The east Indian state of West Bengal has a long and intriguing history. Different dynasties, right from Palas, Guptas and Senas to Mughals and British, ruled over the territory of Bengal at one time or the other. It won’t be incorrect to say that each reigning power left its mark on the state in terms of architecture and culture, all of which collectively contributes to its rich heritage.
While planning a heritage trip to West Bengal, the historic and cultural gem called Malda should be at the top of your travel itinerary. Nestled on the confluence of Mahananda and Kalindi rivers, the ancient town is a popular tourist destination in West Bengal and boasts several ancient monuments and buildings that stand as a testimony to its rich culture and history. Some of the must-visit places here include the “Jami Masjid Mosque”, built in the 16th century AD, “Neema Sari Tower” and “Malda Museum”, which houses 1500 years old anthropological samples, calligraphic inscriptions, ancient sculptures and terracotta artefacts, and other precious items.
About 12 km south of Malda lies the town of Gaur, which once served as the capital of three significant dynasties of ancient Bengal – Buddhist Palas, Muslim Nawabs and the Hindu Senas. The most important historical centre of the region, it is today home to numerous ancient monuments and ruins that fascinate historians, architecture buffs and culture enthusiasts. One must also visit the “Dakhil Darwaza”, “Firoz Minar” and “Qadam-e-Rasool Mosque”, all of which are the town’s popular tourist attractions.
When it comes to heritage tourism in West Bengal, Bishnupur deserves an honorary mention. A seat of power for the Malla Dynasty in the 16th century, it possesses a great historical and cultural significance. It is situated in the district of Bankura, about 135 km from the capital city of Kolkata. The place is a history seeker’s paradise, replete with beautiful ancient temples, sculptures and relics from the past. The temples of “Jor Mandir”, “Jor Bangla” and “Madan Gopal” in particular, are a treat to eyes, and are embellished with ornate terracotta panels and the signature domed Bangla roofs crowning their cavernous structures. Apart from being an important historic centre, Bishnupur has also been recognized a cynosure of the ancient Bengali crafts. The town attracts innumerable tourists for its ever-popular Baluchari Sarees and terracotta works, especially the Bankura Horses.
A heritage tour in West Bengal is incomplete without the mention of Kolkata. Once the seat of the British East India Company, it is regarded as the country’s intellectual, artistic, culinary and cultural capital. The modern day landscape of this bustling capital is defined by its rich colonial architecture and a series of heritage sites. On a trip here, one must embark on a heritage tour commencing from the city’s iconic landmark, the world-renowned “Howrah Bridge” that majestically sits on the Hooghly River. It is an architectural marvel built without a single nut or bolt, and held together by rivets. “Victoria Memorial”, “Fort William”, “St. Paul’s Cathedral” and the “Marble Palace”, are few of the other major famous attractions of the city and places of historical significance in Kolkata.
For lovers of Bengali literature, a visit to the “Tagore’s House” is highly recommended. The erstwhile home of Rabindranath Tagore has now been converted into a museum, which is adorned with over 700 paintings and different galleries exhibiting the great Nobel Laureate’s celebrated manuscripts and books. Kolkata is one of the only few places in the world where trams are still functional. Enjoying a ride in it is indeed one of the top things to do in Kolkata, one which is sure to leave you with the experience of a lifetime.
One of the places to explore the splendid colonial legacy of West Bengal is the Himalayan town of Darjeeling. Among the various tourist attractions, “Windermere Heritage Hotel” and “Glenburn Tea Estate” are two sites of immense historical significance that evoke nostalgia in visitors. The world famous “Toy Train” is another fascinating marvel that dates to the colonial era. Built in 1880, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and offers a unique experience with its small steam engine pulling mini coaches up the steep hills with almost impossible curves and gradients. Those visiting Darjeeling for a cultural extravaganza must visit the town’s beautiful monasteries to feel the essence of the place. Among all, the “Bhutia Busty Monastery”, “Ghum Monastery” and “Aloobari Monastery” stand out for their unique cultural and historical value.
Murshidabad, the former capital of West Bengal during the Mughal rule, possesses enormous historical significance, and is a famous tourist attraction in West Bengal. The must see tourist places here are “Hazarduari Palace”, “Lalbagh Cemetery”, “Garden of Motijheel” and the “Katara Mosque”. Looking forward to a trip here? Plan your trip keeping in mind the famous Murshidabad Heritage Festival, which is held every year around February, and is a grand extravaganza of heritage walks, cultural programmes, photography exhibitions, and a wonderful gourmet fair.