West Bengal: Ruins of Pandua
Only a nut would travel by road in West Bengal. "Badly damaged" is what the newspapers described the roads as. Non-existent is what we found out they were. The State Govt. had recently, with much fanfare, set themselves a deadline of 30th November for filling up all potholes in the state. No major repairs, mind you, just filling up the critters (craters). Come December they regretted that owing to shortage of funds, they had only managed to complete half the task. So as it soon turned out, we had our fill of the unfilled.
But, travel junkies rush in where angels fear to tread. Not for us the convenient bus or train journey to Malda. The new Maruti 800, lying in the garage a year, had to be tried out despite the fact that late on the previous night we discovered that the insurance had lapsed and so had the road tax.
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The lazy owner of the said car was made to feel so sorry that it is likely she has learnt a lesson for life. So on the morning of a beautifully smoggy Calcutta day we had to set off, not to Malda, but to the road tax and then the insurance offices.
Greasing a few palms speeded up the pace and, after 4 hours of bureauratic hurdles and tension we set off at 2 pm (instead of 6 am as planned) on National Highway 34 for the 334 km journey to Malda. Our final destination being the historic village of Pandua, 19 km from Malda.
My dad, who had been roped in to drive the car, is at the best of times a tyrant as far as passengers are concerned. Once he steps on the accelerator, there is no stopping him. No intake, no output is his philosphy. No eating, no ...ing,no stops. The lateness of the start notwithstanding, we made it to Malda in 10 hours...averaging 34 km per hour. The proud Pater familias twirled his non-existent moustache to celebrate the fact that he had exceeded the West Bengal speed record of 30 km per hour.
We had no problem checking in having already booked ourselves into the Tourist Lodge run by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. Bookings can be done from the office in Dalhousie Square at Calcutta. It was a little run down, which they ascribed to having been under 4 feet of water during the recent floods in October. But, after much swatting of mosquitoes and realising that the hot water could not be made to run, we grabbed a good nights sleep.We started off the next morning for Pandua and thus did not have the time to visit the Musuem in Malda which houses the archeological finds of Gaur and Pandua.
The monuments present now are mute testimony to those exciting times. On the way to Gaur do stop by at the village of Ramkali, famous for the tamul tree under which the saint Sri Chaitanya, is said to have meditated. At Gaur you can see the Bara Sona Masjid (literally large golden mosque) dating back to 1526. It's once gilded roof with 44 domes (of which 11 still remain) gives it it's name. Built by Sultan Nusrat Shah it is the largest of mosques in Gaur and is commonly referred to as Baraduari Mosque (the mosque of 12 doors).
Gaur is surrounded on all sides by numerous darwazas or gates. Kotwali Darwaza now marks the border to Bangladesh.
Also worth a visit are the Lattan mosque (built for and named after a famous courtesan by the Sultan) and Chhota (small) Sona (golden) Masjid.The typically home grown style of mosque construction in West Bengal can be seen in Chamakti Masjid (shining masjid) which is one of the oldest structures, its history dating back to 1478.
Our interest, however, lay in Pandua and particularly the Adina Masjid, the largest mosque in the subcontinent. It covers an area of 152 meters by 92 metres. It was built in 1374 by Sultan Sikander Shah who was the second ruler of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty. It typifies the heights to which the magnificent architecture of the period had developed. The famous Jama Masjid of Delhi is tiny in comparison. Unfortunately it is difficult to trace the exact history of the mosque as the earliest records of it are found only in 17th century writings. It typifies the traditional hypostyle of architecture which was used by the Muslim rulers in conquered territories and is the only one of its kind in West Bengal. Inscriptions from 4 different chapters of the Koran can be found on it. Legend has it that the Shah found his final resting place next to his beloved Mosque and his tomb is adjacent to one of the exterior walls.
End of our date with history. The return journey found us taking a detour to Panagarh via Rampurhat and Suri. We skipped the famous terracotta temples at Bankura.When we set out, I was not quite sure whether it was because the excellent road was worth the extra 120 kms, which in retrospect it was, or because we wanted to have the famous 'langchas' or sweetmeats resembling gulab jamuns, at Shaktigarh.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.