Last month when my friend and I were in Kolkata, someone suggested we visit The Denmark Tavern in Serampore, Hooghly. This historical guest house, which was renovated and opened to the public in 2018, was from the Danish era.
We were quite intrigued by the proposal because unlike the British, French or Portuguese influence in India, we did not know much about the Danish influence. So, we set out for a day-long visit to Serampore. It is 25 kilometres from Kolkata and takes about an hour to reach.
The Danish trading company started its first station in Bengal in 1698 and in Serampore, in 1755. In fact, they named it Frederiksnagore after the Danish King Frederik the Fifth. In 1845, the Danish sold Serampore to the British.
Interestingly, long before the colonial period, Serampore was a pilgrimage site for Hindu believers for almost 700 years. The second oldest Rath Yatra in India started here. Each year, during Rath and Ulta Rath, hundreds of pilgrims gather here to celebrate the occasions.
Once we reached Serampore, we were received by local travel enthusiasts Pradip Chatterjee and Bratin Gangopadhyay who took us out for coffee at The Denmark Tavern, which started its journey as a riverside government rest house in 1786.
Before the restoration, the state of the building was dilapidated with rubble all around it. Now, it is a bright yellow building with pretty green windows and doors.
At present the tavern is operating in full form with six well decorated rooms and excellent dining services for visitors. I have been to Denmark and I must say the décor after the restoration is very elegant and very Danish. The slender, dark furniture in some of the rooms looks beautiful against the light coloured walls.
For budget travellers, this place is a bit pricey but the money is worth paying for, if you are looking to indulge in a good experience.
After coffee, we went to the Shahid Minar by the Hooghly River, which mentions the names of all the language martyrs from Dhaka in 1952 as well as Assam in 1961.
We then had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant and headed towards the St Olav's Church in Serampore, our guides informed us that this was also from the Danish era and it was built in 1805. It was restored from 2013 to 2016 as termites had ruined the wooden structure. The church still has the monogram of the Danish King Christian the Seventh.
The restoration was a collaboration between The National Museum of Denmark's Serampore Initiative, Serampore College and the diocese of Kolkata.
The next spot on our list was the famous Serampore College, the oldest college in the Indian subcontinent, established in 1818 by the famous Serampore trio: William Carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward. They were also the ones who worked on printing books in Bangla.
William Carey was a great man whose knowledge was unmatchable. He knew 34 languages but dedicated his life to the Bangla language.
The museum holds an astonishing collection of books in different languages, including Chinese, published by this trio. All of them were printed in Serampore Press. Carey's desk, letter box etc are still kept here.
The college authority was very kind to allow us to visit the library, which also has many antique books, including a copy of 'Samachar Darpan', the first Bangla magazine ever published.
Along with the college, we visited the William Carey Museum, the William Carey library (which is called the first library of India) and the Danish Cemetery.
Later in the day, Pradeep Da and Bratin Da also took us to a few other temples in Serampore and our visit ended on a sweet note as we tasted some of the delicious, freshly made local 'mishtis' and started for Kolkata.