Tale of two cities and some Bengal Tigers – Lost in the pages of history.

On the eve of the 70th Independence day of India, I try to bring about stories of two places and some lesser known Bengal Tigers from the early Indian Freedom Struggle.

Chandannagar is a city located around 37 kms from Kolkata. Being a former French settlement , it holds a distinct and unique flavor distinguishing it from the other cities in Bengal. Originally Chandannagar was known as Chander Nagor or ‘Moon City’ possibly because of the crescent shaped Hooghly (river).

Chandannager was established as a French colony in 1673 and became the main trading port in Bengal till the British made Kolkata their capital.

Unlike the other French colony of Pondicherry or Mahe,  Chandannagar is lessor known. The Strand Road along the riverfront is a favorite amongst the local and the tourist alike. The French connection is evident from the Chandannager Gate which has the French slogan “ Liberate, Egalite, Fraternite” etched on it.

The Patal Bari or the “Underground House” is an example of the architectural excellence of those days. The lower floors of the building are submerged in water in the Hoogly or the Ganga river. Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore was a frequent visitor to Patal Bari.

Apart from the various architectural splendors, Chandannager is also known for its electrical displays. The beautiful creative lights can showcase everything from famous personalities to Titanic to space satelites. The latest news items are displayed through these decorative lights during Durga and Jagadharti Pujas.

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The Strand Road, Chandannagar (PC Wikipedea)

Chandannager is also the birthplace of Kanailal Dutta, one of the lessor known revolutionary who fought for the freedom of India. Kanailal Dutta was a part of the Jugantar revolutionary group in Bengal which had Barin Ghosh, Bagha Jatin, Khudiram Bose and many others as its members.

Inspired by his professor, Charu Chandra Roy, KanaiLal joined the freedom struggle early, during his graduation days. During 1905, Kanailal Dutta was in the forefront of a movement against the partition of Bengal.

In 1908, Kanailal, all of 20 years of age was arrested in connection with the failed assassination attempt on then District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar,  Kingsford.

While in jail Kanailal Dutta and Satyendranath Basu, were told to execute Narain Goswami, who though initially a revolutionary but had later turned approver.

On August 30, 1908, Narain Goswami was shot dead inside the Jail premises. On October 21, 1908, The High Court pronounced death sentence for Kanailal Dutta and he was subsequently hanged on the morning on November 10,1908 at a tender age of 20.

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Midnapore  city, situated on the banks of River Kangsabati, is part of a district by the same name in West Bengal. The entire of the West Midnapore district is known for the ancient archaeological excavations. The biggest excavation is in the city of Tamluk or the ancient city of Tamralipta. The Tamralipta port is believed to be the exit point of the Mauryan (between 322 BCE – 185 BCE) trade route. The travelogues of Faxian and Xuanzang, Chinese Buddhist monks, also carry notings about a Buddhist settlement near Tamluk.

Tamluk is one of the major attractions for tourist when in Midnapore. Chandrakona is another such town near Midnapore which has beautiful ancient architecture dating back to the Chauhan Dynasty . The Forts of Ramgargh and Lalgarh are the major attractions of this town.

Sarasanka Dighi Lake,  Samoleswar Mahadev temple, Bidyadhar Puskarini Lake are some of the places if interest in Dantan near the main town.

Apart from the ancient historical excavations, Midnapore is also known for being the birth place of Khudiram Bose, a fighter of the Indian Freedom Struggle. Khudiram Bose was all of eighteen years of age when he was sentenced to death and hanged for his involvement in the failed attempt to kill the then District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur, Bihar,  Kingsford.

Kingsford was known for the corporal punishments he meted out to the young political activists. His harsh and often cruel sentences had made him very unpopular amongst these activists. Due to the atrocities committed by him, the revolutionary group decided to do away with him once and for all.

Born in the Midnapore district in 1889, Khudiram was deeply influenced by Shri Aurobindo, who was then a revolutionary freedom fighter. He joined the group of revolutionaries at the tender age of 16.

