Rock formations, Gangani Image Credit: Shutterstock

1. Gangani

There’s a reason why it’s called the Grand Canyon of Bengal. Disembark at Garbeta train station in Midnapore and traverse the few kilometres of red dirt roads to reach Gangani’s stunning ravines. A staircase guides you 70 feet down through the canyon to Silabati river bank. The natural erosion caused by the water body over centuries has created stunning rock formations to savour, with pillars, caves, mounds and hanging cliffs creating a magical world transporting visitors back in time.

Visiting Gangani in winter is timely. Enjoy a walk through its crimson ravines as the sun plays to create rainbow hues. The topography changes to a lush green come monsoon, as the Silabati swells up and adds water formations to complement the beauty and serenity of this natural wonder. Hotels exist in Garbeta but visitors often opt to stay in the satellite cities of Kharagpur and Bishnupur, which are just a few kilometres away and that offer excellent hotels and assorted facilities.

The Lower and Upper Dam in Purulia Image Credit: Shutterstock

2. Purulia

Hills roll into green meadows dotted with groves of sal and neem while waterfalls turn into gurgling streams, all contributing to an ambience worthy of an award-winning frame. It takes around six hours by road from Kolkata and four hours by train to reach Purulia. Local transport or private car booking options abound for those out to explore its stunning locales. Some of Purulia’s major attractions include the Bamni and Turga Falls, Marble Lake, the Lower and Upper Dam, Muruguma Dam. Khairabera Lake, Pardi Lake, Mayur Pahar and Baranti.

Rare birds can also be spotted atop Pakhi Pahar, a picturesque hilltop destination. While in Purulia be sure to visit the Ayodhya and Gajaburu Hills as well. Purulia has eco-resorts, hotels and homestays to fit every budget.

The main beach at Bakkhali Image Credit: Shutterstock

3. Bakkhali

It takes around four hours by car from Kolkata to reach Bakkhali, but one can avail of local trains too. A village in West Bengal’s Namkhana district, it offers amazing beachfronts. Bakkhali’s main beach extends miles into the sea and during low tide offers pristine white sands for those dreamy long walks by the sea. The destination also offers good resorts and hotels. If you are looking for raw, natural beauty, take a pathway through mangrove forests to head to Henry’s Island. The Red Crabs Beach here offers sanctuary to nature photographers and fauna enthusisats with thousands of red crabs dotting the sands. Further away, Frasergunj Beach with its ruins in the backdrop offers a different vista but is worthy of amazing frames as well, as is Ben Fish harbour. And while in Bakkhali, explore your inner foodie with ample options to savour delectable seafood.

Ras Mancha, Bisnupur Image Credit: Shutterstock

4. Bishnupur

If you are a heritage buff and want to see striking terracotta architecture, head to Bishnupur. The town, located in Bankura district is not far from Kolkata and offers a rich history of art and trade, having been the domain of the ancient Malla dynasty. When it comes to architecture, the Ras Mancha is a spectacular creation, a pyramidal structure made of brick and that stands on a platform with exquisite carvings and plaques on the pillars.

Bishnupur has a number of terracotta temples, with the most famous being the Madan Mohan temple and the Jor Bangla temple. The Bishnupur Mela held every year around December is a great place to check out the famed Baluchari sarees, terracotta art and jewellery, as well as the local cuisine.

A rhino spotted at a stream in the Dooars Image Credit: Shutterstock

5. Dooars

Thick, verdant forests, elephants taking lazy baths in mountain streams and smiling women working with nimble fingers in tea gardens, these are the visuals often conjured when mentioning the Dooars. The word Dooars means “doors” and lying at the foothills of the Himalayas the destination is a doorway to the impressive range. An overnight journey by train from Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri station takes you to the Dooars. You can also take an hour’s flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra Airport.

While the jade coloured Teesta flows effortlessly through Dooars, rivers like Murti offer pristine views and the Jaldapara National Park, where you get your elephant rides. Chapramari Forest, Jayanti River, Buxa Fort and Malbazar town are the places that can be part of the itinerary. If you are on the foodie trail, don’t forget to sample momos and bamboo shoot pickles.

A Royal Bengal Tiger seen in the Sundarbans mangrove forests

6. Sundarbans

Imagine the thrill of spotting fresh pug marks made by a Royal Bengal tiger while scouting with friends in Sundarbans’ dense mangrove forests. With adventure in the offing at every bend, if lucky enough you could spot the tiger in its natural habitat. Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest is also positioned on the world’s largest natural delta and boasts of incredible biodiversity. Marked as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, Sundarbans presents rare species of dolphins, crocodiles, birds and orchids. Go on boat safaris, climb watch towers or indulge in a spot of bird watching at the Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary.

Visitors can also watch an amazing natural occurrence as hundreds of Olive Ridley turtles hatch and swim for the first time. Don’t miss out on an eco-resort stayover and enjoy the surrounding jungles. At the Sundarbans, the thrills and sense of excitement is all encompassing.

Raajbari, Bawali Image Credit: Shutterstock

7. Raajbari at Bawali

The magnificent palace at Bawali can be your dream vacay spot. Besides, you wouldn’t have to shell out a crazy amount to feel like a king for a few days. The 300-year-old house that belonged to the King of Bawali, has now been restored and converted into a boutique hotel. So, what do you get to do there? Live like a king for one. Enjoy a royal welcome at the Bawali Raajbari as you are welcomed with the blowing of conch shells and the beating of drums, a tradition followed by the kings and zamindars of Bengal.

Enjoy the veritable spread at a meal fit for kings, take a stroll in the royal gardens filled with an amazing variety of flora, and enjoy a good night’s sleep on the regal four-poster bed meant for royalty. A Bawali vacation is a masterclass in Bengali custom, heritage and hospitality.

Views from a hill, Tinchuley, Darjeeling Image Credit: Shutterstock

8. Darjeeling- Kalimpong

Through the gateway of the Dooars, proceed to the mountains where Darjeeling and Kalimpong stand nestled within the Himalayas. Summer and winter are the best times to visit the region, however monsoons are best avoided. Plenty of hotels and resorts in Darjeeling and Kalimpong offer unfettered views of the mighty Kanchenjungha range. When you are in Darjeeling, the toy train ride, viewing the sunrise at Tiger Hill and visiting monasteries are the usual suspect activities.

However, tourists nowadays prefer the offbeat too, with locations like Tinchuley and Takdah from Darjeeling offering hiking trails, waterfalls, amazing views and local flavour. A couple of hours from Darjeeling, Kalimpong offers beautiful orchids, orange orchards, colonial buildings and mesmerising viewpoints like Deolo Hill. Those prefering the offbeat could explore picturesque neighbourhoods such as Lava, Lolegaon and Kolakham.

A boat on the Hooghly river in Kolkata with the Vidyasagar Setu bridge in the background

9. Kolkata’s heritage walking tour

The angry April sun or incessant August rains will not daunt hardcore heritage enthusiasts opting for a walking tour of Kolkata. Groups of foreign tourists with their guides can often be spotted across the city. Famed for its colonial past, a walking tour is the best way to explore and discover Kolkata. Although November to February is best to entertain a walking tour, guides continue to stay busy through the year. Different tour operators cater to specific interests. Opt for options including an architectural tour, photography tour, local essence tour, the famed Durga Puja tour, or the the popular food walk. There’s even a ghost spotting tour for supernatural enthusiasts.

For a slightly more laidback alternative, opt for an evening boatride down the Hooghly river to enjoy the Howrah Bridge and Vidyasagar Setu bridge as they frame Kolkata’s cityscape.