Asia : South Asia : India : Eastern India : West Bengal
Bengal was split with the partition and independence of India, with millions of refugees pouring into the state. It has since seen a lot of turbulence. Rich in culture and literature, immensely proud of a colourful heritage, it is a place where human values are still held high. A road accident immediately draws the attention and support of passers by. Naturally, such people are generally friendly towards others and in Kolkata, those from outside the state outnumber the locals. With all the variety of life, people coming to the state from outside should leave with a pleasant and favorable impression.
However, anyone visiting the state should be aware of Begalis preoccupation with strikes (bandh). When these occur, all transportation (except train) stops and so travel is impossible. This situation has not only severely hampered economic progress in the state, but is also a major disincentive to tourism. Travelers flying from Kolkata need to take this situation into account and plan to arrive several days early.
The topography of the majority of West Bengal is flat, and as a major rice growing region it is characterized by its lush and green environment. However, with the notable exception of the towns located in the tea growing areas of Jalpaiguri (the area around Siliguri) and Darjeeling, the urban areas tend to be characterless jumbles of concrete boxes devoid of charm.
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. There are a number of smaller ports.
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, large number of passenger trains and locals (mostly around Kolkata). Taxis and hired cars are available in most places.
The state stretches from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal and so there are many things to see. Some of the places of tourist interest are listed above. It has wonderful cultural heritage, particularly towards the rural sides. The northern side has beautiful hills and forests, while the south has some nice beaches.
Visit sweets shops in Kolkata (Some of the sweets you will find here are very unique!).Rasgolla and Misti Doi are famous in West Bengal.
Bengal is famous for fish preparations and sweet-meat but some of the vegetarian dishes are also a speciality. In olden times, 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. They are reliable. There are certain areas in West Bengal infested with Maoists insurgents and the State government along with the central forces is in a state of battle with them. These areas are mostly located to the south-west of West Bengal along its border with neighbouring state of Odisha (formerly Orissa) and Jharkhand. The areas include, district of Paschim Medinipur, parts of Purba Medinipur, Purulia and Bankura. These places though have rich tribal culture heritage, are not usually flocked by tourists. Those planning to visit must assess security situation prevailing at that time. Though the targets of the insurgents are mostly personnel of security forces, few attacks on civilians were also reported in the past. Thankfully, incidence of Maoist violence has gone down in recent times but they continue to be a ruthless force. Apart from that the rest of West Bengal is very tourist friendly.