West Bengal Travel Guide

Bengal has rich cultural heritage and a glorious past dates back to 3rd century BC. The region has been ruled by Mauryas, Guptas, Palas, the Muslims and finally the British. Bengal is the birth place of many great personalities, philosophers, scientists, patriots, and home to five Nobel laureates – Ronald Ross, Sir C.V. Raman, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen. During British imperialism, this region was divided into two provinces of West Bengal and East Bengal followed the policy of “divide and rule” to curb the rising of national movement in India. Present Bangladesh is the region of East Bengal and West Bengal is one of the 28th states of Indian Union.

GEOGRAPHY

West Bengal is bordered by Nepal and Bangladesh and the states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Bihar, Sikkim, Assam, and Meghalaya in different directions. From north to south, it stretches from Himalayan Mountain to the Gangetic plain and the Bay of Bengal. The land is mostly plain except the northern region, which comes under the Himalayan mountain range. On the basis of landforms, the state can be divided into the following regions: Darjeeling Himalayan hill region, Terai region, North Bengal plains, Rarh region, Coastal plain, Sunderbans, Western plateau and high lands and Ganges delta.

CULTURE

The rebirth of Indian culture has taken place in this region of West Bengal which added a new chapter in the evolution of Indian history as Bengal Renaissance. This region is the land of Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Mother Teresa, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, Jagdish Chandra Basu, Dr. C. V. Raman, Satyendra Nath Basu, U. N. Bhramcharya, Meghnath Saha, G. D. Birla, Girendra Sekhar Basu, P. C. Mahalanabish, Sishir Kumar Mitra, Debendra Mohan Basu, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Saorjini Naidu, Amartya Sen, Saurav Ganguly and many more. The culture of Bengal is deep rooted in its soil and is distinguished by festivals, music, cinema, drama and literature. Festivals in a multidimensional scale are observed in spiritual ecstasy in the state especially during Durga Puja.

CUISINE

Bengalis are fond of Bhaat (rice) and Machher jhol (fish curry). There is a wide range of dishes and cuisines with variety of tastes. Most of the typical Bengali sweets have their origin in traditional household kitchens. The most famous of all Bengali sweet is the rasogolla (a kind of sweet) which is best eaten chilled.

PLACES OF INTEREST

There are three distinct types of landscape in West Bengal. First is the Red Soil famous for its rich color to the terracotta temple of Bishnupur, second is the Ganges Delta in lower Bengal where the Bengal tigers meander and the third is the charming Rajera Hill Stations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong lies in the foothills of the Himalayas in the northern part of West Bengal. Some of the famous India Tours and tourist destinations of West Bengal are Kolkata the capital of the state offers Birla Planetarium, Fort William, Botanical Garden, Zoological Garden, Eden Gardens, Nehru Children’s Museum, Howrah Bridge, Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, Nakhoda Mosque, St. Paul’s Cathedral Church and Kali Mandir of Kalighat. Some other excursions are Digha, Diamond Harbor, Haldia, Barrackpore, Chandernagore, Bandel, Sunderban Wildlife Sanctuary etc. Darjeeling one of the most magnificent hill resorts in the world with breathtaking beauty crowned by the majestic Himalayas. Siliguri the gateway of Eastern India as it is the main transit point for going to Darjeeling hill region, Sikkim, Bhutan, Eastern Nepal and Assam. Kurseong a quiet township between Siliguri and Darjeeling noted for its secluded charm and Eagle’s Crag. Kalimpong secluded and tucked away in the corner under big Darjeeling umbrella, offers a quiet and relaxed holiday, against the backdrop of the Kanchenjunga. Mirik a nest in the hills, a long lake, a floating fountain and the glory of Kanchenjungha reflected in the lake waters. Dooars Valley forms a gateway to the hill stations of North Bengal and Bhutan and famous for unending stretch of virgin forests. Lava commands panoramic view of Jelep La and Rechi La passes, also the gateway to the Neora National Park. Lolay Gaon gives panoramic view of Kanchenjunga. The East Himalayas land of infinite charm with scenic views of Kanchenjunga, bewildering greenery, tea gardens, adventure spots, trekking and lots more.

