We were waiting for my kid sisters' exams to finish, so we could go somewhere. She finally came home (form college) and we started planning all over again with new enthusiasm and disagreements. When everything was finally set and perfectly calculated all we were waiting for was for my dad to get a break from work. He told us that it would be a piece of cake and told us to start packing our things. He would call us to confirm our trip the night before. We all zealously went about the house with the all bustle that you would expect before a family outing.
Dad did call. But not with the confirmation we had expected. Instead, he told us to postpone our vacation plans because of a recent promotion that had enthrusted new responsibilities on him. He came home the next day. When I got home it was 3 pm. Dad's bus was supposed to leave at 4:30pm. It was the last bus to Dinajpur. He came over to my room for a little chat. Our whole family was gathered around (and on) my bed. We were all trying to help each other get over the disappointment. Suddenly Dad's eyes lightened up. "Would you like to come on a short trip with me to Dinajpur? You could go to your grandma's house from there.' My sister and I were beaming with disbelief and excitement. Then we all anxiously turned to face my Mom. Well, what we saw on her face was complete approval, 'Why not!'. It was 3:30pm.
You won't believe this but within an hour we booked tickets, had lunch, packed our bags, locked the doors and boarded the bus at the terminal with exactly five minutes left to spare- thanks to our driver. At exactly 4:32pm we were headed for expedition Dinajpur.
I will leave out all the unnecessary details of rest of the journey, except for the fact that it was very comfortable. Lets get straight down to the exquisiteness of Dinajpur itself. We stayed at a wonderful rest house. All he people there were very friendly and the surroundings were so green. There were so many trees, and birds and the sky seemed bigger and clearer than I had ever seen it before. The air was so fresh, especially at dawn and dusk. It was near to bliss. The whole 'town' of Dinajpur contained as many house as you could find within two blocks of Dhanmandi.
Dinajpur is mostly famous for the royal sightings it has scattered all over it from the 17th and 18th century. The relics of the enormous Rajbari, the profound Ram Sagar and the mystifying Kantajir Temple.
Our first destination was the Kantajir Temple. There was a smooth concrete road leading al the way up to it, Kanta Nagar as it was called. The driver told us that before they built the road visitors would have to hike a very rough track, cross a muddy creek and then on the other side walk through a very dusty path to get to the shrine.
King Prannath started building it in 1705. His adopted son Ramnath finished his the work of his father in 1752. There was Khaitriya there who explained the history of the temple to us. It was built in the days of King Akbar, who had a congregation of nine counselors or gurus. Since Akbar had given permission and granted financial support to Ramnath in building the shrine, Ramnath had made it into a Nabaratna Mandir- a two and a half storied building with nine ratnas, eight on each corner of the temple and a ninth one on the tip of the tower. The temple has Sanskrit written on its sides. It has terracotta all over it. The Khaitriya let us into a little secret. The construct of the temple was actually not just meant to be an array of pictures. It terracotta on it held mystical meanings. It told three different stories at once. The first strip of pictures (starting at one end and going all around the body of the temple) showed the journeys, voyages and rein of King Akbar. The next strip on top of it told the whole story of the Ramayan. And the rest of the pieces on top it showed all of the avatars form the Mahabharat. Cool, isn't it! It felt so enchanting to look at those pieces of history that seemed so real and hear the Khaitriya tell the story at the same time. Now, I've got to admit one thing- that Khaitriya was one smart guy. He didn't miss a name or place in one bit of the all the legend painted on that shrine. Wonder how he would do in a history exam.
Well, you must be wondering by now what has Kanta got to do with all this? The Kantajir was actually an idolized God made out of pure gold that was kept securely inside the temple. He used to be taken out each year on the full moon of Vhadra and escorted to the Rajbari. He would be worshiped there for three months then brought back on the full moon of Kartik by his devotees and police escort. They say it was a grand homecoming. Unfortunately, a few years back the golden idol was stolen. A copy of the actual idol (a gold plated one) is kept in the DC office of Dinajpur. It was made before the features of his face could be forgotten. So it's quite similar to the actual one. Today, two idols made of Kasthi Pathar are kept in the temple. No one except a Brambhan is allowed to enter the temple and bring them out for the daily puuja. Even the intellectual Khaitriya is not allowed upon the pedestal of the shrine. But just to hear him spill out his cascade of legends is worth the journey.
Next was the famous Ramsagar. Amazingly, this was also primed by King Ramnath (obviously this guy had good taste, which he inherited from his father Prannath). It took him five years- from 1750 to 55. The legend goes that there was not a drop of water in the land at that time. The people were thirsty and the crops. The king saw a dream in which he was advised to built a lake and sacrifice his life in it, which he willingly did for the people (as if building Kantajir was not enough to make him famous). The lake itself is 1133 x 400 yards. There is a 70.56 acre park attached to it. One portion of the park has a herd of graceful deer grazing lazily, as if they had no worry in the world. He other portion is made into a park for children with swings, see-saws, life-size earthen animals and a watch tower from where you can get a great view of the surroundings. We went there when it was quite close to sunset. Believe me, the landscape is breathtaking. The water is so clear, it reminds you of a pool of crystals. And the breeze is so calm and cool. You would want to live there for the rest of your life.
I am sorry I can't give you an account of Rajbari. Because of our shortage of time we just took a whirl around it in our car. But even that took us 35 minutes. That'll give you an idea of how huge it is. But what we saw at a glance was enough to help our imagination fill in the missing pieces… the sentries at the lion-mouthed gates, the guards at the watchtower, the women washing clothes on the stairs of the pond behind the kings palace and of course the beautiful princess watching intently form a corner of the trimmed battlements… it all seems so real to believe when you pass through those torn down ruins, tumbled piles of bricks and steady relics.
Dinajpur in my words is indeed a land of the royals, the mystifying and the tranquil. It's beautiful. So, don't miss a jaunt there- even if it's on a split second resolution. You can make the rest of the plans on the way…
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