A little over six hours’ drive from Kolkata, Bari Kothi is a destination by itself. This carefully restored family home, now a heritage hotel, is a perfect fit for those looking for road tripping yet not wanting to venture out of the safety of the hotel or resort. With a magnificent riverside location, lavish accommodation, chance to enjoy a unique cuisine, and opportunities to take hands-on training in age-old crafts, Bari Kothi can be your perfect weekend getaway.
The restored palatial complex, belonging to the Dudhoria family, was originally built in the late 1700s. A mix of Greek, Roman and French architecture, make it a visual delight. Apart from its luxe suites, the building includes a library, a music room, and areas such as Sheesh Mahal, Durbar Hall, Janana Chowk, Gaddi Ghar, Halwai Khana, and Gulabi Chawara. These are reflective of the adaptability of the Rajasthani Jain families who settled in the Ajimganj-Jiaganj region of Murshidabad, the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal, in the 18th century. Over time, they developed a unique lifestyle, which was essentially Rajasthani but coloured by local influences, especially the Islamic rulers and the Hindu Bengalis.
Mostly successful bankers and wealthy merchants, they came to be known as Sheherwali (people who went to the city for work). The mixed influence is evident in their traditional dress and food. One of the biggest attractions of staying in Bari Kothi is the chance to taste authentic Sheherwali cuisine.
Probably with adaptability in their DNA, the Dudhoria family was quick to realise the importance of sustainable tourism, which is now helping them adjust with the new normal world. “Involving the local community, culture and experiences are the most important pillars of sustainable tourism,” said co-owner Darshan Dudhoria. “Our project, Bari Kothi, as a matter of fact, was created with this very ethos and value. When the process of restoration started, Bari Kothi decided to involve the local people. Farmers were trained to become skilled masons, painters, carpenters and welders while the tribal women were trained to do the cleaning work, thus helping the local families to boost their incomes and enjoy a better lifestyle.” After the restoration work was completed, the local work force was trained to become guides, translators, hosts, chefs and waiters.”
“We had been increasingly curating newer experiences rooted to the local environment and the local heritage, trying to offer something more unique than the previous,” said Dudhoria.
Realising that guests will now prefer a more experiential stay, Bari Kothi has hit upon ideas such as experiencing nature, especially enjoying the sights and sounds of the Ganga which flows by its backyard; storytelling sessions where other Sheherwali families will come share their untold stories along with the host family; and lessons in art from local artisans, including lessons in the traditional embroidery art of ‘kantha’ stitching. They are also likely to conduct walks in mango orchards (with all distancing norms in place) during the local mango season where guests will learn about the famous mango varieties of Murshidabad,and get to sample them.
With their comprehensive health and safety programme ‘SafetyFirst’ in place, drawn up based on the guidelines issued by WHO and the central and state governments, Bari Kothi plans to open on July 1. All activities wherein guests will be in contact with outsiders, the hotel has said utmost precautions will be taken, including checking body temperature of artisans and ensuring they are in mandatory protective gear.
Initially, they plan to open with 30 per cent occupancy and limited activities in phase one, such as no house tour or speciality restaurants will be operational, except the ‘Breakfast on the Ganges’ programme. Occupancy, tours and activities are likely to be increased in the following phase of extended opening subject to the pandemic situation.