Travel Bucket List: India – West Bengal Part 1

From the hills of Himachal Pradesh, the next state we will explore is where the river Ganges meets the sea, West Bengal. One of India’s eastern states, West Bengal lies along the Bay of Bengal, is the fourth-most populous state and fourteenth-largest state by area. Part of the Bengal region of the Indian subcontinent, it borders Bangladesh in the east, and Nepal and Bhutan in the north as well as the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim and Assam. India’s third-largest metropolis Kolkata is the capital which is also the seventh-largest city by population in India. The state has a varied topography which includes the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region, the Ganges delta, the Rarh region and the coastal Sundarbans.

The area’s early history featured a succession of Indian empires, internal squabbling, and a tussle between Hinduism and Buddhism for dominance. Ancient Bengal was the site of several major Janapadas, while the earliest cities date back to the Vedic period. The region was part of several ancient pan−Indian empires, including the Vangas, Mauryans, and the Guptas. The citadel of Gauḍa served as the capital of the Gauḍa Kingdom, the Pala Empire, and the Sena Empire. Islam was introduced through trade with the Abbasid Caliphate, but following the Ghurid conquests led by Bakhtiyar Khalji and the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate, Islam spread across the entire Bengal region. During the Bengal Sultanate, the territory was a major trading nation in the world and was often referred to by the Europeans as the richest country to trade with. It was absorbed into the Mughal Empire in 1576 and simultaneously, some parts of the region were ruled by several Hindu states, and Baro-Bhuyan landlords and part of it was briefly overrun by the Suri Empire. Following the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in the early 1700s, the proto-industrialised Mughal Bengal became a semi-independent state under the Nawabs of Bengal and showed signs of the first Industrial revolution. The region was later conquered by the British East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and became part of the Bengal Presidency.

Bengal was a hotbed of the Indian independence movement and has remained one of India’s great artistic and intellectual centres. Following widespread religious violence, the Bengal Legislative Council and the Bengal Legislative Assembly voted on the Partition of Bengal in 1947 along religious lines into two independent dominions: West Bengal, a Hindu-majority Indian state, and East Bengal, a Muslim-majority province of Pakistan which later became independent Bangladesh.

Post-Indian independence, West Bengal’s economy is based on agricultural production and small and medium-sized enterprises. For many decades the state underwent political violence and economic stagnation. Today, the economy of West Bengal is the sixth-largest state economy and has the 28th-highest ranking among Indian states in the human development index.

The origin of the name Bengal or Bangla and Bongo in Bengali is unknown. One theory suggests the word derives from “Bang”, the name of a Dravidian tribe that settled the region around 1000 BC. The Bengali word Bongo might have been derived from the ancient kingdom of Vanga or Banga. Although some early Sanskrit literature mentions the name Vanga, the region’s early history is obscure.

Kolkata
The capital of West Bengal and also known as Calcutta which was its official name until 2001, Kolkata is located on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river, approximately 80 km west of the border with Bangladesh. The primary business, commercial, and financial hub of eastern India and the main port of communication for North-East India, Kolkata has the third-largest urban economy of India and is the seventh-most populous city and the third-most populous metropolitan area. The Port of Kolkata is India’s oldest operating port and its sole major riverine port and Kolkata is known as the cultural capital of India for the city’s historical and architectural significance. A demographically diverse city, the culture of Kolkata features idiosyncrasies that include distinctively close-knit neighbourhoods or paras and freestyle conversations known as addas. Though home to major cricketing venues and franchises, Kolkata differs from other Indian cities by focusing on association football and other sports.

