In the recent past, a new type of traveller has emerged in India. The days when a weekend break or a holiday meant travelling to a much-sought-after tourist destination have been set aside in favour of quieter, more local places. It’s not that the mainstream destinations have lost favour, but the present-day urban traveller is increasingly looking for quick getaways. And with the pandemic restricting international travel, this kind of travel has become even more popular.
This shift has helped local entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry and has also opened up smaller, rural destinations to tourists — places where a lazy siesta can be had in a pristine environment not too far from home. The scenic village of Singi, about four hours by road from Kolkata, in the Katwa II Block of East Burdwan, is one such destination.
Singi offers views of and walks through lush paddy fieldsSamrat Banerjee
A trip to Singi is about the unhurried pace of life and the rejuvenating silence. Soak in the calming views of paddy fields, take meandering walks around the village or visit the nine-pinnacled temple of Buroshiva.
The Brahmani river, which swells in the monsoon, otherwise flows at a sedate pace through the village. The riverbanks are ideal to laze at and a great location to spot the region’s birdlife. Asian open-billed storks, woolly necked storks, black headed ibis and green bee-eaters, along with black drongos, sunbirds and white wagtails make an appearance from time to time.
Black-headed Ibis (left) and woolly-necked storks near the Brahmani river in Singi
A poet’s home
Singi is known in history as the birthplace of poet Kashiram Das, who was the first to translate the Mahabharata into Bengali some 400 years ago. From the local narrative written by the poet’s brother Gadadhar Das, it is understood that the family lived here for 10 generations.
Birthplace of poet Kashiram Das at SingiSamrat Banerjee
While there isn’t documented proof, a crumbling house inside the village, special to the Kashiram Das Memorial Committee, is believed to be Das’ ancestral home. The group has strived to keep parts of the house intact and every year a five-day fair is held from the 21st day of Poush in the local library named after the poet.
The joys of a local homestay
Rural stays like Santiniketan Homestay in Singi have become a popular choice for urban travellersSamrat Banerjee
When in Singi, you can opt to stay at Santiniketan, a small homestay run by Samrat and Sudeshna Banerjee. The well-appointed three-storied house opens to a small and beautifully maintained garden, shaded by a variety of fruit and flower-bearing trees. There is also a small paved pond within the premises. A viewing deck on the top floor offers views of the lush green landscape.
The paved pool inside Santiniketan homestaySamrat Banerjee
The food is simple and most of it is sourced from the Banerjees’ backyard. The fish is from the pond, the ghee and milk are homemade and the spices are also ground at home. Breakfast often features local delicacies like petai porota.
Sudeshna is an excellent cook and Samrat is a natural at the art of conversing. He takes on the role of local expert and tour planner effortlessly. Evenings can be spent stargazing while sipping on a tea while taking in the full experience of the rural setting, without the roar of the television, gadgets or traffic.
Places to visit around Singi
The three temples of Chandra family at SribatiAmitabha Gupta
The temples of Sribati, about two kilometres away, are fine examples of 19th-century terracotta art in Bengal temples. Among the many temples of the village, the most famous are the three temples of the local Chandra family who were once wealthy traders, doing business along the Hooghly river. A Pancha Ratna temple, with a five-pinnacled structure, is flanked by two Rekha Deul temples.
Terracotta plaques and the foundation stone of the temples of the Chandra family at SribatiAmitabha Gupta
One of the temples has a foundation plaque, which states that the Chandra family built these temples dedicated to Shri Bisheshwar, Bholanath and Chandreshwar in 1836. The temples’ terracotta plaques depict gods and goddesses, as well as everyday scenes such as boats, war scenes and figures who seem to be foreigners.
Among the other temples to see in Sribati is the two-storied flat-roofed Raghunatha temple, a five-pinnacled Chandreshwar Temple built in 1802 and a Charchala Maheshwar temple.
About 12 km away, you can find a structure not seen often in Bengal — a temple built entirely of stone. The Radha Gobinda Jiu temple in Jagadanandapur is one such structure, built under the supervision of the local Ghosh Chowdhury family between 1839 to 1850.
Unlike the simple exteriors, the interior of the Radha Gobinda Jiu temple has intricately carved pillars and archesAmitabha Gupta
The exterior architecture of the natmandir is simple, but the interiors have decorated pillars, plaques and arches. You must take permission from the resident priest to tour the temple and if allowed, definitely go up to the top floor. A corridor connects the main temple and the top floor of the shova mandir and has intricate stone sculptures.
Birdwatchers can spot over 70 species of birds on a boat ride along Purbasthali Oxbow LakeSagar Sen
The Purbasthali Oxbow Lake, also known as Chupi Char, about 25 km away, is a small birding spot close to Purbasthali. More than 70 species of local and migratory birds can be seen here. Along the banks and in the water, you can spot lesser whistling teals, red crested pochards, marsh sandpipers, little grebes, black drongos, bronze winged jacanas, black headed ibis, purple moorhens, kingfishers and more while taking a boat ride in the lake.
The most famous of the wooden dolls made at Natungram are the wooden owl figurinesAmitabha Gupta
You can also visit Natungram, the hub of wooden doll makers, about 14 km away, to indulge in some shopping. The age-old tradition of making wooden dolls is a source of livelihood for the village and perhaps the most famous of their creations is the wooden owl figurine. The unique part of this craft is that these wooden dolls and figurines are all carved from a single block of wood. Almost all the families in the village are dollmakers, where the men do the carving and the women paint the dolls by hand.
Monsoon and winter are the most popular seasons to visit SingiSamrat Banerjee
Travel and stay
- Singi is 133 km north of Kolkata and 60 km northeast of Burdwan town. It takes about four hours to reach by road
- Among the many routes to reach Singi, most advisable is via Memari through Durgapur Expressway continuing on to Satgachia, Kusumgram, Manteswar, Maldanga, Mejhiari and Singi crossing
- The nearest railway station is Katwa (18 km away) and the best train to reach is the Malda Intercity Express that leaves from Howrah around 3pm and reaches Katwa around 6pm. The same train leaves for Howrah in the morning around 10am
- The Santiniketan homestay is the best option to stay at Singi. If given prior notice, the homestay can arrange transportation to and from Katwa station. For bookings, call 7278282909 or 7044791436
- You can spend a relaxing weekend at Singi at any time of the year, but monsoon and winter are the most popular seasons
Amitabha Gupta is a travel writer and a photographer who specialises in the heritage and history of West Bengal. His work has been featured in many magazines and newspapers — both online and offline. He also conducts heritage walks and tours in and around Kolkata