Here are nine of the most notable cities.
- 1 Kolkata — centre of Bengali culture, the largest city in the state, current capital of West Bengal and former capital of British India until 1911, is known as the "City of Palaces"
- 2 Baharampur — a fortified British cantonment with Dutch, French, Mughal and Portuguese architecture and remniscences
- 7 Howrah — Kolkata's twin city, the second-largest in the state, with the largest railway complex in India
- 3 Buxa Tiger Reserve — a forested area located in Buxa Hills is habitat for tigers, Asian elephants and other mammals plus a variety of birds, amphibians and reptiles
- 4 Dakshineswar — famous for the Hindu temple of Goddess Kali known as Bhavatarini, an aspect of Kali, meaning, 'She who liberates Her devotees from the ocean of existence i.e Saṃsāra'. Situated on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, near Kolkata the temple was built by Rani Rashmoni, a philanthropist and a devotee of Kali in 1855. The temple is famous for its association with Ramakrishna a mystic of 19th century Bengal
- 5 East Calcutta Wetlands —
- 6 Gorumara National Park, West Bengal — rolling grasslands and forest is rich with herbivores such as the Indian rhinoceros and elephants birds, reptiles and amphibians
- 8 Sandakfu (Sandakphu) — at 3,636 metres (11,929 ft) is the highest point in West Bengal. Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest are visible from here
- 9 Santiniketan — town of Rabindranath Tagore's university Viswa Bharathi and known for exotic handmade goods
- 10 Sundarbans National Park — a wildlife sanctuary with Royal Bengal Tigers and deer found in forests and mangrove swamps UNESCO World Heritage site
West Bengal's history dates back before 20,000 years. The region was a part of the Vanga Kingdom, the kingdom of Magadha. Bengal had ancient trade relations with Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and Sumatra. She was invaded by Rajendra Chola I of Chola Dynasty between 1021 and 1023. During the 12th century Sufi missionaries arrived in Bengal, bringing along with them the message of Islam. Bakhtiar Khilji, a military commander from the Delhi Sultanate, overran Bengal between 1202 and 1206. Bengal was conquered by the Mughals in 1576. There were several independent Hindu states established in Bengal during the Mughal period like those of Maharaja Pratap Aditya of Jessore and Raja Sitaram Ray of Burdwan. Koch Bihar Kingdom in the northern Bengal flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries. European traders arrived late in the 15th century. The Battle of Plassey in 1757 saw the defeat of Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal. Presidency was established by 1765, eventually including all British territories north of the Central Provinces (now Madhya Pradesh), from the mouths of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra to the Himalayas and the Punjab. Calcutta was named the capital of British India in 1772. The Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj movement had great impact on the cultural and economic life of Bengal. There was a failed uprising against British rule in 1857 known as the "Sepoy Mutiny". Between 1905 and 1911, attempts were made to divide the province of Bengal into two zones, to curb nationalism, but widespread protest forced the British to call it off. Bengal played a major role in the Indian independence movement, producing some of Indian's greatest revolutionaries including Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. When India gained independence in 1947, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines. The western part went to India (and was named West Bengal) while the eastern part joined Pakistan as a province called East Bengal (later renamed East Pakistan, giving rise to independent Bangladesh in 1971). In 1950, the Princely State of Cooch Behar merged with West Bengal. In 1955, the former French enclave of Chandannagar was integrated into West Bengal. The 1970s saw the rise of Left-Radicals in the name of Maoism, with a significant portion of the youth refusing to recognize the independence of 1947. Incidents surrounding the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 caused millions of refugees to influx into West Bengal, most of them Hindus. The Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), governed the state for the subsequent three decades, making it the longest serving democratically elected communist party in the world. Although they were defeated in the 2011 elections, the Communists' imprint remains powerful on the state, with many streets named after Marx and other local and foreign revolutionary figures.
West Bengal is diverse in terms of geography and is distinctively unique for being the only state in India with mountains in the north and sea in the south, with vast stretches of plains, plateaus and deltas between them.
The Eastern Himalaya range starts abruptly up from the Terai region near Siliguri. The region is further divided into two parts: the Singalila and Darjeeling ranges. The Singalila range is located along the border of Darjeeling and Nepal. Sandakfu at 3,636 metres (11,929 ft) is the highest point of West Bengal. Remnants of the Siwaliks can be seen in the Jalpaiguri district, where they are known as the Buxa-Jayanti Hills. The Terai is a belt of marshy grasslands, savannas and forests at the base of the Himalaya range. The Dooar region stretching across the middle of the Terai belt are a conglomerate of tall grasslands, savannas and evergreen and deciduous forests. South of Terai region the plain of North Bengal starts and continues up to the left bank of the Ganges. It gets fed by rivers and rivulets originating in the Eastern Himalaya. The Rarh lies south of the Ganges and east of the Chotanagpur plateau, eastern part of which is in West Bengal. Part of the Sunderbans is located in the vast deltaic region, South-East of the state.
