West Bengal : Pride of India
The cultural and intellectual capital of India, West Bengal, shares its boundaries with Jharkhand, Bihar and Nepal. The state has a diverse geography, and boasts of the most lovely hill stations and amazing beaches which appear straight out of picture perfect cards.
The most well-known hill station of the state is Darjeeling. This hilly attraction also produces perhaps the best tea in the world. This picturesque hill station offers mesmerizing views of sun rise on the Eastern Himalayas. Darjeeling Tea and the Darjeeling Toy Train, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are the place’s other key attractions. Equally, if not more, lovely hill stations such as Siliguri and Kalimpong surround Darjeeling, further adding to the place’s amazing appeal and beauty.
Sunderbans is another notable draw of West Bengal. It is the world's biggest mangrove jungle and the country’s largest wildlife sanctuary. Situated on the Gangetic plains, the Sunderbans is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is renowned for the Royal Bengal Tigers, the famed man eaters.
The capital city of Kolkata boasts of many architecturally rich, hundred-odd years structures which have proudly withstood the ravages of time and climate, and are living testimonials of West Bengal’s illustrious history and heritage. Victoria Memorial (the most overwhelming reminder of the Raj in India) and Town Hall are some of such famous attractions.
Howrah (Rabindra Setu, Howrah Bridge -- the sixth longest bridge of its type in the world), Shantiniketan (the famed poet Rabindranath Tagore penned many of his literary classics here) and Siliguri (The gateway of North East India) are some of the other tourist attractions of the tourist friendly state, West Bengal which is sometimes also called the Pride of India.
West Bengal has a rich history and culture also. The culture of the state is regarded to be one of the richest in the country. Actually, the culture and history of the state are so remarkable that one is simply left in awe. Its delicious cuisine, rich art and crafts, music and dance, traditions and creativity also mush inspire the visitors and add to its tourist appeal.
Tourist Destination in West Bengal
Business/MICE Tourism in West Bengal
Usual business meetings and conferences are almost history now. Now what has caught the fancy of the corporate czars and business people in business tourism is MICE – Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE). They seem to have understood that atmosphere proves a pivotal in inspiring the staff and boosting their overall performance and productivity.
They know that when one hosts the conventional annual business meetings, international conferences and conventions, exhibitions and events at interesting and beautiful tourist places, the event automatically gets transformed into glamorous events -- which prove both productive and entertaining for everyone, including the participants and the delegates.
And this brings one to West Bengal. Lately, the state has emerged as a leading destination from the business/MICE tourism viewpoint -- thanks mainly to its amazing number of stunningly beautiful hill destinations, great socio-cultural background, sumptuous cuisines, religious shrines, and wildlife & nature spots, and of course, its many luxurious hotels and resorts that offer first-rate business and conventions related facilities.
In fact, most of the top and luxury hotels of West Bengal have well-equipped large and spacious meeting/boardrooms and conventions halls for their corporate and business guests where practically all business related facilities and amenities -- such as quality secretarial services, data port, international dialing, power backup, Colour copier, Courier, Fax, Internet -- are offered. And all this has considerably boosted the concept of business/MICE tourism in West Bengal making the state a leading business/MICE destination in India.
Though almost all the famed destinations of West Bengal have wonderful hotels which are just perfect for hosting successful business meets, for want of space, below are mentioned only those hotels and resorts which are in and around Kolkata, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Mandarmani, Durgapur, Mandarmani and Digha. Most of these hotels are strategically located and easily accessible by all modes of transport.
Business/Mice Hotels in and around Kolkata : Hindusthan International, Hyatt Regency, ITC Sonar, Taj Bengal, The Oberoi Grand, Vedic Village International Spa Resort, Indismart, The Kenilworth, and The Peerless Inn.
Business/Mice Hotels in and around Darjeeling : Viceroy Hotel, Hotel North Star, Hotel Sinclairs, Hotel Windamere, The Olde Bellevue Hotel, Hotel New Elgin and Cedar Inn.
