Friday, 15 June 2018

The Abandoned Mosque of Beliaghata

On Beliaghata Main Road, a little under a kilometre southeast of the point where the road crosses the canal lies a mysterious, abandoned mosque. I say abandoned because the mosque is not used for prayers by Muslims anymore, although it is far from empty. What was once a mosque is now used as a residential building and storage space. I first found out about the abandoned mosque in Beliaghata from a Facebook post by my friend Avijit Das. Avijit and Souvik had been alerted to the presence of the mosque by another Facebook post. “Sayan Banerjee had posted about the mosque, claiming that it was the oldest mosque in Kolkata and that it was ASI property”, Souvik told me. But when they visited the site, they found it to be occupied by a Hindu family. Souvik was able to identify the family as Vaishnava based on the “kanthi” or wooden necklace that a male member of the family was wearing. The sheer ridiculousness of a Vaishnava family living inside a mosque was enough to pique my curiosity, and so I decided to do some investigation of my own.

The western side of the mosque

Friday, 18 May 2018

The Lesser-Known Museums of Kolkata

Such is the reputation of Kolkata’s Indian Museum, that when one says museum or “jadughar” in Kolkata, the Indian Museum is what one refers to, and that one word is enough for taxi drivers to take you to your destination. However, housed in various buildings around the city, are a number of smaller museums, from 1-room displays to multi-gallery affairs, which house antiquities and objects that can educate and provoke curiosity.


Sunday, 13 May 2018

Photo Feature: The Transformation of the Calcutta Bungalow

Back in 2015, I remember having the first conversation about what is now the Calcutta Bungalow with Iftekhar Ahsan. I had known Ifte since college and had watched his Calcutta Walks growing in popularity, till it became the number one thing for visitors to do, on Tripadvisor. A Bed & Breakfast for his guests seemed like the logical next step.


Sunday, 6 May 2018

Sayed Jamaluddin's Mosque, Saptagram

Located in the Saptagram area of Hooghly district in West Bengal, Sayed Jamaluddin’s Mosque is the only surviving monument from the Hussain Shahi period when Saptagram was a flourishing port and mint town. The last surviving witness of the glory days of this erstwhile capital of southern Bengal, Sayed Jamaluddin’s mosque is also a fine example of that phenomenon unique to Bengal – a terracotta mosque.


Sunday, 1 April 2018

How to Photograph the Taj Mahal: Tips, Tricks and Vantage Points

The Taj Mahal is India’s biggest tourist attraction, one of the seven wonders of the world, and one of the world’s most photographed monuments. For professional photographers and photography enthusiasts, getting that perfect photo of the Taj Mahal can be a daunting task. What gear should you use? What time of the year should you visit? Where can you get the best shots from? And are there any angles or vantage points from where you can get a Taj photo that no one else has? I visited Agra in October of 2017 and stayed in the city for 7 days. In this blog, I’ll share with you my experiences and tips about photographing the Taj Mahal.

View from across the river. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM, f/8, 70 seconds, ISO 100

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Forgotten History: The Gunpowder Magazine of Achipur

In Achipur, near Budge Budge, approximately 33 km to the southwest of Calcutta (Kolkata), stands an abandoned gunpowder magazine with an interesting story behind it. On google maps, the area is currently marked as “Birlapur Riverside Picnic Spot” and locals call it the Achipur “barood-ghar” (barood – gunpowder, ghar – house). Veteran blogger Rangan Datta was the first to bring these abandoned structures to my notice. Trying to find details about them led to the uncovering of a wealth of information, but as is the norm with Bengal, there more questions than there are answers.


Thursday, 1 March 2018

Serampore's Danish Tavern Re-opens

Serampore’s Denmark Tavern was formally inaugurated on the 28th of February, 232 years after it was first opened by British innkeeper James Parr. Part of the “Serampore Initiative” of the National Museum of Denmark, the restoration of the Denmark Tavern took 3 years and was led by the National Museum of Denmark, INTACH, MASCON and Continuity Architects. Manish Chakraborti was the restoration architect with inputs from Danish architect Flemming Aalund. Ambassadors from 5 Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland attended the inauguration ceremony. With the restoration project making news around the world, a little-known chapter of India’s history is also highlighted.


