Travel Bucket List: India – West Bengal Part 6

Bankura
Bankura is famous for its hills and temples and is famous for its terracotta temples In the Mahabharata, Bankura was described as Suhmobhumi. The word larh or rarh was introduced after the 6th century and comes from the old Austric word rarha or rarho which means the land of red soil. Scholars differ in their opinion about the name Bankura where orah or rah means habitation. One of the most influential gods of the district, Dharmathakur is called Bankura Roy which may the be the root for the name of the place. Another legend about the name comes from Bir Hambir who was the 49th King of the Malla dynasty. Bir Bankura was one of his two sons. Raja Bir Hambir divided his kingdom into 22 tarafs or circles and gave one to his each son. Taraf Jaybelia fell to the lot of Bir Bankura who developed a town in his taraf and the town was later named as Bankura after its founder’s name. Located only a few km from the terracotta temples of Bishnupur, the Gokulchand Temple is the grandest of the few Bengal stone temples. The 64 feet high five pinnacled temple is surrounded by a high wall, giving the impression of a fort rather than a temple. Located on the banks of the Bodai River, the twin-villages of Hadal-Narayanpur is famous for the Mandal family terracotta temples that comprise of the Barataraf, Mejotaraf and the Chhototaraf temples. Barataraf also has a huge Rasmancha popularly used to stage Ras-Leela or plays based on Vishnu’s life. Mejotaraf and the Chhototaraf are studded with terracotta panels with representations of Vishnu in the Anantashayan posture. The tallest hill in this region, Biharinath hill is situated 57 km away from Bankura town and was an ancient centre of Jainism and is known for its beautiful surroundings. A tourist village, Joyrambati is famous as it was the birthplace of Sree Sarada Devi who is worshipped as the Holy Mother by the followers of Sri Ramakrishna. Jhilmili is a natural beauty also known as the Darjeeling of South Bengal. It is located at the border of Purulia, Bankura and Midnapur and just 70 km away from Bankura town. Literally translating to sparkle or twinkle in the Bengali language, the area has dense lush forests that possess breathtaking beauty. The place is situated on a hillock and amidst thick, dense forests of varying heights and the forest cover is so thick in some places that even sunlight has a hard time making its way through the labyrinth of vegetation. The Kangsabati flows right through this forest and its banks are a perfect spot to have a picnic. The watch tower offers an amazing view of the surroundings, including that of the descending elephants from the Dalma Hill during winters.

Bishnupur
A small town, Bishnupur is famous for its terracota temples and rich culture including architecture, music and handicraft. The town’s name is derived from Lord Vishnu. The Baluchari saree of Bishnupur has developed a brand of its own. Stories from the mythology are designed on the sarees which are completed within a week. The oldest brick temple, Rasmancha was commissioned by the Malla King Bir Hambir in 1600. The temple has one inner chamber housing the idols of Radha-Krishna and has an elongated tower encircled by turrets which are of hut shapes. It is enclosed by a passageway and there are some big cannons which date back to Malla period. The Vaishnava Ras festival was held till 1935 before it was converted to a protected monument. The Lalji Temple is a laterite eka-ratna temple built in 1658 by Bir Singha II of the Malla dynasty on a square raised plinth which consists of ornamental stucco decorations on low relief carvings. Built by Malla King Raghunath Singh in 1655 AD, the Jorebangla Temple is of laterite bricks and has the appearance of two thatched huts joined together and surmounted by a single tower. The temple’s roofs and walls have classical Chala style of architecture in terracotta with the panels and walls depicting the lives of the royalty and stories from the epics. The Madan Mohan Temple is a eka-ratna temple built by the Malla King, Durjana Singh Dev in the late 17th century and has a square flat roof with curved cornices and a pinnacle over the top. Built by King Chaitanya Singha in 1758, the Radha Shyam Temple has a dome shaped sikhara with stucco motifs that depicts floral, geometric and life of puranas. Soaring at an altitude of 1442 feet, Susunia Hill is famous for sports like rock climbing and trekking. The hill is covered with a rich flora of shrubbery, majestic trees and rare medicinal plants. Part of the eastern ghats, this hillock is popular with trekking enthusiasts. There also stands an ancient carved monolith structure on the hill called the Narasimha Stone. The carvings on the monolith call it the oldest stone. There is a fresh spring water stream that shoots right out of it. The river Gardeshwari and its tributary the river Darakeshwar, both cut through the hill and provide many places to picnic in. The hill is also an official archaeological and fossil site with many fossils and tools used in the Stone Age found here.