Business/Mice Hotels in and around Siliguri : Hotel Cindrella, Hotel Dolly Inn, Hotel Sinclairs, Hotel Dolly Inn, and Hotel Apollo.
Business/Mice Hotels in and around Digha : The Palm Resort.
Business/Mice Hotels in and around Durgapur : Ginger Durgapur, Peerless Inn.
Business/Mice Hotels in and around Mandarmani : Rose Valley.
Art, Culture, Handicrafts & Sports of West Bengal
The leading Indian destination of West Bengal has always been in the forefront in the fields of art and culture, and been pivotal behind an impressive number of modern movements in diverse fields, including literature, sculpture, painting, theatre, cinema, science, industry, politics and even sports.
Whether it is the famed Rabindra Sangeet songs, known for their finesse, or the Jatra (the traditional theatrical performance of West Bengal), the state indeed has always left a huge impression, and led from the front. No wonder, its capital Kolkata is considered as the cultural capital of India.
The state has a pretty impressive heritage when it comes to handicrafts. The stunningly beautiful texture of the Baluchari Sarees, Silk and Tasar Textile from Birbhum, Murshidabad, Hooghly, Bankura, besides the Nadia Districts much inspire everyone.
West Bengal has a superb history in the domain of cinema. It goes back to the 1890s, when the first "bioscopes" were shown in theatres across Calcutta. Billwamangal was the first Bengali feature film. Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik Ghatak are the leading names in regional filmmaking. Satyajit Ray even got an Oscar for his exceedingly well made film, ‘Pather Panchali’.
Presently, the Bengali films are keenly watched by close to 340 million cine lovers scattered in the various parts of India and even abroad, mainly in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, not to mention Bangladesh. Uttam Kumar, Utpal Dutt, Victor Banerjee, Suchitra Sen, Debashree Roy, Aparna Sen…these are just some of the many distinguished actors who have much enriched the regional cinema of West Bengal.
The state also boasts of a rich theatre culture and theatre art is being practiced in West Bengal since the 1770s. Actually, the Bengali theatre has made an enormous role in the popularity of the state's intellectual credentials and its rich art and cultural lineage.
Gombhira, the satirical theatrical performances of the state, have become national treasures of sorts. Dance-drama of Rabindranath Tagore also gets huge respect from all. Keeping alive the rich theatre heritage of the state are Star Theatre, Academy of Fine Arts, Rabindra Sadan, Nahabat and Girish Manch theatres.
West Bengal also has a rich sports culture and sports such as football and cricket are much loved by the people. Football especially is a hugely popular sport in West Bengal and the state boasts of thousands of football grounds which could be seen almost everywhere. West Bengal also has several famed football clubs of national repute, including East Bengal Club, Mohammedan Sporting, Mohun Bagan and Sporting Union.
Of late, cricket has also become a lot popular sport in West Bengal – thanks mainly to Saurav Ganguly, fondly called Dada, who captained the Indian Cricket Team with a great degree of success for long. The Kolkata Knight Riders – the local IPL team has also helped made this game very popular in the state.
Adventure Tourism in West Bengal
The culturally and historically rich state of West Bengal may not have a rich and divers topography which could offer much scope for the seekers of adventure. However, whatever little options exist there, are more than sufficient to satisfy even the most demanding of the adventure enthusiasts.
The reason is not hard to find. The State Tourism body and other concerned departments have been making sincere efforts of late to boost adventure tourism in West Bengal. And, thanks to them, and certain other factors, now West Bengal has become a pretty high place amongst the leading destinations that offer scope for adventure tourism in India.
And, when it comes to a particular region, good from the viewpoint of adventure tourism in West Bengal, the Darjeeling Hills occupy a lofty position -- much like the hills in question. Trekking is one of the adventure choices available here that delight the adventure lovers no end. Apart from trekking, the Darejeeling Hills also offer several other adventure options, including mountaineering, mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, yachting, river rafting, swimming, para-sailing, car rally and much more.
