Tourism in West Bengal
Tourism in West Bengal refers to West Bengal's tourism. West Bengal is a state in the eastern region of India and is the nation's fourth-most populous. The state capital is Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). The state encompasses two broad natural regions: the Gangetic Plain in the south and the sub-Himalayan and Himalayan area in the north.
West Bengal, located on the eastern bottleneck of India stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south, presents some of marvelous landscape features and natural scenic beauty. Some of India's most preferred travel destinations like; the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region in the northern extreme of the state, the highest peak of the state Sandakfu (3,636 m or 11,929 ft) and the Sundarbans mangrove forests in the extreme south.
During the British colonial era from 1700–1912, Kolkata enjoyed the privilege of being the capital of British India and witnessed a spate of frenzied construction of buildings, largely influenced by the conscious intermingling of Neo-Gothic, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Oriental and Islamic schools of design. Unlike many north Indian cities, whose construction stresses minimalism, the layout of much of the architectural variety in Kolkata owes its origins to European styles and tastes imported by the British and, to a much lesser extent, by the Portuguese and French.
Currently Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan is the brand ambassador of West Bengal Tourism. The promotional films on West Bengal starring Shah Rukh Khan have been directed by Indian National Award winning filmmaker Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury. Shah Rukh Khan Said: "West Bengal is my second home."
Architectural and geographical
The state of West Bengal is rich in both architectural and natural heritage. The capital of the state, Kolkata is also known as the "City of Palaces". West Bengal is famous for its terracotta temples of Bishnupur.
Hazarduari Palace, a popular tourist spot, is known to have the second largest chandelier in the world and also the largest staircase in India. This three-storey palace was built in 1837 by Duncan McLeod for Nawab Nazim Humaun Jah, the then Nawab of Bengal. The palace has been built in Indo-European style. It has derived its name from the thousand doors in the palace (among which only 900 are real). In 1985, the palace was handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for better preservation. The Hazarduari Palace Museum is regarded as the biggest site museum of ASI and has got 20 displayed galleries containing 4742 antiquities out of which 1034 has been displayed for the public. The antiquities include various weapons, oil paintings of Dutch, French and Italian artists, marble statues, rare books, old maps, land revenue records, palanquins (mostly belonging to 18th and 19th centuries) and so on. Cooch Behar Palace built in 1887, was designed on the model of Buckingham Palace in London, during the reign of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan.
Some like the Victoria Memorial, Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu) and the Second Hooghly Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) are iconic of Kolkata. Except colonial and heritage buildings there are also high rising monuments and skyscrapers in the city. There are also a couple of cemeteries established by the British when Kolkata was the capital of British India. These include the South Park Street Cemetery and Scottish Cemetery.
The River Ganga also flows through the state. World heritage sites in West Bengal include the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Sundarbans National Park. Neora Valley National Park, which is one of the richest biological zones in the entire Northeast situated in the Kalimpong subdivision under Darjeeling District is in West Bengal.
The Ganges Delta (also known as the Ganges–Brahmaputra Delta, the Sunderbans Delta, or the Bengalla Delta) is a river delta in the South Asia region of Bengal, consisting of West Bengal and its neighbouring country of Bangladesh. It is the world's largest delta, and empties into the Bay of Bengal. It is also one of the most fertile regions in the world, thus earning the nickname "The Green Delta". The delta stretches from the Hooghly River on the west to the Meghna River on the east. It is approximately 350 km (220 mi) across at the Bay of Bengal. Kolkata and Haldia are the principal Indian seaports on the delta.
The Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden or Calcutta Botanical Garden (previously known as Indian Botanic Garden) is the largest and oldest reserve of greeneries of its kind in South East Asia. It is also a premier Institution for botanical and horticultural research in India. The Garden is situated on the West bank of River Hooghly in Shibpur, Howrah nearly 8 km from center of city Kolkata. Located here is the Great Banyan Tree. It was the widest tree in the world in terms of the area of the canopy and is estimated to be about 200 to 250 years old. It became diseased after it was struck by lightning, so in 1925 the middle of the tree was excised to keep the remainder healthy.
