Did you know that a royal family resided just three hours away from the city in Narajole and that the kingdom has been holding a chariot festival on Ram Navami for 200 years? Well, now you do.
Narajole traces its royal dynasty roots to early 15th century, when it was founded by Uday Narayan. And the remains continue to exist in this village, albeit they are literally that...remains. Despite being declared a heritage building, Narajole Rajbari (the royal house) is in a dilapidated state but that has not taken away the beauty and splendour of the place.
The palace is surrounded by at least 54 temples, all of which are over 450 years old! It has two sections – the bahirgarh and the antargarh – separated by a moat. There's a lion gate at the entrance of the antargarh that also houses several temples, quarters for the queens, royal offices, etc. The interiors are inspired by classic European architecture evident in the slender Corinthian pillars you'll see inside. It’s got over 200 rooms and speaks volumes of the glory of the zamindars of Bengal. A part of the rajbari was given for a degree college but it's moved to a new building now. The rooms, though, are still home to those associated with Narajole College.
There are several temples around the palace as well like Joy Durga, Govinda Jew, Madan Mohan and Sitaram Jew to name a few, that display a perfect blend of Indian and European architecture. It is said that Rabindranath Tagore was so impressed by the Nat Mandir (prayer hall) in front of the Joy Durga temple that he replicated a similar pattern for his prayer hall in Santiniketan.
Visit Lankagarh, the island palace situated in the middle of the lake. It's a beautiful building with a portico supported by pillars. On Ram Navami, the four-tier wooden chariot which carries Ram visits Lankagarh to mark his win over Ravana. A trip to Narajole is incomplete without a visit to Hawa Mahal – a summer palace that overlooks a lake where men indulged in merriment and revelry.
Make sure you try the moog-er jilipi (a soft jalebi made using moong daal) and don't miss out on a performance by the chhau dancers (you'll have to pay a fee and it's totally worth it!). November to February is the best time to visit or make a trip on Ram Navami that falls in April.