Calcutta, Kolkata, The City of Joy- this is a city known by many names and colored in as many hues. The erstwhile capital of British India, Kolkata, is a beautiful collage of the English imperial culture and the traditional Bengali way of life, interspersed with all the elements of a modern metropolis.
A visitor to Kolkata typically reacts to it in one of these two ways- indifference or intrigue. The ones indifferent probably have only noticed the traffic on the roads, the malls, high-rises, slums that are the pockets of poverty and other aspects that make this place no different from any other Indian city. But if you delve deeper, bereft of pre-conceived judgments your experience is sure to be one that will leave a deep impact on you, for Kolkata is a city to be felt, heard and smelled, as much as it is to be seen.
There are delights and surprises for you at every stage of your journey. If you are taking the train to Kolkata, the bustle of Howrah station is sure to raise your spirits. The drive from Howrah to the city across the Howrah Bridge, over the Hoogly river, is something you cannot miss out on. If you will be putting up in Central or South Kolkata, chances are you will be crossing places such as the Dalhousie Square, Esplanade, Maidan and Park Street and these places, if you observe carefully, narrate to you Kolkata’s and even India’s history. The colonial relic is still intact in the form of architecture of buildings in these areas, names of the streets and of course, the occasional tram and the tramline that you will see in no other city in India. Make sure you look out for the Victoria Memorial, the Shahid Minar and the horse-drawn carriages outside the Victoria Memorial. The view of the Raj Bhawan is also something that will leave you fascinated. A visit to the Indian Museum (the largest Museum in the country) and the National Library (largest library in the country) is also a must for the sheer visual pleasure if not to satiate the historian within you. You can also visit the St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Birla and Kalighat Temples, Nakhoda Mosque or the Golmandir Gurudwara that speak of people who pray together, stay together. Kolkata is a city that truly cares. Visit Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity or Nirmal Hriday and see for yourself.
Once you are done with this and your appetite has quite been worked up, it’s time to gorge on the best food in the world. Stop at any street corner for rolls, chop, chowmein, puchka,jhaal muri, bhelpuri, ghoogni chana, soda sikanjee and the famous Kolkata gundi paan. But if you are a stickler for hygiene and yet a foodie, head to China Town (also known as Tangra) for the best Chinese restaurants, Bhojohori Manna or 6 Ballygunge Place for authentic Bangaali Khabar. If Udipi is what you prefer, you must go to Banana Leaf or Hotel Homely Raj. A trip to Flury’s and Kookie Jar for that perfect English breakfast and savories is an absolute must if you are here. And these are just a few options of the hundreds that Calcutta has for all its food-lovers!
You can shop at Forum or City Centre, two of the many malls springing up in Kolkata and lending to it it’s newly acquired image. But if you want to experience the true feeling of shopping here, dash off to New Market or Gariahat Market. Bargain and shop to your heart’s content- off the streets, from shops, from stores- or just get lost in everything around you! If the arts and culture is what appeals to you, check the newspapers and attend one of the many theatres to catch a play or a music performance, or just spend an evening at Nandan, the city’s cultural hub. Proceed to Someplace Else on Park Street for the best live music ever, or to Roxy, Underground or one of the nightclubs if partying the night away is your style.
Travelling around the city is very convenient as you can use the Metro, the tram, buses, autos and cabs, or even walk. Kolkata is one of the cheapest cities in India, so traveling, lodging and eating expenses will be relatively lesser, and depend on your preferences. People are warm and friendly, and sometimes ever over-enthusiastic to help you out! It is not essential that you know Bengali, as most people here are conversant in Hindi and English. The best time to visit Kolkata is from October to March, for during the other months the city tends to get extremely hot and humid. If you’re here during October/November, you will be a part of the great carnival that people here absolutely indulge in, called Durga Puja. Come December, and it’s celebration time again, with Christmas bells filling the air.
One can never truly have enough of Calcutta and you are sure to react to the city in a way you do not generally react to places. One must visit Kolkata, to opine upon it- an opinion that will be distinctly different from any other for the city will have given you something completely new and pristine.
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