Imagine walking through ancient citadels guarded by gigantic walls and elegant gateways beneath towering minars to a huge mosque containing the footprints of the Prophet. Is this your idea of weekend fun' Then pack your bags and head for Gour, home to the finest brick structure of medieval Bengal.
About 30 km from Malda, Gour can be an ideal gateway for those interested in history as well as those looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.
For a comfortable journey, take Gour Express at night. At the crack of dawn you will be in Malda town. After a quick breakfast, hop on to a rented car and head for Gour.
A 45-minute bumpy ride will take you to the first archaeological site ó Bara Sona Masjid. The 168 ft x 76 ft structure reportedly had 44 gilded domes, of which only 11 exist. Sadly, the gold cover did not survive the ravages of time. The construction of the mosque was started by Hossain Shah and was completed by his son Nasarat Shah in 1526. It is locally called Baraduari but contrary to the name, the mosque contains 11 spectacular arched gateways.
Half a kilometre down the same road is Dakhil Darwaza. Measuring 113 ft x 73 ft at the base and rising 73 ft, this structure formed the northern entrance to the citadel of Gour. Historians differ on the date of construction of this structure but agree on its status as a priceless brick architecture.
Next stop is Firoj Minar. It was built by Firoj Shah II in 1489 to mark his triumph over Barbak Shah. A 84-step spiral staircase leads to the top but it is out of bounds for tourists. The minar narrows as it goes up. Its exterior is decorated with beautiful terracotta design.
After travelling about half a kilometre you will reach Qadam Rasul (footprint of the Prophet) mosque. This rectangular structure, crowned by a huge dome, was constructed by Sultan Nasarat Shah in 1530 and is said to contain the footprints of the Prophet. The holy footprint on white marble was brought from Arabia by Pir Shah Jalal Tabriji. The complex also contains a dochala (twin-roofed) temple-like structure that is said to contain the grave of Fateh Khan.
Next to Qadam Rasul, lies the three-storeyed Lukochuri Darwaja, forming the eastern gateway of the citadel of Gour. It was constructed by Shah Suja in 1655 and was originally called Shahi Darwaja but locals settled for the name Lukochuri as according to legend, the gate was used for the game of hide and seek between the sultan and his begums. The gate is 65 ft x 42 ft and has a 10-ft wide entrance with a drummerís chamber.
Close to the Lukochuri gate is the Gumti Darwaja. This small decorated structure is crowned with a dome and probably served as a private entrance from the eastern side. Just in front of the gate are the remains of the gigantic Chika Mosque. It is decorated with Hindu motifs, suggesting that it was once a Hindu temple. Almost nothing is known about the historical background of the structure.
From Chika Masjid, take a short walk through a mango orchard to the gigantic Bais Gazi (22 yards) wall. It was built by Barbak Shah in 1460 to protect his royal palace. The wall is 15 ft wide at the base. The width decreases to 9 ft at the top. Only fragments of the wall remain. The royal palace has vanished.
The newly excavated site of Gour is beside the wall. The excavation started in 2003 and yielded treasures beyond the expectation of archaeologists. The structure unearthed had a central elevated platform surrounded by a circular stupa-like structure. The evidences suggest that the remains are of a Buddhist religious structure but the archaeologists have not come to a conclusion yet.
Excavation was also carried out at Jahajghat revealing the remains of an ancient port. The rivers have long changed their course. Archaeologists however say that the port was an important centre of maritime trade that extended beyond the borders of the country.
If your appetite for history is still not satiated, drop in at Lotan Masjid, Tantipara Masjid and Chamkati Masjid before making your way back to Gour.
Gour Express, Inter-city Express and Jan Satabdi Express connect Malda Town to Sealdah/Howrah. Buses are available from Malda town to Gour. To travel most comfortably, rent a car. The fare for a round trip of about 60 km is approximately Rs 500.
Apart from a few tea stalls there are no eateries in Gour. Have your food in Malda town, which also has several lodges for night halt.