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Ladakh Travelogue Part 7: Palaces & Monasteries of Leh

We had spent just over a week in Jammu and Kashmir. Harsha, Prasenjit, Ananya, Sreyashi and I, had been to Srinagar, Kargil, Drass, Nubra Valley, Pangong Lake and were now at the end of our trip. We would spend our last day in Leh, the capital city of Ladakh, exploring the monasteries and palaces in the neighbourhood and shopping.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Agra's Roman Catholic Cemetery and the Red Taj Mahal

Anyone unfamiliar with the early period of Christianity in India will likely be shocked upon first entering the Roman Catholic Cemetery of Agra, because it does not resemble any of the better-known colonial era cemeteries, such as the South Park Street Cemetery of Calcutta (Kolkata). Here in Agra, with its Mughal legacy, the tombs are built of sandstone more than marble, and their design makes them appear more Muslim than Christian. Added to this is the fact that inscriptions on many of the headstones are in Persian script. Furthermore, if it were not for the crosses atop these tombs, it would be difficult to identify them as actually Christian.


Tuesday, 2 January 2018

My Publications in 2017

2017 was the year where I ventured into writing for publications in a big way, concentrating mostly on online publications, as opposed to print. I must thank Devjyot Ghoshal of Quartz who got me started down this road. He emailed me expressing interest in republishing my article about the “invisible cemeteries of Kolkata”, which was re-run by Scroll. I then approached Scroll asking them if they would be interested in the kind of stuff I write for, and to my surprise, they said yes. I also must thank the wonderful people at Live History India, from whom I have done a couple of articles this year and hope to do more in the future.

Here’s a list of articles I did for publications this year –

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Nimtita Rajbari: The Jalsaghar House

The boy stood by the east window, waiting patiently. He had missed his chance earlier. When he had seen the black Landmaster going past his school and towards his house, he had paid it no heed. It was only when he came back home that he was told who the Landmaster was ferrying. He wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. He had been waiting at that window ever since the family Jeep had left for the station to fetch their famous visitor. It was mid-February in the dusty little Bengal village. The once grand mansion was now in ruins and stood perilously close to the river that separated India from East Pakistan. It was 1956. It would be another 15 years before Bangladesh would be born in a bloodbath.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Balmer Lawrie & Co., Clive Street

Calcutta’s central business district around Dalhousie Square has two things in abundance. One, Scottish firms set up during the Raj, but now continuing under Indian management, and two, heritage buildings, belonging to the aforementioned Scottish firms, approximately half of which are in a woeful state. If one were only to look at the names – Mackinnon Mackenzie, Turner Morrison, Shaw Wallace, Graham, these are all Scottish names. The Scots were the merchants of the Raj and they made their fortune in the imperial capital. What sets Balmer Lawrie & Co. apart from the rest is the fact that it has survived and prospered much better than its neighbours. The head office on Clive Street (now N.S. Road), therefore, is also one of the best maintained in the Dalhousie area. The legendary Calcutta firm has a rich history filled with many fascinating stories, beginning with how the firm got its name.


Monday, 6 November 2017

Taj Mahal by Moonlight: A Magical Experience

Had it not been for my friend Krishnendu Kes of Maavalan Travels, I would never have gone for the moonlight viewing of the Taj Mahal. India’s number one tourist attraction, its most famous monument is open every day of the week, except Fridays, from sunrise to sunset. But on nights when there is a full moon, and two nights before and after, a special nighttime viewing of the Taj is permitted, for a very limited number of people. But the reviews of this seemed mostly to be negative and there was not a single decent photograph of this on the entire internet. This blog even mentioned that getting a decent photograph of the Taj Mahal by moonlight was almost impossible. So, in spite of being in Agra for the full moon, I had decided to drop my plans for the moonlight viewing until I had a word with Krishnendu, who assured me that not only was the experience magical, but also that he strongly recommended it to all his foreign clients. But, it was already late, the number of tickets were limited, and the tickets could only be obtained from the ASI office on Mall Road in Agra. I did not have the time to get the tickets and wasn’t even sure they were available, but Krishnendu arranged for tickets for the following night’s viewing to be delivered to my hotel! And just like that, I was off for an experience that few people will ever have.

The Taj Mahal by moonlight. Canon 5D Mark IV + 24-105 IS II L @ 55mm. f/8, ISO 100, 80-second exposure.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Blood of the Faithful: An Outsider's Experience of Muharram in Calcutta

Every year as Muharram approaches, Calcutta (Kolkata) radio veteran Mir Afsar Ali must remind his non-Muslim listeners not to wish their Muslim friends a “happy Muharram” because it is not a happy occasion. For most non-Muslims in India, Islamic rituals and practices in general, and Muharram, in particular, remains a complete mystery. People’s reaction to Muharram commemorations is tinged with fear. So this year, I set out to experience and document Muharram commemorations in my hometown, Calcutta (Kolkata).

The gathering at Gol Kothi, listening to the story of Karbala