Cultural exuberance is wafting across West Bengal eliciting fervent tourism. Ratnadeep Banerji shares some vignettes of this rhapsody that enticed 11 nations in the days of yore.
Bengal is imbued with art and culture. The Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee herself is a poet, painter and writer proving herself an embodiment of the state. The state is ideal for tourism from both its cultural legacy as well as geographical bounty. The government initiatives on the tourism front live up to the Chief Minister’s apperception.
A robust infrastructure for tourism is on the cards. In the current fiscal year, Bengal has earmarked 120 crores for tourism sector, 33 percent more than last year’s tourism budget. The Tourism Minister of West Bengal, KN Choudhury stresses, ‘There is need to adopt pro-poor tourism for accruing the benefits to the poor and ensuring that tourism growth contributes to poverty reduction.’
West Bengal verily bears imprint of the plurality of Indian subcontinent, be it ethnicity, geographical variation or cultural. Bengali population comprises of Dravidian, Aryan and Mongoloid races. Stretching from the arid Chhotanagpur plateau region in the west, lofty Himalayas in the north, pristine sea beaches and a skein of rivers makes it an exalted conflation to intrepid travellers be it for discerning history or lapping up nature or partake the gaiety of festivals.
Cruising to explore heritage
The lower stretch of Ganga for centuries has beckoned adventurers. The list includes Persians, Turko Afghans, Europeans, Portuguese, Dutch French, Danes, Germans, Austrians, Armenians and finally the British.
West Bengal has several pilgrimage sites that can be anticipated through the river. Places like Mayapur and Dakhineswar can be approached while savouring riparian delights. The Sunderban area offers a prolific spot to bring up Jungle Safari cruise though some narrow creeks and shallow waters have to be left out. But care should be taken that the sound level does not perturb the fauna and the tranquility of the placid waters. The circuit starts from Kolkata passing through tidal creeks touching upon Namkhana, Bakkhali, Lothian Island, Henry Island, Bhagabatpur, Netidhopani, Dorbanki and retreating from Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve. The Kolkata Heritage River Cruise – The circuit starts with sailing downstream from Kolkata and proceeding up to Murshidabad. This entire riverine stretch redeems Muslim, Hindu and European architecture and culture of the bygone days.
Tea Tourism at Sylee
The Sylee Tea Estate in the dooars is crisscrossed with rivulets, rivers, hills and verdant tree plantation. The area is excellent for bird watching and catching a glimpse of one-horn rhino. The Tourism Department has acquired a land of around 90 acres,intended to be developed through a public private partnership. An areaof 2.5 acres has been set aside for art and craft centre. The plot is located 47 km from Siliguri and 62 kms from Bagdogra.
Eco Tourism at Kunjanagar
This project with the existing dense forest areas and children’s park is planned 26 km from Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and 71 km from Gorumara Wildlife Sanctuary. This region has a throbbing presence of Mech, Rava, Nepalese, Tamang and Toto tribe of people.
This site is proposed within Hilly block of South Dinajpur. Over twenty seven different varieties of migratory avian species throng this area. Asian open bill storks, egrets, little green bee eater, barbets, night herons and peregrine falcons are some of them. Bird watching rides will be provided by manually operated country boats. Provisions for bird rescue shelter, watchtower, bird museum and canopy walk amidst the habitat is also planned. Besides, tourists may be provided glimpses of the Santhal and Oraon tribal dance shows and home stay arrangements with the tribal.
The Jharkhali tourism hub in Sundarban
India has 38% of Sunderban delta, the biggest in the world, reckoned as world heritage site owing to exceptional biodiversity of the region. The Indian part has approximately 4264sqkms. Jharkhali is the gateway to Sunderban. It is situated at the edge of the reserve forest area surrounded by River Matla, Vidyadhari and Herobhanga. The tourism department has over 100 acres to be developed as a tourism hub. This proposed site is 110 kms from Kolkata, located on the fringes of forest area adjacent to the proposed Tiger Rescue Centre.
The creeks of Sundarbans host estuarine crocodile, Salvator lizard (water monitor), river terrapin, horseshoe or king crab and varieties of turtles – olive Ridley turtles, green turtles and Hawk’s bill turtles. The world’s largest mangrove forest is also the bastion of the royal Bengal tiger.
Watersports on the beaches
The coastal strip of West Bengal extending from the Gangetic delta land to the border of Orissa, presents idyllic choice of sea resorts. Digha, Shankarpur, Mandarmani, Bakkhali, Gangasagar, Sagardwip and
Tajpur offer flat beaches. Water skiing and some other watersports are available at these centres. The Government of West Bengal is roping in public private partnership to tap the available potential.
