The Nordic-ville of Bengal – Serampore of Hooghly
Serampore or erstwhile Fredriksnagore appears to be just like any other Bengal town, but there is another side to the place which is truly unique and this can be found in its history. The colonial history of this place is particularly fascinating though the history of the place pre-dates the arrival of first Europeans in the subcontinent. The quite little village on the banks of Ganga drew attention of the Danish East India company in 1755 and it sparked the beginning of an exciting time, filled with richness and grandeur.
Unlike the British who were busy enjoying a lavish life on the other side of the river, the Danish contributed immensely in improving the lives of Serampore and turned the place into one of the beautiful towns in the world between 1755 -1845.
It is said that 18th century Serampore was a favorable holiday and getaway destination for the Europeans due to its uncanny similarity with towns of Denmark. During the colonial era Serampore grew into prominence as trade and commerce flourished and it became a major center for cultural renaissance. The Danish also actively involved the locals in the administration which increased prosperity of the place manifold. The practice was in fact way ahead of its time and this molded Serampore in a positive way.
Though the place has changed a lot, a glimpse of the past can be seen till today. There are major historical landmarks which can take you to the good times, which the place experienced under the Danish rule.
Situated just 25Kms from Kolkata, the town is well-connected by road, train and water, but to explore maximum, it is advisable to book a personal car.
A major landmark of the place is the Serampore court compound. At the first look, it will seem like any other bustling bus terminus of West Bengal, but it is a hidden gem for the travelers who love to explore history from the least expected places. The locals are quite friendly, so a little inquiry will land you to a semi-ruined arched gate. On entering you will see standing the courthouse or the old court as the locals call it. The building used to be the major seat of Danish power in Bengal and one could easily imagine what it would have looked like during the glorious era of the place.
The building overlooks a big ground which once might have gardens with pathways and parking spaces for horse carriages of the Danish colonists.
A little walk from there will take you to another major landmark of Serampore, the St. Olav’s Church. Built around 1806, the church has been recently renovated as a part of a joint restoration initiative by the Government of West Bengal and the Government of Denmark. The project has been awarded with The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Award of Distinction for Cultural Heritage Conservation for 2016.
The church is of major historical significance and is said to be among the oldest Danish heritages of Serampore. If you stand facing the church and look rightward, you will see some small rooms with sheds. These were the original guardroom which is still standing there from the colonial times.
A similar interesting historical landmark is the Serampore Palace. Popularly known as the Serampore Rajbari, the magnificent structure was built by the Goswamis who used to be affluent Brahmin Zamindars of erstwhile Serampore. It is said that when the Danish were planning to sell Serampore to the British in 1845, the Goswamis offered to pay 11,00,000 rupees to buy the entire town. The Danish refused, but later they sold it to the British East India Company for 12,00,000 rupees.
Today only a part of the palace is inhabited by the descendants of the Goswamis. The other portions serve as a school and a space for organizing marriages and other functions. The famous Bengali movie ‘Bhooter Bobishyat ‘ was shot here and the plot itself revolves around the palace.
As a traveler you will surely be intrigued to take photos of the magnificent building and explore every nook and corner of the palace, especially if you have seen the movie, but be aware of some local people and neighbors who can create a problem. So it is better if you take a prior permission from the family after convincing the guard with some friendly chats.
Besides all these, Serampore is practically studded with many other historically interesting places. To cover everything the ideal time to start from Kolkata is 6:00 am and by 3:00 pm you will be done. Some notable places which you should visit are Henry Martin’s pagoda, Serampore College & William Carey’s cemetery.
Even if you miss to visit the above two, Serampore College is a must visit for many reasons. The grand gothic structure with wide lanes flanked by greenery and lawns, started as a major center of education for the entire India. As the second oldest college in the country, it is the first institution to offer a degree. It was King Frederick VI of Denmark who originally granted a Royal Charter to give the college a status of university to offer a degree. Still today, the College enjoys the privilege of conferring its own degrees in theology under the power vested by the Royal Charter.
For a refreshing one-day tour Serampore is a great place to explore. The authorities should work harder to make it a popular destination since there is no organized tour available for the place.
The place has a lot of potential to be developed as an educational tour destination and various govt supported photo walk engagements with media influence can really give a boost to the tourism of Serampore.