I'm posting few weekend gateway or one day tour destinations near Kolkata. Hope you'll like it...


Sukharia, a quaint village between Balagarh and Somra Bazar railway stations in Hooghly district, has the distinction of being the site of some of the finest temple architecture of Bengal. Sadly most haven’t withstood the vagaries of time.
A few have been rebuilt but the modern structures lack the grace or beauty of their historic counterparts. Even then, a trip to Sukharia gives one a rare insight into the diversity and richness of Bengal’s temple architecture.
Take the morning Katwa local from Howrah station and get down at Somra Bazar. Ask for directions to the Siddeshwari Kali temple. A walk for about 20 minutes along the village road will take you to the temple.
Standing under an ancient banyan tree, the temple overlooks the Hooghly, offering a grand view stretching to Sabuj Dwip (the green island), a popular picnic spot approachable from Chinsurah.
The flat-roofed Siddeshwari temple, built in 1785, is considered to be the oldest in Sukharia. The temple has been reconstructed and local residents speak enthusiastically about it. But the reconstructed temple with a single-pinnacle concrete roof and cement-plastered walls and pillars have wiped out centuries of history.
Next, follow the same trail towards the Ananda Bhairavi temple, the star attraction of Sukharia. Soon you will be greeted by the reflection of the towering temple on the adjacent lake, along with those of a number of smaller temples in the complex.
Built in 1813 by Bireshwar Mustafi, the three-storeyed Ananda Bhairavi temple is crowned with 25 pinnacles. The four corners of the first level are crowned with three pinnacles each (3 x 4 = 12), the four corners of the second level are crowned with two pinnacles each (2 x 4 = 8), the third level comes with a pinnacle at each corner and also a central pinnacle (4 + 1 = 5).
This is an extremely rare form of temple architecture and according to some, there are only five such temples in West Bengal.
The approach to the Ananda Bhairavi temple, housing the idol of Anandamoyee Kali, is flanked by two parallel rows containing six temples each. Five of the temples on each row are aatchalas (eight-sloped roof). One temple on each flank has a pancharatna (five-pinnacle) roof.

One of the pancharatna temples is dedicated to Ganesha, while the other nine house shivalingas. The temple has undergone repeated renovation and reconstruction and in the process, lost much of its old-world charm.
Next to the Ananda Bhairavi temple lies Radha Kunja, the ancestral palace of the Mustafi family. Although in ruins, the family Durga Puja is still held there.
Next, head for the Hara Sundari temple. Built in 1813, this nabaratna (nine-pinnacle) structure is similar to the Ananda Bhairavi temple. Only in this case each row consists of seven temples, comprising two pancharatna and five aatchala temples. Reconstruction has taken its toll on this temple too.
Next to the Hara Sundari temple stands the Nistarini temple. Built in 1847 by the Mustafi family, this nabaratna edifice has dome-shaped pinnacles.
The temple was once flanked by a natmandir but it has long collapsed. Four pillars are all that remains of it. It’s the same story for the Mustafi family’s thakur dalan. A few pillars and arches bear testimony to a glorious past.

Take the Howrah-Katwa local (7.54am). Get off at Somra Bazar. The 68km journey takes around two hours. The temples are located close to each other and have to be covered on foot.

Sukharia is ideal for a day trip from the city. A few eateries near the station offer basic fare. 


Bansberia is ideal for spending a Sunday away from home but not too far away. The main attraction in this village are temples with intricate terracotta works that inspired Rabindranath Tagore. Moved by the art, the poet had asked Nandalal Bose to document the panels on the temple walls.
Bansberia, 48km from Howrah, is an hour’s journey along the Howrah-Katwa rail line. Take a morning train for a comfortable journey.
A short bumpy rickshaw ride from the station will take you to the temple complex, which houses two unique pieces of Bengal architecture.
The Hangseshwari temple, which betrays tantric influences, is the better known of the Bansberia structures, but the adjoining Ananta Basudeb temple, small and elegant and crowned by an octagonal turret, is no less interesting.
The history of Bansberia dates back to the days of Shah Jahan. In 1656, the Mughal emperor appointed Raghab Dattaroy of Patuli as the zamindar of an area that includes the present-day Bansberia. Legend has it that Raghab’s son Rameshwar cleared a bamboo grove to build a fort, inspiring the name Bansberia.
The Ananta Basudeb temple was constructed by Rameshwar Datta in 1679. Three sides of the one-storeyed temple are decorated with richly carved terracotta panels. The turret also contains terracotta carvings.
The panels depict gods and goddess, love and war scenes and glimpses of everyday life.
The 21-metre high, five-storeyed Hangseshwari temple has 13 domes shaped like lotus buds. The structure has similarities with St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, which is also known as the onion dome church.
The temple was constructed in 1814 by the wife of Nrisinghadeb, the grandson of Rameshwar. Nrisinghadeb was a follower of a Tantric cult and had spent his last seven years (1792-99) in Varanasi practicing its rites.
The temple was constructed after his death by his wife Sankari, as a tribute to him. With its unique shape, it stands out among Bengal temples. An arched gateway leads to its sanctum sanctorum, where an idol of Hangseshwari is placed on a lotus.
The inner chamber is connected to the domes through narrow passageways, said to represent the nerves in a human body. Entry to the passageways is restricted for tourists.
Next to the temple are the remains of the Dattaroy palace. Fragments of arches and broken walls are all that can be seen today.
After a tour of the temple compound, take a stroll along the Hooghly to admire the Ishwar Gupta bridge.
Trip tips
A Howrah-Katwa local leaves Howrah at 7.53am. You can also opt for the Sealdah-Katwa local that leaves at 7.57am. Cycle-rickshaws are the only transport option in Bansberia.
You can stop at Bandel, which offers various attractions. Bandel is well-connected with Bansberia.
Eateries near the temple complex serve lunch at a reasonable price. There are evening trains back to the city.


The main attraction in Phuleswar — a small town in Howrah district — is the Hooghly. The river is wide and expansive here, offering a breathtaking view. Gulls and kingfishers can be seen darting into the water to catch fish, while local fishermen spread their nets for the day’s catch.
The riverside is covered in thick grass and dotted with lush green trees, making Phuleswar an ideal destination to revive your senses in the lap of nature. The shade of the trees makes the river bank an ideal spot for a picnic.
One can hire a boat and cruise on the river. The wind is fresh and pure, a rarity for today’s city-dwellers. Watching the sun set into the horizon is a unique experience on the banks of the Hooghly.
Take a train from Howrah station that goes to Kharagpur. Get down at Phuleswar or Uluberia. Phuleswar is a 15-minute bus journey from Uluberia. By road, take NH-6 and turn left at Uluberia
You can stay at the Uluberia Kalibari or a lodge. Uluberia and Phuleswar have hotels too. One can also stay at the bungalow of the irrigation department — Kalsaba Dakbungalow. Booking is available at the Howrah irrigation division’s office at 11A Free School Street


Tucked away in a corner of the Howrah district, Gadiara is just right to de-stress over the weekend. The town is approximately 100 km from Calcutta and can be reached by car. At this time of the year, the greenery along the way is soothing to the eye and a welcome change.
Vegetarians beware! Gadiara, situated at the confluence of the Hooghly, Damodar and the Rupnarayan, is a haven for fish-lovers. They will have the pleasure of choosing from a wide variety of freshwater fish that is caught by fishermen whose boats dot the banks of the river.
The New Chalantika Tourist Lodge, situated near the bus stand, provides an excellent view of the large expanse of water and the fishing boats. The river here is so wide that it appears like a sea.
Even at the peak of summer, the rooms of the lodge facing the river do not even require a fan, leave alone an airconditioner. We were told that there is no electricity supply at night, but that hardly matters. I wonder why companies don’t tap into the enormous potential of generating wind energy here.
Evening walk on the riverbank is an invigorating experience. The breeze from the river, the fishing boats and the sight of locals wading through waist-deep water to net baby shrimps can help one forget city life. Sit back to enjoy the serenity of the surroundings.
A rickshaw ride from the lodge to the jetty under a starry sky can be memorable. Our guide was a 20-year-old called Gopal, the eldest of a brood of 10. He told us that Geonkhali and Nurpur on the opposite bank were worth a visit.
Various options of varying degrees of risk — from country boats and dinghies to the more dependable ferry — are available for the trip to the other side. For the more adventurous, speedboats are available.
For those looking for a refreshing weekend with good Bengali food, with the Rupnarayan ilish, Gadiara is paradise. And yes, you must try the freshly made rasogolla!

Trip tips
Drive down Kona Expressway to NH4 and then take a left turn at Bagnan. Apart from the traffic snarl at Bagnan level crossing, the drive is pretty smooth. The speed-breakers are unusually high though. Apart from the state tourism development corporation lodge, there are private options. Room rates vary from Rs 250 to Rs 350 per night.

Garh Salboni

A few hundred kilometres and a mere three-hour journey from the humdrum of Calcutta is a serene spot called Garh Salboni. As the train travels towards Jhargram, the soothing greenery on either side gives way to red rocky soil.
There are quite a few guesthouses, resorts and lodges here, about 10-15 minutes from the station. If you book in advance, the pick-up jeep will be at the station to welcome you. After a rejuvenating cup of tea at your chosen resting place, go for a walk through avenues lined with sal, piyal, segun and eucalyptus trees, to Jangal Mahal.
The place bears no resemblance to its name. It?s a beautiful garden with rose, dahlia and bougainvillaea in a riot of colours, and a wide variety of trees ? neem, mango, guava, sal, segun, cashew? You can?t help but admire the passion and painstaking effort of the person behind this lovely garden.
Tranquillity and serenity are the keys to the forest experience here. The fragrance of the mohua may intoxicate you more than a peg of an alcoholic beverage. Silence reigns, but as you tread the path, the murmur of dry leaves under your feet will announce the arrival of visitors.
There are some textile workshops here. In fact, they will print designs chosen by you on bedsheets and pillow covers. The quality of the material is good, the colour lasts long. What else could you ask for? Wandering around Garh Salboni in the evening is not safe since elephants from the nearby Dalma mountains sometimes venture down for a stroll. You could just sit back and relax under the starry sky and listen to music of the forest. The eerie silence and the calmness act as a balm on frayed city nerves.
A sightseeing trip the following day is a good idea. First on the list should be a visit to the Kanakdurga temple in Chilkigarh, situated on the banks of the Dulung river. The waterbody looks like a nullah during summers, but blossoms and takes shape in the rainy season. At the temple, Durga is three-eyed, four-handed and on horseback. There?s a myth surrounding the temple, originally founded by Raja Ballabh Dev about 600 years ago.

