Weekend Trip to the Sundarbans – the Land of Tigers

sundarbans, mangrove forest

It’s been a long time I haven’t posted anything on my blog. Well, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t traveled anywhere. 🙂 I kept my resolution of visiting at least one new place every year. The year 2020 started with a refreshing trip to the Sundarbans, which is a 3-hour journey from Kolkata.

Last year, I went to Nepal and Kodaikanal. In 2018, it was Mayapur ISKON and then Chikmagalur. In 2017, I visited Ooty and Coonoor with my family. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time…rather enthusiasm to blog about those trips as I have become lazy these days.

Anyway, there is no point repenting on what I could do and did not do. Let’s start with our Sundarban trip.

Located on the delta of the confluence of Ganges, Meghna and Bramhaputra rivers, the Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest and the natural habitat of Royal Bengal Tigers. The core area of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve was named the Sundarban National Park in 1984 and it became a Natural World Heritage Site in 1987. Only 40% of this huge mangrove forest lies within India. The rest belongs to Bangladesh.

mangrove forest, sundarban

The main attraction of this trip is the boat safari. It is all about sailing along the rivers and creeks with dense mangrove forest on both sides and being watchful if you can catch a glimpse of the tiger or other wild animals. We spotted crocodiles, wild boars, spotted deer, monitor lizards, eagles, cranes and few other types of birds. It was 2 nights and 3 days conducted tour, which is, perhaps, not enough for exploring the rich flora and fauna of the place. But it’s not very safe either to go deeper into the wilderness.

Well, it’s sheer luck to catch a glimpse of the king of the jungle. And fortune did not favor us this time.

In those three days, we visited Sajnekhali watchtower and Mangrove Interpretation Centre, Sudhanyakhali and Dobanki watchtowers. The watchtowers offer a 360-degree view of wide-open forest land and swamps. There are a few sweet water ponds near watchtowers. If you are lucky, you can spot animals that come to drink water.

We took time out to explore the nearby village in the morning on the third and last day of our Sundarban tour and bought some fresh honey from a local village shop.

How to reach:

It’s about a 3-hour journey by car from Kolkata to Godkhali launch jetty. You can also take the train Canning Local from Sealdah and take a taxi or auto-rickshaw to Godkhali. Whether you go by car or by train, finally you have to take a ferry from Godkhali port and cross the river to reach Sundarban. Our tour company arranged an AC Volvo bus. Starting at 8:45 in the morning from Esplanade, Kolkata we reached Godkhali port at around 1 pm.  

Where to stay:

There are a few good resorts in Sundarban. Located on the riverfront, Tiger Roar Resort offers a pleasant stay and good food. We booked two luxury rooms for my family. You can read my detailed review of the accommodation on Tripadvisor.  

Boutique hotels in Kolkata that leave you enchanted

Boutique hotels in Kolkata

Boutique hotel, the concept originating in the 80s in England and popularized across Europe and North America, is now a familiar term in India. However, Kolkata was not so much acquainted with boutique hotel services until a decade ago. The city’s hospitality industry was content with a handful of plush 4-star/5-star hotels and swanky business hotels when it came to luxury accommodation. But just like any other metros in our country Kolkata is evolving in every aspect starting from road transport and communication to commercial and business infrastructure. Hotel businesses here are no exceptions.

Boutique hotels in Kolkata, hotel bookings in kolkata

During the last decade a few boutique hotels have come into existence in Kolkata.

If you are a connoisseur of luxury and upscale lifestyle you can definitely go for a reservation in any of the boutique hotels in Kolkata in your next business visit.

Here I would like to discuss about boutique hotels for those who confuse the term with luxury hotels. Boutique hotels indeed offer luxury accommodation but “luxury” is not the only term to describe or define this type of hotel.

Now, what exactly is a boutique hotel?

A boutique hotel is a small hotel (number of rooms ranging between 10 and 100) usually built on exclusive property with distinctive design and settings, offering highly personalized services to its clientele.

