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West Bengal

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516

West Bengal
Emerging from the tempestuous Bay of Bengal in a maze of primeval mangroves, West Bengal
stretches across the vast Ganges plain before abruptly rising towards the mighty ramparts
of the Himalaya. This long, narrow state is India’s most densely populated and straddles a
breadth of society and geography unmatched in the country. As the cradle of the Indian
Renaissance and national freedom movement, erstwhile Bengal has long been considered
the country’s cultural heartland, famous for its eminent writers, poets, artists, spiritualists and
revolutionaries. Overshadowed perhaps by the reputation of its capital Kolkata (Calcutta), it
is nonetheless surprising that this rich and diverse state receives so few foreign tourists.
In the World Heritage–listed Sunderbans, the Ganges delta hosts not only the world’s
most extensive mangrove forest, but also the greatest population of the elusive Royal Bengal
tiger. On the Ganges plains a calm ocean of green paddies surrounds bustling trading towns,
mud-and-thatch villages, and vestiges of Bengal’s glorious and remarkable past: ornate, terracotta-tiled Hindu temples and monumental ruins of the Muslim nawabs (ruling princes).
As the ground starts to rise, the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway begins its ascent
to the cooler climes of former British hill stations. The train switches back and loops its way
to Darjeeling, still a summer retreat and a quintessential remnant of the Raj. Here, amid
Himalayan giants and renowned tea estates, lies a network of mountain trails. Along with
the quiet, orchid-growing haven of nearby Kalimpong, once part of Bhutan, these mountain
retreats offer a glimpse into the Himalayan cultures of Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet.

WEST BENGAL

HIGHLIGHTS
„ Rise early to witness morning’s first light on

the sacred peaks of Khangchendzonga from
the colonial hill station of Darjeeling (p530)

Singalila
National Park
Darjeeling
Kurseong

Jaldhapara
Wildlife
Sanctuary

„ Step aboard the toy train on the Darjeeling

Himalayan Railway (p535) as it steams to
the tea town of Kurseong
„ Trace the footsteps of traders along

rhododendron-lined trails in Singalila
National Park (p542)
„ Capture a wild rhinoceros with your camera

from the back of an elephant in the jungles
of Jaldhapara Wildlife Sanctuary (p527)
„ Savour the warmth and glow of the ancient

Bishnupur

Sunderbans
Tiger Reserve

terracotta temples in Bishnupur (p521)
under a setting orange sun
„ Ta...
WEST BENGAL
Emerging from the tempestuous Bay of Bengal in a maze of primeval mangroves, West Bengal
stretches across the vast Ganges plain before abruptly rising towards the mighty ramparts
of the Himalaya. This long, narrow state is India’s most densely populated and straddles a
breadth of society and geography unmatched in the country. As the cradle of the Indian
Renaissance and national freedom movement, erstwhile Bengal has long been considered
the country’s cultural heartland, famous for its eminent writers, poets, artists, spiritualists and
revolutionaries. Overshadowed perhaps by the reputation of its capital Kolkata (Calcutta), it
is nonetheless surprising that this rich and diverse state receives so few foreign tourists.
In the World Heritage–listed Sunderbans, the Ganges delta hosts not only the world’s
most extensive mangrove forest, but also the greatest population of the elusive Royal Bengal
tiger. On the Ganges plains a calm ocean of green paddies surrounds bustling trading towns,
mud-and-thatch villages, and vestiges of Bengal’s glorious and remarkable past: ornate, ter-
racotta-tiled Hindu temples and monumental ruins of the Muslim nawabs (ruling princes).
As the ground starts to rise, the famous Darjeeling Himalayan Railway begins its ascent
to the cooler climes of former British hill stations. The train switches back and loops its way
to Darjeeling, still a summer retreat and a quintessential remnant of the Raj. Here, amid
Himalayan giants and renowned tea estates, lies a network of mountain trails. Along with
the quiet, orchid-growing haven of nearby Kalimpong, once part of Bhutan, these mountain
retreats offer a glimpse into the Himalayan cultures of Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet.
West Bengal
HIGHLIGHTS
Rise early to witness morning’s first light on
the sacred peaks of Khangchendzonga from
the colonial hill station of Darjeeling ( p530 )
Step aboard the toy train on the Darjeeling
Himalayan Railway ( p535 ) as it steams to
the tea town of Kurseong
Trace the footsteps of traders along
rhododendron-lined trails in Singalila
National Park ( p542 )
Capture a wild rhinoceros with your camera
from the back of an elephant in the jungles
of Jaldhapara Wildlife Sanctuary ( p527 )
Savour the warmth and glow of the ancient
terracotta temples in Bishnupur ( p521 )
under a setting orange sun
Take a river-boat journey through the mysterious Sunderbans Tiger Reserve ( opposite ), with
the prospect of sighting royalty (in the form of a tiger)
Kurseong
National Park
Singalila
Tiger Reserve
Sunderbans
Sanctuary
Wildlife
Jaldhapara
Darjeeling
Bishnupur
© Lonely Planet Publications
516
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