When he was killed by one of his subordinates, his wife cursed the goddess saying she would never get her offerings and that the temple would be destroyed by thunder and lightning. The new structure is in the same courtyard as the ruins of the old one.
The Jhargram palace has been converted into a government tourist lodge. Staying here takes you back in time, but without the grandeur of the past. If time permits, visit the Savitri and Manasadevi temples. Children will enjoy the deer park that also houses monkeys, bears, star tortoises, wolves and peacocks, besides playthings like see-saw, slide and swing.
We also dropped in at a neighbouring village, Jitusole. Most houses are made of mud with roofs of hay, but the villagers are very friendly. Don?t be surprised by an invitation to have muri, roasted on clay ovens.
A weekend trip to Garh Salboni is enough to recharge your batteries. Silence and serenity, words we city slickers find only in the dictionary, are life itself here.
From Howrah, take Ispat Express in the morning or Tata Steel Express in the evening. Get off at Jhargram station and hire a car to Garh Salboni

Joydip Guest House (953221-262377). Calcutta contact: Ashok Kumar Mazumdar (25295640). Room rates vary from Rs 88 to Rs 440 per night. Food, including breakfast and snacks, available at the guest house dining hall

Sonajhuri Khoai

At first glance, Sonajhuri looks like a giant geological jigsaw puzzle waiting for a few more pieces to be properly put in place. The next minute it metamorphoses into the thin line where three diametrically different worlds ? a fecund forest, a land worked by wind and water and Santhali settlements ? embrace each other.
The Sonajhuri tree, that grows in profusion in the jungle, has given the place the sobriquet, which otherwise is popularly known as Ballabhpur, famous for its deer park.
It takes around 10 minutes from Bolpur station by private car on hire or auto and 30 minutes by rickshaw to get there. Past Pratichi, Amartya Sen?s house, the road forks right and right again to Ballabhpur Sanctuary, home to 200 ?friendly? deer and numerous birds.
It?s a pleasant place to be and the fact that these woods are off-limits to carnivores, proof of which can be found in the gleefully multiplying deer, makes it safe by forest standards.
Egrets, pintails and teals make a lake within the park premises their home each winter. The lake also has several freshwater turtles that can be seen tanning themselves on the banks during the colder months.
A watch tower, to view the feathered guests without disturbing them, and thoughtfully-made seats in the deepest recesses of the forest allow the explorers on the trail of the not-so-elusive deer to take it easy.
Just beyond the barbed wire fence that keeps the deer from straying runs a deep canal marking the end of the world of profusion.

Sturdy walking shoes
A few metres beyond the canal, the trees give way to harsh landscape dominated by ravines and intricate networks of gullies, clawed into existence by wind and water. The few trees that have managed to withstand the painful changes inflicted upon this land hang on precariously. Their protruding finger-like roots curl into the soil in a desperate bid to cling to the precious bits of earth spared by the forces of nature.
A walk through this seemingly bewitched land is enchanting, as the dots on the horizon magically transform themselves into clusters of tribal hutments.
Impeccably maintained mud houses, their outer walls painted in the gaudiest of colours and adorned with sights that might have existed at a time much before the assault of wind and water, they exude an inviting warmth.
The residents, too, are equally friendly, ready to share stories and a meal, any time of day. It only takes such a place and such people to help one rediscover the joys of living.
How to go?.
Santiniketan Express, Intercity Express or Ganadevata Express or Viswabharati Fast Passenger to Bolpur. Car, auto or rickshaw from there.
Where to stay...
Park Guest House (Ph 03463-262866) A single-bed room costs Rs 250, double deluxe Rs 350, while an airconditioned double-bed room costs Rs 600. Air-conditioned suite comes for Rs 850.


As we approached the bridge on Rangpo Chu, which separates West Bengal and Sikkim, our driver Bikash made a sharp right turn and started the steep climb towards Mongsong. We were moving away from National Highway 31A and the Teesta.
After approximately a kilometre, we drove into a beautiful forest of sal and segun. It was noon and the sun’s rays filtered through leaves to bathe the road in an almost magical light. Was not going to let go of the photo opportunity. After driving on for a couple of kilometres more, we were at Rangpo.
The journey had started at Darjeeling. We took the road that bifurcates at Ghoom and extends to Teestabazar via Peshak. It is a beautiful route — shaded by tall deodars and pines, sometimes descending to the Teesta and winding through small villages and tea gardens. Along the way is the picturesque hamlet of Lamata. It has a small green meadow over which red, blue and white prayer flags flutter. The meadow stretches to a dense cluster of pine trees.
We crossed the river at Teestabazar and halted at Melli to grab a bite. After a plate of hot momos, we resumed the journey with renewed vigour.
The Forest Development Corporation bungalow, which looks more like a cottage, had me enchanted. It is superbly placed on a slope and the courtyard offers a view of the entire town, lying well below on the right bank of Rangpo Chu. Emerging from the emerald mountains, the river twists and turns to meet Teesta a short distant ahead. One can see the confluence from the first-floor bedroom of the bungalow. The bungalow has two bedrooms — Munia on the ground floor and Minivet on the first floor with attached bath, a well-appointed drawing room and a dinning room. The caretaker-cum-cook, Chintamani, and his helper Dhankumar are affable and try their best to please the guests.
The green hills across the river, on the Sikkim side, greeted our eyes as we looked out of the bedroom windows. A large, magnificent male peacock flew in to perch on a tree in the garden, where sat for hours, mesmerised by nature. There’s not much else — no grand monument, snow-capped peak or shopping mall.
The best you can do is go for a leisurely drive to Mongsong, 14 km away, along a steep, serpentine mountain road. The path snakes through a cinchona plantation and touches tiny Lepcha hamlets made up of toy-like houses with roses growing on the porch. In the evening, you can go down to the town and have hot samosas and rasomalai.
We sat on the balcony and waited for the darkness to descend. A cool breeze drifted in from the river as a lonely night bird’s call for its mate broke the silence. A thousand yards away, across Rangpo Chu, hundreds of lights twinkled on a hill like diamonds in a great crown.
Going: Rangpo is 98 km from Siliguri on the way to Gangtok. All buses to Gangtok stop at Rangpo. The Forest Development Corporation’s bungalow is three km from the bus stop on the road to Monsong. Jeeps and cars are readily available. You can also hire a car to Rangpo from New Jalpaiguri
Staying: The West Bengal Forest Development Corporation bungalow. You can stop over for a night on the way to Gangtok or while coming back from there. For reservation, contact: West Bengal Forest Development Corporation, 6A Raja Subodh Mullick Square, Arya Mansion (seventh floor), Calcutta: 700013. Phone: 22370060/61


About 100 km from Calcutta, Shantipur is a small town in Nadia district that occupies a prominent place in Bengal’s cultural past. If you like wandering among temples that smell of incense and history, a visit to Shantipur can be rewarding.
The town is known for handloom (taant) saris. If you happen to come by a local train from Sealdah, you will see several billboards of saris at the railway station. There are plenty of shops in Shantipur dealing exclusively with saris, but an arrangement with a rickshaw-puller — which should not exceed Rs 20 — can take you on a daylong trip to local workshops where you can see these drapes in the making.
Saris that sell for Rs 2,000-plus in Calcutta, can be had for less than half the price if you are good at bargaining. And you can make bulk purchases as these handloom houses often provide free transportation to your home.
In the 17th Century, Shantipur caught up with the tide of the Bhakti movement. Like Nabadwip and Mayapur, Shantipur became a hub of the movement. Three prominent figures of the Vaishnava movement — Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Adwaita Acharya and Nityananda — met here.
The town is dotted with old temples. The largest of them is Shyamchand temple in the Burrabazar area. The structure is 110 ft high and 68 ft wide. The temple, in the aatchala style of the Bengal school, was built in 1726 by a rich merchant named Ramgopal Khan Chowdhury at a cost of nearly Rs 2 lakh. The idol inside is made of black stone. The king of Nadia once headed the temple committee. There are five arches, decorated with small lingams, in front of the temple. Very few of the terracotta motifs are left. The limestone artefacts, however, are in good condition.
Jaleshwar temple at Motiganj in Bejpara is another attraction in Shantipur. It is one of the finest terracotta temples of Nadia. This charchala structure is similar to the Diknagar temple but is bigger in size. According to sources, the mother of Ramchandra, son of king Rudra of Nadia, built the temple. It was once known as Raghaveshwar temple. Its name was changed to Jaleshwar towards the end of the 19th Century by Bijaykrishna Goswami. The east and south walls of the temple are decorated with terracotta sculptures depicting social and mythological scenes. There are many beautiful figurines of Krishna and Radha. The other two walls are bare.
Holi, Raas and Janmashtami are celebrated with fanfare in the town. Shantipur Museum, housed in the second floor of the municipal library, is a must-visit. It has a wonderful collection of Sanskrit manuscripts.
Trip tips
Shantipur is well-connected by rail and road. The roads in the town are narrow, so drive carefully. Night stay is possible at the municipal guest house. Shantipur
Museum is closed on Monday


Bolpur is Rabindranath. But it is also terracotta temples, whose panels are more exquisitely moulded than the better-known and larger temples of Bishnupur, Bankura.
Long before the poet decided to establish Santiniketan there, and Ajay river had changed its course, this region used to be a thriving trading post of the East India Company, and was famous for its indigo industry.
The temples are situated on the outskirts of Bolpur and some are already tourist spots, like Ilumbazar. Itonda has some of breathtaking beauty. Busing or driving 19 km down a road that snakes through hard red laterite and farmland to Itonda could be quite exciting.
The cluster of temples comes as a revelation after the dusty drive past Panchshwa village. The history of Itonda is not well documented, though oral traditions are considered a valid source of information.
At the end of a dirt track is the first temple inside a cage of scaffolding. Dedicated to Kali, it is being restored by Intach. Most of the panels have been removed from this Jor-bangla temple (modelled on a thatched hut) as the floods this year have ravaged the terracotta motifs of deities, gunboats and moustachioed British soldiers.
While one has to imagine the richness of the panels of this temple, a little further, in the heart of the poverty-stricken village, are three jewels that belong to the Sadhu family. An elderly Nirmal Kumar Sadhu says these were erected by Rasananda Sadhu, the primogenitor of the family, about 180 years ago.

