Saturday, August 11, 2012



Coochbehar Palace. 
The 2-storied building stands on a 1.5 M high basement, extends 120 M from north to south and 90 M from east to west.

During 1960s, when India was waking up to the needs of a good neighbourly relationship with Bhutan, my father was deputed to Bhutan Roads Project. He was stationed for quite a few years at Phuntsholing - a little-known & small habitat on the bank of the Torsa river with just a  few 'pucca' houses . We had to get down at Coochbehar station or fly to Coochbehar airport to reach Bhutan. I remember the outskirts of a small town  vaguely, but, I never had an opportunity to visit  the township. So, when I received an invitation to represent our group 'AISHEE' in a seminar on conservation arranged by 'Coochbehar Heritage Society', I felt happy as I  looked forward to a visit to supplement my boyhood memories. I also looked forward to adding  dozens of photos  to my HDD of the famous palace , Madan Mohan Bari and  Sagardighi - the well-decorated water-body accross the District Court which is so prominent in Internet.

 Sagar Dighi - a very well-kept water-body encircled by Coochbehar's Govt. Offices and District Court building. 
The railing around this water-body is lit up at night , thus making it quite a sight. The railing proudly displays a chronological history of the royalty of Coochbehar.
Far end - DM's Office along the line of big trees.

Coochbehar was the seat of power of kings of 'Koch' dynasty who ruled over a state of ever-changing boundary. I need not go into the details as enough is available in wikipedia. Raja Nripendra Narayan got  the now-famous palace built in 1887 .  Influence of European architecture is very apparent in its design. Two features are the unique points of this palace - its two wings  across the 'Durbar Hall' are not equal and the view of the dome above the 'Durbar Hall' keeps  a visitor spell-bound. The dome is  fashioned after Italian Renaissance  architecture.   Very pleasing aesthetically, in spite of being a copy. This palace was originally 3-storyed. Earthquake of 1897  damaged the building severely. Now, after repair, it stands as a 2-storyed building.

 Dome height 38 M. 
Supported on 4 columns, decorated with Corinthian design.
Chandeliers illuminate the Durbar Hall below.
An elegant balcony with 12 windows  add to the beauty of the layout. The Inner curve of this Dome has 12 segments tapering to the top.

 The palace has 50 rooms, reportedly covering  4768 sqM. Some of these rooms  have a few  galleries  open to public. A few cater to ASI Office and a Guest House. Rest of the rooms are locked away. I could not find any display of royal clothing or weapons , standard displays in many  Museums attached to other Indian palaces.

 Poor maintenance & tasteless selection of colour have robbed 
Palace facade of the appeal of excellent Corinthian design columns.

The roof ceilings of the Ball-room and Billiard-room have painted  roof-ceilings.  Two big rooms have a big display of Hindu and Buddhist sculptures of 7th to 12th centuries - excellent and interesting.  Lighting around the sculptures was not adequate. I noticed a remarkable work  - 'Sadyojata' - and several Vishnu and NabaGraha depictions which I would have liked to capture in a camera. But photography inside the galleries was strictly prohibited.

The huge garden with  flowering plants  withering among tall grasses in front of the palace is unkempt because of a continuing labour dispute and litters thrown by visitors. The water-body which is prominent in many photographs of this palace we find in internet is largely covered with water-hyacinth. The palace facade with red & white paint, a large part fading and/or turning  black with accumulated dirt, did look bad. In fact, I wondered aloud why this palace had to to painted like Writers' Building or a railway station !

 A view of the Dome from the rear side of the Palace.
ASI   offers a better colour combination at this portion of the Palace.

The rear side of the palace was just the opposite. Soothing colours on the walls, no over-grown grass on the ground - a tidy look in contrast with that in the front ! This happens only in India !

During the 2nd morning of my stay, I walked along a 'Bandh' in the fringe of the town to reach the bank of the river 'Torsa'. Her memory  was  etched  in my mind during my stay in Phuntsholing - a young river which  was joyfully running towards Bengal from Bhutan.  What I saw here has no similarity to the one in my memory - Torsa was full , wide and slow. 3 diesel-powered boats were ferrying people constantly on a Tuesday morning.  People were coming to Coochbehar with their mobikes and cycles  and rushing through a make-shift bridge over a parallel canal towards the town.

A temporary bridge on  canal parallel to the Torsa river serves 
as the connection between the lane 
from the town-end to the ferry-ghat.

Much to my disappointment, I  found Town Municipality has built no shelter for people rushing in on the shore of the river . Perhaps they felt vagrants will occupy such shelters,if built. Vast stretch of the shore shows no effort of beautification. It could have been a nice spot for residents of this town to move around and relax . Those in charge of tourism in North Bengal can do  much more to make Cooch behar a more attractive place - an immediate task would be to improve Torsa's shore area in terms of access,lighting and landscaping.

 A river bank used for ferry & grazing ! 
No shelter, no promenade, not even one lamp post !

I went to Madan Mohan Bari next. It was also built by Raja Nripendra Narayan between 1885 and 1889. Its upkeep is quite good. All the temples inside the complex and the gateway to the pond across the road are painted in bright white . The central building has a flat roof and a hemispherical dome.The central room is devoted to Krsna. The room on the LH belongs to goddess Kali . The one on the right is shared by goddesses Annapurna, JayTara and  Katyayani. A small temple at far right is devoted to MahishasuraMardini of unconventional imagery,said to be  revealed to Raja in his dream.Here, the goddess rides a tiger and is accompanied by Jaya-Bijaya.Except for goddess Kali, the idols are remarkably small in size !

Main portion of Madan Mohan Bari with 3  'Puja' rooms. 
Famous for its attraction during 'Rasa' festival.

 Well-maintained gate-way to the water-body on  opposite side of Madan Mohan Bari.

1 comment:

R Niranjan Das said...

Nice photography.