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Joe’s Bengal & Odisha

Joe’s Bengal & Odisha (Tour Code : IN/Pvt) – It is a private tour that can be joined either in Spring or Autumn on the date when it is operating. Joe Roberts is a travel writer who has travelled India extensively and has known it well since the publication of his first book, Three Quarters of A Footprint, in 1994.  Abdul’s Taxi to Kalighat about Kolkata and a novel about Edward Lear’s visit to India, Bengal, The Cold Weather, 1873 are some of his other published works. Joe as a writer contributes to The Times, Condé Nast Traveller, National Geographic Traveler and many other magazines. Joe has been a teacher of Humanities at Bath Spa University and is working on a third Indian travel book about Lucknow. His interests include gastronomy (he is a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Food) and art history, but his real passion has always been India. Joe Roberts leads this private tour series to India. Joe’s Bengal & Odisha tour emphasises on Bengali culture and architecture. Kolkata or Calcutta is a fabulous city that has been disastrously misrepresented for a long time. We all remember the images of urban despair that came about in the Bangladesh War in the early 1970s. At that time refugees crowded into the city and the pavements were strewn with the dying and destitute. We also think of Mother Teresa, enormously publicised in the west, administering to the poorest of the poor. The point is, these images are misleading – the Bangladesh War was 45 years ago. The images of Mother Teresa don’t reflect the sophisticated metropolitan milieu that is just as true of the city as poverty. Of all the major cities in India, Kolkata is Joe’s favourite: its architecture, a fine mixture of European Classical, High Victorian and even Italianate, gave it the name The City of Palaces. Its proud history: Kolkata was the first place where Indians adopted Western education, as early as the 18th century, and that led in the 19th century to the Bengal Renaissance (a period of huge cultural, spiritual and political progress) leading in its turn to the Independence Movement. Its joie de vivre: the cool months are one continual series of pujas (festivals or feasts, a bit like Saints’ Days) for the various Hindu deities, with Eid and Christmas and the New Year all thrown into the mix. It would be perfectly possible to think Calcuttans never stop celebrating in the streets. All in all, Joe sees Kolkata as a joyful city, comparable to Havana or New Orleans. Also to top it all is Orissa or Odisha as they now call it. A state neighbouring West Bengal, but quite contrasting in its life and ancient temples. While Calcutta had evolved with French and British making it their stronghold places nearby in the Indian state of Odisha where we go were left almost untouched. This is a small private group trip comprising like-minded and interesting group of friends, striking plenty of conversation and conviviality all through. The tours include some very privileged experiences and hand-picked hotels that are an experience unto themselves and above all they include regular lectures and in-depth knowledge about each aspect of visits by Joe Roberts himself.


Day 01 : London / Kolkata

We arrive in Calcutta and will be met, assisted and transferred to our hotel. Thereafter have a quiet day, possibly going into town informally if you wish or unwinding at the hotel.

Today’s dinner is being hosted by Indian Frontiers & Joe Roberts with a short briefing session (venue for this dinner to be announced later). Overnight at the hotel in Kolkata.

Hotel Peerless Inn


Day 02 : In Kolkata

Breakfast will be served at the hotel and post breakfast we will enjoy a sightseeing tour including The Metcalfe Hall, the Victoria Memorial and The Indian Museum.

Post Lunch visit the Marble Palace, huge Classical home of the merchant princes Mallick family. This is an eccentric, rambling palace where parakeets fly freely among the art treasures.

Also visit ‘Jorasanko Thakurbari’, Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral house which is now a museum dedicated to the life and works of the Nobel Laureate. Built in 1785, the Jorasanko Thakur Bari is a museum now and has three galleries dedicated to Tagore, members of his family and the Bengal Renaissance. The galleries provide glimpses of intimate family photographs, live size portraits and Tagore’s evolution as a poet philosopher.


Day 03 : In Kolkata

A very special morning awaits us today. We go for a morning midtown walk at Tiretta Bazaar for a Chinese breakfast with a local friend who is a journalist, raconteur and flaneur, Soumitra Das in the midtown area called, ‘Grey Town’. If the residential areas of the South were the White Town and the busier, more crowded residential areas of the North were the Black Town, the Grey Town is where many of the ethnic minorities of the city lived – Armenians, Iraqi Jews, Greeks, Chinese and even the Anglo-Indians (Eurasians). Soumitra will show us Chinese temples, the Armenian Church, the Synagogue, the various specialist markets.

In the afternoon we’ll go to Kalighat to look at the fantastic Bengali craft market and the famous Kali Temple which is the spiritual heart of the city. Back to the hotel and overnight at the hotel in Kolkata.


Day 04 : Kolkata / Chandernagore Serampore / Kolkata

After breakfast today we visit various European trading points that were established in the 18th century. In Chandernagore, French is still spoken, as it is in Pondicherry, although it’s dying out. We’ll also visit Serampore, Hooghly and Bandel.

Later back to Kolkata and visit Kumortuli (also spelt Kumartuli now, the potters colony in the city of Kolkata, which is famous for its idol making. The place was part of the Sutanuti village and gained prominence during the British Rule.

Overnight at the hotel in Kolkata.


Day 05 : Kolkata / Bishnupur

Post breakfast check-out from hotel in Kolkata and drive to Bishnupur (4 hrs drive).