Three branches of the family are trustees of the 2.44 acres that Rasananda left behind as debuttar property. It used to be a mango grove. Now it is a paddy field that some family members are selling off to outsiders, alleges Nirmalbabu.
As one crosses the threshold of the mud gateway to the cluster of hutments in which his family lives, one is confronted by the most unexpected presence a Palladian mansion in miniature.
With its rows of columns and arches on both storeys, it is the picture of desolation and decay. Inside, one can make out the painted stucco as delicate as chikan work, as rich as the decoration in the thakurdalan of Krishnagar palace. It is dedicated to Sridhar and the deities are a shalagram shila and Narugopal. Rasananda built it after returning from a pilgrimage to Vrindavan.
The other two temples further down the lane are dedicated to Shiva. Rasananda had built these too, a striking example of how people from the lower rungs of society commissioned projects considered a high-caste preserve.

Survival Kit

• Sturdy walking shoes
• Camera
• A love of old architecture
• The perseverance to find your way
Close to each other, one is the shikhara type with a single spire, while the other boasts five ? fine example of pancharatna. Both are ornamented with motifs of Ram, Sita, Dasavatar, Radha, Krishna and a menagerie of beasts.
Further afield are a dozen or more temples in various stages of dilapidation, exposed to the elements and vandals. Surul Rajbari, about 30 to 45 minutes by cycle-rickshaw from Bolpur, has four beautiful terracotta temples. Their panels have been drastically cemented over.
How to get there:
There are seven trains to Bolpur at all hours of the day. Ganadevata Express: 6.05 am (Howrah), Kanchenjunga Express: 6.20 am (Sealdah), Santiniketan Express: 10 am (Howrah), Inter-City Express: 3.40 pm (Howrah), Visva-Bharati Fast Passenger: 4.40 pm (Howrah), Kanchan Kanya Express: 7.30 pm (Sealdah), Darjeeling Mail 10.10 pm (Sealdah). Taxis can be hired at the station but not many drivers are aware of the wonders of Itonda, 19 km away. It is better to stop and make inquiries at every village. The people are helpful. Local bus services to Itonda are available. One has to trek from the bus stop to the temples. Rickshaws will take visitors to Surul Rajbari. That takes about 30 to 45 minutes.
Where to stay:
Bolpur being the nearest railway station, one may stay there. For night halts, the West Bengal Government Tourist lodge is a good option. It’s reasonably clean and cheap. There are countless other private places for tourists to stay in.


North Bengal is an ideal getaway for those wanting to escape the bustle of the metropolis. Hills, forests, historical monuments, temples and, last but not the least, wildlife have made the region a tourists? paradise. Few are aware that the region has two bird sanctuaries in different districts ? Raiganj in North Dinajpur and Rasikbil in Cooch Behar.
The latter is unique for several reasons. For one, it remains unspoilt by large numbers of tourists. Situated around a huge lake with a wide variety of avifauna, it is a great spot for eco-tourism. Its picture-postcard scenic beauty is breathtaking.
Rasikbil is a waterbody spread over an area of 175 hectares and surrounded by three dense forests, known as Nagurhaat, Bochamari and Atamochar. They are parted by a small canal called Batikata.
In the past, the area was a hunting ground for members of the Cooch Behar royal family. So, at one time, the forests were full of wild animals and birds.
The beauty of Rasikbil is evident wherever you go ? into the forest, by the lake or in the park. The forests are deep and dark, with trees like sishu, kadam and minjuri.
The lake is a perfect contrast against the green forest in the background. A plethora of sweetwater fishes is found in the lake. Two very popular varieties of north Bengal, the borali and the kutiputti, are also found here.
A bridge over the lake adds the finishing touch to the picture. Boating is the best way to enjoy the lake. A ride in a paddleboat is like being in the arms of Mother Nature.
The most popular tourist spot in Rasikbil is the bird sanctuary. The lake and adjacent forests are home to innumerable rare birds. The sanctuary is becoming a very attractive destination for nature lovers.
Rare birds like cormorants, storks, ibises and spoonbills, and common birds like kingfishers and parrots can be spotted around the lake. There is a watchtower especially constructed for a better view of the birds. Try the recently opened Nature Study Centre, which provides details of the birds seen in Rasikbil and their photographs.

On the banks of the lake, visitors can enjoy another kind of entertainment. A park with more than 50 deer is a nice place to relax. Recently, an aquarium with rare fish and a small crocodile rehabilitation centre were also made part of the park.
The beauty of Rasikbil even attracts film-makers from Bollywood. Shah Rukh Khan and Sushmita Sen were spotted there some time ago, shooting for Main Hoon Na.
Those planning an overnight stay and those who love history must visit the nearby Baneshwar temple, as well as the royal palace and the Madan Mohan temple in Cooch Behar.
Going: Rasikbil is situated one-and-a-half hours from a town in Cooch Behar district called Toofanganj. From Alipurduar, it is 74 km. The nearest railway station is New Cooch Behar, 35 km away. Cars are available for hire at the station
Staying: The state forest development department has a lodge with cottages and a 16-bed dormitory. Bookings can be made from the office at 6/A, Subodh Mullick Square (Ph: 22370060/1). Another option is Nagurhaat Waterland Resort. Contact the district forest officer in Cooch Behar to book rooms here. The zila parishad has also opened a budget hotel 


Even at the peak of the summer tourist season, Latpanchor is practically deserted. And that is perhaps the most attractive feature of this picture-postcard hill station, 44 km from Siliguri.
A 13-km drive from Kalijhora along the Siliguri-Gangtok national highway (NH 31A) will take you to Latpanchor. There is little traffic on the road, so the journey is pleasant. The last few kilometres are uphill, through a dense but scenic forest.
At 4,500 ft above sea-level, Latpanchor is the highest point in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. Since the hill station constitutes the core of the sanctuary, there is a high probability of coming across wild animals.
One of the disadvantages of Latpanchor not being developed enough as a tourist spot is that there are not many lodging options. Some utility stores cater to the local residents and the few tourists who come along.
The British, who set up Cinchona Plantation, were also behind the establishment of Latpanchor in 1920. The plantation is spread over 1,400 acres and houses four factories that manufacture medicine from the cinchona plant.

The Latkothi, which was once the residence of the British administrators of the facility, has been converted into a forest department bungalow. Cinchona Plantation is four km from Latpanchor.
The road to the plantation is lined with cinchona, sal, teak and pine. It is ideal for a relaxed morning walk. Birdsong pervades the air at daybreak. During the stroll, you are likely to encounter rosy-cheeked children on their way to school.
Surprisingly, this sleepy town boasts of three schools. The beauty of the local ladies is likely to leave you mesmerised.
It?s quite fun to find the short cuts (chor bater in the local language). Rein in your exploratory zeal though, because many of the lanes and bylanes lead to the backyards of residences. With lilies and orchids in bloom, the town is a riot of colours in summer.
Jholi Basti is ideal for an encounter with wildlife. Don?t forget your binocular and camera. Herds of deer and elephants often drift towards the area.
To the right of Jholi Basti, a trekking trail leads to Kurseong, while the mountain path to the left heads towards Kalimpong.
Those who would rather walk on the wild side can explore the jungle between Latkothi and Raja Rani Hill. Do not venture up the hill without an armed guide. There is an elephant corridor in the zone and you might find yourself in front of an unfriendly group of pachyderms. That?s not all. An encounter with a mountain bear or a leopard perched on a tree cannot be ruled out.
The residents, however, regularly trek to the top of Raja Rani Hill to offer puja to Lord Shiva. The expedition takes eight to 10 hours.
Another attraction just outside Latpanchor is Aahal View Point. An early morning drive or a long walk through a beautiful road will get you there. On a clear day, Aahal offers a spectacular view of Kanchenjunga, Terai plains, Dooars and the Teesta up to Haldibari in Bangladesh. Don?t miss the sunrise here.
At the base of Aahal View Point, there are two lanes apart from the road that leads into town. The uphill track through cinchona and pine will take you to Namthing Pokhri, a lake around which Himalayan salamanders can be seen.
A project on salamander breeding has been planned here, but most of the work is yet to be started. If the caretaker is in a good mood, he might catch a salamander and offer you a closer look. In summer, the lake dries up.
The road downhill passes Sephu, an orange orchard. One can trek from here to Sukna watchtower, located at the foothills of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary.
From Latpanchor, there is also a trekking trail to Kalijhora. The route is downhill, but rather tricky. There is a distinct possibility of coming face-to-face with wild animals.
There are many species of birds in Raja Rani Hills, but for a bird-lover, Mana Hills is a must-visit. Swallow, babbler, swift, thrush and sunbird can be found in abundance. With a bit of luck, one might even come across a rare specimen like Fairy Bluebird. The more adventurous can go right up to Mahaldiram tea estate.
The high-pitched call of cricket and the mysterious dark jungle add to the aura of Latpanchor at night. The residents of the town are not interested in outsiders, but can be very warm if you strike a rapport with them.

Hire a car from Siliguri to drive to Latpanchor. The journey is around 44 km

Himalayan Nature Resort
Siliguri office:
Himalayan Tourism,
NJP Station Road,
Bhakti Nagar,
Siliguri 734007
Telefax: 0353-2691777

Calcutta office:
Mansfield Tours & Travels,
65/1, Maharshi Debendra Road, Calcutta 700006
Phone: 22719388-89
Latkothi Forest Bungalow
Divisional Forest Office,
Wildlife Division I,
Darjeeling 734101
Phone: 0354-2253494


The thinness of the air is felt only when the eyes come to rest on the signboard at the bus terminus. Rimbik: 2,280 metres. A little less oxygen never really hurt anyone, but the emerald green forests that stretch out as far as the eye can see above the quaint cluster of tin-roofed log houses provide much-needed reassurance. The oxygen-makers are hard at work.
Rimbik, some four hours by bus or jeep from Darjeeling and seven hours from New Jalpaiguri station (an overnight journey by train from the city), is a treat for solitude seekers. Stop over in Maney Bhangjang on your way to Rimbik to try the local momos, which taste best here when washed down with a cup of tea.
Not too many apart from trekkers visit this place and the hikers, saturated with the scenes they have soaked in on the way, use it only as a stopover. But don?t go by how the place is used; Rimbik lends itself to exploration and you don?t have to be a David Livingstone to realise that. Everybody who has visited Rimbik has been tempted to walk the mule trail leading to the wilds beyond, and most have answered the call. Bird-watchers can follow the bird songs that drift from the woods all day. Those who prefer subjects that don?t run away when approached can stick to scouting the fringes of the forest for orchids and wildflowers that grow in profusion. If these options do not sound appealing enough, there are other ways of staying busy ? Rimbik is famous for its oranges. In fact, that is what its name signifies.
There are orange orchards in profusion, and the owners usually allow visitors to stroll through their plots to feast on the juicy citrus delights. There are hotels to cater to all kinds of tourists. High-end hotels, shacks, a forest bungalow and youth hostel are available in Rimbik. Though the panorama of peaks that have helped give Darjeeling the honour of being called the Queen of Hills is not visible from Rimbik, the pleasant mornings and cold evenings are a constant reminder of the mighty eight-thousanders lying beyond the towering hillocks that hem Rimbik in.
The mercury dips after sundown, but the hospitality and heavy woollens are enough to prompt even the most lethargic to take a walk through the hamlet in the evening or spend the better part of the night outside the comfort of the hotel, trying to identify stars and constellations. Although you can visit Rimbik whenever you feel like, the best time is October, when clear skies have forced the rains to retreat. A good way to have that fleeting feel of bliss linger is to leave the village before the infectious slow rhythm of life enters your system.
How to get there:  Teesta-Torsa Express, Uttar Banga Express, Darjeeling Mail to New Jalpaiguri station. Book a jeep to Rimbik
Where to stay: There are plenty of hotels to choose from. It?s no use booking one from the city. For those keen on getting an insight into the lives of people there, villagers gladly open their doors to visitors, for a nominal price 