West Bengal also has some more geographical indications like Nakshi Kantha(Handicraft), Darjeeling tea (Agricultural), Santipore Saree (Handicraft), Shantiniketan Leather Goods (Handicraft), Fazli Mango (Agricultural), Khirsapati or Himsagar Mango (Agricultural), Laxman Bhog Mango (Agricultural), Baluchari Saree (Handicraft), and Dhaniakhali Saree (Handicraft).
West Bengal stretches to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The coastal strip of West Bengal, extending from the Gangetic Delta to the border of Orissa has some beautiful coastal settlements namely Digha, Shankarpur, Mandarmani, Bakkhali, Gangasagara, Tajpur and more others. Some of these have, hard beaches on which cars can drive through. It is a fact that some decades ago, even aeroplanes were able to land in the beach of Digha.
Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks
West Bengal has 3.26% of its geographical area under protected areas comprising 15 wildlife sanctuaries and 5 national parks — Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park, Singalila National Park, and Jaldapara National park. West Bengal also has wildlife sanctuaries and bird sanctuaries like Chintamani Kar Bird Sanctuary and Raiganj Wildlife Sanctuary.
Flora and fauna
As of 2009, recorded forest area in the state is 11,879 km2 (4,587 sq mi) which is 13.38% of the state's geographical area, compared to the national average of 21.02%. Part of the world's largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans, is located in southern West Bengal.
The southern part of West Bengal can be divided into two regions: the Gangetic plain and the littoral mangrove forests of the Sundarbans. The coastal region of Purba Medinipur exhibits coastal vegetation. A notable tree from the Sundarbans is the ubiquitous sundari (Heritiera fomes), from which the forest gets its name.
The distribution of vegetation in northern West Bengal is dictated by elevation and precipitation. For example, the foothills of the Himalayas, the Dooars, are densely wooded with Sal and other tropical evergreen trees. However, above an elevation of 1,000 metres (3,300 ft), the forest becomes predominantly subtropical. In Darjeeling, which is above 1,500 metres (4,900 ft), temperate-forest trees such as oaks, conifers, and rhododendrons predominate.
Wildlife include Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephant, deer, bison, leopard, gaur, tiger, and crocodiles, as well as many bird species. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter. The high-altitude forests of Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, chinkara, takin, serow, pangolin, minivet and Kalij pheasants. The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project conserving the endangered Bengal tiger, although the forest hosts many other endangered species, such as the Gangetic dolphin, river terrapin and estuarine crocodile. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal. Recognizing its special conservation value, Sundarban area has been declared as a Biosphere Reserve.
The culture of West Bengal also attracts several tourist from around the world. It has its roots in literature, music, fine arts, drama and cinema. But, the Darjeeling Himalayan hill region shows particularly different cultural aspect. Rabindranath Tagore is Asia's first Nobel laureate and composer of India's national anthem. Swami Vivekananda was a key figure in introducing Vedanta and Yoga in Europe and USA They all belong from West Bengal and there houses and residencies like Shantiniketan and Jorasanko Thakur Bari are world famous and attract many tourists.
The Baul tradition is a unique heritage of Bengali folk music, which has also been influenced by regional music traditions. Other folk music forms include Gombhira and Bhawaiya. Folk music in West Bengal is often accompanied by the ektara, a one-stringed instrument. West Bengal also has an heritage in North Indian classical music. "Rabindrasangeet", songs composed and set into tune by Rabindranath Tagore and "Nazrul geeti" (by Kazi Nazrul Islam) are popular. Also prominent are other musical forms like Dwijendralal, Atulprasad and Rajanikanta's songs, and "adhunik" or modern music from films and other composers.
