The dripping lights of Park Street and the revelry of grand old clubs may define New Year’s celebrations in Kolkata, but what do you do when you want to escape the city and its madness? You make best use of the extended weekend and make a holiday out of it. From paragliding in the pristine beaches of Tajpur to soaking up the grandeur of Itachuna Rajbari, here are some suggestions for a memorable New Year’s escape.
There is nothing much to do in Maithon. And that’s a good thing if you are looking to do nothing. Maithon does, though, have a spectacularly big lake (65 sq kms), which has the magical ability to drain away your hours without you even realizing it. There is a verdant green island in the middle of the lake, which houses a guesthouse with a to-die-for view from every room. Sounds inviting? There is more: a bird sanctuary, an old temple and a unique underground power station, if you can tear yourself away from the lake shore. Our bet is that you can’t.
Make it happen: Maithon is a 3.5 hour drive away from Kolkata, down the Durgapur expressway.
A mere 1.5 hrs drive away from Kolkata, Itachuna typifies an idyllic Bengali village – lush green rice fields and small bodies of water. Had it not been for the Maratha invaders, who settled here centuries ago, Itachuna would have melted into anonymity like so many other Bengal villages. But now it boasts of a number of historical sights all within walking distance of each other. There is a century-old minar, a beautiful old farmhouse and a dilapidated old athithishala (rest house). But standing tall over them is the magnificent Itachuna Rajbari (palace) which has been converted into a luxury resort by its owners, the Kundu family. Itachuna helps you court history for a few days. And is there a better way to ring in the New Year?
Make it happen: Itachuna is a mere 1.5 hrs drive away from Kolkata towards Burdwan via Delhi Road (approximately 78 km).
Having exhausted the prospects of Digha and Puri, the intrepid Kolkata traveller is forever on the lookout for an ‘unspoiled’ beach town. Tajpur, with miles of golden sand melting into the blue sea, crimson patches of red crabs and an almost therapeutic evening breeze fits the bill. And wait: there are no jhaal muri wallahs, conch sellers, gem sellers, or pearl sellers vying for your attention. It’s just you and miles of nothingness. Need we say more? Tajpur also offers adventure sport options like paragliding, rafting, etc.
Make it happen: Take a train to Contai or Digha and get a pick-up from the hotel. Alternatively, one can board a bus from Esplanade and get off at Balisahi after Chaulkhol.
There is something about winter evenings in Shantiniketan. As if the moody evenings of the university town were not mellow enough, winter adds an aura of melancholia about the place. You can do the touristy things and visit Kala Bhavan and Upasana Mandir (where Rabindranath Tagore would meditate) or just spend hours in Café Alcha browsing rare books from its collection and digging into freshly made patishapta (Bengali pancakes), but the truth is Shantiniketan is a place to feel rather than visit. Feel free to take long walks in the rich countryside that has inspired the likes of Ramkinkar Raij, Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy and who knows, maybe you will run into a group of bauls (mystic wandering musicians) and be part of an impromptu, soul stirring performance.
Make it happen: There are a number of trains departing for Bolpur (Shantiniketan) every day from Howrah. The Kaviguru Express is one of the more popular ones.
A comfortable pair of shoes is a prerequisite if you decide to ring in your new year at the Ayodhya Hill. There are gurgling brooks, colourful butterflies and the mellow winter sun to keep you company. A night walk in the hills is a magical experience, but you will be best advised to hire the services of a local guide. Though Ayodhya Hill has several tourist lodges, camping is highly recommended. Most hotels can rent you camping equipment.
Make it happen: Ayodhya Pahar is 306 kms from Kolkata. The Rupasi Bangla Express will take you to Purulia, and you can hire taxis from there.
With its exquisite terracotta temples and serpentine alleyways, the evergreen Bishnupur is a heady cocktail of history and neglect. Most of the famed terracotta temples are found in clusters, which means you don’t have to negotiate the bustle of the city centre much. One can see a quaint marriage of Islamic and Hindu architecture in the majestic Raas Mancha, which was built in 1600. The Temple of Minmoyee is the oldest temple in Bishnupur and was built in 997 CE. The town is dotted with many lakes and parks which make it ideal for sunny winter days. The Jogesh Chandra Pura Kirti Bhavan Museum is a must-see.
Make it happen: Bishnupur is a four-hour drive away from Kolkata down NH2. Alternatively, one can take the convenient Rupasi Bangla express from Howrah.
Diamond Harbour suffers the tag of a picnic destination because it’s just an hour’s drive from the city. But that doesn’t take anything away from the beauty and history of the place. The deceptively dingy town centre gives way to a beautiful promenade that borders the river Hooghly, which empties into the Bay of Bengal a few kilometres away. Down that very road are the ruins of a fabulous 16th century fort with a questionable history. Historians can’t decide whether it was built by the Portuguese or the French. But that shouldn’t stop you from settling on one of the many rocks lining the fort and watching the golden sun melt into Ganga for one last glorious time this year.
Make it happen: Diamond Harbour is a hours’ drive away from Kolkata. Sagarika tourist lodge is the most comfortable staying option.