Trekking : Introduced nearly a century ago, trekking in Darjeeling now attracts numerous trek lovers round the year from India and beyond. From easier to moderate, Darjeeling offers exciting trek routes. In addition, the mesmerizing views of the high mountains, including Everest, Kangchendozonga, Chamlang, Makalu, Baruntse, Kokthang and numerous other snow-clad peaks makes one’s trekking expedition a memorable experience. Tiger Hill Trek, the Singalila Trek and Neora Valley National Park trek are some of the much sought after treks of Darjeeling, while the duration of these treks range anywhere between one day and seven days.
Bicycling : Darjeeling offers exciting routes for bicycling. In Darjeeling, bicycling routes are mainly centred near the Singalila Ranges, which also offer magnificent vistas of the Himalayas peaks, including Everest, Kanchenjunga, besides Makalu.
Water Sports : Despite the fact that not much of water sports facilities and options are available in West Bengal, one may enjoy several water sports, such as boating and angling in some of the lakes of the state, such as the one in the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve. However, it is the river rafting in the Teesta River which is the most sought after water sport activity in West Bengal. A chain of adrenaline pumping and thrilling rapids together make this stretch of the Teesta River one of the very best across the globe.
Bird Watching : The mangroves of the Sunderbans boast of some of the most sought after birds in the world making the place a bird watcher’s heaven of sorts. Here, one gets the chance to see several species of rare birds. Other wildlife destinations of the state such as Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Buxa Tiger Reserve are not behind when it comes to offering some scope for bird watching.
Fairs & Festivals of West Bengal
The culturally and historically rich tourist destination of West Bengal also boasts of several interesting and vibrant fairs and festivals which are celebrated by the people of the state with a gay abandon. These fairs and festivals of West Bengal give an insight into the social, religious and cultural background of the state, which is still remarkably rooted in ancient customs and mores.
These are just some of the many such fairs and festivals of West Bengal :
Gangasagar Mela (Bathing Festival) : This three-day festival held sometime in mid-January, on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, at Sagar Dwip in District South 24 Parganas, is the biggest fair of West Bengal. On the occasion, lakhs of religiously inclined visitors tour this religious destination for a holy dip at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal.
Kenduli Mela : Another fair held on the occasion of Makar Sankranti (mid-January), but this time at Kenduli, in Birbhum; the vibrant Kenduli Mela attracts the largest number of Bauls, the nomadic minstrels of the region.
Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Birthday : The great leader’s birthday, which falls on January 23, is a nationalistic festival of the state and also a symbol of sorts of Bengal's revolutionary state of mind.
Jalpesh Mela : On the auspicious occasion of Sivarathri, a month-long fair is organized at Jalpesh, close to Mainaguri, in Jalpaiguri whose nucleus is the age-old Siva temple dedicated to Lord Jalpeswara.
Sivarathri : Several thousands of pilgrims gather at the principle Shiva temples such as the temple at Tarakeshwar in Hooghly to celebrate this festival, on a new moon night. It is celebrated in February-March.
Vasanta Utsav : Holi is celebrated as Vasanta Utsav across the state. The festival assumes a new color at Santiniketan, in Birbhum, where the students of the Visva Bharati University greet the colorful festival with songs and dances, and smear each other with abir and colorful liquid dyes.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Jayanti : The birthday of the celebrated Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is celebrated with much pomp sometime in the first half of March at Belur Math.
Naba Barsho : The Bengali year kick starts with the first Baisakh. It is an occasion for celebration of the people of Bengal in general and tradesmen in particular.
Rabindra Jayanti : One of the most famous cultural festivals of the state, Rabindra Jayanti is celebrated on May 7 or May 8. On the occasion, the many cultural societies and groups of the region celebrate the event with song, dance and drama composed by the noble laureate himself.
Ratha Yatra : It is a week long festival celebrated at Mahesh close to Serampore, in Hooghly. On the occasion, spiritually inclined people pull the ropes attached to the chariots of the trio of Lord Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra, on the journey to and from the holy shrine.
