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WEST BENGAL

KolkataWest Bengal is a land of varied charms. Right from the mighty Himalayas in the north to the sea-caressed beaches in the south, it offers a wonderful journey over the verdant plains, hilly terrains, forests and the wonderful mangrove forests - the Sunderbans. West Bengal is a land of incessant natural beauty, exquisite lyrical poetry and enthusiastic people. It is also a wonder-filled journey through the rich cultural treasures of the state. West Bengal has long been considered by many as the cultural center of India.

West Bengal was formerly known as Banga and was spread over a vast area. Ruled by several dynasties from ancient times, the actual history of this region is, however, available from the Gupta period. The prosperity and the importance of the state increased largely when the British East India Company took over the place. It was a widespread Bengal province until under the terms of the Indian Independence Act, 1947, the province of Bengal ceased to exist. The Muslim-dominated eastern part became East Pakistan and later, Bangladesh. West Bengal became a state of India.


DARJEELING

Toy train, Darjeeling Darjeeling is internationally acclaimed as one of the best hill resorts. In Lepcha language, Darjeeling means the abode of God. Darjeeling conjures visions of serenity, of vibrant green hills steeped in splendour, a land of breathtaking beauty and crowned by the majestic Himalayas. Darjeeling also means the 'place of the thunderbolt' in Tibetan, ‘dorje’ & ‘ling’. According to the legend, the scepter (a lightning bolt) of God Indra is believed to have fallen at a place where now stands the Observatory Hill.

The lush greens, the lofty mountains, the cascading rivers, the view of Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest pass by during the gradually chugging Toy Train. This heavenly retreat is bathed in hues of every shade. The flaming red rhododendrons, the sparkling white magnolias, the miles of undulating hillsides covered with emerald green tea bushes, the exotic forests of silver fir - all under the blanket of a brilliant azure sky dappled with specks of clouds, compellingly confounds Darjeeling as the Queen of hill stations. A tourism experience with a difference is Darjeeling. The traveller - whether a normal tourist or a trekker, an ornithologist or a photographer, a botanist or an artist - will find in Darjeeling an experience which will remain etched in ones memory forever. The world famous hill resort on the foothills of the Himalayas is the paradise for the plant and adventure lover. The high quality trails surrounding Darjeeling and its tremendous views make it an ideal locale for hiking. A leisurely couple of days hike to the top of Mount Sandakphu (3536 m) is rewarded with an astounding vista of the Kanchenjunga massif and the highest mountain in the world, Mt. Everest.

The town of Darjeeling offers one of the most dynamic mixes of culture on the subcontinent. Tibetan Lamas can be seen climbing the steep streets in their yellow robes, alongside Sherpas, Gurkhas, Gurung farmers, and people from a host of other cultures and regions. While Darjeeling is a place of mythical significance to its people, its value was primarily practical to the British as the strategic gateway to Nepal and Tibet. Darjeeling also offers a cool escape from the heat and dust of the plains below. The British started to develop the region as a summer retreat shortly after they arrived there in 1828. Darjeeling soon became a haven for tea growing as well, and its cool and misty tea plantations are among the most idyllic attractions in India.

Tiger Hill: It is the most popular view point renowned for sunrise view over Kanchenjunga and the eastern Himalayan. Tiger Hill is near Ghoom, about 11km from Darjeeling. On a clear day even Mount Everest is visible.

Ghoom Monastery: Also known as Yiga Choling Gompa, this is the most famous monastery in Darjeeling. It enshrines 15 images of the Maitreya Buddha. Belonging to the yellow-hat sect, the monastery contains many ancient palm leaf and paper manuscripts in Tibetan script. As Ghoom is mostly swathed in mists, and the monastery is old and dark, it is often affectionately called Gloom monastery.

Observatory Hill: This is a sacred viewpoint to both Hindus and Buddhists as it has Hindu and Buddhist shrines.

Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center: It is a major center for the production of Tibetan crafts like carpets, wood, woolen and leather goods by the Tibetan refugees. Established in 1959 after the Dalai Lama and his followers fled Tibet, it is a haven for ethnic Tibetan art. The weaving and dyeing shops and the wood carving shop are particularly interesting.

Himalayan Mountaineering Institute: It is a training centre for mountaineers, which also houses a couple of interesting museums. The Everest museum specializes on the various techniques of mountaineering and states it's discovery and history of different expeditions. The Mountaineering Museum contains a collection of historic mountaineering equipment, specimens of Himalayan flora and fauna and a relief model of the Himalayan range.

Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park: Located adjacent to Himalayan Mountaineering institute, this wildlife park houses India's only collection of Siberian tigers and some rare species, such as the red Panda, Himalayan black Bear, snow Leopards, the Tibetan Wolf and many bird species as well. This wildlife park is named after the first Governor of the state of West Bengal (Padmaja Naidu), This zoo was established in 1958 with the objectives of study, conservation and preservation of the Himalayan fauna.

