Highlights include Kolkata (Calcutta), the much under rated and original capital under British rule, the hill station and tea producing area of Darjeeling and the Sunderbans for cruises through the largest mangrove forest in the world.
Located in eastern India, West Bengal is India’s fourth-most populous state, with over 91 million inhabitants. Spread over 34,267 sq. miles, it is bordered by the countries of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan, and the Indian states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, and Assam. Together with the neighbouring nation of Bangladesh, it makes up the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. The state capital, Kolkata, often overlooked by tourists but is totally captivating, particularly once you go beyond the main tourist attractions.
Main Cities: Kolkata, Darjeeling, Murshidabad, Bishnupur
Airports: Kolkata, Bagdogra
Local Language: Bengali
Fun Fact: Kolkata Is The Only City In India To Have A Tram Network.
The state capital, Kolkata is less developed than the likes of Delhi and is full of character and history, waiting to be explored. For now, it retains a feel of the British Raj, although some of the buildings are in a state of decay, so this charm may soon be lost. Easily accessible from Kolkata, the Sundarbans are a vast protected mangrove region and home to the elusive Bengal Tiger. They are best explored by a two night cruise. The north of the state features mountainous terrain and rolling tea plantations, the famous British hill station of Darjeeling and the Himalayan Express narrow gauge railway. From ‘mountains to mangroves’, West Bengal has a lot to offer and offers a truly authentic experience amongst some of the friendliest people in India.
The holy Ganges river ends at Gangasagar where it flows into the Bay of Bengal. Once a year in the middle of January, thousands of pilgrims and tourists converge at this point to take a holy dip and visit the temple of ‘Kapil Muni’ a well-known sage of Indian mythology.
Basanta Utsav (Holi)
Shantiniketan, normally in March
The famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore introduced Basant Utsav or Spring festival in Shantiniketan, Birbhum to recreate the magic of the joyous festival Holi. It is now an integral part of Bengali culture. Celebrations include a superb cultural programme and playing with coloured powders.
Durga Puja in Kolkata is the largest festival of the year for Bengali Hindus. The festival is a religious occasion to worship Maa Shakti, Durga. It celebrates the victory of Ma Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura. The festival is a grand occasion where ornamented, life-sized idols of Durga are depicted slaying Mahishasura. In large open spaces, elaborate pandals, made of bamboo and cloth, are created to house the idols. The worshipping goes on for five days after which in brilliant procession to a local river, the idol is immersed so that they make way to their celestial abode.
A popular annual festival in honour of Lord Krishna and his eternal love Sri Radhika, the festival is celebrated with melodious songs, dance and folk stories. The Rash Mela begins for a month after the popular procession called Rash Yatra which features clay models depicting the deeds and various phases of Lord Krishna’s life. This festival is particularly popular in Nabadwip, Cooch Behar and Sundarbans.
Teesta Tea and Tourism Festival
A celebration of tea and tourism in the northern hills of West Bengal.
A colourful rural carnival celebrated at the Shantiniketan Mela Grounds celebrating the essence of Bengali culture and traditions. The Poush Mela started as a small Tagore family affair but today is one of the international events that Bengal is identified by. Enjoy the carnival setting with Baul musicians, Tribal dancers, local village artists and millions of visitors from across the world. It is held every year on the 7th day of the Bengali month of Poush.
Best Time to Go: this depends on which region you are visiting.
Kolkata and the lowlands are best visited during the winter season from November to February when maximum temperatures are around 27 °C. It becomes hot and humid before the monsoon arrives, usually in late June. Torrential downpours can cause flooding during the summer months and it remains hot post monsoon until temperatures become pleasant around October and November in time for the city’s biggest festival, Durga Puja.
Darjeeling and the mountainous areas of the north are best visited after the monsoons and before winter (late Sept to late Nov), and spring (mid Feb to May). Winter months can get very cold.