Jhapan : This unique festival is held to pay obeisance to the serpent-deity Manasa on the last day of the Bengali month Sravana. At Vishnupur, in Bankura, interesting shows of live snakes conducted on open platforms on the occasion much attract the visitors.
Dussehra : It comes 10 days prior to Diwali. On this occasion, people take ceremonial baths in the river Bhagirathi, worship the Ganga River and also give alms.
Durga Puja & Deepavali : While Deepavali is celebrated much like the rest of India with crackers and earthen lamps, not to mention sweets; Durga Puja is celebrated in the state in a way which is truly remarkable. In fact, Durga Puja is the most vibrant festival of West Bengal. On the occasion, thousands of pandals spring up all over the state -- more so in and around Kolkata, where lovely idols of the ten-armed goddess is installed and worshipped for nine days at a stretch after which they are immersed in the water.
Rash Mela : People celebrate this month-long fair in the Cooch Behar area of the state.
Teesta Tea & Tourism Festival : It is celebrated once in a year to boost tourism in the regions of Darjeeling and the Dooars, apart from Sikkim.
Id : Much like the rest of India, this festival is celebrated with much religious fervor by the Muslims of the state.
Food & Culinary of West Bengal
The cuisine of West Bengal is not only pretty delicious and lip-smacking but also somewhat different from the cuisines of the other regions in India in the sense that in Bengal the desserts enjoy a very high place and a meal is considered incomplete if there’s no dessert or sweetened curd or both to go along with it.
Roshogolla, Shondesh, Chomchom, Pantua, Malpoa and Pithe are just some of the well-known sweet offerings which add a lot of value to the meals served in West Bengal. However, they are enjoyed separately also, and with much delight, at any and every given opportunity.
The other thing that gives a distinct touch to the food and eating habits of the people in West Bengal is that mustard oil and Panchphoran are generously used to prepare some of the most delicious varieties of food. Panchphoran is basically a fine blend of five key spices, including mustard, aniseed, cumin seed, fenugreek seed and black cumin seed.
Another facet which makes the food of West Bengal unique and singular is the fact that the Bengalis experiment with various cultures and try out new methods of preparing dishes; maybe, because the Bengali food has been heavily impacted by several cultures -- both South Asian and continental.
And when it comes to the key ingredients that in general portray the cuisine of West Bengal Fish, rice and lentils lead the table. However, it doesn’t imply that the state has nothing more to offer to the gourmet. The Bengalis also relish an amazing variety of vegetables. They also love and savor a vast variety of side dishes which adds a lot of richness and variety to the sumptuous Bengali cuisine.
This brings us to fish. Fish, which is the chief ingredient of the meals of the local people, is prepared in various varieties. It is steamed, fried or stewed with quite a few types of vegetables and also boiled with spices to give a distinct taste and flavor to the dish. Rohu, Bhetki, Katla, Hilsa…these are just some of the many widely eaten fishes in the state. Prawns and crabs are also much enjoyed here. Actually, Prawn Curry prepared with coconut milk is a delicious specialty of the state.
Normally, a usual Bengali lunch starts with a vegetable curry called shukto. This is followed by lentil, deep-fried potatoes, apart from brinjals. Afterwards, the chief course is served, which usually happens to be a non-vegetarian item.
New Tourism Trends & Potentials in West Bengal
West Bengal has immense potentials for niche tourism such as tea tourism, river tourism and rural tourism -- thanks to its varied landscapes, sprawling tea gardens, scenic and peaceful rural areas, not to mention numerous perennial rivers which seem to snake through the state giving it a natural splendor and tourist attraction ‘of a different kind’.
West Bengal has several sprawling tea estates located in sylvan surroundings -- most of which are to be found in the Dooars Region and in Darjeeling. There is tremendous potential for Tea Tourism in the Dooars in North Bengal which looks carpeted with green and sylvan tea gardens. There are as many as 350 tea gardens in the region.