However, from the early 1990s, there has been an emergence and popularisation of new genres of music, including fusions of Baul and Jazz by several Bangla bands, as well as the emergence of what has been called Jeebonmukhi Gaan (a modern genre based on realism). Bengali dance forms draw from folk traditions, especially those of the tribal groups, as well as the broader Indian dance traditions. Chau dance of Purulia is a rare form of mask dance. West Bengal is known for Bengali folk music such as baul and kirtans and gajan, and modern songs including Bengali "adhunik" (modern) songs.
The state is home to a thriving cinema industry, dubbed "Tollywood". Tollygunj in Kolkata is the location of numerous Bengali movie studios, and the name "Tollywood" (similar to Hollywood and Bollywood) is derived from that name. The Bengali film industry is well known for its art films, and has produced acclaimed directors like Satyajit Ray.
West Bengal had been the harbinger of modernism in fine arts.
Kolkata, was also the workplace of several social reformers, like Raja Ram Mohan Ray, Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, and Swami Vivekananda. These social reforms have eventually led to a cultural atmosphere where practices like sati, dowry, and caste-based discrimination or untouchability, the evils that crept into the Hindu society, were abolished.
Kumortuli is a famous tourist attraction in Kolkata. It is traditionally a potters' quarter in North Kolkata. By virtue of their artistic productions these potters have moved from obscurity to prominence. This Kolkata neighbourhood, not only supplies clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses to barowari pujas in Kolkata and its neighbourhoods, but a number of idols are exported.It is one of the seven wonders in Kolkata.
Rice and fish are traditional favourite foods, leading to a saying in Bengali, machhe bhate bangali, that translates as "fish and rice make a Bengali". Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes hilsa preparations, a favourite among Bengalis. There are numerous ways of cooking fish depending on the texture, size, fat content and the bones. Sweets occupy an important place in the diet of Bengalis and at their social ceremonies. It is an ancient custom among both Hindu and Muslim Bengalis to distribute sweets during festivities. The confectionery industry has flourished because of its close association with social and religious ceremonies. Competition and changing tastes have helped to create many new sweets. Bengalis make distinctive sweetmeats from milk products, including Rôshogolla, Chômchôm, Kalojam and several kinds of sondesh. Pitha, a kind of sweet cake, bread or dimsum are specialties of winter season. Sweets like coconut-naru, til-naru, moa, payesh, etc. are prepared during the festival of Lakshmi puja. Popular street food includes Aloor Chop, Beguni, Kati roll, and phuchka.
The variety of fruits and vegetables that Bengal has to offer is incredible. West Bengal is also famous for its costumes.
Durga Puja in October is the most popular festival in the West Bengal. Poila Baishakh (the Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Nobanno, Poush Parbon (festival of Poush), Kali Puja, SaraswatiPuja, Laxmi Puja, Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and Muharram are other major festivals.
Buddha Purnima, which marks the birth of Gautama Buddha, is one of the most important Hindu/Buddhist festivals while Christmas, called Bôŗodin (Great day) in Bengali is celebrated by the minority Christian population. Poush Mela is a popular festival of Shantiniketan, taking place in winter. West Bengal has been home to several famous religious teachers, including Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Paramahansa Yogananda. The swami is credited with introducing Hinduism to western society and became a religious symbol of the nation in the eyes of the intellectuals of the west.
Darjeeling Himalayan Hill Region
Apart from the major Hindu religious festivals like Diwali, Christmas, Dussera, Holi, Ram Navami, the diverse ethnic populace of Darjeeling Himalayan hill region celebrates several local festivals. The Tibetan ethnic groups like the Lepchas, Bhutias, Gurungs, and Tamangs celebrate new year called Losar in January/February, Maghe Sankranti, Chotrul Duchen, Buddha Jayanti, and Tendong Lho Rumfaat, to name a few, which provide the "regional distinctness" of Darjeeling's local culture from the rest of West Bengal.
