West Bengal

West Bengal, the gateway to the exotic east - is a land of sheer passion and poetry, natural beauty and strong people, marked by a humaneness, evident in every facet of their life.

West Bengal covers the bottleneck of India in the east, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. Countries that share international boundaries with West Bengal include Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal while Sikkim, Assam, Orissa and Bihar frame its domestic borders. The alluvial plain in the south is watered by the legendary River Hooghly and its tributaries - Mayurakshi, Damodar, Kangsabati and the Rupnarayan. The Himalayan north, comprising the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Bihar are watered by the swift flowing rivers Tista, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Ranjit. Variations in altitude result in great variety in the nature and climate of West Bengal. From the northern highlands at the feet of the Himalayas to the tropical forests of Sunderbans, West Bengal is a land of myriad beauty, each region different from the other.

Bengal has a long history, that dates back before the Aryan invasion of India. Known as 'Gauda' or 'Vanga' in ancient Sanskrit literature, Bengal had a well - settled civilisation and culture, at the time of the Aryan penetration. An integral part of successive empires of the Mauryas and Guptas, Bengal also had its own dynasty of independent rulers, the Palas, who extended the existing boundaries considerably. The Senas and the Muslim Sultanate, who occupied Bengal, shaped the distinct identity of Bengal. After the Mughals, modern Bengal's history began with the advent of European and English trading companies. The end of British imperialism, saw a divided Bengal in 1947, with East Bengal (now the soveriegn state of Bangladesh) becoming a part of Pakistan.

Bengal's artistic genius is reflected in numerous ways in its theatre, folk music, literature, films and paintings. Bengal also boasts of two Nobel prize winners, the inimitable genius poet Rabindra Nath Tagore and Mother Teresa. Jamini Roy, Uday Shankar, Satyajit Ray, Bimal Mitra and Tarashankar Banerjee all belong to this culturally rich land.

Fish, rice and a plethora of sweets are Bengali specialities. Ace Bengali artisans work wonders with terracota horses, conch shells, clay models, leather, batik and wood work. Bengal handloom sarees with exquisitely woven borders also have a universal appeal.

Goddess Durga

Goddess Durga

Durga Puja, coinciding with Dussehra in other parts of the country, rouses the state to a feverish pitch, with its preparations that touch the life of every Bengali. Kali Puja, festival of lights (Diwali), Dol Jatra (Holi), Ganga Sagar Mela at Sagar (January /February), the Muslim festivals of Id and Ramzan, Baisakhi - Bengal's New Year's day, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary, Christmas and New Year are marked by typical abandon and devotion.

Agriculture plays a pivotal role in the state's income, and nearly three out of four persons in the state are directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. The state accounted for 66.5 percent of the country's jute production including mesta in 1993-94, and 22.2 percent of tea production during the same period. Important crops of the state include potatoes, oilseeds, betelvine, tobacco, wheat, barley and maize. The state also occupies a leading position among principal rice growing states of India, by contributing 15.3 percent of the total production of rice in the country.

Victoria Memorial, Calcutta

Victoria Memorial, Calcutta

Major industries of the state include steel, engineering, electronics, automobiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, aluminium, ceramics, leather, footwear, bonemetal, bicycle, jute, cotton, textiles, tea, paper, glass, timber and wagon building. Coal and china clay are the important minerals found in the state.

This fascinating land of the Hooghly has a lot to offer for tourism enthusiasts. Calcutta, a unique city with its intriguing environs; Digha, the land of sand and sea; Vishnupur, an architectural treasure trove; Shantiniketan, Tagore's abode of peace; the lost empire of Murshidabad; Malda - Gourand Pandua, relics of the Muslim rule; Darjeeling - a magnificent hill resort; the wildlife sanctuary at Doars and the marshy mangrove jungles of Sunderbans, home to the Royal Bengal Tiger are some of the major attractions of this state.

Calcutta Darjeeling Sunderbans