Belur Math

Top choice in Kolkata (Calcutta)

Belur Math in Calcutta, West Bengal, India. (Photo by: IndiaPictures/UIG via Getty Images)

UIG via Getty Images

Set very attractively amid palms and manicured lawns, this large religious centre is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, inspired by 19th-century Indian sage Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who preached the unity of all religions. Its centrepiece is the 1938 Ramakrishna Mandir, which somehow manages to look like a cathedral, Indian palace and Istanbul’s Aya Sofya all at the same time. Several smaller shrines near the Hooghly riverbank include the Sri Sarada Devi Temple, entombing the spiritual leader's wife, Sarada.

Accessed from the car park, a beautifully presented dual-level museum charts Ramakrishna’s life and the travels of his great disciple Swami Vivekananda. Inside, you'll find their objects of personal daily use preserved in neat arrays, a showroom for informative books in English and Indian languages, as well as a sales counter for handmade objects and showpieces. During Durga Puja, the institution comes to life with absorbing spells of ritual and festive splendour, and the immersion of the goddess on the ultimate day in the Hooghly River is a spectacular draw.

From the main road outside, six daily suburban trains run between Belur Math and Howrah (25 minutes), most usefully at 10.10am and 4.45pm. Picking up next door to Belur Math train station, minibuses as well as buses 51, 54 and 56 run to Esplanade/Howrah in stop-start traffic. Southbound, they pass almost beside Bandaghat from where you can take the thrice-hourly ferry to Ahiritola, then switch to the Bagbazar boat for Kumartuli. From Belur Jetty, ferries (hourly) and open boats (when full) operate to Dakshineswar. Southbound ferries to Howrah via Bagbazar depart at 5.30pm and 6.30pm.