Cooch Behar – Places To See In Royal City Of West Bengal

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Cooch Behar - Sagar Dighi and the dome of Raj Bari
Cooch Behar – Sagar Dighi and the dome of Raj Bari

Cooch Behar – I first heard about this place when I was reading a story on Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur. She came from Cooch Behar. This was pre-google days, and I assumed it to be a part of modern-day Bihar. Well, I was not too off the mark, Cooch Behar belongs to West Bengal at the edge where it touches Assam. The chicken’s neck that connects North East India to rest of India is Cooch Behar district. Unless you are flying, you can not reach North East India, without passing through Cooch Behar.

I also heard tales of kings of Cooch Behar who would bet their lands in the game of dice. Does that remind you of Mahabharat – it reminded me of it. So, during out Sikkim Bengal trip earlier this year we headed to Cooch Behar. We wanted to explore this land of beautiful women, a land sandwiched between Bhutan and Bangladesh and a city known for its lovely palace.

Places to visit in Cooch Behar

Nripendra Narayan - the architect of modern Cooch Behar
Nripendra Narayan – the architect of modern Cooch Behar

History of Cooch Behar

History of Cooch Behar region goes back to pre-historic days. It has references in epics like Ramayan and Mahabharat. It was then a part of Kamarupa region of Pragjyotisha kingdom that extends up to the current day Guwahati. Gupta Era pillars mention about Kamrup in 4th CE. It was ruled by Guptas and Palas in the known history till it briefly came under Muslims towards the end of 15th CE. It was called Kamta then. Post this the Rajbongshi or Koch dynasty starting establishing itself in the region and various kings of this dynasty can be traced till Indian independence.

Wall Mural on the City walls - Cooch Behar
Wall Mural on the Cooch Behar City walls

After an attack by the Bhutan, a treaty was signed with East India Company in mid 18th CE. Peace prevailed after this. In 1949, the princely state of Coch Behar merged with India and became a district of the state of West Bengal in 1850. In 1863, king Nripendra Narayan ascended the throne while still an infant. It was during his time that the Cooch Behar as it stands today would take shape. His most famous legacy would be Cooch Behar Palace that is probably the most majestic of Indian palaces though entirely European in character.

Maharani Gayatri Devi was the grand daughter of Nripendra Narayana.

For Detailed history and dynasty chart refer to NIC Website on Cooch Behar.

Cooch Behar Palace or Rajbari

Cooch Behar Palace or Raj Bari
Cooch Behar Palace or Raj Bari

Built in 1887 this lovely palace is red locally called Rajbari or simply the home of the royal family. It is a must see in Cooch Behar. Elegance is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of vast sprawling lawns surrounding the spread out structure in red. You realize it’s almost 400 feet length only when you walk towards it. It looks small from the entrance gate but when you take that long walk through the lawns, passing by the small lakes that you realize its real size.

Cooch Behar Palace is also called Victor Jubilee Palace.

Cooch Behar Palace
Cooch Behar Palace

The right side of the palace building is broader than its left side – giving symmetry an obvious miss. A metal dome sits proudly above the building. If you look at the drum on which it stands, you will see the arched windows on it. This dome is visible from anywhere in the city. You can never get lost – just look for the towering dome. The palace has two storeys but it looks taller, probably because of the tall dome.

Cooch Behar Palace was modelled on Buchingham palace of England

Cooch Behar Palace from the backside
Cooch Behar Palace from the backside

Museum

There is a museum inside the palace, which is closed on Fridays. As luck would have it, I was there on a Friday so missed the museum. I was told that most of that most of the items of the palace were stolen and are lost forever. My friends who visited this palace in their childhood were surprised to see the beautiful avatar of the palace when I posted the picture on my social media. Guess, some credit goes to ASI for maintaining the palace.

Ornate door knob in brass
Ornate door knob in brass

Since I could not enter the museum, I saw this beautiful doorknob in brass. I just tried to visualize the interiors.

Lake with a bridge near Cooch Behar Palace
Lake with a bridge near Cooch Behar Palace

We walked around the palace and the backside of the palace was as beautiful if not more.

