Welcome to East India Company’s Capital of India- Calcutta (aka Kolkata). Well, this is what I said to myself, after landing at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. I purposely made sure that I avoid Durga Puja time because, this time the whole city goes crazy in the festive mood and most of the places are either over-crowded or closed. Month of January in the year 2012, looked ‘just fine’ for me. A little bit of negotiation with Cab drivers made me see myself on the VIP road sitting on the seat of the taxi calculating cash in my wallet and enjoying the cool breeze.
After not-so-tiring journey of 2 hrs and 10 mins from Palam Airport, I asked my cab driver Santosh Ji to stop at any ATM before we go to “Broadway Hotel” at Ganesh Chandra Avenue. I usually prefer calling a cab driver by his name instead of a generic “Bhaiya“, “Bhai” or just rudely “Driver”, suffixed by a “Ji” or “Bhaiya“. It makes him feel good and you tend be friendly with him and gather information from the horse’s mouth. Well, there were at least 40 ATMs before I reached the hotel.
I intentionally had chosen this hotel for 3 prime reasons, namely:
1. I planned to stay for few days and I had to make sure that my lodging won’t create a hole in my pocket.
2. While visiting a city, which is almost 325 yrs old, I wanted to have the antique feel of Old Calcutta.
3. I wanted to stay at a place, which would be the heart of the city in terms of transportation and travel attractions.
I checked in around 12 noon, at this pocket friendly budgeted hotel near Chandni Chowk Metro Station of Kolkata. For those Delhites who never visited Kolkata, I would like to mention, that there are only 2 cities in India, Delhi and Kolkata to have wholesale market with the same name: Chandni Chowk. Chandni Chowk in Delhi is the Food Street and perfect for Shopping done for Marriage, whereas in Kolkata, its Delicious Food and Wholesale Electronic Goods (quite similar to Nehru Place of Delhi).
I had lunch and decided to have a short nap. In the afternoon (around 3pm), I hired a cab for spending some time in the lush green “Maidan“. I asked my cab driver to drop me in front of Victoria Memorial Hall. After reaching Victoria Memorial Hall in 12-15 mins, I was informed that the Victoria Museum closes at 5pm. Almost immediately, I went to the ticket counter and paid 14 bucks.
4 bucks for Garden Entry and 10 INR for Museum. I thanked God and my parents for my birth in this country otherwise I had to pay 150 bucks for the museum entry like any other foreigner. I rushed inside. It would have been really foolish to miss this colossal collection at a cost cheaper than a 300 ml soft drink bottle. After relishing the collection, I came out for an evening stroll at the garden. Apart form couples in the garden, I also saw some immensely beautiful work of architecture. I was happy that the British did “Quit India” but they left some terrific amount of art behind. After realizing that I might be perturbing the privacy of couples, I decided to take a leave around 5pm, not before some clicks of this mind boggling memorial and purchasing one ticket for the sound and light show of 7:15 pm. Ticket was for 20 bucks.
I came of out the memorial premises and after sipping a local tea for 3 bucks, I also wanted to feel like a Chancellor. I hired a chariot car drawn by 2 white horses for my Royal Evening Stroll. I guess, the chariot driver murmured faintly (in English).. “Your Highness, step up please”. I was almost in seventh’s heaven by then, but when I looked at him, I could figure out his speechless angry face almost saying (in Hindi)..”Kab chadhega be…Kal Subhah?”
I decided to be in my dreams and ignored every other activities. Hence, I went for the 30 mins ride around the “Maidan“, without any further delay. I returned around 6:50pm. Entered Memorial premises around 7:10pm, after munching some peanuts and local fuchka (That’s what Golgappa or Panipuri is called in Kolkata). The educative 45 mins show was over by 8pm and I reached Park Street around 8:25pm by a cab after paying him 35 bucks. Cabs (a typical yellow colored Hindustan Motors Ambassador car) in Kolkata are used as Autos in Delhi.
After grabbing a double egg chicken roll, I started walking towards Music World Store. After reaching there, I could not stop myself from entering Flurys- A traditional famous Swiss Confectionery of Kolkata for ages. My stomach was full. So, I packed one Truffle Pastry as a dessert after my dinner in Hotel Broadway. I thought returning by Metro Train. After all, could not miss the luring chance of riding the 27 yrs. old pride of Kolkata. Kolkata metro is one of the oldest one which started its operation in 1984. Remember the famous “Miley Surr Mera Tumhara” song sequence of Celebrities de-boarding metro train? That was in Kolkata. I reached Park Street Metro station around 9:15pm and reached hotel by 9:30pm.
Next day, I had different plans. Around 7:30 am, I visited Dakshineswar temple, famous for Goddess Kali and Ramakrishna Paramahansa Dev. After paying a visit to the temple, I headed towards Belur Math Shrine (Vivekanand Ashram). I chose the waterway for a smooth boat ride as my mode of transport for 7 bucks only. If you really want to experience Peace of mind, a small meditation in Belur Math is what you should opt for. Around 2 in the afternoon, my stomach gave me a green signal. So, I left the 40 acre campus of Belur Math on the bank of Ganges, in search of food. I easily found a local Dhaba. After gobbling some paranthas, I left for Howrah.