Khudiram( all of eighteen years of age), along with his colleague, Prafulla Chaki who was also about the same age as Khudiram, were chosen to assassinate DM Kingsford. With 2 revolvers, a bomb and a little money, the two set off on their mission. They spent a few days in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, spending time to observe the daily routine and activities of their target, Kingsford.

On the night of April 30, 1908, Khudiram and Chaki, waited near the European Club in Muzaffarpur, for Kingsford’s carriage to arrive.

As the  carriage arrived, Khudiram aimed and threw the bomb at the carriage, which burst into flames.

However, unfortunately for him, the carriage was carrying the wife and daughter of a lawyer by the name of Kennedy, instead of Kingsford on that day.

Khudiram and Chaki did not wait to find out the result of their daring attempt, but instead ran the whole night in different directions. After walking around 25 miles, Khudiram reached a place called Vaini Raliway station (known as Khudiram Bose Pusa Station today). It was from here that he was caught by the police, who became suspicious on seeing his exhausted appearance.

On the other side Prafulla Chaki was also similarly intercepted by the police. When he realized he had no room to get away, Prafulla killed himself with his pistol.

Khudiram Bose was hanged on August 11, 1908. He was one of the youngest and probably second person to be hanged during the Indian Freedom Struggle.

Khudiram Bose, Prafulla Chaki and Kanailal Dutta offered themselves to the cause of the India’s Freedom much before the Nehru’s and the Gandhi’s came on the scene. However, the names of these Bengal Tigers is lost and forgotten somewhere in the pages of history.

 

Journey to Bomdila

We left our home in the early hours of the morning to catch the first flight out to Guwahati. This was the beginning of our week long travel, for the first time to the beautiful and alluring northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh. A colleague, who lived in Guwahati, had tied up with a local cab service to help us reach Tawang from Guwahati.

So when we landed in Guwahati, our cab was already waiting for us. Without wasting much time, we headed of towards Tezpur, which was to be our first stop.

The 185 km stretch took around 4 hours as we stopped a number of times on the way. The ride to Tezpur was quite smooth, as we rode through fields and forests, with different shades of green adorning the landscape at different places. The high point of the ride to Tezpur was crossing the Brahmaputra River.  One of the longest trans Asian rivers, Brahmaputra flows through China, India and Bangladesh to finally meet the Bay of Bengal.

We had always heard or read about how mighty the Brahmaputra was, mythological stories woven around the river were a part of growing up.

From our flight, in the morning, we had seen the might of this river as we crossed over it. Even from our aerial vantage point, the river seemed to be never ending.

We stopped at the end of the Kalia Bhomora bridge, one is not allowed to stop on the bridge, for a few minutes, just to soak in the vastness of the mighty river called Brahmaputra.

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The mighty Brahmaputra

On reaching Tezpur, we took a short rest and helped ourselves to some delicious Assamese cuisines. In the evening we strolled through the local market, window shopping, I was mentally making a list of things and souvenirs I would be buying on our way back.

Next morning, we started on our journey towards Tawang. But unfortunately for us, the daughter woke up with a temperature. We decided to stop at the Government hospital in Bhalukpong, just for a Doctors view since the journey ahead was a long and arduous one.

With the Doctors go ahead, we head off again on our journey to Tawang.

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The road ahead from Bhalukpong

Bhalukpong is a border town between Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. It was in Bhalukpong that we changed our sedan for a sturdy Mahindra 4 wheel drive and it didn’t take me long to figure out why . The road conditions from here on seemed to deteriorate and the weather didn’t help. There were times when we seemed to be driving only on a muddy slush without any road in site. The road conditions became worse as we drove on just as the landscape also changed from a lighter green of the fields to a dense dark green of the mountain forests. For a better part of the journey to Bomdila, our soul companion was the Kameng River.

Just a few kilometers from Bhalukpong is  Tipi, known for the Tipi Orchid Research Center. The Orchidarium houses around 7500 orchids of over 500 different species. The Sessa Orchid Sanctuary, around 25km from Bhalukpong is spread over a 100 Sq Km and visitors can walk across a laid out route admiring the various species of Orchids blooming in the sanctuary.

