West Bengal on tourist map!

27 Jun

West Bengal despite its beaches, hill stations, religious places, handicrafts, tea gardens, historical places, wildlife destinations has not been able to be attract tourists for a number of reasons but nothing more than state government apathy.

With the wind of change in the political scenario, there is a possibility that the new people in power might work on putting West Bengal on top of the tourist map. Sultan Ahmed, the recently appointed Union Minister of State for Tourism has righly pointed out that West Bengal does not feature in the choice of destinations of even domestic travellers because of the lack of marketing and proper infrastructure.

Travelling, although I am not able to do much of it now, is one activity I wish to add to my list of hobbies but unable to do right now.

However, here are a few weekend get-aways for people like me who will like to leave the city behind for a short while to be return back to office rejuvenated on Monday morning. With the rains appearing slowly but surely, there will be a lot of people longing to take a much needed break and this list may be of some help.

Top 9 Weekend Getaways from Kolkata

1) Shantiniketan

shantiniketanThis small town near Bolpur in Birbhum district of West Bengal and just 180 KM from Kolkata attracts millions of tourists. This tops the list of every Bengali’s weekend getaways not just because of our very own Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore wrote most of his famous pieces from here but also Shantiniketan which means “abode of peace” is the embodiment of serenity and peace, far removed from the concrete jungle.

This mesmerizing place rich in culture is most famous for its Viswa-Bharati University. The campus has grown up to be a centre for learning with an emphasis on art, music and humanities. The Uttarayan complex where the poet lived consists of several buildings, which reflect the architectural genius of the poet’s illustrious son, the late Rathindranath Tagore. In addition there are Kala Bhavan (College of Fine Arts and Crafts), Sangeet Bhavan (College of Music and Dance), Vidya Bhavan (College of Humanities), Shiksha-Bhavan (College of Science) and others. The galleries at Kala Bhavan and Bichitra (Rabindra Bhavan) are worth visiting.

Also, do not miss out the deer park near Shantiniketan which is also a natural bird sanctuary.

Shantiniketan is also famous for its festivals, the most famous being the annual Paus Mela, which starts on the 7th day of the Bengali calender month of Paus. It is a colourful festival – a meeting ground for the rural and urban milieu. Beside this many others mela like Vasantotsav, Barsha Mangal, Halakarshan utsav also attractive festival in Shantiniketan.

The best time to visit Shantiniketan is during November to April especially during the Holi Festival in March.

Links: wbgov.in,Wikipedia

2) Digha

Digha has always been everybody’s favorite so far as short trips are concerned. It is really an amazing choice for a weekend getaway, which takes about five hours from Kolkata.

Known as the ‘Brighton of the East’, Digha’s beaches are shallow with low waves and extends to around 2 KM into the sea. With so much of sun, sand and sea to soak up, it is no wonder that Digha is one of the most popular weekend getaways from Kolkata.

Due to the overexposure and lack of proper development over a number of years, Digha is not as beautiful as it was during my first visits as a child. I will recommend

2) Mandarmani

MandarmaniIf you are tired of the routine life, the madding crowd and your boss’s deadlines, then the beach of Mandarmani, which is about 180 kms from Kolkata can be the right choice to break free for few days.

Its about a hour’s drive from the over crowded Digha. Mandarmani boasts of a 13 km long motorable beach, probably the longest motorable beach road in India. Although, driving on the beaches doesnt do the ecology any good, due to lack of any road its the only way to access the resorts.

Also dont miss the mouth-watering dishes of tiger prawns, crabs, crispy fried shrimps. Give alcohol a miss for a day and have the refreshing coconut water which local farmers sell.

So, if you are planning for a quiet no-frills getaway, Mandarmani will be a perfect choice. However, Mandarmani does not have elctricity yet. So if the city luxuries are a must for you, then stay at Digha and stop by at Mandarmani on your way back.

Links: WikiTravel, KolkataMirror, Contai.info

3) Sundarbans

Ever thought of spending a whole day in the midst of mudclad crocodiles, hopping Cheetals and majestic Royal Bengals! If not, then come to Sunderbans. – West Bengal Tourism Website

The region has been wrecked by the recent storm Aila and will take some to recover. Named after its large number of Sundari trees, the Sunderbans is a World Heritage Site that’s a must-see for the wildlife-loving traveller in Kolkata. Although the land is now ruled by 269 Royal Bengal Tigers, Sunderbans is not only about tigers. It is also home to animal species like fishing cats, jungle cats, Axis deer, Spotted Deer, wild boar, mongooses and Rhesus monkeys. Since Sunderbans is surrounded by water from all sides, it is the happy hunting ground of estuarine crocodiles. They are among the biggest in the world. The region is also a favourtie for bird-watchers.

The best time to be in Sundarban is September-March. Although the luxury tours to the Sunderbans carry on the year round, and the monsoon holds its own magic over tourists on the expanse of the Sunderbans, September-March is the most likely time for tiger-sighting.

4) Bishnupur

bishnupurLocated in the Bankura district of West Bengal, it takes about five hours to drive to this temple town famous for its terracota temples. Apart from temples, Bishnupur has some very attractive bandhs or large tanks that offer good sightseeing.

While in Bishnupur, remember to go shopping for local handicrafts which includes silk, Tussar, conch shell wares, bell metal wares. Vishnupur is famous for terracotta toys and dolls, especially the stylized horses, better known as Bankura Horses. Vishnupur now is the center of production for the famous Baluchari saris that originated near Murshidabad. Note that Baluchari is one of the expensive varieties of saris.

If you are of the religious type, drive on to Jairambati and Kamarpukur which are the birthplaces of  Sarada Ma and Sri Ramakrishna Pramahansa.

