TEMPLES, MUSEUMS AND PARKS IN KOLKATA

TEMPLES AND CHURCHES IN KOLKATA

Dakshineswar Temple (north of Vivekanada Setu Bridge in northern Kolkata) is one of the most prominent shrines in Kolkata. Dedicated to Goddess Kali and located on the banks of the Hooghly river, this Bengali-style temple sprawls over an area of 25 acre. The main temple is a nine-spired structure and is surrounded by a huge courtyard that has rooms along the boundary. On the riverfront, there are about 12 shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, along with a temple of Lord Krishna and Goddess Radha and a shrine of Rani Rashmoni, who is believed to have constructed the temple. She was an ardent devotee of Goddess Kali. The temple is also known for its association with Ramakrishna, a mystic of the 19th century. Legend has it that the idols of the goddess and gods were established on the snana-yatra day, which is considered auspicious by the Hindus.

Belur Math (two kilometers south of Vivekanada Setu Bridge on the Howrah side of the Hooghly River) is modern temple in the precincts of the Ramakrishna Mission Headquarters. Sprawled along the western banks of River Hooghly, it is a popular pilgrimage site. The headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, it invites people from all over the region. The temple has a beautiful architecture that features an amalgamation of Hindu, Islamic and Christian motifs that point to a secular unity. The temple houses a museum as well as educational institutions. Belur Math was founded by Swami Vivekananda, who was a disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa. The shrines in the complex are dedicated to Swami Vivekananda, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Sri Ramakrishna. The main monastery of the order is also housed in the temple complex, which has played host to personalities like Swami Vivekananda and other monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Belur Math has also been visited by Sri Sarada Devi.

Pareshnath Jain Temple (500 meters southeast of Rabindra Sadan Metro station) is dedicated to Pareshnath, the 23rd Jain tirthankar (saint). It has four other temples inside its vast complex. These temples are devoted to four other avatars (holy preachers) of the Jain faith, namely, Chanda Prabhudevji, Dadagarudev Shri ji, Kushal Suri ji Maharaj and Lord Mahaveera, who was the last of the Jain tirthankaras. There is a ghee lamp in the sanctum sanctorum of the main temple that has been kept alight since the inception of the temple back in 1867. The temple floors are of white marble, symbolising the purity and the beauty of the heart.

Outside the temple are beautiful gardens with glass-mosaic blocks and European-style statues in silver. The pillars are inlaid with mirrors while there is stained glass in the windows. Apart from many flowers, there are water fountains spread across the complex. There is also a reservoir full of colourful fish and a stream flowing through. The entire temple complex is clean and well-maintained and has a unique spirituality in the atmosphere that attracts devotees from all faiths throughout the year. There is plenty more to see for the causal tourist - there is the idol of Lord Shitalnathji seated in the sanctum sanctorum of the main temple. His forehead is studded with diamonds and makes a popular attraction for tourists. Paintings by Ganesh Muskare, a well-known artist, adorn the walls of the complex. There are also many chandeliers or jhar battis that lend a surreal beauty to the temple, especially at night, when they are all lit up. The main temple is called the Paryushan and, in the month of Bhadrav (August/ September), the Jains observe ahimsa, listen to religious scriptures and indulge in charity.

Armenian Church (Armenian Street, near the Howrah Bridge) is believed to be the oldest church in Kolkata. Built in 1764, .it features interiors decorated with marble. The overhead gallery is adorned with mural tablets. There is a cross at the altar of this church, with the Gospels and 12 candlesticks representing the Christ and the Apostles. Besides, you will find three oil paintings that represent the Holy Trinity. Tourists can also find the remains of an Armenian cemetery in the church. This graveyard houses the city's oldest known grave: of an Armenian woman, Rezabeebeh, who was buried in 1630. The compound also hosts a monument dedicated to Armenians who died during World War I.

