The Eastern state of West Bengal is one of the most beautiful parts of India. It has long remained in the backdoor as far as its share of the tourist traffic in India is concerned. But now, this eastern state of India has woken up to the prospect of tourism.
As a matter of fact, nature has bestowed its choicest beauty upon West Bengal and of the nine states with a coastline West Bengal is the only one which has all three – sea, forest and mountains (Himalayas).
Nothing exemplifies this change of fortune in Bengal more than the presence of international hotel chains like one of India's finest luxury hotel – the awesome ITC Sonar Bangla, the Hyatt along with the avant-garde Vedic Village resort.
Tourism, which was never a policy priority with the government, has suddenly been given a shot-in-the-arm courtesy a slew of futuristic hospitality projects that will cater to the exacting needs of the discerning world traveler. Among the city's best-known hospitality properties is the avant-garde Vedic Village Resort, which offers everything from ownership to the most relaxing of Spa treatments.
Kolkata, the city of joy
Whoever said that Kolkata is a dying city with its pot holed roads, closed down industries, trade unionism, poverty and squalor should have a second look at the resurgent Kolkata of 2010 and one great way to know the pulse of this incredible city is by actually paying a visit to this landmark city of India that reveals its captivating charm like a veil slipping out from the face of beautiful woman.
Kolkata is one of India's largest city and with landmarks like the Victoria Memorial, the Maidan and Fort William, Octorlony Monument, the Indian Museum, the Eden Gardens, the elegant Cathedrals and Churches, the Howrah Bridge, pilgrim spots like Kalighat, Dakshineswar and Belur Math as well as Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity etc. has been exerting its mesmerizing charm to the discerning international tourists.
Over the years, the Kolkata International airport (NSCBIA) has evolved as the aviation hub of Eastern India with regular flights being operated by renowned international airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Royal Brunei, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air, Singapore Airlines etc. which in a way has made Kolkata very accessible to international tourists.
Ideally Kolkata with its varied charms is an ideal base from where to embark on a journey of discovery. The state of West Bengal is long and narrow, running from the delta of the Ganges to the towering Himalayas in the north.
By air, Kolkata's Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International airport is conveniently linked with the rest of the India through routine flights operated by various domestic airlines. Kingfisher, Jet Airways, Indigo, Spice Jet, Air India etc. operate regular flights to Kolkata and vice versa. Kolkata being the aviation hub of Eastern India is conveniently linked to key global cities by some of the world's most preferred airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Gulf Air, Air India, Emirates, Druk Air, Biman Bangladesh, Thai Airways etc.
The two-mega railway stations, Howrah and Sealdah, are conveniently linked with the rest of India. From Howrah/Sealdah, hired taxis are easily available.
Kolkata has a wide variety of hotels to suit every budget. Among the luxury hotel properties are The Taj Bengal, Oberoi Grand, ITC Sonar Bangla, Park Hotel, Hotel Hindustan International, Hyatt Regency and Vedic Village to name just a few. Most of the luxury hotels are centrally located and offer all the modern amenities that are expected of a star category hotel. From 24-hour room service, high speed Internet connectivity, same day laundry, mini bar, attached marbled bathroom, multi channel TV that beams BBC, CNN, National Geographic etc. telephones, individual climate control etc. (in some cases) are offered to the discerning guests. Some of the popular budget category hotels in Kolkata are Classic Hotel – (6/1 A, Dr M Ishaque Road), Gujral Guest House – (88, Lindsay Street), Gulistan Guest House – (30 F, Mirza Ghalib Street), Hotel East End – (9/1, Dr M Ishaque Road), Hotel Galaxy – (3, Stuart Lane), Hotel Hilson – (4, Sudder Street), Hotel Maria – (5/1, Sudder Street), Hotel Neelam – (11, Dr M Ishaque Road), Hotel Palace – (13, Chowringhee Lane) to name just a few.