In the late 17th century, the three villages that predated Kolkata were ruled by the Nawab of Bengal under Mughal suzerainty. After the Nawab granted the East India Company a trading licence in 1690, the area was developed by the Company into an increasingly fortified trading post. Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah occupied Calcutta in 1756, and the East India Company retook it the following year. In 1793 the East India Company assumed full sovereignty of the region and under the company rule and later under the British Raj, Calcutta served as the capital of British-held territories in India until 1911, when its perceived geographical disadvantages, combined with growing nationalism in Bengal, led to a shift of the capital to New Delhi. During the Indian independence movement, Calcutta was at the centre of the movement and following independence in 1947, Kolkata, which was once the centre of Indian commerce, culture, and politics, suffered many decades of political violence and economic stagnation.

The word Kolkata is derived from Kolikata, the Bengali name of one of three villages that predated the arrival of the British, in the area where the city was eventually established; the other two villages being Sutanuti and Govindapur. There are several explanations for the name, one being that Kolikata is thought to be a variation of Kalikkhetro, which means a field of the goddess Kali and it can also be a variation of Kalikshetra, a Sanskrit name that means the area of Goddess Kali. Another theory is that the name derives from Kalighat or the Bengali term kilkila or flat area or the words khal meaning canal, and kaṭa meaning dug. According to another theory, the area specialised in the production of quicklime or koli chun and coir or kata and hence, it was called Kolikata. Although the city’s name has always been pronounced Kolkata or Kolikata in Bengali, the anglicised form Calcutta was the official name until 2001, when it was changed to Kolkata to match Bengali pronunciation.

There’s so much to see in Kolkata, so let’s dive right in.

Located in the heart of the city, the Victoria Memorial is a white marbled opulent structure built-in memory of Queen Victoria to celebrate 25 years of rule over India and is almost a replica of the Victoria Memorial in London. Synonymous with the city, the memorial is surrounded by lush green and well-maintained garden, which spreads over 64 acres and has numerous statues and sculptures in it including a 16-foot tall bronze statue of victory, mounted on ball bearings at the top of the memorial. The complex is breathtaking, especially at night, when it is illuminated. The sound and light shows that take place in the evening are a must-watch. The memorial was the brainchild of Lord Curzon who wanted the monument that would be dedicated to Queen Victoria to be stately, spacious and large, with a beautiful garden. The funds for the construction of the memorial were raised from the people of India with a sum of 5 lakh rupees raised. The foundation was laid down by King George V and the Prince of Wales in 1906, and the memorial finally opened to the general public in 1921. The chief architect of the Victoria Memorial was William Emerson, who lent an Indo-Saracenic style of architecture to the monument, while drawing inspiration from Egyptian, Venetian, Mughal and other Islamic styles at the same time. The 184 feet high building is constructed with Makrana marble of white colour brought from Jodhpur in Rajasthan. The vast gardens spread over a sprawling 64 acres, were designed by the botanist Sir David Prain and Lord Redesdale. The gardens have a bronze statue of Queen Victoria on a bronze throne which welcomes visitors at the entrance, while a walk around the garden reveals other statues like those of Edward VII, Curzon, Hastings and Dalhousie. Allegorical sculptures like motherhood, architecture, learning and justice can also be found here. The gardens are open on all days from 5:30 am to 6:15 pm and the entry fee per person is INR 10 while an annual membership costs INR 1,000 for those above 60 and INR 2,000 for others. The garden ticket does not entitle entry into the museum. The Victoria Memorial Gallery is open between 10 am and 5 pm from Tuesdays to Sundays and the entry fee for Indians is INR 20, while that for foreigners is INR 200. The gallery is open from 10 am to 5 pm on all days except Mondays and national holidays. There is a light and sound show known as Son-et-Lumiere from October to June and is closed on Mondays and public holidays as well between July to September. Tickets are priced at INR 10 for the Bengali show and INR 20 for the English show. Between October and February, the Bengali show runs from 6:15 to 7 pm and the English show from 7:15 to 8 pm and between March to June the Bengali show runs from 6:45 to 7:30 pm and the English show runs from 7:45 to 8:30 pm.

