Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a glorious kingdom – one of the leading kingdoms of India. It was the kingdom of Bengal.
Right from the ancient kingdom of Tamralipta, to Gour of Sasanka, to the kingdoms of the Mallas, the Palas and the Senas, to the nawaby of Alibardi Khan, Bengal had always been a land of plenty – plenty food, plenty fish, plenty water, plenty forests, plenty happiness and as an undesired side-effect – plenty poets.
Of course we had non-Bong rulers – Ashoka (yay), Samudragupta (yay), Aluddin Khilji (booo) Sher Shah (yay), Akbar (yay) Aurangzeb (booooooooo), The East India Company (booo), Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill (a bit of boo/a bit of yay – those were confusing times people, confusing times; they did criminalise sati, legalised widow remarriage, established schools, colleges and the Asiatic Society, gave us football, railways. electricity and most importantly pants; however at the same time starved a few million Bongs to death) but throughout it all we endured, and often flourished.
And then the Comrades arrived.
A race which had endured the ravages and fickleness of time and nature and invaders for thousands of years was brought to its knees in just 34 years.
Other invaders had killed our men, raped our women, burnt our crops, broke our homes and even starved us to death, the Comrades killed our spirits.
Inch by inch, breath by breath, they sucked us dry and left us a dry husk of a race. They kept on squeezing and squeezing until in our desperation for breath, we turned to someone who promptly made our state an outpost of a foreign country and is well a bit unhinged.
The media has been more than happy and willing to showcase the evils of our current powerful overlords. We have all read the reports, all seen the scenes.
But here’s the thing…..not all is justified.
Look, as a RSS supporter, its not my job to come up with excuses for our current government. But, I always believe in credit where it is due – if I dish out brickbats for the bad things, then I have to hand out the bouquets for the good things as well.
And the present lot deserve some credit, some bouquets…(ok that’s too much…probably some flowers, maybe some lotuses) for trying their best in promoting tourism.
Look I am not claiming that they have made Bengal a heaven for travelers, far from it; but they have the intent, things are moving, albeit slowly, towards the right direction.
Historically, Bengal mainly has had about 5 industries – jute, tea, handicrafts, fishing and agriculture. Apart from these, there were manufacturing stuff like Burn Standard for railway bogies, Dunlop for tires, Hind Motors for the Ambassador car etc.
1. Jute – Now when The British with the help of the Indian Anti-national Congress decided to divide Bengal, they did it in such a manner that all the jute fields went to Pakistan/Bangladesh while all the factories came to India. It was the big body blow to the enemy and signaled the beginning of the end so to speak.
And then came the Communists. They saw that people had jobs and were earning money to feed their families. This went against their whole belief system so they systematically destroyed the industry by closing down the factories. Thousands upon thousands lost their jobs and became destitute; the Communists had collective orgasms looking at all that misery.
Due to central government policies, the industry was slowly making a turnaround but the current politicians became very worried about that and started killing managers and officials of the factories in order to close them down.
Result – jute industry in dumps
2. Tea – Ever since the Britishers started the plantations, things were going good for the industry – sure their were ups and downs but barring the GNLF era, things were more or less stable.
Well, not anymore, strikes and labour unrest created by the politicians have resulted in murders of managers and officials and have shut down many of the small companies.
Result: Thousands of labourers have now lost their jobs and have become destitute; many are starving.
3. Handicrafts – The less said the better
4. Fishing – Bongs and fish right? If there ever was a sure profit industry, this would be it, right?
Well, this is West Bengal.
It’s a small state size wise. But due to the partition, it has to support the Hindu population of both regions as well as the Muslim population of West Bengal. Moreover, with the neighbours being Bihar, Jharkhand and Nepal, there have been large scale migration from these lands.
To further complicate matters, there has been an unbelievable large amount of illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
All these people have to live somewhere, and nobody can build houses on paddy fields. So what do you do? You cover up all the lakes and ponds and marshes and build buildings on them.
Result: Most of the fish is now imported from Andhra or Bangladesh
5. Agriculture – Bengal has perhaps the most fertile land in all of India. There is plenty of water available through the rivers – there are floods every year. So agriculture should not be a problem.
Well, unless someone decides to meddle.
During the early 1940s, the great British hero Churchill starved Bengalis and killed approximately 4 million of them. That’s correct people, 4 million of us had to die because in Churchill’s own words “starvation of anyhow underfed Bengalis is less serious than that of sturdy Greeks”.
Hitler massacred 6 millions Jews and is rightly considered a monster; Churchill killed 4 million Bengalis and is considered a legendary hero.