Kalighat Temple

Kalighat Temple (Bhagabati Lane off Kalighat Road, near the Kalighat Metro stop). honors the goddess Kali, which Kolkata is named after. There is an 800-year-old stone that is said to be the goddess. Goats are frequently sacrificed here in her honor. Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “The Kalighat Temple is a tableau of faith, blood and hustle. Devotees prostrate themselves before the dark goddess, goats meet their death and touts, some in holy men’s garb, home in on tourists. The poor squat on the street at lunchtime, for a bowl of rice.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]

One of the most prominent temples in the city, Kalighat Temple is one of the 51 shaktipeethas (devotional shrines where the severed body parts of Goddess Sati fell), where the toe of the goddess fell. The sanctum sanctorum houses a unique idol of the goddess, who is shown with three eyes, four hands and a long tongue. The structure has been adorned with peacock and floral motifs tiles that give it a colonial charm. Tourists can also visit a holy tank called Kundupukar, located inside the premises. Legend has it that bathing in it will help ladies conceive a child.

The temple is believed to have been built during the time of Chandragupta II, a ruler of the Gupta empire (380-415 CE). The original structure was a small hut, while the present temple has been built by Sabarna Roy Chowdhry, a zamindar of Kolkata. Legend has it that when Lord Shiva was dancing passionately, performing the Rudra Tandava, with the carcass of Goddess Sati on his shoulder, her dead body was sliced off and the pieces fell at various places. Each of these spots, the 51 shaktipeethas of India, acquired religious significance. It is said that a devotee saw a ray of light coming from the Bhagirathi river bed. He found a toe made of stone there as well as a sambhu lingam of Nakuleshwar Bhairav nearby. Overcome with devotion, he started praying to Goddess Kali in the middle of the nearby jungle. According to another story, a Dasanami monk, named Chowranga Giri, came here and prayed to Goddess Kali. It is said that Kolkata s Chowringhee area is named after him.

Vivekananda Trail

Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902) was an Indian Hindu monk. He was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world and is credited with defining Hinduism and making it a major world religion. He was born and raised in Calcutta and lived there off and on.

This heritage walk starts at the intricately designed Ramakrishna Temple that is thronged by devotees from all religions from India and abroad. Nearby is the Belur Math, situated next to the Hooghly river. Swami Vivekananda used to stay here in a double-storey house and today it houses many of the saint’s personal belongings. Another attraction near Baghbazar is Sharada Maa’s house. It was already a century old, when she started living here on May 23, 1909. She stayed here all her life, till her death on July 28, 1920.

The home of Balaram Basu, Sri Ramakrishna’s disciple, was turned into a temple in 1922. It was visited often by Sri Sri Ramakrishna and Sharada Maa, along with several of their disciples. The Ramakrishna Mission Association was founded here and Swami Vivekananda organised a special assembly in 1897 to talk about his plans for the foundation. At 3, Gour Mohan Mukherjee Street is Swami Vivekananda’s own house. A grand building, which is frequently visited by devotees.

Rani Rashmoni is said to have been told by Goddess Kali to build a temple at Dakshineswar. This charming lady built a temple with an exclusive Nava Ratna that has a height of 100 ft. This 12-spired temple has a beautiful courtyard and is surrounded by 12 more temples created for Lord Shiva. Sri Sri Ramakrishna is said to have meditated and attained enlightenment under the shadow of the Pachabati, a gigantic banyan tree. Girish Chandra Ghosh (February 28, 1844 to February 8, 1912) was a well-known Bengali poet, musician, playwright, novelist, theatre director and actor. His house is the last stop on this trail.

Museums in Kolkata

Museums in Kolkata include the Academy of Fine Arts (permanent exhibits of paintings, textiles, manuscripts and documents), Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, Birla Academy of Art and Culture (ancient sculptures, miniature paintings, international modern art and contemporary Indian paintings., Rabrindra Bharati Museum (ancestral house of the Tagore family), the Regional Handicrafts center, National Library (largest library in India), Nehru Children's Museum, Gurusaday Museum of Bengal Folk Art, and the Asiatic Society (a valuable collection of books, manuscripts, journals, paintings and old coins)

Victoria Memorial Museum (in Victoria Memorial in the Maidan) is, according to the New York Times, is an “archive of imperial ambition,” with 3,500 exhibits in 25 galleries, including paintings, memorabilia and manuscripts from the British Raj. There are paintings of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the Royal Gallery, along with artworks depicting events from the queen’s life. A painting showcasing the state entry of the Prince of Wales in Jaipur in 1876 by famous Russian artist Vassili Verestchagin attracts attention. There are also exhibits of weapons, sculptures, maps, coins, stamps and textiles here. The museum is open 10:00am to 5:00pm. It is closed Mondays. The entry fee for non-Indians is 150 rupees (91-33-2223-1890; www.victoriamemorial-cal.org).

