~ Birth Place of Calcutta Chinatown ~
In the late 18th century a Chinese tea trader by the name of Tong Achew landed on the banks of Hooghly, somewhere near present day Budge – Budge, never to return again. The then Governor General Warren Hasting granted land to Achew to set up a sugar cane plantation and sugar factory. According to records to British East India Company “Achew was granted 650 bighas of land about 6 miles south of Budge – Budge for an annual rent of Rs 45.”
After acquiring the land Achew set up a sugar – cane plantation along with a sugar mill. He brought in a band of Chinese workers to work in his plantation and factory and thus forming the first Chinese settlement in India. But Achew died soon after and his sugar factory was abandoned. His workers left for the city of Calcutta, where their descendents still continue to live.
The place came to be known as Achipur after Tong Achew. Sadly today apart from a Chinese Temple and Achew’s horse – shoe – shaped grave Achipur has no Chinese connection. But once every year, on the Sunday after Chinese New Year, the sleepy hamlet of Achipur comes alive with the beating of Chinese drums. Possible every Chinese of Calcutta make a pilgrimage to Achipur to pay tribute to the man, who started the first Chinese settlement in India more than 230 years ago.
Located 33 km from Calcutta, Achipur can be best reached by route No. 77 bus from Esplanade. Get down at Boro Shiv Tala and walk for 10 minutes to China-man-tala, housing the Chinese temple.
As you enter the Temple you will be surrounded by hordes of Chinese offering prayers to the Chinese Deities. Candles and incense sticks are lit and the table in front of the alter is laid with an most amazing spread, ranging from whole roosted pig to chicken, from bottles of wines to heaps of fruits from exotic spices to expensive nuts. Sadly the mouth watering food is for personal consumption, so it is best to carry your own food.
The temple houses the male & female deity of Khuda & Khudi. Although distinctively Chinese in appearance their head gears are predominantly Islamic. Although legends says that the Temple was established by Achew himself, but historians doubt about its authenticity. It is quite likely that the Temple was established at a later date but the idols of Khuda & Khudi are quiet likely to be brought in by Achew himself.
The low ceiling of the temple has remarkable wood work and so does the pillars. The walls are filled in with excellent Chinese calligraphy. Apart from the main alter there are several prayer halls, which are lit up with candles, during the New Year celebration. Also Chinese fortune tellers make a brief business by predicting your fortune for only a couple of rupees.
Bidding farewell to the Temple head for Achew’s grave. The Horse – shoe – shaped red coloured grave overlooks the Hooghly. Here also the Chinese pays tribute by lighting candles incense sticks, to the man who started it all. It is also a place to enjoy the breeze and a senior Chinese can well narrate you the good old days of Chinese New Year celebration in Calcutta.
Even during the 1950s the Hooghly was navigable and whole vessels were chattered to bring the Chinese to Achipur. The decks consisted of food & gambling stalls and money flowed freely. The Chinese New Year in Achipur was celebrated with Dragon & Lion Dance complete with beating of hundreds of drums.
The river have long silted up, the Indian Government has imposed ban on gambling and the young Chinese are leaving Calcutta for greener pastures. Today the Dragon & Lion Dance have long stopped and the beating of drums can hardly be heard.
So if you want to experience the last of the dying culture of the Chinese of Calcutta it is best to visit Achipur on the Sunday after the Chinese New Year, which can double up as a winter Sunday picnic.
Related links from my website:
- Article on Achipur
- Photos of Chinese New Year Celebration (Achipur & Tiretta Bazar)
- Chinese Temples of Tiretta Bazar, Calcutta (Kolkata)
List of my Blog entry on West Bengal