Magnificent mountains, lush forests, idyllic villages, and sandy beaches, Bengal has idylls aplenty. We picked 8 atmospheric stays full of character that will give you a taste of Bengal's diverse landscape as well as its layered history.
Read the Fine Print At The Danish Tavern In Serampore
A newly renovated collaborative project with WBTDC, this 23-year-old building used to be a tavern by the Hooghly River under Danish rule. It has been recently thrown open to the public and is being managed by the Park Group. They have six rooms—four on the first and two on the ground floor. Have Danish-style chicken sausages and pastry with ice-cream for breakfast, or choose from Indian, Chinese, or Bengali dishes. The tavern is steeped in history. William Carey stayed here and founded the Serampore Press from this place. Carey wrote about it in his book, The Good Old Days of Honorable John Company: “A trip up the river in cumbrous budgerows and pinnaces on pleasure excursions was a very common custom at the time. Large parties used to proceed as far as Bandel and other stations on the riverside, and remain absent from home for days. A wayside inn, like those at Serampore, must therefore have been a treat for the voyagers; and that there should have been found room for two in one settlement, proves that the visitors to Serampore must have been many, and that the town itself was worthy of notice.”
The collaborative restoration project behind the tavern includes Denmark’s Ministry of Culture, the West Bengal Heritage Commission, and the Shrirampur Heritage Restoration Initiative.
What To Do:
While you are here, check out the other heritage structures that have been renovated such as the Government House, the Red Building inside the Danish enclave, and St Olav’s Lutheran Church. This is where William Carey set up Bengal’s first printing press in 1800 which supplied the entire South and South-East Asian print market as well as those outside Europe in the 19th century. Visit Carey Museum that still showcases his belongings (like his writing desk and polyglot dictionary).
Have HIgh Tea With The Morgans At Morgan House In Kalimpong
A British colonial mansion built by an English jute baron, George Morgan in the 1930s, this atmospheric place is managed by WBTDC. Stories abound about the spirit of Lady Morgan haunting the house. The heritage structure with walls covered in green and tall chimneys has played host to many elaborate parties when it was used as a summer retreat by Brits. Choose a deluxe room with large windows, and a view of the Kanchenjunga range. You will be in august company - the rooms have been inhabited by a roster of yesteryear stars like Uttam Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Nargis, and Sunil Dutt.
What To Do:
There’s so much to see here. Follow in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama at Zong Dog Palri Fo-Brang Gompa which was was consecrated in 1976. Built on the Durpin Dara Hill, it contains the Kagyur in 108 volumes, brought by the Dalai Lama when he fled Tibet. Visit the Bhutanese Thongsha Gompa established in 1692 and check out St Theresa Church. Built by local craftsmen to resemble a gompa, has wood carvings on the walls that depict biblical scenes, but the sculpted figures resemble Buddhist monks. From Sherpa Taar, you can see the gorgeous Teesta River drawing the boundary between West Bengal and Sikkim. The Army’s Lion’s Golf Course, the highest golf course in West Bengal, offers a grand view of the mountains. There is an Army post here from where you can get permission to play. Make sure you visit the wonderful School for Natural History Art run by Hemlata Pradhan, a botanical illustrator who has studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, the Royal College of Art in London, and is the winner of UK’s Royal Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal. The studio is perched on a hill and has jaw-dropping views. You can contact Hemlata at firstname.lastname@example.org. You must visit the slightly run down house which belonged to Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore in Kalimpong (it is 2km from the town towards Durpin Hill). Tagore had composed the poem “Janmadin” in 1940 and had transmitted it on All India Radio from the house. And a hidden gem is Crookety House, where you can see (and buy) the art of Nicholas Roerich.
Explore Mangroves On A Launch In The Sunderbans
Book a space on the pristine white MV Chitralekha take you on a slow cruise along the largest mangrove forest in the world. Stay in air-conditioned rooms (with four berths and en suite bathrooms), enjoy lavish meals as you make your way along the Matla and Piyali rivers. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Sunderbans (“beautiful forest”) is spread across some 4,000sq km in India and another 6,000sq km in Bangladesh. As you traverse the waters, enjoy the truly unique landscape of plants and shrubs like sundari trees which has specialised roots called pneumatophore which emerge above ground so they can breathe. Keep a sharp lookout for saltwater crocodiles, fiddler crabs, water monitors, the lovely Irrawady dolphins and of course, the Royal Bengal tiger. Bring along a bird book for this area is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
What To Do:
Make a stop at the Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve which houses a Mangrove Interpretation Centre where you can find information on the local ecosystem. Look for the last tiger-spotting date on the blackboard. It also has a small museum, a watchtower, a crocodile pond, an Olive Ridley turtle’s enclosure and the Herbivore Acclimatisation Centre for rehabilitating lost deer. The Sajnekhali sanctuary extends over an area of 885sq km. Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project, on the other hand, is a hatchery ground for saltwater crocodiles, located adjacent to the island of Lothian it is widely visited tourist spot in Sundarbans. Or just float along the river in a dreamy trance. And do pack a copy of Amitav Bhosh’s The Hungry Tide!
Spot Rhinos At The Jaldapara Tourist Lodge
Close-up safari encounters are part of the stay at this charming green and yellow building. It is located about 10-minutes from the gate of the Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in the picturesque Dooars valley at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas and home to the largest concentration of the one-horned rhino in India after Kaziranga National Park. It has 22 spacious doubles, 11 cottages and a suite, a restaurant as well as a bar and internet facilities. Book a jeep or elephant safari (the guys at the lodge will help arrange that) with the forest office and explore the lush forested tracts of the sanctuary which has two rivers, Torsa and Malangi, flowing through it.
What To Do:
Pack a pair of binoculars and go on a birdwatching trip. Marvel at the ruins of the old fort of Nal King built in the 5th century during the Gupta Empire. It’s located deep in the forests in Chilapata (about 15 kms from Jaldapara). Drive down to the Bhutan border town of Phuentsholing (about 25 kms away).
Have A Royal Repast At A Palace In Jhargram
Book a stay at the Jhargram Palace which is still home to the Malla Dev Royal family. The structure combining European and Islamic architecture styles has been converted into a heritage stay run by the family. The Malla Devs are descendants of the Chandrabansia clan from Rajasthan who ruled here from the 16th century. Apart from deluxe rooms and suites, the palace also has a Royal Guest House with two doubles and a common drawing room. It has hosted several dignitaries from British viceroys to chief ministers.
What To Do:
Pick up a bagful of medicinal plants from Vessaj Uddan, a garden in Garsalboni (about 9 kilometres away). Go for a drive to Mukutmanipur with its crystal clear lagoons. Enjoy the lush forests in Jhargram with sunlight filtering through trees. Check out the century-old Kanak Durga temple located in a forest and with the Dulung River flowing past it. Or go bird-spotting at Kendua. Migratory birds come here in August-September. You can also visit the deserted and crumbling Chilkagarh Rajbari, and the 350-year-old Savitri temple.