Shades of Kolkata

As my stay away from home grows longer, my heart continues to grow fonder for the memories of my hometown Kolkata. Even when I go back home on vacations nowadays, the sight of Howrah Bridge, the River Ganges, or simply the sprawling railway stations of Howrah and Sealdah gives rise to emotions in my mind, which is only paralleled by having home-cooked food.

Kolkata is a city where history, culture and modern society are juxtaposed. Although most tales link its foundation by Job Charnock in 1690, in actuality, the area has been populated since the era of the Mauryas and as such, the Kolkata High Court has ruled that the city has no “birthday”. Nevertheless, the East India Company took over three villages that constitute the “old city” in 1698 and Calcutta was the capital of The British Raj till 1911. In 2001, The Government officially changed the name of the city from Calcutta to Kolkata, possibly in order to distance itself from British legacy.

Being one of the four most important metropolitan cities of India, Kolkata is well connected by railways (the two aforementioned railway stations houses express trains coming from literally anywhere in India), roadways (The Grand Trunk Road) and The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Dum Dum. Now getting to Kolkata is one thing, but moving around might be a bit nightmarish due to the heavy traffic congestion at virtually any place and at any point of time. However, the number of options of transportation you have is simply unparalleled.

There is the extensive network of Private Buses and Mini Buses connect each and every corner of the city at fairly inexpensive rates. State Buses are fewer in number, but they connect more hard to get by locations, mainly through the E.M. Bypass- which tries to reduce the traffic pressure on the main city roads. For more private modes of conveyance, there are “big yellow taxis”. Apart from that, there are Auto-Rickshaws operating around in short distance routes and Cycle-Rickshaw’s operating in the suburbs of the city. Last, but certainly not the least, is the provision of an excellent intra-city railway networks through the underground Kolkata Metro and the ever-crowded Kolkata Suburban Railway system operating out of Howrah and Sealdah to a sizeable number of districts in West Bengal.

There is also a circular railway in operation which is of limited reach and is mostly within the city limits. Before we forget, typical to Kolkata are the long-standing trams – those slow moving on rails vehicles in the busy streets. A tram ride once may be fun, but is mainly for nostalgic value and has little practical convenience, unless you are a hardcore green activist.

The typical tropical climate prevails in Kolkata. This means it is hot and humid year round with heavy precipitation to the point of water-logging occurring from the months of June to August. Nevertheless, spring (Late February to March) and autumn (September and October) are comfortable enough if you plan a visit. October is usually the time for the biggest spectacle of Bengal, The Durga Puja. The city undergoes a radical transformation and every street is alive with festivities, colours and jubilant celebrations of the arrival of the goddess Durga from Mount Kailash, to dispel the evil forces of Mahishashura.

For all the potential attractiveness of Kolkata, lack of hotels is really a sore spot. Most of the hotels are found in and around the center of the city, Esplanade and its neighbouring Park Street, arguably the poshest area of the city. Park Street is quite a sight in Christmas, where in the nights; it is a land of multi-coloured lights illuminating the sky. The revelry of people in the time of Christmas at Park Street almost rivals the city-wide celebrations that are seen in Durga Puja. Also located in Park Street are the most famous hotspots of the city, like the nightclubs “Tantra” and “Someplace Else”. Quality eateries like “Peter Cat” and “Flurys” and shopping hubs like “Pantaloons” and “Westside” also figure in close-by.