At the Riverside
Tong Achew’s grave
Tong Achew’s grave
Kolkata and its surroundings are home to many historical treasures. In and around the city, there are many places which have a deep historical and cultural significance but are not well known to people. How many of us know that the famed Chinatown of Kolkata has its origin in a nondescript place 33 km from Kolkata, called Achipur? It was Tong Achew , an intrepid Chinese businessman , who settled in Achipur and founded the first Chinese settlement in the early 18th Century. Coming in as a trader from China, he soon struck good links with the British administration, under Warren Hastings. and set up a sugar factory and sugarcane plantations . He also set up the Chinese temple that stands to this day, called the temple of Khuda and Khudi( temple of God and Goddess).
On a fine August day, we (me, Ma, Baba and Sukanyadi) decided to visit Achipur. Driving from Behala Chowrasta, we reached Maheshtala and hit the BBT ( Budge Budge Trunk) Road. The potholed stretch becomes slightly better at this juncture, at Budge Budge, and soon leads on , through markets , upcoming residential areas and settlements , to Achipur. Here, the road ends and one is greeted by the inevitable statue of Gandhi and by the expansive stretch of the Hooghly river. One can see the boats coming in from the other side of the Hooghly, though it is pitiable to see that there is no jetty and people have to make the trip to the shore barefoot through the muddy riverbank.Sukanyadi being a photo buff, lost no time in b=gettin around clicking. We ended up clicking the river, its banks, various fauna such as crabs, butterflies and the like !
At this point, there is a guest house ( Pujali Guest House ) , maintained by the local municipality, where one can stay overnight, and also have picnics. It is reasonably well- maintained, and seemed clean and decent enough.
Tong Achew’s grave is nearby, at Chinamantala, on the bank of the Hooghly. It is a curious horseshoe- shaped, red-coloured structure, with Chinese inscriptions, which is located between two brick kilns. Incense sticks can be seen at the site, probably indicating that it receives some attention from time to time. There is a also a Chinese temple which was built by Tony Achew, and is today called the Khuda Khudi temple. It is built in the typical Chinese style, with carvings and inscriptions. It has recently been renovated and an ornate gate has been built at the entrance. However, it is kept locked ( much to our disappointment), and on enquiring, we were told that it opened only opened at the time of the festivities of Chinese new year, in mid-February, when the Chinese community throngs the place.
Tong Achi was an enterprising man , who set up the thriving Chinese community in Achipur. However, after his death, things changed and the community, devoid of the sustenance that had drawn them here, moved to the present-day Chinatown. Thus, the history of the first Chinese settlement took a turn and the importance of the place waned. However, history is not forgotten, and during the Chinese new year, this place regains its true colours, Tong Achew’s spirit comes back to grace the place, and festivities commence.
It was during one such occasion that a tragedy befell the place, a shipwreck occurred to Chinese pilgrims who had come over ( as narrated by one of the local residents whom we talked to), and since then, the trip is undertaken by road.
To know about the origin of the closely knit fascinating Chinese community of Kolkata ( from where they have moved on to various parts of India and the world), make a trip to Achipur, on the banks of the river Hooghly. You will surely be rewarded by wonderful vignettes of history.
Getting there: Achipur is 33 km from Kolkata- one can get there by bus from Esplanade ( No.77).One has to get down at Boro Battala bus stop and walk 15 minutes to Chinamantala, where the ancient temple , and the grave are located.One can also drive through Taratalla, Maheshtala and then on to Achipur.
Best time to visit: Mid-February, when the Chinese festival takes place, and the Chinese community throngs the place.
Accomodation : A day trip is enough, but if one has to stay at the Pujali guest house, by the riverside, one has to make arrangements before hand.The guset house has rooms and cottages. The details are available at : http://www.pujalimunicipality.org/cms.php?page=ODE=
Food: Better to carry food with you, since there are no decent eateries nearby.
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