Resurrecting Kalyani Through Tourism – A World War II US Army Base and an interesting experience

The eco-friendly township of Kalyani, located at a distance of 50 kms. from the City of Joy – Kolkata -comes as a breath of fresh air for tourists. This little known township was launched with a lot of fanfare and expectations by the great Bengali statesman of yesteryears – Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy.

This township in the district of Nadia, renowned for its spiritual legacy was  popular at a time when the “City of Joy” ,was reeling under the pressure of the influx of refugees .The then Chief Minister of West Bengal – Dr. Bidhan Roy -had dreamt of a satellite township to ease the population from the city and that is how Kalyani was born, Like a phoenix  out of the ashes of World War II, at the site of what was once an American Military Base “Roosevelt Nagar”, aptly named after the former President of USA – Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of USA , it is now Kalyani.

Many believed that Kalyani would evolve as one of India’s model towns in terms of planning with an exclusive industrial belt that would propel the local economy to even greater heights. However, the so called “Industrial Growth” never saw the light of the day.

In its present avatar as India’s “Cleanest Urban City” or India’s first “Open Defecation Free City” Kalyani has evolved into a much sought after residential district and for the past decade has been attracting a lot of NRBs (Non Resident Bengalis) many of whom have set up their dream homes in Kalyani’s pristine environment. Much of the credit for winning the hearts of the discerning global Bengali diaspora goes to Kalyani Municipality, which has been consistently receiving the coveted “Best Municipality Award” for a number of years now.

Apart from its cleanest Indian city image, the outside world is largely unaware of Kalyani’s rich virile past – that of being an American Military Base during World War II when Asia became the centre of war activity. A leisurely stroll through the township’s mettaled roads and tree lined avenues, reveal remnants of the war like the military barracks, truck and tractor garages, Utarborath’s Army Hospital, the Air Force Station at Kapa, a drinking well with names of soldiers engraved etc… all of which transports one to a bygone era.
Chairman’s Vision:

I was fortunate to interact with Dr. Sur, the Chairman of Kalyani Municipality at a recently held seminar in Kalyani and during the brief tete-a-tete over a cup of piping hot Cappuccino coffee, Dr. Sur revealed his plans for the promotion of Tourism in Kalyani and the District of Nadia thus – “We will promote Tourism that is Unconventional as well as Responsible. Mass homogenized Tourism in the form of hotel-sightseeing and back-to-the-hotel stuff will have no place here. In the coming years I foresee tourists in Kalyani staying in Tree houses instead of luxurious multi storied apartment hotels, promote indigenous Bengali cuisine in place of noveau international cuisine, promote tribal folklore and music instead of Rock Concerts, promote eco-friendly farm and agriculture tourism instead of five star luxury tourist experiences and of course set a trend for horse driven carriages instead of the polluting vehicular traffic as far as transportation is concerned”.

Dr. Sur seemed particularly interested in highlighting Kalyani’s unique “Colonial” image and with the red molten ball dipping across the shimmering Kalyani Lake horizon providing for a truly ethereal setting to our conversation, Dr. Sur was a touch poignant when he declared – “The sheer immensity of launching this one-of-its-kind Colonial Tourism project in Kalyani baffles me. Although the concept is still in its infancy, we are preparing the blueprint which should be ready in six month’s time. Apart from the Ministry of Tourism, we have to garner support and technical knowhow from the Indian Army. The key landmark is to build a world class War Memorial Centre, which will have a dedicated arena where the World War II, India’s struggle for independence as well as Indian Army’s present status as a global military giant will be represented pictorially”.

Let us hope Dr. Sur’s “Mission Tourism” is successful.

Futuristic Tourism Development Avenues in Kalyani and the District of Nadia

The overall tourism scenario in the state of West Bengal is dismal to say the least and the Left Front government, which has been in power for the last almost 4 decades  have clearly missed out on the tourism front. Kalyani and the district of Nadia today is a sad tale of retarded growth.

All said and done, let us not keep bickering about what went wrong with West Bengal’s tourism industry, vis-à-vis the district of Nadia and Kalyani township in particular. Instead, let us consider a set of “Futuristic Tourism Development Avenues” which if implemented in a planned manner, promises to usher in a second Bengali renaissance, which is “Renaissance through Tourism” in Tagore’s land.

(1) Tourist Holiday Village at Kalyani

Being centrally located in the District of Nadia and proximity to places of tourist interest like Nabadweep Dham, Mayapur, Krishnagar, Plassey (site of the famous Battle of Plassey), the haunting wilderness of Bethuadari forest, Murshidabad etc… an Eco-friendly Tourist Holiday village at Kalyani will indeed be very advantageous for the discerning tourists who come to visit this fascinating district.

The proposed tourist village in Kalyani will essentially serve as a base from where the discerning tourists will have the opportunity to explore the District of Nadia and beyond.

The oblong shaped Kalyani Lake, which is all of 1.25 kms. in length and its width is 0.4 kms. on the northern side and widens to 0.6 kms. to the south could be an ideal place for building an eco-friendly Tourist Holiday Village. Already, the lake is well connected by a mettaled road that connects the lake area to the city of Kolkata.

Designer eco-friendly products like floating hotels, houseboats, machans, bird observatories etc…may be incorporated to heighten the touristy experience.

(2) Agro Tourism or Agriculture Tourism

The district of Nadia is primarily an agriculture driven district and a vast majority of the population (70%) depend upon agriculture for earning their livelihood. The district is self-reliant when it comes to food production. The land pattern though is fragmented in most parts.

The days of hotel, sightseeing and back to the hotel, are gone.  These days tourists demand real experiences during his /her holidays. The demand is for pleasant surroundings, usually at reasonable rates which West Bengal does have in abundance.

The essential ingredient of this new kind of tourism package is the organization of recreation which alone can enrich the tourism experience by allowing greater integration with the place visited and fuller involvement in the social and cultural life of the rural destination.

A common place in a village is selected, particularly the land which is for common use. This place will provide a podium for artisans, snake charmers and other rural artists who solely depend on roadshows for their livlihood.  Other places in the village like the cultivated pond, vegetable and fruit gardens etc.. are impeccably preserved for the visiting tourists.

The tourists on their arrival to the village are allowed to fish in the pond at a very concessional rate. The gardens are open for the tourists so that they can “Pay, Eat and Pluck” the vegetables and fruits. When this system is fully evolved, the middle man who gets a major share of the income finds no place and the market is brought close to the village.

It has to be borne in mind that the Village Tourism which would be developed will not at all be a simulated one. The configuration of the village which has the set-up according to the caste and class would be explicitly exhibited. The city residents who have not seen the authentic village life would get a glimpse of the village life without paying the charges which the travel agents sell.

(3) Fishing & Angling Tours

The district of Nadia is crisscrossed by rivulets and wetland bodies The Bengali and his fish are inseparable and a variety of fishes are reared. Historically, the boatmen of Bengal are a unique lot. Their slow, uncluttered and philosophical outlook on life has been a rich literary source of Bengali folklore. A lot of films too have been produced depicting the strange lifestyle of Bengal’s boatmen / Fishermen.

The local government (Kalyani Municipality) first needs to identify a bunch of fishing villages for accelerated tourism development. The pivotal idea is to construct rural fishermen’s huts made of straw and bamboo alongside the water bodies so as to provide shelter to the tourists. Their unique folk songs and traditions can be showcased in the central podium of the fishing village. For the diehard fishing and angling enthusiasts, leisurely boat rides on the water bodies may be encouraged and permission may be granted for fishing in the waters, which will come at a price. Fishing equipments may be rented out to the tourists as well to heighten the touristy experience.

(4) Introducing Horse Cart Rides:

These days, horse driven carriages are indeed a novelty. Being the hub of British India, horse driven carriages were introduced in a phased manner by the British East India Company in Kolkata and many other parts of West Bengal.

If one delves into the history of horse driven carriages, they were in vogue even during the Mughal era and came in different shapes and sizes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, not only were these carriages the primary mode of transportation, they were also extensively used by the members of the erstwhile royal families. The carriages then were fine pieces of craftsmanship. It is such a pity that today in the guise of modernity, we have to axe these wonderful eco-friendly vehicles.

This concept can be profitably launched in Kalyani and in other places of tourist interest in the district of Nadia. The prospect of riding through intriguing by lanes, which has history written all over and the exotic Bengal countryside, can be a heady feeling for the uninitiated.

Exclusive horse riding retreats may be introduced in places with a colonial past like for instance Kalyani, Murshidabad, Plassey, Krishnagar etc…. which were intimately connected with the British Raj as well as the Mughals. The introduction of exclusive horse riding retreats in the above mentioned places would not only usher in an innovative tourism experience, it would also be a wonderful way of reviving the past glory of Bengal.

The Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal along with the local Municipal bodies like the Kalyani municipality, may first identify the sites suitable for rural Horse Riding Retreats and then come up with a comprehensive tourism development plan.

(5) Tree House Tourism:

Tree house recreation has of late made its mark as a much sought after alternative form of recreation. This concept has become hugely popular in the state of Kerala and some parts of Rajasthan.
Even a decade back, tree houses used to be kid stuff, but not anymore as more adults are building houses in trees to get high. The joy of being tucked up in a remote arboreal hideaway is the stuff that dreams are made of and they have even been the subjects of best-selling books and popular exhibitions.

Apart from Kalyani, the ideal location for introducing Tree House Tourism would be the lush green Bethuadhari Reserve Forest in the district of Nadia, which is a pleasant place to relax in the midst of tropical forest cover, chirping of the birds and a few species of fauna like Spotted Deers, Pythons, Monitor Lizards and Turtles.

The fact that the National Highway passes right next to the Bethuadari Reserve Forest and being easily accessible from Kolkata, this wildlife sanctuary has always been an enigma for many weekend tourists.

(6) Colonial Tourism in Kalyani

The Government of West Bengal would do well to declare Kalyani as a colonial tourist destination, given the fact that Kalyani used to be an American Military Base during World War II and was referred to as “Roosevelt Nagar”, after the then President of USA – Franklin Roosevelt. Also, now that the Indo-US joint military initiatives are at an all time high, both the Indian army and its counterparts in USA would do well to co-operate in shaping up Kalyani as a much-preferred colonial tourist destination.

A few possible touristy landmarks for Kalyani are mentioned below:

(i) Setting up a War Memorial Center in Kalyani with photographs and pictures of World War II. Pictorial representation of India’s struggle for Independence.

(ii) Photographs, write-ups and audiovisuals etc…. depicting the Indo-US military exchanges till the present time.

(iii) Develop Kalyani Lake, which is 1.25 Kms. long into a state of the art Lake Retreat with luxurious accommodation units, convention center, musical fountain and all the modern paraphernalia expected of a super deluxe retreat.

(iv) Develop the Picnic Garden into a world class Botanical Garden with exclusive garden villas for up market tourists.

(7) Declare the District of Nadia as a Spiritual Tourist Destination:

As far as the question of spirituality is concerned, it would perhaps be apt to state that the district of Nadia has a great spiritual past and that great spiritual heritage and tradition of thousands of years is still alive. In fact, Nabadweep Dham, a small town of Nadia district happens to be the birthplace of one of India’s greatest spiritual personality – Sri Chaitainya Mahaprabhu who is regarded as the avatara of Lord Krishna in this age whose mission it was to teach love of god through chanting his holy name.

Also, in the district of Nadia is Mayapur, where the headquarters of the world famous International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is located. The Hare-Krishna movement made so popular and acceptable in the modern era by one of the world’s most outstanding spiritual teachers – His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, has its magnificent headquarters at Mayapur, which is just 3.5 hours drive from Calcutta.

ISKCON in particular has mega tourism plans for Mayapur and Nabadweep Dham and the government can effectively play the role of a catalyst.

(8) Bengali Fairs & Festivals to be Promoted Aggressively:
West Bengal is a land of festivals and fairs. Be it the Gangasagar Mela, the Poush Mela of Santineketan or the 300 years old Sati Ma’s Mela at Kalyani, West Bengal is never short of fairs and festivals. The Fairs and festivals of Bengal are unique and one-of-a-kind to be found nowhere else on earth.

The Indian state of Rajasthan has shown how by proper marketing and planned infrastructure developments, fairs and festivals can win the admiration of the world’s tourism fraternity. The world famous Pushkar Fair as well as the Jaisalmer Desert Festival are today ranked amongst the world’s most colorful fairs.

The 400-year-old Satima’s Fair at Kalyani, which is held annually transforms Kalyani into a fairy tale land with thousands of Sati Ma’s devotees who converge into her sacred estate and make merry with intoxicating Baul music and a plethora of ethnic entertainment. Kalyani Municipality would do well to seek the support and co-peration of the Ministry of Tourism for better management of the Sati Ma’s fair, which has the potential to become the Indian version of “Mardi Grass”.

(9) Son et lumiere on Nadia’s Spiritual Heritage:

The renaissance period after the infamous 1857 rebellion against the British rule saw a spontaneous outburst of Bengali art and literature. It was during this period that the great spiritual giant Sri Ramakrishna made his appearance and it was left to Swami Vivekananda – the cyclonic monk of Bengal to spread the tentacles of Vedanta to the world community. This period also saw the emergence of great souls like Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Rishi Aurobindoo and others of their ilk.

It is high time the government comes up with a state-of-the-art “Son et lumiere” on the great Bengal Renaissance which may be showcased for the entertainment of the discerning international travelers. There are still many facts that the rest of the world doesn’t know about the Bengal Renaissance, which may be unraveled to the new age traveler to Bengal.

Nadia being the birth place of the great spiritual giant Sri Chaitainya Mahaprabhu is also much revered by ISKCON devotees because one the modern world’s most renowned religious ambassadors – Srila Prabhupada, the founder of ISKCON had an intimate spiritual attachment for Nabadweep Dham in particular, and it would be in the fitness of things that a ‘Son et lumiere’ be produced, which highlights the spiritual greatness of the district of Nadia.

(10) Bengali Wedding Tours:
A Bengali marriage is always very special. It is high on drama, there is great pomp and merrymaking and the food is lip-smacking good. One has all the ingredients of a soap opera. The Municipalities and village panchayats may be given a grant to build community halls and the residents of the concerned town or village may be encouraged to hold marriage ceremonies at these community halls.

(11) Craft Bazaar in Kalyani:
The district of Nadia is a virtual treasure house of Bengali art and crafts. This region has encouraged people to carry on the century’s old traditional way of earning ones livelihood like jewellery, carpentry, blacksmithy etc…and this district has set a great example of keeping one’s traditions alive even in the face of urbanization and cut throat consumerism.

As there is no dearth of wide open spaces in Kalyani, the concept of a Craft Bazaar is an innovative idea and this kind of congregation of the local artisans in a common market place will serve in the best interest of the local village folks who can earn their livelihood by selling their products.

A nominal rate will be charged from each artisan, which will be ultimately utilized for the further development of the Craft Bazaar and also for the day to day maintenance. The Bazaar will be so designed that it blends harmoniously with the local environment and is eco-friendly. Small huts will be allocated to each local entrepreneur for a maximum of two weeks after which the next in line will be given a chance to set up his stall.

Apart from stalls allotted to the artisan community, food plazas too can be constructed with the help of eco-friendly materials and food may be served to visitors in environmentally safe, disposable earthen cups and leaf plates, basketry and coconut shells. A minimal built up area with a food plaza centre and plenty of open space can serve as a venue for different types of food festivals. Open air theatre will be a very important feature at the proposed Craft Bazaar. Spectacular glimpses of the vast storehouse of Bengal’s culture ranging from Rabindra Sangeet to the intoxicating Baul music may be conducted. Apart from portraying the unique Bengali culture and folklore, the Kalyani Craft Bazzar can also offer a Pan-Indian cultural experience in a microcosm where folk dancers of other states of India can showcase their unique dance forms ranging from the graceful Bharatnatyam to the vigorous Bhangra.

(12) Japanese Garden

Given Kalyani’s verdant greenery and vast open spaces, a Japanese Garden will bring about a magnificent contrast to the landscape. The characteristic feature of Japanese Garden is the unmistakable influence of Buddhism. The garden is intended as a place for quiet reflection and this intention is based on a religious philosophical demand. To achieve this impression of quietness, all brilliant colors are renounced and preference is given to the various kinds of predominantly green plants so that a uniform color is attained.

Most Japanese Gardens are monochrome, whereas the European Gardens are polychrome. In a monochrome garden flowers are of course almost entirely absent while European gardens bear bright colors. However, despite the differences in form and style, a good Japanese garden invariably reveals three fundamental characteristics – naturalism, asymmetry and a drawing together of natural and architectural forms into a unified harmonious composition. It is a work of art built on a human scale and naturalistic in content but subjective in spirit.

Although the special quality of the Japanese landscape is naturally also reflected in the garden, one of the most striking elements in this landscape is water and stone arrangements. Water fulfills the special function in the garden of making more tolerable the heat of the Japanese summer.

The Roshanara garden belongs to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Some other small gardens or portions of Japanese style were developed at 1 Safdarjung Road, Qudsia garden and in other parts of India. An important addition of Japanese garden in India could be Kalyani.

It is true that there are problems galore when it comes to developing the Tourism industry in a state like West Bengal. What is heartening though is that there seems to be awareness in the minds of the people as well as of the government of West Bengal that everyone has to unite together, whether he or she is a sage or an ordinary person. With the people’s power and the power of grassroots institutions, the deteriorating tourism standards can be arrested and improved upon. Apart from the government, NGOs and International organizations also have to share the responsibility and help and guide the local citizenry in developing a sound and sustainable tourism platform for West Bengal.

One of the key areas in terms of tourism development in West Bengal is creation of a more appropriate form of tourism to replace “Mass Tourism”. Appropriate Tourism is a kind of tourism that is more favorable and beneficial to the local community and the challenge ahead for West Bengal’s tourism industry is to implement and establish Appropriate Tourism at the ground level.

The future relationship between tourism and environment is going to be the key issue for West Bengal’s tourism industry as it will be for the rest of India and the world. Being sensitive towards environment in our pursuit of pleasure in the hills and dales, beaches, grassland and fragile areas would be the wise thing to do.