Not far behind is Darjeeling which officially owns as many as 144 tea gardens, covering an area of 74843.82 acres. Some of the well-known tea gardens of this region include Arya, Glenburn, Chamong, Lingia, Castleton, Makaibari, Jungpana, Risheehat and Margaret's Hope.
West Bengal also has good scope for river tourism. A large number of Rivers cut through the state, including the Ganges, Teesta, Mahananda, Damodar, Torsha, Jaldhaka, Punarbhava and Tangan. In fact, the state has the perfect specifications to become the top river tourism destination in India with the splendid delta Sunderbans with its mangrove forests and the holy destination Sagar Islands, also called Ganga Sagar, where the famed Ganga Sagar Mela takes place every year.
Already 'Ganga Kutir' located along the banks of the Ganga, in the idyllic settlement of Raichak-on-Ganges, is showing the way in the field of river tourism. The huge success of this property sprawling over two acres shows the tremendous potentials of river tourism in West Bengal.
No wonder, the state government is aggressively supporting hotels located along the banks of the Ganges, boosting river entertainment, and also substantially adding to infrastructural development of the Sunderbans Delta zone. Further, 'Heritage Ghats' along the Ganges are being modernized and being equipped with speed boats, para-sailing and cruise boats facilities.
Along with tea tourism and river tourism, the concept of rural tourism is also creating a space for itself in West Bengal. Ballavpur Danga, Birbhum, West Bengal is a shining example of rural tourism in the state. Situated near Santiniketan, Ballavpur Danga swiftly carries the visitors to magnificent musical trance even while they enjoy rural tourism in all its natural glory, complete with all the earthy charm that is the hallmark of such a distinct tourism.
Religious Tourism in West Bengal
The Indian state of West Bengal is a culturally and spiritually blessed land with several sacred spots spread throughout the length and breadth of the state. No wonder, West Bengal much inspires the religiously and spiritually inclined visitors of all religions, who tour the state, in large numbers, round the year.
And this has somewhat fuelled the comparatively new concept of religious tourism in West Bengal in a way which is truly remarkable. In fact, several tour operators and travel agencies from time to time come out with many interesting tour packages that take the pilgrims on the many religious tours in West Bengal enabling them to visit some of the most famous holy spots of the region – a sizeable chunk of which happens to be located in sylvan surroundings.
These holy tours are perhaps the most effective medium of having an insight of sorts into the rich socio-cultural background of the state and experiencing it first hand.
West Bengal has numerous holy shrines, including temples, mosques, and monasteries, not to mention churches, which are the chief draws of the many well-designed and thoughtfully planned religious tours in West Bengal. Pilgrim tours in the West Bengal takes the pilgrims on a tour to some of these holy spots, including Tarkeswar, Tarapith, Dakshineswar Temple, Hare Krishna Mandir, Belur Math, Kalighat Kali Temple, Hanseshwari Temple, Adinath Temple, Kali Mandir, and Katra Mosque, not to mention St. Andrew’s Church.
Thanks to these incredible soul-stirring and highly moving religious tours, the pilgrims also get a chance to see some historical temples dating back to the18th century dedicated to Jaleshwar, Baneshwar and Gangadhar.
A visit to the Belur Math, founded by the great Swami Vivekananda, especially proves to be a pretty memorable experience for all – cutting across narrow religious divides as the temple in question is remarkable for its amazing architecture that beautifully fuses Hindu, Christian and Islamic motifs as a symbol of unity of all religions.
Those who go on religious tours in West Bengal during the Hindu month of Shravana or during Shivratri, also get a chance to see an amazing fair, which is organized at the Temple of Tarakeshwa (dedicated to Lord Shiva).
Much significantly, these pilgrimage tours also take the pilgrims to the many well-known monasteries such as the Bhutia Busty Monastery which is picturesquely located in the lovely hill destination of Darjeeling.
No wonder, religious tourism in West Bengal seems to have a rather great future.
