Kolkata, the capital city of West Bengal, is a loud, thought-provoking and chaotic metropolitan city
one of the largest cities in the country, Kolkata in West Bengal is often referred to as the artistic, cultural and intellectual capital of India. Known for its grand colonial architecture, art galleries, festivals and high culture, Kolkata is the City of Joy. Fun, food and festivity fill its air all-year-round and one cannot have enough of it. Being the land of art, culture and history, it offers fascinating rewards to locals and visitors alike.
Back in the 18th century, Kolkata was British India’s most important trading post and the showpiece of their colonial power. Hence, the buildings of the city often remind us of the rich past of Kolkata, expecially the streets of North Kolkata. The red-bricked Writer’s Building here was formerly the headquarters of the East India Company; it was also the administrative centre for West Bengal and Burma. Kolkata is full of such places that reflect the city’s artistic and architectural grandeur.
The Orient’s first Anglican cathedral, St. Paul’s, near Victoria Memorial, is another remarkable site built in Gothic Revival architecture and deserves a visit. Nearby, the Victoria Memorial Hall is an important landmark and holds a place of pride in Kolkata. A brainchild of George Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston and Viceroy of India, this monument epitomising beauty and elegance was dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria.
The city was also home to the world famous poet and the first non-European Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. Kolkata is full of landmarks associated with him, like Jorasako Thakur Bari – the ancestral home of the Tagore family that has now been transformed into a museum. Said to be the oldest pilgrimage sight in Kolkata, Kalighat is famous for being a Shakti Peeth. The surrounding area is a good place to go shopping for knick-knacks! Kolkata was also the place where Mother Teresa lived, prayed, worked and guided her religious family of sisters from across the world. The Mother Teresa House where her body is laid to rest on A.J.C. Bose Road is a much revered place.
A popular hangout zone for the Kolkatans – youth and aged alike – College Street made it to the Time Magazine’s ‘Best of Asia’ list in 2007. And there’s a reason for that. The College Street market is a haven for book lovers with countless book stalls. The USP of this place is that you can find the rarest of books here at minimal cost. A common meeting place for noble laureates since time immemorial, the Indian Coffee House on College Street embodies the high culture of the city and leaves one with a melancholic nostalgia for the olden days. Over the last six decades, the Indian Coffee House has been a favourite with writers, poets, artists and political leaders. Icons such as Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen were regular patrons of this place. Even today, the cafe echoes with arguments and discussions of writers, artists, students and intellectuals throughout the day.
A defining monument of Kolkata, Howrah Bridge is an iconic structure of the city. The gigantic suspended bridge, spreading across the width of the Hooghly river, has been functional since February 1948 with no pillars in between for support. Apart from these, Fort William, Birla Planetarium, Indian Museum, Marble Palace Mansion, Science City, Botanical Gardens are a few other tourist destinations one can explore.
While in Kolkata, a visit to Shantiniketan is another adventure that cannot be overlooked. Located about 212 km away from the city, Shantiniketan was founded by the Tagore family. Translating to abode of peace, Shantiniketan went on to become the famous Visva-Bharati University, attracting students from all across the world.
The City of Joy believes in engaging in festivals and pujas with larger than life celebrations. Durga Puja is the biggest festival celebrated here. For Bengalis and others living in this city, Durga Puja is not just a festival, but a giant carnival. The city does not sleep during the festival and is decked up in finery and decor. It is amazing to see how craftsmen shape the beautiful pandals, with bamboo, canvas and coloured fabrics. Kolkata turns into a visually stunning, walk-through gallery during this time. The mesmerising idols of Durga, the drummers and the dhunuchi dance, engulf the atmosphere with smoke, sound and rhythmic swaying. It is intense as well as intoxicating.
No tour of Kolkata is complete without tasting the local delicacies. A paradise for food lovers, whether it’s the fish curries or the sweets, this city can never leave you disheartened. Kolkata’s lip-smacking street food is famous all across the country. The city is lined with hundreds of eateries and food stalls at every corner. Starting from the mouth-watering puchkas, jhalmuri, roshogollas to the rolls, the biryani and sondesh, the list is never-ending. With such a vast variety, this city will leave you undecided on what you like more – the spicy Bengali main course or the melting flavours of the sweetmeats. Kolkata is one of the most fascinating metropolises in the world, where chaos reigns supreme.