Mahajati Sadan (Mahatma Gandhi Road Metro station) is a landmark heritage building that houses a cultural auditorium, which acts as a venue for magic shows, seminars, meetings and music and dance events. Another attraction is the library that shows exhibits of the freedom fighters of Bengal, along with their clay models on the first floor. You can also find pictures of these great personalities on the walls of the sadan. The idea of the sadan was conceived by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the foundation stone was laid by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1939. He called the sadan the "House of the Nation", and recited his popular poem "Banglar Mati, Banglar jal". However, the construction of the building stopped when Netaji suddenly disappeared. After independence, Bidhan Chandra Roy got the building completed.

Kolkata Police Museum (one kilometer east of Girish Park Metro station, 113, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road) showcases the growth and development of the police department of Kolkata from the pre-Independence era to the time after Partition. There is a separate gallery showcasing the evolution of guns. Weapons of revolutionaries during the pre-Independence days are also on display, along with items that were seized at the time of the freedom struggle. You can also find out more about the 64 Netaji files in this museum. The museum was set up at the former home of social reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy.

Nehru Children’s Museum (400 meters southeast of Victoria Memorial, Maidan Metro station) was established as a tribute to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on Children’s Day, November 14, 1972, which was also Nehru’s birthday. The museum is spread over four floors, which have been divided into Dolls Gallery, Toys Gallery, Ramayana Gallery and Mahabharata Gallery. The museum is noted for housing an extensive collection of dolls that have been collected from about 88 countries from around the world. These are apt representations of various cultures and traditions from all over the world., with Asian and Western varieties. There are clay models of various events and scenes from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The museum also organizes workshops and competitions for kids.

Indian Museum

Indian Museum (east of northern Maidan, 250 meters south of Esplanade Metro station) is located in a beautiful Italian-style colonial building. Among the interesting items on display are statues and paintings of Hindu deities, armour and ornaments, fossils, skeletons, Mughal paintings. hundreds of samples of different kinds of opium, stuffed animals from all over Asia, and archeological and anthropological artifacts from numerous cultures and civilizations. The museum also contains the original capital of an Ashoka Pillar, some meteorites and an Egyptian mummy.

The Indian Museum is the ninth oldest museum of the world, oldest museum in India and the second largest museum in India, after the Madras Museum. It was founded by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in Kolkata (Calcutta), India, in 1814. It has six sections comprising thirty five galleries of cultural and scientific artifacts namely Indian art, archaeology, anthropology, geology, zoology and economic botany. The art and archaeology sections hold collections of international importance. The prehistoric objects include a huge skeleton of a dinosaur.

The main galleries and exhibitions in the museum are: 1) Bharhut Gallery, with architectural remains from Bodhgaya; 2) Bird Gallery, with exhibits on birds and their ecosystem; 3) Botanical Gallery, with an industrial botany section; 4) Bronze Gallery, with sculptures dating back to the A.D. second century; 5) Coin Gallery, with a unique assemblage of coins; 6) Decorative Art, with item such as of shawls and phulkari chadars; 7 ) Egypt Gallery, with a modest collection of Egyptian antiquities including a mummy;

8) Gandhara Gallery, with sculptures from Gandhara School of art; 9) Insect Gallery, with various types of dead insects; 10) L. Archaeology Gallery, dedicated to the sculptural evolution in India; 11) Mammal Gallery, mostly with stuffed mammals from India; 12) Mask Gallery, a gallery that opened in 2016; and 13) Textile Gallery, with an impressive display fabrics produced in the Indian subcontinent.

14) The Paintings Gallery contains a substantial number of paintings ranging from Persian miniature paintings to different traditional schools such as Mughal, Rajasthan, Pahari, Deccani, Provincial Mughal and Oil paintings.

The large collection of ancient and medieval Indian artefacts include remains of the Buddhist stupa from Bharhut, the Buddha's ashes, a copy of the Lion Capital of Ashoka from an Ashoka pillar (original in the Sarnath Museum) whose four-lion symbol became the official emblem of the Republic of India and fossil skeletons of prehistoric animals.