Gajoldoba Tourism Hub
Gajoldoba is located in the Dooars of North Bengal covering over 208 acres of unencumbered land. The Gajoldoba Tourism Hub is being structured as an integrated multi-product mega tourism park. The project site is a part of the terai-dooars forest circuit giving the tourist an opportunity to visit a range of the best of wildlife parks in the country. As many as 7 wildlife parks fall around its ambit – Gorumara National Park, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary, Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Baikunthapur Forest and the Neora Valley. The project is poised between the Teesta Barrage and the Baikunthapur Forest offering splendid view of the Sikkim Hills.
This site is only 25 km from Siliguri, the second largest city in West Bengal and stands right at the entry to the northeastern states as well as falls adjacent to Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. From Gajoldoba Tourism Hub, New Jalpaiguri is just 18 km and Bagdogra Airport falls 40 km away.
The masterplan envisages 5 acres of camping area with log huts and 12 acres been earmarked for botanical garden and herbarium park. A huge area of 18 acres is set for water body. A golf course is also on the cards.
Department of Tourism, Government of West Bengal is promoting several lesser known places, monuments and facets of Bengali culture.
- Royal Palace (Rajbari) of Krishnanagar in Nadia district has collections of rare antiques and exquisite wall decorations. Krishnanagar clay figures are exquisite in their expressions.
- In the district of Purulia, the village Banda is famous for a solitary temple built in the ‘rekha’ style with a broken amalaka. The base mouldings and the exquisite floral fabrications throughout the outer and the inner sections of the temple walls is impressive. There is another such lone surviving temple of Rekhi style at Telkupi. Pakbirrah is the largest centre for Jain art with an archaeological museum maintained by Government of West Bengal. The remnants of 17th century civilization have been discovered in Cheiama village. The terracotta figurines and the exclusive carvings around the temples of Cheliama are proof of prosperity in the 17th century.
- Mungpo in Darjeeling district was visited by Rabindranath Tagore. While staying there in the bungalow of Dr MM Sen, Tagore composed numerous poems, articles, letters, stories and paintings. Many a times, he used to recite his poems here. In 1940, one year before his death he had visited this bunglow for the fourth time. His birthday on 25th Baisak was celebrated here with the local hillmen. That very day, Tagore composed three poems.
- Morgan House at Kalimpong is an old colonial bungalow. It is under West Bengal Tourist Development Corporation. Kalimpong also has a golf course.Mac Farlane Church in Kalimpong has a magnificent architecture. This Roman Catholic Church was built in 1890 and has symbols and wall paintings worth seeing.
- Buxa Fort was initially built by the rulers of Bhutan to guard the trade route. During the British rule this was used as a high security prison for freedom fighters and was the most dreaded and impregnable prison in India after the Cellular Jail in the Andaman. NetajiSubhash Chandra Bose is said to have been in detention here for some time here. The prisoners had once writte a letter to Rabindranath Tagore and even received a reply. Buxa Fort now almost in ruins stands 30 km from Alipurduar.
- Buddhist sites in West Bengal like Dhosa, Tilpi, Moghalmari is a revelation.
- Lava near Kalimpong is perched at a height of 7016 feet is a haven for bird watchers. Rare animals like red panda. Clouded leopard and golden cats can be easily spotted.
- The district of Malda has several ancient mosques of India. Bara Sona mosque, QadumRasul Mosque and Lattan Mosque at Gaur and Adina mosque at Pandua is worth a mention.
- Sandakphu at 3636m is the highest point in West Bengal-Sikkim border. It has over 600 species of wild orchids
- Sangalila National Park, Gorumara National Park, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary beckon nature lovers.
State Tourism secretary, VikramSen in upbeat mood says,’The state government is spearheading to tap the immense potential of tourism in Bengal holding out the true picture. We have roped in Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) as well as Adventure Tour Operators Association (ATOI). We have put congenial terms for public-private partnership.The Buddhist circuit and river cruises will go a long way.’
Gorbhanga village in Nadia district is home of Bauls often called Sufi Fakirs. They sing marfati songs while strumming dotara. A resource centre has been built with the support of banglanatak dot com and the European Union. Here one may sit with the bauls and get to know their philosophy.Next GorbhangaFakiriUtsav is slated to happen on 17-19 January, 2014. A whiff of the rustic splendour of Rabha dance and Bhawaiya songs or Gambhira and Domni dance lets out the tenor of bucolic Bengal.
(The writer is a senior journalist with varied interests, reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org)