Calcutta Walks has been taking tourists on excursions across the city for over a decade; now, it also offers them a place to stay. Not just any place, but a unique 92-year-old townhouse in the heart of the city’s bustling old quarter, Shyambazar in North Kolkata, that has been rescued from ruin and restored into a tastefully appointed six-room bed and breakfast.
“During the course of our walks, we would come across a lot of beautiful old buildings languishing in a state of disrepair. It would pain us to see them being torn down or simply dying from decay. So we decided to take matters in our own hands and revive one of those beauties,” says Iftekhar Ahsan, founder of Calcutta Walks, who, along with childhood friend Chris Chen, and Chennai resident, Ranvir Shah, bought the crumbling Majumdar Bari in Shyambazar’s Fariapukur locality some four years ago.
“Members of the Majumdar family, who were landlords from North 24 Parganas, could not maintain the house any longer and wanted to move to modern apartments elsewhere. We were only too happy to get a structure that wasn’t over-repaired and, therefore, had all its original details intact. We had to deal with eight family members, which was an arduous process, but the structure is so gorgeous that it was all worth it in the end,” recalls Iftekhar.
The structure is, indeed, gorgeous. Made even more so by conservation architect, Akhil Ranjan Sarkar, and noted local designer, Swarup Dutta, who, by painstakingly reclaiming and recycling everything here, have succeededin resurrecting the rundown townhouse into a shining example of the golden period of Bengal architecture that it once was back in 1926.
Restoration wasn’t easy, and took as long as two years to complete. That’s because the architect took pains to remain faithful to the traditional vernacular of construction, keeping each window, each door and each niche intact. The long verandah, typical of old Kolkata homes, has been restored as well, as have all the iron beams overhead. The roof was in a bad shape, and so were the walls, so special masons with the expertise to restore old structures were called in from Murshidabad. From the grillework to the woodwork, everything has been crafted the old way, but in order to bring in essential modern amenities for guests, some structural alterations had to be made to incorporate bathrooms alongside each bedroom.
Each of Calcutta Bungalow’s six rooms is named after a locality of old Kolkata. Accordingly, Muchipara is decorated with lathes and other tools that cobblers use to make shoes, while antique sewing machine stands have been converted into writing desks in Darzipara. Boipara has old book covers framed as wall art while Patuapara has Kalighat pattachitras and Jatrapara is based on Bengal’s folk theatre. In keeping with its name, Sahibpara is the grandest room of all, with a massive copper bathtub in the bathroom being its major highlight.
That copper extravagance aside, the house’s decor is a study in restrained elegance. Since this is a regular townhouse and not a rajbari, Dutta has been careful to shun fripperies such as opulent marble-topped tables, over-sized sculptures and precious porcelain. Instead, ceramics, oxidised metal and wooden objects abound. Cotton kantha bedcovers are spread over solid wood beds—no silken sheets or grand Bangla khats here. The chairs and desks, too, are simple period pieces—no over-stuffed chaises or ornately carved bureaus in sight. Even the modern white split AC units have been painted a subtle, muddy hue to blend with the brick walls. But the piece de resistance has got to be the large two-level chandelier made entirely from old cooking implements that hangs in the stairwell.
Located where it is, Calcutta Bungalow is clearly not for your regular business traveller used to plush hotels and seven-star facilities. This is for that niche explorer who seeks an immersive experience of the city, down to its busy street markets, winding bylanes and quaint alleyways. There’s even a retro ride to ferry you around if you so wish —an emerald green, refurbished Hindustan Ambassador.
The introductory offer is `5,000 per night for two. For details, contact bungalow@calcuttawalks.