Living history in rural Bengal

Bari Kothi

Bari Kothi

Azimganj
, West Bengal
, India

Bari Kothi was built in the late 1700’s with influences of Greek, Roman and French architecture by the Dudhoria family. The Dudhoria’s come from the Sheherwali merchant community that travelled across the country from Rajasthan to Bengal to set up businesses. Their astute sense for commerce led to them amassing great wealth.

This lavish mansion was extensively restored and renovated over a number of years; it opened in 2018 as a heritage hotel. Step into the property and it feels like you have walked into the set of a period film. Every nook and corner is decorated in bright colours and rich fabrics, showcasing the wealth and opulence of the merchants that once called this beautiful mansion home. One can get lost in its corridors as they lead into various purpose-built rooms and chowks (courtyards) embellished with colourful glass and patterned tiles. Guest suites are richly decorated with ornate pieces of furniture, fine fabrics, chequered tiles and decorated windows.

Leisure spaces within the property include a library, a music room, open courtyards and lounging areas: Janana Chowk, Gaddi Ghar, Halwai Khana, and Gulabi Chawara and a riverside cafe; as well.

Our Rating: Premium
Property Type: Heritage

Destination

Flanked alongside the eastern bank of the Ganges river, Murshidabad is a historical town about six hours from Kolkata. As you arrive, it feels like you have stepped into a bygone era. Buildings big and small greet you; they beckon a second and third glance and seem to whisper tales of their prosperous past. In 18th-century, Murshidabad was a wealthy cosmopolitan city, home to affluent banking and merchant families from different parts of the Indian subcontinent and wider Eurasia, including the Armenians. European companies, including the British East India Company, conducted business and operated factories around the city.

Accommodation

Bari Kothi offers 15 rooms divided across three categories, Heritage Suites, Royal Heritage Suites and Maharaja Heritage Suites. Period furniture adorns all the rooms; some pieces and artefacts are more than a century old.

The Heritage Suites is the base category with traditional interiors and antique décor. The Royal Heritage Suites are furnished with 250-year old antique furniture, high ceilings and rich fabrics themed around jewellery and other aspects of the life and lifestyle of the erstwhile residents of Bari Kothi.

Three Maharaja Heritage Suites embody the quintessential luxury of Bari Kothi – elegantly appointed with hand-picked fittings, intricately carved archways and traditional furniture. Some suites also feature a sunken bath.

Dining

Food features prominently at Bari Kothi and includes the finest vegetarian dishes, it is a wonderful melange of the cuisines of the west and the east of India. Typical Rajasthani food is also cooked using ingredients like gram flour, lentils and pulses.
Bengal offers a range of fresh and leafy vegetables as well as regional spices, and both have been fused to create some unique savoury and sweet delicacies.

Particularly noteworthy are the local mangoes; at one point it is believed that 200 varieties of mangoes were grown in the orchards of Murshidabad. They are not only delicious to eat as they are, but at Bari Kothi they are also turned into delectable deserts, sherbets, jams, chutneys and preserves as well.

Breakfast on the banks of the river is an ideal way to begin the mornings at Bari Kothi. There are three main dining areas in the property: Naubat Khana, a Mughal inspired dining room with hand painted floral motifs, the atmospheric Zareen Mahal with hues of gold and Durbar Hall, the erstwhile royal dining room with a magnificent 18-seater dining table and 250-year-old chandelier that has witnessed eminent guests from Nawabs to British officials.

Experiences

You will be spoilt for choice for things to see and do around Bari Kothi. There is a range of specially curated experiences – from heritage walks around the town to see historic buildings like the impressive Hazarduari Palace and Footi Mosque, afternoon tea overlooking the river, boat cruises on the Ganges and immersive craft experiences at Tantipara weavers village and Islampore known for its sericulture.

The signature experience is the signature ‘Lunch-On-Ganges’ experience where guests are enjoy delectable fare while sailing in a country boat with the 1000 doored iconic Hazarduari Palace as a backdrop.

Every evening at Bari Kothi is about showcasing the heritage culture and lifestyle. This may take the form of story-telling in one of the courtyards or performances of folk dance and music. Lost dance forms such as the 500-year-old Rai Beshi and the more popular Baul and Fakiri are signature evenings at Bari Kothi.

The location on the banks of the river is a haven for birding and one can spot red avadavat, barn swallow, Loten’s sunbird, red turtle dove, olive-backed pipit, Bengal bush lark, blackheaded oriole, small green bee-eater and coppersmith barbet to name a few.

Why we love this place

Bari Kothi is perfect for the Indophile and those interested in history, architecture and stories from the yore. There is one room on the ground floor for the differently abled and those who may have difficulty climbing up stairs. Children are welcome; it is an opportunity to spark their curiosity in the rich history of the region. Children will particularly enjoy picking their own vegetables and seeing them transform in to their meals.