Night Life in Kolkata
Park Street is the most happening place in Kolkata. It has a pulsating night life where you can rock in the discos or just indulge in the gastronomic delights in the fashionable eateries that serve anything from Japanese to Lebanese and Swedish to Samoan. If you happen to be a film buff, a visit to Nandan is just what the doctor ordered. It has a fine collection of movies ranging from Satyajit Ray to Kurosawa. Theatre or "Jatra" is still alive and kicking in Kolkata despite the onslaught of modernity and many of them present revolutionary themes.
Tourist Attractions of Kolkata
Victoria Memorial, Nirmal Hriday (Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity), Nandan, Kali temples of Kalighat and Dakshineswar, Belur Math, Pareshnath temple, Birla temple, Howrah bridge, Nakhoda Mosque, Armenian Church, St.Paul's Cathedral, St. James Church, St.John's Church, Sahid Minar, Octerlony Monument, Indian Museum, Asiatic Society, Birla Planetarium, Race Course, Zoological Garden, National Library, Fort William, Jorasanko Thakur Bari, Rabindra Sarobar, Raj Bhawan, BBD Bagh, Maidan, Eden Gardens, Town Hall, College Street, Nalban Boating Complex, Nicco Park, Science City.
For sight seeing in and around Kolkata, the West Bengal Tourism Department at 3/2 BBD Bagh conducts fascinating tours of Kolkata city covering all the major city landmarks. The India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) and the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDC) also caters to the sight seeing needs of the discerning tourists with a bewildering array of package tours that are very competitively priced.
Addresses of government tourism offices are mentioned below:
West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd.
Hemanta Bhawan, 4th Floor, 12 B.B.D.Bag (East)
Kolkata - 700 001
Ph. +91 (0)33 44012086/4401-2082
Fax +91 (0)33 22488290
Government of West Bengal
2, Brabourne Road, Kolkata - 700 001
Ph. +91 (0)33 22254723/4724/4725, 22254565
Tourism Centre (Kolkata)
(For reservation & detailed information)
3/2, B.B.D. Bag (East), Kolkata - 700 001
Ph. +91 (0)3344012659/2660/2661/2662/2665/2243-7260
Fax +91 (0)33 22485168
Government of India Tourist Office
Embassy, 4 Shakespeare Sarani
Calcutta-700071, West Bengal
Ph. +91 (0)332421402, 2421475, 2425813
Digha, lulled to silence by the sea
Close to the border of Orissa, 243 Kms. to the South East of Kolkata on the Bay of Bengal, Digha is a beach resort with a six-kilometer long beach. This beach was much sought after by the erstwhile mandarins of the British East India Company at a time when Kolkata was the capital of British ruled India. The Briton's love affair with Digha prompted them to refer this spectacular beach as "The Briton of the East".
Digha is a much preferred weekend tourist jaunt for the average Kolkatans and generations of Kolkatans have cherished visiting this fabulous beach resort. Though a little crowded, particularly on the weekends, it has enough natural grandeur to entice the proverbial sun worshipper and those unrelenting beach bums.
If you are traveling by car, during the ebb tide you can easily drive along the beach. However, for those interested in splashing on the waves, the safest place is the stretch from the bazzar that extends to about a mile where the vast majority of the beach bums can be seen sun bathing. For a truly aesthetic feel, the best time to be at the beach is during sunrise and sunset.
To ease the pressure of crowds from Digha beach, an exclusive extension in the form of a tourist friendly town by the name of "New Digha" has come up, where apart from the modern tourist amenities, a state of the art Science Center and the National Council of Science Museums have been set up. The later is renowned for its exclusive "Jurassic Park". The Marine Aquarium too is worth visiting, opposite to the hospital.
Apart from the beach, one may also opt for short excursions to Shankarpur, which is located at a distance of 13 Kms from Digha. This place abounds with forests and happens to be one of India's largest jetties. Fishing trawlers and boats can be seen either anchored or moving to the distant horizons. At Shankarpur, make it a point to savor the "Hermit Crab" at any of the roadside eateries. They are lip smacking good and reasonably priced.
