From renovated homestays to inspired luxury resorts and hipster B&Bs, the rajbaris in and around Kolkata transport you to the golden age of Bengali culture, art, and aesthetics. By Aparna Pednekar
In Satyajit Ray’s 1958 film Jalsaghar, the aged, reclusive protagonist Bishwamber Roy stands alone on the terrace of his sprawling mansion, resolute in his refusal to change even as his home and legacy crumble around him. Strains of his beloved sitar waft in the air—he sells his last piece of jewellery to organise one final soiree in his jalsaghar (music room)— underscoring the melancholy of an ebbing era. The film is arguably the most evocative on-screen depiction of the decline of Bengal’s zamindars (landowners), following the end of colonial rule in India. Mirroring real life, it was partially shot at Nimtita Rajbari in Murshidabad, located on the Bangladesh border. At present, the over 150-year-old, once-palatial home is in ruins, but it was already degenerating when Ray and his entourage visited here for a recce in 1957. The acclaimed filmmaker couldn’t believe that he had found a home that echoed the operatic tragedy of his protagonist. “No one could have described in words the feeling of utter desolation that surrounded the palace,” he later wrote.
Five decades down, while many rajbaris or landowner mansions wither away, some continue to be occupied by the original families, while others are being renovated and converted into heritage stays. In Kolkata, legendary rajbaris like the 250-year-old Shobhabazar Rajbari on Raja Nabakrishna Street remain off bounds for the public, except during the epic Durga Puja celebrations. For fans of Bengali aesthetics and eccentricities, there’s nothing like staying at one of these mansions steeped in nostalgia. While all rajbaris offer architectural staples—from the andarmahal (ladies’ quarters) and natmandir (temple) to the thakurdalan (ceremonial platform leading up a flight of stairs from a public courtyard) and looming jharabatis (chandeliers) coated with just the right amount of dust they each have their own stories.
From lovingly restored homes to those with haunting histories, from urbane B&Bstyle stays to swanky interpretations of the traditional mansions, here are our picks of rajbaris in and around Kolkata that let you live the vintage life for a few days.
THE RAJBARI BAWALI
For the restored aesthetics
A two-hour drive from Kolkata brings you to the hamlet of Bawali, where the once crumbling, 300-year-old Mondal family home has been carefully restored by its present owner, the Kolkata-based businessman Ajay Rawla. Master masons from Murshidabad were sent to the Aga Khan Foundation to train in limewashing and brick-moulding, while simultaneously, consulting with experts from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) during the seven-year restoration period. The result is an artfully crafted heritage resort that feels intimate with just the right amount of distressed accents that blend, rather than clash with the feel of the mansion.
You’ll feel decadent, waking up to the cackle of geese from the pond facing your room, soaking in a brass bathtub, and settling down with a book on a castiron bench outside, occasionally looking up to admire how the sun hits the exposed brick walls of the original mansion building. Rawal has designed several spots of contemporary glamour and quirk an eclectic vintage bar offering a 180° view of the courtyard, a winter pavilion near the pool for barbecue nights, and a Bluthner Grand piano in the salon next to an Instagram-worthy private dining room. The latter is ensconced in a striking thakurdalan, designed for long siestas after devouring the zamindar thali.
The experiences are thoughtfully curated, beginning with Bhutanese healing treatments at the spa and sandhya aarti conducted every evening in Sanskrit (with English translation) by a dhoti-kurta clad Samar Mondal, on the steps of the thakurdalan. The chatty septuagenarian, a direct descendent of the mansion’s original owners, is often game for accompanying small groups into the village. Treat this as a great opportunity to travel back in time. Amongst the ruins of the 175-year-old Gopinath Jiu and the Jaltuni Bagan—once a venue for music and dance performances for royalty—an iron bridge leads to a jal tungi (gazebo) standing in melancholic splendour in the middle of a pond and surrounded by water hyacinth.
The Rajbari Bawali is a two-hour drive from Kolkata Airport, which is well-connected
with major international and domestic terminals. Book the resort’s pick-up service.
The pond-facing Notun Bari rooms with private balconies cost INR 8,500/USD120 per night; the suites start at INR 10,500/ USD148. A group of six or fewer can book the Dak Bungalow, which costs INR 19,500/ USD275 plus taxes.
Enjoy indulgent country boat sundowner experiences on the Ganges—replete with champagne, cake, and live retro music— perfect for couples, friends, and families. A relaxed staycation steeped in history or even a destination wedding can be planned here.
For a lesson in history
With its stoic brick lime façade and pruned lawns, Itachuna serves up an authentic 17th-century rajbari homestay experience in Hooghly, 90 kilometres from Kolkata. The architectural staples—a baithakkhana (sitting room), andarmahal, and natmandir—are classic. The newer mud huts offer garden views, while the original rooms named after family members, such as Thakurmar Ghor, Boro Boudir Ghor, and the sun-bathed Choto Pishir Ghor, retain their modest vintage furniture, including four-poster beds. The service and amenities are hit-and-miss, which fuel an authentic, temperamental Bangla vibe.
