MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF WEST BENGAL
Famous for its Roshogulla and the equally sweet Robindra Shongeet, West Bengal is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse states of India. A state which has produced the most number of Nobel Prize winners from India till date. The land of Rabindranath Tagore and Mother Teresa, the land of Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen, West Bengal has always produced people who have largely contributed in putting India on the world map.
West Bengal was once the political capital of the British and remained so till the 20th century. Extending from the Himalayas in the North to the Bay of Bengal in the South, West Bengal is a treasure cove of India. The fairy-tale city of Calcutta and the mystic hilly region of Darjeeling and Kalimpong attract visitors from all over the world round the year.
The Howrah Bridge or the Rabindra Setu:
Probably the most important landmark of Kolkata. A fine specimen of architecture that it is, the Howrah bridge is a miracle of engineering skill. It joins the twin cities of Howrah and Calcutta over the River Hooghly. It is the world's third longest cantilever bridge, supported by two piers 270 feet high from the road level. The span of the bridge between the piers is 1,500 feet while the total distance between the two sheet anchors is 2,115 ft. The best way to enjoy its stately beauty is to view it from the middle of the river.
The Botanical Gardens:
In the twin city of Howrah, on the bank of River Hooghly, are the majestic Indian Botanical Gardens, spread over an area of 273 acres. The oldest and probably the biggest in the country, these gardens were established in July 1786 as a pleasure retreat for Colonel Kyd of the East India Company. Later it was developed by him for the collection of plants, indigenous to the country and for the introduction and acclimatization of plants from foreign lands. The star attraction is the 250-year old banyan tree with nearly 2,000 aerial roots, making it the largest tree of its kind in the world.
Run by the Missions of Charity this place is very close to the Kalighat Temple. It was here that Nobel laureate Mother Teresa preached and proved that love for human kind is the only solace to mankind. The caring, unstinting help extended by this iron willed yet gentle lady to the poor, homeless, orphan and the sick is commendable. The mission carries forward the message of love at this place.
The name Sunderban comes from the Sundari tress that grow in the forests, which are called the Ban. These are the famous Gangetic deltas, formed when the rivers Ganga and Hooghly divide into many distributaries reducing the speed of water. These provide an ideal atmosphere and environment for the Sundari trees to grow. The Sunderbans are home to many exquisite animals and birds and the most famous Royal Bengal Tigers. The tigers, strong swimmers, bigger and richer in colour than elsewhere in the south Asia; lead an almost natural life here. The place was declared a national park and a world heritage site. The estuaries support a variety of marine life as well which includes the salt water crocodile and the Olive Ridley turtle. Leopards and fishing cats, barking deer and spotted deer, wild boars and monkeys, reptiles and birds along with the tigers can be spotted here.
A thrilling cruise through the largest estuarine delta to watch the wild life is a life time experience one should never miss.
Cargo of my life's best treasure, is how the great poet and the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore described Shantiniketan. Established in 1863 by his father, Debendranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore started experimental open-air classes for students in 1901 and called it Shantiniketan or the Abode of Peace. Gurudev Tagore developed this small school for five students to a huge educational institution of international repute and called it Vishwa Bharati University. Tagore’s vision was a world where man exists in perfect harmony with nature. Shantiniketan is the embodiment of serenity and peace, far removed from the concrete jungle. Various courses including science and fine arts are taught in natural environments. The institute has a legacy of great students which include, Gayatri Devi, Maharani of Jaipur, Late Prime Minister of India, Ms. Indira Gandhi, Late Film maker Satyajit Ray and also the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. The best time to visit Shantiniketan is the time when the University celebrates the festivals unique only to Shantiniketan. The Poush Mela is a winter fair held in December which commemorates beginning of open-air classes at Shantiniketan. The Vasantotsav held around the mid March is another festive time when spring is welcomed with cultural programmes and pageants of colour, giving a vibrant look to the whole of Shantiniketan.
Bishnupur was the seat of the Malla dynasty which ruled more than half the Bengal for 1000 years till the Muslim and the British invasion came along. The ruins of the reign are still found in Bishnupur. This peaceful small town is abundant with natural beauty and the most famous terracotta temples. The temples are dedicated to Radha and Krishna and since stone wasn't easily available, royal architects and craftsmen had to get very inventive with the red laterite soil found here to please their kings. The result was one of the most beautiful cities in the world of its time. Along with the temples, nearly 30 of them, there are water tanks called Bunds and also a beautiful Ras Mancha built by King Hambeer which stands out from the rest for the structures.
Shopping for souvenirs in this quaint little town is but essential. Various articles made of terracotta including jewellery are exquisite. One of the most beautiful sarees of India are woven here the Baluchari which have mythological scenes from Ramayana and the Mahabharata embroidered on it. Last but not the least Bishnupur’s sweets are very famous and tasty and one should leave the ancient town without them.
The Toy Train:
The ancient locomotive that comes chugging from Siliguri for Darjeeling is the attraction for young and old alike. This miniature railway engine, popularly known as the Toy train, has been doing the rounds from Siliguri to Darjeeling since 1881 and has been included in the world heritage site. It takes six to seven hours to cover a distance of 82 km and with a speed of 10 km per hour it offers a relaxed view to appreciate the abundance of nature on the hills of Darjeeling. Driven by a chugging stream locomotive, the train moves on a narrow, two feet gauge track, passing through the forests, waterfalls, deep valleys and through tunnels to reach Darjeeling.
52 km from Siliguri lies the beautiful sleepy little hill resort called Mirik. Located at an altitude of 1,767 meters, surrounded by tea estates, orange orchards and cardamom plantations, Mirik truly is a tourist paradise. It has a small population of about 10,000 people. The climate is pleasant, and the people are welcoming. The 1.25 km. long Sumendu Lake, located at the bottom of the Mirik Spur, is the major tourist attraction in Mirik. A quaint footbridge, 24.4 m. in length, arches over the lake, connecting the flower garden on the eastern bank to the heavily forested ridge on the west. There is a floating fountain in the middle of the lake.
Situated at a distance of about 10 km north of Coochbehar town is an ancient temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, known as the Baneshwar temple. The temple is reputed to date back to 1100 B.C. and has a Shiva lingam 10 feet below the plinth level. By the side of the main temple is another temple which has the idol of Ardhanarinateswar. On the occasions of Madan Chaturdashi and Dol Purnima this idol is carried temporarily to the Madan Mohan Temple of Coochbehar town, which has given the name of Movable Baneshwar. There is a big pond within the temple campus having a large number of tortoises. Some of the tortoises are very old and big in size and can be fed with puffed rice.