Itachuna Rajbari: Living Up Life in a Heritage Homestay

Weekend getaways have become favoured destinations near any metro city. Typically close to the city, it offers a quick rejuvenation after a busy week. Around Kolkata, quite a few large mansions of kings and zamindars have been converted into homestays where you can visit them to have a unique experience of living like a royalty in a rural setting. One of the most well-known among these is the Itachuna Rajbari.


I was visiting Kolkata in early April, and a short family vacation was being planned with my brother and his family. We zeroed in on Itachuna, away from the city’s hustle bustle. My brother’s family had visited this place earlier and had really enjoyed the traditional hospitality there.  So with the bookings done, we started around 8 am in the morning from South Kolkata. A drive down the Second Hooghly Bridge and then the expressway brought us to Itachuna within two hours, experiencing the greenery of rural Bengal towards the last part of the journey. The Rajbari is a few kilometers from Khanyan station on the Howrah Bardhaman route.  As you enter through the gate, you cannot but feel mesmerized by the huge mansion right in front of you. A small gate to the right leads you to the interiors of the building.



We were welcomed warmly into the heritage mansion by the staff.  We had reached early and the rooms were not ready, so we were advised to visit two rural temples nearby.  The 200-year-old Brahmamayee Kalibari is close by.  This was a favourite place for Rani Rashmoni to visit, and the Dakshineshwar temple was fashioned after this temple.  Jateshwar Shiv Mandir was another temple just a few minutes away. The cleanliness of both the rural temples was noteworthy. After paying our respects in both the temples and savouring tea from a local tea stall we were back at the Rajbari.




As you enter the Rajbari, you feel that time has gone back by a few centuries. Huge rooms, high ceilings, and the dark stairways propel you back a few centuries. The caretaker of the homestay assured us that he will brief us about the history of the place along with a leisurely walk through the property in the evening. For now, we were shown our rooms. We were allotted the Boro Boudir Ghar (elder sister-in-law’s room) while my brother’s family took over the Thakumar Ghar (grandmother’s room). Both the rooms were tastefully done with century-old furnitures. A mirror in our room and the ornate bed were especially antique.






Rest of the morning was spent in going through the narrow alleys in the building. There are more than dozen rooms which have been converted into the homestay, while there was a huge portion still undeveloped.  There were tradition and heritage all around, even the locks had special designs on them. We were told that the palace has been the venue of many film shootings including “Lootera” a popular Hindi film.




Soon, it was time for lunch and we assembled at the dining room in the ground floor. The place had seating for about twenty-five people in two rooms. On the wall, there was an old menu of an ancestor’s marriage which made interesting reading, with about 65 dishes including Koi Macher Paturi and Pona Macher Hatkari. We were served our food in bell-metal thalas. The spread was decent and the preparations were very good.  The Thala had Uchhe Alu, a bitter to start the meal. This was followed by dal, beguni, two vegetables (bhindi and raw jackfruit). We had ordered for some large prawns which was served in an onion and coconut gravy. Finally, homemade white mishti doi and tomato chutney brought a fitting end to the meal. All the dishes were traditional preparations and served by ladies dressed in traditional attire. Hospitality was top notch and we were repeatedly prodded on for refills.


After the huge meal, we deserved a mid-day siesta. We were told to assemble at five in the evening for a tour of the house.





We were there at the Natmandir or the huge courtyard sharp at five, and our guide took our motley group around the mansion with interesting anecdotes about the place. In the seventeenth century the ancestors of current owners had come to Bengal as Maratha plunderers or Bargis, and over a period of time they settled down here.  Ramdas Kundan, a Maratha chieftain came to this village in Bengal (the place is still called Bargidanga) and his family constructed this palace and settled down. Due to the red brick and limestone construction, the palace came to be known as Itachuna. Over the next few generations, the zamindars married into local families and became Bengalis, in fact their title Kundan also got changed into Kundu as the locals found it difficult to pronounce the former.



The Rajbari was constructed about 250 years back. The Kundus had their own army of strongmen and they used to protect the villagers as well. As you go around the campus, you marvel at the old cooking facilities, stables and even a “Goom Ghar” where kidnapped enemies were housed. The mansion has a pond “Khidki Pukur” just behind, which used to be the source of fresh fish for the family and used only by ladies of the house for their bath. The roof of the mansion is another attractive place with an enchanting view of surrounding villages.



The names of the rooms are also unique. They remind us of the joint family setup in Bengali households which is now a thing of the past. “Ginnimar Ghar”, “Thakurmar Ghar” and “Choto Pishir Ghar” may bring back sweet memories of our own to someone from our generation.



In the evening we assembled at the Thakurdalan for the evening arati.  The deity of the Kundus is Sreedhar Jiu or Vishnu.  Prayers are offered at this temple four times in a day. Just across the main gate there is a dilapidated and abandoned Shiv temple built by the Kundus. Prayers were never offered here as a family member passed away during the inauguration of the temple.


It was getting dark, and we were sitting at the Baithakkhana or sitting room for a chat. A neighbourhood “baansuriya” or flute artist was sitting in the courtyard playing some melodious tunes. The aura of the evening was further enhanced by talks that the mansion is supposed to be “haunted”, people had reported eerie experiences from here at night, including one talking about headless torsos dancing.


Our dinner was again traditional Bengali food, the highlight here being some deliciously cooked Bengali style mutton which we enjoyed with luchi.  Alu Potol among the vegetarian fare deserved attention too. We continued our adda in the sitting room till late night, me hoping for some nocturnal visitors. However, this was not the case. The homestay managers of course deny seeing any such things ever in the house.






Early morning the next day, we were taken for a trip of the village around the mansion.  The village houses, rice storages (dhaner gola), old temples, paddy fields and village ponds were all so rustic and beautiful. I am from an urban background as my ancestors hailed from East Bengal, and rarely get to see villages except on train journeys. The morning visit was indeed a rewarding experience for me. We finished our short trip sipping tea at a local tea stall.


Breakfast at the Rajbari was sumptuous with a thala full of luchis accompanied by begun bhaja, alur tarkari and a sweet.  Some fresh fruits were also served. We had to leave by 10 am which is the check-out time at the heritage stay.  So after a quick bath, we reluctantly set out for our return journey again through the lush green villages. As we turned into the expressway to return to Kolkata, I could not help but feeling sad, may be another extra day would have been more adequate for this place. But then, all good things come to an end.


Details:

Itachuna Rajbari is in the Hooghly distrct of West Bengal. It is close to Khanyan railway station on the Howrah Bardhaman route. By road, it is a two hour drive via Durgapur Expressway and then village roads via Halusai.

There are many categories of rooms. There are some huts too (which are cheaper) at the back of the palace. All rooms are air-conditioned. Food is extra and needs to be ordered in advance. Non-vegetarian items are a-la-carte additions to the basic vegetarian thali.  All details are available at http://www.itachunarajbari.com/

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