Of all the places to visit in West Bengal, no other place comes close to the capital, Kolkata (Calcutta).
Tourists make a bee line for Kolkata, an enigmatic and charming city which is considered by many to be the country’s cultural hub. Many visitors have a preconceived idea of this oft-maligned city, but a little time spent here is often enough for those ideas to be rapidly dispelled and gives a fascinating glimpse of the way in which more than 14 million people live together. From rich to poor and educated to illiterate, Kolkatans melt together in a way that isn’t seen in other cities.
Kolkata is also the gateway to other West Bengal tourist places including the popular northern hill stations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Up in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern part of West Bengal, the ‘toy train’ of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway chugs its way up the charming British-era hill station of Darjeeling, a quintessential remnant of the Raj, whose views of massive Kkangchendzonga towering over the surrounding tea estates rank as one of the region’s most inspiring sights.
A few hours drive from Kolkata takes you to the Sunderbans in the Ganges Delta of lower Bengal which has dense, tangled mangrove swamps where Royal Bengal tigers roam.
Down south in the plains, brilliant green rice fields surround bustling trading towns, mud-and-thatch villages, and vestiges of Bengal’s glorious history: ornate, terracotta-tiled Hindu temples at Bishnupur, Shantiniketan, home of the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, and Murshidabad, the delightful old capital of the Nawabs of Bengal.
Overshadowed perhaps by the reputation of its capital Kolkata (Calcutta), the rest of West Bengal sees surprisingly few foreign tourists. Nevertheless, this eastern Indian state offers a rich range of destinations and experiences few other Indian states offer and visitors to this region should head off the beaten path to discover adventures waiting to be explored.
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