With the arrival of October, most residents of Kolkata start planning their winter holiday. After Durga Puja, Christmas holidays are the most cherished events in every Bengali traveller’s household.

Here are some recommendations for idyllic escapes from the city of joy

Tagore’s Shantiniketan

Only 212 kms away from Kolkata, lies the scenic village of Shantiniketan. Through Rabindranath Tagore’s visions, this village was created as a Viswa Bharati which is a convergence of education, academics and practices from all over the world. Eminent personalities like Amartya Sen were born here. This centre of ‘global learning’ is also rich in handicrafts from the state. Once you have visited Tagore’s Ashram, spend time visiting Amar Kutir and Shilpagram. Do stop by Prakriti Bhavan which is a nature art museum with exclusive sculptures to admire.

Here is my complete guide to Shantiniketan 

Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
Santhal dance performance in the haat.
Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
Sal trees of Boner Pukur Danga.

Royalties of Bawali

Drive a short 40 kilometres away from Kolkata, towards Joka, into the rustic Bengal villages. Here you find the 265-year old Rajbari Bawali.

Rajbari or palatial homes of Zamindars have been a part of Bengal’s history. Rajbari Bawali is one such rajbari which has been restored to a boutique hotel. It has withstood the test of time, unlike others in the area.

There is lots to do in this countryside village. Go for a village walk and explore 300-year old temples. Or pedal away to Burul Ghat to see the many activities by River Hooghly. On your way, stop at Nodakhali for some zari work shopping or to see Uttam Jana’s idol making workshop.

Here is my complete guide to Bawali. 

Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
Entering the spacious courtyard of the Rajbari Bawali.
Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
Gopinath Temple.

Terracotta Land of Joypur

Joypur (occasionally spelt Jaypur) is only 15 kilometres ahead of Bishnupur but much unexplored than the latter. Of course, the terracotta temples of Bishnupur are far superior and very well maintained than those of Joypur. But they are both remarkable in their own might.

A few meters from the main market is the 300-year old Damodar temple of Duttapara. This temple of goddess Chandi continues to be the responsibility of the villagers. Its terracotta carvings on laterite stone narrate scenes from Mahabharata, Ramayana and Krishna Leela. Weeds grow around its pinnacle, adding to its age and character. The most stunning feature—the original mahogany door to the shrine with Vishnu’s Dashavatara.

Go here to read my story on Joypur. 

Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
Gopal, vegetable vendor, smiling for my frame.
Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
Damodar Temple of Duttapara.

Ancient Bodhgaya and Nalanda

This pilgrimage town in Bihar is different from the rest of the state in many aspects. The magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site Mahabodhi Temple does explain the immense influence of Buddhism here. There are monasteries and temples from possibly every Southeast Asian country and the visitors are all here for the one purpose to see this historic temple. The other attractions include the Giant 80-feet Buddha statue.

Nalanda University, one of the oldest centres of higher learning in the world, is only 89 kms away from Bodhgaya. A day trip to the ruins of this ancient education system, gives us an idea of how well planned and well executed were the schools from yesteryear.

Here is my complete guide to Bodhgaya.  

Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
Afternoon nap within the temple premises.
Kolkata winter getaways ©Amrita Das
The main temple of Nalanda.

Sacred sites Puri and Konark

Living in Kolkata and haven’t been to Puri yet? This is good enough for shock anyone! This beach town of Odisha is probably the most frequented destination by the residents of the metropolitan. Some 500 kms away, Puri’s sandy beaches are family-friendly and provide a healthy mix of leisure and history. The Jagannath Puri Temple is a sacred site of Hindus from all over the country and quick visit here through the crowds is a good decision. Whatever you do, don’t lure the monkeys in Puri!

The Konark Sun temple, only 35kms away from Puri, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in 13th century. The temple has been structured in such a way to depict that Surya or sun god is riding a chariot towards heaven. The fascinating features of the temple include the Wheel of Life, portraying the cycle of life with intricate carvings and sundial, which are the wheels of the temple used to calculate the time as per the movement of the sun.

Konark’s Sun Temple. Photo: Phil Parsons/Flickr CC.

Here is my quick guide to Kolkata.  

Have you been to any of these winter destinations in the east?

I am always sharing travel stories and photos from Kolkata on my Facebook page and Instagram.

Amrita Das

I have been a travel and culture independent journalist. My bylines have appeared in many publications worldwide including National Geographic Traveller India, Lonely Planet Magazine India, The Indian Express and World Travel Magazine. A fellow of Media Ambassadors India-Germany 2019 program by Robert Bosch Stiftung and Centre for Media Competence, University of Tübingen. Currently, I am the photo editor for RoundGlass Sustain, a wildlife and conservation e-publication. I live in India.

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