Located on the eastern bank of the Hooghly river, Fort William was built in 1696 and is named after King William III and was the first stronghold of the British in the country. Spread over 70.9 acres and embellished with hundreds of arched windows that overlook lush green gardens, the fort has stonework that adorns the surface of the building which took 10 years to complete. In 1756, the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah, attacked Fort William and temporarily conquered the city. He renamed the region Alinagar and assumed control of the fort. This led the British to build a new fort in the Maidan under Robert Clive and construction of the new fort began in 1758 after the Battle of Plassey in 1757. The new Willliam Fort is octagonal and has an imposing structure made out of brick and mortar. Three of its sides faced the River Ganges while the remaining five had a beautiful maidan full of greenery in front of it. The design follows the pattern of a star and was constructed such that it was impregnable against cannon firing shots. A moat was included in the design as well which protected fire and fighters trying to penetrate the wall. Six gates provide access to the fort. Fort William has served several purposes. Initially, it comprised of wings and an inner bastion where prisoners were kept which is why it was known as the black hole of Calcutta. Today, Fort William belongs to the Indian Army and has the capacity of accommodating up to 10,000 army personnel and also serves as the headquarters of the Eastern Command. Because of this, access is limited. Areas that are accessible are open between 10 am and 5:30 pm.

Kolkata’s iconic landmark, the Howrah Bridge is a massive steel bridge constructed over the Hooghly river and is considered to be among the longest cantilever bridges in the world. Also known as Rabindra Setu, it connects Howrah and Kolkata and carries a daily traffic of over 100,000 vehicles. It is at night that the opulence of the bridge comes alive when the bridge is lit up. The view of the city and the bridge from the ferry ride between Kolkata and Howrah, especially at the night, is beautiful. Spread over 1500 feet over the Hoogly river and 71 feet wide, the bridge has eight lanes and is built without the use of any nuts or bolts and is held together by rivets. The Howrah end of the bridge has the Howrah Junction Railway Station, India’s oldest railway station and so the bridge is also known as the Gateway to Kolkata.

The Marble palace near the Chorbagan in North Kolkata was built in 1835 by Rajendra Mallick and is famed for its art collection of masterpieces by Reuben and paintings by renowned artists like Reynolds, Van Gogh and Rembrandt. It also boasts of a Zoo with rare birds and animals.

The Bengali name for the House of the Thakurs, the Jorasanko Thakur Bari is the ancestral home of the Tagore family located in Jorasanko, in north Kolkata. The 700 paintings that are exhibited in this ancestral home as well as the self-composed invite of Rabindranath Tagore’s wedding enthrals visitors. The museum here also houses three different galleries, manuscripts, books and other antiques. The museum comprises three galleries, the first one showcases the life of Tagore and his works, while the other two are about his family and other stalwarts of Bengal. More than 700 paintings can be found here, along with manuscripts, books and other antique items. This house was where Rabindranath Tagore was born and where he spent most of his life was built in 1784, and now houses the Rabindra Bharati Museum, commonly known as Jorasankho Thakurbari in Bengali. The Rabindra Bharti University is also located nearby. An interesting light and sound show takes place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The timings for the shows are from 6 to 6:40 pm in Bengali and 7 to 7:40 pm in English between November and January and 7 to 7:40 pm in Bengali and 8 to 8:40 pm in English between February to June. The Jorasanko Thakur Bari is closed on Mondays and other days is open between 10:30 am and 4:30 pm. Entry fees are INR 10 for adults and INR 5 for students who are Indian and foreigners pay INR 50. The light and sound show costs INR 10 to view and photographs can be taken after paying a fee of INR 50.

The headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Belur Math sprawls over forty acres on the west bank of the Hooghly river. Founded by Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahansa, the temple is at the heart of the Ramakrishna Movement. The temple is known for its distinctive architecture, which fuses Hindu, Christian and Islamic motifs as a symbol of unity and also houses a museum and several other affiliated educational institutions. The evening aarti takes place at 5:30 pm, after which an evening bell is rung to indicate that visitors are not allowed to loiter on the Math grounds and are also not allowed to visit any temple other than the Sri Ramakrishna temple. The aarti here is different from those at other temples since one is expected just to sit and meditate with no religious offering made. The complex houses temples dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Sarada Devi. It also boasts of a well-maintained museum, which contains the history of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. A life-size statue of Sri Ramakrishna seated on a hundred petalled lotus over a two-headed drum-shaped pedestal made of marble is found here with the sacred relics of Sri Ramakrishna preserved within the pedestal. The main entrance of the temple is heavily influenced by the Buddhist styles of the Sanchi Stupa and the entry of the Ajanta Caves. The windows and the balconies draw from the Rajput and Mughal styles of architectural designs, while the central dome is derived from European architecture. Also, the ground plan is in the shape of a Christian cross. Mainly built out of chunar or a kind of hard sandstone, the 112.5 feet high temple has images of Lord Ganesha and Hanuman, who represent success and power respectively, carved above the pillars of the entrance doors. The math is open on all days and between April and September, it is open between 6 to 11:30 am and then again between 4 to 7 pm. In the winter months between October to March, the Math is open between 6:30 to 11:30 am and again between 3:30 to 6:00 pm. The Ramakrishna Museum is closed on Mondays and open Tuesdays to Sundays from 8:30 am to 11:30 am and then after lunch between 4 to 6 pm in summer from 01 April to 30 September and the same time in the mornings, but from 3:30 to 5:30 pm during the winter months of October to March.

A stunning temple in Ballygunge, the Birla Mandir is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Goddess Radha. Merging the traditional and modern styles of architecture, the construction of the temple began in 1970 and was completed in 1996. Towering domes covered in intricate stonework and design adorn the main facade of the temple, while the complex itself is pearl white marble. Also, some artefacts in the temple are made up of silver and Belgian glass. As dusk approaches, the temple is a sight to behold adorned with electric diyas and gleaming chandeliers. The exterior of the complex is made of sandstone, while the interior is ornamented from white marble. Designed by the architect Nomi Bose, the structure is 160 feet tall with its inspiration said to have been drawn from the Lingaraj Temple and the Laxmi Narayan temple of Bhubaneshwar. Its walls depict the pictorial presentation of shlokas and scenes from Bhagavad Geeta engraved on the stone along with intricate Rajasthani style designs. The temple is open from 5:30 to 11 am and then from 4:30 to 9 pm on all days.

One of the 51 Shakti Peeths, the 200-year old Kalighat Temple is one of the most visited Kali temples and the spot where the toes of Sati’s right foot fell during Lord Shiva’s Tandava dance. It is said that Kalighat was where Chowranga Giri, a Dasanami monk, worshipped Ma Kali with great austerity and has thus been known as a religious centre for Ma Kali worship for centuries. A 3ft high altar referred to as Shoshti Tala or Monosha Tala is placed in the temple complex. Three stones representing goddesses Shashthi or Shoshti, Shitala and Mangal Chandi are found here along with a large rectangular platform called Natmandir that was erected near the temple by Zamindar Kasinath Roy in 1835. A verandah called Jor Bangla stands between the Natmandir and sanctum sanctorum and there are two sacrificial altars for animal sacrifices, known as Hari-Kath. There is another Radha-Krishna Temple here known as Shyama-Raya temple. A separate kitchen here is used to make a vegetarian offering for Radha-Krishna and a sacred tank known as Kundupurkar or Kalighat Temple Tank in which the Sati-Anga or the right toe of Sati was originally discovered. Bathing in this sacred water is known to bestow the gift of pregnancy. Unlike most temples, there is no daily worship or food offering in the temple where all the priests are women as the temple commemorates Kali and femininity.

