It was 8:30 am when I first set foot in Kolkata. A journey of over 18 hours came to a halt at the Howrah Station, where the first breath of air was laden with moisture. Hot and humid are perhaps the most apt words to describe Kolkata in June, or Calcutta as it was formerly known as. However, the moment you set foot in the ‘City of Joy’, there is an inexplicable feeling of freshness, something that makes you intensely alive and aware of all the culture and heritage around you.
The station was a sea of bright hues, men and women, even in modern attires spelled tradition. If you have never seen a beautiful woman, with big fish shaped eyes and a flawless skin sporting a Bindi ever and wish to do so at least once in your life, Kolkata is the first place on Earth you should go to. I was astounded at the sight of colorful sarees, the sound of fluent Bangla, the ever so sweet language and the smell of moisture in the air, that promised that a river would greet me as soon as I enter the city.
The first landmark that greets you when you visit Kolkata, is the sprawling ‘Rabindra Setu’ or the Howrah Bridge built over the river Hooghly. It is the largest Cantilever Bridge in India and 6th Largest in the world and, wait-for-it, has no nuts and bolts whatsoever. Another thing characteristic of Kolkata are the little yellow taxis, found nowhere else in India. Everywhere you go there is a swarm of these little yellow bee like machines following you.
Since Kolkata served as a capital during the British India there are traces of English influence on each and every structure in the city. The biggest testimony to Kolkata’s British roots is the ‘Victoria Memorial’ standing proud in all its glory. It was built in the memory of Queen Victoria and speaks a lot about that era through the museum situated within. The memorial is surrounded by serene gardens, where people flock in hundreds to get their pictures clicked with the gigantic white marbled structure. The museum inside the building brings to light the Kolkata that we do not see today. It gives us a peek into the past and how over the years the city has evolved and developed without contaminating its appeal, the rich cultural heritage from the past.
A visit to Victoria Memorial is incomplete without the quintessential Chariot ride. Your own moment of royalty!!
PLACES TO VISIT:
- New Market/Esplanade: It is a shopper’s delight and sets a high benchmark for other economical street markets in India. My trip to any city is incomplete if I do not buy some souvenirs for my loved ones to make them envious of my escapades, hence this quintessential trip. You can find everything here, from the traditional ‘Kaatha’ work clothes to a modern stiletto. Amidst all the hullabaloo of the market, you can also take a break and chill out at your favorite diner in an old Victorian style structure, located quaintly in one of the market rows.
- Eden Garden Stadium: For the IPL Lovers, Kolkata Knight Riders celebrated their victory in 2014 right here!
- Park Street: Definitely one of the poshest streets in India, this street is famous for swanky hotels, luxury brands and of course my personal favorite, The Oxford Book Store and Cafe! Just strolling through Park Street is a fun to unwind from all the stress of the over-populated city. And while you are there, snacking on an absolutely divine Chicken Roll would do no harm!
- ECO Park: Oh yes! The kids will love it. This one of a kind park boasts of ecological harmony and has been contributing mightily in the environmental conservation, what with all the eco-friendly amusements.
- Anywhere near the Hooghly and loiter across the city in general: Kolkata is best enjoyed beside Hooghly. It gives you a calm, refreshing break from the staccato of the city life. The river offers opportunities for cruising across it, something I gave a miss, since I enjoyed an ice cream cone beside the river much more. Not just Hooghly, but the entire city has a lot to offer in terms of experience. Witnessing culture and traditions so closely leaves you enriched for life.
- Kalighat Kali Temple: Religion holds a whole new meaning in Bengal. Goddess Durga is revered by one and all irrespective of sectarian differences. People visit the ‘Kalighat Temple’ located on one of the Ghats of Hooghly, where they worship ‘Kali’, who is believed to be the mightier avataar of Goddess Durga.
Image Courtesy : Fkphotography
When you visit Kolkata, you have to remember that there are not just places to visit, but things to see as well, things so rare and alluring that you might circle the entire world but would not find it. For instance, the Rickshaw Pullers, people who literally run on foot to carry you across places throughout the town. A sad practice, it is unfortunately a livelihood for many.
or for that matter these pretty little lamps adorning the city:
And why of course, how could I forget the TRAMS. The old rusty ever so sturdy Tram, the common man’s chariot!!
FOOD LOVER’S PARADISE!
Kolkata is food heaven! Real literal food heaven, specially for people like me who love sweets. The tantalizing spongy ‘Rasgullas’ or the world famous ‘Sandesh’ , Kolkata has a lot to offer for the sweet tooth. And if you also happen to be a hardcore vegetarian, also like moi, you should try out the famous Chicken Biryani at ‘Arsalan’ and the Chicken and Egg Roll at Park Street. And of course fish… Lots and lots of fish!!! No one makes fish as good as Bengalis if I may say so.
Oh and yes, if you still have some space left in your stomach after trying out authentic Bengali delicacies, there awaits a whole array of swanky restaurants and pubs across the Park Street. Check out my favorite night escape:
If great food, mesmerizing places and breathtaking sights didn’t move you to get packing and fly to Kolkata, maybe the sight of this resplendent beauty welcoming you in a traditional Saree would!!