The history of West Bengal is long. From the north to south of the state, the cultural heritage of West Bengal deserves immense study. From the snow-capped peaks visible from Darjeeling to Indo-Islamic architecture, terracotta temples to the modern city of Kolkata where the past is intertwined, West Bengal has a lot to offer. Here are the five best heritage destinations of West Bengal:
Tucked beneath the snow peaks of Mt Kanchenjunga and enveloped by tea gardens, Darjeeling and its sister cities, Kalimpong and Kurseong, together offer a unique look into the cultural heritage of West Bengal, influenced by the Himalayas, Buddhism and colonial legacy. The colourful monasteries, with their statues, frescoes, thangkas and votive objects are repositories of knowledge and art. The colonial legacy lives on through the tea gardens, home to the ‘champagne of teas’, Darjeeling Tea. Do not miss a ride on the UNESCO World Heritage Train, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), popularly known as the Toy Train. Pay a visit to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) of Darjeeling if you are keen to know about the history of mountaineering in India.
Connected to Kolkata via nearest airport Bagdogra, railway station New Jalpaiguri and road transport hub Siliguri, the circuit can be visited round the year though travel may get hampered during the monsoon.
Better known for the mangoes produced here, Malda is also the gateway to explore an ancient capital of Bengal. Gour (Gaud), to the south of Malda town, was founded by King Sasanka in the 7th century and conquered by the Muslims towards the fag end of 12 th century. You can see remnants of Islamic architecture mostly dating between 14 th and 17 th centuries, in Gour and neighbouring Adina. Baroduari or Boro Sona Mosque with its Indo-Arabic architecture and ornamental stone carvings; Dakhil Darwaza; the 26-metre high Firoze Minar (Chirag Dani); Lukochuri Gate, Chika Mosque, Kadam Rasul Mosque, etc. are some of the key attractions of Gour. Lying north of Malda town, is Adina, known for its eponymous mosque, ruins of Turkish baths and a deer park. Pandua (lying about 20km north of Malda town) was the capital of the later Muslim rulers and two of its key attractions are the Kutubshahi Mosque and the Eklakhi Mausoleum (said to be one of the earliest square brick tombs in Bengal). Jagjibanpur (36km from Malda town) contains centuries old ruins, including that of a Buddhist monastery.
Connected to Kolkata (nearest airport) by road and rail, Malda is the meeting point of Eastern and North Eastern Frontier Railways.
Mosques, tombs, museums, etc. of Murshidabad speak of the life and times of Nawabs of Bengal. It was by defeating Nawab Sirajuddaula in the eventful Battle of Plassey that the English East India Company turned into rulers from traders. Some of the popular attractions include Hazarduari Mueum, Katra Mosque, Jagat Seth house, Khosbagh, light and sound at Motijheel Park, etc. Adding a surprising element to the cultural heritage of West Bengal is Azimganj-Jiaganj in Murshidabad district. Here you will find households and temples still maintained by Jain merchant families who arrived here from Rajasthan centuries ago. The Char Bangla temple built by Rani Bhavani of Natore (now part of Bangladesh), located in Ajimganj, is known for its decorative terracotta panels.
Baharampur is the major transport hub connecting Murshidabad to Kolkata (nearest airport) by road and rail. For a luxurious and royal heritage homestay, you may visit Cossimbazar Roy’s Palace (Cossimbazar Chhoto Rajbari).
One of the most popular destinations exhibiting the rich cultural heritage of West Bengal is Bishnupur, about 130km by road from Kolkata. The temples, dating between 17th and 18th century, with their decorative terracotta panels are the biggest attractions here. Jorebangla Temple with its typical Bengal style roof joined together, Madan Mohan temple, the five-spired Shyam Rai Temple, etc., speak volumes about the architectural heritage of Bengal. The pyramidal Raas Mancha seen here is a unique structure. Bishnupur is home to indigenous silk textile, especially the Baluchari sari. The terracotta art lives on through the clay toys and other decorative artefacts manufactured here. It is also home to the Dasavatara (Ganjifa cards) cards and patachitra (scroll) paintings.
Bishnupur may be covered in a day tour from Kolkata. Budget overnight accommodation available.
Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, offers a diverse look at the architectural and cultural heritage of West Bengal. While north Kolkata is known for its old mansions, the central business district of Benoy-Badal- Dinesh Bag (Dalhousie Square) is famous for its colonial buildings. Kolkata is the only city in India where the tram still survives. Apart from the Academy of Fine Arts, the city also has a few notable private art galleries. The socio-religious heritage of the city is exemplified by the various temples, mosques and churches in the city. Take a walk along the lively riverfront lying to the west of the city.