Kolkata: Many of us in India know of Mardi Gras in Rio and New Orleans. But does the world know of Durga Puja? Not really, say a group of foreign journalists in Kolkata right now for a first-hand experience of the big festival.

The Incredible India campaign invited them, the state government and a private company both are partnering the visit. The Puja spirit has caught them, too. They are pandal hopping with a vengeance to see the world’s biggest open air exhibition of art.

The journalists, travel writers and travel agents from France, Spain, Canada, Switzerland say they have never seen anything like this before.

Anais Fardel, a travel agent from Paris, already planning tours to Kolkata next Puja. “For us in France, we have never heard of it. It’s beautiful and we will bring people from across the world for Durga Puja,” she says.

Julie Olagnol, a journalist from Paris, says, “It is unknown abroad so it is really great to be here and spread the word to people to take part in the Durga Puja frenzy.”

Travel writer Dominic Merle from Canada, is amazed by the local spirit. “At midnight I saw a family standing in a line for two hours. I could not imagine it happening in North America,” he said.

Durga Puja is a huge tourism opportunity for Bengal. That’s been said before. But this is the first time a public-private partnership is trying to make it happen.

Initiating the move, Jaydeep Mukherjee, who runs Meghdutt Travels, in Kolkata and Canada. “The Incredible India campaign has helped. These travel journalists would reach out to thirty million people across the world.”

Amit Jain of one of Kolkata’s most prominent jewellers, PC Chandra which is hosting the journalists, says “We are stakeholders in Bengal’s development. We want the tourism potential of Durga Pujas to go places. We have not even scratched the surface.”

Actor Raima Sen dropped by at the Tridhara pandal. A real Bollywood star? a Spanish journalist asked. Clearly Bollywood has raced ahead of the goddess in world renown.

But after their first-hand look at the Durga Pujas, the goddess could go global.

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