Thursday, July 6, 2017

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection
The holy month of Ramadan was finally over. Devout Muslims throughout the world were busy in celebrating the much awaited Eid. Despite being a 'Monday' it was almost a day off for me. One of my staffs had showered his affection right in the early morning with some home cooked semai (vermicelli) and coconut barfi. Definitely that was a good start. A wise man once said, when the tide is high your boat should take a trip. How could I simply pamper my sloth and expect the universe to caress my soul? It is much easier to pretend to be rational than acting one. Although I was relieved of my duty in the first half of the morning, it took me more than few hours to decide how to make my Eid more gratifying. By mid-afternoon, after repeated episodes of procrastination I could convince myself that Chandannagar should be my destination for the leftover day. Chandannagar, the erstwhile French colony nestled at the bank of River Hooghly, barely eighty kilometers away from my home is famous for two things- Jajadhatri Puja and Jolbhora Sandesh.

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection
The alternate episodes of 'drizzle' and 'dry sky' kept accompanying us till Chandannagar.
It was my second visit to Chandannagar, and also the second leisurely ride with Benu, albeit a short one. Her odometer was nearing 3,000 kilometers, but all that bulk had been accumulated by work related commuting. I didn't incorporate her into my family for such lackluster life. If you get a horse would you ride it, or use it for hauling loads? Everything has a primary purpose. Are you getting me? The moment I left Bardhaman, the alternate episodes of 'drizzle' and 'dry sky' kept accompanying me till Chandannagar. That's not a very desirable weather for any rider, but what else would you expect at the end of June? I was already late in commencing my journey. As a reward, the only non-essential item which failed to get a place in my backpack turned out to be the raincoat! Luckily, I'm not allergic to rain, and I hardly mind few bouts of sneezing after getting drenched.

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection
The entire strand road is studded with Pani-puri and other fast-food wheeler stalls.
As you enter Chandannagar, you'd surely get desperate for the riverside. The portion of the sub-divisional headquarter away from the Ganges is quite congested and mundane like any other old town of West Bengal. Surprisingly, as you approach closer to the river, Chandannagar begins to unfold her glory. The town looks more planned and lovingly portrayed. Without much glitches G-Maps guided me to the Strand road. Strand road is not just a point of tourist interest at Chandannagar but its tourist hub. There you'll find a kilometer long, wide and well-maintained promenade by the river bank, partially ornamented with greenery and thoroughly lined by street-lamps. You are free to take a walk, visually absorb the calm riverscape, enjoy fellow-walkers' activities, sniff the historical aroma prominent in the buildings on the other side of the road, or simply excuse those countless young attention-shy couples looking for privacy behind not so opaque park benches.

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection
As you enter Chandannagar, you'd surely get desperate for the riverside.
Strand area is heart of Chandannagar and indeed the comprehensive testament of its French connection. Look around to discover various vintage structures depicting their French roots, standing amidst modern buildings with unaltered gravity. Apart from the former French Governor's residence (Dupleix Palace) which is presently housing the Chandannagar Museum and Institute for French language study (Institut De Chandernagor), bygone Indo-French essence in the architectures of police station and court is sure to charm any traveler. The museum, established back in 1956 is open everyday for visitors from 11:00 AM to 5:30 PM except on Thursdays and Saturdays. A nominal fee is charged for good. Photography is prohibited inside the museum. You have to document everything by your eyes only. If you're a museum buff unlike me you'll love exploring antics of 19th century, items of Anglo-French War and vivid illustrations of European settlements in India.

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection
Dupleix Palace and the adjoining Institut De Chandernagor.
Irrespective of your passion for history, some stories from the past are too intriguing to miss. History of Chandannagar falls in that category. Ibrahim Khan, the last Subahdar of Bengal had granted permission to the French to set up a trading post on the bank of Hooghly River. That's how this "The Arab and his camel" story started. Chandernagore (as spelled by the French) turned into a permanent French settlement in 1688. The tussle between French and British resulted in the alternate shifting of the governing authority at Chandannagar till the town was finally handed over to the French in 1816. It's a shame that it took almost another five years post independence to get back our snatched territory from France! Finally, on 2nd October, 1954, Chandannagar was incorporated into the state jurisdiction of West Bengal. The take-home message in today's scenario should be: Do not let anyone control your life in any form. Be your own master. You may offer a sit but not the driver's one.

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection
The Sacred Heart Church is one of the finest specimens of French architecture in West Bengal.
Once you're strolling in the Chandannagar Strand, you just can't miss out a visit to the Sacred Heart Church at your vicinity. The church established in 1884 still stands tall facing the Ganges, overlooking the boomerang-shaped garden encircling it, is one of the finest specimens of French architecture in West Bengal. If you want to see a bigger church in Bengal, you have to head onto the nearby town of Bandel to find a Portuguese built church- the Basilica of the Holy Rosary, or simply the famous Bandel Church. Apart from its grand size and serene interior, the Sacred Heart Church has beautiful stained glass windows and glass ornamentations to impress you with the aura of French aesthetics of 19th century. The entire strand road is studded with Pani-puri (we call it 'Phuchka') and other fast-food wheeler stalls to tease the monster inside your gut.

Ride to Chandannagar in search of French connection
It was a day ride to Jhargram and the blog will be published soon.
I settled with bottled juice. Sunset was not far. I could imagine the magical riverscape under the spell of a crimson sun. Famous Jolbhora Sandesh of Chandannagar was yet to be tasted. But, riding on highways in dark is something against my motorcycling code of conduct. With a partial feeling of unfulfillment I left Chandannagar with Benu. If you get to know everything about a place then why would you ever revisit it? Self-rationalization definitely helps. Despite this extremely truncated ride itinerary to the erstwhile French colony my Eid holiday was well spent. I would suggest you to visit Chandannagar as your weekend destination where you'll have the liberty of an overnight halt. Although Benu had clocked a meager 160 kilometers, she seemed to have enjoyed the irregular patches of rain on NH-2. Five days later she accompanied me on a longer ride. It was a day ride to Jhargram and the blog will be published soon.

4 comments:

  1. wow...if I visited this place, I would have been stuck up near the pani puri stalls..
    Looks to me like you love taking pics of bikes, a lot! So bikes and photography are your passions?
    ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You got me here :-))
      I do not enjoy (that much) taking photos of others' motorbikes though :-P

      Delete
  2. Did you visit the public library? Do you know its exact location?
    peterjwitton@bigpond.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember passing by a beautiful (very old indeed) library building, but do not know if you're referring to that particular one :-/

      Delete

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