| The Jalpaiguri palace. Picture by Biplab Basak
Jalpaiguri, Sept. 22: Once the abode of the Raikats, the kings of Baikunthapur estate, the Jalpaiguri palace is now gasping for survival.
The grand house of King Prassanadev Raikat and Queen Ashrumati Devi and their ancestors is crumbling. The building matches the Cooch Behar palace in size, but not in glory.
Descendants of the residents of the palace are also not too keen on restoring the building. According to them, they are not in a financial position to carry out any major restoration job.
Says Pranata Kumar Bose, the descendent of the Raikat family and the grandson of King Prassanadev Raikat and Ashrumati Devi: “We are trying our best to maintain the heritage of our family. Still, there are certain problems.”
The Raikat family also owns estates in Panga, Bijni, Darang and Beltali areas of Jalpaiguri. The palace is now in a pathetic condition, and is in urgent need of maintenance.
Once a tourist attraction and a favourite haunt of residents of the town, the palace is losing its glory. The government has taken over the pond, or the Rajbarir Dighi, and has converted that into a garden worth visiting.
But as far as the palace is concerned, Bose and the other members of his family are not ready to hand it over to the government. “We do not have any such plans to hand it over to the government. Whatever we can do to preserve this hereditary property, which is of historical importance, we are doing,” he said.
But the youngest son of Princess Prativa Devi admits that if the property is handed over to the government, it would be in a better condition.
Royal families in Rajasthan have leased out their properties to hotel groups and are minting money. Why, then, can’t Jalpaiguri go the Jaipur way and turn the palace into a heritage hotel'
Because, Bose says, family pride is at stake. “Yes, I know that some people, especially in Rajasthan, are converting palaces and forts into heritage hotels. They may have done the right thing but we do not want to take such steps,” he replied.
Bose says the palace is not only proof of the identity of the reign of the Raikat kings but is also a storehouse of numerous old maps and mementoes.
The Jalpaiguri palace could also have been turned into a museum but Kuchubabu, as Bose is known locally, has rejected this proposal as well. The family simply does not have the funds to convert the palace into something like the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad.
The palace stands with the large building, the portico, an unkempt garden, two temples and two gates at the entry point. The area is large enough to build a heritage hotel or a museum.
The crumbling mansion comes alive during the Durga and Manasa pujas that the descendants are continuing. Bose, who is based in Calcutta, makes it a point to drop in at the palace before the Durga Puja, though it hasn’t remained as grand an affair.