After a brief stopover at these two Orchidariums, we carried on with our journey to Bomdila.

Although the journey from Bhalukpong to Bomdila is around 3-4 hours but due to our stops in the Tipi and Sessa, the road condition and our penchant for unscheduled stops to take in the fresh air and the surroundings, it took us more than eight hours to reach our destination.

Somewhere on the way we felt our empty stomachs complaining, but we seemed to be in the midst of a wilderness without any human soul in sight.

We finally spotted a small dhaba ( roadside eatery) with a thatched roof and stopped. Inside, it had nicely laid out rows of wooden tables and benches some of which were occupied by locals. I wondered aloud as to where did so many people come from since there was not a single human habitat on the way. So the owner of the dhaba told us that there were small habitats around this place. And the labour ( for building roads etc) from Bhalukpong and other areas, come to eat here.

The husband being a vegetarian had to make do with rice, daal, and thinly sliced potato fries called jhuri bhaja in Bengali with some aachar and a delicious chutney, while I also had a steamy fish curry to go with the rice. After the sumptuous lunch, we decided to walk a bit before we got on to the car again and asked our driver to meet us after a few bends.

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For a walk in the clouds

By the time we reached Bomdila, the skies had become overcast with clouds and the air had become quite chilly. Bomdila is located in the northwestern part of Arunachal Pradesh. A small serene town, it is ideal for trekkers and hikers as it provides a number of trekking and hiking routes.

The bumpy ride on the mountains had left us quite exhausted. But we still wanted to see the Bomdila monastery before it became dark, so we headed straight to the Bomdila Monastery.

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Also known as the Gentse Gaden Rabgyel Lling Monastery, the Bomdila Monastery is supposed to be a replica of the Tsona Gonste Monastery in Tsona , Tibet and was set up by the Tsona Gonste Rinponche ( 12th reincarnate) in 1965. The Monastery houses a prayer hall, a Buddha temple and the residential quarters of the monks. It also runs a study center for young monks who want to pursue the monastic life.

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Just in front of the monastery is the Doe Gu Khil Guest house and without looking further we checked in for the night. The view from the room was amazing as the windows opened to the beautiful green mountains with the clouds just hovering over them.

We walked up to the craft center but it was already closed for the day and we decided to come again in the morning. We then walked around Bomdila and the monastery’s neighborhood before retiring to our rooms as the silence of the night settled in.

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The woods around the monastery

The next morning saw the sun hiding behind clouds but still spreading its rays as silver linings across the sky. We had our breakfast and checked out. On the way we stopped at the crafts center which had beautiful Thangkas , carpets and masks on display. I would have liked to know more about these crafts, unfortunately there was no on around who could tell us more. The quiet, sleepy town gives you a feel of  a laid back, unhurried life which most of us city dwellers miss.

 

 

 

 

 

Kumaon – The hidden Jewels (Part 3) The Mysteries of the Haunted House

From the man made wonders at Jageshwar to nature’s own creation at Patal Bhuvneshwar, our journey so far was filled with discoveries but we still had some exploring left.

Bidding adieu to Patal Bhuveneshwar with a promise to be back soon, we headed on out on the pine lined roads towards a different experience  – the spooky, paranormal one.It had rained again during the night and the placid Saryu river we had seen on our way to Patal Bhuvneshwar seemed to be flowing with a purpose today.

The three and a half hour journey was every bit as enjoyable as it was exciting. We stopped a few times to drink in the fresh mountain air and take short walks through unknown paths of the pine forests, the daughter happily collecting the pine cones as we reached Mount Abbott.

Mount Abbott is a small hill snuggled nicely in the Champawat district of Kumaon. Beautiful colonial cottages built during the British era dot the hill. The silence of the woods is broken only by the chirping of the birds. Walking through the beautiful colonial cottages, you feel transported back in time. The chirping of the birds and the beautiful butterflies add to the age old charm of Mount Abbott.

