A lot of us want to visit the Puja in Kolkata but are intimidated by the crowds and commotion that come with the package; the others, even if they are ready to handle the crowds, do not know how to navigate the city. If you want to visit Kolkata during the Durga Puja and witness this grand spectacle but don’t know how to, you can opt for unique and personalised experiences on offer — from special food pop-ups to personalised pujo walks and cruises on the Hooghly, there is a lot happening in the city this Durga Puja.
1. Pujo walks
Experiencing Durga Puja without walking the streets is impossible but it can be made easier when you have someone to guide you. This pujo you can witness the beauty and grandeur of local pandals with special tours that take you to specific zones in Kolkata— a Kumartuli walk to see the idols come to life, an old city walk to witness the oldest pandals, and the special walk at the ghats of Hooghly to watch the Kola Bou Snan. Kola Bou Snan is one of the first rituals where a young plantain sapling becomes the manifestation of the goddess and is draped in a white saree with a red border before being escorted to the river and back.
2. Pandal hopping
Puja pandals are the most coveted places during puja. They are the epicentre of all the action too and so a visit to the most important pandals is mandatory during the Durga Puja. With many tourists coming in, the city has a number of HOHO bus tours especially organised for pandal hopping. If you prefer your tour to be bespoke, there are personalised private walks available too. They take you to the pandals of your choice at the time most suitable to you. A pandal visit in South Kolkata – to see the pujas celebrated for their award-winning art and craft and one to the North Kolkata neighbourhoods to see their traditional style of worship are highly recommended.
3. Bhog and bhoj
Durga Puja is a time for revelry and celebration with food being the highlight. The most exquisite puja special meals happen to be the bhog that is offered at various pandals and the bhoj or the feasts that take place around the city. To taste the best bhog you must attend the ashtami puja at one of the neighbourhood pandals; for the bhoj you can step into classic Bengali restaurants that serve special meals all days of Durga Puja. Do not worry if you are a vegetarian, most places offer both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals.
4. Bonedibari tour
Given the fervour around the community pujas it may be hard to believe that when Durga Puja started it was just a simple ceremony meant to thank the goddess for her blessings and happened inside aristocratic houses. The tradition of home or baripujos still continues in Kolkata where the old aristocratic families continue to host private ceremonies. As an outsider, until some years ago, it was impossible to witness these ceremonies but now, with many locals offering special visits to bonedibaris, you can be a part of these personal home pujas that still happen in century old mansions in old city.
5. Cruise at the Hooghly
Watching the puja from the mighty Hooghly river is an experience of a lifetime. Floating on a steamer you not only see the pujo from a distance but also understand why it is considered such a special festival in Kolkata. Many special cruises and boat rides are on offer this season where you can book a private boat or a group cruise to see the puja. We especially recommend the cruise on the day of immersion when the city lines up with thousands of idols at the ghats bidding them a tearful goodbye. It is an image of Durga Puja that will last with you forever.
Where can you book these experiences:
1. Puja walks
ITC Hotels: 033 44464646 ;email@example.com
Calcutta Walks: 09830184030; calcuttawalks.com
Fun on streets: 098303 74548; funonstreets.com
2. Puja Mahabhoj
Sonargaon, Taj Bengal: Call 07503642637; tajhotels.com
The Grand PujorMahabhoj, The Oberoi Grand: Call 33 22492323
Bengal State Room: ITC Royal Bengal: call 033 44464646 ; firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Special Cruises
Polo Floatel Calcutta: Call 86979 71677; email@example.com
Cross India Cruises: Call 8282 906050; crossindia.in
Vivad cruises: Call 9883933033; vivadacruises.com