Jayrambati
Jayrambati is a quaint village, popularised as an important pilgrimage point among followers of Sri Ramakrishna for being where the Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi was born. The village has a certain old-world charm to it and has several small temples all across the village with the most popular one being the Sri Sri Maitri Mandir devoted to the Holy Mother and erected exactly at the birth location of Shri Sharda Devi in the year 1923. The Holy Mother is said to have resided here up to the age of 9 with her parents and it is also where Sri Sharda Devi got married to Sri Ramakrishna. The temple houses a marble idol of Sri Sharada Devi, established in 1923 by Swami Sardananda, who built the temple. The temple has an adjoining prayer hall and a kitchen and a few of the household articles used by the holy mother are now present at the temple as sacred relics to be viewed by the devotees of the holy mother. A Shivaling was also installed in the sanctum sanctorum after it was found deep in the ground while excavating the earth for the construction of the temple. Bhanu Pishi House near the Maitri Mandir is the ancestral residence of Bhanu Pishi, a close companion of the holy mother who regarded her as an aunt during her younger days. Bhanu Pishi returned to her childhood residence after the demise of her husband and is believed to have seen a four-armed Goddess in the Holy Mother long before she was revered as a spiritual leader. The holy mother also spent some time at Bhanu Pishi House to find peace and solace on being taunted by the villagers about her husband’s mental imbalance. The property is presently managed by the Maitri Mandir.

Nutan Bari was the second home of Sharada Devi, often referred as the new house of the Holy Mother and was constructed by Swami Sardananda standing on the western face of the Punya Pukur and registered in the name of Goddess Jagaddhatri. Puratan Bari is also referred to as the old house of the holy mother and was Sharada Devi’s residence for 52 years from 1863 to 1915. Many devotees received their initiations for Bhamhacharya and Sanyasa from the holy mother here and she also worshipped Goddess Jagaddhatri when she resided here. At the time of division of ancestral properties, the house was given to her brother Prasanna Mukhopadhyay, but the holy mother continued to stay with her brother in the same house for a long time before shifting to Nutan Bari. The house was acquired by the authorities of Belur Math from the descendants of Prasanna and is overseen by the Ashram. Telo Belo is a small village between Jayrambati and Tarakeshwar, famous for housing the Dakat Kali or the Kali of Dacoits Temple built by a dacoit named Bhim. It is believed that the holy mother stayed with the dacoit and his wife during her travel to Dakshineshwar to visit her husband and addressed the dacoit as father and he was so moved by her love and affection that he left the path of robbery and led a simpler life from then. He later constructed a temple devoted to Goddess Kali because he thought Sharada Devi was an incarnation of the deity. The Mayer Dighi is one of the primary source of irrigation for the village and also where the devotees of Sharada Devi take a dip.

Village folklore says that decades ago when Sharada Devi was suffering from an acute illness she went on a fast before the temple, the goddess Simhavani appeared before her and her mother Shyamasundari in the form of a blacksmith who advised the holy mother about remedies to cure her disease. After following the blacksmith’s advice, the holy mother was completely cured of her disease, post this the holy mother preserved some amount of earth from the site where the goddess appeared before her, she took the medicines daily and also gave some to her niece Radharani. When word spread out about the healing powers of the earthfill people from neighbouring areas flocked the area to acquire the medicinal earth and seek blessings from the goddess. The goddess then became a popular figure in the region, and with time the temple got damaged. The new temple has metallic pitchers that represent the goddess Simhavani and her two companions Chandi and Mahamaya. The Dharma Thakur Temple is located at the north-west corner of Punya Pukur is a small mud-walled thatched hut that houses a shrine to Dharma Thakur, who is worshipped under two different names at two different places. In one of the chambers of the temple there is a tortoise shaped form of Lord Sundaranarayana; an Avatar of Dharma Thakur and is one of the two forms of the deity. Jayrambati Math, also known as the Ramakrishna Mission Sharada Sevashrama Yogashrama hosts an array of cultural and religious festivities throughout the year. It is believed that the Shihar Shiva Temple was the exact spot where Sharada Devi first expressed her desire to marry Sri Ramakrishna.

