Bari Kothi is arguably the leading boutique heritage property of West Bengal. Within a couple of years of its restoration, it has rejigged the scenario of the tourism industry in Bengal with its promises of a luxury stay soaked in the essence of heritage as well as sustainable tourism. Visiting Bari Kothi is akin to hop on a time travel machine and harking back to the Nawabi period of Murshidabad. Every corner of this palatial house fosters countless tales of the past and depicts the ethos of the unique Sheherwali culture. It will surely be love at first sight with Bari Kothi. With its amber-colored walls and vivid stained glass doors and windows, the haveli will certainly leave you speechless. Like the lasting aftertaste of fine Belgian chocolates, Bari Kothi’s charm will linger in your heart even long after you have returned back to your home.
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About Bari Kothi:
Bari Kothi of Azimganj is the ancestral mansion of the Dudhoria family. Built-in the 1770s, the word ‘Bari Kothi’ translates to ‘house of the elder’. It was the home of Rai Bahadur Budh Singh Dudhoria, the eldest brother of the family.
Location of Bari Kothi:
Bari Kothi is situated in Azimganj of Murshidabad district of West Bengal. Standing right beside the calm Bhagirathi river, the setting of Bari Kothi is picturesque.
How to reach Bari Kothi:
Bari Kothi lies around 240 km away from Kolkata.
By train: The most convenient way to reach Azimganj from Kolkata is by train. Please note that Azimganj has two railway stations – Azimganj Junction and Azimganj City. Trains from Sealdah and Howrah ply solely to Azimganj Junction. Some of the North Bengal bound trains give stoppage at Azimgunj Junction. We advise opting for Ganadevta Express (departure at 6-05 AM from Howrah and arrival at 12 PM in Azimganj), Intercity Express (departure at 3-20 PM from Howrah and arrival at 7-32 PM in Azimganj), and Teesta Torsha Express (departure at 2-45 PM from Sealdah reaching Azimganj at 6-55 PM). From Azimganj Junction, Bari Kothi is barely 10 minutes away.
By road: You can also hire a cab to reach Bari Kothi. The journey takes little more than 6 hours.
History of Sheherwali Community:
The history of Bari Kothi is linked thoroughly with the golden past of Murshidabad. In 1727, Murshid Kuli Khan declared his independence from the Mughal clutch and proclaimed himself the Nawab of Bengal. Following this, the immensely fertile land of Murshidabad became a prosperous hub of trade, commerce, and artistry. Murshidabad not only attracted the European traders but also the business communities of India.
The Rajasthani Jain merchant communities such as Dudhorias, Duggars, Nawalakhas, and Singhis migrated to Murshidabad in search of better business opportunities. They used to travel from city to city for trade purposes and therefore called themselves the Sheherwalis or city dwellers. The Sheherwalis worked relentlessly in the development of the banking and textile sectors in Bengal. They amassed huge wealth and soon became part of the Murshidabad aristocracy. It is said, that the 20-30 Sheherwali families had more wealth as compared to the entire British aristocracy.
The Sheherwalis settled in Azimganj – Jiaganj area. They built palatial mansions, which were influenced by the European style of architecture. The mansions were characterized by Doric and Corinthian pillars along with multiple ‘angans’ and ‘chowks’.
However, the glory of Murshidabad began to set after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The decline was completed by the Battle of Buxar in 1765. Soon, the British transferred the capital of Bengal to Calcutta. The splendor of Murshidabad soon fizzled out and gradually the Sheherwali communities relocated to Calcutta. Their beautiful houses got neglected and eventually reduced to ruins.
History of Bari Kothi:
As already mentioned, the Bari Kothi was the ancestral haveli of the Dudhorias. The Dudhorias are direct descendants of Raja Dudhar Rao. The family began to prosper during the lifetime of Babu Harek Chand Dudhoria and his sons, Babu Budh Singh Dudhoria and Babu Bissen Chand Budhoria. The two brothers were gifted the title of ‘rai Bahadur’ by the British. It was Budh Singh Dudhoria who built the Bari Kothi.
The Bari Kothi, along with other nearby mansions, became dilapidated as the family shifted to Calcutta and neglected their ancestral home. A few years back, the present generation of the Dudhoria family decided to resurrect the Bari Kothi and restore it back to its former glory. The uphill task was entrusted to Samar Chandra, the renowned Canada-based Bengali architect. He started renovation in 2016 and after years of hard work, Bari Kothi was given the desired facelift and turned out into one of the foremost boutique heritage properties of West Bengal.
