A day in the former Dutch colony of Baranagar

As I stood on the bank of the Ganges watching Belur Math from the other side, I was struck by the fact that we humans know so little about our past, especially about the cities in which we live. I have been a resident of the ‘City of Joy’ since I was born. And I thought I knew my way around pretty well. I had been to the area named Baranagar several times to visit acquaintances. But I had no idea it was a Dutch colony, or had any connection to Subhas Chandra Bose.

I learned all of this by signing up for a heritage walk.

It was in the relatively pleasant (as in, not sultry) month of February when I joined a motley group of people near Sinthi More off BT Road. Our first stop was the Dutch Governor’s Residence, a crumbling edifice that bears no resemblance to having been the seat of power in a bygone era. Dutch merchants had established their base in this region in the 17th century. The existence of Dutch kuthis gives the place its name, Kutighat. The Ganges flows next to this place, with a nice view of the Belur Math on the other side.

After hanging out by the river, enjoying the breeze, we moved on to our next stop, Joy Mitra Kali Bari or Kripamayee Kali Temple. A priest here informed us that the structure inside the temple is similar to the famous Kali temple in Dakshineshwar. We couldn’t check it because the temple was closed for the afternoon.

Zamindar Joynarayan Mitra of the Shovabazar Rajbari family of Kolkata had built this temple. On October 5, 1864, a Dutch merchant ship crashed in the “nahabatkhana” here, and the ruins of that incident are still there. The next stop on our journey was Kathadari Math which once preserved the “blanket” or “katha” of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Raja Ram Mohan Ray had stopped a satidaha practice in one of the ghats here. It is now known as Satidaha Ghat.

People use boats and ferries to cross the Ganges here Soham Deb

We went to Narail Zamindar Bari located on Ratan Babu Road. It was built by zamindar Pulin Bihari Ray from Narail in Bangladesh. It was interesting to know that the Azad Hind Fauj led by Subhas Chandra Bose once occupied part of this zamindar bari. Now a heritage monument, the royal palace complex consists of residential houses as well as several temples dedicated to Shiva, Radha Krishna and Kali.

Our last stop of the day was the Bamandas Kali Temple built in 1904. A stone plaque mentions that a celebratory event was held here for Bose after his election as President of Congress.

You can also visit Baranagar and Alamnagar mathematics, associated with Swami Vivekananda. The Kancher Mandir or Glass Temple is an intricate glass building that gives information about Ramakrishna Paramahansa and his ideologies.

If you need a snack break, we can recommend one of the confectioneries here. For a hearty meal, head to Dhaka Biryani House located near Baranagar Road station. The city also has Cafe Coffee Day and Domino’s Pizza outlets.

Getting There : The area is well connected by road to other parts of Kolkata. You can catch a local train from Howrah to Baranagar Road station. Or a metro ride to Noapara. Ferry services are generally available from Bagbazar and Howrah to Kutighat, but due to the pandemic they are temporarily closed.