A few weeks ago, my friends and I decided to just get away from the city for a day and we were confused whether we should relax by the riverside at Raiichak or do a bit of sightseeing near Cooch Behar. Since we just couldn’t pick between the two, we decided to go to Chandannagore, a former French colony on the banks of the Ganges River and just 33 kilometres from Kolkata.
How to get there
We took a local train from Howrah station and since there are trains leaving every 15-20 minutes, it wasn’t very hard to get the tickets but the station was really chaotic, as expected! So we had to ask a few people to find out about the platforms and each person had a different answer! I’ve noticed that sometimes people are willing to help you even if they don’t know a thing. Little do they know, they’re actually not helping at all! Anyway we managed to get on to the right train and we found places to sit so our journey was comfortable. It took us about 45 minutes from Howrah to the Chandannagore Station and the best part about the journey was the fact that it only cost us Rs.8! Once you’re at the station, you can take a cycle rickshaw or an auto rickshaw to the “Church.” (This should cost you around 10-15rs)
You can also hire a car or drive down there by taking Grand Trunk road or the Delhi Highway route. If you want a more leisurely journey, then you can even take a boat from Kolkata or Belur and cruise down the river.
What to see
The first place we went to see was the Sacred Heart Church of Chandannagore but when we got there around 10am, the gates were locked. The gardeners who were inside the locked compound (strange?) told us we had to speak to the Father to allow us to enter, so we went in search of the Father but in vain! We did find his P.A. who was a really annoying chap. He pretended to be really busy when he was really just hanging outside the premises of the adjoining school and told us we could only go to the church at 5 during evening mass. When we told him we were from Kolkata and we just had a few hours to spare, he said he can try to open it at 4, “specially” for us and when we asked him why couldn’t he just unlock the gates for 10 minutes, he said he doesn’t have the time to unlock the gate when he was standing right in front of it! So we asked him to give us the key and he said that we wouldn’t have the strength to open the gate! Finally, we just left it at that and went to visit the Nandadulal Temple which was, no surprises, closed! We had an hour to kill before the museum opened so we decided to take a ferry ride to the other side and back.
Then we hit the museum, which thankfully was open! Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed inside so I couldn’t get any photographs. The museum had an interesting array of artifacts from the Anglo-French War, maps used by explorers, furniture and my favourite exhibit – newspapers from the 19th and 20th century.
By now, we were famished! There are two restaurants here – Rasoi and Hotel Shalimar. We decided to eat at the latter because we had seen it from the rickhsaw. The restaurant was clean, reasonably priced and the food was good. They serve mostly North Indian and Chinese. We were hoping to eat some good fish but unfortunately they didn’t have any fresh fish.
It was still early afternoon and we had pretty much seen most of Chandannagore’s attractions. Apparently there’s an amusement park but we weren’t interested. The other place of interest was Patal Bari ( The Underground House) but we heard that it wasn’t open to the public. So we took a stroll down the Chandannagore Strand and sat down on a bench facing the river. This part of the town is really beautiful. It’s the best place to sit and watch the sun set over the river.
Next, we went looking for Surya Kumar Modak’s sweets shop. They are famous for creating the Jolbhara Sandesh which is a syrup filled milk based sweet. They also had a unique variety of flavoured sandeshes. We tried the Jolbhara, which was really sweet (and tasty too), because of the syrup filled inside. Unless you have a sweet tooth, you won’t be able to eat this by yourself. We also tried the Chocolate Sandesh which was quite good as well. It tasted like chocolate ice cream.
Our last stop for the day was a 138 year old bakery near the Church called Das Bakery. They still make french bread so we decided to pick up a loaf. They also have cookies, buns and breads. The place looked as if it had not changed over the past century. The paint was peeling, the shop was dark and dingy but I loved every bit of it.
* The musuem and the Church are completely closed on Saturdays so avoid going there on a Saturday.
* Try to attend the morning or evening mass at the Church. This way you’ll get to have a look inside.
* You can even try to catch a play or a dance performance or a concert at the Rabindra Bhavan.
* Chandannagore doesn’t have many hotels so it’s better to do a day trip from Kolkata.
*Hygienic restrooms are rare in Chandannagore but the one at the Museum is really clean.