Heritage site in a shambles

The worn-out Hemnagar Zamindar Bari in Tangail's Gopalpur upazila. The photo of the century-old structure was taken recently. Photo: Mirza Shakil

The once impressive structure of Hemnagar Zamindar Bari in Tangail's Gopalpur upazila is falling apart due to lack of proper maintenance.

Built in 1890 by Landlord Hemchandra Chowdhury, the two-storey palace comprises 100 rooms and sprawls across 30 acres of land at Shimlapara Mouja.

The area was later renamed after him.

Hemchandra brought in the best masons and artisans from Kolkata and Delhi to bring his vision of the palace to life.

Locals lovingly call the palace, Porir Dalan, a named earned by the two angels sitting atop the structure's entrance.

The palace opens on to a large field, with two ponds at the front and back of the grounds.

Once, the walls of the palace were adorned with colourful glass flowers, stars and trees.

Several deep wells dotted the area, giving residents a supply of pure drinking water. Besides, there were flower gardens, a zoo and puja mandap inside the palace, which was cordoned by tall, thick boundary walls. A two-storey Natyashala in front of the palace attracts visitors.

All these are now in ruins.

According to historians, the Hindu landlord left his palace of Ambaria in adjacent Madhupur upazila and constructed a new palace at Subornokhali village under Jhaoail union in Gopalpur upazila on 1880 and started directing his Zamindari from there.

Subornokhali was a famous port of Jamuna River at that period. Steamers from Kolkata and Assam used to dock at Subornokhali because of easy communication.

Train tracks were extended from Mymensingh to Jagannathganj Ghat in 1905 with efforts from Hemchandra and a few other Hindu landlords in the region, to facilitate easy rail and river communications between Dhaka and Kolkata.

Hemchandra also constructed five kilometres of concrete road from Subornokhali to Jagannathganj Ghat in Sarishabari upazila in adjacent Jamalpur district for the movement of 'tomtom' and 'palki'. It was the first concrete road in Gopalpur upazila.

However, the Subornokhali river port, as well as the palace of Hemchandra, was later devoured by the mighty Jamuna when the river changed its course during the last decade of the nineteenth century.

Hemchandra died at Kashi in India in 1925. His next generation later left the country when communal conflict arose in the area in 1965.

Porir Dalan still stands at Hemnagar, just three kilometres south-east of Subornokhali, as a witness to the glorious past.

During the Liberation War of 1971, Freedom Fighters of Kaderia Bahini used the palace as one of their bases to fight against the occupational Pakistani forces.

Later, a college -- Hemnagar Degree College -- was set up on 6.33 acres at the main portion of the palace in 1989 under a lease from the land ministry.

During a recent visit, this correspondent saw the deplorable condition of the structure, with weeds growing out of the walls. All the doors and windows have already been stolen, while cattle were seen walking inside the dirty rooms.

A local union parishad member set up a dairy farm inside the Zamindar Bari premises, which put a damper on the environment as well. 

The UP member Mahbub Hasan Tutul, also organising secretary of the union unit of AL, did it allegedly with the help of a local influential quarter, said locals.

As the matter came to the administration's notice, it removed the farm.

Visitors still flock to see the once impressive fortress, but are soon frustrated to see the worn out state, said Golam Rose Hossain Talukder, a former vice-president of the student body of Hemnagar Degree College.

Steps should be taken to renovate the palace immediately, he added.

The traditional structure needs renovation but the college authority does not have the necessary funds, Anisur Rahman, a member of the college managing committee, told The Daily Star recently.