternoons were heavy with luxuriant naps and the bittersweet fresh fragrance of neem made breathing a joy. The sun created long patches of light on the thick walls of the mansion, and ducks waddled by in a noisy file. During our stay, a rustic band leads a marriage party to the lake for rituals and villagers in bright clothes thronged by the temples bordering the water.
Slow travelling in bucolic Amadpur in a 375 years old heritage homestay
Call it slow travelling or the happiness of doing nothing, but Amadpur lulled us into a languor. Everything about it dripped with sweet nostalgia and the detour off the main village road to the Chaudhuri private space seemed like falling down “Alice in Wonderland” sort of hole. Featuring three double bedrooms and a spacious family room, the Chaudhuri homestead came with a traditional ‘dalaan’ (a long hall in Bengali) and oodles of atmospheric charm.
Wooden shutters, red cement floor, and toilets with rare British signage
The rooms were tastefully left to most of their original style and the old thick walls, wooden rafters (kori-barga), heavy window shutters, and cool red cement floor brought back the feeling of an old family home. Large-old fashioned ceiling fans provided glimpses back to the past and the windows overlooked the lake. Period furniture decorated the rooms and four-poster beds (with wooden steps for mounting), dressers, and alcove pieces became a throwback to times when the genteel commanded awe and respect of the society. Even though modern comforts of Westernized bathrooms and air-conditioning were added to the arrangements, the toilets were quirkily antique with vintage British signage.
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Read a book, nap in the sun, or simply walk around the village at Amadpur
Large sunny seating areas strewn with wicker furniture seemed like they were created to pore over favourite books at a leisurely pace and evening tea was served there in an old-fashioned way. Lunch at Amadpur Baithakkhana, too was a heartwarmingly succulent Bengali fare and being totally city burnt out, all we did were to eat, sleep, walk around a bit and repeat. The fact, that Amadpur is cozily tucked right in the heart of the terracotta country of Bardhaman district of West Bengal did nothing to make us rush about exploring and we simply relaxed there to recharge our burnt out batteries.
Walk through mango orchards, palm rows, and banana plantations
The surrounding bucolic countryside of Amadpur Baithakkhana made perfect walks and we ambled around through wooded patches, banana plantations, and lush mango orchards. Winter crops of potatoes carpeted the agricultural fields with bright neon green and coconut palms bordered rural red earth lanes. One such lane led to the Nihshanka Ashram where a sprawling banyan tree thrived. Claimed to be a thousand years old, the tree housed a lovely Shiva shrine and colourful religious paraphernalia glittered in the soft muted light.
Recollect the sweet joy of grandma’s home?
Our evenings at Amadpur were pitch dark with stars throwing cold glittering profusion of light on the village. Twilight heralded the evening prayers or Shondhya Arati at the next door Anandamoyee Kali temple and night jasmine scented heavily. Sounds of night insects drowned the blowing of conch shells from the neighbouring homes and sweet musky smoke of dhuno (slow burning coconut husk in which incense is sprinkled) settled down over the old house. It was yet another perfect time for playing board games, reading books or exploring the surrounding area in an e auto rickshaw.
Freshly fried fritters and rustic wedding, the pleasures of Amadpur
We chose the latter to enjoy some fresh air and piping freshly telebhaja (vegetable fritters) from the village shop, gaze at the decorative lights of a wedding party and be struck by the dense darkness which enveloped the rest of Amadpur. To us, it seemed like another world, many decades old, mostly forgotten and sometimes reminisced with sweet nostalgic sighs. It is not a place to visit with your urban sensibilities and demands, rather an experience which is sweetly comforting such as the much-awaited grandmother’s home visits of childhood.
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Amadpur Travel Facts
How to reach – Or, you can drive down straight from Kolkata. Amadpur is about 90km away from Kolkata by road and can be easily reached by car via NH19 90km in 2 1/2 hours. Alternatively, take a Burdwan bound local train from the Howrah Station and get off at Memari station. E auto rickshaws called totos are available at Memari station and it takes 10 minutes from there to reach Chaudhuri mansion.
Where to Stay – The Chaudhuri House or Amadpur Baithakkhana offers four spacious rooms with attached bathrooms and the rate starts at around 39 USD or 2500 INR. For more information and reservation, contact Heritage Amadpur
Things to do in Amadpur
Amadpur is best explored on foot and Baithakkhana Amadpur provides local guides who takes visitors along the winding roads. The main attractions of Amadpur are –
- Anandamayee Temple – A newly constructed temple belonging to the Chaudhuri family.