Flanked by Hoogly river Hooghly on its eastern bank, the Dakshineswar Kali is a Navratna temple presided by Bhavatarini, a form of Goddess Kali. Built by Rani Rashmoni in 1855, a devotee of Goddess Kali, the Bhavatarini form means she, who liberates her devotees from the ocean of existence. Aside from the main shrine, there are also several rooms built along the complex surrounding the boundary walls. In these rooms, there are shrines dedicated to several Gods. 12 of these are dedicated to Lord Shiva, 1 to Radha Krishna, and 1 to Rani Rashmoni. Besides, there is also a bathing ghat on the river. The temple is also known for its famous association with Sri Ramakrishna. The temple’s history dates back to 1847. Rani Rashmoni was a wealthy widow who planned to pay her respect and express her devotion to the Goddess by visiting Benaras. But before she could leave with her convoy of 24 ships and a large party, she was visited by the Divine Mother or Goddess Kali in her dreams who told her to install her idol on the banks of the Ganges in Kolkata itself and she would manifest herself in the image and accept worship. In accordance, Rani Rashmoni purchased a 20-acre plot from an Englishman and constructed the temple which took eight years and a sum of nine lakh rupees. The temple is built in the traditional Bengal style of architecture with a nine spired style, also known as the Navratna style. The three-storeyed temple faces the south and the nine spires are distributed in the upper two storeys that can be reached with a flight of stairs. Rising to a height of 100 ft., the inner sanctum sanctorum houses the idol of Goddess Kali who stands on the chest of Lord Shiva. Both these idols are placed in the heart of a gigantic lotus flower that is made in silver. There are 12 shrines alongside the boundary of the temple complex that is dedicated to Lord Shiva. These idols are placed on a thousand leaf lotus which is made of silver. These shrines are constructed in the aat – chala style of Bengali architecture with shrines to Lord Vishnu and Radha Kanta to the north east. There are a flight of stairs that lead to the verandah and the garba griha or the sanctam sanctorum. The temple is open between 6 am and 12:30 pm and again between 3 and 9 pm.

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The Pareshnath Jain Temple also known as the Calcutta Jain Temple is a temple complex dedicated to four Jain Tirthankaras. The complex is a beautiful arrangement of these shrines with the temple architecture consisting of intricately carved marbles and glass work and also houses extremely well-maintained gardens and fountains as well as a shop where visitors can purchase souvenirs and gifts. The temple was built in 1867 by Rai Badridas Bahadur Mukeem. After the temple was built, a Jain saint, Kalyansuriji, instructed him to install an idol of Bhagwan Shitalnath. Rai Badridas searched for a perfect image of Bhagwan Shitalnath for a few years and found one in a Jain Temple buried near Agra and then brought the image to Kolkata and installed it in the temple. The opulent complex has four different temples dedicated to Shitalnath Ji, Mahavir Swami Ji, Dadawadi and Kushal Ji and Chandraprabhu Ji with each temple having stunning architecture with mirrors, stained glass and intricate designs. The complex is made in marble with floral designs and has meticulously decorated gateways, walls, pillars and floors with beautiful chandeliers and paintings in the interior. The temple is open from 6 to 10 am and then from 5 to 8 pm.

Mother House or the Missionaries of Charity was established by Mother Teresa in 1950 and provides free services to the ones stricken by poverty. The house has about 4,500 members known as sisters. An area of the house is reserved for followers to pay their respect to Mother Teresa and here one can find Mother Teresa’s tomb and an exhibition that displays her work through photographs, awards and articles along with some of her belongings like her sarees, sandals and her bag. A daily mass is held at Mother House with the sisters and volunteers celebrating mass every day at 6 am in the main chapel. Every week on Fridays at 4:30 pm, a special mass is offered at Mother’s Tomb for the intentions placed at the tomb which is followed by a special blessing with Mother Teresa’s relic. Mother House is open from 8 am to 12 noon and between 3 to 6 pm. It is closed on Thursdays, 22 August, Easter Monday and 26 December.