Art Museums in Kolkata

Gurusaday Museum (P6, Diamond Harbour Rd, Diamond Park, Joka, south Kolkata, about seven kilometers south Howrah Bridge) is a folk arts and crafts museum with archaeological objects, clay objects, dolls & toys, manuscripts, masks, moulds, musical instruments, paintings, puppetry, terracotta, textiles and woodwork from different ethnic groups in West Bengal. The museum contains about 3300 folk arts and crafts items, with 2325 of them collected by Shri Gurusaday Dutta, I.C.S., between 1929 and 1939, when he was the head of the district administration of various districts of Bengal.

Asutosh Museum of Indian Art (77, Ashutosh Mukherjee Rd, Paddapukur, 800 meters south of Rabindra Sadan Metro station) has one of the best art collections in India, with paintings, scrolls, coins, sculptures, folk-art objects, woodcuts, textiles and other decorative arts from all over the country. Housing about 25,000 exhibits, it is a university museum. A highlight is the Yakshini sculpture with Panchachuda that can be dated back to the A.D. 1st century AD. You can also see a unique illustrated paper manuscript from Nepal dated 1105. Don't miss the Ramayana manuscript believed to be written by Tulsidas. The museum also features some of the earliest styles of Pat paintings, dated to 1772.

Birla Academy Of Art And Culture (108-109, Southern Ave, Lake Terrace, Ballygunge, south Kolkata) showcases the growth and development of Indian art from the 1st century B.C. to modern times. Along with modern western art, there are several examples of art by contemporary artists of India. There are regular all-India exhibitions, solo shows, group exhibitions and kala melas organised here. Besides, there are educational programmes, lectures, seminars, film shows and art appreciation classes. There is a library with many books, journals and periodicals. Exhibitions have featured the work of the French sculptor Rodin, Henry Moore and Picasso.

Science Museums in Kolkata

Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (on Gurusaday Road, about 1,5 kilometers east of Rabindra Sadan Metro station) is a science museum for kids, with stuff that will also interest adults. . It has 12 galleries, including Fascinating Physics, Transport, Motive Power, Biotechnology, Metals, Electricity, Television, Life Science, Underground Coal Mine (a mock-up), Popular Science, Mathematics and Children’s Gallery. It is the first scientific and industrial museum in India. There are many hands-on displays. Regular science shows and sky observation programs are organised here.

Birla Planetarium (200 meters south of Maidan Metro station) was inaugurated by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963. It houses a Celestron C-14 telescope and accessories such as ST6 CCD camera and solar filter in its astronomical observatory. There is an astronomy gallery with paintings and celestial models of well-known astronomers. The electronics laboratory is there for design and fabrication of science equipment. One can view over 100 projects on astronomy here, that look into its various facets including astro-physics, space science and the myths about the planets and stars. The planetarium has daily lectures and demonstrations, except on Mondays.

Science City (1.5 kilometers east of Park Circu Train Station) is the largest science centre in India. It has many attractions for adults and children alike."Science on a Sphere" is the latest addition to the centre and uses a giant animated globe to show interesting information about planets. Tourists can also take a ride in a slow-moving electric car as it takes one through exhibits of different stages of evolution. The light and sound effects add to the thrilling experience. A unique feature is the Digital Panorama, which depicts the milestones of human evolution in the last six million years. Tourists can also visit an amusement park and a dinosaur museum inside the centre. There are facilities of games as well.

Parks and Gardens

Eco Park (seven kilometers east of central Kolkata) is the biggest ecological and urban park in India. It is spread over an area of 480 acre and surrounded by a 104-acre water body. It has three sections: the ecological areas such as wetlands, grasslands and urban forest, theme gardens and open spaces, and urban recreational spaces. There are many attractions here including the Biswa Bangla Haat, Children's Eco Park, Floating Musical Fountain, Butterfly Garden, Bamboo Garden, Fruits Garden, Adda Zone, Grass Land, Tea Garden, Mask Garden, Formal Garden, Seven Wonders and Eco Island. Besides, there is a play area for children, along with facilities for kayaking, paddle boating, ice skating, duo cycling and much more, all of which make it an ideal spot for family picnics. It has been conceptualised by Honourable Chief Minister Ms Mamata Banerjee.

Millennium Park (on Hooghly river, near Fairlie Ghat and opposite the Railway Club) spreads over an area of 2.5 square kilometers and it has a variety of amusement rides for children, along with beautifully landscaped gardens. There are some sculptures and views of of Howrah Bridge.

