Bengal beckons

Published : Feb 15, 2008 00:00 IST

The Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, opened in 1921, is made entirely of white marble. It was conceived by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India. - PARTH SANYAL

The Victoria Memorial Hall in Kolkata, opened in 1921, is made entirely of white marble. It was conceived by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India. - PARTH SANYAL

The State is a complete tourist destination catering to the preferences of all kinds of tourists.

The Victoria Memorial

WEST BENGAL prides itself on being a complete tourist destination since it caters to all kinds of tourists. It has historical sites, mountains, forests, wildlife, the sea, the Sunderbans, and the mighty Ganges.

Under the shadow of the Eastern Himalayas in north Bengal are the Doars, with its dense forests and wildlife, tea gardens, rivers and serene hamlets. In the south lies the Bay of Bengal and the Sunderbans, with its forests, expansive water surface and rich biosphere the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger. The Sagardweep, an island in the Sunderbans, is famous for the Ganga Sagar Mela. In the west are the arid, red soil districts, immortalised in the works of Rabindranath Tagore.

However, in spite of possessing practically all the diversities of the Indian subcontinent, the State accounts for only around 5 per cent of the total tourist movement in the country. The State government has taken up an aggressive publicity campaign to inform people about the tourism potential in the State. In 1996, the West Bengal Incentive Scheme, 1993 (for medium- and large-scale industries) was amended to give tourism the status of an industry. In his Budget speech last year, State Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta said: For the improvement of infrastructure of attractive tourist destinations in each district, I propose to increase the plan outlay of the Tourism Department from Rs.8 crore in the current year to Rs.20 crore in the coming year.

West Bengal is well connected by air, rail and land routes. The State governments effort now is to expand the scope of tourism by promoting not just the famous tourist spots, but also the lesser known destinations such as the verdant Doars at the base of the Darjeeling hills, which most tourists skip on their way up to the hill stations of Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong. It is now promoting tea-garden tourism and forest tourism in the region.

In the hills too, the government is focussing on developing tourism in the rural areas outside the main town of Darjeeling and in the interior hill areas. It is looking at private sector participation in some of these projects. The government recently launched an awareness programme to promote eco-tourism in the hills and foothills.

The State has enormous potential for pilgrim tourism. The Ganga Sagar Mela is one attraction. Places such as Vishnupur with its terracotta, metalware and temples; Mayapur, where the world headquarters of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is situated; Kalna; Nabadwip, the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of the Bhakti movement; Malda, famous for its mangoes and also for the Kuttitula Masjid, are of tourist interest. A place of cultural interest is Shantiniketan, Rabindranath Tagores university township.

From Shantiniketan, it is just a short trip to Bakreswar, which has two ancient temples of Siva and Kali. The festival season, particularly Durga Puja, which takes place around the end of the year, is when West Bengal, particularly Kolkata, bursts forth in ecstasy and colour.

Places such as Malda and Murshidabad are steeped in history. The city of Kolkata is over 300 years old and has great historical significance. One of the thrust areas of the State Department of Tourism is the preservation of historical sites and buildings and their promotion as tourist destinations.

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