And of course our heroic leaders of the Anti National Congress were busy with important matters – the death of 4 million was too minor an event for them.
6. Other Industries – Following their successful blueprint in the jute and tea industries, the Communists struck all other industries in Bengal, quickly shutting down and ruining Dunlop, Burn Standard, Hindustan Motors and numerous other concerns.
Currently, Bengal’s biggest industries are driving auto rickshaws and supplying building materials.
There is no future in it.
And then there is tourism.
Regular readers know that my health has gone the route of the Arsenal defence….a few moments of goodness followed by prolonged moments of collapse. To cheer me up, my parents have been taking me around Bengal and I have seen the change.
Over the last couple of years I have been to Malda, Murshidabad, Sunderbans, Darjeeling, Santiniketan and Bishnupur.
There’s not much in the city itself. There is a small park, a Ramkrisna math, a temple of BharatMata and of course the river. But its outside the city that the treasure lies.
On the right and left of the town lies the remnants of our medieval Islamic kingdom. Gour was once our capital and tombs, mosques, gates, watchtowers, all are in a surprising (for Bengal) state of preservation and upkeep and are there to entertain you. The original foot print of Mohammad is also preserved here somewhere. The Adina mosque at Pandua is a truly grandiose affair.
Once you get down from the train, you need to go on the overbridge to come to the rickshaw stand. From here the Tourist Bungalow is around 2.5kms, so take a rickshaw if you are alone or just 2 people, or an auto if you are more. On December 2014, the rickshaw fare was Rs.50-60 depending on your bargaining skills (but please remember these are poor people in a small town and Rs. 10 will not affect your life in any way.)
If you love hiking and don’t have much luggage, you can walk..it will take around 20, 25 minutes I guess. Walk straight from the autostand and you will come to a roundabout, take the left and walk straight till you come to the main bus stand. You need to take a right here and walk till the Rabindranath Tagore statue (more of a bust). Ask anyone and they will point out the way here – its about 5 mins from here.
The Lodge is magnificently located – The Rashmancha, the Museum and the DolMadol cannon are all within 5 mins walk away from the lodge (left and then right; right; left and then left from the Lodge gate respectively). A further 30 seconds walk from the cannon lies the Chinnamasta temple [goddess Kali holding her own severed head in her hands (think headless horseman) with assorted demons (Dakini and Jogini) drinking the dripping blood].
The Lodge exceeded all my expectations. It was far cleaner than 99% of all structures in Bengal and everything in Pahargunj. All the staff were friendly, helpful and courteous and the food was yummy yummy yummy.
And this is one area where the effect of the present government can be seen. Those of you with experience of interacting with Bong government employees know how much of a horror getting work done is, or how obnoxious those people usually were
The Rashmancha, though an unique structure (1st image), is not the most impressive though. That accolade can be given to the Jor Bangla Temple (9th to 14th images) and the Madan Mohan temples (2nd to 6th images). The ethereal beauty of these temples, mainly due to the exquisite terracotta work on the walls, is seen to be believed. Their majesty leaves you speechless with wonder…mainly because of the “Bongs are capable of this!!” feeling.
Look at the lodge, look at the lodge, can you imagine something like this in Bengal? I couldn’t.
Its a UNESCO World Heritage site for its fabulous natural bio diversity.
Murshidabad was the capital of Bengal before Siraj Ud Dullah got his ass kicked by the East India Company. has oodles of pre colonial architecture and is steeped with important history. The whole places reeks of faded glory and nostalgia.
There are many other such gems around Bengal.
You all know about the Himalayas. Darjeeling is the Queen of the Hills. Kalimpong and Kurseong are quaint little mountain towns. Sandakphu offers fantastic views plus is good for trekkers. The world famous UNESCO World Heritage listed mountain railways travel from Ghoom to Darjeeling.
The Dooars have lovely forests with elephants and monkeys and deer and bisons and many other animals. There are the famed tea gardens.
Raiganj has a huge sanctuary for migratory birds.
Dakshineshwar and Tarapith are religious centres.
Mukutmanipur, Panchet, Mython, Farakka have dams and barrages and huge artificial lakes.
And then there is Kolkata.
Bengal is the only state where you will get both the Himalayas and the sea. Here you will get both history and religion with an added bonus of jungles.
And then there is the food.
There is something for everyone.
After 3 decades of inertia and arrogance, we are finally opening up to the potential of tourism. We are coming up to the realisation that for a people starved of money, tourism offers oh so much.
We are not perfect, we are not advanced.
But we are trying.
Please have patience
Give us a chance, yeah?