Things to Do in West Bengal
More than 2 million people cross the Howrah Bridge each day, earning it the title of the busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The 2,313 foot (705 meter) expanse of steel girders hanging over the water connect Howrah and Kolkata with eight lanes of chaotic auto rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cars, animals and pedestrian traffic.
The Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata is a symbol of both the city and of the entire British Raj. A tribute to Queen Victoria by the viceroy of India, the giant, white-marble building was erected over a 15-year period, starting in 1906. Today it houses a museum covering the history of the Raj and is surrounded by English-style gardens.
The Missionaries of Charity (MOC) Mother House in Kolkata is a mission center founded by Mother Teresa in 1950. It was from here that the now canonized Catholic nun began administering to the city’s poor and sick, and it now serves as a residence for the charity’s nuns and as her burial place.
Darjeeling has a large Tibetan community, and its Ghum Monastery(Yiga Choeling Monastery) is one of the city's most popular sights. With its traditional architecture and golden exterior detailing, the monastery itself is a sight to behold, but the monastery’s 15-foot-tall (4.6-meter-tall) Maitreya Buddha statue and the views of the surrounding hills are what bring many visitors here.
Gangtok, the largest town and capital of the Indian state of Sikkim, got its start as a Buddhist pilgrimage site in the mid-nineteenth century, but today, it’s better known as a jumping off point for treks in the surrounding Himalayan mountains.
Much like Darjeeling, Gangtok descends in steep tiers down a mountain ridge, with views of towering Khangchendzonga to the West. At first glance, there isn’t much to the city as far as attractions go, but visitors often find themselves lingering, entranced by the laid-back vibe and local culture of the very clean and very well laid out town.
Most of Gangtok’s notable sites are of the religious variety, including the Enchey Monastery, the Rumtek Monastery (one of Buddhism’s most sacred), the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology and the Thakurbari Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to Ganpati and Hanuman.
Built in 1864, Eden Gardens is the oldest cricket ground in India and one of the largest in India and in the world, with a seating capacity of 68,000. Cricket is very popular in India, so watching a match or taking a tour of Eden Gardens is a good way to get an insight into sports and popular culture in this country.
The seat of the Diocese of Calcutta of the Church of North India, St. Paul's Cathedral was built in 1847, effectively shifting the hub of Anglicanism in the city from St. John's Cathedral. Though its main function is as a house of worship, the imposing cathedral also features a decent library with numerous books on theology and general interest.
Central Kolkata’s College Street is the heart of intellectualism in a city that prides itself on its esteemed academic traditions. Thousands of second-hand book stalls line the street to either side where you can find nearly any book ever sold in the city, including rare titles at bargain basement prices.
Dating back to the end of the 18th century, St. John's Church was the first Anglican cathedral in India. It was one of the earliest buildings set up by the East India Company, its construction funded largely by public lottery. The church served as the seat of the Anglican Church until the 1847 construction of St. Paul's Cathedral.
The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, often referred to as simply the Darjeeling Zoo, was founded in 1958 to help conserve the unique fauna of the Himalayan range. The 68-acre (27-hectare) zoo, considered among the best in India, houses animals like clouded leopards, Himalayan bears, Tibetan wolves and red pandas.
As a conservation organization, the zoo specializes in captive breeding programs for Himalayan megafauna. Thanks to the success of the snow leopard breeding center, the Darjeeling Zoo is now home to the largest captive population of the endangered species.
More Things to Do in West Bengal
In 1953, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI was founded in Darjeeling to celebrate Tenzing Norgay’s trip to the summit of Mount Everest alongside Edmund Hillary. Today, the institute has become somewhat of a pilgrimage site for climbers, who come from around the globe to train here.
Rising from the banks of Kolkata’s River Hooghly, the Dakshineswar Kali Temple is held sacred by millions of Hindu faithful. Built in 1855, the 9-spired temple is dedicated to the goddess Kali and offers an insight into the city’s religious life and culture.
Built in 1809 and dedicated to the goddess Kali, Kolkata’s famous Kalighat Kali Temple is easily the city’s most important Hindu site. It’s a major point of pilgrimage for Hindu devotees from around the country, with upwards of 20,000 people sometimes visiting in a single day. The name of the city is said to have been derived from the temple’s name.
Founded in 1814, Kolkata’s Indian Museum is India’s oldest and largest museum, and hosts a vast collection of historical artifacts and natural history specimens. Located near the Maidan park, the colonnaded museum is a must-see for visitors interested in India’s past.
Often described as the lungs of Kolkata, the Maidan is the city’s largest urban green space, home to numerous cricket and soccer fields, playgrounds, the flowery Eden Gardens, and several memorials and monuments. The park is an important gathering place in Kolkata, and residents head to the Maidan for entertainment and leisure on the weekends.
The Marble Palace, one of Kolkata’s more curious landmarks, was constructed in 1835 by a wealthy merchant and art enthusiast named Raja Rajendra Mullick. Made from more than 90 varieties of marble, the palatial mansion draws inspiration from nearly every cultural influence imaginable, with artifacts from across Asia, Africa, and Europe; they even have authentic Rubens and Renoir pieces on the walls.
Located in the heart of Kolkata, the MP Birla Planetarium is the largest planetarium in Asia and second-largest in the world. The single-story dome houses a working observatory equipped with a Celestron C-14 telescope. The outer ring of the structure is home to an astronomy gallery with a large collection of paintings and models from some of the world’s most renowned astronomers.
If you're looking for a place to escape the heat of Kolkata, Aquatica Water Park will deliver. This giant park and conference center features a variety of waterslides for visitors of all ages, including a lazy river and a family pool with gentle waves and water features, plus a smattering of fast-paced slides for daring visitors.
Considered one of Kolkata’s most important Jain temples, the Pareshnath Temple is also one of the city’s most extravagant. Composed of four temples located in ornamental gardens, the complex is dedicated to Pareshnath, a Jain tirthankar (spiritual teacher), and attracts thousands of Jain followers and non-Jain visitors each year.
Belur Math is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, founded in 1898 by Swami Vivekananda. It features architectural elements borrowed from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, a nod to the mission’s beliefs in interfaith unity. Depending on your vantage point, Belur Math can resemble a church, mosque, or temple.
Built in 1926, the Nakhoda Mosque is Kolkata’s principal and biggest mosque, capable of holding 10,000 worshippers. Located in the Chitpur area of Kolkata, this enormous red-sandstone edifice echoes India’s Fatehpur Sikri-style of architecture, with its ornate exterior and green-roofed domes, minars (Indian turrets), and minarets.
Built in 1875, the Tagore House was the ancestral home of India’s greatest modern poet, Rabindranath Tagore—a native of Kolkata. The first non-European to obtain the Nobel Prize for Literature, the poet was born (1861) and died (1941) in this vast house, which is now a museum honoring his life and works.
Ganga Sagar (Sagar Island, the largest village on Sagar Island 50 miles (80 kilometers south of Kolkata, has long been an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. Each January on Makar Sankranti, pilgrims from around the country gather on the island to take a ceremonial bath in the waters where the Ganges River meets the Bay of Bengal.
Bharat Sevashram Sangha is a Hindu charitable organization headquartered in Kolkata. Visitors to their temple and ashram on the island of Ganga Sagar can learn about the organization’s humanitarian efforts, including disaster relief, healthcare, education, tribal welfare, vocational training programs, and spiritual outreach.
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