Then, why would you choose a boutique hotel over regular mid-segment hotels in Kolkata? Well, the reasons are many.

If you are not among those who seek “home away from home” in hotels and if you do not mind spending extra bucks for an unmatched experience then boutique hotels in Kolkata are the best places to stay.

It’s true that Kolkata’s boutique hotels might be more expensive than mid-range business hotels. But they ensure an all together different level of experience with personalized service, intimate ambiance and uniquely designed interior for added visual delight. The services in boutique hotels are tailored to their clients’ specific needs to heighten the level of comfort and convenience.

Boutique hotels in KolkataEach hotel maintains its distinctive decor and setting that makes it unique from all the others. For example, Bodhi Tree is one of the oldest boutique hotels in Kolkata and is designed on Buddhist monastery theme. On the contrary, the theme of newly built The Corner Courtyard reflects Kolkata’s colonial past with its red brick interior and matching furnishing.

Boutique hotels usually have limited number of guests. So you can expect more peaceful quiet stay there. Like any upscale business hotel boutique hotels also feature exclusively designed restaurants and bars as a crowd puller.

Since boutique hotels are latest addition to Kolkata’s hotel industry these properties are either new constructions or entirely renovated with new thematic designs.

Kolkata’s boutique hotels are situated in prime locations to ensure easy and quick access to the city’s important commercial districts.

However, be it a business visit or holiday trip you should consider authentic sources for hotel bookings in Kolkata to grab the best deals.

Private Cab Services in Kolkata for Comfortable Journeys

taxi service in Kolkata, private cab service in Kolkata, cab service, taxi, Kolkata, kolkata cab services

If this is not your first visit to Kolkata you may already know about the whims of Kolkata taxi drivers. Taxi refusal is a common problem in the city. Sometimes cab drivers switch off the fare-meter and ask for a fixed rate which is always higher than the actual fare for the distance. Sometimes they are simply ‘not interested’ to go exactly where you ask them. So if you don’t want unnecessary hassles in getting around in the city book a private cab service in Kolkata in advance.

taxi service in Kolkata, private cab service in Kolkata, cab service, taxi, Kolkata, kolkata cab services
Image: Wikipedia

Why private taxi service in Kolkata is a wise choice

Kolkata is a booming metro. Traffic jams, over-crowded public buses, long queue for auto rickshaws are common to see in peak hours of the day. Overpopulation and the inflow of crowd from the suburban areas makes situation even worse on weekdays. On the contrary, scarcity of public transport on holidays is another side of transportation problem in the metro.

So whether you are a tourist or a business traveller private taxi service in Kolkata is your best option to dodge such troubles and explore the city conveniently.

Things to consider before hiring a taxi service in Kolkata

There is no dearth of private taxi services in the city. But how would you choose the best cab service in Kolkata that will best suit your requirements? Comfort, convenience, budget and security are some of the factors that influence our decisions while travelling. Following are some points to consider before you hire a private cab service in Kolkata.

Fare: Do a little research on current cab fare rates in Kolkata. It will save you from being overcharged. Cab fare depends on distance, type of vehicle and the basic charges fixed by the local transport authorities and it may vary depending on the time you will be travelling. For example, distance between Dum Dum Airport and Esplanade is 18 km and estimated travel time is 33-35 minutes which can extend to 1 hour during peak time. Therefore, private taxi charges may also vary accordingly ranging from Rs 200 to Rs 400.

Flexibility: If you are to travel late at night or early in the morning check in advance on availability of service at that specific hour. Do they charge extra for providing cab after normal service hours? Will they pick you up right from your place or you need to walk to a certain pickup point? These are some questions you need to ask before hiring a taxi service in Kolkata to ensure comfort and convenience.

Fleet: Inquire about diversity of the fleet and what type of car you’ll be provided. When it is a group of two or four a Swift Dzire or Tata Indigo is okay but for a large family/group an SUV might be the right option.