Koalpara is a small village located near Jayrambati that is intertwined in the life and journey of the holy mother Sharada Devi. The holy mother rested at the village during her visits to Kolkata via Bishnupur and resided here quite frequently. An Ashram was built here in the year 1909 and Sharada Devi herself installed portraits of Sri Ramakrishna and herself in the Ashram’s shrine, the portraits are worshipped at the Ashram daily. The Ashram also runs a Charitable Homeopathic Dispensary and also conducts activities for the wellness of the community like educational and medical aid. Sharada Devi also occasionally stayed at the Jagdamba Ashram, which is very close to the Koalpara Ashram. Punya Pukur is a tank on the eastern side of the Nutan Bari. Pilgrims usually visit this tank to take a bath before visiting the shrines and temples. Also known as Tal Pukur, because the pool is lined with palm trees on its periphery, Barujjey Pukur is a tank located in the south-eastern corner of the village and very close to Nutan Bari. The holy mother Sharada Devi used to take baths in the tank and also used the water for all her domestic needs. Amodar Ghat is a ghat on the banks of the rivulet Amodar, regarded as Ganga by Sharada Devi. The rivulet has formed a triangular peninsula that resembles the back of a tortoise dotted with cremation marks. Garh Mandaran Fort is an ancient fort approximately 10 km from Jayrambati, built during the Afghan era and has Afghani stylings and influences in its structure.

Kamarpukur
A cluster of small villages, Kamarpukur is nestled between Vishnupur and Tarakeshwar and the birthplace of Sri Ramkrishna Paramhansa. A number of small cottage industries and temples are located here. Kamarpukur is rich in biodiversity and replete with flora and fauna. The Matri Mandir Is believed to be the birthplace of Ma Sarada and is situated in Jarambati and also called Jairamabati Math. The temple houses a beautifully constructed marble idol of Ma Sarada. The emple is open from 4 to 11 am and then from 3 to 8 pm. Translated to New House in English, Nutan Bari is located in the complex of Matri Mandir and gives a glimpse into the life of Ma Sarada who was born and brought up here. Puratan Bari translates to Old House and it was built by Swami Shradhananda for Ma Sarada so that she could live comfortably and is also located in the Matri Mandir complex. Located near the Talpukur lake, Simhavahini temple is dedicated to Goddess Simhavahini. Haldapukur tank is the birthplace of Sri Sri Thakur who was revered by the people for his knowledge and wisdom and also the place where Lord Shri Ramkrishna used bathe daily while staying in Kamarpukur. Punya Pukur located near the residence of Ma Sarada was where she took a bath daily. The Goddess Visalakshi shrine is an important pilgrimage place and was built for Goddess Visalakshi, believed to be a savior of the poor and needy. The Gopeshwar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and was built by ardent devotees of Lord Shiva, Sukhlal Goswami and his forefathers. The Mukundapur temple is where Sri Sri Thakur’s mother took penance so that her child could be free from insanity and become sane. Sri Ramkrishna’s mother also fasted here for a number of days to seek blessings of Lord Shiva. This temple houses a splendid shrine of Lord Shiva known for its healing and magical powers. The Sihar Shiva temple located in Sugar village is also dedicated to Lord Shiva and was a favourite of Ma Sarada and Sri Ramkrishna. Barujjey Pukur is situated on the south eastern part of the village and is also called Banerjee’s tank. The Yogi Shiva temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is where Sri Ramkrishna’s mother envisioned a divine light coming out of the idol Shiva and realised had conceived Sri Ramkrishna. Located on the outskirts of the village, the Dargah of Ismail Fuji is built in Islamic architecture with carvings of verses on the walls. Constructed in 1947, Ramkrishna Math is where Sri Ramkrishna Pramhansa was born. The Math also operates a jute mill where unemployed people of the village are trained so that they can earn a livelihood. Before merging into the sea, the Damodar river flows through Kamarpukur and is considered pious and auspicious by the villagers. The Raghuvira temple is dedicated to Lord Rama and is a beautiful temple today from what was a mud hut. The temple also houses an earthen pot believed to be used by Goddess Sita and also has a Rameshwara Shiva Lingam and a salagrama of Lord Vishnu. The Garh Mandaran is a ruined fort located near Kamarpukur and is believed to be built during the Afghan era.

