Durga Puja Pandal Hopping, Kolkata: Best Advice
Come autumn and it is time for Goddess Durga to return to her
While pandal hopping is fun, the heat and crowds can dampen the experience. Learn the tricks to make pandal hopping this Durga puja a little less exhausting and a more time efficient experience from city insiders who have lived Kolkata’s unparalleled Durga Puja experience since birth!
Wear Comfortable Footwear
Rules of Thumb:
- If you haven’t broken it in, don’t wear it.
- If it has a heel higher than an inch, don’t wear it.
Pandal hopping in Kolkata involves walking. A lot of walking. For effective crowd control, Kolkata Police barricades large swathes of roads and cabs will drop you, most of the times, half a kilometre or so away from the pandal. Often you will find yourself in an endless queue outside the pandal and sometimes it will take you almost an hour of painful waiting before you are finally inside, asking Durga and her children for their blessings. Aching and swollen feet are common complaints. Because you will have to walk long stretches and spend time standing in queues, consider comfortable footwear like flats with soft, breathable soles. We personally favour sneakers (pack an extra pair of socks if you sweat a lot); not only are they easier to walk in for hours but they also protect your feet from the dust and grime. Plus added protection from the tens of times your tired feet will be trodden upon. If rain is forecast, pick something waterproof.
Carry a Refillable Drinking Water Bottle
Skip buying plastic mineral water bottles and carry a refillable drinking water bottle instead. There are numerous drinking water dispensing fountains throughout the city. All malls, metro stations, and railway stations will have at least one and the water is safe for drinking. Most puja committees offer drinking water to visitors. You might also come across drinking water dispensers set up by various local organizations. If you are sceptical about the quality of water they offer, consider carrying some purifying tablets or a LifeStraw. We carry a HydroFlask each and fill up wherever we can. Here’s to celebrating Puja sustainably!
Wear Breathable Clothes
You might be tempted to wear the latest in fashion for a day of Durga Puja pandal hopping, but Kolkata is no Darjeeling and the weather, even in October, is nothing close to salubrious. The heat is unbearable, of course, but then there’s Kolkata’s notorious humidity. Agree it isn’t as bad as it is in mid-June but it is bad enough to call for moisture-wicking fabrics. Wear something breathable like cotton, linen, or
Carry Band-Aids and Sachets of Oral Rehydration Solution
Shoe-bites are perhaps the most common complaint during Durga Puja. Look around and the number of feet adorned with band-aids will baffle you! My dad used to joke that band-aids are the most popular
The heat might leave you dehydrated, so consider carrying a few sachets of Oral Rehydration Solution. If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, mix one in your water bottle and drink. Note that all the big puja committees offer medical assistance. Don’t hesitate to seek help should you feel unwell.
Avoid Street-food & Pack Snacks
Excess demand often translates to a degradation in quality. Kolkata’s street food during Puja is oilier and definitely not as delicious as it is at other times. Hygiene takes a dip too. Popular eateries have long wait times, so unless you are keen on wasting time standing outside a restaurant, pack some snacks in your backpack. You can munch on them while waiting in queues outside pandals or while travelling between pandals. We prefer cakes, biscuits, fruits, muri,
Unlike in North India where Navratri is an entirely vegetarian affair, in Bengal, we eat our weight in meat, fish, and eggs during Durga Puja. If you are vegetarian or from a predominantly vegetarian part of the country, it might shock you to see kebabs glistening from skewers, eggs being cracked on smoking tawas, or fish fillets being crumb-fried to perfection everywhere you look. Kolkata’s Muslim population also celebrates Durga Puja with much festivity. In areas like Park Circus and Khidderpore, you might come across eateries selling beef biriyani. Since it has already led to controversies in the past, it is recommended that you respect local traditions and stay away from the redundant How Can Bengalis Eat “Non-Veg” During Durga Puja debate.
There are far too many pandals that can be visited. To be honest, there is no way you can see even three-quarters of them without completely exhausting yourself even within a span of 3-4 days. Here’s a tip: Don’t overdo it. Pick an area and plan your route ahead using Google Maps. Or, pick the ones you most want to visit and plan a route between them. Local newspapers like the Telegraph and Ananda Bazaar Patrika run a list of popular pujas and their themes. Check the maps below to locate pandals. Effective planning means you can see more in a shorter time. Make sure to keep an eye on traffic diversions and roadblocks while you are on the road.
We usually spend a day or a day and a half exploring North Kolkata where the pandals are located much closer to each other and then two days in South Kolkata. This year, we are planning to devote more time to visit the heritage
Also read: When to Visit West Bengal
Carry an Umbrella
Climate change means gone are the days when puja meant a nip in the air and clear skies with pleasant sunshine. Now it is either rainy or insufferably sunny during Puja. Thus, an umbrella is a must.
Carry Sanitary Napkins
Periods can be unpredictable, and it is best to be prepared. Carry a small packet of sanitary napkins with you. Even if you don’t need them, somebody else might.
Here’s a thought: What if the men carry a packet too for their female friends and family in case need arises?
Use Public Transport
If you have your own car, consider not using it for Durga puja pandal hopping for the sake of your sanity. Finding a spot to park your car in Kolkata during Durga Puja is daunting. Most of the times, you will find yourself a kilometre or more away from the pandal and having to walk to and from the car will only add to exhaustion. It is ineffective, time-wise, and you will lose precious minutes when you could have walked to the next pandal instead of returning to your car only to begin a search for the next parking spot. Kolkata’s robust public transit ranks the best in the country— although the city is one of the worst for driving— and it is amped up during the Puja. There is no dearth of buses. Plus, we have trams, the metro, the circular railways, and autos. You will find something even in the middle of the night during Durga Puja! If not, you can book a cab.
Quick tip: Get a metro card ahead of the Puja. It will save you from standing in long queues at the ticketing booths.
Keep a List of Emergency Numbers Handy
Trouble never comes announced. Here’s a list of emergency numbers to keep handy:
Traffic Helpline: 2000/2001
Senior Citizen Helpline: 98300 88884
Women’s Helpline: 1091
Medical Helpline: 98300 79999
It is important to stay calm. Crowded spaces can cause distress and during Durga
Kolkata, like most Indian cities, struggles with disability accessible infrastructure. The AC buses are wheelchair accessible and so is the overland stretch of the metro between Tollygunge and Kavi Subhash (New Garia). If you require wheelchair access, the best way to enjoy Durga Puja would be to book a cab or use your own car. If there is a pandal you’d love to see, we recommend calling ahead to inquire about accessibility. Most puja committees have wheelchairs available. They honour requests and will let you use their committee entrances and parking.
Wishing you a fabulous Durga Puja!