For someone who has lived all their life in Kolkata, the city of joy is quite different from other metropolitan cities. Kolkata is not merely a city but an emotion especially for the people residing here. Explore some of the hidden gems in and around Kolkata for a different experience of the city of joy. By Trinetra Paul
Modernity and hullabaloo of a fast paced city life bows down to the serenity and charm of Kolkata. One can spend hours appreciating the beauty of the mighty Ganges with their significant other or indulge in some heated jukti tokko adda (fun debates) over a cup of bharer cha (tea in clay cups). In fact, it offers a number of quaint getaway spots to spend quality time too.
The former capital of India till 1911, Kolkata was originally called Calcutta. The city was built by combining three villages – Gobindapur, Sutanuti and Kalikata. Though the name may not be there anymore, the old world charm from the times of the British East India Company is engraved in the walls of the many buildings and places scattered across the city.
From the bylanes of College Street and boi para (book lane), one of the oldest and largest markets of second-hand books to the book collections at National Library; the view from Howrah Bridge and restaurants at Park Street to the grandeur of the Eden Gardens, theatres and cultural programmes at Academy of Fine Arts and Rabindra Sadan, if there is one city that personifies the title of the ‘cultural capital of India’, it is Kolkata.
With such a golden past and rich heritage, Kolkata is dotted with a number of hidden gems that are breathtaking and boast of natural beauty. Going beyond the obvious list of tourist attractions that include Victoria Memorial, South Park Street Cemetery, Prinsep Ghat and others, the city and its outskirts have a world yet to be explored.
When in West Bengal, you can ditch the same old trodden path and take the offbeat one to discover a face of the city and its sights that you’ve never seen before.
Opt for the road less taken and check out these hidden gems in and around Kolkata
Known for its beautiful rural setting and revered temples, Bakreswar is a quiet town with natural hot water springs that have medicinal values.
Located at a distance of about 230 kms from the main city, the place holds immense religious significance as the Mahishasuramardini temple is one of the 51 ‘Shakti Peeth’ sites spread across India. The ancient temple is built at a site where the eyebrows of Sati (Goddess Durga) are believed to have fallen when Lord Vishnu used the Sudarshan Chakra to cut her body after her self-immolation. Another revered temple close to the Mahishasuramardini temple is the Bakreswar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is derived from two words, ‘bakra’ meaning deformed and ‘ishwar’ meaning God. Legends say that centuries ago a physically disabled sage sat here for his hard penance and worshipped the deity after which he was cured.
For the ones not so mythologically inclined, Bakreswar is a must-visit hidden gem owing to its hot water springs. The springs offer a soothing temperature of 90 degrees F to a steaming 200 degrees F at the Agni Kunda hot spring. Located right next to the Bakreswar temple, you must surely indulge in a rejuvenating dip at these natural pools.
The place is very well connected by rail and road. The nearest railway station is Birbhum which has daily trains from Kolkata. One can easily drive down as well via the Panagarh-Morgram Expressway, that connects the Grand Trunk Road to NH 5, also passes through Birbhum district. There are several accommodation options available for an overnight stay as well.
Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s West Bengal abode Jorasanko is one of the famous tourist places in Kolkata. In 1921 ‘Kabiguru’ (as Tagore is fondly called) founded the Visva Bharati University in the quaint town of Shantiniketan that emerged as an integral educational and cultural hub of India. It reflects the philosophy and thought process of Tagore which encourages learning amidst nature, celebrating festivals that praise the natural abundance and leading a simple life. The alumni includes names like Indira Gandhi and Amartya Sen. Sonajhuri is a serene village snuggled amidst the forest coverings of Shantiniketan that is a must-visit hidden gem.
The gentle Kopai River flows that beside it elevates the ambience and scenic beauty. When the rains hit the place, Sonajhuri forest comes alive with the tunes of Baul music. The main attraction here is the weekly ‘Shanibarer haat’ (Saturday market) that is set up amidst the trees. You can find katha embroidered sarees, dokra works, shawls, home decor items and much more which are made by the local community. You can also participate in the local Santhali dance in the market premises.
