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Next weekend you can be at ... Burdwan

If history, architecture ecology and good food is your recipe for a great weekend, you cannot go wrong with Burdwan.

Less than 100 km from Calcutta, the town was witness to the glory days of Bengal and every inch of its soil bears imprints of the past.

The first historical reference to Burdwan can be traced back to a 6th century copper plate, found in a village named Malla Sarul. In Abul Fazal's book, the area was referred to as Sharifabad. The name Burdwan comes from the Jain guru Tirthankar Vardhaman, who was born here.

The history of modern Burdwan begins in the mid- 17th century, when a young businessman from Punjab named Sangam Rai established his rule here. The last maharaja of Burdwan was Krishnaram Rai, who was in power till 1955.

Start your tour of the town at the majestic Curzon Gate or Bijoy Toran. The most well-known landmark of Burdwan is a fine example of colonial architecture. The gate was built in 1903 by Raja Bijoychand to mark Lord Curzon's visit to the town.

It was initially known as Star of India gate. The influence of Italian architecture is apparent in its construction. FA Huge painted the gate and donated it to the royal family.

Bijoy Toran has a large arch and is flanked by two smaller gates. A couple of seated lions on the sides and three eagles on the top embellish the structure. The floral design on the body looks elegant. With the lights on, the gate makes a pretty picture at night.

Next to the gate is the lovely Christ Church of Burdwan. This small, red-coloured church was built in 1816 by Church Missionary Society of Bengal. Captain Charles Stuart, an employee of East India Company, arranged an annual grant of Rs 12.50 from the royal family to maintain the church.

The things to see at the church are the waterpipes and the bell. Its doors are thrown open to the public on Sunday mornings.

Sarbamangala temple, the oldest Navratna temple of undivided Bengal, is not far from the church. Sarbamangala was the official deity of the Burdwan royal family. The massive structure was built in 1740 by Raja Kirtichand. It is one of the rare Durga temples in the state.

The premises are well-maintained. The temple has recently been painted pink and white. Of the other structures in the compound, two Shiva temples stand out. Both are adorned with terracotta sculptures. A deul-style temple also catches the eye.

Nine towers, at two levels, border the central edifice. The first level houses four towers, called raths. The other five raths are built on the higher level. The deity has 18 hands. Durga puja is the best time to visit this landmark.

Just seven km from the town, Nababhat is a must-visit. A compound containing 109 identical hut-shaped Shiva temples is the chief attraction.

The temples were built by Maharani Bishan Kumari in 1788, after a personal crisis. A similar set of 108 Shiva temples can be seen at Ambika Kalna, in the same district.

The temples, built around a large pond, are typical aatchala structures. None of them is decorated with terracotta carvings.

In the mid-1960s, the temples were on the verge of ruination. The Birlas of Calcutta took on the responsibility of maintaining them. Today, the temples are a draw for both pilgrims and lovers of history.

Noorjehan, perhaps the most powerful Mughal lady ever, spent her youth in Burdwan. Her first husband Sher Afghan was the governor of Bengal, during Akbar's reign.

Afghan was killed in 1610 in a war with Qutubuddin, the foster brother of Jehangir, who had a crush on Noor-jehan, then known as Meher-un-nisa. Qutubuddin, too, was killed in the war, while Meher-un-nisa went on to become Jehangir's 17th wife.

Afghan and Qutubuddin's grave can still be seen in Burdwan, in a compound named after Pirbaharam, a holy man during Akbar's time. The site is preserved by Archaeological Survey of India.

For a feel of the Mughal era, make your way to Khaja Anwar's tomb, popularly known as Nawab Bari. Khaja Anwar and Abdul Qasim were commanders of the Mughal army, who were sent to Bengal to tame Maratha invaders. Both were killed in a conspiracy and buried here.

In 1715, Mughal emperor Farrukh Siyar built a monument on their graves. The structure is characterised by the Bengal school of architecture. The Hawa Mahal, in front of the grave, is worth an exploration.

The temples of Kankaleshwari Kali and Mota Shiva are popular with tourists. Local lore has it that the 6-ft Kali was washed ashore by the Damodar in 1916, while the Shiva idol, from the Kushana era, was fished out of a local pond in 1972.

For those inclined towards nature, there are two ecological parks in Burdwan. Krishnasayar Park is built around a huge tank, dug by the royal family during the drought of 1691. The park houses an art centre and an ecological club. There's also a decent restaurant here.

Ramanaudyan, the other ecological park, is home to deer, monkeys and several varities of birds. For the best view, climb up the watchtower. There are also caged birds, rabbits and a tiger.

Stop over at Burdwan Rajbari on your way back. It is now the main building of Burdwan University. The royal palace was built by Mahatab Chand Bahadur in 1851.

The town hall, built between 1890 and 1894, Jama Masjid, built by the grandson of Aurangzeb, Bijoy Bahar temple and Meghnad Saha Taramandal are the other notable structures.

Going

Several local and express trains stop at Burdwan, which is just 92 km from Calcutta. Black Diamond, Ganadevata, Santiniketan Express... are some of the better bets

Travel tips

Photography is allowed, except at Ramanaudyan and Nawab Bari. Be on your guard against monkeys at Ramanaudyan. Sarbamangala temple is shut in the afternoon. Cars are available for hire for a trek of the tourist spots. The rate varies between Rs 350 and Rs 400. There are good restaurants. Do not forget to bring back sitabhog and mihidana

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