Location: Balakhana, Nabadwip Ghat Road, Nadia, West Bengal 741315
If you are in Kolkata and want to nip out for a taste of West Bengal hospitality in an idyllic historic homestay, then Balakhana house on Maheshganj Estate deep is your spot. The elegant house was built in 1780 by an Italian doctor, John Angelo Savi, who set himself up as an indigo planter, the area’s most lucrative cash crop. After growing it was banned in the 1860s, the estate was bought by the Palchoudhuris, wealthy merchants whose businesses including pioneering tea gardens in Darjeeling. Rono, a descendant, is now custodian of this rare surviving indigo planter’s home and estate.
Rono oversees everything meticulously. First, he offers copious, much-needed advice on how to reach Balakhana. Choose from three trains exotically named Hazarduari, Bhagirathi and Dhanadhanya. Or three road routes. The first, he says, is ‘best avoided’ (full directions provided nevertheless, in case you up for real adventure). The next two give a list of bridges, toll booths and hair-pin turns to overcome (plus a much-needed chai stop) and then the dire warning in red capital letters: ‘Pl note, google maps is incorrect beyond this point’. From here on, instructions change gear into hyper-detail, such as ‘proceed towards BDO/Panchayat Samiti office’.
There is also a map, and for a moment I dreamt of rowing up the Bhagirathi Hooghly River just as 18C visitors might have done. Perhaps not. Maybe the way to go was to ignore all help, be shameless and hire a helicopter. Perhaps not. I elected for road Route 2, the ‘preferred route’.
Whichever way you go it is worth the effort. On your arrival, Rono, tall and elegant with a well-nurtured moustache, sweeps down the steps from the deep columned verandah of the classical Italianate villa to welcome you, dogs in tow. First there is a house tour - via a string of living rooms, including one devoted to a snooker table - to choose which vast bedroom will be yours. On one visit I could not resist the enormous, elaborately-carved wooden bed set on such high legs it has a flight of steps up to it, on another I was lured by the locally-embroidered kantha counterpane. That done, it’s time to relax in cane chairs on the verandah, drink Darjeeling tea from the family tea gardens, enjoy home-made cake and biscuits, agree meal times and plan activities.
You can elect to do nothing, just relax; the verandah, the heart of the house, has sofas, loungers and even a swing. Rono’s pre-breakfast nature walk through his gardens and orchards, spices, and a lone indigo plant, takes only a wee bit of effort. Out and about, tour through the local weaving village to meet locals, go boating, or make an unlikely but intriguing visit to Nabadwip to visit the world HQ of the Hare Krishna movement. Further off, Kalna has tip-top jamdani weavers and temples coated in terracotta carvings. Winter days end with Rono’s stories and reminiscences around the roaring fire after a dinner of mostly farm-to-table vegetables grown on the estate. Easy to settle in, stay on…
Must-do wellness experience at Balakhana: touring the local weaving village
Balakhana buzzwords: Let’s have another cup of that delicious tea.
Ideas for unpacking your kind of wellness at Balakhana
Let a local take you on a fascinating tour of the traditional weaving village adjoining Balakhana. Most spinning and weaving is done in-house by women but dyeing is a steamy, all-male, joint project. The skeins of yarn are dried on bamboo poles amid the banana palms.
Take a trip to Kalna, or make it part of you journey back to Kolkata. It has a trio of delights in the town centre: temples coated with lively narrative panels, a circle of 108 little Shiva temples, and some of India's best jamdani weavers. The vegetable and fish markets are also great, as is the street food.
Mughals prioritised controlling Bengal because its quality textiles were an instant cash cow, plus impressive to wear at court. Today, see some of the finest transparent muslins with jamdani weave floating patterns being created here under the passionate leadership of Rajib Debnath.
As you drive about, spot cottage-industry sari production everywhere: strips of colour lying on the roadsides, hanging from balconies, or (as here) being stretched on rooftops after starching - the final stage for a traditional Bengali sari, giving the most modest thin cotton a crunchy smartness.
Travelling in India, it's essential to stop for a steaming creamy sweet cup of roadside chai sipped from a terracotta cup. The cup is then thrown away, returned to the earth, so it's also hygienic and eco-friendly. The Nabadwip chai cups have stems, giving them Tudor goblet elegance.
It really is time to start planning your Unpacking Wellness experience for 2023!
I am here to help you achieve this in the Himalaya, on the Deccan Plateau, along the coast, and in forests, desert and villages
If you have not traveled with me in a group before ....
Please know that we experience great sights in the best possible way, with lots of add-on encounters and visits to off-beat places. We meet conservationists, curators, craftsmen and musicians, we walk with naturalists, we cook with local chefs. In sum, we imbibe the essence of each area thanks to my four decades of studying and visiting India - and making great friends who I share with you.
For private travel ....
I work with you to create your tailor-made trip to any corner of India, to any budget, for all interests and special needs, for families and parties of friends, for business groups and for honeymoon couples - India is ideal for everyone!