Offbeat destinations in West Bengal - Part 1

Updated: Nov 3, 2021



West Bengal - also known as the sweetest part of India, is predominantly known for roshogollas, mishti doi, and ilish machh. If I ask you about West Bengal, you'd not be mistaken to associate with the Howrah bridge, and a few more other landmarks that are mostly advertised in the mainstream media, if done at all.

But, I am here to tell you about a different part of Bengal altogether - the part that is most often ignored. If you see the geographical map of India and look at this particular state, it stretches all the way from the lofty mountains of the Himalayan range, passes through the Gangetic plains, and ends at the vast Bay of Bengal. So it is safe to say that, whichever type of terrain you are looking forward to your trip, you can find it here.

The main issue is that most of these places are either not known or not visited much by tourists. Let alone people from outside the state, even I, like most of the people of my own state, also didn't know about what my state has to offer until I was stuck at home and had so much of that travel itch, that I started to look at what my state has to offer.

So, here I present to you some of the places that I found that you wouldn't have known otherwise... at least 90% of them. But before that, let's look at some key details about West Bengal.


Places Index (click here if you want to go to that particular section)


When to visit

Technically, you can visit anytime you want, but I find the summers a bit humid for my own taste. But if that doesn't bother you, then you're welcome all year round.


Language

Most of the people speak Bengali here, but you'd be at ease as the majority of the population can either speak Hindi or English, if not and every broken Hindi is sure to be found in most places.


The taste

Most of the people associate Bengalis with roshogolla, misti doi, and maach (I swear.. don't call it maachi, it means 'fly', we eat fish, not flies). Well, keeping that aside, I am happy to let you know that the local cuisine comprises a number of flavors! Among them, kosha mangsho, fulko luchi, mutton biryani is popular. Among quick snacks is the piping hot jhal muri with crispy beguni, however, the options are endless!

From Left to Right, starting from top: Misti doi, Kosha Mangsho, Shorshe Ilish, Biryani, Phucka, Roshogolla, Beguni, Jhalmuri in a paper envelope, Classic Bengali meal on on a Brass plate.

Of course, there are a thousand more dishes that are prepared in a variety of ways like, alu potol posto, mochar gonto, sorshe ilish, and how did I forget... phucka.. you can never beat a bengali in a phuchka eating contest.

I have mentioned many foods in bengali language. I'll share another blog on how they are cooked and what they are called within a week or 2.

Let's keep food aside, for now, otherwise, I'll keep writing about food and forget about the places! Trust me when I say that I tried to write the food descriptions and the blog turned more of a food post more than a travel post. Do subscribe to my blog so that I can notify you when I post the new blog.


Without wasting any time, let us go directly to the places...






Kurseong:

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway-Built in 1879 to 1881 and still operational, it carries passengers between Darjeeling and New Jalpaiguri and passes through the main town of Kurseong

To start, it's my dream place. Also known as the "Land of White Orchids", Kurseong is a small, but equally beautiful hill town near Darjeeling, West Bengal. I do have a whole post about this place, if you want to read it, click here. This town mainly grew up along the Hill Cart Road and it seems like it is stuck in time since then. The area mainly comprises the main town, tea gardens, lakes, and vast dense forests of pine and other coniferous trees along the hill slopes. If you are staying here, you can hear the steam engine from the toy train of Darjeeling Railway and even see it negotiating its way up the hills. There are lots of places to see in and near this town so you can make this your base if you want to explore the northern part of the state.


From left to right: Kurseong town, Kuchenjunga rage as seen from Kurseong, Dow-Hill forest.

In terms of shopping, there is not much to do here, but I'd highly recommend 'Kay Deez'- A local farm produce and edibles store run by 'Pema Tshering Lama', a middle-aged man who is very passionate about what he does and also for the place itself. He dreams that Kurseong would one day become a prime tourist destination in the area.

The shop is located at 10 M.V. Road, Park location, Beside the Cambridge English school.

I will try to contact him and if I am successful, I'll dedicate a whole post on him and what he does.


Mirik:

Mirik lies near Kurseong but is even less popular. It lies midway between Darjeeling and Siliguri/NJP. Being at a lower altitude, the weather is on the mild colder side throughout the year, but during winter nights the temperature may drop to near 2 C, but during the day it stays at a comfortable 10-15 C.


From left to right: Boating activities on the Mirik lake, Trees on the western bank, Bokar monastery.

