Meandering up the Hooghly river, you’ll come across city after city where major European colonial powers tried to get a toehold—the British in Kolkata, the Portuguese in Bandel, the French in Chandernagore, the Dutch in Chinsurah and the Danes in Serampore. While colonisation efforts met with varying degrees of success, each of these cities retains architectural memories of those times while the river Hooghly remained as a mirror of the flowing time. And time can be multi layered… which keeps on with the rhythm of events and motions of life.
Serampore, a small town situated at the banks of river Hooghly was once ruled by the Danes between 1755 and 1845. Added to its historic value, the town boasts of historic architectures like Danish Government House, Serampore College, Doric columns of the Catholic Church, Carey Museum and the Danish Tavern – a restored heritage property with contemporary ambience. Chandernagar, yet another historical town nearby and once a French Colony depict its history and culture with architectures like Dupleix House by the river strand – now a home to Indo French Cultural Centre and a museum, the striking 19th Century Sacred Heart Church with its beautiful stained glass windows, the striking monument with colonnaded porch and large windows of St Joseph’s Convent. A few kilometers down the river Hooghly, Bandel – a former Portugese trading post dating back to 1597 is famous for Bandel Basilica. This oldest church of Bengal is justly famed for its stained glass windows and the view of jubilee bridge from its top balcony. A small drive takes you to another riverside town – Chinsurah where the Dutch pitched their tent in early 17th Century. Mossy tombstones of the Dutch Cemetery are the few which have survived. The town well preserved the cenotaph of Sussana Ammaria – an example of Indo Dutch architecture with arched gateways and windows on an octagonal tower crowned by a dome.
The pasture constitutes the Sundarbans on the islands of the Gangetic delta with its ever-shifting tides, mud flats and thick mangrove forests forms a vast natural labyrinth that overwhelms the senses. It is the largest mangrove forest in the world and has been inscribed as UNESCO world heritage site. Sunderban is a Tiger Reserve, home to Royal Bengal Tigers- an almost extinct species who swim in the saline water and are often man-eating varieties. It is also a Biosphere reserve that provides a complete nature’s circle to the tourist right from ‘Royal Bengal tigers’ to roaring rivers and beautiful estuaries. Travel with honey collectors to harvest honey from kolshay flowers, visit the local market, take a boat to the Sajnekhali watchtower and spend your day trying to spot a tiger, or just picnic on the launch as the magical forest whispers beside you. The Sunderbans is great for birding, especially in the winter months when migratory birds join their endemic species amidst the mangroves. Do not miss a chance to watch the local drama troupe, the Bonbibi Theatre, enact mythical stories of the goddess of the mangroves and her tiger antagonist, Dakkhin Ray.
Kolkata, the capital of the state and India’s second largest city is a thriving metropolis gleaming with ongoing festival of human existence, concurrently luxurious and squalid, refined and frantic and pointedly futuristic. Popularly known as the City of Joy, Kolkata is in every sense driven by its indomitable spirit of artistic, cultural, historical, religious and intellectual penchant. The city has created a beautiful juxtaposition of the old colonial era charm with the nascent upcoming hipster culture that thrives among the city’s millennial residents. Kolkata has a distinct tinge of its royal past lingering in every nook and corner of the city. Whether it is the people, or the great street food, the ‘mishti’ sweets of Bengal, the Durga Pujo festivities, the trams, the metro, the river banks, the yellow coloured ambassador cabs, the hand pulling rickshaw, the ethnicity, the music, Kolkata has the feel of the entire Indian culture. Kolkata offers a wide range of picturesque beauty and a welcoming smile to every tourist. Tourists will hardly ever run out of things to do in Kolkata. Starting from Kumartuli, a traditional potters’ quarter famed for its sculpted idols of Gods and demons, to the architectural spectacle, that is the Howrah Bridge, Kolkata city will engulf you with its sights, sounds and scents. Kolkata’s biggest and most prismatic wholesale flower market on Mullick Ghat, Victoria Memorial, the old Chinatown Tiretta Bazaar, the magnificent Nakhoda Masjid and Jorasankho (Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral home) are few of the most picturesque places to visit.
If you want to soak in some of the city’s regal past, take a heritage walk along the streets of Central & North Kolkata, which houses some of the oldest mansions in the city, swathed with vines and a persistent sense of aristocratic pride mostly replicating the typical Victorian and neo gothic architecture. There are few architectures which represent Kolkata’s splendid landmarks. Each of them are veritable masterpieces with their distinctive features and look with some history attached. The Hooghly strand is a place of great relief and gives a serene feeling of peace and tranquility from the hustle bustle of the city.
Bengal has a coastal line adored with beach resorted situated not too far away from Kolkata. Beaches near Kolkata make life for those living in the city eventful, and not to mention adventurous as well.
From an array of casuarinas to swaying palms and muddy beaches to a carpet of red crabs top beach destinations near Kolkata offer a variety of interesting experiences. Beaches at Digha, Shankarpur, Mandarmani and Tajpur are some of the best getaways from Kolkata. A Fishing Harbour Project is a major attraction in Shankarpur. Mandarmani is a promising weekend destination for travellers who are seeking something more than a regular beach experience like sunbathing and swimming with its vast expanse. The sleepy fishing village of this drive in beach makes it more alluring for travellers. Tajpur gives some mesmerising experience where flying cranes and other birds in the coolness of the sea breeze or the warmth of the sun. The red crabs seen in plenty numbers getting disappeared in the sand once approached close to them is a unique sight.
In all Gangetic Bengal has a bountiful offering to fulfill the penchant of an ardent traveler. It is its beauty, culture, cuisine, history, architecture and the livelihood that speaks about itself and makes it stand apart on its own statute and grandeur.