Located in the heart of Kolkata, the St Paul’s Church is an Anglican cathedral that is a must-visit. Primarily built to accommodate the ever-increasing Christian community in Calcutta, it is the first Episcopalian church in Asia. The building follows Indo-Gothic style and its structure is complete with a cascading white edifice, towering spire and colourful tinted windows. Inside, it has a huge nave, majestic altar and chancel, along with carvings and paintings depicting great moments and events of Christian history. The cathedral complex also houses several memorabilia of past congregants and a library where books as old as the church’s foundation time still exist donated by founding member Bishop Wilson. After Calcutta suffered an earthquake in 1934, the church was revamped for the second time, the first one being after the 1897 earthquake. The church’s tower was rebuilt and modelled on the central Bell Harry Tower of Canterbury Cathedral. The cathedral has a chancel and a sanctuary and above that a 200 feet tall spire rising into the sky. At the far south of the altar, there is a reredos that can be traced back to 1879 which bears carvings that depict the life of St Paul, the Annunciation, the Flight into Egypt and the Adoration of the Magi, all by Sir Arthur Blomfield. The cathedral is open between 9 am to 12 noon and between 3 to 6 pm on Mondays to Saturdays and from 7:30 am to 6 pm on Sundays.

The St John’s Church is one of Kolkata’s oldest churches built when the city was the capital of British India. The church served as Anglican Cathedral till St. Paul’s Cathedral was made the Anglican cathedral in 1847. It is a splendidly well-maintained structure and the unique tall features of St John’s Church is a characteristic part of its neoclassical architecture. The construction of St John’s Church began in 1784 and a public lottery system helped raise money to build the church. The church is designed as per the neoclassical style with the stones used in the structure that belonged to the ruins of Gour and was shipped down the river Hooghly. The church is also known as the Stone Church or Pathure Girja with the basic structure square-shaped. The tallest part of the church is the 174-foot tall spire with a massive clock. A portico lined with columns leads to the entrance of the church. The church is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily with prayers between 8 and 9 am.

The ninth oldest museum in the world and the largest in India, the Indian Museum’s foundation stone was laid down in 1814 and it has been a centre of multidisciplinary activities ever since. Popularly known as Jadughar, it has the finest collection of contemporary paintings, sacred relics of Buddha, Egyptian mummies and ancient sculptures. In addition to these, the Indian Museum boasts of some of the most exquisite collections of ornaments, fossils, skeletons, antiques, armours, and stunning Mughal paintings. Today the museum has 60 galleries which have been divided into six categories, Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Economic Botany. There is also a library and bookshop present within the museum premises. The museum recently celebrated its bicentennial anniversary in February 2014. The museum’s structure was designed by Walter B Grawille in the Italian style and comprises three floors, each spanning across an area of about 930 sq meters. The museum is open all days except Mondays and from 10 am to 5 pm, March to November and from 10 am to 5:30 pm, December to February. The museum is closed on public holidays and some festivals and ticket prices are INR 20 for Indian adults and INR 150 for foreigners.

One of its kind, Science City is one of the finest and the largest science museums in the world. There is a special section dedicated to the aquatic world where one can learn details about various fishes and insects. The ground floor comprises optical illusions with mirrors which are very interesting to look at. The Time Machine is a favourite and allows one to travel to outer space from where one can travel back in time and enter the age of dinosaurs by being a part of the artificial Jurassic Park. There is also a ropeway which gives a bird’s eye view of the city. Science City is open from 9 am to 9 pm on all days except some public holidays. The entry fee per person is INR 50 and fees for the various exhibits per person are Space theatre INR 60, Evolution Park INR 10, 3D theatre INR 30, Time Machine INR 20, Road Train INR 15, Cable Car INR 30, Mono Cycle INR 15, Caterpillar INR 10 and Gravity Coaster INR 30.

