“Welcoming Goddess Durga, the City of Joy decks up in glory during the month of October”
There are cities and then there are destinations that are living history. Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, and formerly the capital of India under the British Raj in 1773, is one such place. Today, it’s a city with a traditional soul, colonial architecture, cultural festivals, lots of car honking and street food. If you ask someone who has lived in Kolkata – or as one born there likes to call it, Calcutta – what their take is on the city, there won’t be words, but a whole lot of emotions hurtling towards you. The ‘Jewel of the East’, Kolkata is not just a place but an emotion – chaotic, moody and irresistible. This rich tapestry of culture, politics, and history, is nostalgia personified. It may be difficult to describe the city that has lived through so much. So on my maiden visit to the land of Tagore, Teresa and taant, I followed Tahir Shah’s advice: “Where does one go in a tremendous city like Calcutta to find insider information? I recalled India’s golden rule: do the opposite of what would be normal anywhere else.” October is the ideal month to visit the city with a soul. Because this is the month of welcoming Durga …It is right after the monsoon. The city has been washed clean and glistens in the honey-hued autumn sun. It has been perfumed by the orange-stemmed shiuli blooms. In short, Kolkata is decked to welcome with open arms, the sound of the dhak and plateful of mishti…
What to eat
Two of the fastest moving foods on Kolkata streets are the ‘roll’ and ‘momo’. The roll, Kolkata’s equivalent of a ‘wrap’ or a ‘frankie’, is essentially a paratha wrapped around a filling of cooked egg or chicken or mutton kebab, topped with some onions and chillsauce.
TRYST WITH HISTORY
Tahir Shah or no Tahir Shah, there are some things that just need to be done in Kolkata. Like an obeisance to the city’s history. The Victoria Memorial is a good starting point. Established in the Indo-Saracenic revival architectural style, Victoria Memorial is a large marble building being transformed to a museum in Kolkata. Built between 1906 and 1921, it’s 54 metres high and a perfect tourist destination. Explore this place for an insightful trip down the memory lane. Another place where time literally stands still is at the Jorasanko Thakurbari, or ‘The House of the Thakurs’, Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral house. Spread over 35,000 square metres, it is now a museum dedicated to the life and works of the Nobel laureate. Built in 1785, the building also houses the Rabindra Bharati University. The various rooms or galleries provide glimpses of the cultural aesthetic that Tagore initiated. From paintings, photographs, artefacts, personal effects – the place is a treasure trove chronicling Tagore’s evolution as a poet and philosopher.Iconic Howrah Bridge
Another must-visit is the Lalit Great Eastern Hotel – initially a bakery run by English confectioner David Wilson in 1830s. Part of that bakery is still functional and is another must visit, especially for a typically English breakfast. The high-ranking British officials and their needs of luxury motivated David Wilson to turn his bakery into a luxury hotel in 1840 – then it was named the Auckland Hotel, after the then Governor General of India. In 1865 it was renamed as the Great Eastern Hotel and turned out to be an iconic legacy of the Raj. Its long list of esteemed guest included members of the Royalty and celebrities from round the world, including Queen Elizabeth II, Mahatma Gandhi, Ho Chi Minh, Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. The German Piano in their reception area is one of the oldest in India and was manufactured by MF Rachals & Co., Hamburg. It has been meticulously restored to its original condition.
One of the best things to do in Kolkata is to visit the Eden Garden. Snapshot the panorama of the place and acknowledge the most iconic cricket stadium in the world. Eden Garden was established in 1864 and is one of the famous tourist spots in Kolkata. Although a cricket stadium, it has occasionally hosted football matches too.
“Eden Garden was established in 1864 and is one of the famous tourist spots in Kolkata”
Corridors of Jorasanko Thakubari
The kolkata Tram began its operation under the Calcutta Tramway Company in 1902. It was the first electric tram in Asia that ran between Esplanade and Kidderpore.
FLOAT DOWN THE HOOGHLY
Romanticised numerous times in Indian films, the Bengali avatar of the Ganges is every bit lyrical as it is made out to be. An archetype for the art of engineering, Howrah Bridge is the best place to soak in Kolkata. The walk on the sixth-longest bridge is an unforgettable experience and simply one of the most fun things to do in Kolkata. Situated near the banks of Hooghly River, Princep Ghat is one of the oldest ghats built under the British Raj and offers the best views of River Ganges. Enjoy your evening while riding a boat in the river and sipping on tea from a clay cup or kulhad. A toll bridge over Hooghly River, the Vidyasagar Setu is yet another marvel dotting the landscape of Kolkata. The Vidyasagar Setu is also known as the second Hooghly Bridge. Famous for the panoramas it offers, this bridge has a lovely ambience and offers amazing clarity, unlike the old Howrah Bridge located next to it.
