Plan A Day Trip To This French Colony Only Two Hours From Kolkata
Unlike Puducherry, Chandernagore is not dotted with charming old French quarters or cafes, yet it retains a generous slice of its colonial past which is an experience you must not miss. And it’s just 53kms away from Kolkata. So you can easily drive down, spend a day and be back by your bedtime! Here’s what you should check out.
The Moon Beach
The quaint town of Chandernagore, a former French colony, gets its name from the shape of the bank of the river Hooghly which is bent like a half moon, thus ‘Chander Nagar’ (meaning ‘Moon City’). With the fragments of its past that have stood the test of time, Chandernagore offers a charming French escapade with a distinctive Bengali twist.
The French Connection
The largest concentration of colonial building is along the Hooghly, grandly named as The Strand. As you walk along the riverside, you can’t help but notice how well-maintained and beautiful that entire promenade is.
Just off The Strand is the Sacred Heart Church, built in the late 19th century to provide spiritual solace to French traders. It is one of the prime attractions of Chandernagore. You will be greeted by a statue of St Peter with a rooster at the entrance to the two storied church complete with twin towers. Although the exterior has bits of plaster sticking on like scabs, the interior has beautiful stained-glass windows glowing with bright red, blue and yellow.
As you walk further along the river, stop at a handsome cream-coloured building that was once home of the French governor and has been turned into Indo-French Cultural Centre and Museum now. Wander about freely, gazing at the motley collection of maps, models and furniture. Although the condition of the museum looks despondent, yet the artefacts on display there will give you a peek into the fascinating and turbulent past of Chandernagore.
The old four-poster bed, the run-down sofas, the pretty crockery, the odd statues and lithographs – all mute witnesses to another era – look shabby, yet stolid and proud. The museum’s timings are from 11 am to 5.30 pm, it remains shut on Thursdays and Saturdays.
A House Half Submerged
Shift your gaze bang opposite the museum and you will see an elegant mansion called the Patal Bari (meaning ‘underground house’), named so because a portion of the house is submerged by the Hooghly river!
The Patal Bari, with its beautiful wooden sunshades and decorative water outlets, is an architectural marvel that often finds mentions in Bengali literature. It has a long list of distinguished visitors including Rabindranath Tagore, Aurobindo Ghosh & Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar.
A Peachy Pavilion
After you leave the museum, keep walking along the Strand to arrive at Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat (also known as Rani Ghat). This peach-coloured structure combines eastern influences in the form of elephants and flowers along with slender columns and typical European stucco work.
If you read the slab, you will know that this pavilion was built in the honor of Durgacharan Rakshit, the recipient of the French award of Legion d’honneur in 1896 for his efforts towards the growth of Chandannagar. He was a writer, a businessman and an advisor to the French establishment.
City Of Lights
Chandernagore has an entire industry devoted to decorative lighting. The light makers here are famous for the intricate installations they create for festivals in Bengal. All those colourful illuminated panels that adorn the streets of Kolkata during Durga Puja? They come from this place. You must check out the workshops of these artisans. Read more about it here.
How Do I Get There?
Trains run frequently between Chandernagore and Howrah. At a distance of around 35 kms from Kolkata, driving by road is the most convenient option.
Chandernagore is also known for its mouthwatering sweets such as Jalbhara Sandesh and motichur laddoo. So, if you have a sweet tooth do not miss gorging on these here.