With the season of Durga Pujo approaching and the weather getting milder, I as a Bong have started counting the days when I can reach my hometown. Fortunately, leaves for a fortnight have been sanctioned and I have already booked air ticket to fly to my native place. But, it’s been a long time since I have last been on a holiday. So, yesterday I asked Arijit, my travel freak friend, to suggest me a few offbeat getaways from Kolkata because he is more aware about the nooks and corners of Bengal than I am.
I tell you, he is such an enthusiastic chap that he does not let go a single vacation without visiting new places, no matter if the break is short or long. At times, he inspires me to head to those places that he has already been to and I as a travel-bug keep on planning for trips even if the plan materializes or not. I had been to Digha, and I was not very enthusiastic about mainland Kolkata this time around, because I was looking forward to spending some time amidst undisturbed nature.
Kudos to Arijit! The solution was at his fingertips. He not only told me about the best places to see in West Bengal, but sent me couple of images of the spots in my Facebook inbox. Let me tell you about the destinations that inspired me the most:
Whether it is Uttar 24 Pargana (North) or Dakshin (South), when it comes to fascinating tourists both stand first. The destinations mesmerise all travellers, and especially those for whom photography is more than capturing random moments. Calm and serene, tourist spots scattered in different corners of this part of Bengal let the globetrotters get mingled with bare nature. For those who are history bugs can gather enough food for thought here.
50 km from Kolkata City, Chandraketugarh is a historical site on the bank of Bidyadhari River in South 24 Pargana. More than just a simple getaway for fun lovers, this excavation site is the foundation of serious study for many historians. According to the Archaeological Survey of India, the relics excavated from this site date back to the days before the establishment of the Maurya Dynasty and some of them are even 3000 years old. It is believed that the city used to be a flourishing one during the Pre-Mauryan to Pala Dynasty period and it was referred to as Gangaridai by the ancient Roman and Greek writers. The excavation has revealed a temple spreading across 45 sq km and dating back to 700 to 600 BC. Other significant relics collected from this site are Buddha stupas and images, coins of Jataka stories, decorative designs of Pala period, terracotta sealing and plaques and number of earthen utensils and showpieces.
Very close to Sundarban, Bakkhali, a World Heritage Site, is a tranquil getaway for tourists planning to head with family. Less noisy and completely detached from the bustle of the city life, this destination lets the visitors to enjoy the musical sound of the rolling waves. The temple of Banbibi is located inside the Casuarina forest. Apart from spending time on sea beach, tourists can have a glimpse of attractions like the windmills of Frasergunj along with the crocodile propagation centre.
Located in Hasnabad, 80 km from Kolkata, Taki is a picture perfect village that can introduce city dwellers to the simplicity imbibed in the natural beauty of rural Bengal. Rinsed by the serpentine River Ichamati, the village enthrals the tourists who are seriously looking for a break from the artificiality and clamour of cities. A Bagan Bari (Rest House) located on the bank of the River Ichamati downs many exotic resorts built artificially. Tourists can go for a boat ride on the Ichamati River where the rural boatman might sing a melodious folksong that will let one feel nostalgic.
The grandeur of the ever charming Dooars has always been the centre of attraction of West Bengal tourism. But, I had not got the chance to know about the details before. This time when I researched, I got to know that Dooars is located 632km north of Kolkata in the district of Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. Eastern Himalaya stands at its northern outskirts and wide stretches of dense forests boasts the milieu of this bewildering getaway. The dense forest is interwoven with deep green tea gardens, magnetic streams rolling down the hills, exotic wildlife and cascading rivers which generate a soothing feel and invite the tourists to spend a long vacation in the lap of nature.
How to Reach: Bagdogra is the nearest airport to Dooars. People choosing the rail route can get down at Madarihat station from where private vehicles are available. Regular bus service connects Jaldapara National Park with Darjeeling and Siliguri.
An untouched rural corner in Darjeeling district of West Bengal, Samsing is located at a distance of 82km from Siliguri. The mid-altitude undulating hills of this village are coated with lush green tea gardens and dense forests are habited by small indigenous animals and birds. Exempted from the harmful effects of commercialization, this sleepy village also serves as the gateway to the Neora Valley National Park which is 18km from this village. The village is covered with bright orange orchards that boast the grandeur of its scenic view impeccably.
