West Bengal – Overview
West Bengal is a state located in eastern part of India. The state with a population of 80,221,171 spreads over an area of 88,752 sq.km. Although West Bengal occupies only 2.7% of the India’s land area, but it supports over 7.8% of Indian population. West Bengal shares international boundaries with the countries such as Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. The state is surrounded by the states of Assam and Sikkim to its north-east, the state of Orrisa to its south-west and the states of Bihar and Jharkhand to its west. Bangladesh, which lies on the eastern border of the state, together with West Bengal forms the ethno-linguistic region of Bengal. Bengali is the main language of the state, but people also speak Urdu and Hindi.
During the past two millenia West Bengal has been a part of a number of dynasties and the state capital, Kolkata served as the capital of British India for several years. The state’s economic and political areas were dominated by the Marxism, Naxalite movements and trade unionism for many decadesas well. Besides, many of India’s notable poets, writers, film-stars, theater artists and performers belong to West Bengal.
Noted for its beautiful tourists destinations, magnificent forts and monuments, massive temples, picturesque beaches, hills and valleys, varied wildlife, delectable cuisine, rich art & culture and charming fairs and festivals, West Bengal draws a large number of tourists from all over the world.
West Bengal – History
History of the greater Bengal region goes 4,000 years back, when the region was inhabited by the Dravidians, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic peoples. Historic records say that in the 7th century B.C, after the arrival of Indo-Aryans, the Magadha kingdom was formed, consisting of the Bihar and Bengal regions. In the 3rd century B.C, under the Mauryan Emperor – Ashoka, the Magadha Empire extended the kindgom over most parts of South Asia including portions of Persia and Afghanistan. Next from the 3rd century AD to the 6th century AD, the Magadha kingdom served as the seat of the Gupta dynasty.
Around the early 7th century, Shashanka became the first independent king of Bengal. After a period of anarchy, Buddhist Pala Kings ruled over the region from 8th century to the 12th century. In the 12th century, the reign passed over from the Pala dynasty to the Hindu Sen dynasty for a short time. Thereafter, Bengal passed into the hands of the Slave dynasty. Bengal was subsequently ruled by various dynasties of Sultans and feudal lords under the Delhi Sultanate for the next few centuries.
In the 16th century, Mughal General Islam Khan conquered Bengal and the European traders arrived late in the 15th century. In 1757, following the Battle of Plassey, when Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab was defeated by the British, the British East India Company gained taxation rights in Bengal Subah. Further in 1765, the Bengal Presidency was established, by including all British territories north of the Central Provinces, from the mouth of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. After India’s independence on 15th August 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines, the western part went to India and the eastern to Pakistan as East Bengal province, which later became independent in 1971.
West Bengal – Tourist Destinations
A beautiful blend of the ancient and the modern, West Bengal is often referred to as the ‘Gateway to the East.’ West Bengal has a varied landscape dotted with a variety of beautiful hills, charming plains and breathtaking coastal belt. The state’s long and narrow land area comprises the delta of the lower Ganges and other rivers in the south and mountainous region in the northern part of the state. In addition to these, the tropical Sunderbans forest add to the beauty of the state. Known for their unique tourism properties, the tourist destinations in West Bengal attracts large number of tourists every year. Important tourist destinations of West Bengal include Kolkata, Durgapur, Burdwan, Darjeeling and Murshidabad.
West Bengal – Temples
Presently Hinduism is a major faith in West Bengal, but a large number of people also follow other religions like Buddhism and Jainism. You can see many Buddhist monasteries in Darjeeling and the nearby town of Kalimpong. The Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples attract thousands of tourists throughout the year. Some of the popular temples are Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, Kalighat Temple, Dhirdham Temple, Ramakrishna Mission Temple, Lalji Temple, Radha Shyam Temple, Suratheshwar Shiva Temple and Hanseswari Temple.
West Bengal – Wildlife
Out of the total land area of the state, forests make up 13.38% area, which though less than the India’s average of 23% wildlife area, is still good. West Bengal is known all over the world for mangrove forest-Sunderbans, which is located in southern part of the state. Sunderbans is also a World Heritage Site. West Bengal is home to 15 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 5 National Parks and 3 Tiger Reserve, which provide shelter to a variety of wild animals and birds. Popular Wildlife Sanctuaries and Parks of the state include the Sunderbans, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and Dooars.
West Bengal – Adventure
Trekking in Darjeeling Hills is a very popular adventure option, which draws large number of adventure seekers to West Bengal every year. Bicycling and mountain biking are other famous adventure sports which you can enjoy in the slopes of Darjeeling tea gardens. In addition to these, you can indulge yourself in several other adventure options such as mountaineering, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, yachting, river rafting, swimming, para sailing and monsoon car rally.
West Bengal- Beaches
The beautiful coastline of West Bengal, running from the Gangetic delta land to the border of the Orissa state, is home to some picturesque beaches. Far from the bustling cities, West Bengal beaches offer a perfect escape. Almost all the West Bengal beaches offer wide – flat sandy beaches, a gently rolling Bay of Bengal, groves of casuarina and a pleasant weather round the year. Notable beaches in West Bengal include Digha, Shankarpur, Sagardwip, Junput, Bakkhali and Frazergunj.