Present-day Bari Kothi:
With its bright yellow exterior, Corinthian pillars, stained glass windows, checkered floors, ‘alpana’ motifs on walls, long corridors, dazzling chandeliers, vintage furniture, old paintings, and photographs – Bari Kothi is a sight to behold. The mansion has several segments such as Indara Chawara, Gulabi Chawara, Sheesh Mahal, Gaddi Ghar, Durbar Hall, Naubat Khana, Zareen Mahal, and Halwai Khana.
Bari Kothi is a splendid mélange of rustic luxury and sustainable tourism. As per its own admission, Bari Kothi follows the four pillars of History, Heritage, Humanity, and Sustainability. The team of Bari Kothi promises to indulge its guests with luxury and opulence. At the same time, it is promoting sustainability by employing local tribal women for the day-to-day affairs of hosting and managing guests, advocating local culture by organizing ‘Baul’ and ‘Fakiri’ performances, taking guests on heritage walks, and encouraging organic farming. Additionally, the usage of plastic is discouraged within the premises. Toiletries and other essentials, which are provided inside the rooms, are made of eco-friendly products. Instead of packaged mineral water, filtered drinking water is given in glass bottles.
Rooms in Bari Kothi:
In total, Bari Kothi has 15 rooms. The rooms are divided into 3 separate categories – Heritage, Royal Heritage, and Maharaja Heritage.
The Heritage category is the base category, characterized by antique furniture and vintage decoration. Located in the section where once the Zenana or women of the family resided, the Heritage category has 3 rooms named after precious stones – Emerald Kamra (having green chandelier), Ruby Kamra (furnished with pinkish red chandeliers), and Diamond Kamra (decorated with white chandelier).
We stayed in the Diamond Kamra, which is also the only room in Bari Kothi overlooking the Bhagirathi.
The Royal Heritage category has slightly bigger rooms and is adorned with 250-year-old furniture, rich fabrics, and high ceilings.
The Maharaja Heritage category is the most luxurious of all. With carved archways and fascinating vintage furniture, it exudes royal flavor in every sense. Even if you are not staying in Maharaja Heritage rooms, you can request the hosts for peeking inside.
The rooms in Bari Kothi are an excellent amalgamation of the past and present. Embellished with age-old furniture and adornments, they are also equipped with modern amenities like AC and geysers.
Food in Bari Kothi:
Along with a grand stay, Bari Kothi also offers an indulging gastronomical experience centered on the unique Sheherwali cuisine. Regarded as one of the best vegetarian cuisines of India, Sheherwali cuisine is a delightful medley of Rajasthani, Jain, Mughal, and Bengal traditions. Bari Kothi has done a stupendous job in preserving the Sheherwali cuisine since this style of cooking is slowly fading away from people’s memory.
As mentioned earlier, the Sheherwali Jain community hailed from Rajasthan. Naturally, their original food habit was molded by the harsh weather of Rajasthan. Thus, food needed to be prepared in such a way that they last for more than one day without the need for reheating. The scarcity of water was compensated with the generous use of milk and ghee in cooking. The rarity of various vegetables led to the extensive use of lentils, gram flour, bajra, beans, and corn. The Mughal influence further led to the use of rosewater, saffron, and other food aromatics to enhance the flavor.
When the Sheherwali people migrated to Bengal, they readily took advantage of the abundance of vegetables here. They also adopted traditional Bengali spices such as ‘Panch Foron’, a melange of 5 spices, namely nigella seeds, fenugreek, fennel seeds, black mustard seeds, and cumin.
Being Jains, the Sheherwali cuisine is strictly vegetarian and the usage of root vegetables such as onion, ginger, or garlic is prohibited.
Our introduction to Sheherwali cuisine happened during lunch. We were served an elaborate 5-course lunch in the stunning Durbar Hall. The meal started with Daal ka Paani, a light lentil soup made with ‘Moong Daal’. Next came the starter called Mathri. It was followed by an interesting course comprised of Goba Roti (made of atta and semolina, and relished with dollops of ghee), Milao Daal (prepared with 5 types of pulses), Aloo Dum, Matar Pattagobi (shredded cabbage with peas), Kheera Khatta Meetha (cucumber chutney), Kele Akra (banana chips), and Imli or tamarind chutney. Afterward, we were served Sabzi Biryani (vegetable biryani), Roasted Papad smeared with ghee and chili powder, and Tomato chutney. Lunch ended on a sweet note with Goli (bullet-shaped sweet made of crushed date and sugar) and Boriya Boondi (Boondi made of flour of Long Bean seeds). Along with these foods, three types of achhars were served such as Nimbu Ka Achhar, Kutti Mirch Achhar, and Bengali-type Kuler Achhar.
