A personal travel blog by Ms. Reetwika Banerjee
(Connect with her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reetwika.banerjee)
During my schooldays, I had read in history book that during early 18th century, eastern India was plundered by the ravaging Maratha warriors, prevalently known as the ‘Notorious Borgees’. They were successful in creating such terror among the common masses that even mothers scolded innocent kids by their names, if troubled. Innumerable colloquial hymns were recited in those days; some of which passed the ordeal of time and are hummed even in modern times. An example of one of the most popular rhymes goes like this:-
“Khoka ghumolo, para jurolo
Borgee elo deshe
Bulbuli te dhaan kheyeche
Khajna debo kise?”
(If translated in English, the rhyme conveys a terrifying message – The entire village sleeps with the sleeping kid, when the scary Borgees arrive to loot them. The villagers feel threatened if birds eat away their paddies as there will not be any extra stock to give away to the burglars.)
History says, if any villager failed to pay agricultural tax to the Borgees, they would go to any extent of physical torture as penalty. By adopting different frightening techniques, the Borgees had robbed massive wealth from the villages of Bengal for over a century. One of such fragments of historical carnage stands even today at Itachuna – the royal palace of the ‘Kundan’ family belonging to the race of devastating Borgees.
Itachuna Royal Palace of the Borgees
Itachuna is a small village in the Hooghly Rural district of West Bengal, not very far from the madding crowd of Kolkata. It can be accessed equally by rail or road. We planned to go by road and return by local train. The royal palace is geographically located at a distance of approximately 70 kilometers from Kolkata. Driving through the Old Delhi Road (NH13) is the fastest route, irrespective of present road and traffic conditions. The only pain of this route is that even being a national highway, the road is under reconstruction between Dankuni till Bansberia. The frequent one way lanes allowing goods carriers are a known nuisance. Evening drive is riskier as the potholes are not noticeable properly at many places. Recently, heavy vehicles have been banned in this stretch which has reduced the peril to some extent.
Last anniversary, I had been there with my family for a night out. Nowadays, tourists are often invited to spend time to adore the stately beauty of the Itachuna Royal Palace. Hearing the Kundan epic sagas from our office canteen cook, who happened to be a resident of Itachuna village, we found the Borgee history to be captivating enough to plan a trip. From his narrations we could make out, the natives still have a mix of hatred and respect for the rulers due to extreme ancestral brutality and gradual empathetic metamorphosis of the Kundans with time. As per him, the best way to reach there is to board a local train from Howrah, get down at Khanyan (23rd railway station in the Barddhaman main line) and then take a hand-pulled rickshaw or trekker to the palace.
Royal Entrance of the Palace
View from inner courtyard
After having an early breakfast, five of us started our family night out to Itachuna Royal Palace, commonly known as ‘Borgee Danga’ by the locales. Though we travelled by a reserved outstation cab from Kolkata till Itachuna, in love of unknowns, we got down near Khanyan station and let the car go. After reaching the station we discovered that trekkers are not that common as a public vehicle. However, ample number of man-pulled van rickshaws (typical of Eastern India’s remote corners) was available to take us to the palace. It was hardly 2.5 kilometers from the station and it did not take us much time to reach as the internal road was quite decent for a rickshaw ride. On way we crossed the historical Itachuna Degree College and Itachuna Hospital which were founded by the later rulers who supported education and healthy wellbeing of the villagers.
Brick Red Structure of the main building
Before narrating our kingly stay at the palace, let me share the bloodcurdling history of the notable Kundan family residing in the said province. After the fall of the Mughals, Maratha warriors under the leadership of Bhaskar Pandit and Raghuji Bhonsle had invaded Bengal during 1750s. Regions along the Gangetic plains of Hooghly district were their initial place of stay. Shri Safallya Narayan Kundan was the founder who constructed this royal palace of Itachuna in the year 1766. They plundered enormous wealth from the Nawab and rich local zamindars in the name of ‘Chauth’ tax (popularly referred as ‘Khajna’ in Bengali). They also brutally tortured and indiscriminately assassinated the poor commoners who were unable to fulfill their hefty demands. As a result, the Maratha warriors earned their colloquial name ‘Borgee’ and their capital Itachuna as ‘Borgee Danga’.
Way to private residence of the palace
Kundans were one of those Maratha races who continued to stay in Itachuna even after the abolition of Borgee rule by the Government. However, with centuries, the Kundans got renamed to Kundus, whose successors still own the royal palace.
