Travelling to West Bengal: An Unexpected Experience

People say travelling enhances the mental horizon, fills one with a sense of serenity, and ushers a subtle sense of revitalization. All of these came true for me in my small excursion to a rustic rural landscape of West Bengal called Mukutmanipur where I ventured with a group of close friends.

What was programmed to be a 2-day respite was stretched to another day as we planned impromptu to visit the temple city of Bishnupur in the vicinity which proved to be the catalyst to make this trip worth writing.

We planned for a weekend getaway from the city clamor and seek refuge in a boutique hotel encircled by the verdant foliage. We reached Mukutmanipur around dusk when the mellowed orange was tinging the horizon and the pallid glow of the twilight was creating a strange hoary halo on the tree tops.

The hotel had individual rooms with attached balconies overlooking the Kangsabati river where frequent tourist boats were sailing and we waved hands at an overzealous group. The entire room décor from the furniture to the draperies to the rugs was traditional with a tangible rustic endemic touch.

A huge manicured garden with blossomed zinnia, dahlia, roses, and marigold surmounted on hedges adorned the hotel front while the back had thick grooves of blossom blanched Palash and sonajhuri trees. The quaint place clad in nature was not only nourishing to the eyes but was also revitalizing our energy. Tea and snacks had some soporific effect on us on that sultry summer evening and after a brief photo session, we indulged in a short slumber.

woman drinking tea in a cup

Suddenly I saw the whole place deserted, cobwebs hanging from the ceiling instead of the chandeliers, the mahogany on the table in a deplorable state, a tattered carpet scantily covering the floor, and the motheaten draperies ushering a fragrance-less breeze blowing through the wilted gardens, the thriving hotel of moments before now in a state of abandonment. I jerked awake in a pool of my own perspiration.

Now the room was plunged into pitch darkness with only a single streak of moonbeam illuminating the wall with its silvery pallor and a queer sound floating through the otherwise serene night air.

Tentatively I walked outside and was bewildered to see the widest stretch of star-studded firmament twinkling unhindered as if a shimmering cloth had adorned the otherwise plain night sky. I followed the rhythmic beat and came across a group of local folks performing Santhal dance. Their colorful attire and impeccable synchronization fascinated me as they continued their dance on the grass-lined by wildflowers.

As we continued our exploration of the hotel, suddenly I stepped onto a gigantic chessboard sprawled in the backyard with the chess pieces standing tall almost reaching my waist reminding me of the Harry Potter movie. The next day was kept for sightseeing. The second-largest earthen dam of India on the Kangsabati river enclosed by crown-shaped hillocks on all sides was a point of attraction along with sundry interesting places.

At sundown we returned to our hotel, enervated and patting each other’s back for making a successful trip when suddenly a voice from behind said “It would be incomplete if you don’t visit Bishnupur.” We turned back to see a retreating figure, the shadow merging in the inky foliage. After some deliberation, we conceded to prolong our trip for a day as the name Bishnupur sparked some curiosity in our overcurious minds and heightened our traveling spirit.

Without further ado, the next morning we started for Bishnupur, once a thriving town with majestic temples under the reign of the Malla dynasty during the 17thcentury. History allures me and places with a historical imprint ignite an unguarded interest in me. Automatically I started caressing the strap of my camera all the way on the car till we finally reached our destination and beheld a most mesmerizing view.

Sheltered in the corners of the silent town are some of the most exquisite temples built with laterite or red bricks in terracotta tiles holding some of the most intricate designs and impeccable carvings were dextrously done by our prodigious ancestors depicting scenes of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

temple in Bishnupur West Bengal

The temples were mainly Ek-Ratna or Pancha-Ratna style with sloping roofs curving towards the top over the sanctum-sanctorium. The exquisite terracotta works of Shyam Rai temple with its immaculate precision and the highly captivating Madanmohan temple with the typical Bengali chala-type roof surmounted by a single tower enthralled me the most and I could only stand there silently venerating the caliber of our sculptors who were in no sense lesser than Michelangelo but are bereft of their due recognition.

The picture of the temples now somewhat stranded and vacant, standing silently amid the coarsely grown grass with a little flock of scattered tourists here and there portrayed a picture of abandonment and desolation, amplified by sharp contrast to their once glory in the thriving Malla dynasty days.

At that very moment, I pledged to write about them, to make people cognizant of the hidden treasures sheltered in the remote corners, and hoped, with proper advertisement and recreation centers like hotels and restaurants, the lost grandeur of this magical place can be reinstated.

Nurturing a penchant for history, I read about the Nagara styles of temples and was mesmerized by merely seeing pictures of Dilwara temple of Mt Abu and Kailash temple of Ellora and was glad that this trip only enriched my experience further.

The trail of perspiration running down my neck or the permanently curved eyebrows shielding the blazing sun was long forgotten as my concentration lay in fastidiously positioning my camera lens to take the best pictures.

As evening descended we decided to head home, all immersed in their own reverie, a pleasant silence playing in the car and suddenly my dream garnered much relevance. I returned home with a treasure trove of experience and a tranquil mind, our small trip evolved into an unexpected beautiful memory and I smiled subtly at the yellow-rimmed horizon.

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Storizen Magazine June 2022 Cover - Nick Maggiuuli

Read more stories in Storizen Magazine June 2022 issue featuring Nick Maggiulli here.