Facility: Will they offer service tailored to your interest? Top rated private cab services in Kolkata offer services customized to their clients’ needs.

Hotels in Kolkata to lookout for – Practical Tips

victoria memorial hall, kolkata, hotels, hotel bookings in kolkata, best hotels in kolkata

When you are on a backpacking tour or a personal business trip to Kolkata you probably would not like to spend thousands of bucks for an accommodation. What if you get a list of hotels in Kolkata depending on your budget and preference of location? It will save your precious time in searching for the best hotels in Kolkata and you can fully concentrate in your tour of the city.

victoria memorial hall, kolkata, hotels, best hotels in kolkata, hotel bookings in kolkata
Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata

Deciding the Right Location

Kolkata is a big city with thousands of accommodation options in different areas. While some people tend to look for hotels near the airport to save time it can actually cost you more. Most of Kolkata’s tourist attractions and commercial zones are in the downtown. So, it will take you minimum 30-40 minutes to reach the city centre from the hotel by taxi. If you travel by public transport to slash the cost of transportation be prepared to sacrifice more time because of traffic jams and frequent signaling on Kolkata roads. However, the ultimate decision should always be based on an individual’s priorities.

Benefits of Choosing Hotels in Downtown Kolkata

Choosing a hotel in Kolkata’s bustling business precinct such as Esplanade and Park Street will save both your time and money in getting around. This area is not only home to a range of decent hotels but also houses a several restaurants, bars, shopping malls and theaters. Having a shelter in downtown Kolkata ensures easy access to the city’s popular commercial and entertainment hubs. If your budget hotel excludes meals don’t worry. This area opens up a plethora of choices regarding eateries and food stalls to satisfy your eating needs without hurting your pocket.

List of Top Budget Hotels in Central Kolkata

It is better to book hotels in advance to avoid hassles. Here are the names of a few hotels in the heart of Kolkata that are known for quality service at affordable rates. Hope the following information helps in your hotel bookings in Kolkata.

Innra Kolkata Hotel is run by one of Bengal’s most trusted jewellers Anjali Jewellers. So, you can expect quality service and high standard of accommodation at this hotel located at Boubazar in central Kolkata.

Hotel Dreamland near Kolkata GPO offers an array of amenities for business travellers including onsite restaurant and well-equipped conference hall. If leisure is your priority you can choose from villa style rooms having access to swimming pool.

Dee Empresa Hotel at Park Street ensures comfort and convenience for both vacationers and business tourists with well-appointed AC rooms featuring television, telephone and housekeeping service. Guests can enjoy dining at the hotel’s multi-cuisine restaurant.

Hotel VIP International, Park Street offers accommodation featuring modern fittings and equipment along with a range of amenities including Wi-Fi access, concierge, travel desk and complementary pickup.

Sudder Inn, strategically positioned at Park Street offers quick access to Kolkata’s shopping and leisure districts. Neat and clean air conditioned rooms come with television, telephone, Wi-Fi access, hot and cold water supply and more.

Shantiniketan Trip – Exploring the villages nearby

farmer going to field, bolpur, shantiniketan, rural life,

This is the concluding part of my travelogue on Shantiniketan trip in January, 2015. If you missed the earlier posts here are the links Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan: Day-1 and Day-2: Exploring Visva Bharati and Tagore’s abode in Shantiniketan

Day 3 – Exploring the locality and the villages nearby

I got up early that morning and set out to explore the village nearby. I wandered along the village road to feel the essence of the place. It’s been a long time I have been to a village. Here are some moments of a morning spent in rural Bengal. Hope you like them.

