Kolkata(originally known as Calcutta), capital of the Indian state of West Bengal, former capital of India, is one of the 6 metros of India. Also known as the cultural capital of India, sometimes city of joy, city of festivals, Calcutta as a city still depicts as a true cultural, political, festive and an antique city in India. Almost 300 years old, Calcutta has really grown with ages and diversities, and is currently trying to compete head to head with other metros in India in terms of development too.
I Worked and stayed for almost 3 and half years in this joyous city and could say in short, there are a lot of things that we can learn from this lovely city. For those who are planning a short trip or a vacation in Calcutta, I would like to bring this post as an initial opening, wherein one can get an overall idea about the city. Soon I will be adding more contents to the discussion. It has literally become my second home now.
As a city to visit, Calcutta is not short of places to visit, and is arguably India’s best food hub.
I will be dividing this post into 4 parts:
Part 1: This part will cover the major places to visit in Calcutta and various city monuments
Part 2: This part will cover the details about the city of festival
Part 3: This part will describe the city as arguably the best food hub of India.
Part 4: This part will describe the city mad about sports (especially football and cricket)
Part 1 will be covered in this post and Part 2, 3 and 4 in the next.
Part 1: Places to visit:
In brief here is a short list of places that immediately attracts tourists:
1) Victoria Memorial
2) Birla Planetarium
3) Botanical Garden
4) Maidan (also known as Garer Maatth)
5) Dakshineshwar (Shiv temple)
6) Belur math (Headquarter of Ram Krishna Mission)
7) Ghats of Hooghly river( Ganges is better known as Hooghly in west Bengal-Princep ghat, Outram ghat etc)
8) Indian Museum
10) IT city salt lake and Rajarhat
11) Esplanade Market (Dhamatala), Park street, Dalhousie, Writer’s Building
12) Eden Gardens
13) Kalighat Temple
14) Trams of Calcutta and Calcutta Metro.
And there is literally no end to places to be visited in Calcutta. On some good evening, one can even walk across the streets of Esplanade and Park Street to have a real shine and glory of the city.
Along with this, Calcutta comes up with excellent city transportation facilities that will allow visit to any of the places at nailing distances. Buses, taxis, trams, rickshaws and shared autos are available in plenty. The fares are very reasonable (considering other states here they are on the cheaper side) and fixed for fixed distances. There is literally no bargaining concept in autos and rickshaws.
1)Victoria Memorial, Maidan, Esplanade, Park street, Shahid Miner and Birla Planetarium
The first place one would like to visit in Calcutta is the iconic Victoria Memorial. Situated right at the end of Maidan, at Queen’s way Victoria Memorial and the Victoria Museum are simply a masterpiece and a British work of true art. Victoria Memorial was established in 1921 in remembrance of Queen Victoria. The memorial is surrounded by a beautiful garden and contains Queen Victoria’s statue inside the hall.
Victoria Memorial provides an ambience where you can spend hours after hour gossiping and moving around.
Outside the memorial is the Queen’s way and on the other side of the way is arguably the largest open ground in Asia: The Maidan known also as The Garer Math (in Bengali). The Queen’s way still houses the traditional tanga garis for transportation around the memorial. These are one piece of beauty.
Moving on the other side of the Queen’s way is the Maidan. The Maidan is almost not devoid of anything, starting from being a place for gossip, children’s play ground, open eats out options and what not. The view of the strand road with vehicles zooming past from the Maidan is simply awesome. Within the Maidan, one will find and equal proportion of football play as compared to cricket. We all know, Calcutta is the place in India for football. Shahid Miner is a monument within the Maidan.
Walk down through the Maidan and one reaches Esplanade. Located at the heart of Calcutta, Esplanade is prime market/location/area of Calcutta. And with their old British architectural beauty along with modernization, esplanade is a favorite visit for most of the local people especially during the weekends and also for the tourists. New market in Esplanade is also a good shopping hub.
Walking down the park street during the evening is a different experience especially because of the lighting. There are a lot of good quality food outlets in the Park Street and the Park Hotel is a beauty of its own.
Birla Planetarium is also nearby situated in the chowringhee road and is very easily reachable. Also known as taramandal, it is one of the best planetariums in India and is the largest in Asia. Apart from just the planetarium it also has an electronics laboratory. This really is worth visiting. The architecture of the planetarium is worth visiting. Proper planning will allow visiting these five sites in a single day. These all are nearby places and commuting between them is no big deal. All sorts of connecting buses, taxis and autos are available and in plenty.