Situated near the Victoria Memorial and St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Birla Planetarium is the largest planetarium in Asia and the second largest in the world. It is one of the three planetariums in India and is also known as Taramandal and was founded in September 1962. Shows such as Zodiac signs and stars on the various constellations in the sky, Journey to the Antarctic, and the New View of the Solar System are held here at regular intervals. One of the interesting aspects of the planetarium is its architecture. The style has been adopted from the Sanchi Stupa and is quite prominent even from a distance with a splendid white dome with a diameter of 23 metres. The English show takes place at 1:30 and 6:30 pm while the Hindi show timings are 12:30, 2:30 and 4:30 pm. The Bengali shows take place at 3:30 and 5:30 pm. Also, extra shows are organised on Sundays and other holidays at 10:30 am in Hindi and 11:30 am in Bengali. There is an entry fee of INR 40 per person.

The Birla Industrial & Technological Museum was the first scientific and industrial museum in India and was up on 2nd May 1959. The fascinating physics gallery has 28 exhibits on mechanics, light, electromagnetic waves and gravitation in the classical physics section of the gallery while the transport gallery comprises more than 50 exhibits and is spread over 500 sq km. The motive power gallery shows how man was forced to use animal power, wind power and water power to increase his physical strength while the life science gallery tries to bring out the science of life via exhibits that are both living and non-living. The children’s gallery has many sections spread over 4000 sq ft where children can play around and experiment with the objects present there. The museum which is closed on the last two days of Navratri is open between 10 am and 5:30 pm daily. Entry fees are INR 30 for the general public, while school students on an excursion have special rates.

Home to cricket, Eden Gardens is a beautiful, well-maintained cricket stadium established in 1864. With an area of over 50 acres, this stadium can seat about 66,349 people and is the second-largest stadium in the world. The pathways of the stadium are shaded by huge mahogany, mango and banyan trees with a three-storeyed Burmese pagoda in red and golden yellow brought here by Lord Dalhousie.

The Eco-Tourism Park is an expansive urban park designed to promote eco-tourism and is the biggest urban park in India occupying an area of over 475 acres. A water body surrounds the park and forms an island in the middle. The beautiful and well-maintained park is the perfect retreat for nature lovers. The park has three major parts, the ecological zones, the gardens and the recreational zones with activities that visitors can choose from to suit their requirement. The Butterfly Garden has different species of butterflies with the speciality of the park being the dome that houses plants that help the butterflies thrive. The Mask Garden displays various types of masks found not just in Bengal but also in various parts of the world. The Tea Garden is a model tea garden while the Formal Garden is based on the concept of vertical gardening surrounded by a flat landscape. The Bamboo Garden has a variety of bamboo plants and the Fruit Garden showcases fruit-bearing trees found mostly in Bengal. The Meadow Garden has a variety of wild flowering plants and overlooks the lakefront promenade and the Rose Garden has a long walkway lined with rose shrubs. The Sculpture Garden is where one can find sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries. The Rabi Aranya features plants and trees mentioned in the literary works of Rabindranath Tagore. And the Urban Museum or Sangraha displays a beautiful collection of stunning artwork, mostly used to decorate Durga Puja Pandals. The Biswa Bangla Haat or market showcases the traditional handicrafts of Bengal and has a shopping arcade as well as fresh produce which is sold here. A Graffiti Wall runs along with the south parking and both sides of the wall bear stunning artwork created by two renowned artists, Subha Prasanna and Jogen Chowdhury. The Children’s Park has play areas, sculptures, fountains and lush gardens and the park has replicas of the seven wonders of the world situated across the park. The park is open between Tuesdays and Saturdays from 2:30 to 8:30 pm during the summer season which runs from 01 March to 31 October and from 12 noon to 7:30 pm during the winter season from 01 November to 28 February and on Sundays and public holidays from 11 am to 7:30 pm. The park is closed on Mondays. Entry fees at INR 30 per person and children above three have to buy a ticket from the ticket counter which closes at 7:30 pm.