As we reached towards the top, the silence is suddenly broken by the euphoric shout of a group of boys as the woods suddenly cleared into a play field right on top of hill and we saw a group of boys playing cricket.  A cricket ground was the last thing that we expected on top of a hill and needless to say, we were pleasantly surprised.

Mount Abbott was found by an English man named John Abbott, who bought a tea estate to start an European settlement here. From the hill top one can see the Shivalik ranges and the Nepal Mountains. But it was not the view that brought us to Mount Abbott, it was the stories of the mysterious and haunted house of Dr Abbott – “The Abbey” , that brought us here.

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The Abbey

The Abbey is one of the most haunted places in India. Strange noises are regularly reported from the house and people are advised to stay away from it after dark. We befriended a couple of local boys playing there and asked them the way to The Abbey and its history. They told us that till today, people prefer not to go near the house after dark and it is said some  people have seen ghosts walking on the path to the house. We asked if any of them had personally witnessed any paranormal activities, they said no.

So we took the less trodden path into the woods leading to the infamous house. On the way we stopped at the old church built by Dr. Abbott in the memory of his wife. Peeking through the broken windows, I realized that at one time this church would have been bustling with activities and probably was a source of community meetings and celebrations.There is a small graveyard just behind the church. Dr.John Abbott’s grave can still be seen there.

As we continued with our walk towards the infamous cottage, I suddenly felt a cold shiver run down my spine and instinctively knew that we were near The Abbey. A few steps further and the gates of the haunted house loomed in front of us.

The “Abbey” was owned by Dr. Abbott, post his demise the bungalow was donated for a charitable hospital. Within a short period, the hospital gained a good reputation and patients from far and wide came here for treatment. Over a period of time a Doctor by the name of Dr. Morrison joined the hospital. He claimed to have supernatural powers and on just meeting a patient, he could tell whether the patient would survive or die. In cases where he predicted death, he would also tell the date and time of death. Thus a few days before the prophesied date of death, the said patient would be shifted to isolation in a special ward called the “Mukti Kothri” or the “freedom room” where the patient would be found dead on the designated day and time. As per the locals, Dr. Morrison was an evil doctor who would use the patients for his own experiments and later kill them at the time and date predicted by him. Locals believe that due to all the evil experiments and killings, the local deity was angered and hence the place never prospered.

It is believed that the Ghosts of the patients killed by Dr. Morrison still haunt the place. Tormented and tortured screams are heard from the Multi Kothri by the locals and everyone avoids the place after dark.

The peaceful looking bungalow on top of the hill surrounded by its own gardens has been witness to good and bad times. Barbed in wires today with a post restricting entry to it’s ground, it’s stories are probably, still untold.

After the rendezvous with the haunted house, we drove on towards the peaceful Kumaon town of Lohaghat. Being a small town, Lohaghat does not have many choices for stay. We checked into Hotel Ranjit Palace, a little away from the main town. We met the owner and his son who were very friendly and gave us a lot of insight about the town and the Abbott hill. We were also introduced to Tyson – 9 month old St. Bernard who befriended me immediately. After a quick and sumptuous lunch we set off on our way to Mayawati Ashram.

The Mayawati Ashram was established by Swami Swarupananda, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda in 1899 and follows the Advaita Philosophy. The Ashram has a beautiful garden and on inquiry I was told that the same is maintained by one of the Swamiji and I could buy cuttings and plants, if I wanted to. I spoke to the Swamiji who was attending to the garden and he showed me the plants I could buy. Being a Bengali, I spoke to him in Bangla and he too replied in the same language. Later I met another Swamiji who told me a little about the history of the place and also that the I was just speaking to a Japanese  swamiji  ( Swami Okra )in Bangla and I was pleasantly surprised.

Swamiji also told me a little about the history of the Ashram. After Swami Vikekananda returned from the west in 1897, he wanted to build an advaita ashram in the hills and inspired his disciple Swami Swarupananda and  Captain James Seiver and his wife, who were also disciples of Swami Vivekananda, to look for a place. The place, which was earlier a tea estate was then converted to the Ashram. Swami Veivekananda, himself stayed here from 3-18 January 1906. Swamiji told me that Swami Vivekananda was travelling from their Ashram in Sukhi Dam (again in Champawat) to Mayawati when it started to rain. As swamiji was already not in the best of health those days, getting drenched in the rain added to his woes and by the time he reached Mayawati he was suffering from a high fever. We were shown the room where Swami Vivekananda stayed and slept till he recuperated and headed onwards on his journey to east. That room is now converted to a library.