When I started the sky was pale blue.

rice field, paddy field, shantiniketan, rural life, bengal

I passed the green rice fields

greenery, rice fields, Shantiniketan, paddy field, village,

and followed the village road

mud cottages, village, shantiniketan, bolpur, rural life in bengal

to find haystacks on both sides, a common thing to see in rural areas.

haystacks, village road, shantiniketan, bolpur

The village was waking up slowly. Women were already at the pond, doing dishes and washing

pond, women at pond, shantiniketan, bolpur, rural bengal

while these ducklings kept vigil on them. 🙂

duck, ducks, ducklings, rural bengal, bolpur shantiniketan

The stray dogs seemed tired and busy in resting after nightlong watch.

stray dogs, banyan, rural bengal, shantiniketan, bolpur

The farmer sets out for the fields.

farmer going to field, bolpur, shantiniketan, rural life,

The sun was already above the horizon and it reminded me that I had to go back to hotel.

sun, sunrise, shantiniketan, bolpur, west bengal, village

While returning I stood by this fishpond to see nice reflections of palm trees in the water.

pond, reflection, rural bengal, shantiniketan, village

With the sun shining bright the rice fields looked greener and lovelier to me.

rice field, greenery, shantiniketan, bolpur

And I collected a souvenir from the groves beside it.

china rose, hibiscus, red, flower

Beautiful! Isn’t it? 🙂

P.S: We boarded Howrah Express from Bolpur-Shantiniketan at 1:10 pm and reach Howrah comfortably at around 3:30 pm. Cost of the trip was Rs 2300 per head. It includes train fare, accommodation, food, sightseeing and pick and drop – all of which I mentioned in detail in my previous two posts – Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan: Day-1 and Day-2: Exploring Visva Bharati and Tagore’s abode in Shantiniketan.

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Exploring Visva Bharati and Tagore’s abode in Shantiniketan

tagore's statue, amar kutir, shantiniketan

This is the second part of my travelogue on Shantiniketan trip in January, 2015. If you missed the first part here is the link for you A refreshing Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan.

Day 2 – Exploring Visva Bharati University campus-Uttarayan-Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary-Sonajhuri-Shanibarer Haat and Khoai  

We booked rickshaws (Rs 300 per rickshaw for a tour of the university campus including Uttarayan Complex and Rabindra Bhavan Museum and a detour to the sanctuary.)

Visva Bharati University

Visva Bharati with a sprawling campus is famous for its excellence in the study of art and music. I was amazed by the awesome sculptures made with clay and pebbles by Ram Kinkar Baij, a pioneer of modern art and sculpture in India. His works are inspired by tribal lifestyle and it is expressed through his sculptures and murals that are on display at Kala Bhavan.

sculpture by Ram Kinkar Baij, kala bhavan, shantiniketan

“He integrated elements of Santhal tribal art and life into his own work and enhanced them by an understanding of Western expressionism that was gleaned from books at the library of the Kala Bhavan.”

You’ll see his life-size sculptures and murals including the statues of Buddha and Gandhiji are on display at Kala Bhavan (The Heritage Complex) in the university campus.

mural by ram kinkar baij, visva bharati, kala bhavan, shantiniketan,

buddha statue by ram kinkar baij, Visva Bharati, kala bhavan, shantiniketan

However, I found the works of new generations artists like these are no less attractive than those of the maestro.

murals by new artists

The famous kalobari or Black House is known for its unusual relief works designed by Nandalal Basu and his disciples like Ram Kinkar Baij. The house is built with mud and coal tar is used to design its black frescos.

kalobari, black house, kala bhavan, visva bharati, shantiniketan

Prayer Hall or Upasana Griha of the university is made with marble and stained Belgium glasses. It was built in 1863 by the poet’s father Debendranath Tagore. The prayer hall looks amazing in gleaming artificial light during the evening service.

prayer hall, visva bharati, shantiniketan

We stopped by the Chhatimtala, a beautifully landscaped garden area where Gurudev’s father Maharshi Devendranath used to meditate and pray. The place has a serene atmosphere where you’ll inevitably feel in harmony with nature.

chhatimtala, Visva bharati university, shantiniketan

Uttarayan Complex

This is the place where the great poet and his family lived. There are five residences of Tagore named as –  Udayan, Konarka, Shyamali, Punascha and Udichi and The Bichitra now turned to Rabindra Bhavan Museum which houses an impressive collection of Tagore’s belongings, especially his manuscripts, paintings and other documents.

shyamali, Uttarayan complex, shantiniketan, tagore's house

Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary

The wildlife sanctuary in Shantiniketan has now turned to a mere ‘deer park’ as the local people call it. As you go deeper into the jungle you will only find herds of deer. There was a time when the sanctuary was home to a variety of animals. But today only spotted deer are the only species left. We watched the deer playing and grazing all by themselves. Some were a bit curious and peeped from behind the bushes and observed us.

