In Bengal's Murshidabad, a heritage hotel for a taste of East Indian legacy

Lawyer-turned-hotelier Darshan Dudhoria has restored his 250-year-old ancestral palace, Bari Kothi, to make Murshidabad’s first heritage hotel

Published: 23rd January 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th January 2022 10:56 AM   |  A+A-

Bari Kothi.

Bari Kothi.

Express News Service

The romance of a never-to-return past is indeed sublime. One cannot revisit it, but one can hope to be enveloped in it for a brief moment and shut out the present for the blink of an eye. This is the promise made to discerning travellers who visit Bari Kothi, a heritage hotel converted from the ancestral Sheherwali property located in Azimganj in Murshidabad, West Bengal, by its co-owner Darshan Dudhoria. The seventh-generation descendant of Rai Bahadur Budh Sing Dudhoria of the Sheherwali clan, this lawyer-turned-entrepreneur and heritage enthusiast played a pivotal role in the restoration of his 250-year-old ancestral palace, which became the first heritage hotel of Murshidabad.

“The region of Murshidabad has a rich legacy—at one point we contributed five percent of the GDP of the entire world. With time, however, it became known as the ‘Forgotten Wealth Capital of the World’, with most palaces of the region locked down for over half a century. As a heritage custodian, I was always enamored with our ancestral palace, Bari Kothi. Unfortunately, it was falling apart like all the other tangible assets of the region. At first, I wanted to save one block of Bari Kothi for my future generations to witness the legacy of our forefathers. That little effort led to a chain reaction and soon we embarked on the most audacious restoration project in East India, if not the whole of India,” explains Dudhoria.

Dudhoria with his sister

A product of The Scindia School, Gwalior, and the Cardiff Law School, UK, Dudhoria undertook a postgraduate programme at the Inns of Court, School of Law, City University in London. He then returned to India and worked as a corporate lawyer with top law firms for almost a decade, before joining his family business in retail and e-commerce in Kolkata. The preservation of his family heritage was not uppermost in his mind, however with time, he felt a strong pull towards it. He shares, “To not preserve your heritage is to grow a tree without any roots. Each person’s heritage is their unique identity and it’s the basic touchstone of society and community.”

Bari Kothi was the erstwhile home to his Sheherwali family, which was a business community that relocated from Rajasthan to West Bengal in the 1700s. They worked with the British and Europeans under the Mughal empire but maintained their Rajasthani way of life, even while living in Bengal. As such, they had strong multi-cultural influences from various quarters, which began to reflect in the architecture of their homes, lifestyle, cuisine, and style of dress. According to Dudhoria, Bari Kothi is the solitary example of a palace that displays inflections of Greek, Roman, British, Rajasthani and Bengali architectures. Their heritage cuisine, also called the Sheherwali cuisine, inspired the publication of a cookbook and found its way on to the permanent menu of a leading ITC Hotel. 

To preserve this legacy, he along with his team of a Canadian architect and 150 local people embarked on ‘Project Priceless’, as the restoration project began to be called in 2015. Though the restoration process is still on, Bari Kothi has been functioning as a rustic luxury heritage hotel for a few years. Dudhoria’s keen eye for detail and sustained interest in local culture led him to design customised itineraries around Bengal for his guests. These include the Colonial Tour of the East, the Story of Bengal, and the Spiritual Tour of the East, among others. Each of these are spread over nine-eleven nights with only three nights spent in Murshidabad and Bari Kothi. He started by sharing his family’s story, and eventually moved on to promoting Bengal and its culture to the world.

Dudhoria’s restoration efforts were not limited to built heritage but also extended towards creating 
a self-sustaining ecosystem for the property that encapsulated the local community through a tourism-centric approach. “The core values of this project were centered around sustainability, community development, tourism, adaptive reuse, zero wastage and most importantly being genuine and authentic,” he signs off.

Bari Kothi, Azimganj, Murshidabad, West Bengal
Set on the banks of the river Ganges, Bari Kothi operates with three gardens, seven courtyards, 15 suites, 35 curated experiences, 50 local community team members, 250 years of legacy and 1,000 stories. A stay at Bari Kothi is available only on a customised itinerary on the basis of the individual interests of the guests. 


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