Bishnupur is a small town, located about 140 kilometres away from Kolkata is a cultural hub with a rich historical legacy that can be traced back to 700 CE. Ruled by the Hindu kings of the Malla dynasty, Bishnupur derived its name from the Hindu God Vishnu. The town is a cluster of late medieval temples made of terracotta, uniquely Bengali and covered with Chaucerian models of village and temple life.

Check-In at hotel and later this evening visit a local workshop of Baluchari Silk Saree. This sari is originated in Bengal and is known for depictions of mythological scenes on the pallu of the sari. This Sari has been granted the status of Geographical Indication in India and mainly produced in Bishnupur and its surrounding places.

Overnight at the hotel in Bishnupur.

Hotel Annapurna


Day 06 : Bishnupur / Shantineketan

Post breakfast check-out from hotel and this town that is full of cluster of late medieval temples including Rashmancha, Jorebangla, Shyam Rai and Madan Mohan also enjoy visiting local haat bazaar to explore the beautiful terracotta art and craft work. Post lunch drive to Shantiniketan (3.5 hrs drive).

Overnight at the hotel in Shantineketan.

Hotel Shantineketan Residency


Day 07 : Shantineketan / Murshidabad

Post breakfast we will check-out from hotel and visit a tribal village and also visited a local haat next to the village and later drive to explore Vishva-Barati, Rabindranath Tagore’s progressive university, where lessons were taken sitting under the great trees. Shantiniketan means ‘Abode of Peace’ and the whole community celebrates the kind of socially progressive idealism of Tagore and his followers. There is a museum dedicated to Tagore there. Post Lunch we drive further to Murshidabad (3.5 hrs drive).

Overnight at the hotel in Murshidabad.

Hotel Fame


Day 08 : In Murshidabad

Breakfast will be served at the hotel and all day visit Murshidabad. Murshidabad is the old Mughal capital of Bengal. Today it is remarkable for its 18th and 19th century mansions, gardens and tombs. It’s not a very big city but has a picturesque and melancholy beauty of its own. Overnight at the hotel in Murshidabad.


Day 09 : Murshidabad / Kolkata

After an early breakfast at the hotel we will drive from Murshidabad to Kolkata (6 hrs drive). Overnight at the hotel in Kolkata.

Hotel Fairlawn


Day 10 : Kolkata

This morning we visit the giant covered New Market or we could visit the excellent Oxford Bookshop on Park Street or may be a walk through some of the old middle-class neighborhoods of Kolkata – 19th century homes now threatened by development.

Overnight at hotel in Kolkata


Day 11 : Kolkata / Bhubneshwar / Puri

Breakfast at the hotel in Kolkata and post breakfast check-out and transfer to Kolkata Domestic Airport in time to connect our flight to Bhubneshwar. Fly Kolkata to Bhubneshwar later drive to Puri (1.5 hrs drive).

En route visiting Dhauli Peace pagoda, Pipili Applique  Village , Raghurajpur  artisan village ( Heritage Village).

City of Puri is a mixture of 20th century Blackpool and Chaucer’s Canterbury. Puri is a major pilgrimage site and the home of Jaganath, the Lord of the World. His chariot – from which we get the word Juggernaut – is occasionally rolled out of the temple. It is more like a building on great stone wheels than a vehicle and in the past people threw themselves under the great wheels hoping for salvation. Although, as non-Hindus, we cannot enter the temple itself, there is a viewing platform from which we can overlook its great courtyard. The atmosphere in the surrounding streets is frenetic and there are stalls selling pilgrimage souvenirs.The other aspect of Puri is a seaside resort for Kolkata. It has a long pleasant beach with rather a rough sea. At night there is a charming bazaar on the beach itself selling Orissan crafts. Back to hotel and overnight at the hotel in Puri.

Hotel Hans Cocopalm  


Day 12 : In Puri

In the morning we will visit the amazing Sun Chariot temple at Konark. This is a staggering piece of 13th century stone architecture, held together with magnets. It is visible from the sea and was known to sailors as the Black Pagoda. Apparently the magnets in its construction affected ships’ compasses.

Later visit to other temples and Colorful Bazaar.


Day 13 : Puri-Bhubaneswar

Post breakfast today drive to Bhubaneswar (1.5 hrs drive).

En-route visit Cuttack. Cuttack and few of its villages are well known for beautiful Filigree Work. This craft work is the best example of the Odisha art and includes Silver wires which are shaped into complex designs like in the forms of animals and birds. (Filiguiree workshops are close on Saturday)

Overnight at the hotel in Bhubneshwar.

Hotel Trident


Day 14 : Bhubaneswar

Post breakfast visit drive to visit the Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves (1 hour drive). These are a complex of 33 caverns, some natural, some excavated, sacred to the Jain religion. Some are temples and shrines, some are covered with intricate inscriptions, some are actually inhabited by monks.

Later back to visit Bhubaneswar – basically a city of Hindu temples mainly built between the 10th and the 14th centuries.

Overnight at hotel in Bhubneshwar.


Day 15 : Bhuwaneshwar/Kolkata

Early train to Calcutta. Arrive Kolkata in the afternoon, transfer to hotel in Kolkata (guests taking late evening flights will leave today, while guests on morning flights, stay overnight today, with an option to either relax at the hotel or venture out in the city for a bit more).

Hotel Fairlawn


Day 16 : Kolkata – Home

With packed breakfast we check-out and transfer to international airport in time to connect international flight to London (Heathrow).