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A chatwala has very creatively placed his shop across the wall of the palace. By the time you walk around the palace you are thirsty and probably craving for a snack. He is perfectly positioned to serve you at this moment. Talk about grassroots innovations.

Temples of Cooch Behar

Temples of Cooch Behar
Temples of Cooch Behar

Any ancient town in India can not be without temples that hold its cultural past intact. Cooch Behar has many temples, but these are the ones I visited :

Madan Mohan Bari

Madan Mohan Bari or Temple
Madan Mohan Bari or Temple

Madan Mohan Temple in pristine white has a unique architecture. It has a circular dome in the middle and three different rooms in straight line housing three different temples. The temple stands in the middle of manicured lawns. When you walk around the lawns you see the variety of sculptures scattered around. The entrance to the temple is built like a fort entrance with a naqarkhana like structure on top. Being in white it looks beautiful.

Krishna at Madan Mhan Bari, Cooch Behar
Krishna at Madan Mhan Bari

The main deity at Madan Mohan temple is Krishna. A brass idol of Krishna playing the flute dressed in yellow clothes and surrounded by yellow marigolds is the center of attraction. The royal family of Cooch Behar used to preside over all the rituals of this temple. Now, I am told the district commissioner performs this duty as none of the royal family members live here anymore.

Mahishasurmardini at Madan Mohan Bari, Cooch Behar
Mahishasurmardini at Madan Mohan Bari

I was at the temple around mid morning and we could see devotees sitting in the corridor and singing bhajans or devotional songs.

Shiva idols in the lawns of Madan Mohan Bari
Shiva idols in the lawns of Madan Mohan Bari

The temple on the right belongs to Kali – the fierce goddess that I so associate with Bengal. The third temple has two images of Bhavani Devi & Tara devi. There is another smaller temple dedicated to Mahishasurmardini.

Arched pavilion opposite Madan Mohan Bari
Arched pavilion opposite Madan Mohan Bari

Opposite the temple is a small tank with arched pavilion around it.

Madan Mohan temple was also built by King Nripendra Narayana.

Ras yatra is a festival that is celebrated with fervor in this temple on Kartik Purnima i.e. 15 days after the festival of Diwali. This means that it coincides with the festival of Dev Deepawali or Tripurari Purnima that is celebrated across the country.

Baneswar Shiva Temple

Baneswar Shiva Temple
Baneswar Shiva Temple

Situated a bit to the north of Cooch Behar town, Baneswar Shiva temple is situated next to a pond.

A simple temple in white houses the ancient Shivalinga. The peculiarity of this temple is that the Shivalinga is located about 10-12 feet below the ground level. So, when you enter the temple, you have to go down a few steps to see the Shivalinga. I assume the level of the rest of the town may have gone up with layers of buildings, while the linga remained where it was installed.

Tortoise taking a walk
Tortoise taking a walk

The pond next to the Baneswar temple has a large number of the tortoise. In fact, not too far from the temple, we saw some tortoise taking a leisurely walk on the road.

Sagar Dighi

Sagar Dighi - the lake at the heart of Cooch Behar
Sagar Dighi – the lake at the heart of Cooch Behar

Sagar Dighi is a large tank in the middle of the town. We walked around this tank to get a feel of the town. This is what we saw:

Red colored colonial era buildings at Cooch Behar
Red colored colonial era buildings at Cooch Behar

A few colonial-era buildings are now converted into government offices. Most of them are in red colors almost like the Colonial Calcutta ones.

Tagore Statue at Cooch Behar
Tagore Statue at Cooch Behar

At regular intervals there are statues of Bengali men – the names are all written in Bengali so I could not make out much. Of course, there was Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore.

Statue of the architect of modern Cooch Behar – Raja Nripendra Narayana is seen on one edge of the Sagar Dighi.