Alipore Zoological Garden (south of Maidan, 1.5 kilometers west of Rabindra Sadan Metro station) is India’s oldest zoo. Some of the popular species you can find are Bengal tigers, white tigers, African lions, giraffe, zebra, Galapagos giant tortoise, pelican and pheasant. It also housed the Aldabra giant tortoise, Adwaita. He was said to be over 250 years old when he died in 2006. The zoo is also the site for a captive-breeding project for the Manipur brow-antlered deer. Some rare birds found here include Lady Amherst’s pheasant, Swinhoe’s pheasant, emu, cassowary and ostrich. Recently, tigers have been given a glass enclosure – 10-ft-high and 200-ft-wide. For the birds, a 750 feet aviary has been built. This famous zoo is most visited in the winter months of December and January. The zoo is known by various names like the Zoological Garden, Alipore Zoo and Kolkata Zoo. It was opened to the public in 1876 and was inaugurated by Edward VII, who was the Prince of Wales at that time. The zoo once had seven white tigers.

Nicco Park (in Salt Lake City, three kilometers east central Kolkata) is a popular amusement park with a Wet-o-Wild water park with thrilling water slides. There are around 35 rides including a toy train, tilt-a-whirl, magic carpet, paddle boat, water chute, water coaster, flying saucer, pirate ship, and river caves. There is a 40-ft-high waterfall and a pretty rose garden, and these views are visible as panoramas from the park's cable car rides and the Eiffel Tower. There is even a decommissioned MIG-21 fighter plane. Nicco Park has one of Asia's largest Giant Cyclones. The park is designed to provide 'educational recreations' fun with learning. At the entrance of each ride, details are given about the scientific principles behind how each ride works. You can also visit Wet-o-Wild, their water park, or see a rain dance performance or a 4D movie. Besides, you visit kiosks for snacks, along with shops selling souvenirs.

Tollygunge Club (five kilometers south of central Kolkata) has a golf course and a private Raj-era mansion, owned by the family of Tipu Sultan, a deposed Indian king from southern Mysore, that became a whites-only club in 1895, with a racecourse as its main attraction.Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “ Indians broke the color bar in 1964 but soon came to be seen as class enemies. A Maoist guerrilla shot dead the club director in 1971. He was sitting in his second-floor office at the time, the windows of the Palladian mansion facing south, to catch the breeze. Today, it is primarily a golf club. Jackals have built their dens here. They seem to like to watch golf.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]

Maidan

Maidan (just south of Dalhousie Square) is a huge, sprawling, grass-covered park in the middle of Kolkata covering 1,280 acres (about half a square kilometer). The Victoria Memorial, Eden Gardens, Fort Williams and Indo-Gothic St. Paul's Cathedral are all located here. Eden Garden is one of the world’s largest cricket satdiums. Fort Williams is an extraordinary tower built Sir David Ochterlony, an eccentric member of the East India Company who like to parade his 14 mistresses around, each on the top of different elephant.

The Maidan (grounds) lies on the banks of the Hooghly river. Nearby is well-known Chowringhee Road or Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Rich businessmen and of educated and elite gentlemen, locally known as bhadrolok, used to take long walks here. Today, you can ride in horse-drawn carriages ply through the park and broad roads around the Victoria Memorial.

Gamblers can bet on horses at the Race Course; and spectators can watch cricket, polo, field hockey, street performer, monkey trainers, trained rats and magicians. Quack doctors sell tar-like miracle medicines that "cure stomach pains and improve sexual energies!"; a fortune teller uses a parrot to selects envelopes, high-wire acts work two meters above the ground, and children contort themselves through metal rings. If you are lucky you may even see a band of Bengalis bagpipers clad only in dhotis. The park is so large it even has its own golf course.

In 1758, a year after the Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company started construction on a Fort William in the center of the village Gobindapur, where the Maidan is situated today. The fort was completed in 1773. “The tiger-haunted jungle which cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river was cleared, and gave way to the wide grassy stretch of the Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud. The formation of this airy expanse and the filling up of the creek which had cut off the settlement in the south, led the European inhabitants to gradually forsake the narrow limits of the old palisades. The movement towards Chowringhee had already been noticeable as early as 1746.