Not all history is confined to the textbooks. For a bit of exploration, one needs to hit the road. And sometimes, the excursion can turn into a memorable weekend trip. If you wish to know why a north Indian businessman set up a huge zamindari in a remote corner of Midnapore in the 16th century, pay a visit to Mahishadal.
The town is half-an-hour away from Haldia. It becomes the focus of attention during the rathyatra every year. At the annual affair, Mahishadal attracts thousands of pilgrims. But one could visit Mahishadal any weekend and discover the past in its famous rajbari.
Back in the 16th century, Janardhan Upadhyay Garg, a rich businessman, bought a huge estate here. This reached its pinnacle of glory in the 18th century, in the days of Rani Janaki Devi. According to local history, she was a relentless anti-British crusader. The sun set on the estate, and today, the palace of Rani Janaki is in ruins.
The 19th century palace of the erstwhile rajas still stands along the banks of the canal, steeped in history. The courtroom in the new palace is well maintained. The ornate furniture and the paintings on the walls evoke awe. As does the trophy room, with its exhibits of stuffed tigers, bison, deer and birds, as well as the weapons that were used for hunting.
The rajbari also has a host of temples, the main ones being of Gopaljew and Ramjew. There is a rather big natmandir tucked away in a corner of the sprawling campus.
While students of history would simply love visiting the rajbari, nature-lovers would not be disappointed either. The long lines of palm trees, large ponds and the twittering of birds fill the air with a sense of serenity. One feels happy having left the bustle of the city far behind.

A tour of the rajbari leaves one with a sense of d?j? vu. Not surprising as many a film has been shot here. It was a favourite with Tollywood directors of yore, especially in the black-and-white era.
Gone are the days of Mahishadal?s glory, but the small town now takes pride in its famous, delectable mihidana and chhanar murki. The local sweet-makers see to it that Mahishadal is more than a dot on the map of Bengal.
Those who prefer the train can take the Howrah-Haldia local. Get off at Satish Samanta halt station in Mahishadal and take an auto or a rickshaw to reach the rajbari. Those more adventurous can travel to Noorpur by road, cross the river to Geonkhali and then continue by road to Mahishadal. An alternative road route is via Kolaghat-Mecheda-Nandakumar. Either way, the journey takes about three to four hours. From Haldia, Mahishadal is a half-an-hour drive
There are several hotels in nearby Haldia. For information, contact the tourism office of the Haldia Development Authority. Call (03224) 274134/274334 


Aquiet resort town, Pedong is ideal for tourists seeking solitude. But it will also satisfy those looking for adventure.
About 23 km north-east of Kalimpong, where West Bengal, Sikkim and Bhutan meet, Pedong, situated at a height of 5,100 ft, is yet unspoilt by the ravages of tourism. The hamlet offers a panoramic view of Kanchenjunga to the north-west and the ranges in Bhutan to the east.
Many rewarding walks and trekking trails originate at Pedong. It is generally more enjoyable to venture into the forests than to trek the hills on the Darjeeling side.
The village is a paradise for bird-watchers. Some rare species of Himalayan birds can be seen here.
Those not ornithologically inclined can go for walks along paths fringed with oak, pine and birch. The shifting hues of the snow in the sunlight will take your breath away. The turquoise sky and mountains covered in snow inspire many to click or paint for hours.
Pedong came into prominence after the end of the Anglo-Bhutan war. For close to 150 years before that, the area was the epicentre of Bhutanese administration.

Damsang, a Bhutanese fort now in ruins, is located just outside Pedong. Another must-visit is the Pedong monastery, constructed in 1837. A Roman Catholic Mission was established here in 1882 by a French priest named Father Desgodins.
Of the numerous beautiful walking trails around the hamlet, the road to Tinchuley deserves special mention.
Three-and-a-half km from Pedong, Tinchuley offers a spectacular view of the Sikkim Himalayas, Kassang Valley and Cinchona Plantation. It is being developed as a tourist spot.
You may trek to the nearby places of interest or hire a jeep. Nature-lovers should not miss Rikkissum, also known as Rissisum, at a height of 6,410 ft. It is only a six-km drive from Pedong. A terrific view of Rishi Valley in Sikkim is the other attraction of Rikkissum.
Ramithey is about six-and-a-half km from Pedong. You will have to drive through a thick, dark forest to get there. Apart from Kanchenjunga, one can see the Teesta snaking down the highlands from Ramithey.

Damsang fort, the seat of the last Lepcha king Gayboo Achok, is seven km from Pedong. This place, too, offers a view of Kanchenjunga and other peaks.
Silent Valley is on the road that leads to Rikkissum. There was a lake here once, but it has now dried up. One can get a glimpse of Green Valley as well as Cinchona Plantation from here.
The other important tourist destinations are Cross Hill Point and Eco-tourism Village.

Jeeps are available from Kalimpong to Pedong at regular intervals. Buses leave Siliguri twice a day for Pedong. It is also connected with Darjeeling and Gangtok by road. Jeeps are available for local sightseeing
Hotel rooms are available at reasonable rates. However, the facilities on offer are basic. Damsung Guest House is a good option. It offers rooms with attached bath. For reservation, contact tourist office at 4, Shakespeare Sarani
There are several tourist spots close to Pedong. Darjeeling is about 75 km away, while Gangtok and Siliguri are about 85 km from Pedong. Lava is 25 km and Lolegaon 38 km from the hamlet
Timeshare for tour
During the craze to buy permanent holiday homes, timeshare was looked upon as a creaky relic to be filed in the history of leisure travel. But it is coming back into fashion with families seeking ever more cost-effective methods of holidaying.
Resort Condominiums International (RCI) is a leader in the field ?with over 85 per cent share of the global market?. The company runs 3,700 resorts in 100 countries, with 40,000 members and 50 resorts in India. It is soon going to open an office in Calcutta.
?Places such as Darjeeling have been favourites with Calcuttans, who don?t necessarily want to break the bank to get away. In Darjeeling and many more areas, RCI will be providing affordable options for holidays,? said a spokesperson for the company. Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have recently been added to RCI?s repertoire.
Flexibility and diversity seem to be at the forefront of RCI?s approach to timeshare, with the customer paying according to the time of the year and the destination. After an initial one-off payment, transaction fees are charged for each holiday. The transaction fee for an Indian holiday will be Rs 3,675, while an international holiday will cost Rs 9,450.


The 300th anniversary of Murshidabad is being celebrated this year, but not too many people are aware of a small village, rich in artefacts and history, a few kilometres from the town. It can be an unforgettable weekend destination, especially for those with a love for exploring relatively unknown landmarks.
In the mid-17th century, a small trading centre called Azimganj came up on the banks of the Ganga in Murshidabad. The royal family of Natore, now in Bangladesh, built a riverside palace in a village near Azimganj, and called it Baronagar, meaning ?a big town?.
Rani Bhabani, born in 1716 and widowed at 32, became a legend for her administrative ability. Driven by religion, she planned to build a Varanasi in Bengal. From 1755, a huge complex with over a dozen temples was built in Baronagar. Many have since been reduced to dust, but a few still stand strong, a testament to the past glory of Bengal.

One of the magnificent structures is the Panchanan Shiva temple on the Ganga embankment. Small and red, it has a unique Shivalingam ? five heads of Shiva carved on black stone. The temple houses a beautiful garden with a breathtaking riverside view.
The main attraction of Baronagar is the Charbangla mandir complex. Built in 1760 by Rani Bhabani, this is a small square arena fenced by four massive temples. Each one is built on a 1.5-ft high foundation and is dochala hut-shaped, a fine example of Bengal architecture. Each temple has three doors with three Shivalingams inside.
The magic of these temples is on their walls, embellished with beautiful terracotta work. The Ramayana is wonderfully sculpted. This is unique among terracotta temples in Bengal. Hindu motifs are also visible.
The temples had a narrow escape in December 1992, when a mob stormed the complex after the Babri Masjid demolition.
Another temple with a unique shape is in the north-west part of the Charbangla complex. The Bhabaneshwari temple of Baronagar is a masterpiece in distinctive Murshidabadi style. Built in 1755, it is 18-m high with a massive dome on top and decorated with fresco works, both inside and outside.
Nearby, another temple, built by Tarasundari, daughter of Rani Bhabani, is in a sorry state.
Legend has it that Siraj-ud-Daullah tried to abduct Tarasundari. She was suffering from chicken pox at that time and Siraj got scared and fled. Tarasundari was cured overnight. Considering this to be divine intervention, she built the Gopal temple.