Deer, ballavpur wildlife sanctuary, shantiniketan

As long as we were inside the sanctuary it was very cool and comfortable under the canopy of towering trees. When we came out of the park the it felt hot in the early afternoon sun even in January. We were hungry and a bit tired. It was better to go back to the hotel for a refreshing shower and some tasty meal.

Khoai-Sonajhuri-Saturday Market

Reloaded and rejuvenated we set out towards Khoai at around 3 pm. The Khoai Mela or Shanibarer Haat or ‘Saturday Market’ which is a temporary, open-air market where locales sell various items starting from musical instruments to dokra handicrafts to ethnic jewellery and hand-loom sari and dress materials. Apart from Tagore and Visva Bharati this market was a chief attraction for me. Set beside Khoai, the deep dry riverbed, with Sonajhuri Forest in the backdrop, this Saturday Market is the place to feel the vibe of Shantiniketan.

shanibarer haat,  khoai, sonajhuri, shantiniketan

Although I did not find anything cheap (as we think about local markets) but there were plenty of things that ignited my interest.

ektara, flute, vendor at khoai mela, Shanibarer haat, shantiniketan

ethnic jewellery, khoai mela, shanibarer haat, shantiniketan

The baul singers in their dazzling robes sang soulful folklores while playing ektara (single-stringed instrument) or dotara (two-stringed instrument).

baul, folk singer, khoai, shantiniketan

We roamed around in Sonajhuri forest for some time and sat by the Khoai and took pictures.

khoai, sonajhuri, shantiniketan

After wandering about an hour I felt an urge of having tea. It’s a Bong habit of getting tea-thirsty as soon as the clock strikes five in the afternoon. But a tea stall was hard to find in a place like this. Suddenly I saw a small crowd at a distance. Approaching closer I discovered my saviour. Crowd gathered around this young girl selling tea/coffee. She carried a huge flask that contained hot water for making tea and it was finished in an hour.

tea stall at khoai mela, Shanibarer haat, santiniketan

The market dissolves at sunset. When I finished my tea it was almost 5:30. The shadows of lanky eucalyptus trees grew taller reminding us that it’s time to leave. Though I wanted to spend some more time there our rickshaw puller said it becomes too dark after sunset and there are no street lights. So we had no choice except to get on the rickshaw and return to the hotel.

sonajhuri forest, shantiniketan

That evening Baul Monn arranged a concert by local band who offered wonderful fusion of folk songs with electronic musical instruments which we enjoyed very much. I went to bed thinking about my ‘venture’ next morning and dreamt of Sonajhuri and the colorful Saturday Market that night… 🙂

Day 3 – Exploring the locality and the nearby village.

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A refreshing Weekend Trip to Shantiniketan

way to prakriti bhavan, shantiniketan, country road

“Nearest to the church is farthest from god’ – this old adage is so true, at least in my case. Shantiniketan is only 164 km from Kolkata, nearly 4 hours’ drive, and it is even closer to every bong’s heart, still it took us so long to visit the place. Established by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan has played a vital role in Bengal’s modern art and cultural history. And I always wished to see the houses where the great poet lived and where he studied and taught his students. Every time we planned, every time it was postponed and the jinx continued for the past 5 years. However, we finally made it this year in January (23-25). It was a refreshing family trip which was decided overnight. Planning doesn’t always work! 😛 But, it’s better late than never… 🙂

way to prakriti bhavan, shantiniketan, country road

How to go:

We boarded Santiniketan Express that departs from Howrah at 10:05 am everyday. The train reached Bolpur-Shantiniketan around 12:35 pm. There is a train from Sealdah – Sealdah-Rampurhat Passenger, which can also reach you comfortably to Bolpur, but it takes longer than the Howrah-Santiniketan Express dedicated for tourists only. The car from Baul Monn Resort was waiting outside the station.

