Shades of Bengal
Going beyond the popular touristy places and finding handpicked destinations that make West Bengal truly unique is not a very tough choice.
West Bengal surprises every traveller—the genuinely curious, collector, escapist, pilgrim and the self-improver—with its different geographies. In the north, it subtly touches the foothills of the mighty Himalayas. The centre of the state is an infusion of history, culture and abundant forests. And the south forms beautiful beaches with the Bay of Bengal and the delicate delta ecosystem of the Sundarbans.
Going beyond the popular touristy places and finding handpicked destinations that make West Bengal truly unique is not a very tough choice. These towns give a delightful glimpse of the state to travellers across ages and tastes. So, go out and explore their beauty.
Art and Culture
Only three hours away from Kolkata, the railhead of Bolpur is the gateway to Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan. This is where the Nobel Laureate founded the global university or Visva Bharati in 1921.
It is teeming with tourists from all of Bengal. It is deeply seeded in culture, and there is something magical about it. The popular places such as Uttarayan Complex and Ashram on its opposite, and Shanibarer Haat at Sonajhuri can be chaotic with lots of totos (or electric rickshaws) crowding. But there are pockets of quiet and thick forests. One such is within Kala Bhawan, a few steps away from Uttarayan Complex. It has numerous murals painted by students. Another is the sal forest cover of Sonajhuri, towards the tribal village Boner Pukur Danga. Peddling on the in-lanes to Amar Kutir is also therapeutic. There is a deer park three km from there and entry ticket is `10. The place can be visited at any time of the year.
See: Uttarayan Complex that houses Bichitra (a building comprising Rabindra Bhavana Museum) and houses where the poet lived; Kala Bhawan, Upasana Griha and Ashram.
Visit: Shanibarer Haat
Shop: Amar Kutir (Dhokra, Batik prints, jute bags and more), Lipi Biswas’s Studio in Boner Pukur Danga (handmade ceramics), Pranab Bhaskar’s shop at Shyambati Bridge junction (Birbhum’s famous woodwork).
Eat: Kasahara Cafe near Kala Bhawan.
Stay: Plenty of guest houses and B&Bs are available.
Getting around: Totos are best, if in a group. Bicycles are available for rent, if solo.
Tip: Prices soar during
Poush Mela (December) and Holi (March)
History and Craftsmanship
It is easy to miss Joypur (occasionally spelt Jaypur) when driving to Bishnupur. Joypur is only 15 km ahead of Bishnupur but much unexplored than the latter. Of course, the terracotta temples of Bishnupur are far superior and very well-maintained than those in Joypur.There is no comparison between the two. They are both remarkable in their own might.
The people of Joypur and their charming village life will etch itself in anybody’s memory. Colourful, stout houses cramp the small lanes of this village. Two-wheelers honk at cows that non-chalantly block these lanes. And the lanes only open up to form space for the local market and an almost-citadel for community festivals. Fresh vegetables, hot snacks, daily utility goods and humble smiles fill this market. And no one can escape these charms.
A few metres further from the market is the 300-year-old Damodar Temple of Duttapara. This temple of goddess Chandi continues to be the responsibility of the villagers. Its terracotta carvings on laterite stone narrate scenes from Mahabharata, Ramayana and Krishna Leela. Weeds grow around its pinnacle, adding to its age and character. The most stunning feature is the original mahogany door to the shrine with Vishnu’s Dashavatara.
Visit: Damodar Temple and Old Bishnu Temple in Duttapara, and Sridharlal Temple in Deypara.
Shop: Woven cane baskets, traditional Bengali saris and fresh Bengali sweets in the local market.
Eat: Good food is available at all snack shops in the market or at Resort Banalata.
Stay: Resort Banalata on SH 2.
Getting around: Joypur is extremely small though hiring a cab from Kolkata may be the best way to get around.
Tip: The temples are in residential areas. Visitors are expected to respect their space.
Heritage and Countryside
The moist breeze from Kolkata blows into the rural town of Bawali that is only two-hour away from the city. And this town is the perfect place for history lovers to be. The Rajbari Bawali located here was once a zamindar mansion. It has now been restored into a heritage hotel. This rajbari was built 265 years ago when Shoba Ram Rai, an army officer, was awarded 300,000 acres of land by Maharaja Sawai Mansingh of Jaipur, after he successfully warded off a crew of pirates. One of the original descendants of the family continues to live in this house and appreciates how it has once again (after the restoration) opened its doors to guests.
Despite its dilapidated state, there is a magnificence in its structure, beauty in its architecture, and romance in its design. Exploring Bawali on foot is an altogether different experience. It leads one to a dark but fascinating place. Locally called Jaltuni Bagan, the dilapidated pavilion and brick patio together were the entertainment place for royalty. Closer to the Rajbari Bawali, the magnificent brick structures of Gopinath Temple and Radha Krishna Temple will win anybody’s heart. These temples are approximately three centuries old and the former is completely abandoned, though the latter is still operational. About 10 km from the Rajbari Bawali, there is the feisty Hooghly at Burul Ghat. In monsoon, the river wears a muddy brown colour.
See: Jaltuni Bagan in Bawali and Burul Ghat beyond Nodakhali.
Visit: Uttam Jana’s idol workshop (also called Jana Nursery) and Saifuddin’s zari work around Nodakhali-Bawali intersection.
Shop: Not many options.
Eat: Small snack shops in Bawali market or the Rajbari Bawali.
Stay: The Rajbari Bawali, behind Bawali High School.
Getting around: Hire a rickshaw for designated places to visit around Bawali.
Tip: Boat rides on Hooghly can be pre-booked.