The state of West Bengal stretches from the foothills of the Himalayas to the waters of the Bay of Bengal, encompassing tea plantations and hill stations, mangrove swamps and cosmopolitan cities. The state, and particularly its capital Kolkata, flourished under British rule, producing some of India’s greatest thinkers, writers and artists. This creative clash of east and west lingers amongst West Bengal’s diverse landscapes, offering a culturally respite from the natural beauty.
The archetypal Indian hill station, Darjeeling nestles amongst lush tea plantations on a high ridge, watched over by the many faces of the Himalayas. During the British Raj Darjeeling was one of the most popular and most glamorous destinations in India and continues today as a lively and cosmopolitan town with good shopping and dining options. The main reason to visit is for the breathtaking Himalayan views; there are also plenty of walks in a range of difficulties, the excellent Himalayan Mountaineering institute and the Toy Train that offers a two hour return jaunt to Ghoom in high season. Sampling the tea to perk you up after a day of sightseeing is a must!
Offering a very different hill station experience to Darjeeling, Kalimpong is a bustling bazaar town with quiet leafy avenues and plenty of those spectacular Himalayan views. Complete with the requisite monasteries and colonial architecture, walking in the landscapes around Kalimpong may bring you face to face with the indigenous Lepcha community. Browse through the colourful market and explore the local horticultural industry which is particularly big on orchids. You can also visit Dr Graham’s home, an orphanage and school founded in 1900, and the Himalayan Handmade Paper Industry workshop.
One of India’s great metropolises, Kolkata sprawls along the Hooghly River on the plains of the lower Ganges Delta, 600 kilometres from Darjeeling. Back in the days of the British Raj this was the great colonial city of the Orient; today it exudes all the noise, colour and chaos of any Indian city, with a laidback and cosmopolitan twist. Considered, particularly by the locals, as India’s cultural capital, discover grand colonial architecture – particularly the Writer’s Building, wander atmospheric alleys, join the local people at recreation in the Maidan and enjoy the eclectic collection of the Indian Museum.
Affectionately known as the 'Grand Dame', the Oberoi Grand, built in the late 1880s, once hosted the leading colonial figures and is still hosting grand functions for heads of state today. Exuding luxury, the classical facade masks a host of modern facilities within - you'll find the attention to detail astounding! Excellently located, the Oberoi Grand is close to Kolkata's central business district.
Opened in 1967 but recently given a chic refurbishment, the five-star deluxe Park Kolkata sits on the historic and vibrant Park Street. From the dramatic lobby, the design goes from innovative to plus to elegant, giving this large hotel an intimate boutique feel that reflects the rich artistic heritage of the city. Modern facilities include a spa, gym and pool plus 8 dining options leave you spoilt for choice!
Set in a 150 year old colonial plantation house, the Glenburn Tea Estate is considered one of India's best luxury boutique hotels. Overlooking rolling tea plantations and with views of Mt Kanchenjunga, the hotel exudes old world charm and a homely atmosphere. Sitting on the verandah with a cup of tea enjoying the views and tranquility is a must.
The Mayfair is a old charm-filled heritage hotel in the heart of Darjeeling, opposite the hill resort's Governor's House. Offering modern amenities in classic Indian-styled rooms this former summerhouse of the Maharajah of Nazargunj adds tranquility and luxury to your stay.
In a grand mansion built in the 1930s once owned by a British jute magnate, the Silver Oaks sits amongst colourful landscaped gardens overlooking the majestic Himalayas. A luxury hotel of classic, elegant interiors, filled with period furniture and antiques, you'll also find plenty of modern touches amongst the heritage decor - the perfect place to relax in luxury and soak up the mountain views.
Oozing the elegance of the colonial period, the Elgin is housed in the late 19th century residence of the maharaja of Cooch Behar. Replete with antique furnishing and works of art, the house has been fully restored to its former grandeur, its beautiful garden and terrace only adding to its charms. If you are looking to experience the Raj but need your modern comforts, there is no better place.
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The world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is a vibrant and rambunctious fusion of ethnicities, cultures and customs; an incomparably rich and turbulent history showcased by mindboggling feats of architecture and engineering; a geography that encompasses towering peaks, unfathomable gorges and paradisiacal beaches; and a biodiversity that is so abundant that you’ll be reaching for your wildlife guide.