- Radha Madhav Temple – Housing the Chaudhuri family deity, this temple was built in 1739. A triple-arched temple built in the traditional aat-chala design, there are some beautiful original terracotta panels visible on the pillar and at the base.
- Nihshanka Ashram with thousand-year-old old banyan tree – This peaceful ashram contains the tomb of Narahari Baba, who according to the local legends used to meditate there in an underground cavern guarded by two Royal Bengal tigers. His cave was under the impressive banyan tree which is claimed to be a thousand-year-old.
- Durga Bari or Thakur Dalan – Located adjacent to the Chaudhuri mansion, is the impressive 350 years old Thakur Dalan. Built for holding religious festivals, the inner courtyard is a beautiful off-white columned quadrangle which once housed several offices of the family business. A huge vault lies under the courtyard, where in olden days valuables used to be stored. Today, the doors of the vault have been sealed.
Things to do around Amadpur
The nearby destinations of Ambika Kalna, and Guptipara can be visited by car as day trips from Amadpur. These are old provincial Bengal towns famous for exquisite terracotta temples.
Highlights of Amadpur
- Many indigenous communities of Hari, Bagdi, Santhal, and Koley live around Amadpur. Known for their prowess in archery and wielding wooden sticks as weapons, it is possible to visit their villages with a local guide.
- The traditional Bengali cuisine served at Amadpur Baithakkhana under the supervision of the Chaudhuri family is the crown jewel of the experience. Enjoy traditional dishes whipped up fresh in the kitchen using local specialties like posto (poppy seeds). The sweet Bengali yogurt or Mishti Doi is a local delicacy and is not to be missed. Lunch and dinner are available upon request and extra charge and you can choose between vegetarian, fish, chicken or mutton platter.
Festivals of Amadpur
Amadpur celebrates many festivals with pomp and grandeur. The most famous ones are listed below.
- Rath Yatra – The traditional chariot or Rath is decorated, placed with Chaudhuri family deities of Radha Madhav, and pulled by 5 to 6 thousand devotees. It is parked at Rathtala where a 7 days fair is held. This festival also marks the beginning of Durga Puja festival preparation and the mud clinging to the wheels of the Rath is symbolically used to start making the Durga idol.
- Durga Puja – A strictly family affair, Chaudhuri home Durga Puja goes on for 19 days instead of the usual 5. Traditional musical instruments play throughout the festival and the immersion of the idol is witnessed by thousands of people from Amadpur and surrounding villages.
- Kali Puja – Amadpur is fiercely Kali-worshipping village and this festival is witnessed by more than ten thousand people. The three Kali idols of the Chaudhuri para (Boro Kali, Mejo Kali, and Shejo Kali) are carried on the shoulders of the devotees who dance to the beat of the traditional drum called dhak.
- Raas Utsav – A very vibrant, yet fast dying festival of Bengal, Raas Utsav is celebrated with much passion at Amadpur. The idols of the Chaudhuri family deities are dressed in fineries and traditional entertainment like Hari Kirtan (singing of hymns), jatra (drama) are held. Amadpur Raas Utsav also upholds another fast dying Bengali tradition of kobi gaan and kobir larai (poetry recitation and duel of the poets).
Practicalities of visiting Amadpur
The cool months of winter (November to early February) are the best time to visit Amadpur. The 375 years old Chaudhuri mansion is a heritage homestay, where the proud owner, Shiladitya Chaudhuri showcases a slice of erstwhile rural Bengal. The old house, which was in a habitable condition, was used annually once during the family celebration of Durga Puja. The rest of the year, it used to remain locked up. The idea of homestay has not only reconstructed the glory of the mansion but also given a chance for the city guests to enjoy some quiet rustic wholesomeness. The ambiance of the mansion has not been altered much and any changes made have been for functional purposes.
The modern additions to the 300 years old mansion
Steel cupboards have been installed in the guest rooms for keeping the valuables safe and there is no water heater in the bathrooms. In the olden days, the mansion did not have a hydraulic water system and a carrier had to fill the tank manually. Now, modern water pumps have been installed for cold running water facility and the gracious staff provides buckets of hot water upon request. Though some rooms are fitted with air conditioning, there is no wifi or television set, and guests with mobility issues should be aware of the narrow flight of steps which lead to the first and second floors of the rooms. Though much of the artwork of the terracotta temples of Amadpur have been lost, it is still possible to view some panels or tiles bearing floral patterns, animal motifs and scenes of everyday life.
DISCLAIMER – Though were enjoyed a fantastic hospitality at Amadpur Baithakkhana upon the invitation of Mr. Shiladitya Chaudhuri, the owner, all the opinion expressed here are solely ours.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE