GREAT FIGURES OF THE MISSIONARY WORK – Bengal and the Kingdom of the Dragon (24)
– Joaquim Magalhães de Castro
I was surprised by the small size of the Cooch Bihar we encountered, with its doors already closed. Were it not for the chaotic traffic, typical of the whole Hindustanian city, it would be stagnant in time. Yes, I confess, I was expecting a better city. Compatible with the lively street markets that take advantage of the post-sun exposure period, especially at night with an exaggerated explosion of light and movement, human and motorized. We stayed in one of the best local inns, the BD, with curly crimson curtains along the wide windows. At last, a luxury to the Indian, although it does not dispense of the wrinkled carpets and a good dose of dust. Such is the laid-back selflessness they do not even bother to disguise.
In his Relation Estêvão Cacela gives us the general appearance of the city, emphasizing the modesty of the buildings, the opulence of the markets and the great amount of inhabitants, coming from the kingdoms of Patna, Rajamol and Gaur. He writes: “The bazaars are very much where everything is found that these lands give themselves, in particular it is Biar pointed out in the fruits of thorn that has with remarkable advantage to those that I have seen in India and especially in the oranges of all sort.”
The so-called “fruit of thorn” were the pineapples, and, like all other fruits and vegetables, introduced in Africa and Asia by the Portuguese navigators.
The next morning I get up very early and went up to the terrace. There, enjoying a 360 degree panoramic view, I appreciated the city. No skyscrapers – thank God! – and natural gardens abound among the perpendicular streets. The sweeper of the Hindu temple and the early risers and motorized tricycles see their shadows cast on the ground thanks to the sun rising in the firmament promising a hot, even very hot day. There is a the small quadrangular lake with a ritual function (more like an immense tank) that I have in front of. I call it Lal Dighi, “Red Lake,” a replica of the one in Calcutta, whose waters reflect the facades of the imposing Post Office buildings and the Bank of India and which owes its name to the color of the bricks with which the fort is made nearby. In the case of Cooch Bihar, the nearest red building is a good few hundred meters away. The Raj Bari, a nineteenth-century building inspired by Westminster Palace, was built by Nriprenda Narayan, most likely at the site of his ancestors’ former residence. It is perhaps the only sign that reminds us of the majestic past of the lords of the Kingdom of Cooch Bihar The ground floor and first floor are set on a series of arched porches with pillars arranged alternately in single and double lines. The south and north ends of the palace project slightly, and in the center an advanced balcony gives access to Durbar’s atrium, characterized by an elegant vaulted dome. The palace has several rooms, living and dining rooms, billiard room, library, lobbies. The precious objects that once adorned these spaces have long since disappeared, leaving only on the walls portraits of illustrious characters, scarce furniture, white armament and a few musical instruments. It is not understood, therefore, why photography is forbidden and the entrances oblige the visitor to go through a metal detector.
After the survey, and before returning to the path, it is mandatory to stop at a local barber for a good haircut and, as a bonus, a complete massage to the scalp, face, arms and hands. I guarantee that the fame enjoyed by the Bengal masseurs is well deserved.