Tarapith
Tarapith is a famous Hindu pilgrimage site and a Shakti Peetha, believed to be the spot where Sati’s third eye fell. Tara, another form of Sati, is worshipped in the temple. Near the Dwarka river, Tarapth is also called the city of Tantra Mantra or black magic. Alegend tells the story of how Shiva drank the poison Halahala, that would save the universe. To soothe his burning throat, Tara had breast-fed Shiva and nursed him. The history of the place is steeped in black magic and there is a huge cremation ground adjacent to the powerful Shakti peeth. Chanting can be heard at the cremation grounds at all hours and a sense of mystery engulfs the village.The Tantric Hindu temple is dedicated to the goddess Tara, a fearsome Tantric aspect of the Devi, the chief temples of Shaktism. Tarapith is also famous for Sadhak Bamakhepa, known as the avadhuta or mad saint, who worshipped in the temple and resided in the cremation grounds as a mendicant and practised and perfected yoga and the tantric arts under the tutelage of another famous saint, Kailashpathi Baba. Bamakhepa dedicated his entire life to the worship of Tara Maa. His ashram is also located in bank of Dwaraka river and close to the Tara temple. The Bamakhepa Temple, a pink coloured temple dedicated to the Saint Bamakhepa. There is a tomb and samadhi right outside the temple where people offer prayers and offerings in the name of the saint. The Tarapith Temple is a small temple located on the banks of the Dwarka river and is an ancient extremely auspicious temple. One of the 51 Shakti Peeths in India, is one of the most important places where tantric rituals are followed even today. It remains busy all through the year and is often visited by the poor who come here to have a free meal. As per legend, an eyeball of Sati fell here at Tarapith, when Lord Shiva roamed the universe mourning her loss and so the name of the village was changed from Chandipur to Tarapith. The Tarapith temple represents the destructive aspect of Lord Shiva in the form of Kali. As per the Hindu traditions, Ma Tara is believed to be the second out of the ten goddesses of great wisdom and is also known as Kalika, Bhadra-Kali, and Mahakali. She is the tantric demonstration of Goddess Durga. Mahasmashana is not a usual tourist spot, but a cremation ground right besides the main temple as Goddess Tara is said to have an affinity for bones and skeleton. This is where many saints and sadhus reside permanently and perform their meditation and tantric kriya.

Falta
The river town of Falta is the ideal picnic destination or weekend gateway from Kolkata as it is less than 50 km south of the metropolis. When Siraj-ud-Daulah sacked Kolkata in 1756, the English residents moved to Falta temporarily. Marked by the confluence of river Hoogly and Damodar on the south and river Rupnarayan and Hoogly on the north, Falta has been developed on the banks of the Hoogly and is known for the beautiful farmhouse like the Bose Bigyan Mandir of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, the grounds of which allow visitors to picnic in. At the Falta jetty, one can watch ferries crossing the river and walks along the riverside and also go for a boat ride on the river. At a 30 minute drive is Diamond Harbor, Raichak and Gadiara Geonkhali as well as the towns of Tamluk and Haldia.

