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West Bengal

General Information
Area : 88,752 sq km
Population : 80.2 million
Capital : Kolkata (formerly Calcutta)
Languages Spoken : Bengali
Best Time to Visit : October to March
Cuisine : Fish, rice and a plethora of milk-based sweets are Bengali specialties.

Introduction

West Bengal covers the bottleneck of India in the east, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. It shares international boundaries with Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, and national borders with Sikkim, Assam, Orissa and Bihar. The alluvial plain in the south is watered by the legendary River Hooghly and its tributaries, while the Himalayan north is watered by the swift flowing Tista, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Ranjit rivers. The terrain varies from the northern highlands at the feet of the Himalayas to the tropical forests of Sunderbans.

Bengal has a long history, that dates back to before the Aryan invasion of India. Known as 'Gauda' or 'Vanga' in ancient Sanskrit literature, Bengal had a well-settled civilization and culture when the Aryans came. It was an integral part of successive empires of the Mauryas and Guptas. It also had its own dynasty of independent rulers, the Palas, who extended the state boundaries considerably. The Senas and the Muslim Sultanate, who occupied Bengal, shaped its' distinct identity. Modern Bengal's history began with the advent of European and English trading companies. The end of British imperialism saw a divided Bengal in 1947, with East Bengal (now the sovereign state of Bangladesh) becoming a part of Pakistan.

The cradle of Indian renaissance and the national freedom movement, West Bengal has long been considered by many as the cultural centre of India. Its' artistic genius is reflected in numerous ways, in its theatre, folk music, literature, films and paintings. A land of aesthetes and political activists, West Bengal is famous for its many eminent writers, poets, artists, spiritualists, social reformers, freedom fighters and revolutionaries.

Cities

Kolkata

Kolkata, three hundred years old, traces its history to the landing of Robert Clive on the banks of the Hooghly beside three villages. Kolkata was the first headquarters of the East India Company, and it was from here that the British Raj was launched in India. However, the city's 300 years' of history has seen it host other communities - Chinese, Armenians, Jews - all of whom have left their imprint in pockets of Kolkata. If Delhi is the political capital of the nation, and Mumbai its financial capital, then Kolkata has long been acknowledged as its' intellectual capital. Poets, thinkers, writers and film directors of international renown hail from this city where avant garde plays and art exhibitions go on show practically every day of the year. Kolkata is a city with a soul and its' residents are passionately fond of it. Visit:

Raj Bhawan, the residence of the Governor
Victoria Memorial, the city's landmark
Botanical Gardens, notable for the oldest banyan tree in the world
Armenian Church
Marble Palace, one family's collection of memorabilia
Birla Planetarium
Howrah Bridge, spanning the Hooghly River
Belur Math, headquarters of the twin organizations, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission


Places to visit

Darjeeling

West Bengal's most popular hill station is a slice of England 2,134 metres above sea level. Surrounded by tea gardens growing the prized leaf known as "Darjeeling", the little town faces some of the Himalaya's highest peaks. Darjeeling is an abrupt variation from the lowlands of West Bengal. Buddhism is a major faith here, and Darjeeling and the nearby town of Kalimpong have, between them, several Buddhist monasteries, chiefly of the Yellow Hat sect.

Sunderbans Wildlife Sanctuary

South of Kolkata on the Bay of Bengal is the area known as the Sunderbans, part of the world's largest estuarine delta formed by the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. Sunderbans is home to the elusive Royal Bengal tiger, and a World Heritage listed park. The dense forests, fringed by mangrove jungles, are truly one of the great wild areas of the world. Most journeys through these humid forests are done by boat

Shantiniketan

136 km from Kolkata is this one-of-its- kind university, started by Rabindranath Tagore as an experimental open-air classroom.

Vishnupur

The temples of Vishnupur are an architectural treasure trove.

Digha

The seven km long flat, hard beach, dotted with casuarina plantations, is close to the border with Orissa and a 5 hour drive from Kolkata. Here the river Hooghly becomes indistinguishable from the Bay of Bengal.

How To Get There

Air : The state has an international airport in Kolkata , the state capital and another domestic airport at Bagdogra near Siliguri, in the northern Bengal. These two airports are served by nearly all public and private airlines and linked to major Indian cities like Delhi , Mumbai , Chennai and so on. Most of the destinations in West Bengal are located at convenient distance from Kolkata and Bagdogra

Road : An extensive road network covers the entire state. A number of National Highways and State Highways crisscross the land. One can also approach the state from neighbouring states, name Bihar , Orissa and Jharkhand . Cross border road transportation is also operational with neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

Rail : The state has a very good rail network too. Two railway stations namely: Howrah and Sealdah near Kolkata and New Jalpaiguri, close to Siliguri, are key railway stations in the state. There are numerous other railheads that are served by important trains from all over the country and link major destinations within the state.
   
 
West Bengal
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