In the meantime Swami Okra called out to me to say that my plants were ready and I could take them. I asked him how long he has been here to speak such fluent Bengali, 20 years he replied smiling. He also told me that the place is called Mayawati owing to a temple dedicated to the Goddess called Mayan in the hills near the ashram. The Ashram also runs a charitable hospital.

It was now time for the Swamjis evening walk so we collected our plants and bid them adieu. We walked around a bit in the forests surrounding the Ashram before heading back to Lohaghat.

Next morning we headed for Pancheshwar, the confluence of the river Kali and the river Sharda.

Pancheshwar is a angling paradise and also a perfect place for river rafting. However, due to the rains, the water level of the river had risen making both Rafting and angling difficult. So we had to give it a miss and reserve it for a next time. We crossed the river over a rickety bridge and small walk to reach the Pancheshwar Mahadev temple also known as the Jaat Chamu temple and revered by the locals as the protector of the animals of the region. The small serene temple is situated at the confluence of both the rivers with steps leading down to the confluence. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and the locals offer milk and bells to the deity. A huge bell hangs at the middle of the temple precincts. One of the locals told us that it is 400 years old.

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The bridge leading to the Pancheswar temple

We sat on the steps leading to the confluence soaking in the serene tranquility of the place watching the rivers meet. Pancheshwar is on the Indo – Nepal border. On the Indian side, one shore of the river touches the Champawat District while the other side touches the Pithoragargh district. On the North you can see the Nepalese Mountains. We sat there watching the river flow in its full might, unmindful of the man-made boundaries.  Sitting there, my mind burst into a Bengali song written by Rabindra Nath Tagore –

“Ogo Nodi Apon bege, Pagol para,

Ami Stobdho champar toru gondhubure tandrahaara”

Roughly translated – “The river flows in its might, its own frenzy,

While I am a still magnolia tree, filled with fragrance but                                                    sleepless”

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The confluence of the river Sharda and river Kali from the Temple steps

After spending the day frolicking on the banks of the river, we headed back to Lohaghat. After a short rest, we decided to take a walk of the town. Most hill towns close down early. Lohaghat was no exception, the shops and markets were closing as we walked through them. Walking through a hill town in the dark with a slight drizzle also has its own fun.

After spending a couple of hours in the town we returned to our Hotel and called it a night.

We started for home the next morning but before bidding adieu to the mountains, we took just one last detour to visit the Shyam Taal and the Vivekananda Ashram . We stopped at Shukna Dam for the last bit of Bhang chutney and boiled chick peas. When in Shukna Dam, remember to fill in your bags with a variety of Jams, Juices and pickles made in the mountains.

On our way to Shyam taal, it started to rain and we were completely engulfed by the clouds. The visibility was zero. But we braved on to reach the small but beautiful, hidden lake called Shyam Taal. The lake was nestled in the middle surrounded by mountains. We saw the locals villagers busy fishing by the lake. The wet mountains and the clouds hovering over the lake did make a magical setting.

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Shyam Taal

The end of a vacation always makes me sad. Saying goodbye to the mountains, we wound our way down to Tanakpur, the last of the cities in the Champawat district.

The river Sharda flows here in all its might as it divides or unites two countries, on one of its shore is India, while the other shore is Nepal. A bridge over the river connects the two countries.

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The river Sharda on flow near Tannakpur . The Nepalese landscape across the river

Nature has no boundaries, the river shall flow in the course of its own choice.It is only man who is restricted by the boundaries created by his own self.

Foodie guide : When in Kumaon do taste the delicious sweets called Bal mithai and the Chocolate barfis. Also remember to get your stock of juices, jams and pickles made locally.

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