2)Howrah Bridge and 2nd Howrah Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu)
Right outside the Howrah station, stands the iconic Howrah Bridge. With its amazing height and historical beauty, the Howrah Bridge is something that sets Calcutta apart from other metro cities. Stands above the amazing Hooghly (Ganges), just traveling through the Bridge has its own charm. Another thing worth noting is the amazingly beautiful Howrah Bridge during the night. With its awesome lighting, the Howrah Bridge just looks gorgeous in the evening. On one hand its one of the most beautiful structure, while on the other hand during office hours, the bridge is one of the busiest crossings in the world. On one side of the bridge is the famous Howrah bridge, while on the other side is the busy Bara Bazaar (the whole-sale market of Calcutta).
Parallel to the Howrah Bridge is the more new 2nd Howrah Bridge also known as the Vidyasagar Setu. The bridge was originally constructed to reduce the traffic problems on the Howrah Bridge. But unfortunately could not do much on that respect because of its distance from the Howrah Station. The Vidyasagar Setu is the longest cable-stayed bridge of India. In beauty, this Setu stands equally to the Howrah Bridge.
One very famous view is when one travels by air, while entering Calcutta, the amazing beautiful illuminated Howrah Bridge on one side and the illuminated Victoria Memorial on the other side. A picturesque view worth watching.
P.S: A Pontoon Bridge was built on the river Hooghly which would open to traffic allowing vessels and other marine vehicles to pass through it. The current Howrah bridge is an evolved bridge from the then Pontoon Bridge.
3)Dakshineshwar and Belur Math
Two of the most important and famous places worth visiting in Calcutta are the Dakshineshwar temple and the Belur Math. The beauty of these two places to visit is there location. While Dakshineshwar temple is situated on Calcutta, Belur Math is situated on the other side of Howrah Bridge in Belur which comes under the Howrah district. And both are viewable from each other. There is easy communication between either of these places by ferry, which commutes through the Hooghly River (Ganges).
The itinerary, if one is staying in Calcutta should be first visiting Belur and then crossing the river by ferry and visiting the Dakshineshwar temple. Accessibility to Belur from Calcutta is not a problem at all and all sorts of buses from everywhere in Calcutta are available. Also one can commute by local train and get down in Belur station to visit the Math. Belur Math is the headquarters of Ram Krishna Mission. Getting into the math brings a piece of mind in its own terms. The math is an architectural beauty.
On the other hand Dakshineshwar is a famous Kali temple, with 9 continuous Shiv lings on the. On the back is the beautiful Ganges (Hooghly) flowing through. Dakshineshwar has a large courtyard and normally there is heavy rush in the morning hours as devotees gather in huge number. Above all everything is very well organized and arranged.
Situated on the other side of Hooghly in Shibpur, Howrah district is the Botanical garden (previously also known as Acharya Jagdish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden). Mainly known for the “The Great Banyan Tree” which is supposed to be the largest in the world, the tree is around 1 mile in diameter. Hard to believe but it’s true. It’s actually almost 500 m in diameter, with a 330 m long road around it, which it has already crossed and is almost 200 years old.
The botanical garden is a beauty on its own, with numerous varieties of trees and a good research ground for zoologists too. Botanical garden is very easily accessible from Calcutta via bus or taxi.
Largest in India, the Indian museum is situated in the heart of Calcutta in –Chowringhee (near Esplanade). The museum contains rare collections of all different artifacts possible including fossils, mummies, skeletons, art and culture, weapons and what not. Visiting the entire Indian Museum will not take less than a day to complete.
Writer’s building (also known as Mahakaran) is the secretariat building of the state government of West Bengal is situated in the center Calcutta at Dalhousie, is a typical example of marvelous British architecture.
7)Ghats of Hooghly (Ganges)
Hooghly River in Calcutta has few amazing Ghats. One can spend hours in these Ghats. Two of the famous Ghats are the Princep ghat and the Outram Ghat. Hooghly River also houses a floatel (floating hotel).
It’s a nice place to go and spend few hours. Nice little heritage shopping and crafts emporium (for those of who are aware of Delhi, it’s more of like Dilli Haat). Nice place to shop and pass few moments watching the various functions performed in there.