Digha is easily accessible from Kolkata. Private buses operate regular bus services to Digha from key city hubs like Sahid Minar, Ultadanga, Howrah Station, Dum, Dunlop and Dhakuria. The West Bengal Transport Corporation also operates its fleet of buses from Korunamoyee in Salt Lake City. The journey by road from Kolkata to Digha is 4.5 hours.
By road there are multiple options available. There is a route from Kolkata to Digha, which passes through places like Howrah-Mecheda-Norghat-Contai-Ramnagar. There is another route that goes via Deulti-Kolaghat-Kharagpur. Many travelers also take the route via Tarakeshwar to Digha that passes through Harinkhola-Arambag-Vishnupur- Kharagpur, primarily with the intention of offering pujas at the Shiva temple in Tarakeshwar and then driving all the way to Digha.
Hired tourist cabs and cars are readily available from Kolkata from the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Airport, Sealdah Railway Station and Howrah Railway Station. Another good option of hiring a cab is at the Sahid Minar-Esplanade stretch as well as Korunamoyee at Salt Lake City.
If you intend to reach Digha by train, there are local trains that operate from Howrah Station via Mecheda, Panskura and Kharagpur.
Accommodation Hotel Palm Resort (Ph. +91 3220 266489), Hotel Sea Hawk (Ph. +91 3220 266235, Raj Mahal Hotel & Resort (Ph. +91 3220 267366), Hotel Blue View (Ph. +91 3220 266324), Hotel Sea Green (Ph. + 91 3220 265851).
Curios, seashell, shell jewellery and hand woven mats.
Sunderban Tiger Reserve – Home of Royal Bengal Tiger
Home to the magnificent Royal Bengal Tiger, the Sunderban is one of the world's most beautiful forests. This is professedly the world's most luxuriant mangrove vegetation. It is also the largest habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger. Here below sea level, you may see fresh pugmarks on the glistening mud flats of the world’s largest estuarine delta.
The face of Sunderban changes dramatically with the diurnal tides. The forest is in perpetual flux. At peak high tide, more than half the land is submerged and the forest appears to float. Life is sustained by a dynamic cycle that begins with waxy mangrove leaves. These fall into the water and are the base of the ecological pyramid with the mighty Tiger at the apex.
Along the southern tip of West Bengal stretches the magnificent Sunderban, a 4,262 Sq.Kms of watery wilderness of which 2,585 Sq.Kms are earmarked for the Tiger Reserve. With an intricate pattern of creeks and narrow channels, open muddy beaches and densely canopied forest, with the inimical feel of a lurking Tiger or a skulking Crocodile, Sunderban has several notable features. Apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Natural), it is also a National Park and part of Project Tiger.
Tiger habitat in Sunderban is vastly distinct from that of any other Tiger Reserve. About 900 Sq.Kms of the Reserve area is covered by water. The total land area, plus a part of the water area, comprises the Tiger territory. The landmass is divided into a large number of islands by channels and creeks. The floor under vegetative cover is laid with stout Pneumatophores on which Tigers have to tread. They have to drink saline water, unlike in other Tiger territories. Yet the Sunderban Tiger has retained its basic characteristics. It's tracking of prey, stalking and mode of attack is similar to its counterparts in other areas. With such adaptability, it can safely be said that if ever the Tiger becomes extinct elsewhere, the Sunderban Tiger will still be around.
But it is not just Tigers that hold sway over the entire area. A little distance from the Sunderban Tiger Camp are the mangrove interpretation centers and hatcheries. At the hatcheries, the near extinct Olive Ridley turtles and the rare River Terrapin (Batagur Baska), which is a species of Edible Turtle, are spawned in enough numbers to ensure survival. Eggs are collected from the wilderness, reared in a safe place and then the young ones are released back into the sea.
The people of Sunderban add another colorful dimension to the area. They lead a harmonious life, fishing and honey hunting being their main source of livelihood. In fact, if you do not spend time with the fisher folk or for that matter, with the honey hunters of Sunderban, you will be missing out on an integral facet of the place.
It is located close to the city of Calcutta, which is well connected to the rest of the country by air, rail and road. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Kingfisher etc. connects the city of Calcutta with other metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.