Raichak
Located 50 kms away from Kolkata and yet a world apart, Raichak, is a riverside town. With the Hooghly river on its side and the numerous forts that add to its earthen charm, this town is the perfect weekend getaway. The Raichak fort, originally built during the British colonial rule is one of the most beautiful forts in all of India, especially after its restoration a few years back. For many years post independence, the fort was left ignored and was in shambles. Later, the Radisson group of hotels overtook it and converted it into a hotel. Now known as The F Fort, the Raichak Fort, though heavily commercialised today, manages to enthrall with its earthen charm and old world demeanor. Built in Anglo Indian architecture with traces of British and French styles, the fort is the best place to visit. Situated off the southern coast of Hoogly, Diamond Harbour is a popular weekend getaway near Kolkata. This is where the Ganges takes a turn towards the south to join the Bay of Bengal. There is also am old fortress goes back to Portuguese pirates and the beautiful Bakkhali beach. The Lighthouse is very close to the fort. Built a couple of decades ago, the lighthouse is still fully functional and can be seen guiding the inbound ships on a dark night. Close to Diamond Harbour, the Chingrihkali fort was built by the Portuguese, but is in ruins today, but is a stunning site, especially on a windy day. One can also see the river stretched across in the backdrop. Located near Diamond Harbour on the banks of Hooghly River, the Ashram of Ramakrishna Mission is very popular with the serene setting adding to its beauty. Close to Diamond Harbour, Joynagar is, in addition to a flourishing local market selling handicrafts, popular for housing Kalidas Dutt’s many manuscripts, terracotta figurines and black stone images of many Gods belonging to the 11th and 12th centuries. Situated on the confluence of rivers Hooghly, Rupnarayan and Damodar, Gadiara is another nice weekend destination. One must visit Gadiara for great Bengali food, leisurely walks along the village roads and boat trips with the view of sunsets and sunrises on river a scene to behold. Closeby attractions include Garchumuk and Geonkhali, which can be reached by regular ferry service.

Taki
The small town of Taki lies on the banks of river Ichamati and a boat ride on the river will give one a chance to get a closer view of Bangladesh. In fact, tourists of both India and Bangladesh embark on this journey, thus giving one a chance to meet citizens from the neighbouring country. Local attractions include the ruins of Zamindar houses, Ramakrishna Mission, Kuleshwari Kali Temple, a three century old Jora Sahib Mandir and General Shankar Roy Chowdhury’s Adi Bari. A boat ride will take one to Henry’s island, and a rickshaw ride from Henry’s island will take one to Golpatar Jungle for the canopy walk. Taki is located at about 80 km from Kolkata by road.

Piyali Island
Situated about 72 kms from Kolkata, Piyali is an island covered in lush greenery and is an ideal weekend getaway and is frequented by birdwatchers. Nestled at the confluence of the rivers Matla and Piyali, the mangroves covered Piyali Island can be reached by crossing a small bridge atop the Piyali river. The island is considered the gateway to the renowned Sundarbans National Park and in addition, one can spot exotic birds as the place is home to a wide variety of bird species and also go boating in the Piyali river. The place provides several accommodation options and is also a popular picnic spot in the region.

Machranga Dwip
Also known as Kingfisher island, this little known day trip destination is situated in the middle of the river Ichamati, with India on one side and Bangladesh on the other. Covered by trees, this little island is perfect for nature lovers, as they can walk through the green fields and observe distant Bangladeshi rural settlements. One can picnic, take a boat ride and go swimming in the river. The sun setting on the river Ichamati is an awe-inspiring sight. Taki is about 20 minutes away and to reach Machranga Dwip, one needs to travel to Hasnabad and then use a van to reach the ferry dock for motorboats to reach the island. You can also hire motor boats from Taki to get to Machranga Dwip.

Kakdwip
Kakdwip finds a special mention in the history of the state as it was here that the peasant movement during the Tehbaga movement in 1946 centred around. While it is a historically significant place, the city, located on the Ganges delta, has many exciting places in store like Henry island, Sagar island, Frederick island and Fraserganj island, among others. Henry island is a pristine white sand beach, located near Bakkhali with many red crabs can be found here and birds like whistling ducks, kingfisher and the black-rumpled flame back. Named after a British surveyor, Henry island is regarded as the best among Mandarmani, Digha, Tajpur, Puri and Bakkhali beaches. The beaches form the Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta region. There is also a watchtower near the beach, from where one can get a beautiful view of the beach and the mangrove forests. From here, one can also visit the Bakkhali beach and the adjoining crocodile and deer parks.

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Sagardwip
Part of the Sunderbans group of islands, Sagardwip is a small island at the confluence of the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. The point where the Ganga meets the sea is considered holy by Hindus and thousands of pilgrims make way to Sagardwip, every year in mid-January, to take a holy dip in the river during the Ganga Sagar Fair, the second most attended fair in the world, after the Kumbh Mela.

