It was the last day of our Dooars trip and we were set to board the return train from Alipurduar Jn. in the evening. The last night at Chilapata forest rest house was a charming one with heavy showers throughout the night and a power cut in between. The fresh smell of the earth together with the constant clattering of insects had a pleasant effect. But in the morning we started hearing a different type of noise altogether. Peeping from the bungalow, we saw a group of men outside the rest house compound. Walking a few steps towards the gate we realized that they are actually demonstrating with flags and cutouts under the banner of CITU, a left wing trade union. Soon, one of them came up to us and informed that they are agitating against the forest department over temporary staff not being made permanent and would block anyone entering the rest house for the next 3 days. When we told him that we would be leaving that day only, he said that we could leave in peace (the earlier the better) but they would not allow any vehicle inside the compound. We finished our breakfast (thanks to the caretaker who could still make one for us) and planned to leave right after that. Thankfully the car we booked was allowed to come inside the bungalow compound; otherwise we would have to walk with our luggage outside. Since we had quite some time at our disposal before we could board our train, we decided to make a brief stop at the Coochbehar town.
The rain got to us before we could get to Coochbehar. And there was a dark cloud cover and a drizzle when we reached the Coochbehar Palace which is now maintained by the Archeological Survey of India. I managed a few quick snaps of the palace from outside and went in. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside. The entry point of the palace is a large room which used to be the Durbar Hall. There was a large royal insignia of Coochbehar princely state engraved on the ground in the middle of the room which comprises an elephant, a lion and a monkey. On the four corners there were four busts respectively of kings Jitendra Narayan and Nripendra Narayan and queens Maharani Indira Devi and Sunita Devi. There were some old photographs and oil paintings of the members of the royal family, a family tree and other information about Coochbehar. Coochbehar used to be a princely state in British India and became a district of West Bengal on 1st Jan, 1950.
I had always thought of Coochbehar as a small princely state but the palace with its Victorian style architecture was awe inspiring, to tell the truth.
The remaining part of the palace has been converted to a museum and there are some seven galleries. Some of them contained the royal seals and medals issued by the Coochbehar princely state, while others comprised more oil paintings of the royalty. There was one large painting of Maharaja Jagaddipendra Narayan who was the last king (1921 – 1949). Most of the later kings and queens were portrayed in attires similar to their European counterparts. There was a billiard room as well. The other fascinating gallery was the one where dresses, musical instruments and idols of gods and goddesses of the different ethnic groups of Coochbehar were displayed. The ones I remember are Dumpra (men’s wear), Nambrek (belt) and Thayaktuk (cap) of the Lepcha community, Kanikalay (men’s wear) and Lufun (women’s wear) of the Rabha community, Zompa (ladies shoe), Bakhu ( women’s wear) and Pangden (symbol of marriage) of the Bhutia community and Gamcha (mean’s wear), Dokhna (women’s wear) and Panchra (veil) of the Mech community. There were some horrifying masks as well like the Shialbag (devil) and Signidhel (female devil) decorating the walls of the gallery.
By the time we finished our tour of the palace museum, the drizzle had transformed into a heavy shower. We literally ran towards our car that was waiting outside the palace but still got drenched big time in spite of the umbrellas.
The next stop was the famous Madan Mohan Temple which was built by Maharaja Nripendra Narayan in late nineteenth century and is dedicated to Lord Krishna. Rash Mela is one of the celebrated festivals held here. The rain was pouring so heavily by the time we reached the temple that I did not even dare to bring out my camera. The temple architecture is attractive but it seemed to have a Mughal influence according to me.
As the intensity of the rain increased further, we abandoned our plan to visit any other place and headed straight to Alipurduar.
The trip had finally come to an end and looking behind I found it quite enchanting. My long desire to visit the northern part of my state had come been fulfilled and I resolved to come back and visit the places I could not make this time round. My aunt bought a book with comprehensive details on Dooars and we were already planning our next trip to Dooars and finalizing on the places that we should include in that visit. It is a pity that with so many marvelous places at bay, Dooars is still not a hot and happening tourist destination. I don’t know what to blame – the lacklustre tourism policy of the state government or the political instability of the hills. But then again, if it attracts a huge influx of tourists, it may well lose its charm. I would like to come back and have a feel of this charm over and over again, here, at this home away from home.