Kolkata has a unique location. The azure expanse of the Bay of Bengal, the hillocks at the edge of Chota Nagpur plateau, the luxuriant plains, the mangrove forests of Sundarban - all lie just a few hours away. Not only are travellers drawn by the natural beauty, but also by the rich architectural and religious history of the destinations.
Verdant paddy fields and blue-grey rivers add ecstatic beauty, a beauty that has moved many a poets and singers. The beaches of South Bengal and the tip of Orissa are relatively unknown and boast of pristine beauty. We have all this and more covered with this list, that you will be spoilt for choice!
Located on the banks of the Icchamati that divides India and Bangladesh, Taki portrays rural Bengal at its idyllic best. Paddy fields stretch as far as the eyes can see, the riverside is lined with casuarina groves, the Machhranga Dweep near the confluence of the Icchamati and Vasa is mostly uninhabited and offers opportunities aplenty to naturalists.
On the way lie the ruins of zamindar Roychowdhury's Rajbari. Sunsets and sunrises are particularly enticing here. The glow of the sun lights up the Bangladesh horizon and adds body to the dull waters.
Other places of interest: The Ramakrishna temple, Kuler Kali Bari and Golpataban at Jalalpur from where the village of Sreepur in Bangladesh can be clearly seen.
The best time to visit: During Dashami, when people from both nations gather on opposite shores to immerse the of Goddess Durga.
How to reach: Take the Hasnabad local from Sealdah and get down at Taki road station. The jetty ghat is about 15 min from the station by van-rickshaw. Alternately, you can take a bus from Esplanade to Taki.
Bengal’s terracotta craft capital, Bishnupur is a town steeped in the rich heritage of the Mallya kings. Countless temples, all done-up in burned bricks dot the town. The palette is a soothing green, daubed here and there with the rusty-red of terracotta and the stagnant dark-blue of ponds. the ornate carvings on the façade and the chala style architecture are the primary characteristics of the temples and the most well-known being the Jorbangla temple, Shyamrai temple and Madanmohan Temple.
Other places of interest: Be sure to visit the Rasmancha, the oldest brick structure built in 1594 by Bir Hambir. Check out the behemoth Dol-Madol Kaman, the gigantic canons that were the deus-ex-machina against the Borgis (Maratha Looters). And ladies, watch out for the famous Baluchari sarees and terracotta jewellery.
How to Reach: Trains run from Howrah and Santragachhi and take about 4 hours to reach Bishnupur. Buses depart from Esplanade. You can also drive to Bishupur. The road runs through the heart of rural Bengal.
Founded during the times of Baj Basanta dynasty, Maluti is a small town along the banks of the Chila in Jharkhand's Dumka district. This place is home to 72 temples built during the Pal dynasty rule, which portray mythic scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata etched into their edifice. Known as Gupt Kashi in the ancient times, Maluti has always been a religious centre-point where multiple religious and cultural movements have originated and culminated.
Fun facts: Maluti was once the abode of Sadhok Bamakhyapa. Adi Shankaracharya's anti-Buddhist movement started here and it is considered as the birth-point of the vedic upheaval. According to international studies, it is one of the twelve worldwide sites facing irreparable loss and damage. For a taste of spirituality in the lap of pristine nature, visit Maluti.
How to Reach: The easiest way is to take the Ganadevta or Rampurhat Express from Howrah. Autorickshaws ply to Maluti from Rampurhat.
Ambika Kalna is located on the western bank of the Bhagirathi river and is named after the nom-de-plume of goddess Kali, Ma Ambika. Ambika Kalna is host to numerous temples and religious monuments besides being the headquarters of the Kalna subdivision in Bardhamman District. It is home to the Nava Kailash - 108 Shiva temples placed ingeniously in two circles. From the centre, all the 108 Shiva lingas, made out of white and black marbles are visible!
Best time to visit: Be sure to visit when the four day long Mahishmardini Puja is on and see Ambika Kalna turn into the most colourful and bustling fairground that you have ever seen.
How to Reach: Take the Katwa local from Howrah or Sealdah. Get down at Ambika Kalna and take a rickshaw to the temple.
Surrounded by the rivers Matla and Piyali, Piyali Island is a gorgeous little haunt offering the tranquillity of nature splashed with a hint of the wilderness that is the Sundarbans. Escape into this land of mangroves, and relax and unwind far from the humdrum of the city. Sparse jungles, idyllic village life, migratory birds; Piyali Island just might be the best place for a short escape.
Activities to do: From gardening to boat riding, bird watching to taking out exploration trips into the wilderness, Piyali has something for everybody. From the tired soul seeking a rejuvenating escape to the intrepid adventurer eager to conquer his or her next challenge.
