My home state of West Bengal is mostly overlooked by travelers and it is not difficult to understand why. The state is in a political turmoil, does not have much tourist friendly infrastructure and the local culture despite being friendly, is not tourism pro active. West Bengal, however, like the rest of India is strewn with beautiful historical spots, is nature’s favourite child and has many magnificent festivals, fairs, carnivals and arts. While the great biological hotspot of Sunderbans is pretty popular, tea estates wreathed Darjeeling and Mother Home in Calcutta make up the rest of the paltry highlighted Bengal destinations. The magnificent Durga Puja is famous through out the country and many choose to visit Shantiniketan for its flower filled organic Holi festival (Basanta Utsav).
Unfortunately the list of Bengal’s most well known and widely visited destinations stop here and most people overlook its other intrepid delights. In Bengal, there’s a saying, “Baro Mashe, Tero Parbon” which literally means 13 celebrations in 12 months. So while the Durga Puja and Basanta Utsav are undoubtedly very photogenic, the awesome Kenduli Mela (Bengal’s knock out local version of Woodstock), intriguing body piercing carnival of Charak, the lovely artistic Jhulan celebrations held every monsoon and numerous other festivals, too are packed with a punch. Like the festivities, Bengal’s rich culture of Bauls (traditional wandering bards), Majhir Gaan (boatmen’s song, now a nearly lost heritage), Chau (Purulia district’s famous masked dance), Kobir Lorai (duel of musical couplets), Phanush (Hot air balloon release) and other lovely traditions remain obscure from explorer’s notice.
Apart from super expensive Baluchari (one of the most exquisite saris of India, where the whole 9 yards is used as canvas for weaving the epic tale of Mahabharata), Shola Pith (hand crafted delicate sculptures originally made from milky white spongy wood of a marshy plant, now replaced by thermocol), hand painted Potua scroll art (artists narrate stories on them in a lyrical form) and Matir Putul (hand made clay dolls) sadly have no takers. The wax metal cast tribal figurines called Dokra still fetch some money along with terracotta pottery and soft, glowing Murshidabad silk, but the magnificent centuries old art of Nakshi Katha (intricately embroidered quilt) has nearly become mythical. Sadly many of Bengal’s old dishes, which have been passed down through generations on a word of mouth basis, have disappeared too.
It had been upon e discovering an old Bengali traditional recipe of Guglir Jhol (escargots/snail curry), that my heart had longed to explore my home state. We always take for granted what naturally belongs to us and I have been terribly guilty of that. So I had started an extensive online hunt to learn more and thus had started my Bengal Trails. 2 travel writers have influenced me tremendously on this journey and I owe my Bengal re discovery to them. One of them is an ace writer and photographer, Mr Rangan Datta (http://www.rangan-datta.info/index.php) who had opened my eyes to Bengal’s traditional cheese making industry, its estuarine island’s mysteries and many other interesting jewels. Another prolific Bengal explorer is Mr Amitabh Gupta (https://amitabhagupta.wordpress.com/) whose posts on singing painters of Naya village and Bengal’s answer to Grand Canyon, in Gongoni had left me wanting for more.
My Bengal discoveries had started last year with tottering first steps to Chandanagore, Bandel, Guptipara and Ambika Kalna. While Chandanagore had attracted me due to its mystifying snooty aura, I had been on a terracotta temple hunt on the other 3 destinations. Although my grand Bengal discovery plan had unfortunately been tediously slow due to long absences from my state, I am glad that I had managed to see some of its most beautiful architectural creations before they are lost forever. The baked earth art of Terracotta is centuries old and though popular throughout the world, in Bengal they come in form of exquisite temples. The lovely domed temples of Bengal come covered in terracotta figures and from flowers, animals, mythology, current social scenario to erotica, the glazed detailed surfaces are simply exquisite.
Incidentally, the journey had started at this time of the year in 2014 and it had been a balmy, sunny day, when a friend and I had boarded a local train for our grand Bengal Discovery. Easy on the pocket eye opening and very enriching, Bengal had enamoured me and I am eagerly waiting for my next home coming to discover some more.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE
Some photos have been taken from the internet.