A popular food in Darjeeling is the momo, a steamed dumpling containing either mutton, pork, beef or vegetables cooked in a doughy wrapping served with a watery vegetable soup and spicy tomato sauce/chutney. Wai-Wai is a favourite packaged snack of Darjeeling hills comprising noodles which are eaten either dry or with soup. Churpee, a kind of hard cheese made from cow or yak's milk is another popular mini-snack that is both nutritious and a pastime. A form of noodle called thukpa, served with soup and vegetables, is extremely popular in and around the hills of Darjeeling. Chhang and tongba are local alcoholic beverage made from millet.
West Bengal also attracts tourist for pilgrimages to the holy places of different religions.
People from different sections of the world come to West Bengal for holy pilgrimages as Kolkata is one of the four adi Shaktipeethas. Among the other 52 shaktipeethas some are located in West Bengal. They are as follows:
- Bahula, on the banks of Ajay River at Ketugram, 8 km from Katwa, Burdwan, West Bengal,.
- Ujaani, 16 km from Guskara station under Burdwan district of West Bengal.
- A temple locally known as Bhramari Devi. Behind a rice mill, near Jalpesh Temple in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal.
- Yoga Adya at Khirgram; under Burdwan district, West Bengal.
- Kalighat Kalipeeth in Kolkata.
- Kireet at Kireetkona village, 3 km from Lalbag Court Road station under Murshidabad district, West Bengal.
- Kankalitala, on the banks of Kopai River 10 km north-east of Bolpur station in Birbhum district. Devi locally known as Kankaleshwari.
- Vibhash, at Tamluk, under district Purba Medinipur, West Bengal.
- Tarapith and countless others.
Only one Maha Shaktipeethas known as Pradyumna, existed. This temple is currently non-existent. Only ruins are found in these places. Instead, Sringeri in Karnataka is believed to be the Shakti Peeth of this aspect of the Goddess.
There are countless mosques in West Bengal but some of them are very famous like the Nizamat Imambara in Murshidabad, Katra Mosque which is also in Murshidabad, Furfura Sharif and Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque on Jawaharlal Nehru Road in Kolkata.
There are many Gurudwaras in West Bengal like Gurudwara Bari Sangat in Kolkata, Gurudwara Chhoti Sangat, Gurudwara Nima Serai Sri Guru Tegh Bahadur, Gurudwara Sikh Sangat and Gurudwara Liluah Belur Sikh Sangat in Liluah.
There are also many Buddhist Monasteries in West Bengal, especially in the hilly regions like the Ghoom Monastery, Bhutia Busty Monastery, Mag-Dhog Yolmowa Monastery, Tharpa Choling Monastery, Zang Dhok Palri Phodang and more others.
Seven wonders of West Bengal
NDTV along with the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India conducted a nationwide campaign for searching the "Seven Wonders of India in 2008-09. The campaign started with shortlisting 200 places from all of the Indian states and then inviting public to cast their vote for their favourite places. It also included seven wonders of particular states. In West Bengal a total 13 were selected of which the "Seven Wonders of West Bengal" were shortlisted. The list of the 30 selected places are as follows:
- Cooch Behar Palace
- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway ("Toy Train")
- Hazarduari Palace
- Adina Mosque
- Gaur, West Bengal
- Bishnupur Terracotta Temples
- Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden with the Great Banyan Tree
- Howrah Bridge
- B. B. D. Bagh (formerly called Dalhousie Square)
- Dakshineswar Kali Temple
- Second Hooghly Bridge
- Victoria Memorial
- St. Paul's Cathedral
The shortlisted list, compiling of the "Seven Wonders of West Bengal" as per the votings is as follows:
- Victoria Memorial
- Darjeeling Himalayan Railway ("Toy Train")
- Bishnupur Terracotta Temples
- Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden with the Great Banyan Tree
- Howrah Bridge
- B. B. D. Bagh (Formerly called, the Dalhousie Square)
The Second Hooghly Bridge illuminated at night.
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