In 1883–1884 the Maidan, along with grounds of the Indian Museum, hosted the Calcutta International Exhibition. In 1909, H.E.A. Cotton wrote: The great Maidan presents a most refreshing appearance to the eye, the heavy night dew, even in the hot season, keeping the grass green. Many of the fine trees with which it was once studded were blown down in the cyclone of 1864. But they have not been allowed to remain without successors, and the handsome avenues across the Maidan still constitute the chief glory of Calcutta. Dotting the wide expanse are a number of fine tanks, from which the inhabitants were content in former days to obtain their water-supply.”

Race Course (near the Victoria Memorial) is among the largest horse race venues in India. Established by the British in 1820, it is set amidst picturesque surroundings and verdant gardens. Several prestigious events are held here and it has traditionally been hotspot for elites. The main seasons are from July to September and November to March, when elaborate races are held. You can catch a thrilling race on Saturdays or on public holidays. Some of the prominent races include the Kolkata Derby and the Queen Elizabeth Cup. The course is also used as a ground for polo matches. The Race Course is located in the heart of the city and maintained by the Royal Turf Club of Kolkata.

Shaheed Minar (in the Esplanade in central Kolkata, towards the north east of the Maidan) is dedicated to the martyrs of the Indian freedom movement. This 48 m-high tower has an Egyptian-style foundation while the structure itself has a classical fluted column and a Turkish dome with its upper part being designed in Syrian style. The tower is lit up at night and visitors are allowed to go up to the top where there are two balconies. A flight of 223 stairs leads up to the top.. This tower was initially constructed in memory of the commander of the British East India Company, Major General Sir David Ochterlony. The commander had successfully defended Delhi against the Marathas in 1804 and had ensured the East India Company s win against the Gurkhas in the Anglo-Nepalese War. Shaheed Minar, erected in 1828, was earlier known as Ochterlony Monument. The architect of the monument was JP Parker.

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden (in in Shibpur, three kilometers west of central Kolkata on the Howrah side of the Hooghly River) is one Kolkata’s most beautiful spots. It covers 109 hectares (270 acres) and boasts ponds, rare plants, orchids, bamboo and palms from all over the world. The 200-year-old great Banyan tree has 1,825 aerial roots and is 30 meters feet tall and has a circumference of 330 meters. Some say it is the largest such tree in the world; and others say it more of forest than a tree. Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: the garden is “said to house trees from five continents but its collection is poorly marked, the benches are broken and it seems better suited for canoodlers than botanists.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]

The Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden previously known as Indian Botanic Garden and Royal Botanic Garden, is generally called the Calcutta Botanical Garden, is situated Howrah near Kolkata. They are commonly known as the Calcutta Botanical Garden. The total collection contains over 12,000 specimens, including plants of the screw pine genus. Animals seen inside the Botanic Garden include jackals, Indian mongoose and the Indian fox. A variety of snakes are also found in the garden.

The gardens were founded in 1786 by Colonel Robert Kyd, an army officer of the British East India Company, primarily for the purpose of identifying new plants of commercial value, such as teak, and growing spices for trade. Joseph Dalton Hooker says of this Botanical Garden that "Amongst its greatest triumphs may be considered the introduction of the tea-plant from China ... the establishment of the tea-trade in the Himalaya and Assam is almost entirely the work of the superintendents of the gardens of Calcutta and Seharunpore (Saharanpur)." The gardens are open daily 8:00am to 4:30pm (91-33-2668-0554).

NEAR KOLKATA

Sights Near of Kolkata include Chandernagore (40 kilometers from Kolkata), a former French settlement with an interesting waterfront; Serampore (25 kilometers from Kolkata), a former Dutch settlement famous for Serampore College; Chinsura (45 kilometers from Kolkata), a Dutch settlement with grand mansions and temples; Hooghly (50 kilometers from Kolkata), the first English settlement in south Bengal (with a magnificent Imambara from Kolkata); and Bansberia (50 kilometers from Kolkata), with its exquisite traditional-style Bengali-style temple.

The ocean resorts of Puri and Palpur lie about 480 kilometers (300 miles) southwest of Kolkata on the Bay of Bengal and may be reached by overnight train. Hotel accommodations is limited. Visitors can swim and surf there . Also on the Bay of Bengal and only 4 hours from Kolkata by road is Digha, which has limited accommodations. The temples and caves of Bhubaneswar, Puri, Konarak, and other historic towns are 440 kilometers (275 miles) southwest of Kolkata in Orissa. One of the largest populations of tigers in the world is in the Sunderbans, a huge wetlands shared by India and Bangladesh, starting bout a 100 kilometers east of Kolkata. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is about 1050 kilometers (700 miles) northwest of Kolkata and is about one hour by air. The hill station town of Darjeeling is a hour's flight or an overnight train ride from Kolkata.

