Bengal's biggest carnival brings Kolkata to a fever pitch of colourfully chaotic mayhem, as the city’s biggest festival celebrates the maternal essence of the divine. For five days, people venerate ornate idols of the 10-armed goddess Durga and her entourage, displayed in pandals that dominate yards, block roads and little parks.
Over the past 30 years, design competitions and increasing corporate sponsorship have seen pandals growing ever more ornate and complex, some with topical or political messages. West Bengal Tourism tours try to take tourists around a selection of the best pandals, but getting anywhere within the city can take hours given the general festive pandemonium. At the festival’s climax, myriad Durga idols are thrown into the sacred Hooghly River amid singing, water throwing, fireworks and indescribable traffic congestion. If you just want pandal photos and not the festival aspect, consider visiting just after Durga Puja when the idols have gone but pandals have yet to be deconstructed. Note that the city is virtually in shutdown mode during these five days. Do not schedule any important work during the festival.