Happy Valley Tea Garden: Apart from tourism, Tea is the biggest industrial activity, offering the largest employment in the hills of Darjeeling. Happy Valley Tea Garden located approximately one km from Darjeeling town offers the tourists an opportunity to experience the manufacturing process of the famous Darjeeling Tea.


KALIMPONG

Kalimpong in Bhutanese means, a Minister’s stronghold. It is also called Kalimpong in local dialect meaning "black spur". As per Lepchas, Kalimpong means ‘ridge where we play’. It is said that these local tribesmen used to organise field sports while not engaged in agricultural pursuit – hence the name.

A beautiful hill town in North Bengal, Kalimpomg offers a quiet and relaxed holiday experience against the backdrop of the Kanchenjunga. Though Kalimpong lacks Darjeeling’s colonial charm, it’s a pleasant place to explore and there is plenty to see in the area. The town is warmer and flatter than Darjeeling. The journey from Darjeeling to Kalimpong is also a beautiful experience. The road drops from Ghoom 2,222m to Teesta Bazar 210m in 12 km and passes through lush green forests and tea gardens. A place called the Viewpoint or ‘Lovers Meet’, offers an excellent view of the confluence of the Rangit and the Teesta rivers, as also of the Himalayan mountain range from Durbindara summit. Kalimpong’s attractions include three Buddhist monasteries, orchid nurseries, a sericulture centre and Dr. Graham’s Home, a large sprawling school set up in 1900 for educating the children of tea workers.

KOLKATA (CALCUTTA)

Victoria Memorial, KolkataKolkata, a city that means many things to many people. For some, Kolkata is the city of joy, while for others it is dirty, crowded, and noisy. Once the greatest colonial city in the Orient, Kolkata was later reviled as a cauldron of poverty, dirt and disease. A mere village in the 17th century, Kolkata is not an ancient city like Delhi. Like Mumbai and Chennai, it originated largely due to the expansionist ambitions of the European powers. The city became famous in 1756, when Siraj-Ud-Dawlah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, captured the city but in the following year the British regained their power and the city was recaptured under Robert Clive. The first Governor General of India, Warren Hastings made it the seat of the supreme courts of Justice and the supreme Revenue Administration for British India and Kolkata became its capital in 1772. Kolkata has some of the finest Raj edifices built in a variety of styles.

By 1800 Kolkata had become a busy and flourishing city, the center of the cultural as well as the political and economic life of Bengal. Today, it ranks among the four major metropolis of India along with Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai.

Victoria Memorial: It is a huge white-marble structure and the most enduring of remains of the British Raj in India. The structure, which is now floodlit in the night, gives a fascinating sight. It has now been converted into a museum that houses the most impressive collection of memorabilia's from the days of the Raj.

Indian Museum: Built in 1874, the oldest museum in India has a beautiful structure. It has one of the rare collections of archeological importance. The entrance to the museum houses the original Lion capitol, the national symbol of India.

Eden Garden: Located in the northwest corner of the city, Eden Garden is a small and pleasantly laid out garden. The place also houses the renowned cricket ground by the same name.

Kali Temple: This temple dedicated to Kali, goddess of destruction of all things evil. This is the temple from which the old village Kalikata took its name, which in turn, also gave the city its name.

Howrah Bridge: It is an excellent example of engineering techniques of the early 20th century. The whole bridge is 450 m long without any pylon in the river. The bridge also has the distinction of being the busiest bridge in the world catering to more than 100,000 vehicles and innumerable pedestrians daily.

Other important sites that can be visited are Missions of Charity, Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, Botanical Garden, Marble Palace, Tagore House, Church of St. John, Nakhoda Mosque, Raj Bhawan, Town Hall and St. Paul's Cathedral.


SUNDERBANS WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

Sunderbans is one of the most unique ecosystems in this part of the world and is dominated by mangrove forests. Sunderbans is a must see place for the lover of Nature. It is situated at the mouth of the Ganges and spreads over 54 islands - some of them are in Bangladesh. Canning, 40 km south-east away from Calcutta, is the gateway to the Sunderbans. It is one of the last preserves of the Tiger. A UNESCO world heritage site, Sundarbans is the biggest colony of the Royal Bengal Tigers. Project Tiger was implemented here in 1973 and later the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve was demarcated over an area of 2,585 sq. km. The core area of 1,330 sq. km has been declared a Wildlife Sanctuary. The reserve has a tiger population approx. 300. The only mangrove species, the Tiger here has adapted well to its habitat. The land is split by numerous rivers and water channels all emptying into the Bay of Bengal. It is believed that Bonbibi, the goddess of the forest, protects the woodcutters, honey-collectors and fishermen on their hazardous missions through the forest. Sunderbans also provide important habitat for a variety of other animal and bird species including river Terrapin, olive Ridley, estuarine Crocodile, monitor Lizard, water Monitor, Indian Python, Asian open-bill Stork, black-necked Stork, greater adjutant Stork, white Ibis, white-collared Kingfisher, black-capped Kingfisher and brown-winged Kingfisher among many others.

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