The erstwhile Dhakuria Lake is an artificial tank in South Kolkata, spread over 75 acres and home to a variety of migratory birds from Siberia and Russia. Surrounded by gardens, a children’s park and an auditorium, the lake has been developed over the years to encourage community and welfare and is a popular recreational spot for picnics.

The very picturesque Hooghly Riverfront is situated along the two banks of the river Hooghly: Kolkata in the east and Howrah in the west. Sunrise and sunset views are magnificent from here and should not be missed. After the beautification of the east promenade in 2011, it has become a major tourist attraction.

Alipore Zoo, also known as the Calcutta Zoo or the Zoological Garden of Alipore, is the oldest zoological park established in India. Most known for being the home of the Aldabra giant tortoise Adwaita, a tortoise who had lived for over 250 years before he died in the year 2006, the zoo is spread over 46.5 acres and has been operating since 1876. The zoo becomes especially crowded during the winter seasons with tourists and is home to a variety of exotic animals like the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Indian Elephant, the Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, the White Tiger, Grant’s Zebra, Antelopes, Deer and more and various birds like macaws and lorikeet, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Lady Amherst’s Pheasant and Golden Pheasant, Ostrich, Emu and Hornbills. During the winter season, the zoo also attracts migratory birds like the Sarus Crane. The Zoo is open between 9 am and 5 pm while the aquarium is open between 10:30 am and 5 pm and the ticket counter between 9 am and 4:30 pm. The zoo is closed on Thursdays, though if that happens on a public holiday, the zoo stays open for that day and is closed on the next working day. Between 15 December to 31 January, the zoo is open on all seven days. For visitors above five, on days other than Saturdays, Sundays and government holidays, the entry fee is INR 25, on Saturdays, Sundays and government holidays, it is INR 30. The aquarium charges INR 5 while there are no camera charges and video charges are INR 250 per hour.

An ancient ghat, Ramkrishnapur Ghat is built along the banks of the Ganga. The beautiful and enchanting ghat is surrounded by a series of beautifully constructed ancient temples and staircases running towards the banks where the Ganga Aarti takes place. While Varanasi and Haridwar are famous for their grand Ganga Aartis, Ramkrishnapur Ghat offers its spin on it. It is highly recommended to take a boat ride and watch the aarti from the middle of the river, a surreal experience. The boat ride can be hired from Babughat.

The Prinsep Ghat, located on the banks of River Hooghly, is a majestic structure famous for its Greek and Gothic inlays. With the magnificent Howrah Bridge in the background, watching the sunrise or sunset and taking a long walk in the cool air on the banks of the river is bliss. During British rule, it was used by them as a jetty for loading and unloading passengers and essential items. The ghat is located between Fort William and the Water Gate and is one of the few locations that has been restored to maintain the pre-independence aura. Boating is a favourite activity at the ghat with the river cruises lasting for a few minutes to an hour. Early mornings between 6 to 9 am and evenings from 5 to 7 pm are the best times boating in the river with some boatmen extending the evening boat ride on request for another hour or so at additional charges.

A heritage site today maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, South Park Street Cemetery is an 18th-century non-church cemetery, one of the oldest in the world. Most of the tombs in the cemetery are aesthetically beautiful and very attractive with a unique charm. The oldest tomb is grave number 363 which belongs to a woman who never wished to have her name revealed. The tomb architecture is mostly a mix of Gothic and Indo-Saracenic with miniature replicas on stone. The cemetery is open from 9 am to 5 pm and has no entry fees.

Babur Haat is the perfect weekend destination if one wishes to take a break. Dominated by natural fishing lakes or bheris, responsible for producing some of the tastiest fish in West Bengal, Babur Haat has long stretches of rice farmlands, vegetable orchards, mango groves, palm groves and rural homes and temples. Malancha village, famous for its fish markets is only 15 km from Babur Haat and one can also opt for country boating, by crossing the river to visit Chaital Village.

In the next part, we will see more of West Bengal’s beauty.

4 thoughts on “Travel Bucket List: India – West Bengal Part 1

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