West Bengal, situated in the eastern part of India, is a state that has been endowed with the best of nature. With the Himalayan ranges in the northern part and the Gangetic delta on the southern tip, the mountains, sea beaches, forests, beautiful rivers, mangroves, and deltas, as well as dry, rugged terrain ensure there are plenty of things to do in West Bengal.
West Bengal is not only about Kolkata and Darjeeling (though I agree that these two are some of the most culturally diverse and beautiful cities of the state). But there is more to the state than mere natural beauty. With its rich heritage and culture, West Bengal also attracts visitors for its numerous fairs and festivals.
Main Attractions of West Bengal
The capital city of West Bengal, Kolkata is a place full of paradoxes. One of the oldest cities in the country, Calcutta (Kolkata was earlier called Calcutta) was once the seat of power of the country. A part of Kolkata still retains the old-world charm, while there is another part that is swanky and modern. The Kolkatans love their books, food and their daily dose of “adda” (an informal meeting between friends).
Things not to be missed in Kolkata:
- The Howrah Bridge
- The Victoria Memorial
- Dakshineswar Kali Temple
- Kalighat Temple
- Mother Teresa House
- Jorasanko Thakurbari
- Paul’s Cathedral and Park Street
- College Street for all the book lovers (They say that if you cannot find a book on College street, it probably never existed!)
North Bengal Hills
The hills in Bengal are usually synonymous with Darjeeling, but the North Bengal Hills region also has many quaint towns and villages that are surely going to steal the hearts of their visitors.
Darjeeling is called the “Queen of Hills.” With stunning views of the Kanchenjungha ranges as its backdrop and lush green tea gardens, the place is rightfully named. One of the major attractions of Darjeeling is the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, a railway line built on the hills way back in 1881; it remains one of the best things to be seen there.
Apart from Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kurseong and the many beautiful villages in the hills can serve as great weekend getaways from the Kolkata city life.
And for those who are fond of trekking, Darjeeling is also the base camp for the Sandakphu-Phalut trek, one of the most beautiful Himalayan treks with majestic views of the Kanchenjunga ranges and Mt. Everest.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sunderbans is a tiger reserve and a biosphere reserve with a variety of flora and fauna. The only habitat of the Bengal tigers, Sunderbans is shared between India and Bangladesh. The Bengal Tigers are quite elusive, but a trip to Sunderbans will bring you closer to the mangroves, the local village people and their touching tales of their hardships.
Purulia is a land of natural beauty. The rugged hills, the lush green landscapes, and the verdant forests make this a unique destination for the travelers. The region is home to various tribal communities and the mystic charm of these people makes Purulia one of the most enchanting destinations of West Bengal. Purulia is also the home of the famed mask makers of Bengal – known for the “Chhau Masks.” These masks are used in the indigenous Chhau dance performances.
Shantiniketan is the cultural hub of Bengal and was the brainchild of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The Visva Bharat University here is inspired by his teachings. The Basanta Utsav celebration in Shantiniketan is unique and is a different form of Holi celebration. And while in town, do not miss the soulful performances by the Bauls.
Mandarmani is one of the best places for a weekend getaway in West Bengal. Said to be one of the longest drivable beaches in India, Mandarmani is a serene beach where you can watch the sunrise and laze around at your own pace.
The Dooars Forests
The Dooars Forests are situated in the foothills of the Himalayas and have a good climate. They are also the home of many rare animals. The Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for the one-horned rhinoceros. Apart from the rhinos, the wildlife includes tigers, wild elephants, deer, bison and a number of birds. The Buxa Tiger Reserve is another picturesque reserve situated in the hilly landscape dissected by numerous rivulets.
Best Food and Drink in West Bengal
The people of West Bengal love to eat and Bengali cuisine is quite mouth-watering. Since West Bengal has people from various parts of the country and Kolkata is a potpourri of cultures and traditions, Bengalis have a tremendously varied gastronomy. Bengalis love their rice and fish, and of course, they can die for sweets. Some of the must-try cuisines from West Bengal are the following:
- Ilish Maacher Bhapa: A preparation of Hilsa fish made with mustard sauce
- Chingri Maccher Malaikari: Lobsters finely cooked with coconut milk and spices
- Mochar Ghonto: A very tasty vegetarian preparation made from the banana flower
- Shukto: A mixture of bitter gourds and various vegetables cooked with selected spices. This is usually eaten as the first course in lunch.
- Luchi & Alu Dom: Luchi is a deep-fried flatbread made from wheat flour and Aludom is a potato dish with gravy and spices. They’re usually eaten for breakfast.
- Rosogolla: A soft, spongy sweet made from cheese curds that simply melt in your mouth.
- Lal Doi: This is simply yogurt in Bengali style and red in color.
In Kolkata there are many restaurants serving cuisines from around the globe but for authentic Bengali cuisine, my suggestions are:
- Bhojohori Manna
- 6 Ballygunge Place
- Oh! Calcutta
Getting around West Bengal
Kolkata is the main city in West Bengal. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport is the best way to get there. All the major towns and cities of West Bengal are accessible from Kolkata either by train, bus or cars. There is also another airport at Bengal – Bagdogra Airport. Bagdogra is a domestic airport near Siliguri city. You can take a flight there if you want to visit the North Bengal mountains.
Places to stay in West Bengal
Major cities and towns like Kolkata, Siliguri, and Darjeeling have hotels of all types and budgets. In smaller towns, you will find decent options all over West Bengal.
Don’t Miss Out on West Bengal’s
City Walk in Kolkata
Kolkata is also called the “City of Joy,” and the city gives immense joy to her visitors. Take a tour of Kolkata by foot and discover her hidden gems. I can assure you that you will have a wonderful time.
Sunrise at Tiger Hill in Darjeeling
The sunrise at Tiger Hill is one of the best sunrises that you can view in your lifetime. When the first rays of sun fall on the snow-clad mountains and the sky are all golden and red, the view is simply mind-blowing and the experience ecstatic.
A trip to the tea gardens
A visit to the Darjeeling Hills in West Bengal is incomplete without a visit to the tea gardens. Visit the tea gardens and see how the tea leaves are plucked and processed and finally made into one of the country’s favorite beverages.
Baul performance at Shantiniketan
Bauls are a group of mystic minstrels and they perform soulful folk songs. Do not miss a Baul performance when you are at Shantiniketan.
Basic Bengali for survival
Namaskar – Hello/ Hi
Kemon acho? – How are you?
Suprabhat – Good morning
Koto dam? – What it the price?
Engrazi bojho? – Do you understand English?
Haa – Yes
Na – No
Dhanyabad – Thank you
Do not worry. English is spoken almost everywhere in West Bengal.
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Amrita is a banker by profession but she is an explorer in her heart. Together with her husband, she travels all over India and writes about her experiences in Tale of 2 Backpackers. A self-confessed book caterpillar, she is simply learning to travel and traveling to learn.