Visit Serampore (Shrirampur, erstwhile Fredriksnagore), situated only 25 kilometers away from Kolkata, and delve into the unique history of this old colonial town, that was once filled with riches and grandeur.
The quite little village on the banks of Ganga drew attention of the Danish East India Company back in 1755. The Danes (unlike the British) actively involved the locals in the administration and transformed the village into a prospering town. So much so that it became a major center for cultural renaissance during the 18th century, which is why even today, in spite of being just another bustling town of Bengal, it bears an uncanny similarity with towns of Denmark.
As a traveller, you will love exploring Serampore as it is studded with many historically rich places. Start with the Serampore Court Compound, a semi-ruined arched gate, that will lead you to a courthouse, which used to be the major seat of Danish power in Bengal back in time.
Go further down the strand, and you will arrive at the well-looked-after Serampore College, which is a must-visit for many reasons. It is the second oldest college in the country after Presidency College Calcutta and the first institution to offer a degree. Founded by British Baptist missionary William Carey, who settled in Serampore in 1799 because unlike the British, the Danish did not frown upon him for being a Baptist evangelical.The magnificent structure with wide pathways flanked by well-manicured lawns, till today, enjoys the privilege of conferring its own degrees in theology under the power vested by the Danish Royal Charter. History Buffs, Do not miss the Carey Museum housed within the college building, which displays rare manuscripts, books, and artefacts belonging to William Carey.
A little walk from there (about a km or so) will take you to the town’s most visible landmark, St. Olav’s Church (locally known as the Danish Church), whose steeple can be seen from Barrackpore on the opposite bank of the Hooghly. The façade still bears the monogram of King Christian VII of Denmark-Norway. The church has recently been renovated as a part of a joint restoration initiative by the West Bengal Heritage Commission (WBHC) and the National Museum of Denmark.
Less than five minutes’ walk from here is the over 230 years old Denmark Tavern, which has been dusted off and spruced up into a lodge that you can now book a stay in. Operated by The Park Hotels, there is a restaurant and bakery on the ground floor and rooms for staying on the first floor. You can choose from any of the five high-ceilinged spacious rooms on Bengal’s tourism department website. The restaurant is open from noon to 9.30pm.
Another very interesting historical landmark, that will leave you in awe of Serampore’s glorious past, is the Goswami Rajbari, belonging to wealthy Bengali merchants. It is said that when the Danes decided to hand over Serampore to the British, the Goswamis offered to pay 11,00,000 Rupees to buy the entire town but the offer was declined. The Rajbari and other related mansions reflect a neoclassical style of architecture with the northern complex of the Rajbari containing a huge courtyard supported by majestic fluted Corinthian pillars.
Find the time to visit Unique Lodge, the 130-year old family home of the Bhattacharyas. A beautiful amalgamation of European and Indian architectural styles. It also serves as a museum, full of collectibles, clocks and other curios, added over the years. Get in touch with Pradipta Bhattacharya (09830071787) for a pre-arranged tour of the property.
There are two cemeteries in Serampore, – the Mission Cemetery where William Carey lies buried, and the Danish Cemetery, if you wish to delve deeper (pun intended) into the history of the place.
Getting there: Serampore (Srirampur) is about 25 km from Kolkata. Take a local train from Howrah or drive down to Serampore. Alternatively, you may travel to Barrackpore by train and then catch the local ferry to go to the opposite side of the Hooghly River to reach Serampore.
Today, with its elegant structures, the legacy of Danish, British and Bengali history and culture, Serampore makes for a pleasant day-long getaway from the concrete boxes of the city skyline.