By Meher Castelino
Where is Raichak? I was invited to spend a lazy weekend and I had never heard of the place even though it has been nestling for centuries on the banks of the mighty Ganga, barely 72 Kms from Kolkata.
A tiny non-descript village, it is the most coveted get-away for the rich and famous of West Bengal. Turned into an ultra-modern resort by Ambuja Realty, the magnificent Ffort Raichak with Ganga Kutir located a few metres away is where we got a chance to unwind after the 2 ½ hour drive from busy Kolkata.
The sturdy steel shields and crossed swords lined the walls along with colours of various battalions of the British era. Sepia toned pictures, the suites, rooms and family cottages luxuriously decorated in British colonial style took me back to days long gone by. Here was a modern version of the past.
The stroll in the English Club house, the rows of Spa villas with their personal plunge pools and the leisurely walk down the promenade along the Ganga made us feel completely at peace with the world. While nature and its beauty surrounded us, gourmet delights were within easy reach too.
The Alfresco Fine Dining experience included a gorgeous view of the sunset over the river as we sat on the lush lawns. The Orient gave our taste buds a treat with cuisine from China, Thailand, Mongolia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan, which we attempted to devour all in one sitting.
Later our Indian roots dragged us to the Indian Quarter where the flavours of the North West Frontier drove us crazy with desire to sample everything on the menu. For a late night ‘cuppa’ we felt the Sunflower Café or the Captain’s Deck, a classic library with its collection of tomes was just the right place to put our feet up.
With such pristine surroundings it would be a crime to stay cooped up in our rooms since nature beckoned us so enticingly. Bird watching at the crack of dawn was a thrill that is quite unmatched. Butterflies in all their colourful splendour flitted over us as we tried to capture their beauty in our camera lenses. The flora was equally varied with 1249 types of trees to create a shady umbrella.
As the sun rose over the horizon, the imperial Ganga glistened in the early morning rays. Our longing to cruise down her gentle waters took us to the jetty, where ‘Pari’ the luxurious boat awaited our arrival. Smoothly it pushed away from the banks of the Ganga, as a gentle breeze wafted through our hair. Tug boats and tiny fishing craft passed us by and as the soft music from the boat deck serenaded us, we watched the opposite banks of the river draw closer to us. The fisher folk delighted to see us, offered their traditional crafts with great pride.
After a scintillating cruise, it was time to feed the mind, body and soul at the tranquil Anaya Spa designed to resemble the womb. Strolling up the gentle slope of the circular architectural marvel in red bricks, the options were many. Named after the seven flora of Bengal, each spa room was enveloped in blissful calm. The head, shoulders and foot massage room overlooked relaxing greenery. We went in for a yoga and meditation sessions, which perfectly ended a gorgeous few hours.
Adjacent to Ffort Raichak are the Ganga Awas country homes designed to give that tired jet-setter a time to savour nature. Here were family retreats ranging from stylish opulent bungalows, cottages to row houses along the edge of the River.
Raichak also has the luxury resort and spa, Ganga Kutir, a quiet understated place for rejuvenation. The décor here was with a slightly modern flavour. Each room overlooked the River through the picture windows. Dinner that night was at Sonar Tori (meaning golden boat) the fine dining place at Ganga Kutir serving authentic Bengali cuisine. Its antique décor created by designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee evoked an atmosphere of regal times.
Bengali food has influences of Mughal, European and indigenous flavors. The Bengali favourite, palao, Kosha, Mangsho korma and kofta are influenced by Mughal cuisine. It is believed the Nawab of Awadh who took refuge in Kolkata during the British Raj influenced Bengali foods. The chat, chop, cutlet and tea time rituals on the other hand are a British influence.
Raichak is also a favoured place for weddings. Creating the complete ambience of the Big Fat Indian Wedding on its spacious lawns is part of the activities at Ffort Raichak. We missed seeing one such wedding held a day before our arrival.
Besides nature and its bounties, there was a lot to do in Raichak for the young and restless. Golf cart rides took us on a quick tour of the sprawling property. Some of us tried our hand at angling. Kite flying was a great thrill as the wind picked up during the late evening. Crazy golf was great for a beginner like me; while giant chess had players charging around the chess board. For some lazy fun, I opted for a slow buggy ride and later paddle boating. There was also the English aristocratic game of croquet for the leisurely, while the really energetic ones tried lawn tennis, badminton and futsal.
Drifting into the pages of history was something I had not imagined could be such fun but Raichak taught me a lot about the beauty of the Ganga as well as lovely holidays one can have on its banks.