5 Best Ways to Experience Kolkata's Durga Puja Festival

Durga Puja
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If you want to experience Kolkata Durga Puja, ideally you should be in the city at least a week before the festival starts so you can see the finishing touches being put on the idols of the goddess. If that's not possible, there are still plenty of other ways to enjoy it -- all night long! Here's the best of them.

The easiest way to participate in the celebrations is to take a Durga Puja festival tour, such as the ones organized by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation (see list of tours and make online bookings here or view more information about the tours here), Calcutta Photo Tours, Walks of Kolkata, and Let's Meet Up Tours. More information abut Durga Puja, including tours, is also available on West Bengal Tourism's Durga Puja website. Alternatively, for something different, take one of the special puja tours by tram offered the Calcutta Tramways Company.

In addition, Belur Math in Kolkata holds an extensive program of rituals for Durga Puja, including a...MORE special Kumari Puja on September 28, 2017.

  • 01 of 05

    See Durga Idols Being Made

    Making Durga.
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    The beautifully handcrafted idols of Goddess Durga sure are stunning. However, you'll appreciate them even more if you see the effort that goes into making them. Fortunately, this isn't hard to do. The majority of them are crafted in one area -- Kumartuli in north Kolkata, around 30 minutes drive from the city center. The name literally means "potter's locality" and as it suggests, the area was settled by a group of potters. Nowadays around 150 potter families live there.  If you go there on the occassion of Mahalaya (around a week before Durga Puja starts) you'll be able to see the eyes being drawn onto the statues in an auspicious ritual called Chokkhu Daan.

  • 02 of 05

    Go Pandal Hopping

    Durga Puja pandal.
    ••• Sharell Cook.

    The highlight of Durga Puja is no doubt visiting the many different displays (pandals) of Goddess Durga, each with a unique theme or decorative style. This activity is commonly referred to a "pandal hopping". There are thousands of pandals in Kolkata so it's only possible to visit a fraction of them -- and even then it requires a bit of strategic planning as they're spread out all over the city. You'll find the most well known ones in north and south Kolkata, which is conveniently connected by the Metro railway. The most popular time for pandal hopping is in the night when they're lit up. If you go during the day, you can avoid much of the crowd.

  • 03 of 05

    Attend a Traditional Bonedi Bari Puja

    Traditional Durga Puja.
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    While Kolkata's public Durga pujas tend to get all the attention, the traditional "Bonedi Bari" pujas in the city's palatial old private mansions are also really worth experiencing. The mansions belong to affluent aristocratic zamindar (landowner) families who have been carrying on the pujas for centuries. They're spread out across Kolkata (as well as other major towns in Bengal).  Two of the most famous ones are Sovabazar Raj Bari and Rani Rashmoni Bari. As well as these, West Bengal Tourism runs half-day bus tours in the morning and afternoon to visit Khelat Ghosh Bari, Chhatubabu Latubabur Puja, Chandra Bari, and Thanthania Dutta Bari.

    • When: September 26-29, 2017.
  • 04 of 05

    Eat!

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    ••• Durga Puja celebrations. uniquely india/Getty Images

    There's never a better time to sample Kolkata's famous Bengali cuisine than Durga Puja. The festival isn't considered to be complete without food! You'll find a wide array of it everywhere -- on the streets, at the pandals, and in specialty Bengali restaurants.  Pandal hopping does get tiring, so eating while you're out and about is a must. The food served to visitors at the pandals is called bhog (offerings to the god which are distributed). It commonly consists of mixed vegetable curry, a sweet dish, fried item, and chutney. Kolkata's Bengali restaurants have exclusive Durga Puja menus packed full of authentic delicacies -- both buffet and a la carte. Bengali sweets are also consumed in huge quantities during the festival!

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    See the Immersion of Durga Idols

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    On the last day of Durga Puja, known as Dashami, the festivities commence with married women placing red sindoor (powder) on the idols of Goddess Durga. They then smear it on each other. In the evening, the idols are immersed in the water. One of the most popular immersion points is Babu Ghat (centrally located near Eden Garden), although you'll be able to catch the action at any of the ghats along the river. An excellent way of seeing it is by boat. West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation operates special immersion boat cruises down the river.