Last year this time, me along with my friends Shanky and Ankit, took a trip across north and east of India to experience Durga Pooja. During this festive season of October, Dusshera (or Dasara, as called in the south) is also celebrated.
Our trip first began with a 2-day dash to Chennai, where Shanky and I met up with some old friends, explored the mind boggling temples of Mahabalipuram and some chill time on the beaches.
You may know, that if you want to experience the real deal of Durga Pooja, then Kolkata is the place to be. So after Chennai, Kolkata was next. There’s way too much to describe what happened there and the experience was once in a lifetime, if you go there only once that is! 🙂 The city and the atmosphere is just elated and electric with religious and festive fever, and you can’t help but involve yourself with the ethnicity of all this… especially when night dawns! Gear up and pace yourself to visit all the Durga Pooja pandals, as you will not only have to manage your time by being spoilt for choice, but also you will need the stamina to push through the large and impatient crowds, not to mention the heat that can bother you even at night time! And don’t take the crowds for granted… this is no usual crowd that you come across in a sale or during a political rally; these crowds are massive and you will find them in any nook and corner. We also found traffic lights being used to divert crowds, than the traffic itself, because the roads were empty, and the footpaths were tightly packed!
You will have several pandals in north, south and central Kolkata, and doing a simple google will throw you the must-watch pandals of that year (the favourites change every year based on what the local people have created or decorated them with). Make sure you plan well, and see the most famous ones that year, even if you have to face the crowds, because its now how many pandals you managed to see, but the quality and fame of the ones you saw, would matter. This is IF you are keen to see the diverse culture kept open for exhibition, else you can take a few and just have a great time, strolling around them. (Be ready to sweat it out and carry loads of water!)
My favourite pandal last year was called “Pacchees Pally” (means something like 25th Sector) which wasn’t mentioned in many of the online searches or even by word of mouth, but we just happened to stumble upon this small pandal. It was small for sure, only when compared to the famous ones around, but was beautiful… and I mean BEAUTIFUL. The picture of that is the thumbnail you can see in the above video. The Kolkata part of the trip ended with a visit to some historic sites like Victoria Memorial of-course, a ride in the “legendary” tram and you’d be stupid if you don’t try the Bengali cuisine, from the fish and the prawns (chingdi) to the variety of sweets! And even if you’re not a fan of it, when in Kolkata, have a roshagulla anyway!
Next stop, Bihar. In addition to the festive season, it was also election time in the state, and the entire capital of Patna was covered with posters from all parties contesting! That’s a sad story that happens all over India, where we allow politics to overshadow the beauty of our religions, culture, discourse and also ruin the beauty of our cities. Fortunately, we didn’t see any effect of the on-going election season in Bodh Gaya, which basically transports you to another world!
I have to write this part in a separate paragraph. If you involve yourself enough and keep distractions away, like the moving crowd, you will find it so peaceful to experience the sounds of the bells, the gongs, chimes, the chirping birds and… the Silence, at the heart of the Maha Bodhi Temple, where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment.
After an over-night train journey, we reach Varanasi… one of the the oldest cities in the world. After seeing Kolkata, you will actually be impressed by Varanasi, and in this entire trip, Varanasi was my favourite! I’m not sure if it was the festive season or what, but the spiritual atmosphere that you feel along and around the Ganga ghaat is magical! And you know the most priceless part of this trip…? Paan Banaraswala!
Last stop was Delhi, where I mainly wanted to see the Humayun’s tomb which I missed the last time I was there. And… after almost a year of planning, we finally had this awesome trip and that was the first time covered so much distance across my India, at one go! I can’t wait for something next like this, and I guess I better start planning soon!
Check out all the UN World Heritage Sites I covered on this trip!