The best time to visit is during the month of August, when Bishnupur resounds with the mesmerizing lilt of the snake charmer’s pipes. The annual festival of Jhapan is celebrated with snake shows and snake fights, to revere Goddess Manasa, the dominant deity of the snake-worship cult.

The week-long Bishnupur Mela brings the entire town alive with a cultural retrospective towards the end of December.

Links:wb.nic.in

5) Murshidabad

If you love historical places, the city of Murshidabad which is a witness to many events that changed the course of history of India will mesmerize you. This ancient port city was at one time one of the largest cities in the world. Murshidabad is historically a very valuable place. It is the place where the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daula, was killed in a war with British.

The main tourist attraction of the place is the Hazarduari Palace, or the palace with a thousand doors. Spread over 41 acres, the palace was constructed by Duncan Macleod in 1837. The palace was built in typicaI European style of architecture. The palace has been converted to a museum, which holds a collection of armoury, paintings, portraits of the Nawabs, Ivory works of China and many other valuables. There are also the vintage cars, used by the Nawabs, in the museum.

Nearby the palace are some other attractions viz. the Wasef Manzil (the New Palace) by the bank of the Ganga, Tripolia Gate, the Dakshin Darwaza, the Chak Darwaza, the Imambara, the Gharighar (the Clock Tower), the Bachchawali Tope (a canon) and the Madina; all were built between 12th and 14th century. Katra Mosque, Nasipur Palace and Kath-gola are also must visits.

Murshidabad is a city famous for Murshidabadi Silk and ivory handicrafts. Travelling to Murshidabad from Kolkata or Calcutta is made convenient as it is well connected by railways and road. There are also many tours to Murshidabad operating out of Kolkata which is why people flock here for weekend getaways.

6) Raichak

Located on the banks of Hooghly River, Raichak is 50 Km from Kolkata, making it an ideal destination for weekend tourists. Surrounded by verdant trees, the picturesque town offers glorious views of the river with rows of country boats sailing down, and makes a perfect escape from the city grind. The British built a fort here in the 18th centurty to guard against pirates. It has been converted into a five-star resort and is the best place to stay at Raichak.

Raichak is a sleepy town on the banks of the majestic river Ganges. Its a definite Weekend getaway for people staying in and around Kolkata. Drive down to Raichak from Kolkata and enjoy the calm view of the river and the pure air for a perfect weekend.

7) Bakkhali

BakkhaliIf you are greedy and want a beach to yourself head to Bakkhali which is the second most popular sea resort in the state after Digha. Only 132 km away from Kolkata (Calcutta) , chances are that your wish will be granted for Bakkhali is one of Indias most secluded beach. Bakkhali boasts of a beautiful casurina tree lined white sand beachfront. When you are in Bakkhali,  sit quietly on the beach with your beloved and enjoy the various moods of the sea.

It has a 7 km long beach stretching from Bakkhali to Frasergunj with gently rolling waves. The winter months between October and February are a great time to visit Bakkhali.

Links: Wikipedia, Wikitravel

8 ) Dooars

A must see destination for wildlife enthusiasts which even casual travelers cannot miss out is the Dooars valley (also called Duars) stretching from River Teesta on the west to River Sankosh on the east, an area coving roughly 130 km by 40 km. The evergreen virgin forests of northern West Bengal, the lush tea gardents, the small quiet ethnic villages flanking the Teesta make the Dooars valley make it a fascinating tourist destination.

The beauty of the region lies not only in its tea gardens but also in the dense jungles that make up the countryside. Dooars is famous for its rich biodiversity and forests. The most notable of which are Gorumara National Park, Jaldapara Wild Life Sanctuary and Buxa Tiger Reserve. Number of rare, endangered species of animals like tiger, rhinoceros, elephant, make their habitats in the forests of the Dooars. Other animals includes different types of deer, bison, birds and reptiles.

A stay at a forest lodge, a walk down the ruins of forts at Nalrajar Garh and Buxa Duar, an afternoon at the Jalpesh temple, elephant rides through the home of the rhino and a visit to the habitat of the Toto tribes in Totopara has to be part of your itinerary.

Take a train from Kolkata to Siliguri, and then cover the remaining distance by road.

As far as accommodation is concerned there are Jungle Lodges located at places like Chapramati, Garumara, Samsing, Hollong, Jainti, Nilpara and Bardabri. Decent lodges are also available at Mal and Madarihat.

Links : Wikipedia, East-Himalaya.com

9) Darjeeling

The hill town of Darjeeling derives its name from the monastery Dorje Ling, meaning place of Thunderbolt. The British had chosen this Himalayan Foothills to build a sanatorium in the 19th century. Soon it became the summer capital of Bengal owing to its salubrious climate. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was opened in 1881 which is now in the Unesco World Heritage list.

Despite the intermittent political problems, Darjeeling remains a favourite getaway for tourists from Kolkata and elsewhere. There are many places to visit. The famous Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Zoo, Foot Ball Playground,  Buddhist temples, Japanese Styled Buddhist Temple, The Rock Garden, innumerable Tea Estates, etc. The most famous of them all is the Tiger Hill where people go to watch the sunrise from below the mountains which is a feast to the eyes of the nature lover. One cannot also, miss to visit the House of Tenzing Sherpa, the first man to conquer Mount Everest.

Mirik Lake and the Kalimpong town are two beautiful places which you cannot on your Darjeeling trip.

Links: Wikitravel

10 ) Gadiara, Maithon, Mukutmanipur, Jaldapara, Malda, Cochbehar

I have let out Digha purposefully as it is not anymore Warren Hasting’s “Brighton of the East.” The cruel lack of care for the environmnet of the tourist over the years and lack of proper development has made Digha lot less beautiful than it was during my first visits to the place as a child.

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