Bankura (200 kilometers north of Kolkata) is known for its beautiful terracotta temples, lush forests, scenic views as well as rich art and architecture. Endowed with a rugged topography of hills, Bankura also attracts hikers and trekkers. Among the popular sights aee Siddheswara Temple, Susunia Hill, Biharinath Hill and Koko Hill. A major attraction is the renowned Bankura horses that are used for both religious and decorative purposes. They are a fine example of terracotta craftsmanship and are distinguished by an erect neck and pointed ears. These horses are generally six inches to four feet in height and feature wide jaws. You can shop for these articles in Bishnupur, Nakaijuri, Kamardiha and Biboda, in West Bengal.

Bishnupur (near Bankura, five hour drive north of Kolkata) is an interesting city often bypassed tourists. Once the capital of the 17th century Malla kingdom, a small tribal kingdom, it is now a small town with "remarkable and wholly original" terra cotta shrines that merge Muslim, Hindu and animist images with unique improvisations by the artists. Some of the temples and building date back to the 1600s. Except for sharing the same building material, the temples look quite different from one another. The main attraction is the Madan Mohan Temple. During Govardhan Puja or Annakut, it draws a huge crowd . It is a spectacular sight to see hundreds gather and spread pieces of cloth to collect offerings of sanctified grain and rice thrown from the top of the temple.

Bethuadahari Wildlife Sanctuary (200 kilometers north of Kolkata, on NH 34, located 22 kilometers north of Krishna Nagar) boasts a variety of flora and fauna. Some of the common species you can spot are chital, gharial, porcupine, jackal, jungle cat and common langur. It is also richly populated with several bird species like parakeets, hawk, barbets, Indian cuckoo etc. The sanctuary is spread over an area of 70 hectare and lies adjacent to a prominent jute producing centre.

Digha (190 kilometers, four hour drive, south of Kolkata) is known for its peaceful, sand beaches, with shallow seas and mild waves, around seven kilometers in length. It is also known as 'Brighton of the East'. From here, one can also visit the nearby Mandarmani. Located in East Medinipur district, towards the north of the Bay of Bengal, this 13-kilometer-long beach is noted for red crabs. The waves here are gentler than Digha and many say it is the longest drivable beach in India.

On the Hooghly and Ganges Rivers

You can drive on the Grand Trunk Road along the Hooghly River. Boat rides are available at Diamond Harbor (50 kilometers from Kolkata) and Kakdwip (a two-hour drive from Kolkata). Diamond Harbor is where the Hooghly-Ganges-widens as bend towards the sea). Kidderpore Docks has traditionally been important for the tea and jute trade. India grows a good portion of of the world's tea and more than half of it used to be auctioned in this ten-story building on the Hooghly River near where the tea is shipped out. The Hooghly frequently silts up so many large ocean going vessels can no longer reach Kolkata; they dock 100 kilometers downstream in Haldia. Chandannagar (50 kilometers from Kolkata on the Ganges) has several historical buildings and a meditation centre. The Chandannagar Museum houses artefacts from the British and the French rule, along with relics from the Nawab rule. Tourists also head to Patal Bari (literally meaning the underground house), a house whose its lowest floor is submerged in the Ganges. The 200-year-old, French-style Sacred Heart Church is made of white stone and glows orange during sunsets.

Mukutmanipur (260 kilometers from Kolkata) is situated at the confluence of the Kangsabati and Kumari rivers at a beautiful natural spot with a reservoir. The Kangsabati Water Reservoir is a a great picnic spot. Mukutmanipur also is home of one of the biggest earthen dams in India.

Bandel (50 kilometers from Kolkata) is a town on the Ganges with a Roman Catholic church and monastery surrounded by a high wall. The church houses the statue of "My Lady of the Happy Voyage", the only left from a Portuguese church built in 1632 and destroyed by Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal. The statue was saved by a Christian who leapt into the Ganges with it. The Christian drowned but the statue was later found by Hindus and placed in the new church.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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