Even though we may still be far from going on the ideal holiday that we all hope to undertake in the new normal world, the relaxing of lockdown restrictions and the tentative announcement by the central government that hotels and restaurants can open from June 8 has got everyone excited. Although the hospitality sector is keen to see business, they are also working out the new rules of safety, hygiene and distancing norms before opening up.
Homestay or resort owners we spoke to said they will only open to a limited number of guests and follow all relevant protocols including thermal checking, frequent sanitisation, distancing norms, keeping interaction between staff and guests to the minimum, and ensuring staff follow all mandatory precautions like wearing masks and gloves. A few have mentioned that they will prefer guests who self-drive.
As the central and state governments, as well as local administrations, keep tweaking rules to adjust with the circumstances demanded by the spread or containment of the pandemic, most owners are yet to decide on the date of opening of their properties. They have also advised that guests hoping to go on a driving holiday have to be aware of all the rules that apply for intra- and inter-district travel. So before planning, check with the property to find out about their opening date and the protocols (for instance, if any medical certificate is required).
Head to the almost 400-year-old mansion of the former zamindar family, now converted to a heritage homestay named Baithakkhana Amadpur. Set back from the small town of Amadpur (near Memari in Purba Bardhaman district), it is a single building sitting pretty on the bank of a huge lake, which is hemmed by mango orchards and other trees. While away your time in the spacious rooms fronted by equally large verandas. Wooden rafters, louvred windows, and period furniture reflect the ambience of old Bengali urban homes. Watch the cormorants and other birds flitting across the lake. There is a small ‘ghat’ leading to the water where you can enjoy the breezy evening hours. Do not forget to ask the cook to rustle up a typical Bengali meal for you, especially his signature dishes made with ‘posto’ (poppy seeds). According to owner Shiladitya Chaudhuri, they plan to open to small family groups and with 60 per cent occupancy.
Approximate distance from Kolkata and driving time (normal traffic): 100km and two hours.
Built in the late 18th century, this sprawling estate (in Maheshganj, near Krishnagar, in Nadia district) with its French-style house fronted by a pretty garden and surrounded by acres of lightly wooded grounds, was originally built as a residence of an Indigo planter. Bought by the Palchoudhuri family (a well-established Bengali merchant family) in 1875, they have retained the old world charm of the house. Access to the heritage homestay lies through a long driveway that sequesters the estate from the surrounding area. The large rooms filled with period furniture lie to one side of a long veranda approached by a wide marble staircase. Spend your time in the company of nature, watch the birds at their baths, take long walks around the building, sit with a book or simply swing away. With vegetables, milk and fruits from their own garden, you are assured of healthy meals. According to the present owner Ranodhir Palchoudhuri, the estate already has its own set of strict rules and will follow all essential protocols when they open.
Approximate distance from Kolkata and driving time (normal traffic): 120km and 3.5 hours.
Cossimbazar Roy’s Palace
This splendidly restored heritage mansion of Indo-European architecture fittingly called the Cossimbazar Roy’s Palace, sits in the middle of a sprawling estate dotted with trees, flower gardens, lawns, a tennis court and a lake. Now partly converted into a plush hotel, it is one of the best places to indulge in a royal stay, far from the worries of distancing norms. Enjoy tranquil walks among the trees, set up an easel in a corner if you are a painter, drop in at the private temples within the complex or take a tour of the mini-museum within the main building. The seating arrangement in the dining hall will be redone to ensure distancing norms during meal hours, said Pallab Roy, a scion of the Cossimbazar Roy family.
Approximate distance from Kolkata and driving time (normal traffic): 204 km and five hours. Note: If you find the long drive a tad tiring, then you can spend a night at Balakhana and proceed to Cossimbazar (in Murshidabad district) on the morrow.
Virtually in Kolkata’s backyard, set back from the Basanti highway (which leads to the mangrove forests of the Sundarban), this wee resort is tucked inside a verdant countryside. Although well-laid out, the place exudes a pleasant feel of nature allowed to run free. Go for walks, sit by the quaintly located benches, take a round of the pond, watch the birds, or simply watch the changing shades of green as the day lengthens from the comfort of your room. To start with, they will only accept bookings from one family at a time, said Ankan Adhikary of Jalapath; they have not only set up a strict safety and hygiene protocol but will have cashless transactions, digitally accessible food menu, and more.
Approximate distance from Kolkata and driving time (normal traffic): 9 km and less than an hour.
Located between Shantiniketan and Sriniketan, Ekantika run by Priyam and Ritapa Mukhopadhyay, is a homestay with very limited accommodation, ideal for a single guest to a small family looking for a tranquil holiday. They also have a separate accommodation called Nababithika. The couple said they are thinking of making changes post lockdown, such as reducing the number of furniture items in a room to ensure guests have more space than available before.
Approximate distance from Kolkata and driving time (normal traffic): 161 km and about 4 hrs.