Places to visit in West Bengal
More than 2 million people cross the Hooghly River by way of 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 the sister cities of Howrah and Kolkata (Calcutta) with eight lanes of chaotic auto rickshaws, scooters, bikes, cars, animals and pedestrian traffic.
A bridge linking the cities was originally proposed in 1862, but plans for the bridge didn’t come to fruition until 1943. Since its erection, the Howrah Bridge has become a cultural icon in Kolkata and West Bengal and has served as a setting and inspiration for the 1958 film Howrah Bridge by director Shakti Samanta.
Visit the bridge in the early morning to see early rising denizens washing along the ghats at the base of the bridge. Under the eastern side of the bridge, you’ll find the colorful Mullik Ghat Flower Market, a great place to people watch while sipping on tea. ￼
Named after the gardens that lay beyond it, Eden Gardens is a cricket ground in Kolkata that’s home to the Bengal cricket team and the Kolkata Knight Riders. It’s also the venue for international cricket matches and is the largest cricket stadium in India in terms of seating capacity.
Established in 1864, Eden Gardens has since become one of the most iconic cricket stadiums in the world. Following renovations for the Cricket World Cup in 2011, the stadium seats over 90,000 spectators (a capacity actually lower than before the upgrade).
Within the grounds, the gardens themselves feature a picturesque lake with a tiny Burmese pagoda at its center. It’s a peaceful spot that’s well worth a stroll around on a visit to the stadium.
Victoria Memorial Hall
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 Victoria Memorial Hall is made from Makrana marble, the same material used to construct the Taj Mahal, and shares many similar features with India’s best-known monument. Inside is a museum that provides visitors a walk through the history of Kolkata and the complex relationship between Britain and India in West Bengal. The 25 galleries display more than 3,500 Raj-related artifacts, including Queen Victoria’s desk and piano.
The Victoria Memorial Hall is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in history. The lovely gardens surrounding the monument make for pleasant picnicking, especially on cooler days.
Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Located in the northern Kolkata (Calcutta) neighborhood of Dakshineswar along the Hoogley River is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. The temple complex, dating back to the nineteenth century, consists of one large temple to Kali and 13 smaller temples dedicated to the worship of other deities in the Hindu pantheon.
The main temple, built in 1855, is an important pilgrimage spot for devotees of Kali, the patron goddess of Kolkata. It is also the temple where spiritual leader Ramakrishna had a vision that prompted him to turn against the caste system and preach religious unity instead. The small room where he lived much of his life is now a small museum celebrating his life.
The temple complex tends to get crowded on Sundays. Visit in the early morning hours to beat the heat and watch the locals feed the pigeons or browse the small flower market just outside the temple grounds.
MP Birla Planetarium
Located in the heart of Kolkata (Calcutta) on Chowringhee Road, the MP Birla Planetarium is the largest in Asia and second largest in the world. The single-story spherical white dome houses a working observatory equipped with a Celestron C-14 telescope.
Several times throughout the day, the domed ceiling lights up with astronomic imagery with explanations for some of the great myths and mysteries about space. Shows are narrated in Bengali, Hindi and English, and up to 500 visitors can be seated during each show.
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.
Nakhoda Mosque (Nakhoda Masjid)
The Nakhoda Masjid, the largest Mosque in Kolkata (Calcutta), was styled after the mausoleum of Emperor Akbar in Agra. The behemoth red sandstone structure, built in 1926, can accommodate 10,000 worshippers in its main prayer hall.
The mosque’s green rooftop includes three domes and two large minarets with an additional 25 smaller minarets.
The mosque itself is closed to non-Muslims during prayer times, but the main draw of the mosque is the market surrounding it. The tightly packed stalls of the bazaar sell everything from prayer mats and Korans to the best kebabs and biryani, a spiced rice dish, to be found in the city.
If you plan to visit the mosque between prayer times, be sure to wear conservative clothing, including long pants and covered shoulders, or you likely won’t be allowed in. The mosque is located in one of the most congested areas of the city, so leave plenty of time to get there and out again.
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.
Tagore's House (Jorasanko Thakur Bari)
Rabindranath Tagore, India’s most celebrated poet and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in literature, was born and raised in a yellow mansion in the north of Kolkata (Calcutta) in 1861. His family mansion, built in 1784, now serves as a memorial of his life and work. The university surrounding the Tagore House is now the epicenter for classical Indian fine arts.
Tagore's House (Jorasanko Thakur Bari), now part of the Rabindra Bharati University Campus, is filled with photographs of the poet, including one with Albert Einstein, as well as paintings by his family members and memorabilia from his life.
Quotations from some of Tagore’s most inspiring works adorn the walls. While the maintenance on the home leaves something to be desired, it’s still well worth a visit to gain a better understanding of one of India’s most influential cultural figures. ￼