state: west bengal
location: some 350 km from kolkata
fame: seeped in history
history is confusing, history is head-ache, history is beautiful, history is narcotic, history is powerful, history is attractive, history is gaur.
|location of gaur of NH 34|
some time ago while casually browsing through wikipedia i chanced upon a place in madla district of west bengal namely gaur (the historical towns of palassey and pandua are nearby) which was not very far away from the india-bangladesh border. i read about the place and a beautiful picture of the ruins of the (now defunct) city attracted me. the place seemed magical, out of bounds (for some reason) but its history and architecture intrigued me and i longed to go there but i knew it was only a fancy. why would anybody in their rightful minds, living in the comforts of kolkata go to gaur? how many know about the place anyway? but who has control over what would happen next? none i am sure!!!
|ruins of gaur (lakhnauti)|
even if i had to go to north bengal, why not the hills of darjeeling, the doars of jalpaiguri, the royalty of cooch behar, the english heritage of murshidabad (capital of erstwhile undivided bengal) or even a walk by the farakka barrage. whosoever goes to malda in any case and what for?? not for the mangoes surely!!!! but then as luck would have it, a friend who happens to stay in malda was to get married and i was invited. i was ecstatic about the visit, it would be after all a first time journey beyond nadia district (i had been no further than ISKCON mayapur near nabadweep).
i couldn't see the farakka barrage clearly as it passed by during day-break and it was still foggy. the barrage is a bottleneck of sorts in india-bangladesh talks whereby india is accused of diverting much of ganga water through this flop barrage, am not getting in politics now, though i rightfully should. the barrage was improperly planned and did not considered the plight of bangladesh (so unbecoming of india), you could say it was a construction (big and beautiful nevertheless) done in sheer haste and with many loopholes in post-implementation. i reached english bazaar (headquarter of malda district) early in the morning and it was spine-chilling cold out there. the place was covered in thick fog but i was happy to have come there for the first time. i was glad for my friend getting married to a good guy. it was also a first time i was seeing a bengali marriage from so close and i enjoyed every bit of my stay in madla. bengali hospitality is rocking man!!! the girl's dad (and the whole of her family) was great and treated me like his own son. busy though he was he gave me careful instructions to go the gaur (of course after the day the marriage was solemnized) and told me to be a bit careful, and not to go with pockets full of cash and cards. he said a beautiful place though it was but mostly undeveloped and poor.
|my friend's marriage|
i always find it interesting to travel either alone or with very few people (bonus if intelligent and wise), more so if the place happens to have significance this big. i was unsure of the roads (after it left NH 34 that is), the people and their reaction to a city dweller (a couple of times in malda town itself while roaming around the streets people asked me if i belonged to the place). my friend's uncle had clearly told me, you look alien enough to attract trouble and i kept that in mind. i had taken little money and was explained by the friend's dad the intricacies of the route and the bargain and almost everything. after a long and difficult ride through a highway and then through a red rickety road lined by thousands of beautiful birds looking for food i reached gaur.
|road to gaur|
the place was eerily silent, isolated but stunningly beautiful. it felt like i was dreaming. i decide to keep low and fixed a van (yeah you got to hire a van and go around, its environment friendly you see) for a hundred bucks (he asked for 400 in the beginning but lessons in bargaining came handy) and made it a point to talk in accented bengali and not in a language (mix of english, hindi and bengali) whereby the locals take me for someone spoiled from the cities. i didn't after all wanted to make myself an easy target. i wasn't afraid a bit of anything, least of kidnapping or money extortion. whenever i reach a magical place i forget every danger that might be possibly lurking around. i was trying hard to remember what all i had read about the place and was pinching myself hard (metaphor) to make me believe that i was finally and amazingly in gaur.
