Amidst thebusy streetsof Calcutta the traveller and writer, Rohini Wahi, discovers The Marble Palace, a place of quiet and contemplation.
My grandmother once told me that in 1930's Calcutta, her world was so blanketed in the sound of silence she could hear the roar of the Bengal Tigers from her home three miles as the crow flies from the city Zoo. Now I can only imagine the layers of sound that drown out those very tigers in my beloved Calcutta or any other bustling city for that matter...
Yet, in the depths of this mad metropolis is The Marble Palace. Once majestic on the shimmering banks of the Hooghly River, it is now reached through a maze of houses, shops, lanes and bylanes. Neither a museum nor a tourist attraction yet open to the public free of charge, the little known 19th Century palace is home to descendants of Raja Rajendra Mullick, a wealthy Bengali merchant who possessed an insatiable appetite for collecting artworks and curios.
Enter through its wrought iron gates, and the world drops away within the hush of a verdant garden and a soundtrack of gently trickling marble fountains flanked by mermaids and mermen. Studded with slumbering stone lions, sculptures of Hindu Gods, Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, Venus-esque statues and even Christopher Columbus, the garden piques your interest whilst it sates your ragged senses. Beyond the greenery is a magnificent palace, a curious medley of traditional Bengali, Oriental and Neoclassical styles of architecture. The palace is named so because of its wall-panels and floors made from one hundred and twenty six types of colourful Italian marble shipped across the ancient seas.
Transported to another era, it is easy to lose yourself through the centuries of cultural wealth amassed from over ninety countries. A life-size statue of Queen Victoria carved from a single tree trunk sits alongside a diverse medley of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, the room next to them houses an exquisite collection of over eighty antique clocks, corridors are crammed with vases, paintings and stone models of kings and queens. Nestled amongst these you may also find a luminous Rubens and Murillo.
Also on the grounds is a sleepy zoo boasting birds from all over the world, a rhesus monkey, langur and the great Indian peacock.
Entry to the Marble Palace is free, but a permit must be obtained 24 hours in advance from the West Bengal Tourism Information Bureau at BBD Bag, Kolkata. Inside the house, there are guides who give visitors a tour of the house, although the parts of the house which are still inhabited remain off-limits.
Marble Palace is open from 10am to 4pm on all days except Mondays and Thursdays.
Address: 46 Muktaram Basu St | off Chittaranjan Ave, Kolkata (Calcutta) 700040, India
Words by Rohini Wahi
Inset photograph from Kolkata Heritage Photo Project