Kolkata, the capital of Bengal, is “strangely beloved”. She evokes emotions of love and nostalgia more deeply than any other city in India does. Rich in history, Kolkata is a place of intrigue, her past shaping her present. The architecture of her ancient monuments and palaces is awe inspiring, while her love for poetry and politics and her obsession with food are legendary.
This autumn you will travel to the throbbing heart of this metropolis, and be a part of the famous autumnal carnival of Durga Puja, when the Mother Goddess returns from her heavenly abode into the home and hearts of her people.
On your arrival you will witness the panoramic festive celebrations that transcend the barriers of class and religion, where the entire metropolis transforms itself into a colossal art exhibition, a public art fair, marked with colour, laughter and friendships. You will enjoy the hospitality of heritage hotels or colonial country clubs, visit historical and cultural monuments, relish local cuisine, and be a part of the legendary festive celebrations. You will also travel to the Sunderbans, a UNESCO world heritage site, to see the world’s largest mangroves and if you are lucky, the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger.
This once-in-a-lifetime holiday has elements of culture, history, art and heritage all rolled into one. It is also a journey into the past of a historical city that still captivates people from all over the world by its warmth and old world charm.
According to the Hindu Mythology, Goddess Durga emerged from the collective energy of all Gods as an embodiment of Shakti (the divine feminine power) to destroy the demon Mahishasura, who was blessed to not be defeated by any man or god. The name Durga in Sanskrit means 'the impenetrable'; she exists in a state of self-sufficiency and ultimate power. Her return every autumn is celebrated with much grandeur and ceremonies.
On arrival in Kolkata, receive a special welcome at the airport and a private transfer to your hotel.
Celebrations begin early with a specially guided tour introducing the traditional ritual of kola bou snan where a young banana plant (believed to be the wife of Hindu Elephant God Ganesha) is draped in an ethnic sari and bathed in the holy river Ganga. This invokes the presence of the Goddess in the idol to be worshipped. Later, explore the pandals (detailed bamboo structures decorated by artworks to create temporary shrines for the idols) followed by lunch. The evening begins with aarti, a traditional prayer at pandals with drum beats as you rejoice with fellow revelers.
On the following day, drive to one of the historic bonedi baris or mansions of affluent aristocratic zamindars (landowners) that have been celebrating the festival for over a hundred years. Witness the kumari puja, a ritual in which young girls are worshipped as the living incarnations of the Goddess, highlighting the importance of women. Enjoy bhog, a traditional meal cooked for the auspicious occasion. As dusk sets in, it’s time for sandhi puja, hundred and eight lamps are lit up, while the dhaki (drummers) breaks into a frenzied beat.
Next day, enjoy the ceremonial dhunuchi naach, a custom that thanks the Goddess. Here men and women, dressed in beautiful ethnic wear, dance to the beat of the drummers with clay pots in hand, billowing a fragrant smoke of camphor and frankincense.
The fifth day is symbolic of victory of good over evil and marks an end to the festival. In the afternoon, proceed for sindoor khela, a ritual where married women apply vermilion on the feet of the deity and to each other. Bid adieu to the goddess as she is immersed in the Ganges. We take you on an immersion cruise that provides a panoramic view of the city and its skyline as thousands of devotees gather to pay their final ode to the Goddess on the banks of the river.
After Durga puja concludes, drive to the Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site home to the world’s largest mangrove forest, the elusive Bengal tiger, the endangered estuarine crocodile and more. After a 3.5-hour drive, board a boat to the Sundarbans Tiger Camp. Enjoy a wildlife safari on a boat, visit the museum on mangroves and climb a watch tower. Enjoy folk dance and dinner at the resort.
Next day in Sunderbans, experience a thrilling boat cruise while visiting Dobanki watch tower and the spotted deer rehabilitation center. Visit a local village, explore their art, culture and lifestyle. Enjoy bonfire, wildlife movie and dinner at the resort.
Next morning, visit Sudhanyakhali watch tower and cruise to the islands of the Sundarban Tiger Project Area. After an early lunch, return to Kolkata.
Enjoy a full day city tour. Visit Netaji Bhavan, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum , Mother House (the erstwhile residence of Mother Teresa). Drive past the General Post Office, Shaheed Minar, Eden Gardens, Writers’ Building, Governor’s House, High Court, Town Hall, Fort William, Race Course and so on. Watch sunset over the beautiful Ganges.
Highlight of the day is the Durga Puja Carnival, the world’s largest public-led, state organized road show where the idols and replicas of pandals of almost 70 most popular clubs are displayed as part of the immersion procession, accompanied by traditional dance and music.
Following morning, proceed for a walking tour. In this heritage walk retrace the steps of Lt. Col. Mark Wood to explore streets and identify buildings depicted in this 1784 map of European Calcutta. Return to the hotel. Visit a handicraft shopping centre. Sunset river cruise to Belur Math.
On the fifteenth day, begin your journey back home with experiences to cherish lifelong.
To join us on this memorable journey, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at +91-33-4052-5777.