Buildings around Sagar Dighi at Cooch Behar
Buildings around Sagar Dighi

Sagar Dighi – the quite square lake with ghat like stairs was quite and serene. It looks like the city of Cooch Behar revolves around her and she is a silent witness to everything that happens here. Birds flew across, ducks swam at the corners and trees provided the much-needed shade.

We saw wall murals made with mini ceramic tiles or mosaic. Look at this mural that depicts all elements of the city with such elegance. Another one depicted the Baul singers of Bengal.

Travel Tips for Cooch Behar

Pond near Cooch Behar Palace
Pond near Cooch Behar Palace

Cooch Behar is well linked through Indian Railways from most major stations.

There is a ticket to visit the Madan Mohan temple and the ticket for the camera. Priests are rude and very unwelcoming.

You can hire a rickshaw to go around the city. We took a Taxi from Jaldapara and did a morning evening trip to Cooch Behar.

You can easily do the major parts of the city in a day.

On the way back you can drive through the thick Chilapata forest.

I found Cooch Behar a perfect mix of nature, culture, heritage, and spirituality.

Recommend you read following travel blog posts on places to visit in Bengal.

  1. Bishnupur Terracotta Temples – Bengal Tourist Attractions.
  2. Kolkata – Colonial Calcutta Heritage Walk.
  3. Darjeeling Himalayan Railways – A Living Dream.
  4. Calcutta – Melting Pot of Cultures Walk.
  5. “Ekla Chalo Re” by Rabindranath Tagore.
  6. Art Mart of Bishnupur.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, I love the photographs very much. The palace has the power to get back our mind to olden days of kingdom era. I like to see the old culture and stylish structural fort. My next trip is towards Nepal and when i come back i will see the cooch behar. Thank you for letting me know a new place

  2. Only if I knew of this place while I was in West Bengal for 4 years…I would have definitely visited it. Anyways, I will bucket it for my next visit. Lovely post, and how you came to know about it is an example of what all books can bring to us!

      • Will definitely do Anuradhaji 🙂 . We are traveling through Kolkata in November, where we have some 5-6 hours at hand. We are looking forward to plan a tiny itinerary for ourselves. What would be your recommendation?

        • Do the Kolkata walks – the colonial Calcutta or the Melting Pot of Cultures – in 5-6 hours you can potentially manage one of them. Of course you must enjoy some Bengali food too.

  3. My own grandmother Aline de Veria who married my grandfather Geoffrey Rose wrote a book called Bengal Dacoits and Tigers with the then Maharani of Cooch Behar….the legendary Ma mother of Gayatri Devi whose name was Ayesha; Ma Cooch Behar was the only daughter of the legendary and revered Maharajah of Baroda. My Grandmother did the illustrations too. She is buried at Asansol in West Bengal having died young tragically from pneumonia. I would love to visit and am now inspired to try and make it happen.

    • Wow, Aline! I would love to hear the whole story and you should probably submit your story to India Memory Project – they are documenting such stories. Do you have the copy of the book?

      I can only imagine how much you would want to visit Cooch Behar. Hope you get to go there soon enough.

  4. Loved your article. Couple of points to mention

    1.Cooch Behar District is not in the chicken neck area. Chicken Neck lies in Jalpaiguri district.
    2.The “Chaat” you referred is actually called “Ghotigaram” in Bengal. It is a portmanteau of words “Ghoti” i.e a small, bulbuous container and “Garam” i.e served hot in Bangla.

  5. Since we, Jaipurites so attached to anything pertaining to Maharani Gayatri Devi… feel like visiting the place. This informative article made great reading!!!!

  6. Your blog (specially,the photos) took me down the memory lane for I once spent a brief period (1994 t0 1996) of my life at Cooch-Behar.i still miss the laid back life of the place.It is undoubtedly the best town in West Bengal and a great place to be.

    • Ajay ji, feedback like this makes me feel that the blog is serving a purpose. Sometimes it makes people plan a trip to a place and sometimes it takes them down the memory lane. I am so happy that you could re-live your Cooch Behar dats through this blog post. Do tell us more about the city when you can.

      I agree this is a beauticul city of Bengal although I would say Bishnupur gives it a tough competition.

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