9)IT City, Salt lake and Rajarhat
Probably the best planned township cum place of West Bengal is the IT city of Salt Lake and its newest extension and still in development phase-Rajarhat. Built on a reclaimed salt water lake. Although very old, Salt Lake majorly gained importance in the beginning of 2000, with the inception of the IT sector in Calcutta. Sector-5 of Salt Lake is a major IT hub, with major MNCs like TCS, CTS, HCL present there.
Rajarhat, which is a planned extension of Salt Lake, is coming up with another major Business Center of Calcutta, with companies like IBM, Ericsson and Accenture already finding their place in there.
Different sectors of salt lake are majorly identified by tank numbers and islands. Each of the sectors is specially planned and the shared auto system and buses make the communication within salt lake very easy.
Salt Lake also houses the famous Salt Lake football and athletics stadium (also known as Yuva Bharati Krirangan), which is the 2nd largest stadium in the world and the largest stadium of Asia.
City Centre Mall of Salt Lake is a major landmark and is identified because of its uniqueness and diversity. Visiting salt means visiting the city center for many.
Rajarhat now houses City center 2, which is also very beautiful.
A drive through the beautiful roads of Rajarhat is also worth enjoying.
One of the 51 Shakti peeths, Kalighat is a must visit temple, if one is visiting Calcutta. Very well connected by metro through the Kalighat metro station and also by good bus service, the Kalighat temple is ideal to visit early in the morning. Normally there is huge rush of devotees in the temple especially during the weekends. Historically, right toe of goddess kali fell here, which resulted in Kalighat as one of the Shakti peeths. Apart from being just a temple, Kalighat is also supposed to be the one which is responsible for the derivation of the name Calcutta (now Kolkata). Originally Kalighat was a ghat sacred to Kali on the old course of Hooghly River (Bhagirathi). With time, Ganga or Hooghly or originally Bhagirathi River changed its course and Kalighat is now more of a temple.
11)Eden Gardens stadium
The largest stadium of India and also probably in Asia, Eden Gardens is the home of the Bengal Cricket team. This stadium is considered to be amongst the best cricket stadiums in the world. The stadium is situated in the heart of the city BBD Bagh (Binoy Badal Dinesh Bagh) area. Once again, the stadium has a beautiful connectivity with the other parts of the city via bus service and taxi.
12)Trams of Calcutta, Hand Rickshaws and Metro
Calcutta is the only city in India which still has tram also as an additional mode of transportation and commuting. Iconic looks of the trams give an example of the history of the city and one of the leftover modes of commutes from the British era. Trams of Calcutta can be easily considered as one of the heritages of India. Originally covering the entire city, most of the tram lines have now been abandoned because of the excessive traffic in the city. Trams are a fun to travel. They run at their own pace and give a lovely view of the city. They are especially enjoyable during the festive time late in the night. Apart from the old trams, the city has also recently hired new modeled trams from London.
Calcutta metro is the first of the city metro systems to be established in India. The Calcutta metro has a single line (as against few of the other metro systems in India). The line starts from the Dum Dum station and ends at the New Garia station comprising a total of around 22 stations (recently extended by another 6 stations). Earlier tollygunge was the terminating station. Before extension, the entire stretch of the metro was underground. The newer stations and the upcoming extensions are more of elevated tracks. The Calcutta Metro (Under the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) is currently constructing the east-west metro which connects the Salt Lake City to Howrah, which will be one to unique lines of India where the metro line will run under the Hooghly River. Apart from these few other lines including planned extensions to greater Calcutta are also currently in plans.
The unique feature for Calcutta metro that puts them apart are the amazing work of art that is present in the stations and the tunnels which are visible while travelling through the trains. This actually depicts the art and culture prevalent in the city of joy.
Hard to believe, but Calcutta is the only city in India, where typical Hand driven Rickshaws (in addition to normal rickshaws) are available in selected localities. They have also become the heritage of Calcutta now.
Concluding, Calcutta is a place where culture still persists at the highest level, and people still have a lot of love in their hearts. When the city celebrates, it does with full of zeal. And so does the people of the city. Although a bit laid back in terms of development as compared to the other metros of India, the city provides a lot of opportunities in terms of art and music, where a lot of other places cannot catch this ancient city.
A few photographs courtesy my friends Arindam Mondol (USA/Delhi), Arpita Ghosh (Calcutta), Nandita Das (Calcutta) and Anindita Paul (Calcutta)