The taste initially felt a bit strange to our Bengali palette, but gradually we caught up on the Sheherwali flavor. We especially enjoyed the Goba Roti with Tamarind Chutney, Kheera Khatta Meetha, Sabzi Biryani, and sweets. Throughout the lunch, we were accompanied by two members of the Bari Kothi team, who explained every dish to us as well as advised us on how to enjoy the food.
In the evening, we were served high tea along with two lip-smacking snacks.
As it was our wedding anniversary, dinner was specially arranged thanks to the Bari Kothi team. Dinner was served on a nicely lit porch overlooking the Bhagirathi river. First, we were presented with Santhali cuisine, which resembled Bengali cuisine to a great extent. There was Luchi, Rice, Begun Bhaja (fried eggplants), Potol Bhaja (fried pointed gourds), Posto Aloo Bhaja (potatoes fried with poppy seeds), Panch Mishali Torkari (a vegetable mishmash), mashed potatoes, mashed boiled masoor lentils, and soaked green moong. Later, the menu included Fried Rice, Paneer Masala, Tomato Chutney, and finishing dinner on a sweet note with Gurer Rasagolla and Sandesh. Lastly, we munched on delectable Paans.
The next morning, breakfast was also served by the riverside. Breakfast kicked off with Dhanagra (spiced water), Mirich (caramelized pepper), and an assortment of fruits. This was followed one by one by Idli, Vada, Poha, and Kachori & Aloo Sabzi. Lastly, we relished Atte Ka Halwa.
Experiences at Bari Kothi:
Along with luxurious stays and delectable foods, Bari Kothi also offers a wide range of curated experiences of Murshidabad. Different packages include the following:
Tour of the property:
This is primarily a session of storytelling when the hosts take you around every nook and corner of Bari Kothi and share the history of Dudhoria family along with various tidbits about the mansion.
Bari Kothi organizes ‘Baul’ and ‘Fakiri’ songs, and ‘Raibenshe’ dances in the evening.
Sunset boat ride on Bhagirathi:
You can go on a boat ride in the afternoon and watch the spectacular sunset. You can also request tea and snacks to be served on the boat.
Boat ride on Bhagirathi and a tour of Nawabi Murshidabad:
Take a relaxing boat ride on Bhagirathi to reach its other side, Jiaganj. Then, hire an e-rickshaw and explore Hazarduari Palace, Kathgola Palace, House of Jagat Seth, Katra Mosque, Jahankosha Cannon, and so on.
Explore the terracotta temples of Baranagar:
Just a stone’s throw away from Bari Kothi, Baranagar boasts some of the most beautiful terracotta temples in West Bengal. Built by Rani Bhabani of Natore, the Char Bangla Temple, Gangeshwar Temple, and Bhabanishwar Temple are gems of architecture.
Heritage Walk in Azimganj:
You will visit the ruins of mansions as well as 14 Jain temples built by the Marwari Jain community here.
Visit the silk saree weavers:
Murshidabad’s fame also rests on its silk saree. Bengal’s renowned Baluchari saree originated from here and later shifted its base to Bishnupur. Explore the Tanti Para or weavers’ colony and take a sneak peek at how the artisans weave silk sarees.
Go for a Sheherwali cooking class:
If you are interested in learning the tricks of Sheherwali cuisine, Bari Kothi will also arrange one.
Our experience at Bari Kothi:
Staying at Bari Kothi was absolutely a one-of-a-kind experience. With its classic architecture and vintage embellishments, it exudes old-world charm. Bari Kothi works like a time machine. As soon as we entered the central courtyard, we were transported back to the olden times. The cherry on top was the warmth of the Bari Kothi team. Thanks to the care and friendliness of Sandhya di and Tohfa, we always felt ‘at home’. Both of them closely monitored our needs as well as accompanied us throughout our stay at Bari Kothi. They even went to lengths to make our anniversary extra special. Also, Kishore Da, who took us to the terracotta temples of Baranagar, was another friendly person.
How to book rooms in Bari Kothi:
The packages of Bari Kothi include various activities along with food and accommodation. The tariff will vary as per the choices of your activities. Hence, it is best to contact the team of Bari Kothi directly and ask for the prices. You can call them at +91-9051200800 or drop a query mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also place your query on the official website of Bari Kothi.
Things to remember:
1. Check-in time is 12 noon and check-out at 11 AM.
2. Serving food is not strictly time-bound here. You can request food at your convenient time. Breakfast usually starts at 8-30 in the morning and the kitchen remains open till 10 PM.
3. You can explore every corner of Bari Kothi as per your wish. None of the areas is off-limits to guests, including the terrace. However, it is best to request one person to accompany you lest you get lost.
4. Parking facility is available. For driver’s accommodation, there is a lodge just beside Bari Kothi.