Bengal experiences 5 seasons: Spring, Summer, Monsoon, Autmn and Winter.
Spring is short and more dominant in the northern region. Summer commemces from the first week of March and continues till June. The weather remains hot and humid during the day, accompanied by cool breezes at night. The western highlands will experience a hot dry climate. Thunderstorms locally called Kalbaishakhi occurs late summer. Monsoon starts from July and ends late September, when torrential rainfall gives rise to severe floods in the south. Autmn is short, between October and mid-November. The retreating monsoon at this time may give rise to storms. Winter sets by late November and continues till Spring arrives in February, January being the coldest. The Himalayan region in the north experiences snowfall during winter, usually after mid-December.
In the plains during summer the temperature ranges between 26 °C (79 °F) and 40 °C (104 °F) while winter experiences between 13 °C (55 °F) to 19 °C (66 °F). The mountain regions has average temperature of about 15 °C (59 °F) during summer and 2 °C (36 °F) during winter.
North Bengal receives the highest rainfall: 200-400 cm, the coastal region around 200 cm, while the western plateau 100-150 cm. Draught like condition may occur in the districts of Purulia and Bankura.
Bengali is the main language here. Apart from Bengali - English, Hindi, Odia (also known as Oriya) and Assamese are also widely understood by the local people. In the Darjeeling area, the main language is Nepali.
Kolkata is normally the gateway to the state, but there are entry points all around. Two commercial airports are at Kolkata and Bagdogra. The state has a number of smaller airports. Railways link it with other states from all sides. Major road connections are NH 2 from Delhi, NH 5 from Chennai, NH 6 from western India and NH 31 from Guwahati. Major ports are Kolkata and Haldia, and there are a number of smaller ports. Kolkata is also connected by the golden quadrangle that joins the four metropolitan cities of the country (Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai).
Within the state the main transport links are trains and buses. Apart from the mail and express trains coming from outside the state (they are generally very crowded), there are a number of fast trains within the state and a large number of passenger trains and locals (mostly around Kolkata). Taxis and hired cars are available in most places.
West Bengal has numerous independent theatre groups locally called "Jatra dol" (travelling group/band), who perform shows mostly in the rural areas. Foreigners, not familiar with the dialect spoken, can enjoy the atmosphere surrounding these events, as fairs organized by local inhabitants, merchants and craftsmen often accompany such gatherings.
Kolkata has many established theatre houses, which host events by international theatre groups frequently. Such events draw people from around the globe as it offers an unique opportunity to share culture and ideas.
Museums of various discipline are located in the Southeastern region. Several science museums and technology demonstration institutions are scattered across the state.
The Himalaya in the north offers a great number of destinations and tourist spots. Wildlife sanctuaries also have resorts scattered on their periphery.
Monuments and places of worship had been influenced by several culture, their distinct architecture also speaks of the time of their construction. British influence had led to the contruction of many buildings featuring European style architecture, few noteworthy of them carries a Gothic influence.
World Heritage Site
- Darjeeling Mountain Railway
- Sunderbans National Park
- Adda. "Adda" is a term Bengalis use for freestyle intellectual verbal information sharing. It is a common sight in Bengal to find groups engaged in rigorous discussion and debates, though more notably in Calcutta. Such gathering always welcome anyone who wishes to join them. It offers a great opportunity to learn more about the local customs, the people and their views on different things and happenings in and around West Bengal.English speaking travellers can visit Nandan film complex anytime of the day to find the place brimming with such activities. People from various age groups will happily invite foreign tourists to join their discussions and share thoughts, ideas and experience.
- Boat ride. Take a boat ride across the Hoogly river, or hire a small boat and spend the evening discovering the banks of the river around Kolkata, Howrah, Diamond Harbour, Chandannagar or Murshidabad. Boatmen usually demand ₹ 500 for an hour. Price negotiable.
Bengal is famous for fish preparations and sweet-meat but some of the vegetarian dishes are also a speciality. In earlier centuries widows were prohibited from taking anything other than vegetarian food (predominantly they still are but now rules are being broken) and they were principal chefs in large homes. They developed the vegetarian dishes extensively.
In a big city such as Kolkata one will get food as per choice of people from all over the country. Then one gets Chinese, Thai and continental. In most of the other towns it is Bengali cooking, plus Punjabi or North Indian preparations and some South Indian outlets. Mughlai dishes are popular.
There are plenty of bars across the state.
West Bengal is very safe for foreigners. There is hardly any incident of crime against foreigners in recent years. People are friendly and accept people of different cultures warmly. As a foreigner you might find people staring at you but they are just curious. But if you notice anything objectionable in their behaviour with you, face them boldly and ask for help. People are helpful and you will have them coming to your rescue. You may also call the police. But people on the roads are helpful to foreigners and they can be relied upon.
West Bengal is a very politically active state. You may witness clashes, which most often occur between students of fronts affiliated to the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition parties. It is better to stay out of the matter and leave the area, as even the police sometimes get involved.
Power outages are less frequent than they used to be.