An ideal retreat for a two to three days break, Rajabhatkhawa is a picturesque tourist spot located at a distance of 15km from Alipurduar. It is a small sparsely populated town far away from the bustling city life. It is the starting point of numerous nature trails offering opportunities of bird watching, jungle safari, and wildlife watching. The Nature Interpretation Centre at Rajabhatkhawa is a museum that is focused mainly on wildlife related exhibits.
A repository of elusive varieties of orchids and medicinal plants, Buxa Tiger Reserve is 150km from Siliguri. One of the most fascinating places to see in Dooars, West Bengal, the reserve forest is mainly located in Alipurduar sub-division of Jalpaiguri district and extends up to the international border of Bhutan. The alluring River Jayanti flows through the reserve forest that compels one to be poetic about its green backdrop. Buxa fort, Mahakaleshwar Temple, Mahakal Cave, Pukri Mai Pond are the major attractions of Buxa. A watchtower deep inside the jungle brings opportunity of sighting the Bengal tiger, 3 varieties of pythons, wild elephants and many varieties of migratory birds.
A part of the buffer zone of Buxa Tiger Reserve, Rasik Bil is located at a distance of 30km from Alipurduar and a promising destination for eco-tourism activities. A perfect getaway for the birders, the lake premise is impeccably quiet and the greenery surrounding the lake presents a landscape painted by an artist. Other than a large aquarium, Rasik Bil encompasses a Deer Park and a Crocodile rehabilitation centre.
Holy Christ! I was literally baffled seeing the exotic nature of the beauty of West Bengal. I just looked for one district and it took me such a long time to explore the land virtually. So, I thought of finding a few offbeat sea beaches of West Bengal and what I found is like this…
Located at a distance of 139km from the metro city Kolkata, Midnapore or Medinipur alone is capable of rejuvenating one’s strenuous mind. A number of historical remains, sea beaches, lakes and reserve forests present opportunities to spend time amidst the undisturbed natural splendor.
How to Reach: Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata is hardly three hours drive from Midnapore. For tourists preferring rail route, Midnapore Railway Station is the nearest rail head.
Tourists visiting Kolkata must have heard about Digha or Mandarmani but, only a few are aware of the beauty of Shankarpur sea beach of Midnapore district. Being less commercialised, very less crowd throng the shore of Shankarpur and as a result its freshness remains intact. The rolling waves of the sea reverberate on the shore and make it a perfect hide out for those who are seeking seclusion. The sea shore is enclosed by tall Casuarina trees and walking around them makes one delighted. Digha, one of the most popular sea beaches of Kolkata is only 14 km from Shankarpur and Mandarmani is only 45 minutes walking distance.
After spending a day in Shankarpur Beach, if one is left with free time, visiting Tajpur will be a great idea. It is only 3 km from Shankarpur and wins the confidence of beach lovers for its virgin natural beauty. Those who love to go adventurous can join paragliding organized in this sea beach. The River Mohana and villages of the fishermen are close to this sea beach and serve as the must see attractions of Tajpur. Kayaking, Rafting, Zorbing, and Rock Climbing are some of the most adventurous activities to be enjoyed in Tajpur.
Spending a few hours on the sea beach of Juneput will be of great value. The beach is only 40km from Digha in Midnapore district and attracts those visitors who want to enjoy the vacation in an isolated place. Wide stretches of this sparsely crowded beach is mainly lined with Casuarina trees and enhance its scenic view.
A picture perfect getaway on the far west district of West Bengal, Purulia is a sleepy village located at a distance of around 250km from Kolkata. Incredible green coating over its undulating hills, century old remains of forts and palaces and age old temples mesmerize the tourists in search of peace and tranquillity. Chau dance, Jhumur and Bhuang dance are the pride of this district.
How to Reach: Purulia is well connected with all major cities of the country by rail. Howrah-Ranchi Intercity, Rupashi Bangla Express, Howrah Purulia Express are some of the best conveyances that connect Purulia with Kolkata. Ranchi Airport is around 109km from Purulia and the airport of Kolkata is 220 km from Purulia.
An ideal retreat to captivate the senses of forest lovers Ayodhya Hills is located on the boundary of Purulia District and Jharkhand at a distance of 40km Purulia Railway station. The hill is around 700m high and the winding path leading to the top of the hill offers beguiling sites of lush green vegetation. Beginners can take up mountaineering or rock climbing to make their vacation more interesting. Fresh water springs and streams rolling down are a real feast for the eyes.
