Pandal hopping and the lip smacking food: Two main reasons to visit Kolkata during Durga Pujo
Starting yesterday, for 5 days, Bengalis the world over will celebrate Durga Pujo. And the city of Kolkata will be decked up as a bride and everyone will be having a good time. Even as I write this, I can hear the sound of the dhaak playing at our para pujo pandal and the streets are lit with green and blue magical lights that give it a fairy tale atmosphere. Durga Pujo is the biggest religious festival of Bengalis and it is a festival that goes much beyond religious associations. While Durga Pujo is celebrated everywhere from Mumbai to Manhattan, experiencing it in Kolkata is of course a different experience altogether. Two big reasons why you should visit Kolkata during this time of the year.
Pandal hopping: For those in Kolkata or West Bengal, pandal hopping is undoubtedly one of the most exiting parts of the Durga Pujas. My friends in other Indian cities may not agree, but when it comes to the sheer art work in the pandals and being held spellbound by the mind-blowing display of creativity, Kolkata is far, far ahead of the other cities. One is amazed at how people create something with so much passion and precision, knowing very well that it will be dismantled in a few days. You have to cover the South Kolkata pandals, the North Kolkata pandals and then there is Salt Lake and further South. Not to mention the old heritage pujos in Kolkata and in the suburbs.
Some people cringe at the idea of going out to see pandals, but others like me make it a point to tick off the main ones off their bucket list. As the Pujo progresses and awards are given out, some new kids on the blocks are discovered and one has to go back and see some of them. And trust me, it is totally worth it!
Tip: The best time to visit pandals is early morning, say from 4am to 8 am, when the crowd thins out and parking and no-entry rules are relaxed, but then one doesn’t get to see the lights. So try to do a mix and match of both, cover as many pandals during the lean hours and experience the madness of the crowd and the queues at some other time. One can also book conducted trips of Kolkata Pujos by the state government and other private players.
Food: No Indian festival is complete without food and Bengalis take food indulgence to a whole new level. When you go out for pandal hopping, you will have to try out the various delicacies on offer. Calorie count takes a back seat as one gorges on the most delectable street food and when you are tired and hungry at 3am, there is nothing like an egg roll or biriyani. Here is a Coca Cola ad featuring Sourav Ganguly that sums up the foodie spirit!
The other attraction is the bhog or a feast arranged at the pujos in localities or apartment complexes, on one, two or all days of the festival, usually during lunch time. It mostly comprises of khichuri, labra( mixed vegetable curry) and chutney. The khichuri labra combination tastes so wonderful that this is one meal you will not forget in a hurry. There is also the norm of having different dishes on each day of the pujo and the most exciting bit is pulao and kosha mangsho on Ashtami! People wait for hours outside poplar restaurants for dinner and though the complaint is that quality of food at restaurants during the Pujo days go down, one does not complain.
Tip: Try stuff at stalls in pujo pandals. Try out phuchkas, kathi chicken rolls, momos, jhalmuris, biriyani and pretty much everything else that you get at the pujo stalls. After eating all this food, you can also skip dinner when pandal hopping. Try the bhog at least on one of the days.
I will wrap up now as I am going out with my friends! Durga Pujo fun has just begun!