Surprising castles and an oblivious history at Dhanyakuria in West Bengal

West Bengal's rural areas are amazingly beautiful. It’s not just the greenery that creates a sense of calmness, but a sublime feeling that makes the place more enticing. I am not a village guy, probably this is the reason village life captures my imagination. I like to stroll around uneven village pathways, talk to people, eat in shabby little places, and sometimes just relax under a big tree. West Bengal villages are famous for temples; you may find lots of known and obscure temples in various places in Bengal, but a few people know there is a village in nearby Kolkata that treasures a few extraordinarily beautiful palaces.

Dhanyakuria is a small village located just 60-70 km from the main Kolkata city (by road). I had started early in the morning riding on my motorcycle. It was initially fun to ride in the morning, but soon the joy was gone once I landed on the Rajarhat to Taki Road. The road was terrible, stabbed by innumerable potholes. Adding insult to injury, people drove cars and motorcycles like crazy. It was a one-way road, so I had to take extra precautions while riding.

The village was not typical of Bengal villages; there were big houses, sporting clubs, motorcycles, and even cars parked outside the houses. The place has a rich history, unfortunately, nobody really cares about it. Once eight wealthy zamindars belonging to different castes held sway over this village. They had no fiefdom but they liked the place so much, that they built some massive palaces adorned with showpiece fusion architecture.

Dhanyakuria was once a part of Sunderban, a small village with very few people. The forested area was converted into a living settlement in 1742 when Jagannath Das, a trader from (now) Bangladesh settled here with his family. Within a few decades, other traders from different castes like Mandal, Gaine, Sawoo, and Ballavs followed and settled. The area was rich and fertile and famous for rice and sugarcane.

This relatively obscure place is yet to be placed on the West Bengal tourist map, but the extraordinarily beautiful palaces transformed the entire village into a treasure trove of Bengal. The village was once ruled by the Sens, Lahas, Roys, Gayens and other clans. To show their wealth, they built large palaces and buildings. The first palace was built by the Dutta family more than 180 years ago. Unfortunately, most of them are no longer in the landscape, still, there are structures, even after more than centuries; some of these structures look so young, and well-maintained.

Gayain Baganbari (Gayen Garden)

Gaine Palace in Dhanyakuri

This was a surprise for me because it was a great architectural beauty, a castle that looked run down. The frontal area was unchanged and unlike other Bengal palaces, it looked like more Windsor Castle than an English Castle in Bengal. The arches, balcony, and entrance were well-ornated. The architecture of this castle is an amalgamation of neo-classical and Indian forms. The Nazar Minar is more resembled with Islamic arches on the top floor. The dome of the pillar is influenced by 19th-century western pillars.

The palace or Rajbari (called in Bengal), is L-shaped with twenty-one ionic columns adorning the front. The distinguished feature is a couple of domes with coats of arms. It seemed to me Gaines was influenced by British heritage. The entrance or gate resembles the portals of a Roman temple.

There is a marble-finished large temple adjacent to the palace that can be seen from any room within it. The building is surprisingly well-maintained with a flower garden and trimmed grass lawn.


Gaine Nazar Minar

The mansion was built more than 175 years ago. Mahendranath Gaine was a trader of jute, dealing with the British directly, and later on opened a Rice Mill in the village. Family Durga Puja which is till now celebrated, was started by him.

The present members of the family have settled down in Kolkata, except 70-something Kanchan Gaine who still maintains the heritage of this house. Every year Durga Puja is celebrated when family members get together and celebrate like old times.

Ballav Mansion

Royal Entrance of Ballav Mansion

The most interesting part of Ballav Mansion was some idols on the terrace. These dolls-like structures made this palace known as “Putul Bari (House of Dolls)” by locals. The building was created almost at the time of Gaine’s palace. Shymacharan Ballav, the first owner of this beautiful mansion was a kind-hearted and lavish businessman. Their descendants are now mostly in Kolkata and certain parts of West Bengal. The mansion is a fine blend of Indian and European architecture. The figure above the stucco peacock resembles a Roman centurion.

Sawoo Baganbari (Garden)

It seemed a haunted place, but impressive with a large porch and a big garden. Unlike other mansions, it wasn’t maintained, though I liked it because of the location. Behind it, there is a huge pond, trees, and an open field.

How to reach Dhanyakuria

I reached there on my motorcycle, so I suggest going by my own vehicle via Barasat. Don’t take Rajarhat road, it is a mess. From Barasat via Taka Road towards Bashirhar, Dhanyakuria is just a bit more than 30 km. After Beramchapa, you can ask somebody to look for Gaine Baganbari. The road condition is not good, and that is a one-way road, so be careful while driving.

If you want to go by train, take Bashirat local and drop down at Kankra Mirzanagar station. From there you need to take local transport to Dhanyakuri via Kankra Kachua Road. The place is also famous for the famous Bengal saint/mystic Baba Loknath at Kachuadham. At Dhanyakuria, you may hire a rickshaw or just enjoy a walking tour.

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