Witness of a 1500 years old dynasty, Garh Panchkoat is only 71km from Purulia station on the southern Panchet foothills. Mostly the area is dotted with age old temples that are specimens of different architectural styles like Pancharatna, Jor-Bangla and Pirha. The common attraction of all these temples is the lush green backdrop which adds an awe-inspiring touch to the overall appearance of the temples.
‘Peaceful’ in the ideal sense of the term, Duarsini is a small tribal village 13 km from Burdwan and 65km from Sadar Purulia. Unlike other popular tourist spots, this village welcomes its guests with bucolic serenity. The lush green forest of this village is dotted with shal, piyal, shimul and palash trees where the bubbly river Satgurang adds enigma to its captivating beauty. At night the rhythmic sound of Madal, a unique tribal drum reverberates from the tribal village.
Witness of the bygone era of Bengal, Deulghat is located near the Kansabati River near Boram under Arsha police station. Mainly visited by tourists to be mesmerized by the royal ruins, this wonderful tourist spot encompasses 15 ruined temples which are rich in architectural grandeur and work as a source of information for the history buffs. Delicate carvings and the unique construction pattern converse about the suave taste of Pal and Sen Dynasty of Bengal. Palash Parban celebrated during Dol Utsav (Holi) is a bizarre festival that the fun loving souls would enjoy.
A popular hotspot for tourists seeking peace and tranquillity, Bankura is a small city in West Bengal. Located at a distance of around 172km from the mainland Kolkata this tourist spot presents oodles of attractions starting from temples to stunning natural view. The district constitutes a part of the eastern Chhota Nagpur Plateau and is bejewelled with scattered streams, small hills and remains of age old monuments.
How to Reach: Bankura district is well connected by road with Kolkata, Durgapur, Kharagpur and other Indian cities. Nearest rail stations are Bankura Junction and Bishnupur. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata is around 175km from Bankura. Rupashi Bangla Express, Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express, Puri-New Delhi (Nandan Kanan) Superfast Express, and Ernakulam-Patna Express are some of the best conveyances to reach Bankura.
If one wants to witness the distinctively styled temples of ancient Bengal, Bishnupur should not miss out one’s sight. There are around 10 temples which look artistically stunning and due to their distant location, people do not disturb the quiet ambiance. Bishnupur was the capital of the Malla dynasty for several years and under their royal patronage the town got exclusive cultural nourishment. Witnessing the art of weaving Baluchari Saree and terracotta painting are must behold attractions of Bishnupur. Bishnupur is around 34km from Bankura.
Only 19km from Bishnupur, Chechuria is a manmade eco-sanctuary that can be an ideal retreat for those who would love to go for a picnic party with their family. Inside the park there are walking trails lined with varieties of trees. The chirping of birds, fresh air and quiet environment remove all exhaustions of day to day life.
55 km from the central town of Bankura, Mukutmanipur draws the attention of the tourists towards the beautiful necklace like dam constructed at the confluence of River Kansabati and River Kumari. An undulating greenery enriched terrain runs along the southern edge of the Kansabati Water Reservoir. Cobalt fresh water body is lined with emerald green landscape which mesmerizes the lovers of serenity.
The centre of several myths and legends, Jayrambati is 44 km from Bishnupur. It is the place where Sarada, the wife of Ramakrishna took birth. For the followers of Ramakrishna Mission, the village is a popular pilgrimage destination. The temple of Singha Bahini Devi and the holy pond Mayer Pukur are the main attractions of this divine place.
Being in the limelight for its manicured tea gardens, undulating terrains, and salubrious weather, Darjeeling is popularly known as Hill Queen of Bengal. Avid travellers know about Darjeeling very well and chances are high that the hill queen has mesmerised not only local but global tourists as well. So, I am sure they will not consider Darjeeling as an offbeat getaway until I propose the names.
How to Reach: Bagdogra is the nearest Airport to Darjeeling at a distance of 94-96 km from Darjeeling. Darjeeling Railway Station is the nearest rail head which is connected to all major cities of the country.
If trekking is all what rejuvenates one’s strenuous mind, Sandakphu is a must visit sight for those thrill lovers. One of the best treks in West Bengal, Sandakphu is the highest peak in West Bengal at a height of 11,929 ft above sea level. It is the only destination in the state where silver fir tree, snow white magnolia and cherry red rhododendron decorate its snow covered trekking trails with utmost care. The trek starts from Maneybhanjan and snakes through beautiful a Buddhist monastery, hushed villages, and stunning natural vistas.
