West Bengal is where
the holy Ganga meets the ocean. It is home to the intelligent,
sensitive and cultured Bengalis, the 'Bhadralok', as they are called.
about religion, literature, music, football and cricket, they
adore their saintly personages, Sri Aurobindo and Sri Ramakrishna,
and Nobel laureates
Rabindra Nath Tagore, Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen, who was
honoured in 1998 for Economics. Also idolised, for their achievements
in sports, are tennis
player Leander Paes, who partnered Mahesh Bhupathi to win the
Men's Doubles crown at Wimbledon in 1999, and cricketer Saurav
Ganguly, whom a well known
commentator has named "the Prince of Kolkata" for his sterling performances
on the field!
Kolkata (Calcutta) - In 1687, the
Mughals granted permission to the East India Company to set up a base at
Sutanati, near the fishing village, Kalikata, on the banks of the river
Hooghly. Old Fort William, built at the site in 1696, became the origin of the
city of Kolkata, named after the village whose lands had become part of the
settlement. Kolkata grew to become the capital of British India till 1911 when
New Delhi was built and the seat of power shifted there.
is India's largest metropolis - overcrowded, alive, vibrant, with a charm all
its own. It is the nerve centre of trade and industry in eastern India, and the
most important city in the region. Splendid structures intended to reflect the
majesty of the 'Empire', the buildings of Kolkata evoke a flavour of
the Raj. Notable among these are the Writers Building, the seat of
government; the silver-domed General Post Office and St. John's
Church, which has a memorial to the city founder Job
Kolkata's lungs lie in a vast expanse of lawns called the
Maidan, bordered by the Hooghly river at one end and the elegant
boulevard, Chowringhee, at the other. Around it are many of Kolkata's
historical landmarks - the magnificent Fort William, St. John's Church, the
Royal Kolkata Turf Club and Eden Gardens, which has a famous cricket
stadium, a picturesque lake and a tiny pagoda. The imposing white marble
building Victoria Memorial, built by the British in 1921 and modelled on
the Taj Mahal, also lies nearby. A stately, bronze statue of Queen Victoria
stands at its entrance and wrought iron street lamps light up its manicured
lawns every evening, presenting a charming picture. The National Library
in the stately Belvedere House to the South, with its large and very
precious collection of books, completes the enchanting circle.
Botanical Gardens, laid out in 1786, lie on the banks of the river in
Howrah. There is a great variety of flora and fauna, all carefully classified.
A great tourist draw is the 200-year old Banyan tree with a mind-boggling
circumference of 400 meters.
Often jam-packed, Howrah Bridge is a
vital link across the river Hooghly. Bright yellow taxis are driven by
'sardarjis' speaking chaste Bengali! You can get a better view of this huge
cantilever structure, an engineering marvel of its day, if you abandon your
taxi and take the faster mode of travel - your legs! A new bridge across the
Hooghly, the Vidya Sagar Setu, is the longest cable-stayed bridge in
Kolkata's Metro is India's first underground rail. It
rockets along, completing its journey of 16 km and 17 stations in about half an
hour - a welcome change from the bumper-to-bumper crawl on the
Lying to the North, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission,
Belur Math, is built to look like a temple, a mosque and a church from
The main religious festival is the ten-day Durga
Pooja in September/October, when Goddess Durga is worshipped and the
victory of good over evil celebrated. There is much excitement as people throng
the specially erected 'pandals' in every locality where beautiful images of the
goddess are installed for the ceremonies.
Weekend destinations from Kolkata are the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve (131
km); Digha beach resort (185 km); Santiniketan University founded by
Tagore with its charming, pastoral, serene atmosphere; Vishnupur - 17th
and 18th century terra-cotta temples.
Darjeeling (2134 m), the
'Queen of the Hills', is 665 km North of Kolkata. Famous for its tea and
crafts, the breathtaking scenery and the 'toy train' that goes up from
Siliguri, it provides an excellent view of Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest
peak in the world. The world famous Himalayan Mountaineering Institute is also
located here. Kalimpong (1250 m), is a quieter and smaller town, 60 km
to the East, famous for its orchids and nurseries. Both Darieeling and
Kalimpong offer some excellent treks and river-rafting on the
tempestuous Teesta river that lies between the two towns.
Shopping Specialities of Kolkata - Central Cottage Industries and various State
Emporia offer handicrafts and fabrics from all over the country.
Delicate fabrics like Tangail - Burra Bazaar
Exquisitely crafted gold jewellery - B.B.Ganguly Street
Leather shoes from Chinese shoemakers - Bentinck Street
Fine porcelain - Old China bazaar
New Market (the oldest market!) and Dakshinapur sell everything from flowers to