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Dispatches from the ground.


Cooch Behar in north Bengal has an Italian Renaissance palace so beautiful it will blow your mind

But tucked away in India’s northeast, it sees almost no tourism.

The Rani of Cooch Naheen in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a queen in British India so Anglicised and taken with European culture that her skin – in the best traditions of magic realism – “was going white in blotches”. “I am the hapless victim of my cross-cultural connections,” the Rani says, justifying her Vitiligo. “My skin is the outward expression of the internationalism of my spirit”.

Cooch Nahin – literally “nothing” in the Urdu of the novel’s tragic narrator-cum-protagonist Saleem Sinai – is a pun on an actual princely state in British India, Cooch Behar. And while Rushdie was obviously being critical of the tendency of Indian princes to imitate the British, one needs to actually go to Cooch Behar to see the limits to which Indian royals did actually ape Europeans during the Raj.

The main dome of the palace
The main dome of the palace

The royal palace of Cooch Behar, now a part of West Bengal, is the most beautiful sore thumb there is. A massive palace built in the classical style of the Italian Renaissance – bang in the middle of a small Bengali town. With its ribbed dome and Corinthian pilasters spanning multiple storeys, the building is in fact clearly inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The resemblance is even starker on the inside, with windows streaming in sunlight placed in a row below the dome’s cornice.

The facade of the palace
The facade of the palace

Not only is the palace beautiful, it has also housed extraordinary beauty. Maharani Gayatri Devi was born in the palace in 1919 and later married into the princely state of Jaipur. Devi – known as one of the world’s most beautiful women during her time – entered politics as part of the Swarajya Party of C Rajagopalachari. Rumour has it that as late as 1999, the Trinamool Congress asked her to come back to Cooch Behar and contest as its candidate – but she didn’t respond.

In spite of this beauty and history, the Cooch Behar palace is little visited. In fact, Cooch Behar’s most popular tourist spot isn’t even the palace, it is another royal monument: the Madan Mohan Temple.

The Madan Mohan temple
The Madan Mohan temple

It is unusual for Bengali temples to have a dome and the structure houses Madan Mohan, Krishna in his sensual form – literally meaning the one who has enchanted the god of love. The name derives from Kamdev, the Hindu god of love, also known as Madan, whom Krishna is supposed to have won over.

Next door to the temple, the city hosts the annual Rashmela fair to commemorate Krishna’s victory and attracts people from all over. As a little paean to the syncretic Koch Rajbanshi local culture, the centrepiece of the fair, the 20-feet tall Rashchakra is, by royal tradition, built by a Muslim family of artisans.

Artisans making the image of Madan Mohan with the milkmaids of Braj
Artisans making the image of Madan Mohan with the milkmaids of Braj
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What to look for when buying your first car in India

Hint: It doesn’t have to be a small car.

When it comes to buying their first car, more Indians are making unconventional choices. Indian car buyers in 2016 are looking for an automobile that is a symbol of their aspirations and sets them apart from the herd. Here are a few things you should consider when buying your first car:

Look beyond small cars

According to the JD Power India Escaped Study (2015), the percentage of new-vehicle shoppers who considered a small car reduced by 20% over three years—from 65% to 45%. Buyers are now looking at bigger, affordable cars and luckily for them, there are more choices available. Known as compact sedans, these cars offer the features of a sedan, are larger than hatchbacks and contain a boot. These sedans offer the comfort and features that once only belonged to expensive luxury cars but at a price that’s within the reach of a first-time car buyer.

Design and styling is important but don’t forget utility.

It’s a good idea to have a car that has been designed over the past three years and doesn’t look outdated. Features like alloy wheels and dual beam headlamps add to the style quotient of your vehicle so consider those. Additionally, look for a car with a sturdy build quality since Indian urban conditions may not always be kind to your car and may furnish it with scrapes and dents along the way.

Image Credit: Volkswagen
Image Credit: Volkswagen

Does it test-drive well?

In 2014, 35% of new-vehicle buyers researched vehicles when they were buying but by 2015, this number had risen to nearly 41% according to the JD Power study. While the internet is the primary source of research in India, the best source of information about a car is always a test drive. Listen to the sales person and read all online reviews, but test every feature to your satisfaction.

Where do you plan to drive?

Look for a car that’s spacious and comfortable while being easy to drive or park on our crowded city roads. Compact sedans are perfectly suited for Indian driving conditions. Some of them come with parking assistance and rear view cameras, rain sensors and front fog lights with static cornering that are excellent driving aids. If you plan to use the car for long drives, compact sedans that provide cruise control, a tilt and telescopic adjustable steering wheel and a front centre armrest would be perfect. On road trips with family members who usually pack more than necessary, extra elbow room inside and good boot-space is a blessing.

Is the model about to be discontinued?

Never buy a model that is going to be discontinued because it could result in difficulty finding spare parts. Buying an old model will also affect your resale value later. In 2015, according to the same report, 10% of shoppers considered newly launched car models as against 7% in 2013—a strong indication that newer models are being preferred to old ones.

Diesel or petrol?

Diesel and petrol cars have different advantages, and it’s best to take a decision based on the distance you plan to drive on a regular basis. While petrol cars are usually priced lower and are more cost effective when it comes to service and maintenance, diesel cars typically have better mileage due to higher efficiency and provide a smoother drive due to higher torque. Additionally, diesel is the cheaper fuel. So it makes more economic sense to buy a diesel car if you are driving long distances every day.

Most importantly, safety always comes first.

Look for a car that is built sturdy and pays extra attention to safety features like Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS), side impact bars and dual front airbags. Safety is also a function of the design and features such as a galvanized steel body add to the strength of the build. It’s important to remember not to make trade-offs on safety for less important features when choosing variants.

Buying your first car is an important milestone in life. And the new Volkswagen Ameo has been designed with several first-in-segment features to cater to all the needs of a first-time car buyer in India. Its bold design and elegant styling along with state-of-the-art features like cruise control, reverse parking camera and sensors, and intelligent rain sensors set it apart from other cars in its class. Its safety features are also a notch above, with dual front airbags that are standard in every variant and side impact bars. A sturdy galvanized steel body and laser welded roof cocoon its passengers from harm, and its modern ABS, that is also standard in all variants, prevents the wheels from locking when you brake hard. A six-year perforation warranty and a three-year paint warranty ensure that the car body is protected from scratches and dents. The Ameo comes in both petrol and diesel variants. Check out all the features of the Ameo here. Also hear the experience of two first time car buyers in the video below.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Volkswagen and not by the Scroll editorial team.

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