West Bengal is a state in the eastern region of India and is the nation’s fourth most populous. It is also the seventh most populous sub-national entity in the world. West Bengal is the third largest contributor to India’s GDP. West Bengal, together with Bangladesh lying on its east, forms the historical and geographical region of Bengal. To its northeast lie the states of Assam and Sikkim and the country of Bhutan, and to its southwest lies the state of Orissa. To the west, it borders the states of Jharkhand and Bihar, and to the northwest, Nepal.
The Bengal region was part of several kingdoms and dynasties of Indian history. The British East India Company cemented their hold on the region following the Battle of Plassey in 1757, and the city of Calcutta, now Kolkata, served for many years as the capital of British India. A hotbed of the Indian independence movement through the early 20th century, Bengal was divided in 1947 along religious lines into two separate entities, West Bengal—a state of India, and East Bengal, then a part of the new nation of Pakistan which later became modern-day Bangladesh.
West Bengal is on the eastern bottleneck of India, stretching from the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The Rarh region intervenes between the Ganges delta in the east and the western plateau and high lands. The Chola range is situated on the Sikkim and Bhutan border. The highest peak is Rishila. The town of Kalimpong is situated in this region. Neora Valley National Park is located here. The relatively low-height Buxa-Jayanti range, a part of the Sivalik, is also located here. Among the Himalayan ranges of this region, Singalila range hosts Sandakfu which at 3,636 metres (11,929 ft) is the highest point of West Bengal. Two high peaks, Tiger Hill and Ghoom are seen near the town of Darjeeling. Many ranges branch off in different directions from Tiger Hill. Durpindara is an important mountain in the eastern part of the mountainous region. A few hills also occur in the Terai or Dooars region at the foot of the Himalayas. Some remnants of the Siwaliks can be seen in the Jalpaiguri district, where they are known as the Buxa-Jayanti Hills. A small coastal region is on the extreme south, while the Sundarbans mangrove forests form a remarkable geographical landmark at the Ganges delta.
The Ganges is the main river, which divides in West Bengal. One branch enters Bangladesh as the Padma or Podda, while the other flows through West Bengal as the Bhagirathi River and Hooghly River. The Teesta, Torsa, Jaldhaka and Mahananda rivers are in the northern hilly region. The western plateau region has rivers such as the Damodar, Ajay and Kangsabati.
West Bengal’s climate varies from tropical savannah in the southern portions to humid subtropical in the north. The main seasons are summer, rainy season, a short autumn, and winter. While the summer in the delta region is noted for excessive humidity, the western highlands experience a dry summer like northern India, with the highest day temperature ranging from 38 °C (100 °F) to 45 °C (113 °F). At nights, a cool southerly breeze carries moisture from the Bay of Bengal. In early summer brief squalls and thunderstorms known as Kalbaisakhi, or Nor’westers, often occur. Troughs of low pressure are often developed near the Bay of Bengal, resulting cyclonic storms. These are known as Ashwiner Jhar and often cause huge destruction. This season is a festive season in West Bengal due to celebration of Durga puja, Lakshmi puja and Diwali. Monsoons bring rain to the whole state from June to September. Heavy rainfall of above 250cm is observed in the Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar district. Later, blowing westwards, the winds cause average rainfall of 125 cm in the northern plains and western plateau region. During the arrival of the monsoons, low pressure in the Bay of Bengal region often leads to the occurrence of storms in the coastal areas. West Bengal receives the Bay of Bengal branch of the Indian ocean monsoon that moves in a northwest direction. Winter (December–January) is mild over the plains with average minimum temperatures of 15 °C (59 °F). A cold and dry northern wind blows in the winter, substantially lowering the humidity level. However, the Darjeeling Himalayan Hill region experiences a harsh winter, with occasional snowfall at places.
Agriculture is the leading occupation in West Bengal. Rice is the state’s principal food crop. Other food crops are pulses, oil seeds, wheat, tobacco, sugarcane and potatoes. Jute is the main cash crop of the region. Tea is also produced commercially; the region is well known for Darjeeling and other high quality teas. However, the service sector is the largest contributor to the gross domestic product of the state, contributing 51% of the state domestic product compared to 27% from agriculture and 22% from industry. State industries are localized in the Kolkata region and the mineral-rich western highlands. The Durgapur–Asansol colliery belt is home to a number of major steel plants. Manufacturing industries playing an important economic role are engineering products, electronics, electrical equipment, cables, steel, leather, textiles, jewellery, frigates, automobiles, railway coaches, and wagons. The Durgapur centre has established a number of industries in the areas of tea, sugar, chemicals and fertilizers. Natural resources like tea and jute in and nearby parts has made West Bengal a major centre for the jute and tea industries.
Flora and fauna
Owing to the varying altitude from the Himalayas to the coastal plains, the flora and fauna of the state is diverse. Forests make up 14% of the geographical area of West Bengal, which is lower than the national average of 23%. Protected forests cover 4% of the state area. Part of the world’s largest mangrove forest Sundarbans is located in southern West Bengal.
The Sundarbans are noted for a reserve project conserving Bengal tigers. There are five national parks in the state — Sundarbans National Park, Buxa Tiger Reserve, Gorumara National Park, Neora Valley National Park and Singalila National Park. Wildlife includes the Indian rhinoceros, Indian elephants, deer, bison, leopards, gaur, and crocodiles. The state is also rich in bird life. Migratory birds come to the state during the winter. The high altitude forests like Singalila National Park shelter barking deer, red panda, chinkara, takin, serow, pangolin, minivet and Kalij pheasants. In addition to the Bengal tiger, the Sundarbans host many other endangered species like Gangetic dolphin, river terrapin, estuarine crocodile etc. The mangrove forest also acts as a natural fish nursery, supporting coastal fishes along the Bay of Bengal.