BEACHES

The coastal trip of West Bengal extending from the Gangetic delta land to the border of Orissa offers breathtaking and eye-catching beaches of Digha, Shankarpur, Junput, Bakkhali, Frazergunj and Sagardwip.

WILDLIFE OF BENGAL

West Bengal’s wild life offers a fascinating diversity of terrain, flora and fauna. It is a delight for nature lovers. It is the home to the World Heritage Site – Sunderbans. Other major wildlife sanctuaries and parks are as under:

1. Neora Valley National Park

The Neora Valley National Park is located in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal bordered on the east by Western Bhutan. The forest of Neora Valley is one of the least tracts of virgin wilderness in the country harbors a wealth of flora and fauna.

2. Buxa National Park

The Buxa Tiger Reserve is located in the north eastern corner of West Bengal bordering Bhutan and Assam. It comprises of deciduous forests which are densely wooded and grasslands and is home to some of West Bengal’s most varied flora and fauna.

3. Sunderban National Park

It is located in 24 Paraganas district, has been designated as a World Heritage Site in 1985 and is a part of the Project Tiger.

4. Singalila National Park

This National Park is famous for Rhododendron, Magnolia, Oak, Hemlock, Silver Fir, Juniper, Mailing Bamboo, Buk, Kawla, Bhujpatra etc. Fauna are leopard, serow, pangolin, elephant, chinkara takin, red panda, barking deer etc.

5. Gorumara National Park

Gorumara National Park is located in the Dooars region of Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal famous for its natural population of the Great Indian one horned Rhinoceros.

6. Jaldapara Wild Life Sanctuary

The sanctuary located in the Mountains of Bhutan and the confluence of river Torsa and Malangi is the home of several wild lives like one horned Indian Rhinos, Swamp Deer, wild boar, leopard and tigers.

WEST BENGAL FESTIVALS

The common and popular Bengali saying ‘Baro Mase Tero Parban’ which means thirteen festivals in twelve months that signifies the umpteen number of fairs and festivals that take place. Some of the famous festivals of West Bengal are Gangasagar Mela in South 24 Pargana, Kenduli Mela in Birbhum district, Jalpesh Mela in Jalpaiguri district, Vasanta Utsav in Birbhum district, Naba Barsho throughout West Bengal, Rathayatra in Hooghly district, Jhapan in Bankura district, Bera Utsav in Murshidabad district, Durga Puja and Deepavali throughout West Bengal, Rash Mela in Cooch Behar district, Jagaddhatri Puja in Hooghly district, Teesta Tea and Tourism Festival held in a series at Darjeeling, the Dooars and in Sikkim, Poush Mela in Birbhum district, Vishnupur Festival in Bankura district, Eid throughout West Bengal, Dol Purnima and Noboborsho.

CLIMATE

West Bengal has a tropical climate. The plains are hot except during the short winter season while the mountainous region in the north is cold. Generally there are six seasons – springs, summer, the rainy, autumn, mild winter and severe winter.

Too Good to Be Forgotten – Nobel Prize Winner Sigrid Undset

Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) was always considered a Norwegian writer, but she was actually born in the Danish city of Kalundborg. Her father, Ingvald, was an archeologist and her mother, Anna Charlotte, was the daughter of an attorney. It is obvious that intellectually Sigrid was most influenced by her father as she developed a never dying fascination with the medieval history and mythology of Scandinavia. She may have resented her mother’s criticism of religion, but she was nevertheless influenced by her down-to-earth attitude to life.

