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October 26, 2015

Foreign bloggers and travel writers soak in four-day festive spirit

Foreign bloggers and travel writers soak in four-day festive spirit

They came not knowing what to expect. They returned overwhelmed.Travel writers, bloggers and documentary filmmakers from United States, Canada, France, Spain, Portugal and Argentina, arrived in Kolkata on the eve of Durga Puja and experienced all facets of the festival during their week-long stay.

From watching artisans craft clay idols to observing artists create gigantic pandals on streets, soaking in the festive spirit to watching the immersion of the idols, the group of 26 was privy to the many shades of one of India’s biggest festivals.

Soaking in the festivities

“That a festival celebrated on such a grand scale is still relatively unknown to the west is unthinkable. I believe Durga Puja can attract hordes of western visitors because it is a truly unique experience, very different from what one can experience back home,“ said Dominick A Merle, co-founder of International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association and International Travel Writers Alliance. Merle intends to write about Durga Puja when he is back home, so the world knows what it has been missing.

French journalist and travel writer Julie Olagnol is convinced Durga Puja can become one of the biggest attractions for western tourists. “In my home town Lyon, we have a light festival for four days in December. I remember how it was a small affair when I was a child and how it evolved into a huge event that now attracts tourists from all over the world. I believe that it will be the same for Durga Puja, maybe even bigger, because this seems to be the world’s biggest open art gallery ,“ she said.

A unique experience

The team that did rounds of several Pujas, including Sovabazar Rajbari, loved the intricate artwork at 41 Palli and found the girl child theme at Kashi Bose Lane the most interesting. If the variety of art and craft on display impressed them, it was the spirit of the people that took their breath away .

“Apart from the religious and spiritual meaning that the festival holds for Bengalis, Durga Puja appears to bring people together. During a previous visit to the city, I had stayed with a Muslim family and they told me how much Durga Puja meant to them. They didn’t follow the religion, but contributed to it in a myriad ways. I learned that thousands earn their livelihood from crafting the decorations, which at times take up to a year,“ said Olagnol.

Wowed by Kolkata’s spirit

Merle too was struck by the harmony during the festival. “Durga Puga, I discovered, is a religious festival with added parts of party, passion and peace, where Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews and even atheists can put aside their differences for four days of festivities,“ he said.

Among his unforgettable moments were visiting the Dominique Lapierre Home for handicapped, abused, abandoned or lost children and watching them perform at their own Puja and seeing a rickshaw-puller tie his vehicle to a pole and join a long queue to a pandal.

The immersion touched a chord with Olagnol. “I’ve realized what ephemeral means. People were sad after the end of the festival, in which they had put in so much work. Yet all of this will return next year with even greater vigour and splendour,“ she added.