Perhaps the finest temple of them all is Ghaneshwar, also known as Jorbangla temple. Small but marvellous, it is in terracotta. Dragons, dancing girls, fighting elephants and floral designs don the walls. A Shivalingam, known as Kasturishwar Shiva, is inside, established by Kasturi Devi, mother of Rani Bhabani.
Visit the Nageshwar temple, too. It houses Baronagar?s presiding deity Ganesh.
The palace of the royal family should not be missed out. Rani Bhabani died here in 1795, at 79. The family history is displayed through oil paintings. Special permission is needed to get inside.
Debris of temples, damaged due to natural calamities and by human hands, is scattered around Baronagar. Images of these temples are placed in a dilapidated room near the palace.
Azimganj is also known for its Jain temples. Many Jain families trace their roots to the town.
The brass and bronze handicrafts of Murshidabad are well known. Mouth-watering barfi sandesh is another local wonder. A panorama of the river and the sky are a bonus.
Getting there:
Behrampore, 197 km from Calcutta and well-connected by rail and road, is nearby. Passenger train available to Azimganj. The alternatives are Bhagirathi Express (AC chair-car available) and Lalgola passenger (first-class non-AC cabin available) from Sealdah station. Bhagirathi reaches Behrampore at 10 pm. Stay overnight and take a hired car to Jiyaganj. Lalgola reaches Jiyaganj early in the morning. Hire a country boat to reach Baronagar across the Ganga. Several express buses leave for Behrampore from Esplanade. The journey takes about five hours
There are several mid-level hotels. Accommodation available at Jain dharmashalas


Apatch of green surrounded by hillocks near the confluence of Koel, Karo and Koena. That?s Manoharpur for you ? a great place to spend a weekend when winter?s on the wane.
Despite its many charms, Manoharpur has not been popular among Calcutta tourists.
It?s one of the entry points to the Saranda forest, into which the languid Koel flows. A tribal village and scattered growths of sal, mohua, segun and sonajhuri add to Manoharpur?s beauty.
The best part of the day is the evening. Trek to the top of a hillock to enjoy the spectacular sunset over Koel.
Only the whistle of long-distance trains punctuates the silence that envelops Manoharpur. There?s not much to do, but let your senses be captivated by the heady smell of the soil and the delicate rustle of leaves.
Close by is Durduri, where Karo and Koena meet. There?s a small bridge from which one can see the rivers emerging from the forest and becoming one. A fantastic picnic spot, had it not been for the wild animals. If you stay long, be prepared for encounters with an elephant, bear or wolf.
If you find the time, make a trip to the SAIL iron ore mine at Chiria. The hilltops there offer a bird?s eye view of Saranda. You can even spy leopards and wild boars deep in the forest.
Take Ispat Express, Sambalpur Express or Kurla Express. There’s no direct road link
Santoor Resort (24403403) 

Ayodhya Hills

To the west of the state lies the district of Purulia, characterised by forests, hills and tribes. The climate remains dry round the year. Together with the crimson soil, this gives the land its unique rugged quality.
The most important tourist attraction in this region is the sprawling Ayodhya Hills, a part of the Chhotanagpur plateau. The average altitude here is approximately 200 m above sea level. The highest peak is Gangaburu at 2,220 ft (676 m).
The region has long been a draw for rock-climbers and trekkers. Bagmundi, surrounded by rocky cliffs, to the west of Ayodhya Hills, also attracts climbers.
The trail from Sirkabad to Ayodhya is perfect for jungle trekking. The 13-km journey through a dense jungle of mostly Shimul and Palash takes five-six hours. When in bloom, the plants turn the region red.
The outstanding feature of Ayodhya Hills is the hospitality the tribals extend to every single person who visits their villages. It is a treat for people from the city to mingle with people who are so simple, innocent and friendly. The tribal men and women have retained their distinctiveness in the face of abject poverty and social oppression.
There is a regular bus service from Purulia town to the top of Ayodhya Hills several times a day. Finding a place to stay here will not be a problem since there are plenty of accommodation options to suit different budgets. Most of the lodges and hotels are near the main bus stand, which also houses a small market.
The fare at roadside eateries will satisfy those with simple tastes. If you do not mind walking miles then nothing can beat a day outdoors. Wander among the Mohua trees in the soft breeze, occasionally stopping at picturesque clusters of two-storeyed mud huts. If you can befriend the villagers, they will certainly invite you for a cup of tea.
A leisurely walk will take you to Mayur Pahar (Peacock Hills). The peak offers a panoramic vista of the lush green Ayodhya range. The sunset here is memorable.
Venture out early in the morning to Bamni Falls. About two hours of brisk walk will take you there. You can return in time for lunch.
The most important festival of the tribals of Ayodhya is Shikar. This daylong event is celebrated on Baisakhi Purnima, in the month of April/May. Men take part in the hunt for rabbits and hedgehogs. However, one has to brave the extreme heat to experience this stunningly colourful festival.
There?s a regular bus service from Purulia town to the top of Ayodhya Hills. The 30-km journey takes close to two hours. Trains are available from Howrah to Purulia.
To visit Joychandi Hills, take the overnight Adra-Chakradharpur Express from Howrah. Raghunathpur is 15 minutes from Adra
There are several lodges and hotels at Ayodhya Hills. There?s something for every budget. There are a few lodges at Raghunathpur. Joychandi Hills is just a walk away from Raghunathpur. For government guesthouses Niharika and Malabika enquire at 6A Raja Subodh Mullick Square, Calcutta 700013. Ph (033) 22377041/43

Joychandi Hills

One of nature?s wonders awaits you at Joychandi Hills, a stone?s throw from Ayodhya Hills. Staggering rock formations shoot up from nowhere to take your breath away. This part of Purulia is not as well known as Ayodhya Hills, but is just as beautiful.
Only local trains pass through the nearest railway station, also called Joychandi. The best way to reach the hills is to get down at Adra. The trains from Howrah reach early in the morning. Buses and autorickshaw are available from Adra to Raghunathpur. The journey takes around 15 minutes.
On the border of Raghunathpur is Nanduara, a village virtually at the foothills. The winding road through the hamlet leads to a wide open space bordered by the three major hills of the area ? Joychandi, Dakshinakali or Kalipahar, and Jugadhal (dhal means slope).
To reach the top, one must be adept at rock-climbing. In fact, many people come here to hone their rock-climbing skills. However, a concrete staircase has been built on the slope of Joychandi Hills for pilgrims headed for the Chandimata temple. A stone idol was once worshipped in the dilapidated structure. It has recently been replaced with a deity brought from Varanasi.
The top of the hills offers a wonderful view of the plains of Purulia, including the Santhal villages. Huge boulders hover over most of the houses. The residents of Nanduara spend their days in constant fear of a rockslide.
Of the three hills, Jugadhal is the tallest. During the British era, a court used to be convened at the top of the hill. Those sentenced to death were pushed down the slope!
In February, a week-long mela is held at the foot of Joychandi Hills. People from different parts of the districts congregate here to offer puja to goddess Chandimata.
Satyajit Ray shot certain portions of Hirak Rajar Deshe, the sequel to Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, around Joychandi Hills in 1978. He was looking for a typical Bengali village surrounded by hills. In Nanduara, you are likely to come across many villagers who still remember the day they ran away from school to watch the great director in action.


Fringed by casuarinas, Bakkhali is far from the madding crowd. It is the second most popular sea resort in Bengal. It takes only about four hours to reach Bakkhali from Calcutta.
The journey is quite exciting, especially while one crosses the Hatania-Doania river. The bridge becomes a floating vessel that carries buses and other heavy vehicles on its back.
The beach, dotted with golden sand dunes, is full of broken trunks and logs that form patterns and shapes loved by the shutterbugs. Here nature is still unspoilt and unveils its beauty throughout the day.
There are private hotels and holiday homes aplenty but the best option is probably the West Bengal Tourist Development Corporation bungalow. It has a swimming pool and a well-maintained flowerbed. Boating in the adjacent lake can be great fun for the family.
During the day, dive into the Bay of Bengal or go for sightseeing. There is a reserved forest in the vicinity. Other attractions for the tourists are Engine Canal, deer park and the crocodile and turtle project.
If you are in the mood for some explorations, ramble down to Frazergunj, only two kilometres from Bakkhali. Frazergunj got its name from that of Andrew Frazer, a British governor (Choto Lat).
You can also take a motorboat to the island of Jammu Dweep. The trip is amazing. At the island, enjoy the sunrise in total solitude. In the evening, watch an enormous moon appear overhead.
Bakkhali is ideal for a relaxing weekend. It is close to Calcutta but you can leave the city far behind at this resort.
Plenty of CSTC as well as private buses ply from Calcutta to Bakkhali. The fare is around Rs 80
Stay at the bungalow of West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. For booking, contact: WBTDC, 3/2 BBD Bag, Ph- 22488271-73. There is also a number of hotels and holiday homes


Just a few hours away by train is a slice of history, waiting to be explored. But I can bet my Teesta-Torsa ticket on the fact that most of those who are reading this have never been there before. Pack your bags — light — and head off to Murshidabad on a Friday afternoon. It’s hassle-free and a veritable treat for all those pursuing a piece of the past.
Behrampore, 211 km from Calcutta, is accessible easily enough by train or bus. Though the best time to go is winter, the monsoons, too, can be a wonderful time to be by the turgid Ganga, swollen by the rains.
When it comes to putting up, there are several options — the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation’s Tourist Lodge or private hotels in Behrampore. And then there are modest accommodations at Lalbagh, 12 km away, where the imposing Hazarduari Palace stands beside the river. Manjusha, in Lalbagh, is as close as you can get to Hazarduari. The small but well-kept hotel is on the banks of the Ganga, with a delightful view of the palace and the river, and serves up some Bengali cuisine, just like home. Hazarduari Palace was built by the British for the Nawabs of Murshidabad in 1937. General Duncan McLeod of Bengal Engineers was the man behind the palace with thousands of doors. Now a museum that houses a precious collection of paintings, books, crockery and documents, it is guarded by central paramilitary forces and photography is prohibited inside. Across the palace is the impressive Imambara, now under restoration. Inside, the eight galleries make up an old curiosity address. A sample — dinner plates that are supposed to crack if poisonous food is served on them. Well, that’s how the legend goes, but when you’re in Hazarduari, a willing suspension of disbelief can only add to the charm of the place.
There’s a little bit of history stashed away in every bit of Hazarduari, from the cannons used in the Battle of Plassey, to the grand collection of thrones and howdahs of silver and ivory, palanquins and phaetons.
With Lalbagh as the epicentre of your tourist map in Murshidabad, there are other places to soak in as well. The Katra Masjid is a must-see. Now stripped of its blue tiles, this mosque is all minarets and domes.
Here’s a nugget for history students — under its steps lies buried Murshid Quli Khan, the humble subedar of Bengal. His last wish, they say, was to be buried beneath the feet of humanity. Across the river from Lalbagh, by ferry, is Khushbag, where one can visit the gaunt and plain mausoleum of Alivardi Khan and Shiraj-ud-daulah. About seven km from the tombs is the fantastic Kiriteswari terracotta temple.
Add to these the family burial ground of Mir Jafar (which is still privately owned by his descendants), the British residency cemetery in Behrampore’s Babulbona, the hardly-visible buried town of Karna-Suvarna (through which Huen Tsang is said to have passed), and the two-day trip to this photographer’s paradise is complete. Unless, of course, you’ve forgotten to carry your camera.

