Sounds familiar? If you have ever been a part of Durga Pujo celebrations in the city of joy Kolkata, you would have planned a pandal hopping trip with your friends or family during the Pujas. Pandals are temporarily created structures that become Debi Durga's abode on earth during the Durga Pujo festivities. The Debi Protima (idol along with the embellishments) is placed under huge temporary canopies, which are made using a framework of bamboo poles draped with colourful fabric. With time, however, the definition of pandals has evolved into something much grander, with the entire setup based on different themes concerning the mythology, environment, social occurrences, world events and more.
A major highlight during Durga Pujo is undoubtedly "pandal hopping" or visiting one pandal after another. Millions of people are seen on the roads of the city of joy Kolkata, during the Durga Pujos visiting the Sarbajanin (community) and Bonedi (traditional/royal) Pujos. The city is filled with thousands of pandals - on the streets, in the lanes, inside big houses and in the local parks. It's only possible to visit a handful of them, and you need to keep an eye out every year to know which pandals have been gaining recognition, so that you can cherry-pick the best ones for visiting.
Non-resident Kolkatans and people from neighbouring cities and villages are also seen pouring into the city during the Durga Pujos to catch a glimpse of the Goddess. With the pandals being open to the crowds 24/7, any time in the day or night, is ideal for pandal hopping in Kolkata. Around 6-8 million people can be found pandal hopping on the streets of Kolkata during Durga Pujo, thus making it the World's Biggest Festival.
One of the most important aspects of Pandal Hopping is to plan your route well. You can choose a particular area on a particular day. Say, go for South Kolkata on Saptami, Central on Ashtami, North on Nabami etc. Once you have decided the area, use the Kolkata Police Puja Parikrama Map to select the Pujo Pandals you wish to cover in that particular area. If you are travelling by car, ensure that you are aware of the parking spots so that you can save time walking to your car. Most pandals do not permit car parking near their pandals to avoid congestion, so be prepared to walk long distances.
Night is the best time to go pandal hopping as the crowds will be considerably less. Also you can enjoy the beautiful lighting around the pandals at evening and night. However if you do not get permission to stay out all night, plan for pre-evening hours so that you can complete your planned pandal visits by 10 pm. Daytime pandal hopping is best if the weather is cool. If you want to avoid the sea of people that visit pandals during Durga Pujo, avoid pandal hopping on the main Pujo Days - Ashtami and Nabami. With pandals being inaugurated as early as Mahalaya and Chaturthi these days, you may choose to complete your pandal hopping crowd free by planning your trips between Chaturthi - Saptami.
Wear new yet comfortable clothes and shoes when you go pandal hopping. Remember multiple visits to pandals may require walking long distances due to traffic restrictions so be prepared to hit the roads in comfortable slip ons, or sneakers. Elderly people could go for soft sole shoes. Avoid heels and fancy footwear. The weather during Pujos is usually hot and humid, so keep your light cotton outfits reserved for your Pandal Hopping trips.
Travel light. Women can carry a small sling bag while pandal hopping. Remember, pick pockets and thieves often target crowds during Pujos. So be careful of your belongings as you move with the crowd.
With millions thronging the city, it is vital to take good care of little children who go pandal hopping with you. Children can get lost in the crowd so hold their hands stiffly when you move through large crowds. Instruct them to be together and hold your hand always.
Avoid taking elderly or senior people to very crowded pandals unless there is a special provision made for senior citizens in that particular pandal where they can visit the Goddess and pay their homage without having to fight their way to her in the crowd.
Carry your basic essentials while pandal hopping. These include a bottle of water, umbrella, hankies and cash to name a few. If you love to click, do carry your DSLR to capture the magnificent pandals and beautiful idols of the goddess. If you plan to take pictures with your phone, do carry a power bank so that you never run out of power while clicking your favourite shots.
Pandal hopping and eating go together! Especially when almost every pandal is lined up with stalls dishing out some delectable food! However, try and eat light as you go pandal hopping so that you don't fall sick or short of energy. Keep yourself hydrated. Drink lots of water. Snack at regular intervals so that your stomach is never empty. Avoid rich and oily food to keep your health and spirits high!
Watch out for pandal hopping tours organized by the Government of West Bengal. The tours include Pujo Parikrama, Bonedi Barir Pujo, Rajbarir Pujo, Village Pujos and many more interesting tours. You can also join Photo walks. The Pujo tours can be booked online from the Government of West Bengals tourism website. There are also Bishorjon tours on the Ganges where you can watch the immersions on Dasami from the comforts of a launch or boat.
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So whether you go pandal hopping with your friends or family or decide to view the Pandals on MahaUtsav Online, make sure you have a great time!