Soon after stepping inside the palace we realized, what a splendor it was! Constructed over acres of land, a massive imperial beauty indeed. Had to admit, the Kundans had a superb taste of style. There was a big iron gate at the entrance. Just as we walked in, a gigantic maroon building beckoned us. A U-shaped grassy lawn welcomed our tired dusty feet as we walked in; crossing that we could reach the building’s staircase.
Itachuna Royal Palace – A grand architecture
Behind it there was a grand temple dedicated to the Kundan’s traditional deity. Even today regular evening prayers are offered by the in-house priest. The building comprised of two long wings, architecture closely resembling the English alphabet ‘H’ – now referred as North and South towers, dividing across two sides from the central stairway.
Green U-shaped garden at the entrance
H-shaped outer palace
Back side view of the palace from terrace
We climbed up the narrow dark staircases to land onto the wide corridor of the northern side of the first floor. Lively oil paintings of all the Kundan successors adored the long corridor. To add a majestic touch, a number of age-old musical instruments including bamboo chimes, wooden violin, tribal stringed instruments and many more were used to decorate the hallway. All bore a touch of imperial elegance.
Bamboo chime of the Borgees
Giant chessboard and wooden pawns
Ethnic wall clocks
A little ahead, was the darbar hall of the king – a huge circular area, walls decorated with typical Borgee weapons – spectacular heavyweight metallic swords, air-guns, rifles, self-defensive arms, metal jackets and what not! Especial was the royal sword with the king’s name gorgeously engraved on the wooden handle.
A splash of imperial luxury
The most interesting of all was the naming convention followed for the rooms. They were not numbered, instead tagged after the names of the respective family members like ‘Thakuma’, ‘Boro Babu’, ‘Mejo Babu’, ‘Choto Babu’, ‘Ginni Maa’, ‘Boro Maa’, ‘Mejo Maa’, ‘Boro Boudi’, ‘Choto Boudi’, ‘Boro Pishi’, ‘Kaka Babu’, ‘Jethamashai’, ‘Bordi’ and so on. We were allotted two of the best rooms – ‘Thakuma’ (oldest queen) in first floor and ‘Choto Babu’ (youngest prince) on second floor. ‘Thakuma’s room was actually a suite, neatly decorated with a grand queen sized bed made of Mahogany wood and an antique dressing table. There was also a personal swing in front of the room to enjoy private leisure hours. ‘Choto Babu’s room was on the chile kotha (single room at the top of the terrace) which was a typical bachelor’s room with a big king sized wooden cot and antique table chairs.
A climb to ‘Choto Babu’ room on the chile kotha
Open terrace outside ‘Ginni Maa’ room
Peeping through ‘Boro Babu’ room
Wooden swing of royal era in front of ‘Boro Boudi’ room
Gardened terrace of North wing
Time was close to 6 pm. The caretaker lit up all the lanterns at the fall of the sun, just before the grand evening prayer.
Imperial lanterns of the palace
Dinner was served early by 8.30pm. Food was very fresh and tasty; the cook must be specially appreciated for serving all what we had ordered in such a traditional Bengali cuisine style – a heritage stay in every aspect. The most striking aspect of the dining hall was a century old menu card displayed on the northern wall. It was the wedding menu of Shafalla Narayan Kundan, comprising of 101 dishes starting from exclusive appetizers to exotic desserts. However, none of the royal delicacies are available to order at present.
Royal wedding menu of Shafalla Narayan Kundan
Ancient window of dining hall
Compared to a homestay (as they call it), the tariff was quite on the higher side, yet it was worth the experience offered. Check out was hassle free but arranging public transport from the palace to the Khanyan station was a huge mess. No pickup-drop facilities were offered by the authorities and the locality being totally rural; it was damn difficult for us to get a public transport. We had to literally walk half the way before meeting a fully packed trekker. The driver was kind enough to allow us to overload it externally. Three of us somehow managed to step onto the backstairs while my husband and I enjoyed the sideways. The flying experience added a special touch to the entire tour.
In a nutshell, the overall experience was quite different from our expectations. Not at all like any other homestay resorts we are commonly used to these days. It takes you back to the historical fiery days of Borgees through the vintage decorations and extravaganza. There are so many folklores on the ferocious Borgees. Getting a chance of spending a night at their palace, sleeping on their palonko (royal bed), having food in their wooden dining extravaganza, play chess the regal style – in totality, truly a breath taking lifetime experience.
A grand stay at Itachuna Royal Palace