When the local train HazarduariExpress, which leaves Chitpur station in the morning,crosses a small station Plassey, (Palashi), you would not even know that the seeds of British rule in India started here. The famous Battle of Plassey was fought between Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last nawab of Bengal,and British forces under Robert Clive in 1757, paving the way for East India Company.
As the train hurtles through emerald green field with peaceful grazing cows, you may not spy a single memorial but after you have reached Behrampur station in district Murshidabad, you discover its importance through a tour around the place. In spite of all the trappings of a congested small town, the monuments speak of an era when Murshidabad was the capital of undivided Bengal covering large parts of Bihar and Orissa.
Winter is a good enough time to visit and two day-long trips, with lunch break in between should cover most of the monuments, mausoleums, mosques, temples and palaces of the various nawabs down the ages. You may opt for your own car and drive down or fix up a private car. The state government lodge helps you with this and it’s a decent place to stay compared to the smaller hotels.
History speaks to you in soft whispers. No Mughal opulence of sandstone and marble architecture; rather the trademark poramati or burnt terracotta features in perfect and simple symmetry of graves of the erstwhile rulers including MurshidQuliKhan, originally a Hindu, after which Murshidabad gets its name. He is buried under the Katra Masjid, a must see mosque along with the tomb of Azimunessa Begum, his daughter.
The must visits are of course Hazarduari Palace, today a museum housing relics of the nawabs.Hazarduari means a thousand doors though most of these are illusory. Within the same complex is the Imambura built by Siraj-ud-daulah. Once well-known for trade, the footprints of the Dutch are in the Dutch tombs and Armenian Church which has recently been restored with the help of this expatriate community.
Though not so prolific as in Bishnupur, do catch the terracotta temples for its stupendous intricate sculptures. But most of all, let your imagination of the past grip you as you view some of the palaces and manor type houses of the rich by the Bhagirathi river.
There are few places for multi-cuisine but a local mishti known as chanabora,round and blackish like the gulabjamun but more crisp on the outer and soft & gooey inside, is a huge favourite. The famed silk saris – the Baluchari has been revived by traders who had settled down over time. You will not be disappointed if you can stitch together a time that defined a pre-British India, especially Bengal,in which nawabswere appointed by the Mughal rulers who kept away. A zamindari system and thereby, a “raees” lifestyle as opposed to the nouveau riche came into being.
Written byManjira Majumdar
Manjira Majumdar is an independent journalist & author. Her areas of interests are cinema, travel, communities, crafts and gender.