Where to stay:

Baul Monn Holiday Resort is a nice and quiet stay away from the hustles and bustles of Bolpur Township. They provide pick up and drop service on request. You can read my review of the hotel on TripAdvisor.

Baul Monn resort in Shantiniketan, hotel in Shantiniketan

When to go:

In late January the nights were cold and days were pleasant in Shantiniketan. So, I think this is the best time to visit the place if you want a quiet holiday or relaxing weekend trip. Poushmela was just over and there were fewer crowds. If the festivals are main attraction for you then you should visit Shantiniketanin December during Poush Mela or in March to get the flavor of Holi in the form of Vasanta Utsab celebrated in the Visva Bharati university ground.

Things to do:

Visva Bharati University and Uttarayan Complex (where the poet and his family lived) are the main attractions. But there are much more to see and enjoy in Shantiniketan. In fact, the exotic rural landscape and the appeal of peaceful countryside has turned Shantiniketan from a cultural pilgrimage to a popular weekend getaway from Kolkata. I wanted to enjoy the natural charm of the place too. So, I planned my tour the following way.

Day 1 – Prakriti Bhavan – Amar Kutir – Srijani Shilpa Gram through Sriniketan Campus – Kopai River – Back to hotel

We reached the hotel by 1:30 and set out to explore the area by 2:30 pm after lunch. Our first stop was Prakriti Bhavan Nature Art Museum, India’s only nature art museum.

The museum houses impressive collections of naturally formed rock and driftwood sculptures. The sculptures, mostly collected from Deccan Plateau are placed in the outdoor garden while the wooden items are on display inside the museum building. These natural sculptures resemble animals, humans, gods and goddesses. A visit to Prakriti Bhavan will let loose your imagination for sure. Do you see Rabindranath Tagore in this natural rock sculpture? 🙂

Natural rock sculpture, Tagore, Prakriti bhavan, Shantiniketan

Amar Kutir

If you want to buy some local made handicrafts for souvenir Amar Kutir is a place to visit. We bought key rings, handmade diaries, typical Shantiniketan leather-worked purses; Kantha stitched jewellery box and junk jewellery for family and friends.

Srijani Shilpa Gram

After savoring some phuchka in front of Amar Kutir we made our way through Sriniketan Campus towards SRIJANI Shilpagram Complex.

srijani shipagram, cultural centre, shantiniketan, sriniketan, tribal art

The Shilpagram is a wonderful place to be with beautifully decorated tribal huts all around, depicting the lifestyle of various indigenous tribes from different parts of India. The place gives you quick insight of tribal life and their art and culture. This complex is developed and maintained by EZCC (Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre). They also organize cultural programmes and concerts in the outdoor arena in SRIJANI.

tribal cottages, Srijani Shilpagram, Shantiniketan

Kopai River

I had seen photos of Kopai River on the web and so I had doubt about it. The dusk was falling when we reached by the river. And as I expected it was sheer disappointment. There was no water, only grass and pebbles scattered along the riverbed. Our driver said that during monsoon the river overflows the bridge.

kopai river, shantiniketan, santiniketan

It was already dark as we returned to our resort. The manager informed us about the evening concert at the resort garden. Our first day ended with soul touching baul songs presented by local singers.

Day 2 – Exploring Visva Bharati University campus – Uttarayan Complex – Ballavpur Wildlife Sanctuary – Sonajhuri forest – Shanibarer Haat and Khoai

Day 3 – Exploring the locality and the villages nearby