Bengal’s favourite poet Rabindranath Tagore has written paeans to the beauty of nature as the monsoon rains run their course through Bengal. To enjoy the beauty described in the poet’s many compositions, you have to leave behind Kolkata and travel to the countryside.
Around 50km south of Kolkata, Diamond Harbour is located on Hooghly River (as the Ganga is known in lower parts of West Bengal). Thanks to some of the luxury resorts that have come up here (Punyalakshmi) and in the neighbouring towns of Falta (Aqua Retreat) and Raichak (Raichak on Ganges), along the long stretch of the river, the area has turned into a quick getaway from the city. Monsoon is one of the best time to be here, when the riverside is free of hordes of day trippers. The resorts offer an expansive view of the river, which flows in full spate fed by the monsoon rains, on its final journey to the sea near Sagar Island.
Getting There: Driving down is the best way to travel. Start early to avoid the congested roads. Diamond Harbour is also connected to Kolkata by local train.
About 65km from Kolkata, Taki is another quick getaway from the city. The town is located on the Ichamati River, which once flew through undivided Bengal and now forms an international border between India and Bangladesh. Security personnel of both countries keep a strict eye along the manmade boundary while boats marked by flags of their respective countries pass each other amiably. Go on a boat ride (but not if it is windy), visit some of the ruins of the once palatial homesteads, and take a walk in the ‘mini sundarban’. A corner of the once flourishing mangrove forest has been protected by the local administration and the raised platform running along it offers a close look at the typical vegetation. Most of the hotels – budget (Suhasini Guest House, Rupasi Bangla Lodge) to luxury (Hotel Sonar Bangla) – offer a panoramic view of the river.
Getting There: The Basanti Highway on the southern fringe of Kolkata has shortened the road journey to Taki, and driving down is the best option. The budget traveller may choose to travel by local train (crowded) from Sealdah station to Taki Road station and then by rickshaw to the hotel or take a bus from Esplanade bus terminus. For local sightseeing by rickshaws or by boat, book from the counters authorised by the Taki Municipal Corporation.
About 70 km by road from Kolkata, Kolaghat is located on the Rupnarayan River. A popular pit stop on the way to Digha or beyond, it is worth exploring during monsoon when local fishermen haul the seasonal ‘hilsa’ fish. There are a number of local restaurants along the river bank who serve various preparations of the fish with the fresh catch. You may visit either on a day trip or an overnight one. Accommodation is limited (Hotel Sonar Bangla, Roop River Resort) but located away from the noisy highway. Watch the dark clouds rolling in from the horizon and pour their water load earthwards from the comfort of your room.
Getting There: You may either drive down NH 16 or take a local train from Howrah rail station.
Located on the bank of the Khairabera Dam, the upscale Ecoadventure Resort offers a pleasant hideout during the monsoon. Low-lying hills hem the lake and its banks. Weather permitting you may go on a day visit to Bamni and Turga waterfalls and the Murguma Dam. Also located near the resort is Charida, a village inhabited by the practitioners of Chhau dance and artists who make the giant masks worn by the dancers. Watch the craftsmen at work in the workshops lying along the main road that runs through the village. Masks of varying sizes are also sold as souvenirs.
Getting There: Located almost 350km by road from Kolkata, it takes around eight hours to reach Khairabera. However, travelling by the early morning Rupashi Bangla Express (air-conditioned chair car), which leaves from Santragachi station and takes around 5.30 hours to reach Purulia station is a better option. The resort offers pick up facilities (paid). The drive takes nearly two hours. Or, you may take the overnight Howrah-Chakradharpur Fast Passenger (three-tier and two-tier air-conditioned sleepers) to get down at Barabhum, which is about one hour away by road from the resort.
The green palms nod their head to the approaching dark clouds, the red earth laps up the refreshing monsoon rain, the furrows in the land turn into little streams, and night brings about a chorus of crickets and frogs. You know you are in Shantiniketan, the abode of peace. Once a small railway station that connected Kolkata to the famous Viswa Bharati University founded by Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore, today Bolpur has grown into a noisy travellers’ town. But move to the countryside to be greeted by invigorating scenic vistas. While there is no dearth of luxury accommodation in town, your best bet would be the luxury resorts located away from the town centre and surrounded by verdant land (The Garden Bungalow, Raktokorobi Karugram, Mayas). In between enjoying the rains, do not forget to take peek at the museum complex in the university township and the craft shops in town. Shantiniketan is known for its terracotta and batik (on textiles and leather) art among other things.
Getting There: Bolpur is about 212 km from Kolkata and well connected by road and rail. Although you may drive down, the road being good for the major part of the journey but travelling by train is more convenient. Morning trains such as Ganadevata Express and Shantiniketan Express (air-conditioned chair cars on both) are good. The afternoon Howrah-New Jalpaiguri Shatabdi Express also halts at Bolpur.