Motijheel: Drive to Paradise

Distance from Kolkata: 203 km Driving time: 5 hours Road Trip: 2 days

In a wonderful initiative the State Government has come up with a brand new property in an exotically beautiful location in Murshidabad, giving the state a much needed boost in tourism. Welcome to Motijheel Tourism Destination – truly a rare find in the tourism circuit. An endeavor of the Government of West Bengal, it is an evidence of the state’s renewed interest in developing the hospitality sector. Team WHEELS shares their fascinating experience - read on Route We started for our destination from Ultadanga traffic island at around 7:30 am. We drove straight through VIP Road towards NSC Bose Airport. At the intersection of Jessore Road (NH-34) we turned right and continued north towards Barasat. From Dakbungalow Morh at Barasat we entered the left fork and continued past Amdanga, Barajaguli, Chakdaha, Ranaghat, Fulia and Beldanga on NH-34. We halted only once at Sarai Khana Dhaba for tea and reached Krishnanagar at 10:30 am. Near Palpara Morh in Krishnanagar, we had our breakfast at Hotel Haveli, the best address for dining on NH-34. Thereafter we continued on the highway and went past Dhubulia, Nakashipara, Rejinagar and Plassey to reach Panchanantala Morh in Berhampore, Murshidabad. From the congested Panchanantala junction we turned left and continued on NH-34 for 1.3 km and found a traffic island with the Berhampore bus terminus on left. From that traffic island we took the right lane and entered Netaji Road, leaving behind NH-34. After continuing for 1.5 km, the road took a right bend into Kazi Nazrul Sarani and ran adjacent to River Hooghly. We followed the road, recently paved, for 3.9 km to find an intersection and again turned left to reach Motijheel. The entrance lies inside the lane opposite to an Indian Oil petrol pump. At present, the road condition of NH-34 upto Krishnagar is reasonably good. However, after Krishnanagar, the renovation of NH-34 to a 6-lane new generation highway is in progress. So, barring the short stretches where the new and old highways merge, the road surface on the entire route is largely satisfactory. Motijheel Motijheel Tourism Destination is a `20 crore project - an initiative of the Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal and implemented by the Office of District Magistrate of Murshidabad. The property came up on a low-yielding land which originally belonged to the Nawab’s estate and was later vested with the state government. The project includes a horseshoe-shaped lake spread over 240 acres and another plot of land measuring 45 acres on which the property and the garden came up within a span of one year. History Motijheel - an oxbow lake, spread over 240 acres, was formed out of an abandoned bed of river Bhagirathi. It derived its name from the extensive practice of Moti or pearl cultivation during the Nawabi period. The jheel was famous for raising golden tinted pearls extracted from Unino Margaritifera species. Motijheel lies about one kilometre south of Lalbagh. This beautiful horseshoe shaped lake was excavated by Nawazesh Mohammad, the husband of the infamous Ghasseti Begum. In the palace of the Begum which once stood at the deepest corner of this crescent shaped lake, Lord Clive had celebrated the acquisition of the Dewani of Sube Bangla (Bengal, Bihar and Orissa) in 1765. This cradle of British Rule in India stood witness to a remarkable turning point in the country’s history. Motijheel was the home of Warren Hastings when he became the Political President at the Durbar of the Nawab Nazim (1771 - 1773 AD). Motijheel also came to be known as ‘Company Bagh’ since it was occupied by officials of East India Company for a long period of time. The only old building that stands today is the Ghaseti Begum Mosque compound. There is another brick structure, ‘Gupta Dhanagar’ (secret treasure house) of the Begum, located just outside the left end of the horseshoe lake. In front of the mosque is a small enclosure which has four tombs containing the mortal remains of Shahamat Jang alias Nawajesh Muhammad, Ekram-ud-Doula, the younger brother of Siraj-ud-Doula, Ekram-ud-Doula's tutor, Shumsheree Ali Khan the General of Nawajesh Muhammad and the nurse of Ekram-ud-Doula. Motijheel Tourism Destination As we entered into the compound, our jaws dropped at the sheer vastness of the property. The foundation stone of Motijheel Tourism Destination was laid by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on 17 December 2013 and inaugurated by her recently on the 1st of July 2015, earning accolades in the tourism circuit. As our car entered through the huge gate of Motijheel, a straight pathway paved with maroon and buff coloured tiles and hemmed by newly planted trees and theme lamp-posts greeted us. A beautiful landscaped garden opened into the distant lake- Motijheel appeared to its visitors as a new paradise on earth for its sheer ethereal beauty. An endless blue sky with white happy clouds floating around on the horizon only adds to its charm. Fluttering butterflies and chirping birds complete the picturesque setting. Occasionally, some distance away, trains go whistling past, a reminder of the presence of civilization nearby. We were welcomed by the caretaker who