Mousuni Island
Mousuni is a tiny island attached to the Sunderbans delta near Namkhana which boasts of golden sandy shores, mesmerising orange sunsets and a beautiful view of the horizon. The island was first developed by the British to trade salt and dry fish and is considered a beautiful confluence of the river and the sea. A well kept secret of the state, Mousuni Island is considered to be a bird watchers’ paradise as a lot of birds migrate here for the winter. Salt at the southern corner of the island was where once salt was extracted from the sea. Kankramarir Chor near Baliara, is considered the best place for bird watching. December to mid April is considered the best time to visit Mousumi Island with the weather is pleasant unlike summers and the monsoons.

Bakkhali
A small beach town on the coast on the Gangetic delta and close to the Sundarbans. The Bakkhali Beach is located at the most deltaic island of southern Bengal and is a crescent-shaped beach. Stretching 8 km from Bakkhali to Frasergunj, this beach has a long coastline and is famed for its sunrises, picnics and leisure walks. Jambu Dwip is an independent island, 8 km off the main coast and is uninhabited and submerges in water for some months of the year. The beach is a famous fishing spot and known for the pure drinking water found on it. The Bishhalakshmi temple at the end of the Bakkhali beach is worth a visit. The area of Fraserganj is popular because of ancient history. Lord Fraser, a British official resided in this area and was so mesmerised that he decided to build it up, but the construction never got completed, owing to the sea. Ruins of his home and a few other builds can still be seen here. There are also a large number of wind mines erected in the area. The Crocodile Park is the only crocodile reservation park in West Bengal and one of the few in the world. The Bakkhali Breeding centre has a huge collection of crocodiles, with a variant in almost every stage of life from the birth to old age.

Junput
The beach at Junput is adorned with casuarina groves, accompanied by the rhythmic sound of sea waves and gentle breeze and forms a breathtaking experience. The most famous attraction is the convergence point of rivers Rasulpur and the Ganga. Other attractions include the lighthouse and museum of the fisheries department. Digha, Mandarmani, Tajpur and Talshree are all located at an hour’s drive.

Mandarmani
Mandarmani is a small and upcoming beach resort town near Kolkata. With great scenery and sandy beaches, Mandarmani is the longest motorable beach in India, about 13 km long. Approximately 180 km away from Kolkata on the Kolkata-Digha route Mandarmani is a wonderful place to just lie down on the beach and watch the setting sun against thrashing waves.

Tajpur
Tucked between Mandarmani and Shankarpur, Tajpur is a small town set on the Bay of Bengal’s shore, just 170 kms from Kolkata. Considered to West Bengal’s secret, the virgin beach here is hidden away from view with the highlight of the beach, the hundreds of red crabs found on the shore, which give a crimson colour to the beach. Unlike usual crescent-shaped beaches, this one is an inverted crimson fringed by dense eucalyptus, tamarisk and casuarina trees and the secluded beach is perfect for lazing on a hammock and spending time in solitude. Tajpur Beach is also known for its adventure sports and activities with the popular sports being snorkelling, kayaking, parasailing, coastal biking, water zorbing, rafting, boating and fishing. Located at a distance of just 7 km from Tajpur Beach, Digha is a major tourist attraction and is also a beach town, but unlike Tajpur Beach, the beautiful beaches in Digha are crowded. Noted for having longest motorable beach road in India, Mandarmani lies 19 kms from Tajpur Beach and is full of dense plantations. Another beach town about 7 km from Tajpur Beach is Shankarpur which is a popular fishing harbour. The best time to visit these beachside towns is at the onset of the winter season between the months of October and February when the climate is pleasant and the temperature favourable.

Shankarpur
The Shankarpur beach is breath taking, with clean water, white sand and mildly blowing winds and is one of the most sought after beaches on India’s eastern coast. The small town with the lack of too many distractions, gives one the opportunity to spend as much time at the beache as possible. There are not many water sports available and the beach has a few shacks and bars, where coconut water and other drinks and sea food are available.

I really enjoyed exploring this state and I hope you enjoyed reading about it too. We’ll meet again with another state to explore.

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