Survival Kit
• Mosquito repellent
How to get there: You can take the Teesta Torsa Express (1.40 pm from Sealdah), the Kamrup Express (5.35 pm from Howrah) or the Howrah-Malda Janshatabdi Express (3.25 pm except Sunday) to Khagraghat Road. In case you prefer the Bhagirathi (Lalgola) Express (6.20 pm from Sealdah), you reach the capital of Murshidabad, Behrampore, from where Lalbagh is merely a 30-minute drive. Private cars, trekkers or auto-rickshaws on hire can take you to Shiraj-ud-daulah’s palace from Behrampore.
Where to stay: WBTDC Tourist Lodge (book either at BBD Bag or call manager, Behrampore (03482) 250439, 259711, Behrampore Lodge: 250500, Manjusha (Lalbagh): 270321


There isn’t much to see or do in Nurpur, which is the perfect excuse for going there.
Only 52 km from the clamorous city, the area, complete with coconut groves, a meandering waterfront, a fishing village and a sprinkling of tea stalls and restaurants, spreads out like a fecund fantasy that soothes the soul and lends itself to lethargy and lore, most of it during the rains.
Not so long ago, however, this riparian reverie at the confluence of the Hooghly, Rupnarayan and Bhagirathi was the province of pirates. The sight of boats, with their puffed-up sails, scudding across the choppy waters and suddenly silhouetted by streaks of lightning, paint the perfect picture of the time when the marauders ruled the river. Though Nurpur is only a stopover on the way to Geonkhali in east Midnapore on the other bank, it is by no means a place to hurry through.
• An umbrella
• A raincoat for those ready to brave the rain and go around
• A camera
Sip some lip-scalding tea while getting directions to the graves of the skandakata (decapitated) sahib and mem and the ruins of the abandoned lighthouse. There are versions galore of the chain of tragic events that led to the deaths and abandonment. Feel free to believe the person coming up with the most gripping and unbelievable story before buying a ticket for the ferry bound for Geonkhali.
The ride to Geonkhali might take anything between 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the ebb or flow of the current, but it is best to brace yourself for the overwhelming smell of freshly-caught fish once you get there.
Chingri, ilish and pabda are all on sale, for a steal. Cross the market and then a bamboo bridge to reach the irrigation bungalow. Walk the other way from the jetty at which you disembark to reach the Triveni Sangam Tourist Complex.
A short walk away is the fisherman hamlet. Definitely worth a visit for those who do not know how boats are fashioned from logs of wood. If that does not sound inviting enough, take a 20-minute bus ride to the 200-year-old Mahishadal Rajbari. The history of the palace does come with a generous dose of imagination but is riveting none the less. The ruins bear testimony to the rise of Janardhan Upadhyay, an Uttar Pradesh resident who arrived here in the 16th century and, by the trick of trade, turned ruler.
How to get there
Take a train to Diamond Harbour on the Sealdah south section and then a local bus.
On another route, Nurpur is about 20 minutes from Raichak. Take a rickshaw. The odd jeep also plies.
Where to stay
Irrigation bungalow at Geonkhali; bookings can be done from the department’s Writers’ Buildings office.
Haldia Development Authority’s Triveni Sangam Tourist Complex.
Call 94340-20164 or 03224-310240 from Calcutta or try your luck after reaching Geonkhali.
Chances are there will be rooms available, for Rs 700 (AC, double) or Rs 500 (Non-AC, double) or Rs 300 (Non-AC, single).


Khardah is five railway stations away from Sealdah. Along with Belgharia and Agarpara, this township falls in what used to be the industrial belt of Bengal. The thousands of workers who had migrated here about a century ago from Bihar and Orissa form a large part of the populace and give it a distinctive colour. Close by, what used to be known as the coolie lines are several paras where caste Hindus live.
Unlike the warren of tiny airless brick boxes where the workforce survives, most of the houses of upper caste Bengalis are well constructed. They?ve seen better days, but are still distinguished by columns, thakurdalans and ornamental grilles. Rabindranath had sojourned in Khardah in a house swallowed by the river.
The Vaishnavite cult has left its mark on Khardah. Nityananda Prabhu, a disciple of Sri Krishna Chaitanya, had settled in a thatched hut here. It is now a humble brick structure known as Kunjabati. His son Bir Bhadra Goswami had started the worship of Shyamsundar that subsequently became the presiding deity of Khardah.
It is said that about 250 years ago, a woman named Pateswari Ma Goswami had raised the famous Shyamsundar temple, that dominates Raskhola, after her husband, who had been imprisoned by Nawab Alibardi Khan, was released.
The temple compound has a large kitchen and natmancha, and close to the Hooghly banks are the ratha-shaped Rasmancha and Dolmancha. The sanctity of the Dolmancha has been violated by blocking the archway. Recent attempts at decorating the main temple with white panels depicting Krishnalila are quite appalling. Adjacent to the Shyamsundar temple is a smaller one dedicated to Madanmohan. Khardah is famous for its Ras and Dol celebrations.

A short walk from Shyamsundar leads to another fascinating complex of 26 dochala Shiva temples. These are mostly dilapidated but are being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India. They were constructed in the early 19th century by Ramhari Biswas and his son Prankrishna, whose ambition it was to establish a Ratnabedi like the one in Puri with one lakh Shiva lingas. He managed to gather about 80,000 before his death. The ornamented door frames of the 26 temples are from the Gaur ruins. The navaratna Mahaprabhu temple with nine spires is on the way to the temple complex.
A large chunk of the mill labour force in Khardah is Muslim. In 1907 these poor workers had built a magnificent mosque on MG Road (formerly Trever Road). Its portal and minarets and walls of the inner sanctum are richly embellished with tiny ceramic tiles in bright hues that create the effect of minakari. Calcutta once had several mosques decorated with crazy China mosaic. The glazed surfaces of most are chipped. But the Khardah mosque is in mint condition.
How to reach:
Khardah is easily accessible by road and river. Catch a bus to Barrackpore from Howrah station or Esplanade.
From Howrah, the route numbers are 56 and GL31. From Esplanade, it?s L20, S11 (state) and 78. State buses are few and far between.
There are minibuses from Dalhousie Square to Khardah, besides the new private buses plying between Barrackpore and Santragachhi.
Any local train from Sealdah station to Krishnagar, Santipur, Ranaghat, Kalyani, Naihati or Barrackpore stops at Khardah.
It can also be reached by launch from Rishra


The South district, with an area of only 750 sq km, is the smallest district of Sikkim. Hemmed in by the other three districts, South Sikkim is garlanded by its two major rivers ? the Teesta and the Rangit.
The area, in fact, is longitudinally divided into two approximately equal watersheds by the mountain ridges.
Through the lush greenery, the Teesta meanders down to the plains, making for a mesmerising sight. On clear days, one can view the mighty Kanchenjunga from as far off as Namchi.
Ravangla, a small town in the district, has made a place for itself on the tourist map of Sikkim because of its natural splendour and the number of getaways surrounding it.
Situated at a height of 6,000 ft, the town also serves as a transit for tourists heading for various destinations in South and West Sikkim.
Right in front of the town is the Mainam Hill. The 3,140-m summit is a five-hour walk from Ravangla bazaar. Close by is another hill called Bhaleydunga, which means a stone shaped like a rooster, in Sikkimese.
The view of the Yanggang village, its marketplace and the Teesta from the top of Mainam Hill will take your breath away. Those suitably trained can retrace the famous British botanist Sir Joseph Hooker?s treacherous route to the village.
Numerous short nature trails start from the town. Take the one to Borong for a glimpse of the rural life and traditional Sikkimese culture. One of the two hot springs in the area is located here.
The Tendong, rising to an altitude of 10,300 ft, overlooks the Ravangla bazaar. The view from the summit is unmatched in this part of the world.

Kanchenjunga dominates the horizon, dwarfing the richly forested mountains around it. When the sun is out, Kalimpong and Darjeeling can be seen in the south, while the India-China border is visible in the north.
A rocky spur juts out from a ridge near the hill and remains suspended above the Yanggang village.
Namchi, the district headquarters, is just 33 km from Ravangla. On the way is the only tea estate in Sikkim, the Temi Tea Garden. Its produce is highly sought after in the international market. The Temi Guest House, in the midst of the garden, is a legacy of the Raj and the perfect place to spend a leisurely day.
Back at Ravangla, drop in at the Kemphemnling Tibetan settlement for some shopping. Beautiful Tibetan carpets and other souvenirs are sold here. On one of the mornings, head for the Rayong Sunrise View Point on the Ravangla-Rayong road for a spectacular start to the day.
A walk down to Shar Chok Bhepu, one of the four holiest caves in Sikkim, is just as memorable. It is located in a village called Sangmo, a few km from Ravangla, on the slope facing the Teesta.
According to local lore, Guru Rinpoche emerged as a vulture from Shar Chok Bhepu after prolonged meditation at another holy cave, Khando Sang Phug.
The famous Kagyupa Monastery is in Ralong, 12 km from Ravangla. It was built in 1730, during the time of the ninth Karmapa Wangchuk Dorjee.
Some distance above it is the newly-built Palchen Choeling Monastery, one of the largest in Sikkim. The annual Mahakal ritual dance is performed here in November every year.
Ralong also has the other hot spring in the region, the Ralong Tsa-Chu, an hour?s walk downhill from the settlement.
About three km down the Ravangla-Kewzing road, in a thick forest, is the Doling Gompha. Drive on some more towards Kewzing and climb up two km to visit the Mangbrue Gompha.
Built on a ridge in 1850, the Bhutanese army had built bunkers and an outpost here in the 19th Century.
On the way to Kewzing is the only Bon monastery in Sikkim. Established in the late 1980s, it symbolises the determination of the local community to preserve its religious roots.
Village tourism is being aggressively promoted in Ravangla. Infrastructure has been developed in hamlets around the town, like Yanggang, Kewzing, Berfung, Bakhim and Tinkitam, to attract tourists.
Ravangla is also the perfect destination for those with an appetite for adventure. The Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation organises a hike in October-November, known as Coronation Trek.
It starts from Rumtek and finishes at Yuksum, via Ravangla. A favourite among adventure tourists, the trek is a great way to discover Ravangla?s charms.
The nearest airport, Bagdogra, is 130 km from Ravangla. By road, the town is 120 km from Siliguri and 110 km from Gangtok. Buses at regular frequency are available from both places
There are plenty of hotels. The room rate per person varies from Rs 300 to Rs 1,000 for a night
Mid-October to mid-December and March-April are the best times to visit. There is a lot of rainfall at other times. January and February are bitterly cold 