Canning Located 40 Kms. south-east of Calcutta, it is the gateway to Sunderban. The Sunderban Tiger Camp operates its own fleet of luxury cars and buses and on prior information to the Camp's Reservation Center; they can make arrangements for your journey from Calcutta to Sonakhali and vice versa. If traveling on your own transport, it might be advisable to leave your vehicle at a safe place in Calcutta and use the public transport system or the STC run transport. If you choose to drive all the way to Canning, you might have to leave your vehicle unattended for the period of time you spend inside the park.
Although there are numerous private lodges in Sunderban, they are at best sketchy and it is always wise to opt for the ethnic Sunderban Tiger Camp, which has over the past decade carved a niche for itself in the domain of West Bengal's jungle hospitality.
For further information, please free to contact:
Sunderban Tiger Camp
c/o Jainco Business Center
1 Kyd Street, 42 Palace Court
Calcutta – 700016
West Bengal, India
Ph. +91 (0)33 22299897/8606
Fax +91 (0)33 22293150
Darjeeling, the Queen of Hill Stations
The Darjeeling Himalaya, one of the most scenic mountain tourism destinations in India, comprises three hill sub-divisions: Darjeeling Sadar, Kurseong and Kalimpong. The entire region was peaceful till 1840. Until then only a handful of simple souls had inhabited the sleepy villages. The colonial rulers sent two civil servants, Captain Llyod and Mr. Grant, to locate a suitable site for a sanatorium in the Himalayan region. Darjeeling was selected for its invigorating climate and scenic vistas and thus developed into a major summer retreat for the British Raj Sahibs, Memsahibs and Maharajas of yore.
Although Darjeeling at present is crowded, yet, it still retains some age-old recipes for relaxation. So while posh Internet cafes do brisk business, one can still pop in for afternoon tea accompanied by crustless sandwiches at the Windamere Hotel. In the luxuriant garden of the hotel, kings and queens had once relaxed, with snow capped peak of Kanchenjunga towering over them.
The tumultuous history of this land finds echoes in the peaks and valleys that rise and fall. Of the violent wars and invasions that this area experienced over the centuries, there is hardly any trace today, but a quieter invasion is taking place: that of cultures from outside. East meets West here at Darjeeling, with youths sporting designer jeans and Ray Ban goggles brushing shoulders with wizened, bakhu clad old, old-timers carrying prayer wheels.
Darjeeling is 90 Kms. from Bagdogra, the nearest Indian airport, where scheduled flights operate New Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. The nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri (88 Kms.), which is connected to Calcutta, New Delhi, Guwahati and other major Indian cities. From Siliguri, buses, taxis and the famous Toy Train (8 hours) leave for Darjeeling.
What to See
Chowrasta, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Observatory Hill, Natural History Museum, Everest Museum, Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre, Bhutia Busty, Thupten Sangag Choling at Dali, Yiga Choling at Ghoom, Tiger Hill, Japanese Peace Pagoda, Llyods Botanical Garden, Rangit Valley cable car and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways (Toy Train).
Some of the most fascinating Himalayan mountain hotels can be found in Darjeeling like the Windamere hotel, Hotel New Elgin, Darjeeling Gymkhana Resort, Hotel Sinclairs, Dekeling, Hotel Sunflower to name just a few.
Permits and Transport
Foreigners visiting Darjeeling must posses an Indian visa. No permit is required for those coming to Darjeeling by air through Bagdogra airport and for those who propose to stay in Darjeeling town for not more than 15 days. However, they need to register with the Foreigners Registration Office at Bagdogra airport at the time of arrival and departure and get their passport endorsed.
Those traveling by road must have to obtain a Restricted Area Permit before entering Darjeeling. No permit is required for trekking trip to Sandakhpu and Phalut, provided trekkers inform the Foreigners Registration Office in Darjeeling at least 24 hours in advance and also on arrival at the Sandakhphu and Phalut check post.
Transport is provided by buses or smaller vehicles. Local taxis are also available.
