Located about 130 kilometres from Kolkata, Balakhana, now a heritage homestay in Maheshganj estate of Nadia district in West Bengal was once a Nil Kuthi (indigo planter’s bunglow). The construction of Balakhana started in the year 1780 and it took nearly five years to complete.
It was built by an Italian John Angelo Savi who also happened to be the physician to Tipu Sultan. The Savis were involved in indigo cultivation and trade. At that time indigo was the “prime colonial cash crop”; and its forced cultivation resulted in a peasant unrest in 1859. Later the High Court ordered a ban on the forced cultivation of indigo and the indigo planters realising that their business was at stake started selling away their properties and heading towards their homeland.
At that time in the year 1875 Nafarchandra Palchoudhuri bought the property for his brother, Biprodas Palchoudhuri from Henry Nesbit Savi, grandson of John Angelo Savi.
Balakhana though Italian in origin has a rich Bengali legacy. It was only recently converted to a heritage homestay with five rooms by Ranadhir Palchowdhury thereby allowing visitors to witness and stay in this erstwhile Nil Kuthi. The estate covers more than 16 acres of land where one can enjoy not only the natural beauty but also living in this grand mansion.
The river Jalangi, a tributary of Bhagirathi once flowed by the side of Balakhana. Realising that the river might threaten Balakhna, Biprodas, an engineer, built a 800 metre long embankment which made the river change its direction.
Today the river has moved further from Balakhana. While digging operation was going on for building the embankment, some stone chunks were unearthed, and possibly they were pretty old and some being a portion of a temple.
When I visited Balakhana recently, I was welcomed by the Palchoudhuris. At breakfast I was served mouthwatering jam made from mulberry, which, I was told by Mrs. Palchoudhuri belonged to the garden. The milk and the milk products are also supplied from Maheshganj estate. The garden is adorned with colourful flowers making you feel really beautiful. Visiting the estate during spring made me listen to the beautiful songs of the birds in the morning. There are trees producing vegetables and a number of mango trees.
The guest rooms of Balakhana are not only with high ceiling but also thick walled making the interiors cool. The dining room has a large mahogany table with beautiful chairs where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served.
The drawing room consists of antique furniture – sofas and there is also a fireplace. Oil paintings hung from the wall. There are two separate rooms where there is a billard table and a table tennis board. There is also a small room where I found within a cupboard a crystal jar containing indigo which was produced by Biprodas Palchoudhuri.
In one of the guest rooms of Balakhana one will come across a high bed, once used by Savi. The bed is so high that in order to use it, one will need a flight of stairs.
The long verandah is not only light and airy but spacious. It is lined with chairs, easy chairs and marble topped tables. Here one can spend long hours either by reading books and magazines or simply watching nature and enjoying the natural beauty and listen to the chirping of the birds.
Balakhana can now be your next weekend destination. It can be reached either by rail or road. To reach there for a comfortable journey take the morning Hazarduari express from Kolkata station and reach Krishnanagar. From there hire an auto or toto to reach Balakhana. Or else take any local train going to Krishnanagar from Sealdah.
Balakhana also offers a number of spectacular places located nearby – Ballal Diphi; Mayapur and Ghurni in Krishnanagar, famous for clay idols apart from Krishnanagar Rajbari (entry restricted) and Anandamoyee Kali Temple, Krishnanagar. One can also taste sweets like swarbhaja and swarpuriya.
Date of posting: 9th March, 2019.