Gangtok or “hill top”, spread over a ridge at 6,500 ft above sea level, is the capital city of the 22nd state of India — Sikkim. Sikkim derives its name from the word “sukhim” (peace and happiness). The Tibetans refer to it by the name “Denjong” (the hidden valley of rice). It is a small mountainous state bounded by Tibet on the north, Bhutan in the east, Nepal in the west and West Bengal in the south.
The four-hour ride to Gangtok from Bagdogra airport (45 minutes by plane from Calcutta) is thrilling. The swift Teesta clears her serpentine track through slopes of bamboo and wild banana trees that rise to conifers towering like cathedral pillars and orchids.
Gangtok and its surrounding areas are famous for exotic flowers that bloom throughout the year. Between April to June, rhododendrons, primulas, gentians, blue poppies and over 250 types of orchids are in their full glory. Between October and December, chrysanthemums and some varieties of orchids fascinate visitors. The mighty Kanchenjunga, with its mantle of snow, overlooks everything like a protective deity.
Any other part of the region is as beautiful as Gangtok; it is the monasteries and the Kanchenjunga that lend the town its special flavour. Just 24 km from Gangtok is Rumtek, the largest monastery in the state, considered the mainstay of Buddhist culture. The monastery houses wonderful wall hangings, paintings and thangkas. There is also a lovely prayer hall.
The original gompha (monastery), built in 1730 by the ninth karmapa, was accidentally burnt down in a bonfire in 1960. The 16th karmapa, Giyaloya, rebuilt the monastery. The Nalanda Institute is just behind the gompha.
The festivals of Sikkim are very colourful. The Tsechu dance is held in the Rumtek monastery in summer. Kagyat is another fascinating dance, performed by Buddhist monks on different occasions. The Sikkim government organises folk dances for tourist groups during the holiday season.
Enchey Monastery, established in 1840, is famous for its Chaam dance in December. This colourful festival is only held in select ancient monasteries. Only lamas are allowed to take part in Chaam, also known as the mask dance.
Deer Park, Maharaja Chogyal Palace, Institute of Cottage Industries, Research Institute of Tibetology, Orchid Sanctuary, Ganeshtok, Hanumantok and Tashi View Point are some other points of tourist attraction in Gangtok.
Beside the Sikkim Assembly is the tranquil Namnang View Point from where one can cast an eye on the wide open valley. The cable car ride to Deorali is great fun not only for kids but also for grown-ups.
Saramsa Garden, 14 km from the town, is home to nearly 400 types of orchids. Some of these are rare varieties. Medicinal plants are also cultivated under the supervision of the forest department. Lal Bazaar is the largest market of the state and a major tourist draw.
Gangtok is the gateway to east and north-east Sikkim. You may want to travel to Yumthang, Lachen and Lachung. You can also drive to Nathu La at a height of 14,500 ft near the India-China border. Stop over at Tsango Lake, on the way back. The temple of the late Harbhajan Singh (known as Baba Temple) is an added attraction.
Gangtok is the land of hikers, trekkers, mountaineers, mountain-lovers, bird-watchers and butterfly-collectors but attracts hordes of common tourists, who want to get away from the daily grind to the “land of the lost horizon”. In timeless Sikkim, sheltered by a snowy deity, Gangtok blooms.
Trip tips
The nearest airport is Bagdogra and the nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri. There are regular buses from Siliguri to Gangtok apart from taxis. Other than the Sikkim government’s tourist lodge, there are hotels and holiday homes to suit every budget.


The sea is blue and without fury, the beach silent. Waves roll lazily, as if bored of going through the same motions again and again. Yet, the air seems suffused with impending drama.
The first fishing boat glides towards the shore with its catch. As if on cue, the beach begins to stir. Periscope eyes scan the horizon. As the bow of the boat bites the sand and comes to rest, the first red robber slinks up to it. Then another, and another, until the beach is a seething mass of red.
Darting between the fishermen’s feet, the crabs launch their attack, grabbing fish that fall from the baskets with their pincers and scurrying back to their holes, dodging, boxing and wrestling with opponents on their way back. It’s quite like a rugby scrum, crab style.
Udaipur beach holds many wonders and changing colours, from golden to red, with approaching fishing boats just one spectrum of the kaleidoscope. Its location is singular —- between a bustling seaside getaway and another beach best known only to fishermen.
Driving from the city, past Kolaghat, past Contai, past Digha old and new and then across Kiyageria, the Bengal-Orissa border, it’s onward to Talsari, where the beach is famous for its fishing village, and among people partial to sea food.
The Panthasala offers accommodation and the sprinkling of tea stalls and restaurants provide lunch, dinner and snacks for the in-between times. The food fare is nothing fancy, but definitely delicious. On the way is Talsari Chandaneshwar, well-known for its Shiva temple and pandas.
Believers throng the temple to have their wishes granted and the pandas have stories of miracles so miraculous, most people are tempted to try their luck.
Udaipur is a one-and-a-half km walk from Talsari, along the shoreline. It’s easy to identify Udaipur beach —- the crabs here are artistic and each crustacean’s quarters is decorated with an intricate pattern of tiny globes of sand.
This is also one of the few places from where both the sunrise and sunset can be caught. The latter is now slightly obstructed by a sandbank, but is visible nonetheless. For those willing to go that extra mile to watch the sunset and enjoy some adventure at the same time, taking a boat ride to the char is an option.
The other interesting aspect of Udaipur beach is naukapuja, in which the fishermen’s wives make offerings to the gods of the seas, seeking their blessings and praying to them to protect their boats.
Though these pujas are short and done early in the morning, a more elaborate ceremony is performed before a boat moves out to sea for the first time, which is very often during the monsoon.
• Torch
• Zeoline
• Camera, to capture images of one of the last bastions of naukapuja

How to get there: Take a bus to Digha or Kiyageria. CSTC, SBSTC and NBSTC buses from Esplanade and Howrah. Private buses are also available. Services start around 6 am. Trekkers and van rickshaws available from the border to Talsari, around 7 km
Where to stay: No places to stay at Udaipur. But nearby is Talsari, where Panthashala accommodation is available. Four double-bed rooms at Rs 150 per person. Two dormitories, one three-bed and a four-bed, at Rs 50 per person. Bookings can be done at Utkal Bhavan (Orissa Tourism), 55, Lenin Sarani. 22441195, 22443653


God, five times over, and 200 tiring steps to reach Him, touch Him and make a wish. I wished for a lesser number of steps so I could climb down fast. I asked the owner of a tea-stall in the vicinity how many steps there were to get back to terra firma. 200, he told me.
But that is exactly how it is at Panchalingeshwar, a place in Orissa that derives its name from the five Shiva lingas embedded in a fissure on a rock through which runs an exuberant stream. Four medium-sized rocks mark the spot where the otherwise invisible lingas stand immersed beneath the running waters. It is said that those who can feel them by groping around in the cold water will ?definitely? have their wishes fulfiled.
Some four hours by train to Balasore and one-and-a-half hours by bus or jeep from there, Panchalingeshwar is a place exalted in legend and shrouded by dense jungles where a whole new world opens up with each step.
Mosquito repellent
Sturdy shoes
Jarasanth, the ruler of Magadh who finds mention in the Mahabharata, is said to have worshipped the five lingas here. He was, however, longitudinally ripped in two halves by Bhima, and chances are that he, too, must have wished otherwise.
Wishes apart, Panchalingeshwar, with its cave temple perched on top of a forested hillock and deep, silent woods, makes for an ideal weekend getaway, especially at this time of year, when the forest is green and full of life. The hillock atop which the temple is situated ? around 20 leisurely minutes on foot from the Panthashala ? offers a spectacular view of the rolling Nilgiri hills that seem to stretch all the way to the horizon.
The symphony of birdcalls, complimented by whistling winds and gurgling brooks, provide constant company throughout the day. Crickets, owls and elephants take over the night shift. A fortunate few, and those with insomnia or a penchant for wildlife, can even catch a glimpse of the pachyderms on patrol on a full moon night, right outside the window.
How to get there
Take the overnight Falaknama Express to Balasore. Buses (not too many of them) and jeeps take you to Panchalingeshwar.
Where to stay:
Orissa Tourism Panthasala. Rs 200 per room for four persons. The caretaker cooks. Bookings at Utkal Bhavan (Orissa Tourism), 55 Lenin Sarani, 22443653, 22441195


As our car turned left towards Jhalong from NH 31C, which goes to Assam, at Khunia crossing, the jungle engulfed us. We were passing through the core area of Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary — home to elephants, leopards, tigers, Indian Gaur, deer, boars and a host of other wild animals. The narrow asphalt road crosses the elephant corridor at several points, as does the rail line to Alipurduar that also passes through the forest.
A group of elephants often take a leisurely stroll across the road and Indian Gaurs dart past vehicles into the forest. We were literally on the edge of our seats, but sadly, or maybe fortunately, we did not come face to face with any wildlife.
Soon we reached Gairibas, the biggest village before Jhalong. A few kilometres ahead, from a hilltop, we had the first and the most breathtaking view of Jhalong. Far below, the river Jaldhaka meandered through boulders towards the plain. The left bank climbs 200 ft to a green plateau in Bhutan. The Jhalong township with its electric transmission substation is spread out on the right bank. It’s a picture-postcard scene. We had travelled 35 km from Khunia crossing. Paren lay another 10 km ahead.
India’s first hydel power project was established on the bank of Jaldhaka in 1967. A township slowly developed around it. The village that originally stood there is very appropriately called Sundargaon. On the bank of another stream called Rongbu that passes through Jhalong, there is a beautiful forest bungalow. We crossed the stream and proceeded towards Paren.
The tar road ends soon after and a stone-and-mud path leads to a higher plateau through a village called Paren Compound. On the slope, small plots are cultivated. Three villages at different levels of the hill — Lower Paren, Upper Paren and Paren Compound constitute Paren, at a height of about 2,500 ft. The kutcha road ends in front of the West Bengal Forest Development Corporation’s cottages.
Facing east, on a raised stone platform, stood two octagonal cottages. They stood out with their shining tin roof and yellow wall with brick-coloured borders against the backdrop of a dense cluster of thick dark green pine and light green sal. The trees grew on a slope that climbs another 3,000 ft to a hamlet called Tunsung. The first rays of the sun touch the small balcony of the cottages. The rooms offered a wonderful view but only basic facilities.
There’s a direct bus from Siliguri Mittal bus stand for Jhalong (103 km). But it is irregular. It is best to go to Chalsa and take a jeep to Jhalong. Take a car to Paren from there. Kanchankanya Express goes directly to Malbazar. Hire a car from there.
West Bengal Forest Development Corporation cottages (Rs 650 per cottage). Contact: 22370060/61. 