Apart from Punascha, Konark, Shyamali and the other complexes and houses of Tagore, visit Bonerpukur Gram, a hidden village with red clay pathways to experience typical rural Bengal. Nature lovers can also visit the Ballavpur Bird Sanctuary and spot different species of animals and birds.
A serene place amidst the forests of Sundarban, Jharkhali serves as an ideal weekend destination that hosts world’s largest mangrove forests. At a distance of about 100 kms from Kolkata, what was once a vast expanse of a windy mangrove forest, has now been turned into a beautiful eco-tourism destination. Trees like hetal and sundari comprise the major species of mangroves found in this region, which is where the Ganges drains into the Bay Of Bengal.
The Sundarbans are one of the rare and extreme landscapes on the planet. It is a place ruled by the rise and ebb of tides, the growls of the mighty Royal Bengal Tigers and is home to some of the most exquisite and endangered species of flora and fauna.
Witness this gem of a place on a boat ride to get the maximum feel. You can spot crocodiles, river snakes, Kingfishers, red crabs and tiger paw prints. Owing to the sheer size and expanse of the forests, sighting a tiger needs luck. You can also spend a night in these houseboats to experience this mystique forest at its best.
Climb up the Dobanki or Bonnie Camp watchtowers to scan the place and catch the exotic wildlife in action. Other noted watch towers include Pakhiralay and Sudhanyakhali, which offer equally mesmerising views.
Gently washed by the Bidyadhari and Herobhanga rivers, Jharkhali marks one of the entry points to the Sundarbans at its southeast end. It can be reached from Basanti and Canning. There are regular trains and buses from Kolkata to Canning. From there the journey to Jharkhali goes through quiet paddy fields and small villages. There are a number of options to stay suiting all budgets that make up for an ideal weekend destination.
Did you know that West Bengal has its own Grand Canyon? The sandstone gorges of Gangani bear a mere resemblance with the famous US tourist spot and that’s what has earned it this nickname.
Located in the outskirts of Garhbeta town in West Medinipur district of West Bengal, Gangani is about 134kms from Kolkata. Flowing for thousands of years, the Silabati river has given the rugged look to the place. Locally known as ‘Gongoni Danga‘ or ‘Gongoni Khola‘ the place is ideal for a short day trip.
The peaceful environment is sure to captivate your mind. The best time to visit is during the monsoon and winter to avoid the scorching heat and see the river at its full splendour. There is a staircase that will take you to the riverbed and if it is not raining, you can cross the river by foot.
You can reach Gangani by road or take a scenic train ride. Those wanting to drive down can take the NH6 from Kolkata to Uluberia via Bagnan and from there either go towards Chandrakona Town via Ghatal or Salboni via NH60. Ganagni is just a few kilometres from both towns. For those taking the train, the Rupashi Bangla Express from Santragachi Station at Howrah will take you to Garhbeta Station.
Barrackpore is one of the many places that has played a major role in shaping the course of Indian history. A treasured historical place, the Barrackpore Cantonment is one of the hidden gems near Kolkata that is very less explored.
The famous freedom fighter Mangal Pandey resided here when he openly revolted against the British in 1857 that came to be regarded as the Sepoy Mutiny – India’s First War of Independence. At that time a new Enfield rifle was introduced in India which required the soldiers to bite off the end of the cartridges before loading. A rumour spread that the grease used in the cartridges were made of cow and pig fat, which are forbidden by Hindus and Muslims respectively. Mangal Pandey and his fellow soldiers met with fatal consequences after starting a streak of revolt.
Barrackpore is home to many freedom fighters and the rickshaws available will take you all around the cantonment and show interesting places that belonged to the famed Barrackpore Army regiment. The Aamir Khan starrer movie Mangal Pandey is based on the life of this braveheart and captures the area very well.
Situated along the banks of the Hooghly river, Barrackpore takes you on a beautiful stroll down history. At about 24 kms north of Kolkata, it can be easily reached by car via Kalyani Expressway. Also, there are regular trains from Kolkata that take less than an hour.
Some of the local Kolkataites would not know about this hidden gem right at the heart of the city, called Tiretta Bazar.
Kolkata has a long history of Chinese population. Several Chinese people migrated to the city to set up their businesses and since then they have called the city their home as they resided at this place in central Kolkata. Known as the Chinatown of Kolkata, Tiretta Bazar is a breakfast hub offering lip smacking Chinese street food.