was waiting for us with his battery operated golf cart at the intersection of a crisscrossing pathway. The pathway led us to three picturesque cottages set a little higher up on the landscaped garden against the backdrop of the lake and the vast sky. Each cottage has two double-bed rooms and one suite, all airconditioned with attached baths. The glass windows are covered with heavy curtains. The rooms were quite impressive with wooden furniture complemented with decent furnishings and linens and lit by roof mounted lights, concealed in false-ceilings. Lunch was served by the uniformed staff of the Circuit House. We were told restaurants and power back systems are yet to come up at the property. A watch-tower called Tourist Facilitation Centre has been constructed, overlooking the pool with the dancing fountain. It would serve as the central dining hall while its top floor would be the viewing point for tourists. After a quick lunch, we set out to explore the place in one of the two 7-seater-golf carts donated by the local branch of IDBI bank under its CSR project. We took the tiled pathway encircling the semi-circular lake. The winding pathway around the lake is 3.5 km long and surrounds the entire property on three sides except the entrance. The property has a parking area beside the main entrance with a ticket counter for the daily visitors. It has two parks for children, a fruit orchard, Motijheel Bhavan – for additional accommodation and holding conferences, a musical fountain inside a vast concrete pool, several gardens, few statues of historical personalities and the Conspiracy Centre with statues on a granite platform, reminding us of the grim history. It was at this spot of Conspiracy Centre where the palace of Ghaseti Begum existed (now in ruins). Here, she had conspired with the English to defeat Nawab Siraj-ud-Doula and paved the way for British rule in India for the next 200 years. The whole property is being surrounded by iron railings outside the semicircular lake. Mr Goutam Roy, Deputy Director of department of Horticulture and the in-charge of gardening and horticulture of Motijheel explained us the way in which the barren land was developed into this magnificently landscaped garden within the short time. He also showed us around the 56 varieties of mangoes which is now being cultivated in the orchard. Talking to Pralay Raychaudhuri, the project officer in-charge of Tourism Department, while sitting on the wrought iron benches in front of the colourful dancing fountain at night, we came to know that most of the 84 farmers who previously cultivated the land here, have been engaged under the 100-day employment generation (MGNREGA) scheme as daily workers against a pay of `169 per day to maintain the garden. A keen bird watcher, the officer pointed out the birds as Asian open bill, Sandpiper which frequent the lake throughout the year along with the Lesser whistling ducks, Common coot and Cotton pygmy Goose as the main species among the several thousand migratory birds which arrive there every winter. He explained that even if half of the total 7 lakh visitors who come to see Hazarduari can be induced to visit the Motijheel Tourism Destination against an entry fee of `20, this would be a profitable venture, run on public-private-partnership. Plans are afoot for a floating restaurant, floating villas, boating facilities and a ropeway to connect the Radha Madhab temple beyond the lake within the next two years.   Other places to see in Murshidabad Hazarduary The Hazarduary Palace or the palace with thousand doors, is the main attraction of Murshidabad. Built in between 1829 – 1837 AD, Nawab Najim Humaun Jah got it constructed by Duncan McLeod. Constructed in European architectural style, it has 114 rooms and 8 galleries and is spread on 41 acres. It is now a museum with exquisite collection of armoury, rare paintings, works of art including ivory and silver. Imambara Inside the compound of Hazarduari, parallel to the north face of the Palace stands the Nizamat Imambara. It was built in 1847 by Nawab Nazim Mansoor Ali Khan Feradun Jah, son of Humayun Jah after the Imambara built by Siraj-ud-Doula was destroyed by fire. The Imambara is the largest in Bengal and is perhaps the largest in India which remains open for 10 days in a year during Muharram. Wasef Manzil This palace was built in 1905 by Nawab Wasef Ali Mirza, Nawab of Murshidabad, as the last Nawabi structure. The staircases made of marble and beautiful statues in this palace are worth seeing. Katra Mosque Katra Mosque is an imposing structure built by Nawab Murshid Quli Khan in 1723 - 1724. It remains as one of the most important tourist attractions in Murshidabad with a gorgeous building, huge domes and high minarets and a simple cemetery of the Nawab below the front staircase. Kathgola Bagan Built by Lakshmipat Dugar and Dhanpat Dugar, Kathgola Bagan has a beautiful palace with marble and lime works, marble statues and a Jain temple - worth a visit. Adorned with all modern day tourism facilities amidst the remnants of historical monuments, Motijheel is the perfect weekend getaway. This latest feat by West Bengal Tourism is yet another significant milestone for the Government of West Bengal.

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