If you have not been able to plan ahead for a vacation for the festive season, and now find that journey tickets and accommodation are scarce, there is no reason you have to stay put at home. There are some interesting places in and around the city which can be visited in a day. Here is our five favourite destinations.
Go back in time at this former royal principality, about 115km from Kolkata (via Kolaghat). Explore the ruins of palaces, functional temples and other attractions. It is said that wrought iron and colour glass work of the nat mandir (prayer hall) attached to Joy Durga Temple so impresed Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore that he followed the same pattern for his prayer hall in Santiniketan. You must see the Jalhari, an ornate palace situated on an island in the middle of the lake from the shore (visitors are not allowed to go there). There is an ornate Raas Mancha exhibiting typical Bengal style spires. And on your way back, stop at the market to savour the local specialty, moog-er-jilipi, a sweet made from moong dal and dipped in sugar syrup.
A wee town nestling in the middle of a sprawling countryside is best for those looking for a short drive from the city. About 100km from Kolkata, it takes around two hours&rsquo by car in normal traffic. There are some beautiful terracotta temples, a huge lake, crop fields and mango orchards. The former zamindar family runs a pleasant and luxurious homestay. If you are lucky, you may get an opportunity to visit their Durga Mandap where the annual celebration is held. Check in advance if you can have lunch at the homestay.
This is another quick getaway from the city, about 65km away, near the India-Bangladesh border. The serene Ichhamati River is the international boundary. Take a boat ride along the river, explore on foot a patch of mangrove forest (called the mini Sundarban) away from the town, and enjoy local Bengali fare at the local eateries. Several families have their traditional homes here, and if you are visiting during Durga Puja, you may be able to see the celebration (subject to permission). There are many guest houses and a luxury resort by the river bank.
Also on the Ichhamati River, about 100km from Kolkata, is Paramadan. The main attraction is the wildlife sanctuary named after Bengal&rsquos famous litterateur Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay (author of the famous book Pather Panchali). Essentially a deer sanctuary, you are also likely to find a variety of birds. You may also go boating in the river. However, expect lots of visitors on festive days.
Depending on the route taken, Serampore (also Shrirampur) is between 30 and 40 km from Kolkata. However, considerable traffic on the road during festive days cannot be ruled out. Located on the Hooghly River, the town is known for its Danish legacy though its antecedents go back further. Hire a local rickshaw and go around the town&rsquos major attractions. On one hand are the centuries old houses of the Goswami families, and on the other are the Danish landmarks restored as far as possible. If you are visiting on a Sunday or a government holiday, you will be able to take a look at the Serampore College but will find the museum closed. The restored Olav Church, the Danish Government House (now a museum) and the Denmark Tavern are within close proximity. You may have lunch at a quaint restaurant next to the former Danish Government House or at the Denmark Tavern apart from other eateries in the town. You may also pay a visit to the centuries old Jagannath Temple at Mahesh, on the outskirts of Serampore.