Unfortunately Ingvald died, only forty years old, which was a financial catastrophe for the family which had moved to Norway. Anna Charlotte had to sell his collections of books which Sigrid later on tried to hunt down and buy. However, the financial situation of the family made it necessary for her to train and work as a secretary and she worked as such for ten years while reading and dreaming on her spare time. Also she started to write herself, but her first historical novel was turned down with the words that she lacked talent for writing about history. The first one she had published was the “Fru Marta Oulie” (1907) about an unfaithful wife which was a shocking subject for some critics. This contemporary novel was followed by a collection of short stories, “Den Lykkelige Alder” (1908), but it was the historical novel, “Fort√¶llingen om Viga-Ljot og Vigdis” (1909) which got her the government scholarship that made it possible for her to stop her job as a secretary and become a full-time writer.

After “Jenny” (1911) she traveled widely in Europe, but in 1912 she married the Norwegian painter Anders Castus Svarstad who had three children from his previous marriage. In 1919 they separated and she settled down with her mentally retarded daughter, Maren Charlotte, and two sons. This development went parallel with the shift in religion that she underwent. When she converted to Catholicism she also had her marriage annulled. Over the years she had moved from a more traditional feminism, wanting jobs and social equality for young women, but then she started to argue for women keeping their traditional place in the home and not leaving it for jobs or careers. When she converted she was adamant that this was the place for women and that they should not give it up no matter what.

Her most famous novel and the one which earned her the Nobel Prize is the trilogy “Kristin Lavransdottir” (1920-22) which depicts women’s life in Catholic Norway of the 13th and 14th centuries. Kristin is the beautiful and spoilt daughter of Lavrans, based on her late father, who is seduced by the handsome Erlend and marries him, thus ending up in a hate-love relationship which tears at both of them and which makes her bitter. They have many children and problems abound, but being the housewife Kristin is the strong pillar of the family. In the end she dies, reconciled with God, and even welcoming her death.

In this fictive, medieval character Sigrid Undset depicts her women ideal as the strong centre of the family and society. Women in her works are depicted as someone above men because they have an ability to bring order and save families by sacrificing all that the traditional feminist movement fought for, i.e. individual freedom. I would say that what has been seen as blatant reaction is turned upside down and used by her to lift women to a higher position that they find in our time.

She published many more books, but she also took part in historical events like e.g. the resistance against Nazism. The money she won with her Nobel Prize she gave away, part of it to a foundation for mentally challenged children. She also sold her Nobel Prize medal and gave the money to the relief effort for Finnish children. When Norway was ockupied by the Nazis she joined the Resistance, and as she was very outspoken against Germany she had to flee the country and not return until after the war. She lived in Brooklyn, New York, and made friends with e.g. Willa Cather whose writing I think she may have influenced.

After returning home to Norway she was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav for her service to the country and for her distinguished literary work. She died in 1949 after having lost her mother, her daughter and her eldest son some ten years earlier.

Nobel Prize For Literature and a Poetry Book For the Ages

Why is it that Russian writers are so good at their trade? Some say that living in the Soviet Union as a good communist in the past has been quite trying at times and thus, they believe that it is this level of adversity that drives the strong character, and wisdom that embodies and enables these writers to excel. This does make sense and because there are so many, that must indeed have to be at least part of the equation.

Poetry, especially good poetry is a treat to read, it makes you think and consider all that is, it drives creativity, emotion, passion and thought. If this is why you read or write poetry and this too is part of your life’s philosophy, then perhaps, I might be so bold as to recommend one of the greatest poetry collections available. This is a book I own personally and have gotten much insight from. I hereby recommend this poetry collection to you:

“The Poems of Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak; Hallmark Editions, Kansas City, Missouri; 1967

Although this was written in 1967, these poems are timeless and beautiful and indeed some of the best poetry I have had the chance to ever read. This book is also wonderfully illustrated by none other than Mr. Bill Greer, which is quite a treat indeed.

As you know if you are a scholarly type of fine literature, Boris Pasternak won a noble prize in literature for his famous novel in 1958, yet, he never traveled to retrieve the prize. Had he done so he would not have been allowed to return to the country he loved. I hope you will add this book to your poetry collection shelf.