The real pull at Itachuna, however, is its history, revealed by the mansion’s alternative name, Bargee Danga. Bargee was the name given by Bengalis to Maratha invaders who plundered the state from 1741 to 1751. Under the command of General Raghoji Bhosle, these horseback warriors invaded Bengal repeatedly until the Nawab of Bengal signed a peace treaty, ceding Odisha to the Marathas. After a decade of violence, some of the bargees stayed back, making Bengal their home. One of these was Safallya Narayan Kundan, who built Itachuna in 1766. The surname Kundan became Kundu, now a popular Bengali surname, with his 14th-generation descendent, Dhrubo Narayan Kundu now running the mansion. Ignore bourgeois tropes, and drive around a region that mirrors the rajbari’s eclectic roots. Bandel Church, Chinchura Imambara, the former French colony of Chandernagore, and the century-old Pandua Minar are all under a 40-minute drive from the property.
Itachuna Rajbari is a two-hour drive from Kolkata via the Durgapur Expressway.
Starts from INR 4,500/ USD63 for the rooms, and INR 2,500/USD35 for the mud huts.
Arrive here in advance of the Bangla Noboborsho (Bengali New Year), Durga Pujo, or Doljatra (Holi), when the festive atmosphere heightens the mansion’s legacy, baul performances are arranged on request, and communal meals of luchi, alur tarkari, cholar dal and kosha mangsho are served.
For inspired luxury
Unlike others in the list, this isn’t a real rajbari. Raajkutir is part of Swabhumi, an urban cultural centre. This Salt Lake City landmark spread over 13 acres of what once used to be a dumping ground, is in the throes of a massive rollout of food and retail courts over the new decade. The Kolkata-based Salient Design Studio has fashioned a makeover for an entire campus that champions sustainability and conservation, while interpreting a vintage, eclectic, and British rule-inspired Bengali vibe. Think of it as a contemporary version of colonial Calcutta.
Instead of the crumbling feel of a real rajbari, you get a glitter-and-shimmer zamindari feel at Raajkutir. Look closer and you’ll spot a thread of inspiration in the details—cast-iron balconies, kota stone, locally handwoven shitalpatia (murta plant mats, classified by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage), and decor elements crafted by artisans from Shantiniketan. The colonial theme spills into the flagship restaurant, East India Room, where Beckty Meunière (bhetki fish grilled with parsley and butter) and Chicken a la Kiev lead the Anglo- Indian menu with Portuguese, Dutch, and Mughal influences.
Raajkutir Swabhumi is located in Salt Lake City, which is a 25-minute drive from Kolkata Airport.
Starts from INR 15,000/ USD210.
The resplendent banquet halls, Raas Manch, Rang Manch, and Rang Darbaar are perfect for events, and the place can play the perfect venue for a big fat Indian wedding. Instagram-worthy spots are aplenty, from the wallpapers and handpicked curios in the rooms—named after characters from a fictional zamindar family—to the giant birdcages and a banyan tree shrine.
CALCUTTA BUNGALOW & THE CORNER COURTYARD
For modern-day staycations
From the sunset years of the British Raj to the abolishment of zamindari in 1951, rajbaris in Kolkata became increasingly difficult to maintain on dwindling incomes. The time also signalled the rise of the Bengali bhadralok (gentlefolk), who bridged the gap between zamindari excess and the European-influenced, heightened Bengali aesthetics. Enters the city townhouse, a residence pared down in size, but still maintaining architectural and artistic remnants from the larger mansions. With young entrepreneurs taking over these buildings in recent years, you can expect sangria evenings, sourdough masterclasses, and curated walks around bustling neighbourhoods. If you’re in Kolkata for work, you can get a crash course in heritage by checking into either of these two B&Bs.
The Corner Courtyard hides in plain sight on Sarat Bose Road, a whitewashed building where the central courtyard now serves as a restaurant lined with bookshelves and a wall of antique doorknobs. Even non-residents drop by for the excellent continental breakfast and an all-day menu featuring satays, New Zealand lamb chops, grilled bhetki fish, and some of the city’s best pizzas. All six guestrooms are colour-themed; we recommend Charcoal with its deliberate Satyajit Ray-hangover. Take the narrow stairs up to your room and you’ll notice the decor maintains several elements from the original building that was last inhabited in 1904.
Calcutta Bungalow is even more hippie. Candy pink and mint exteriors, colour-blocked rooms with little balconies, vintage typewriters and neon signs paint the once collapsing structure with a youthful charm. The rooms are named after city paras (localities); Jatra-Patra is particularly winsome, with puppets lining the walls that bring in a whiff of Bengal’s popular street theatre. There are guided walks and bicycle tours on offer to explore the quirks of the culture-rich neighbourhood.
Kolkata Airport is 12 km away from Calcutta Bungalow and 22 km from The Corner Courtyard.
The green Hindustan Ambassador at Calcutta Bungalow will ferry you around the city. The restaurant at The Corner Courtyard is famous for serving global dishes with Bengali influences.