About your host

Brother-sister duo Darshan and Lipika Dudhoria are the current owners of Bari Kothi.

By the mid 1900’s, many Sheherwali families (a merchant community) left their homes in Murshidabad and moved to Kolkata. Their growing business in silk also took the Dudhoria’s away from Murshidabad leaving Bari Kothi like most others of its ilk, unoccupied for 50 years causing it to fall into decay.

In 2015, Darshan and Lipika took it upon themselves to revive the grandeur of their family home to pass it on to the next generation. A Canadian architect and restoration specialist was invited to Murshidabad, and tasked with bringing the palace back to its former glory. A team larger than 100 personnel restored Bari Kothi to make it into the first self-sustaining heritage hotel of the region. The project was aptly nicknamed ‘Project Priceless’.

Darshan is an enchanting storyteller and will have you enraptured as every nook and corner of the Kothi has a story waiting to be heard.

Responsible/Sustainable Tourism

Having being repurposed as a fine heritage hotel with luxurious fittings, Bari Kothi opened in 2018 as a self-sustaining eco-system that generates its own income, improves the local economy, betters the lives of the local community, preserves the tangible and intangible heritage and carries forward its legacy.

No Single Use Plastic: There is almost no single use plastic used, and if used, is disposed consciously. Water is provided in glass bottles; it is safe and filtered. The bathroom amenities come in compostable bottles.

Safe Garbage Disposal: Garbage is segregated and handed over to the local municipality. Future plans include looking at waste closely to reduce and reuse.

Water Conservation: Recycling of water for irrigational purposes is carried out and training is given to the local community on how to keep the Ganges clean. Guests are encouraged to reuse linen especially for short stays. Rainwater harvesting is minimal, however it is used for basic tasks.

Energy Efficiency: A small bit to conserve electricity is the use of a candle in the bathroom all night so one doesn’t grope around in the dark looking for the light switch. For sightseeing, electric carts and ferry boats are used. The local community are encouraged to use bicycles. All lighting is with the use of LED lights.

Local Community Engagement: The team at Bari Kothi almost entirely comprises of the local community. The staff is handpicked and trained (who then help train the others). Interactions with the team reveals the sheer pride with which they engage with guests. There is a genuine sense of ownership and belonging to Bari Kothi that the staff and team revel in. The hotel works in empowering local farmers in tilling their land. In turn, they offer the produce to Bari Kothi thus ingredients are sourced from local organic farms and guests are welcome to pick produce and enjoy as part of their meals. The farmers are additionally encouraged to reduce and not use inorganic pesticides and fertilisers.

Light Footprint Tourism: For restoration, eco-friendly building materials were sourced, most of the furniture repaired and restored and the décor was done by recycling of other materials. Locally sourced fabrics have used extensively and once it has outlived its purpose, it is recycled and repurposed.

Sensitive Destination Discovery: Murshidabad’s history has immense significance with the Battle of Plassey fought here leading to the British colonial rule in India. It has seen its share of highs and lows. Bari Kothi has worked toward putting Murshidabad on the traveller’s map with its sensitive approach to showcasing the area through storytelling.

Heritage Preservation: Bari Kothi has been immensely focussed on ensuring that the intangible heritage in the form of cuisine, culture, and folk performances is not only preserved but promoted. Every evening folk dance and music is showcased, be it the Baul or Fakiri singers or Rae Beshi, a martial art dance form, where guests and the team join in as well. Future plans include creation of various platforms such as a teaching centre for local artisans to improve upon their skills and promote the handmade products made by them.

Human Touch: The restoration work at Bari Kothi has followed two main principles – that of sustainable restoration and to enable the development of the community. Different ethnic groups with no gender bias are part of the hotel and this shows their commitment in ensuring that the local community is an integral part of the hotel. A large part of the workforce is made up of women from the immediate area and have been encouraged to upskill and take on other responsibilities.

Our Recommendation

The best way to see the sights is by boat. The slow and gentle pace of life in rural India matches the languid pace of the boat gliding along the river. Enjoy a meal or a snack with a piping hot cup of tea or coffee. And in the cold months, the staff will ensure you are warm, wrapping you with Balaposh ' a silk shawl layered with cottonwool in between.

Can’t find a suitable itinerary that features a destination, experience or accommodation you fancy? All our group tours and holiday ideas can be personalised, or we can create a tailor made itinerary for you.

Our Accommodation Ratings

Opulent: Exceptional, unashamedly the best of sheer luxury. (£££££)

Luxury: Outstanding levels of 5* comfort, hospitality and facilities. (££££)

Premium: Excellent levels of comfort and hospitality and a wide range of facilities. (£££)

Mid-Range: Good levels of comfort and hospitality, with a reasonable range of facilities. (££)

Simple: Clean and simple, no frills. Often in areas of natural beauty or near wildlife reserves. (£)