Come, experience the spiritual frenzy
The Bengal Tourism Department has come up with several exciting packages to help foreigners and localites experience the glitz and glory of Durga Puja. Soumitra Nandi discusses the various trips on offer – each packed with exciting locations and lip-smacking food
The Mamata Banerjee government is gearing up to utilise the platform of Durga Puja – the biggest festival in the state – to give a major boost to tourism.
During Durga Puja particularly, a large number of foreigners come to the state and the Tourism Department has chalked out elaborate plans to ensure that the visits of our international friends grow by leaps and bounds.
"The real success of a state's tourism depends on how it attracts foreign tourists. We are promoting the tourist destinations in the state through the National Geographic channel in as many as 27 European countries. The celebration of Durga Puja will be a part of the video. We are hopeful this will attract more tourists to the state," said Goutam Deb, state Tourism Minister.
The department, for the first time, will be branding tourism at 300 Puja pandals in Kolkata and Siliguri. There will be posters, hoardings, banners and attractive gates showcasing the tourist destinations and facilities for tourists offered by various lodges of the state Tourism Department. "A private company will be roped in for the purpose of branding for which the tender has been floated," a senior official of the state Tourism Department said.
The department has entered into a partnership with some creative firms and top private tour operators who will promote Bengal tourism through their publications like magazines, pamphlets etc.
According to a senior official of the state Tourism Department, Durga Puja in Kolkata has been a major draw for tourists and it attracts around 13 million visitors during the 10-day period. The number of foreign tourists totalled around 2,000 during the Durga Puja period of 2017.
It may be mentioned that from 2016, the state government has ushered in a grand finale to the whole extravaganza by organising a stunning Red Road Carnival where as many as 68 of the city's best Durga idols with the entire entourage parade. The spectacle, touted only next to the famous Rio Carnival, will have make-shift galleries, giant screens and separate enclosures for foreign guests. The Carnival that was held on October 3 last year drew a lot of foreigners and there will be no exception this year too. Performances of folk artistes, bauls and drummers have been a great hit.
"Bengal has bagged the fifth spot in the number of foreign tourists visiting the state for two consecutive years – 2015 and 2016 – and was ahead of destinations like Gujarat and Goa in respect of attracting foreign tourists," the official maintained.
The state Tourism Department in collaboration with the British Council held a special exhibition celebrating Bengali culture and the annual Durga Puja festivities at National Theatre, Riverside Walkway, London, as a part of 'Totally Thames Festival' 2018 in September. The exhibition was aimed at showcasing Bengal as a destination for experiential tourism.
The exhibition was a part of its 70-year anniversary celebrations in India.
"Durga Puja is a celebration of cultural identity that goes beyond religion. Millions of people come together through tradition, art, performances, music and food. Coincidentally, Durga Puja in its present form, traces its origin to interactions with the British in the late 18th century," said Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Minister of State for Youth Affairs who was part of the Bengal delegation that visited the UK during the festival.
It may be mentioned that in the last six years, since the Mamata Banerjee government has taken charge of the state, the public funding in the tourism sector has gone up from Rs 35 crore to a whopping Rs 400 crore. The flow of domestic as well as international tourists clearly indicate that it's not just the popular North Bengal tourism sector which is making waves among travellers, the other parts of the state are also doing their bit in raking up the strength of the state's travel industry.
"The scope of tourism is immense and we, under the leadership of our Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, are exploring all possible ways to give it a boost. It also has a tremendous potential to generate jobs," the senior Tourism Department official said.
According to him, the state has different types of destinations that can be projected for religious, cultural, adventure and medical tourism. "All of this makes the state one of the most preferred destinations among travellers from all parts of the world. We are taking steps to promote all these aspects of tourism," Deb said.
The West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (WBTDCL) has lined up a plethora of Durga Puja packages for those who love to visit the city and the different parts of the state to see the Durga idols.
On Saptami, Ashtami and Nabami, there will be a special trip to Hooghly district (Hooghly Safar) where visitors will be taken to a number of household Pujas that date back to more than 500 years. The Durgabari Puja at Guptipara is 562 years old while that of Sheoraphuli Rajbari is 300 years old. The day package will come at Rs 3,000 per person, including food.
The special 12-hour-package from 7 am to 7 pm for Borsul will include a visit to East Burdwan district covering three Pujas that include the Chowdhury Bari in Ahmedpur, Dutta Bari in Paharhati and Dey Bari in Borsul. The package will cost Rs 2,400, including food.
There will be a similar package for Guskara in East Burdwan, where you will be taken for a visit to some household Pujas.
The 13-hour Puja package to Surul Rajbari in Birbhum will cover the Sarkar Bari Puja in Surul and visit Sonajhuri Puja near Santiniketan in Birbhum district. One has to dole out Rs 2,500 for the package that includes breakfast and lunch.
There will be a two-day-one-night package for Kashimbazar Rajbari Durga Puja accompanied by sightseeing around history-ridden Murshidabad. The journey with accommodation in air-conditioned hotels comes at Rs 4,000 per person including all meals.
The package for the traditional Durga Pujas of the Rajbaris in the city will also be in the itinerary. This visit will cover Khelat Ghosh Bari, Sovabazar Rajbari, Chatubabu, Latubabu Puja, Chandra Bari, Rani Rashmoni Bari, Thanthania Dutta Bari.
The special Tarpan package on October 8, the day of Mahalaya, took visitors on a cruise past Dakshineswar Temple, visit at Belur Math and witnessing idol making at Kumartuli along with rites marking the end of Pitri Paksha in River Ganges.
The WBTDCL will also offer its regular package for the pandal hoppers at some leading Pujas in North and South Kolkata on October 13, 14 and 15. The package in the night will come at Rs 1,750 including dinner.
There will be separate packages for North and South Kolkata for the pandal-hoppers during the day titled Uttara and Dakshini at around Rs 1,600 per person with lunch.
The immersion package on a cruise on October 20 and 21 will also be on offer at around Rs 700. The first trip will be from 6 pm to 7.30 pm and the second from 8 pm to 9.30 pm. Welcome drinks and light snacks will be a part of the package that will cost around Rs 700.