The first weekend in May we drove down to Ganga Kutir in Raichak, about two hours from the Kalighat Metro Station. We had been told to follow the signs for the Ffort Radisson, which meant taking a right turn at Sarisa off the Diamond Harbour Road and then a left again onto the Raichak-Nurpur connector. The Ffort Radisson nestles behind a black gate to the left some five minutes along. We drove through the collection of architectural follies that is the Ffort and discovered an unexpected jewel by the river. This was Ganga Kutir, Ambuja Realty’s upmarket resort at Raichak.
The first thing you see as you enter the gate is a vista of the river over a lily pond in full bloom. You look left and see a succession of tiled buildings opening onto each other like nested boxes. Come through the central archway and you see on your right an ‘infinity pool’ of constantly flowing water, which by a cunning trick of design appears to be seamlessly integrated with the river. You will find it hard to look away from this, but when you do, you will see gracious buildings in wood and terracotta, with sloping roofs and wide verandas. Designed by the Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte, and executed by craftspeople from Sri Lanka and Bengal, the tiny resort (only 16 rooms and a suite) is perfectly proportioned, and its use of rural idioms and materials is quietly sophisticated.
The river is very wide at this point; it is in fact turning into an inlet channel on its way to the sea, and large ocean-going ships labour past at high tide. There is something restful about watching all this frenetic commerce from the glass-enclosed bar on the first floor above the snug library. There are also small boats from the fisher-village right next door, both wind- and engine-powered, still recognisably kin to the lateen-sailed spice dhows that navigated this channel centuries ago. You can if you wish hire one such boat for a ride, although the river can be rough when the tidal bore comes in.
Ganga Kutir positions itself as a place to rest and unwind, and it lives up to this promise handsomely. As it is part of the same setup as the Ffort, you can use the facilities there, including the Anaya spa with its wide range of treatments. If you’re feeling energetic, the resort is also a good base for sorties further south to the Sundarbans, including Bakkhali, Henry Island and Jambudwipa.
The food at Ganga Kutir is extremely good and prepared with care. The menu is short but well-chosen and pretty much everything we ordered lived up to expectations. Be warned, however, that the dining room is only open at set hours, and if you relax too much you are likely to miss mealtimes (a very likely possibility given the perfect peace and quiet). However, the unfailingly helpful staff will rustle up snacks for you if you’ve spent too long in the pool and forgotten to go in to lunch. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with carefully chosen rural-themed artefacts and furnishings. Like everything in the resort, they are designed to showcase the river. Big bay windows with day-beds, or verandas with deckchairs, overlook the Ganga from every room.
Make sure you’re sharing the room with someone you’re pretty comfortable with, as the glassed-in bathrooms are a little intimate. Indeed, as the manager Sudhir Maity told us, Daswatte’s original vision for the resort was of a retreat for couples to spend quality time with each other, and even TV was not to be provided.
The resort has since bowed to popular demand and installed TV sets, but it is still a very romantic place to take your loved one and bond in peaceful seclusion: a rare commodity in our society of nosy people. Walk by the river at night, or sit in the gazebo and count the stars with the aid of a glass or two of single malt, and you are in heaven. However, don’t forget the insect-repellent, as the lap of nature in rural Bengal usually includes a few creepy crawlies. Also wear covered shoes if you’re walking about at night.
All this luxury comes, of course, for a substantial price. The food and drink are, however, quite reasonable compared to prices for Kolkata hotels of similar calibre.
The good news is that Ganga Kutir’s proximity to Kolkata makes it an ideal weekend retreat for the well-heeled couple looking for some private time together, a good base for the foreign tourist wanting to take in the Sundarbans, or even a fun venue for a one- or two-night family outing (we saw quite a few family groups as well). Ganga Kutir’s best features are its ambience and setting, two things produced by intelligence and taste, and well worth the money.
Where: Raichak on the Ganges (50km/2hr drive from Kolkata)
Accommodation: 15 rooms: 10 standard and five deluxe; one suite
Tariff: Rs 12,000 (standard); Rs 15,000 (deluxe); Rs 18,000 (suite); taxes extra
Contact: 033-40404040, 03174-275632/33, www.gangakutir.com