The grand Victoria Memorial
“Situated near the banks of the Hooghly river, Princep Ghat is one of the oldest ghats built under the British Raj”
Back in the 15th century when fine muslins adorned the royal class, cotton and tants were used for draping by the common folks. The weaving of tants continued during the british rule and decades before the independence, with improvements in the weaving techniques, tants gained a lot of importance.
Your Kolkata sojourn is incomplete in the month that celebrates the ‘Shakti’ without paying obeisance at the Dakshineshwar and Kalighat temples. While Dakshineswar is located on the eastern banks of Hooghly River, Kalighat adorns the suburbs of Anami Sangha. The deity of both the temples is the Hindu goddess Kali. Pilgrims wondering what to do in Kolkata can pay a visit to these famous shrines and drown their body and soul into the holiness of these two pure sanctums.Durga Puja in Kolkata
WITNESS THE MAKING OF MYTH IN KUMORTULI
While on the spiritual trail, a visit to the potter’s quarter of Kolkata, Kumortuli, one of the oldest parts of Kolkata, is a must. It is a labyrinth of lanes and bylanes crammed with idol makers’ studios where gods are cast in clay. Its location is key to the fact that all idols of deities are cast in the clay found on the banks of the river Hooghly also known as ‘ganga-mati’ or the soil of the river Ganges.The soil also has another important aspect. The soil from the river is mixed with a handful of soil from the doorstep of a prostitute with her blessing also known as ‘vaishya-mati’. Most people .I spoke to abided by the tradition and mentioned it as being a ritual to include all members of the society in the puja or even purging of their (prostitute’s) sins. It is an integral part in the creation of the Durga idols and no idol is created without this soil. The variety of sculptures and the diversity in features is astounding. In the 500 workshops, which exist down these dark and narrow alleyways, the visuals of many of India’s most colourful festivities begin their life.
THE COLOUR AT FLOWER MARKET
Colourful and chaotic, the charm of the city can sweep any person off their feet. An area where you can experience such a phenomenon is the Mullik Ghat flower market. Located below the beautiful Howrah Bridge, adjacent to the Hooghly river, the market is indeed a place to discover the culture of West Bengal. One can find at least a million colourful strands of flowers, which are spread over there; these strands of flowers also match the number of vendors, people and visitors here. The market area has an everlasting pleasant fragrance that fills the air and remains colourful throughout the day and is a sight to watch. Mullik Ghat is the largest flower market of Kolkata and is also one amongst the biggest in Asia. The 130 odd years old market is always pumping with energy and vibrant colour. But reach here by 7 in the morning to get the most Instagrammable pictures.
“Mullik Ghat is the largest flower market of Kolkata and is also one amongst the biggest in Asia”
Flower market in Mullik Ghat
THE FOOD EXPERIENCE
The foodie in you will live the best of life in Kolkata. This city never disappoints them, especially the street food lovers. Kolkata is a gastronomical delight for all foodies, especially those with a sweet tooth. Equipped with all types of cuisines, the kitchens and street carts of Kolkata are known to offer marvels like the telebhaja, kathi rolls, churmur, and luchi aloor dum, which are the unbeatable specialities. Other than these, sweets like rasgulla, sandesh, and mishti dohi find a place on the menus of almost all authentic Kolkata restaurants. Those delicious dishes of fried seafood dipped in mustard gravy prepared in almost every household of Kolkata will have you coming back for more.Bengali thali
BUY SOME TAANT AND TERRACOTTA
While indulging the senses, do spare time for shopping in Kolkata. The New Market is especially great for a variety of handloom sarees – from the luxe Balucharis to the sophisticated Dhaniakhalis to the airy Jamdanis. The New Market, otherwise known as the Hogg Market, is a covered shopping area with over 2,000 shops selling anything from clothing to sweets and spices. It’s interesting to see what stocks Kolkata’s kitchens and you’ll definitely get to see some of it. Terracotta artefacts and trinkets are another must-buy in Kolkata.Howrah Bridge during sunset
HOW TO REACH
Calcutta is connected by Indian Airlines and other private airlines with all the major cities of India. Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose International Airport is served by a number of leading carriers.