Darjeeling has quite a few good restaurants. On Nehru Road below the Chowrasta is Glenary's Restaurant. Neat and spacious, it offers a wide range of full course meals. There is a confectionery on the ground floor. Amigos at Chowrasta, Keventer's Snack Bar at Robertson Road and Nehru Road are great places for quick snacks.
Cozying up at Kalimpong
You won't find Kalimpong in any up-market tourist brochures. This pretty hill station of the Eastern Himalayas located at an altitude of 1,600 meters above sea level with a population of around 50,000 has always lived under the shadow of its big brother – Darjeeling. Even though the star attractions of Eastern Himalayas are the hill stations of Darjeeling and Gangtok, Kalimpong is less commercialized and has maintained much of its sanity in spite of the onslaught of modernity.
Nestled in the lap of the impressive Shiwalik hills in the lower tracts of the Eastern Himalayas, this nonedescript hill resort is a strategic base of the Indian Army. In fact Kalimpong is a "Forward Post" of the Indian Army.
Lately Kalimpong has come into the forefront of tourism in the Eastern Himalayas primarily due to the heavy tourist traffic to Darjeeling, which has made this popular hill station rather overcrowded and in the peak season is faced with the paucity of hotel rooms. Thus, it is largely due to the "Trickle-Down" syndrome that many discerning mountain tourists prefer to tuck themselves up at Kalimpong and breathe the cool mountain air, far removed from the din and bustle of Darjeeling. The easy accessibility to remote Himalayan hamlets, enchanting Himalayan treks, ethnic tours along with tours to the Buddhist monastries makes Kalimpong a much preferred mountain tourist destination.
The nearest airport to Kalimpong is at Bagdogra, which is located at a distance of 80 Kms. Hired taxis and Land Rovers ply regularly between Bagdogra and Kalimpong. The Bagdogra airport is well connected to other Indian cities like Delhi and Calcutta and there are regular flights to Bagdogra operated by Indian Airlines, Spice Jet, Jet Airways, Jet Lite and Kingfisher.
By rail the nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri. Trains like Darjeeling Mail, Kanchanjunga Express, Rajdhani Express, Dadar-Guwahati Express, and Guwahati-Bangalore Express etc. halt at New Jalpaiguri railway station.
Surprisingly, in spite of not being a commercialized hill station like Darjeeling or Simla, Kalimpong has a number of high-end hotels. Hotel Silver Oaks, Park Hotel, Tashiding, Morgan House are up-market hotel entities. They have jealously preserved the old world charm of the British Raj and much of the architecture is still unaltered. The rooms are spacious and are conspicuous by their predominantly Victorian style grandeur with matching décor and furnishings.
For the budget and backpacker tourists, a popular resting place is the J.P.Lodge at R.C. Mintri Road. Parijat, Dafey Mumal Tourist Lodge, Mountain Hut and Chetry Wayside Inn are perennial favorites with visitors to Kalimpong.
What to See
Flower Market, Dr. Graham's Home, Lepcha Museum, Zang Dhok Palri Phodong monastery, Raja Dorji Market, Durbin Dara, colonial style architectural marvels like the Surya Sadan, Galingka, Crockety, Tashiding and Ringking Farm, Morgan House, Tashiding, St. Theresa's Church.
Permits and Transport
No special permit is required by foreigners to visit Kalimpong. Unlike Darjeeling, Kalimpong does not have a rail connection. Kalimpong is 50 Kms. from Darjeeling via Peshok and Teesta. Only light vehicles can ply on this route, while buses normally take the slightly longer route via Mungpoo. From Siliguri it is also possible to reach Kalimpong directly taking the road to Sikkim till Teesta, from where the route bifurcates for Kalimpong.
There are only a few eating joints in Kalimpong. Gompu's Restaurant is by far the best eatery. The restaurant at Kalimpong Park Hotel is good but expensive. At Hotel Silver Oaks the restaurant is upmarket and offers a variety of gastronomic delights.