Every Sunday, early morning, the streets of Tiretta Bazar, very close to Lalbazar, turn into a Chinese food market offering a variety of items like fish soup, dumplings, baos, meat skewers and others. The place will give you an instant trip to the bylanes of China as several home run businesses of salons and authentic sauce shops like Pou Chong still function here. It also has a number of Chinese temples built in the 18th century which have a unique blend of both cultures.
Recently The World Monuments Watch (WMW) listed this hidden gem of central Kolkata as one of the ‘25 heritage sites of extraordinary significance, facing pressing challenges.’ Though several eateries have migrated to South Kolkata and other parts of the city for better prospects, the place continues to hold its old world charm.
One can easily drive down from any part of Kolkata, however finding a parking spot in this busy area might be a nuisance. You can take one of the buses to Lalbazar and walk to Tiretta Bazar.
Darjeeling and Kalimpong are heavily crowded and popular hill stations near Kolkata. However, if you are looking for a tad bit of a secluded vacation away from the din and cacophony, Makaibari tea estates provide the right setting.
Makaibari tea is famous all over the world for its rich aroma and light taste. The factory was one of the firsts to be set up here in 1859. The Makaibari bungalow and estate is just about an hour and a half from Darjeeling.
The estate makes some of the most iconic teas including the Silver Tips Imperial. The tea is a luxury item as 200 kilograms of leaves yields just about 50 kg of processed Silver Tips Imperial tea. Hence the price that goes up to lakhs is justified.
The place offers a beautiful view of the Kanchenjunga range and sprawling tea plantations that goes beyond the horizon. Today, Makaibari sustains seven villages and has formed a kind of eco tourism sector that helps in generating revenue and employment.
You can stay at the Makaibari Tea Estate Homestays or other bungalow options. From here you can go on day trips to Lava, Lolegaon, Darjeeling, Ghoom, Batasia Loop and others.
After an overnight train to New Jalpaiguri Railway Station, driving down to Makaibari tea estate is the easiest way to reach the place. You can also fly to Bagdogra airport and take a cab from there too.
If you ask your Kolkata folks about a weekend trip, the top names that come up may include Digha, Bakkhali, Mandarmani, Mayapur and others. For your next trip, ditch these usual spots and head to Mukutmanipur for a different side of Bengal.
A serene place amidst forests and hills, Mukutmanipur is situated at the confluence of two rivers— Kangsabati and Kumari and shares borders with the neighbouring state of Jharkhand.
A must visit place here is the huge dam built over the Kangsabati river that offers some spectacular stunning sunset views and is as romantic as it can get. The Bankupuria deer park too is a popular place for family outings. Witness the stunning chiaroscuro of nature as sunlight peaks through the canopy enveloping the deer park. You can also visit the Musafirana View Point and Pareshnath Shiv temple as well.
One can go for the trains from Kolkata to Bankura and take a cab from there. It is also well connected by roads from Kolkata and other districts and makes for a scenic drive.
Located in the Purulia region of West Bengal, Ajodhya hills or ‘Ajodhya Pahar’ as it is locally called marks the extension of the Eastern Ghats and Dalma Hills and is quite a hidden gem near Kolkata.
When visiting Ajodhya Hills on a weekend trip, visit the Mayur Pahar, which is located about 42 kms from main Purulia. Nature lovers and adrenaline seekers can trek up the hill for a splendid experience.
Next, you can visit the spectacular Bamni Falls. The laal matir desh (land of the red soil) as it is called locally, will welcome you with such a tranquil waterfall that you are sure to forget all the humdrums of city life. When going from Ajodhya to Baghmundi you will find the falls midway.
Don’t miss the Charida Village. Snuggled in an isolated corner of Purulia, the village is home to artisans who make stunning masks and headgears for the well-known ‘Chhau’ dance. The craft has been handed down since generations and residents take pride in making these intricate masks that become the star attraction of the ‘Chhau’ show.
Other noted sites here include Pakhi Pahar, Turga Falls and dam and Matha Forest.
Easily accessible by road and train from Kolkata all year long, winter is the best time to visit the place.
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