Being a bong, feeling restless every few weeks just to go out and breathe some fresh air is a second nature for me. So keeping in mind all sorts of parental curfews and restrictions, I still managed to plan a day out within the curfew limits (think restrictions to how long you stay out and who you go out with to where you are going). Chandannagar seemed to be the perfect place that fitted my criteria and the trip was chalked out soon. I am glad I did not think of a solo trip as usual and went out with a friend who is almost equally crazy about travelling- you will find out soon why having someone as company helped.
The plan- theoretically
We planned to head out really early at around 6am in the morning to make sure that even if any unwanted hindrance does occur, we still have enough time to all the places and come back home in time too. The primary attraction of the town include the Chandannagar museum, the Sacred heart church, Patalbari and the Strand. Chandannagar was the only place we had in mind.
The day out in reality
So, first we reached the Howrah station in record time around 6:45 in the morning and looked for the first Bandel local that was scheduled at the earliest. We ended up on an unreserved train that was supposed to go to Chandannagar but were scheduled to leave much later. The chaos began as we almost forgot our bags on this train as we ran to get on the Bandel local that had arrived on another platform. We finally managed to get on the right train with everything and being the early morning train, it made before time to the destination station. We were at Chandannagar by 8 am.
From the station we took an auto to the ferry ghat. From the ferry ghat the strand, the sacred heart church and the Chandannagar museum and the Patalbari are all in one direction and close by. It is about ten minutes walk from the ferry ghat along the Ganges to reach the strand which is right opposite to the Chandannagar museum. The way to Sacred heart is easy enough. The road beside the Chandannagar college leads to the Sacred heart Church and Google Map was cooperative enough to provide accurate locations so far to us. The Chandannagar college is right beside the museum.
However the real trouble was not with direction but with time- we reached too early even for the church to open. So we had to spend approximately one and a half hour loitering around. This would have been hard enough if any of us had come alone. The sacred heart church opens at 9 am. The major attraction of the church is its history. Some of the oldest recorded graves during the french colonial times in chandannagar are also there within the church compound.
The Strand is a beautiful structure that is a fine specimen of the blend of French and Indian architecture and the serenity of the location make it a pleasant view of the town. The Patalbari is within your visual range from here. The house has its own history and noted as a home where Rabindranath Tagore had resided for a while. However the home is not open to public and someone actually stays in the house and the owner’s family lives across the street. So whether there are rooms below the water level was something we did not get to witness personally. So that was another disappointment.
Our next stop was the Sacred heart church. Early in the morning we were the only people who came there as tourists. The church is homely and the detailed glass paintings are particularly beautiful. The oldest recorded grave is there right behind the church and the entire church compound is well maintained and beautiful.
The Chandannagar museum opens at 11am or supposed to be open by 11am officially but it was finally opened around 11:30am when the employees arrived at last. Till then, we spent loitering around the museum lawns and the building itself which is a very beautiful French architecture and a sight to behold anyway. The graveled path, the really thick pillars along a long and sunny corridor was a fine sight indeed. The museum which at first appeared small actually holds quite a large number of artifacts and paintings which are very valuable. There are various manuscripts and specimens of the French colonial period that the museum holds but sadly their conservation and maintenance is not up to the mark. The French library and the duplex room are also part of the museum. The duplex room houses some very valuable and beautiful furniture and antiques from the French era.
However exploring the museum took us about an hour and by 12pm we had nothing more to explore- not at least in Chandannagar. So we started looking up other places to go along the river and there was Bandel and regions of Hooghly. We chalked out our next part of the trip as we searched around for a restaurant for lunch. One we had lunch; we again head off for Bandel.
One can go to Bandel by train from the Chandannagar station. That is the most straight forward option for a newcomer. But the other convenient option that we found from the locales is by road. Take a tracker to “Khajnar More” and from there one can get auto to Bandel more that is the cross road between the station road and the one leading toward the church. Once you reach here, you would find numerous auto towards the church from this point. The auto we took from Khajnar more actually said that there would not be any option to go to the church and that the best choice would be reserving the auto for going to both the Bandel church and the Hooghly Imam Bara. However the Bandel church is 10minutes auto ride from this region and one would not be disappointed at the grandeur of the structure.
The Bandel church is a specimen of Portuguese architecture dated in 15th century and it is much larger than the Chandannagar church. The church compound is beautiful and one can even go to the terrace of the church. The view of the Jubilee bridge from the terrace and the sparkling Ganges under the midday sun is soothing. Like any average tourist I am not a history buff and I liked the location, the beautiful structure and the overall magnitude of the building no doubt but much of the history has just bounced off my head.
The next stop was the Hooghly Imam Bara. One can reach the Imam Bara by auto from the front gate of the Bandel church but a more serene and beautiful option are the boats which ferry from the makeshift ferry behind the church. There are boatmen at the gate of the church itself who would ask you to opt for the boat but it is better to go to the ferry yourself and talk directly with the boatmen. The rates they tell starts from 200 approx and then with much haggling settle for 100, which is still expensive for the distance they are covering but it is worth the cost. The Hooghly Imam Bara dates into the 12th century. The location is beautiful right by the Ganga and the Imam Bara has a very serene ambience about it. There is a sun dial outside the imam Bara, though I found the view from the clock towers of the imam Bara overlooking the river and the entire Imam Bara more rewarding, though the climb up spiraling stairs seemed eternal and never ending as I climbed up.
The trip came to an end as we proceeded to go to the station from here. The Bandel station can be reached from the imam Bara by the battery cars that were on the road outside. We came back to Kolkata by 6:30 in the evening.
First, I guess we should have started at least 2 hours later to ensure that we did not have to sit or loiter around waiting for the museums to open. The second thing we could have done was plan visiting Bandel first since it seemed more interesting than the places in Chandannagar. Then lastly, I am thankful I planned to go out with someone and not alone- I would have been bored sitting around and would never have had the enthusiasm to plan on the go and keep pushing myself for going around to the new places. The Chandannagar and Bandel trip is a perfect plan for a day out when you have to be back home within a decent time.