This bustling bazaar town sprawls along a saddle-shaped mountain ridge overlooking the roaring Teesta River and lorded over by the summit of Khangchendzonga. It’s not a must-see, but it does boast Himalayan views, Buddhist monasteries, colonial-era architecture and a fascinating nursery industry, all linked by some fine hikes. You could easily fill three days here.
Siliguri & New Jalpaiguri
The crowded and noisy transport hub encompassing the twin towns of Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri (NJP) is the jumping-off point for Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Sikkim, the Northeast States, eastern Nepal and Bhutan. However, despite this being one of the largest cities in the state, there’s little to see or do here, apart from staying the night in transit, if you have to.
In addition to epitomising its Bengali name – meaning 'abode of peace' – the university town of Shantiniketan is a veritable nerve centre of Bengal's art and culture. Nobel laureate, poet and artist Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) founded a school here amid pastoral settings in 1901.
Sunderbans Tiger Reserve
Home to one of the largest concentrations of Royal Bengal tigers on the planet, the 2585-sq-km Sunderbans Tiger Reserve is a network of channels and semi-submerged mangroves that forms the world’s largest river delta. The ecosystem here is contiguous with the Sunderbans delta in Bangladesh, which lies eastward across the international border along the same shoreline.
Jaldhapara Wildlife Sanctuary
The little-visited Jaldhapara Wildlife Sanctuary protects 114 sq km of lush forests and grasslands along the Torsa River and is a refuge for 150 Indian one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis). It's not the easiest place to visit independently and booking accommodation inside the park needs to be done months in advance, so plan ahead.
Known for its beautiful terracotta temples, Bishnupur flourished as the capital of the Malla kings from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. The architecture of these intriguing temples is a bold mix of Bengali, Islamic and Oriya (Odishan) styles. Intricately detailed facades of numerous temples play out scenes of the Hindu epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Murshidabad & Berhampore
In Murshidabad, rural Bengali life and 18th-century architecture meld on the verdant shores of the Hooghly River, locally also known as the Bhagirathi River. When Siraj-ud-daula was nawab of Bengal, Murshidabad was his capital, and he was assassinated here after his defeat by Robert Clive at Plassey (now Palashi) in 1757.
Nabadwip & Mayapur
About 115km north of Kolkata, Nabadwip is an important Krishna pilgrimage centre, attracting throngs of devotees, and is also an ancient centre of Sanskrit culture. The last Hindu king of Bengal, Lakshman Sen, moved his capital here from Gaur. Across the river from Nabadwip, Mayapur is the headquarters of the Iskcon (Hare Krishna) movement.
Gaur & Pandua
Rising from the flooded paddy fields of Gaur (355km from Kolkata) are mosques and other crumbling ruins of the 13th- to 16th-century capital of the Muslim nawabs of Bengal. Little remains from the 7th- to 12th-century pre-Islamic period, when Gaur was the capital of the successive Buddhist Pala and Hindu Sena dynasties.
About 180km south of Kolkata, the sleepy fishing village of Mandarmani sports a heavenly beach stretching nearly 15km. It remains one of the more unpolluted beaches in the country, and supports countless colonies of sand bubbler crabs. The beaches see some additional action at dawn, when fishing boats drop anchor and disgorge their catches of marine goodies.