|gaur: first sight|
the van passed through narrow gullies with a few kids (laughing and running behind me as if they had spotted salman khan) and many water buffaloes shitting around. the driver kept on showing the monuments, chasing the kids away from me and cautioning me against the buffaloes (though i kept telling him i wasn't afraid of them anyway). he told me about his past, his present, about his hut, his wife, his children (he even showed them to me), about his livelihood and almost everything else. i was finding hard to understand his bengali but i pretended to be comprehending every detail (i couldn't have possibly said, 'i beg your pardon' as i often say to those onsite wallahs when i don't understand their accented english thick with french). the vanwallah said it had once rained gold in gaur (gosh!! they still believe in all this, what has the left done all this while in bengal) and that there are hidden treasures underneath but the government doesn't allow any digging except by archaeologists. he said about the villages around gaur, about the hindu families, about the muslim families, about the poverty, about opportunity, about ASI and almost everything he knew. i was all ears but also looking around the place, it was no less than heaven, so beautiful and so quaint. the place was magical no doubt. the roads, the ponds, the water lilies, the ancient buildings (of hussain shahi dynasty from 15th century AD) et all. the place was casting a spell.
|a pond at gaur|
withing hours i had seen the entire place, the monuments are now well preserved by the archaeological survey of india (ASI). gaur was a walled city with huge gates that served as inlets, mosques, palaces, mausoleums, prisons and excavation and research is sill continuing. for people interested in details a visit to the metcalfe hall in kolkata would do good, that good is still pending on my part though. i was impressed by the brick work, by the huge gates, by the architecture (primarily muslim) but what impressed me the most was the brick enameling (bits of it still survived and i imagined how marvelous it would have been back then) and the layout of the city. i even saw a brahminy kite from very close and being fed by the workers there.
|remains of a palace|
|remains of a palace|
remains of the palace beside the chamkan masjid (1450 AD) (it maybe a mausoleum or a prison though called a mosque, when discovered it was full of bats, and thus the name chika or chamkan mosque)
the gumti gate (1512 AD) was used as the eastern gate to enter gaur and now stands closed. the brick structure was quite beautiful and imposing
note the brick enameling from the gumti gate
another gate beside gumti gate and still in use (very impressive indeed)
|qadam rasul mosque|
the qadam rasul mosque (1531 AD), note the remarkable brick work
|fatah khan's tomb|
fatah khan's tomb (1658 AD - 1707 AD) allegedly died of poisoning by enemies. he was the son of aurangzeb's general to bengal, dilwar khan
firoz minar (1486 AD- 1489 AD), 26m high, with spiral stairs to reach the top was built by alauddin firuz shah as a victory tower after his win over barbak shah. one of my favorites, am charmed by towers anyway.
facade of the dakhil or salami darwaza (1425 AD) which served as the main gate from north to enter gaur. built by barbak shah. it was very majestic and cool inside, i fancied the architecture
by this time i had seen almost the whole of gaur and i was mighty impressed and thanked my stars to bring me here. i saw some of the most remarkably preserved and beautiful structures from the past and i loved it. and am sure everybody will. i wasn't feeling like going home, but i had to, my hosts would be worried if was late, i was alone and gaur isn't exactly a tourist's paradise (however beautiful). the vanwallah told me that there was just another monument left to be seen after which it was time to bid good-bye. all good things have to come to an end and so did my visit to the remarkable place. the baradwari mosque (the mosque with twelve gates) was the last i saw and its considered to be the most amazing building by the shahs who ruled here for about half a century.
the baradwari mosque (1526 AD) built by nasiruddin nasrat shah is one of the most remarkable construction consisting of twelve doors (i could count only eleven though, the picture shows ten)
i finally left the place, thanked the vanwallah for his efforts, for his patience and for sharing so much of his professional and personal life with me. i was a happy and satisfied man. i left for malda in another rickety journey and returned to kolkata soon after having conquered one of my dreams. am not sure how safe the place is for girls but every man worth his knowledge of history must visit gaur. its a one day visit, one can go from malda early morning and return by dusk. it will not fail to charm you like it did me.
finally a token of thanks to my vanwallah without whom this trip wouldn't have been half as good and to my friend for inviting me to her marriage and to her lovely parents for being such wonderful hosts and treating me one amongst their own.
my vanwallah with his van, lovely man, god bless him
and one last pic of the baradwari mosque, please bear..