Bengal is a cultural and historic region in Asia. It is situated at the apex of the Bay of Bengal. On the north, it is bounded by the Himalayas; on the west by Northern India; on the east by North East India; and on the southeast by Burma (Myanmar).
When the territory of the British Raj was partitioned in 1947, the two new states India and Pakistan each got part of Bengal. Later East Pakistan (the Bengali part) broke away from the rest of Pakistan to become the separate nation of Bangladesh. Today the divisions are:
Bengali is the main language of the region and is widely spoken on both sides of the border. Most educated people in West Bengal also speak Hindi as a second language. It ranks as the seventh most common language in the world, and second in India, by number of native speakers. Hinduism is the main religion in West Bengal, while Islam is the main religion in Bangladesh.
The Grand Trunk Road runs through the region.
Most of Bengal is in the enormous delta area formed by a complex of three rivers. The Ganges flows roughly west-to-east across much of northern India, and is historically the country's most important river. The Brahmaputra is the greatest river of northeast India, and both it and the Meghna are important in Bangladesh. By the time they reach the sea, the combined rivers (called the Padma in this region) are the world's third largest by volume of water discharged. The Brahmaputra, considered by itself, ranks eighth.
At times political units called "Bengal" extended into nearby areas which were not ethnically or linguistically Bengali. When the British defeated the last Nawab of Bengal and his French allies at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, they took not only Bengal itself but also the Nawab's other territories, now the states of Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand. Under the British, what is now Assam was administered as part of the Bengal Presidency.
The great cities of the region are:
- 1 Chittagong — former Portuguese, Mughal and British port; known for its rolling hills and great harbour; nicknamed the Queen of the East
- 2 Dhaka — thriving modern Bangladeshi capital; known as the Rickshaw Capital of the World; historically a cosmopolitan commercial center during the Mughal Empire
- 3 Kolkata — the third-largest city in India, the state capital of West Bengal and the historic seat of British India; nicknamed the City of Joy
Two smaller places are very important for tourism:
- 1 Gorumara National Park — a nature reserve in Jalpaiguri district, West Bengal
- 2 Gour-Pandua — archaeological ruins from the Sultanate of Bengal; includes Adina Mosque, once the largest mosque in South Asia
- 3 Jaldapara — wildlife sanctuary on the eastern foothills of the Himalayas
- 4 Naogaon District — includes several palaces of the Bengali aristocracy
- Paharpur — site of the archaeological ruins of Somapura, including the imperial monastery of the Pala Empire
- St. Martin's Island — the only coral reef in the northern Bay of Bengal
- 5 Sundarbans — the world's most extensive mangrove forest; home to Bengal tigers
- 6 Sylhet Division — Famous for tea gardens, rolling highlands, rainforests and waterfalls
- 7 Teknaf — includes an elephant sanctuary and the river border between Bangladesh and Burma
There are a number of international airports that facilitate entry into the region.