Sunderbans National Park : A Wonderful Wildlife Destination
Located on the mouth of the Ganges and jutting into the parts of the neighboring country of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal, the Sunderbans are a part of the world's largest delta formed by the mighty rivers -- Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna.
The national park by the same name located in the Sunderbans on the Indian side, the Sunderabans National Park, is the biggest Tiger Reserve and national park in India. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sunderbans is a pretty vast region covering 4264 square km in India only.
The Sunderbans is also the world’s biggest estuarine forest and sliced by hundreds of creeks, besides tributaries. This world-famed wildlife destination is one of the most incredible and alluring tourist places and a natural heaven of the highest order that one may come across anywhere in the world.
Besides the Royal Bengal Tigers for which the national park is much famed for, the Sunderbans is also home to Gangetic dolphin, fishing cat, little porpoise, jungle cat, Indian fox, wild pig, spotted deer, rhesus monkey, and Indian flying fox, apart from pangolin.
Sunderbans is also a bird watchers’ paradise. White-bellied sea eagle, Kingfisher, egret … these are just some of the many interesting and colorful species of birds that one may come across here. Numerous rare migratory birds also visit this region in large numbers, especially during the winters.
The Sunderbans National Park is also home to several types of turtles and is much renowned for the widely publicized preservation of the Ridley Sea Turtle. A large species of reptiles are also found in the wilds of the Sunderbans.
The national park is also a haven of sorts for the biggest of the estuarine crocodiles. In fact, there’s a unique hatchery and a sanctuary for these crocodiles called Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project located inside the Sunderbans.
However, the USP of the Sunderbans National Park remains the tigers. Presently, the park has nearly 400 Royal Bengal Tigers. These majestic creatures of the wild feel at home inside the Sunderabans and they have pretty well adapted themselves to the saline and aqua surroundings of the forest reserve. Much interestingly, they are rather good at swimming and could be seen swimming with ease in the waters bodies of the Sunderabna.
When to Visit
The period between December and February is considered the best time to visit the Sunderbans.
Nature & Wildlife Tourism in West Bengal
The Indian state of West Bengal has some of the most striking nature and wildlife destinations which much inspire the nature and wildlife enthusiasts, who tour the state in large numbers to explore such natural wonders and also spend their holidays in the lap of nature. And, this significantly boosts the somewhat new concept of nature and wildlife tourism is West Bengal, which also happens to be one of the most frequently visited tourist places in India.
These are some of the well-known wildlife destinations of West Bengal :
Neora Valley National Park : This national park is located in the Darjeeling District and boasts of virginal wilderness. It also sustains and nurtures a unique eco-system where tropical, sub-tropical, sub-temperate, and temperate vegetative systems harbor an amazing wealth of flora and fauna.
Buxa National Park : A famed Tiger Reserve, the Buxa National Park borders Bhutan and Assam. This park is situated in the eastern Dooars and contains thickly and thickly wooded forests and grasslands, and is the habitat of some of the state’s most varied and varied flora and fauna.
Sunderban National Park : One of the best wildlife attractions of India, the Sunderban National Park enjoys world wide popularity. Declared a key World Heritage destination, by UNESCO, this huge forest reserve is something which just must not be missed while covering the many wildlife spots of the state.
Singalila National Park : This wildlife destination is a paradise of sorts for the bird watchers and attracts several interesting species of birds, including the migratory ones.
Gorumara National Park : Located in the Dooars area of Jalpaiguri District, this comparatively small forest area is well-known for its impressive population of the Great Indian one horned Rhinoceros.
Jaldapara Wild Life Sanctuary : Yet another key wildlife destination of West Bengal, this sanctuary is located amidst the tranquil surroundings created by the baffling backdrop of the Mountains of Bhutan and the confluence of the Torsa and Malangi Rivers. It is home to many attractions of the wilds, including the well-known one horned Indian Rhinos, Swamp Deer, wild boar, leopard, not to mention tigers. Jaldapara Wild Life Sanctuary also offers great facilities for the nature and wildlife lovers, in the process, significantly adding to the wildlife and nature tourism potentials of the state.