Durga Puja is one of the most exciting festivals observed in Kolkata. The crowd seen on the city’s streets belies the fact that a large number of people also plan a holiday trip out of the city during this time. The planning and hotel bookings are done months ahead as soon as the train bookings open. So if you are a last minute planner, it may be a problem to find a last minute accommodation. So here is our list of five places, including a day trip from Kolkata, which may prove to be lucky for you.
Tea Gardens in Darjeeling
Many of the old tea gardens in the Darjeeling hills have opened up their well-appointed bungalows for tourism. Located in the middle of acres of tea gardens sprawling across the hill slopes, they offer a tranquil escape from the festive din. This is also the time when you are likely to see the Himalayan snow peaks dazzling against a turquoise blue sky for the greater part of the day. Take a guided tour of the garden and the factory to learn how the two leaves and a bud transform into the flavourful beverage. Short walks to picnics in the surrounding hill side are also possible. Getting there can also be fun if you happen to take the powder blue Toy Train, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), to reach towns like Kurseong and Darjeeling. Bagdogra is the nearest airport.
Located on the banks of the Jaldhaka River in the Dooars region of north Bengal are a few quaint hamlets which became known only after the Jaldhaka Hydel Project came up here. They are at a distance of 100km to 120km from Siliguri. From Siliguri, the road winds through forests and picturesque countryside before terminating at Bindu on the India-Bhutan border. You may break your journey at Jaldhaka, Jhalong or Paren or continue to Bindu. Soft to moderate treks, walks along the village paths, sitting by the boulders and watching the river flow by are some of the activities that will keep you busy here. Bagdogra is the nearest airport.
Most people believe that Mayapur on the Ganga, about 130km rom Kolkata, is where Vaishnava saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born. So it was here that Srila Prabhpada decided to build the headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). The sprawling complex decorated with landscaped gardens and ponds contain temples, memorials, schools and colleges, accommodation and dining hall for visitors, souvenir shops, a dairy, etc. But in keeping with its holy ambience, the place is serene and peaceful. During your journey to and fro, you may stop at Krishnanagar to do a bit of sightseeing, pay a visit to the clay artists’ colony and partake of the local sweets called shorpuriya and shorbhaja.
Shantiniketan, forever coloured with memories of the Tagore family, is more of a concept than a place. The entry is through Bolpur town, connected to Kolkata by road (about 160km) and rail. The university, which is the hallmark of Shantiniketan, is known as Viswa Bharati. Get out of the touristy heart of the town to the suburbs where a number of nature-friendly yet plush resorts have come up. If you are in Shantiniketan during the weekend, a visit to the Sonajhuri Haat is a must. The market springs up in the middle of a lightly wooded countryside. Local people set up stalls, selling handmade products, from toys to batik printed textiles, batik printed leather bags to accessories made from beads, terracotta, leaves, etc. Home-made snack items, from samosas to pithe, are also available. Do remember to carry a bag for your shopping.
A little over 100km from Kolkata, Narajole is a former royal kingdom tucked away in a corner of Paschim Medinipur district. It is said that in 1596, a member was conferred the title o ‘Khan; by the Nazim of Bengal and the family still carries it as their surname. Although much of the old palace built in 1840 has turned into ruins, especially after the college housed here moved to a new building, still one cannot but marvel at the architecture. There are several temples inside the palace and surrounding it. Do not miss a glimpse of the water palace situated in the middle of a lake. However, boat rides to the palace have stopped. The wrought iron decoration seen at the Nat Mandir in front of the temple of Joy Durga (the family deity) is said to have inspired Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore who later incorporated it in Shantiniketan.