The central attraction in Mirik is the 1.25 km long lake (locally known as Sumendu lake) with Dhupi trees on the western bank creating a natural place to relax among the greenery or to take a stroll with your significant other. The eastern side has a large park with flowering plants. In all terms, Mirik is a peaceful, tranquil, laid-back hill town. There are places from where you can get mesmerizing views of the Kanchenjunga snow peaks with vast tea gardens on the hill slopes in the foreground. Mirik is all about the natural views it has to offer, from splendid views of sunsets and sunrise to the widespread orchid fields that bloom here; this place has got it all.







Valley of flowers (Khirai):

No, I am not talking about the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand. Believe it or not, West Bengal has its own Valley of flowers in the small village of Khirai, near Panskura, in the East Midnapore district of West Bengal. Although it is called a valley, there are no hills or mountains near it. But you'd be mistaken if you think that this place isn't beautiful. The whole place lies on the bank of a river and is fairly plain, so you have a view of the whole place. This place produces flowers like Chrysanthemum, Karen, and Marigold that are then sent out across India.


From left to right: Khirai railway station, Chrysanthemum flowers in full bloom, Khirai as seen from top

The best time to visit this place would be in the winters, as this is the time when the flowers will be in their full bloom and you'll be able to enjoy the sight and the fragrance without having to endure the scorching heat of the summer.


Purulia:

Winding roads going up the hills in Purulia

Purulia can be compared to a city but is also not a city (it's a bit complicated, I'll try my best to explain). Some parts of Purulia are almost comparable to a big city with restaurants, malls, and markets, but just move 2-3 km in any direction and you'll reach the vast plains with small lakes and agricultural fields with small villages spread here and there. You won't even realize that you are so close to a sprawling city. The best part about Purulia is that it has its own hill station with a waterfall, forest, and adventure activities for everyone.

The whole city is built around a huge lake (locally known as Saheb Bandh) and is a place to watch several migratory birds in the winters. These birds come all the way from Baluchistan and Siberia.

If you move towards the south of the city, you'll reach the hilly areas; Ajodhya and Panchet hill ranges. Both these ranges have numerous smaller hills within them. There is an abundant number of places to stay and indulge in Zip-lining, Rock climbing, Rappeling, Cavecamping, and many others.


From left to right: Hills in Purulia as seen from a distance, a small waterfall among the many that are present in the area, marble lake at the base of a hill.

Do you know, Purulia has its own dance form called Chhau dance. It is a form of tribal martial dance form of India and is believed to have originated in the former princely state of Mayurbhanj. As of now, it has become integrated to the tribal culture in and around purulia and is usually performed in many occasions. The dance is always performed on the ground wherever possible and tells a story of the gods through dance and music. One can identify this dance by the use of its masks. They are large in size and are significant to the dance form.


From left to right: Close up photo of the mask used in Chhau dance, costume in the dance, performance in the dance (every step in the dance has a historical event behind it)

The masks are only made in Charida village at Baghmundi block of Purulia and the knowledge is passed down by generations of artisans. The artist needs to know the correct and detailed knowledge of mythology and the epics so that they can convey the appropriate mood through the facial expressions of the mask.


Tajpur Beach:

Tajpur beach is situated just 16 km away from Digha and is much cleaner and much less crowded than it.

Tajpur's main attraction is the beautiful beach that is lined with dense Tamarisk trees (locally known as Jhau trees). In the daytime, you can see crabs on the clean sand and the sound of seagulls feeding on fish. Also, you can experience fishermen going about their daily life.

This place offers an abundance of adventure activities and you can choose from paragliding, banana boat, snorkeling, kayaking, coastal biking, water zorbing, rafting, boating, and fishing, among others. Being in a coastal area, it experiences a pleasant climate all year round.


From left to right: Tajpur beach, Shacks along the beach selling food items, red crabs found in the beach

If you love to explore the culinary attractions of a place, this place has many things on offer. You can either visit the local villages to enjoy the local cuisine there. Or you can enjoy delicious seafood at the shacks along the beach. Having flavourful seafood, with chilled beer, while soaking in the beautiful beach views is an experience in itself. You can also try the crab curry here, according to travelers, this is one of the must-haves.

So what do you think about these places? Want to read more, click here to go to the next blog in this series. If you have visited any of them, I'd love to hear from you. Or if you want to visit and need some information, just drop me an email at terrestrial.astronaut@gmail.com or comment down below and I'll surely help you out as best as I can.


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Disclaimer: "Some of the pictures on this page are not taken by me and I don't claim any rights to the pictures. The credits go to the respective owners of the pictures. "