Dooars Region, a picturesque paradise
The North Bengal Dooars Wilderness trail was earlier ranked among the lesser-known wildlife circuits of India, but not anymore. The Mahananda-Jaldapara-Gorumara circuit is becoming more and more popular among wildlife enthusiasts from other states as they have begun to discover the still-unspoilt forest expanse. These reserves may not have the glamour of some other big game reserves in India, but they increasingly becoming the preferred holiday destination, particularly with the world-weary Calcuttans.
The Gorumara-Jaldapara-Mahananda-Chapramari-Buxa stretch is characterized by vast forests over miles of undulating land at the foot of the Himalayas. The Reserves teem with a bewildering variety of animals that are free to snoop around adjacent villages and tea plantations. When the first showers arrive in June, the terrain puts on a show that no entertainer can reproduce. The trees wear a fresh washed look and the earth exudes a distinctive wet smell.
Spacious Bungalows welcome you to spend the night in the middle of the wilds, each with a verandah and patios. Large windows bring the outdoors right inside your bedroom. For the more adventurous, there are tents pitched around the Bungalows. You wake up to the call of a wild Fowl, or perhaps the alarm cry of a deer.
Situated at the Western end of the Elephant migration route, this area shelters more than 150 Elephants during the monsoon and winter seasons. This is also the nesting ground for a host of migratory as well as resident birds like the Red Wattled Lapwing, the Spur Winged Lapwing, the Pied Crested Cuckoo, Peacocks, Barn Owls, Spotted Owlets, Falcons, Barbets and Coopersmiths.
The most beautiful spot in Mahananda is, however, Latpanchar, ideally situated at its northern edge. Among the animals found here are the rare Mountain Goat (Serrow), Tigers, Leopards, Gaurs, Wild Boars, varieties of Deer and Monkeys, Jungle Cats, Porcupines, Civets, Monitor Lizards and Snakes. The agility of the Indian Gaur, despite its size, is amazing. After an arduous day out in the wild, we returned to the stately Bungalow to unwind in front of a crackling log fire.
You would do well to embark on a fascinating road journey to Jalpaiguri via Hasimara on way to Gorumara. You will pass by Madarihat and Birpara and then take a left turn at Chalsa towards Lataguri. This 10 Kms. stretch cuts through chest-high tea gardens that still breathe of the Raj times with Victorian style Manager's Bungalows standing in the middle of the greens.
The workers of the garden, as we were to discover were fourth generation descendants of Adivasis brought in by colonial planters from Chhotanagpur, the Santhal Parganas of Bengal and Nepal. Not much had changed in their lives since the British times.
Reaching the Mahananda-Jaldapara-Gorumara-Chalsa trail is easy. The nearest airport is at Bagdogra. Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines etc. have regular flights from Delhi and Kolkata to Bagdogra. Hired Taxis and buses are readily available at the Bagdogra Airport that will take you to the sanctuary.
If you travel by train, the nearest railhead is New Jalpaiguri. Dadar Express, Rajdhani Express, Kanchenjunga Express, Kamrup Express and Saraighat Express connect new Jalpaiguri with Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata.
By far the best option is the fabulous Sinclairs Retreat at Chalsa. Located at a height of 1000 feet above sea level, this retreat is ideal for the discerning international traveler. The retreat is a destination in itself and has ethnicity written all over. The décor is classical and blends perfectly with the surrounding ecosystem. The intonation is on solitude and inner peace, two ingredients that have become very precious in today's fast paced urban lifestyle. From the spanking Swimming pool to the wide assortment of world cuisines, the Sinclairs Retreat has it all. If you want to give the jungle safari a miss, the option of a rejuvenating Ayurvedic massage at the Retreat's exclusive Nature Cure Center is just what the doctor ordered.
For reservations, please feel free to get in touch with:
10 A, Lee Road
Kolkata – 700020
Ph. +91 (0)33 22801317/1318/1319/1320
Ph. +91 (0)33 22800813
From the flowers sellers beside the ethereal Hooghly Bridge to the Edwardian town halls and the famous Silk Route of the mystical Eastern Himalayas, West Bengal offers an eclectic mix of Nature-Culture-Adventure package, which is irresistible for the new age traveler.