West Bengal – Art & Culture
Since olden days, West Bengal has contributed a lot in the field of art and culture. The state has given birth to several modern movements in literature, painting, sculpture, national politics, theatre and cinemas as well as science and technology. Kolkata, the state capital and also one of the four major cities of India, is regarded as the cultural capital of India. The city has a played a prominent role in the fields of literature, art, theatre and films. Dance and music are essential parts of Bengali people. Folk music forms of Bengal are also famous, the Baul tradition is a unique heritage of the state’s folk music. Other folk music forms are Gombhira and Bhawaiya. West Bengal is renowned for its excellent arts and crafts. Some of popular handicraft items are hand-woven silk sarees and items made from clay, shoal and conch.
West Bengal – Cuisine
From time immemorial the people of Bengal like delicious food. In fact, their fondness for good and delectable food is legendary. Fish and rice are two main ingredients which define the exotic Bengali cuisine. Apart from fish dishes, West Bengal’s love for sweets and curds is traditional and famous all over the country. In addition to this the people of the state also eat a variety of vegetables cooked in different style. While you are in West Bengal must taste the popular recipes like Machcher Jhol, Doi Machch, Mishti Doi, Rassogolla, Sondesh, Begun Bhaja, Luchi and Kosha Mangsho.
West Bengal – Forts & Monuments
Ruled by the several dynasties, West Bengal presents a good collection of forts and monuments which now attract thousands of visitors from far and wide. Some of the popular forts and monuments are Victoria Memorial, Fort William, Imambara, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tipu Sultan Mosque, Nizam Place and Raj Bhavan.
West Bengal – Hills and Valleys
Blessed with a number of natural jewels, West Bengal is also home to some of the popular hill stations of the world. Darjeeling (2123 m) also called as the ‘Queen of the Hill Station’ is a shinning jewel in the crown of West Bengal. Darjeeling is noted for its lofty peak, green picturesque tea gardens, spectacular valleys and scenery and the toy train,which has been declared a World Heritage by UNESCO. Other popular hills of the state are Kalimpong (1243 m), Sandakphu (3636 m), Lava (2184 m) and Lolaygaon (1516 m).
West Bengal – Fairs and Festivals
West Bengal is a land where numerous fairs and festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Most of the festivals are religious, while some are also related to a particular region. Among the various Hindu festivals, Durga Puja of Kolkata is famous all over the country. Muslims celebrate three major festivals namely- Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha and Moharram. Christmas is the main festival for the Christians. A list important fairs and festivals of the state include Durga Puja, Deepawali, Holi, Eid-ul-Fitra, Eid-ul-Azha, Moharram, Christmas, Ganga Sagar Mela, Kenduli Mela, Jalpesh Mela, Rathayatra, Vasanta Utsav, Jhapan, Naba Barsho, Bera Utsav, Teesta Tea & Tourism Festival,Vishnupur Festival and Poush Mela.
West Bengal – Shopping
Shopping in West Bengal is a wonderful experience, in fact, while shopping in the state you get some unique items which you might, perhaps, not find in other parts of the country. Although, West Bengal is famous all over the country for its wide range of items but the state has gained global fame for its exquisite handicrafts. Since a long time the rich tradition of making crafts is flourishing in West Bengal. The skilled artisans of the state make superb items out of clay, shoal and conch. In some areas of the state, the craftsmen weave beautiful silk sarees, which you can check out during shopping. West Bengal is also popular for rich tradition of fine arts and fantastic paintings. In addition to these, don’t forget to mention the Darjeeling tea in your shopping list.
In West Bengal there are several destinations which offer excellent opportunity for shopping. You can opt for shopping in the government emporia, private shops or from the roadside vendors who offer good bargain. While in West Bengal, you must check out items like Baluchari Silk Sarees, Leather work, Dhokra and Metal cast items, Paintings, items made of shola, conch-shell, Tea, Jute Products, Cane & Bamboor work and mats, Clay models and Terracotta items.
The climate of West Bengal is tropical and varies in plains and the mountainous region. The plain region are hot during the summers and cold in winter season, while in the mountainous region the climate is cold most of the year. In West Bengal the summer season starts from mid-March and remains till mid-June. During the summers, the day temperature raises to a high of 45oC in certain parts of the state, while in winters the temperature drops below 0oC in hilly areas. Rainy season starts from late-June and continues till September. Winter arrives in the state in the month of November and ends by late February.
Best Time to Visit
October to March
West Bengal – Transportation
Airlines : Subhash Chandra Bose Airport in the state capital, Kolkata is the only international airport of the state. Bagdogra near Siliguri is another airport, from where only domestic flights ply. Both these airports in West Bengal are connected to major cities in India like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai etc.
Railways : A very good rail network connects the state with rest of the country. Howrah and Sealdah in Kolkata are the major railway stations in the state. Other important rail-heads, New Jalpaiguri, Asansol and Kharagpur, are well-served by several express and super-fast trains from different parts of the country.
Roadways : With an extensive good road network covering the entire state, West Bengal is well-linked by all parts of the country. Several National Highways and State Highways criss-cross the state. You can easily approach the state by roads from the nearby states of Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. Road transportation is also operational from the neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.