A lesser known and unspoiled hill station, 32km south of Darjeeling, Kurseong beckons the globetrotters with its placid greenery, age old Buddhist Gompa, and artistically manicured tea gardens. Among the plethora of attractions, museums like Bengal Natural History Museum, Railway Museum, Himalayan Tibet Museum are a must see. To conserve the natural grandeur of the city a few reserve areas like Lloyd Botanical Garden, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park are ideal options. However, witnessing the sunrise or sunset views from Tiger Hills is a must behold sight.
19km from Darjeeling, at an altitude of 6956 ft, Lepchajagat justifies its name presenting matchless natural beauty. Home to a couple of indigenous species of animals and birds this tranquil land offers the best views of all the five peaks of Kanchenjunga. Witnessing sunrise at dawn is an extraordinary experience as the golden sunrays brighten up the five peaks covered with thick layers of snow. Ghoom Monastery, Jorepokhri, Mirik Lake, Kurseong are the major attractions near Lepchajagat.
A lesser known national park inhabited by many varieties of flora and fauna, Neora Valley is a calm and serene reserve area of Eastern Himalaya. Presenting opportunities for witnessing the magnificent wildlife like Red Panda, Clouded Leopard, Himalayan Thar, Royal Bengal Tiger and a number of such endangered animals, the park exhibits a rich variety of habitats. Other than the many species of animals, different types of orchid flowers can also be witnessed in its deep forests. Tourists who would love to try something different can try walking on the hilly trails around the villages.
However, if adventure is the main agenda behind planning a trip to Neora Valley National Park, a six days trek through the forests including Samsing – Bhote Ghar – Thusum – Rechela – Alubari – Lava will be sufficient to satiate the desire of one’s adventure freak soul.
There are certain moments when the luxury of materialistic world appears fake and dull. Then a shattered mind seeks shelter at the feet of the supreme soul, often with blind faith and sometimes with a dubious mind. But, Nadia district of West Bengal is such a destination that can make a restless mind calm and composed even if one is a non-believer. 123km from Kolkata city, this sacred destination attracts a significant number of foreigners for housing the headquarters of Gaudiya Vaishnava belief, ISKCON temple.
How to Reach: Nabadwip Ghat Station is the nearest rail head to Nadia. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport of Kolkata is around 114km from this place. Regular bus services are available connecting the city with mainstream Kolkata.
A popular religious spot located on the bank of the holy River Ganga, Mayapur is the main centre of Gaudiya Vaishnava belief. Unlike popular Hindu temples, this temple premise attracts attention for its well maintained temple premise and quiet environment. To reach the temple one needs to cross River Jalangi by boat which lends a mesmerising feel. The temple premise is divided into separate halls where deities like Radha-Krishna, Panchatattva, Radha-Krishna with Asta Sakhi and Prabhupada are worshipped.
A small town in Nadia district, Shantipur is mostly known for its Tant Sarees. Tant sarees of Fuliya, Shantipur are very popular in Bengali households and exported to foreign countries. There are a number of temples in Shantipur which are more than a century old and depict a unique style of temple architecture called Aatchala. The temple of Poteshwari is believed to be two hundred centuries old. The writer of Bengali Ramayana, Krittibas Ojha was born here.
The ancient capital of the kingdom of Raja Krishnachandra, Krishnanagar is a culturally enriched town. This small city is known across the country for beautiful clay dolls. Mainly the dolls are made in a place called Ghurni in Krishnanagar. The Palace of Krishnangar glorifies the magnificent craft and architectural excellence of the artists of the bygone era. The palace is endowed with antiques of the bygone era.
Well! These are all about the places that emptied me of all superlatives while making a virtual tour through them. But, the soil of Bengal will never go barren of such unrecognised and lesser known places where a city escapist can look for retreat. The peace and tranquillity concealed in each of these places can easily overwhelm the opulence of luxurious resorts crafted with heartless bricks and jewels. Here the day starts with the sweet chirping of unknown birds instead of worlds’ most annoying sound of an alarm clock… morning does not mean reaching the metro station/bus stop before 8:39 in the morning… and the sun sets with a bright face without reminding us to wind up the assigned tasks before 6 ‘o’ clock in the evening.