If the thought of another trip to the overcrowded beaches of Digha or Puri draws a grimace rather than a grin, it is time to tread off the beaten track. Acres of silver sand and clear blue sky is not as far away from home as you think. On an isolated island in south Bengal, barely 135 km from the city, a picture perfect beach awaits you.
Sagardwip, popularly known as Gangasagar, is unexplored and hence unexploited. It is not just a place that pilgrims flock to for one of the largest religious congregations in this part of the country. The island, the largest in the Sunderbans, offers natural beauty in abundance. It is the ideal place to unwind after an exhausting week at office.
Sagardwip finds a mention in many tales of Hindu mythology and in ancient Indian literature. The Ramayana talks of the island. In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas go for sagarsangam. Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay set a novel and Rabindranath Tagore a poem in Sagardwip.
A peek into the island’s past will make the trip more interesting. Myths, however, are indistinguishable from facts when one delves into Sagardwip’s history. Legend has it that Raja Sagar, a king of Ekshakshu dynasty, ruled the island from Ayodhya. He once planned an ashwamedh yagna. The sacred yagna horse was stopped by Indra. Sagar’s 60,000 sons started looking for the horse. The animal was finally found at Maharishi Kapil’s ashram. When the king’s sons accused the sage of stopping the horse, he reduced them to ashes.
Years later, the great grandson of the king, Bhagirath, managed to bring Ganga from Gomukh to Sagardwip, where the river merged with the Bay of Bengal. The confluence lifted the curse on the 60,000 sons of Sagar. The dynasty regained its former glory. Ever since, millions believe a pilgrimage to the island washes away their sins and ensures a passage to heaven.
This is mythology. History has a different tale to tell. There was dense forest cover in Sagardwip till the early part of the 18th Century. There is no evidence that anyone lived on the island after 1688. In 1810, an employee of the British East India Company named Robertson first stumbled upon an assembly of thousand of Hindus at Sagarmela. But during those days, the place used to remain deserted at other times.
In 1822, East India Company sent five families from the Arakan valley to settle on the island. The project was a success. Population boomed at Sagardwip. But the human settlement was threatened by devastating tornadoes. The first was in 1833, followed by another in 1864. Nothing, however, halted the annual assembly in winter. Pilgrims used to come from as far off as Sri Lanka and Lahore.
The island developed slowly. The first Durga puja was held in 1933. A meeting of the Congress party was also held on Sagardwip the same year. The first motorable road was constructed in 1960. The island was finally electrified in the 1990s.
Dawn and dusk are enchanting on the beach. There is hardly a soul, only red crabs play hide and seek on the sand. They dive into their holes as you approach. Rows of trees border the sea front. The sunset is spectacular. The sky turns golden with a patch of red on the horizon. The silver sand reflects the last rays of the sun to create a magical ambience. You might come across honeymoon couples savouring a memorable moment. Large cargo ships, oil tankers, fishermen’s boats and their blue nets complete the panorama.
The lighthouse on the island is significant. It guides vessels on their way to Calcutta.
If you are looking for pilgrimage, head for the Kapil temple on the beach. This is the fourth Kapil temple constructed on the island. The first one, founded by Rani Satyabhama in 437, was razed by a tornado. The two temples after that were destroyed by the sea.
In 1961, chief minister BC Roy visited the island and donated Rs 11,000 to construct the current temple, which was completed in 1973. The structure is simple and houses images of Kapil, Ganga, Bhagirath, Indra and Sagar. It is managed by Rajguru Ramchand of Hanuman Gadi in Ayodha.
The Bharat Sevashram Sangha temple is bigger and has three massive towers. Prime Minister Morarji Desai had laid its foundation stone on May 28, 1979. You can also visit the Onkarnath temple and the Ramakrishna Mission.
If you are not religiously inclined, play the beach bum. A day of sun, surf, sky and sand will be rewarding enough.
Sagardwip is just 135 km from the city. But there is no direct connectivity from Calcutta. A break journey is a must. Take a Kakdwip-bound bus from Esplanade to Harwood Point. The journey takes about three hours. Cross the river by boat to reach Kachuberia. Another hour by bus will take you to Gangasagar. Minibus and hired car are available for the journey. You should reach the island about five hours after leaving the city.
Budget accommodation is easily available in Sagardwip. Hotel Larica, Youth Hostel and Bharat Sevashram Sangha guest house are the best options. There are many smaller hotels. Unless you want to be there for Sagarmela, avoid the island in mid-January. There is electricity on the island from 6 pm to
10 pm. Vessels from Harwood Point and Kachuberia are available every hour. There are plenty of eateries. There is no restriction on photography 


In the middle of the 17th century, Lama Lutsum Chembo travelled southwards from Tibet with the mission of establishing a Buddhist monarchy in the hidden country of Denjong (modern-day Sikkim), meaning the valley of rice.
After a long journey, he reached a place called Norbugang in 1642. There, he met Sempa Chembo and Rinzing Chembo. The three holy men started searching for a monarch to rule the land. They found the right candidate, named Phunstok, near Gangtok. He was the great grandson of Guru Tashi.
Phunstok was rushed to Yuksum. There, on a stone throne, the three Lamas crowned him the King of Sikkim. He was given the title of Chogyal, meaning the king who rules with righteousness, and was conferred the surname Namgyal.
The place was renamed Yuksum, meaning the meeting place of the three superior ones. The stone throne on which the coronation took place can still be seen.

Yuksum is an important tourist destination today. It is the last motorable point for the popular trek to Goechala (via Dzongri) and the base camp of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
The town has more to offer than a lunch point for trekkers and mountaineers.
The best way to get to Yuksum is by taking a night bus or train to Siliguri. From there a three-hour jeep journey will take you to Jorethan, which is another jeep journey away from Yuksum.
If you reach by evening, you will have plenty of time to explore the town. The town monastery is particularly interesting.
Next morning, follow the trail to Dubdi monastery. Built in 1701, it is the oldest monastery in Sikkim (though some would differ) and is located on a hilltop overlooking the town.
The road is well marked and it would take you only around half-an-hour to reach the monastery complex.
The small and elegant monastery houses some rare and beautiful paintings. The complex also provides a bird?s-eye view of the town.

After returning to Yuksum, visit the coronation site of the first monarch of Sikkim. It is known as The Throne of Norbugang.
The trail passes the holy lake of Kothok Pokhri. The coronation site is maintained by Archeological Society of India and has been declared a monument of national importance.
The stone throne consists of four seats: the top one was meant for Lama Lutsum Chembo, the slightly lower one on the right was for Punstok, the newly-crowned Chogyal of Sikkim, and the two lower seats on the left were for the other two Lamas.
The coronation took place under a pine tree, which exists to this day. Just opposite the throne is a chorten (stupa), which is said to contain water and soil from all over Sikkim.
Yuksum has plenty of walking trails and a trek down any of them in the afternoon will give you the perfect opportunity to enjoy nature in its purest form.
After a night halt in town, it?s time to head back home with memories that would last a long time.
Getting there:
Calcutta-Siliguri rocket bus (Rs 215) or Calcutta-NJP train (Rs 250 approximately). Jeeps are available from Siliguri to Jorethang (Rs 80) and Jorethang to Yuksum (Rs 80)
Places to stay:
Yuksum has a number of hotels for various budgets. Tashi Gang (Rs 500-1,200), Pemathang (Rs 550-650), Demazong (Rs 150-350), Wild Orchid (Rs 100) and Dzongrila (Rs 100) are some of the well-known hotels. Paying-guest accommodation is available in Yuksum. There are also some good restaurants


Sandwiched between Singalila National Park in the south and Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve in the north lies the Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary. This tiny 104-sq-km sanctuary forms a vital corridor linking the two larger areas. Its altitude ranges from 2,200 m to 4,100 m and supports a wide variety of bio-diversity ? sub-tropical forest, mixed broadleaf forest, conifer forest and alpine meadows. But the primary attraction of this small sanctuary is, as its name suggests, rhododendron blooms.
Come May, the entire forest turns into a riot of red. Renowned botanist Sir JD Hooker, one of the first Europeans to travel to this region, is known to have said: ?The super abundance of rhododendron is the glory of the Singilila Range. The banks of the rivers between 8,000 ft and 14,000 ft are generally covered with the flowers, sometimes to the exclusion of other vegetation.?
Several species of rhododendron bloom in this area. The popular red variety, as well as the comparatively lesser-known pink and white varieties, are found in abundance. Varsey is a stone?s throw away from Calcutta, and an extended weekend is all you need to visit the ?garden of the Gods?.
The best way to get to Varsey is to take the night train or bus to New Jalpaiguri or Siliguri. From there, take a jeep to Jorethang and again to Hilley, a small hamlet surrounded by rhododendron trees and the last motorable point before Varsey. After a night spent in a shabby hotel in Hilley, next morning stretch your legs and get going.
A four-km leisurely walk on fairly even ground takes you to the final destination. En route, you pass through beautiful pine forests. Within an hour, you are at the final point of the journey. Scattered along the trail are rhododendron trees, flaming when in season. The bright white flowers of the occasional magnolia tree create a striking contrast against the deep blue background of the sky. Last but not least are the snow peaks that tower above the treetops.
The entry permit for the rhododendron sanctuary can be obtained from Hilley and an entry fee of Rs 25 per head per day is charged. Check in at the Gurash Kunj Lodge (Gurash means rhododendron) in Varsey. The two-storied lodge is the only place to stay. Bunking down in a dormitory with fellow travellers is a unique experience. Remember to bargain for whatever you buy. After leaving your luggage at the lodge, you can take a stroll outside. There are several short walking paths.
The best time to visit is in spring (April-May), when the entire region turns into a sea of red. But if it is a glimpse of the Kanchenjunga you want, then it?s clear weather from October to November. The area is surrounded with snow from December to March.
Start the next day with a gorgeous sunrise on Kanchenjunga. The image of the first golden rays striking out from beyond the mountain is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on your mind, and a smile on your face and a spring in your step on the way back home.
How to get there: Take a night train or bus to New Jalpaiguri or Siliguri. From there, jeeps are available to Jorethang (fare Rs 70 per head). From Jorethang, it?s another jeep-ride to Hilley (fare Rs 50 per head), but this one isn?t very frequent. The alternative is to take a jeep to Ribdi and then walk eight km to Hilley (porters are available). For the return journey, the jeep must be booked in advance
Places to stay and eat: To book your stay at Gurash Kunj Lodge, dial 9830022469. Accommodation in dormitory beds costs Rs 200 and the tariff for the only double-bed room is Rs 1,500 per day. Vegetarian thali costs Rs 80, an egg thali Rs 100 and a chicken thali Rs 130.