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  • The historical bungalow which served as a retreat where the rulers of Bengal entertained the high and mighty, could not withstand the might of the storm surge the cyclone brought on May 26.

  • The bungalow once also had a museum in which stuffed carcasses of hunted animals were probably on display.

Fraserganj (West Bengal): More than a century-old seaside retreat on the southern edge of the tiger-infested Sunderbans, where India's colonial rulers once wined and dined to the sound of orchestra music has been swallowed by the hungry waves which lashed onto the beaches and forests when cyclone Yaas hit last month.

A few broken portions of brick walls defended by Mangrove roots which desperately cling to it are all that remain of the Fraserganj residence- a spacious bungalow built by Sir Andrew Fraser, lieutenant governor of Bengal between 1903 and 1908- where India's high society including the likes of Viceroy, Lord George Curzon once danced away their nights to the sound of laughter of their ladies and tinkling of wine glasses, as live orchestras shipped down from Kolkata played in attendance.

The historical bungalow which served as a retreat where the rulers of Bengal entertained the high and mighty, could not withstand the might of the storm surge the cyclone brought on May 26, Namkhana Block Development Officer (BDO) Santanu Singha Thakur said.

Sir Andrew Fraser had finished part of his planned retreat which boasted of a ballroom and a bar for the entertainment of the then capital of India's high society, said Debisankar Middya, an archaeologist specialising in coastal Bengal.

Fraser, born in the then Bombay Presidency in 1848 had joined the Indian Civil Service in 1871. He spotted the beach at Narayantala, and decided it was the ideal location for his retreat and probably started building the bungalow before he became the lieutenant governor, the top job in Bengal province, which then included Bihar, Odisha, modern Bangladesh, Assam and Meghalaya, besides West Bengal.

Middya told PTI that a golf course had also been laid out by Fraser close to the bungalow."I had seen a remnant of the golf course during a visit," he said.

The sea and the weather over the years, had already started eroding parts of the historical residence probably built in 1901-02 on the highest dune in the area. The twin blows from Cyclone Amphan which hit the state last year and Yaas which hit the area last month, dealt the final blow to Fraser's bungalow.

"Only a bathroom is still standing," Thakur said.

Bricks that had been dislodged from the broken walls were strewn on the ground.

The bungalow once also had a museum in which stuffed carcasses of hunted animals were probably on display, Middya said.

The archeologist said that Fraser had a larger plan to develop the area, referred to as Mecklenberg Island in contemporary Admiralty charts, and had cleared jungles in most parts of it, constructed roads and embankments, besides trying to set up a post-office and a school there.

There was also a plan to develop the area as a health resort for the English elite who ruled India.

However, the administration had to abandon the idea due to the huge cost involved in the project, failure to get farmers to settle in the locality and resistance by a small community of local fishermen.

The area later came to be known as Fraserganj after the lieutenant governor, but with the sea and high tides lapping hungrily at it, it is difficult to predict for how long even the remains of Fraser's dream retreat will stand.
 

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