How to Reach: If you are travelling by train, take the Lakshmikantapur local and get down at Dakshin Barasat. Trekkers ply from here. Piyali Island is 75 km via Baruipur-Gocharan-Dhosa.
Walking towards the magnanimous Bay of Bengal, Bakkhali is a small island presenting a languid seaside getaway to travellers seeking a weekend of sea, sun and frolic. Bakkhali is one of those beaches where both sunsets and sunrises are equally charming and enigmatic. Coupled with Frasergunj, Bakkhali offers a 7 km long stretch of beach where the water remains gentle and rolls in easy.
Take a walk in the evening under the crimson smudged vanilla sky and enjoy the peaceful breeze washing away your worries. Away from the hustle and bustle, Bakkhali remains peacefully crowd free, clean & pleasant offering serenity and serendipity.
How to Reach: Drive or take the train to Namkhana. To reach Bakkhali from here, one needs to cross the Hatania-Doania creek on a ferry.
Located at the confluence of the Kangsabati and Kumari rivers, Mukutmanipur in Bankura district is a lovely mish-mash of blue water bodies and wooded hillocks. The Kangsabati dam located here is one of the largest mud-fill dams in the country. The undulating terrain has a rich diversity of flora.
Main attractions: Parashnath hill, statue of Parashnath, Banpukuria deer park and palace of king Raicharan are the major attractions. Four kms away is Ambikanagar, an ancient Jain pilgrimage. Tribal handicrafts made of bamboo sticks and saboi grass is very popular. Every January, a baul mela is held here.
How to Reach: From Howrah, there are trains to Bankura. Mukutmanipur is a short bus ride away.
Located in the Baleswar district of Orissa, Talasari is a beach on the northeast coast of India looking out onto the Bay of Bengal. Talasari has found its name from the rows of mighty palm trees - Tala meaning palm and sari meaning row; adorning the vast stretches that dissolve into the horizon. White sand, strong winds and the backwaters make it a unique destination. The estuary of the Subarnarekha can be seen at a distance.
Main attractions: Coconut, palm and casuarina trees line the expansive stretch of beaches where the cool blue waters laps upon the gleaming sand bed that is sliced by a seasonal stream. Vast paddy fields and blue hillocks paint the background behind you into a canvas extraordinaire. Talasari is relatively unknown and the calm ambiance is a welcome break to anyone who seeks a weekend of peace & solitude.
How to Reach: Take the train from Howrah to New Digha. Talasari is 15 mins by cab or autorickshaw from here.
The true blue French colony that once pulsated with love and life, Chandannagar has been able to maintain a separate regal identity for itself while residing only 35 km away from the then British capital of India, Calcutta. Located on the river Hooghly, Chandannagar is vibrant, relaxed and inherently playful.
Main attraction: Set up as the French colony back in 1673, it has a deep and rich heritage of cultivating a civilised and progressive outlook. The waterfront known as 'the strand' is the most popular section of the city and a walk along the promenade, in the crisp breeze, is relaxing.
Other places to visit: All of Chandannagar’s marvellous buildings that are testament to its erstwhile regalia are located along this stretch. Visit the Institut de Chandernagor, the old French museum, Sacred Heart Church of Chandannagar and the Patalbari.
Best time to visit: The Jagadhartri Puja is celebrated with great fervour and the entire city is lit up with bright lights. Though just an hour from Kolkata, Chandannagar despite being a treasure trove, is mostly ignored.
How to Reach: Take the Bandel, Katwa or Bardhamman main-line local from Howrah and get down at Chandannagar. The riverfront is a short distance away by autoricksaw.
With the Panchkot Hill and the Biharinath Hill on either side, Baranti is an ideal getaway for the weekend. It is a charming retreat cradled in between the hills and lakes. Glimpse into the dark blue waters of the famous Muradi lake once you are here and wait for the enchanting beauty of the countryside to enthral you.
Main attractions: At sunset, the hills light up in an exquisitely tender red glow. The shimmery glow on the lake is mesmerising. The region’s rich diversity of wildlife includes rabbits, deer, porcupines, wild boars, foxes and wolves. The thick forests are peaceful and present opportunities for long hikes. In winter, flicks of migratory birds fly in here. You can also consider a visit to Panchet dam or Joychandi hills.
How to Reach: Take a train to Asansol or Adra from Howrah, and then take a local train further to Muradi, 20 km away from either.
Which of these beautiful places are you planning a day trip to next? Have we missed out on any other enchanting places you can visit around Kolkata? Let us know, in the comments section below.