After reaching, I wasted no time, but started clicking some quick photographs of the iconic landmark of the city- THE Howrah Bridge. “The 650 metre gigantic bridge allows almost 1.25 lac vehicles every week to pass through”, said a local Traffic Official who was on duty at Howrah Bridge. Had to cover a lot, and was already running short of time. Hence, I kept my jaw dropping astonished feelings restricted to myself, and proceeded towards Prince Ghat followed by Fort William. Two of the “must see” places in Kolkata to have a feel of the East India Company luxury and some “never-seen-before” work of architecture.
My next destination was the ancestral house of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose at Elgin Road. After few clicks, I entered a mall- Forum Mall, almost opposite to the Legendary house. It’s so strange to find that Mall was crowded like any other mall, but hardly anyone even stopped in front of Bose Residence. I tried one Pan (Beetle) flavored Hookah at the Forum food court with one mouth watering Pasta. Exhausted like a pig, I headed towards hotel and reached in 20 mins. To my surprise, I was lost in peaceful dreams after I hit the sack at my hotel room. Well, my intention was to catch a nap, and not sleep like an idiot at 6pm in the evening. But, I fell asleep. Around 10:30pm, I woke up. I thought of experiencing the night life of the “City of Joy” and to figure out how “joyous” the people are at night.
I went outside and almost immediately got a taxi. Asked him to drop me at “The Park” hotel. I intended in not hitting the disc because, its not fun without a gang. So, I headed towards “Someplace Else“- the famous pub of the city. Though its a small place, but was big enough for me to get a table grabbing a beer pitcher and listen to a local rock band (live music everyday). After some food tapping music, I had my dinner. After swiping my card, I headed towards my hotel around 12:30. I was taken back to find a Kolkata Police Patrolling Car just in front of me. One of the officers politely asked me, where would I go and whether I would drive back (as he could sense that I was drunk). I said him, that I need to get a cab for Chandni Chowk. He stopped a cab and asked the cab driver to put the metre down. I thanked the officer and headed towards hotel.
After having a light breakfast at the hotel on day #3, I started walking towards Esplanade- Almost the heart of the city. It was just a stone throw distance from my hotel. I stopped at K.C.Das- the enormously renowned sweet shop of Kolkata. Despite not being a sweet lover, I gobbled some Rasgullas, Gulab Jamuns, Mishti Doi(Sweet Yogurt) and Sondesh. Please confuse the tasteless can packed rasgullas with the heavenly delicious K.C.Das rasgullas (native pronunciation- Roshogolla). My inner self finally said the famous dialogue of Jim Carrey Starer Hit Flick- Mask: “Hooo..Somebody Stop Me”
After filling up my dessert fantasy, it was my turn to head towards Shaheed Minar, dedicated to the freedom fighters who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the country. After few clicks, I caught a cab to St. Paul’s Cathedral- One of the renowned Churches of the city. Soon after I left for a 45 min journey to Salt Lake Stadium. This time, I boarded the local bus (not cab), for a change.
I never intended to enter the Stadium as there was not a single Soccer Match going on. The purpose of my visit, was a heritage park: Swabhumi, which is quite similar to Dilli Haat (a smaller version, though) of Delhi. I had one plate of idli only at Dakshina as I was in no mood to have food. The food court at Swabhumi has 4 sections namely Purva, Pashchima, Uttara and Dakshina respectively. As per name Dakshina serves South Indian dishes and Pashchima is a bar. Purva had East Indian foods and Uttara- North Indian cuisines. After spending an hour in Swabhumi, I got an auto (shared auto) for Chingrighata. A few mins of walk took me to a place called Nalban. Yes, for all you Sonu Nigam fans, this was the place where he tied knots. Nalban is a park ideal for boating and evening chats at small food kiosks. I also took a shikara for 30 mins on rent for 80 bucks and enjoyed the January breeze. Nalban has an amusement park: Nicco Park adjacent to it. It was almost 3pm. I headed towards my hotel. Suddenly, I remembered that Kolkata is known for sweets, Durga puja and Fish. But, I, despite having a non-veg eating habit missed the last one. I asked Quereshi Miya (my cab driver) to take me to a place, which is famous for traditional Bengali food. He said me straight away that he can take me there but that would get the metre of my cab running high. He proposed me to get down at M.G. Road Metro Station and catch a metro for J.D. Park Metro station and walk for 5 mins to go to Bhajohori Manna. That’s the main branch of the restaurant. But, if I intend in going to any of it’s other 7 branches, the nearest one being approx. 2 km away. I looked at my watch, and asked him to drop me to the nearest one, which was at Salt Lake Sec V. I filled up my stomach and contented my heart with the delicious food. I got another cab to M.G. Road metro station. I came out of Esplanade Metro around 5:30pm and went to traditionally renowned New Market (aka Hogg Market).
If any one needs to shop in Kolkata, Esplanade and Hogg Market are just 2 options that will suit you. Please don’t hesitate to bargain while you shop. Well, there were some departmental stores too, but I intended in buying some typical local stuffs. While returning, I took a hand pulled rickshaw (a typical rickshaw catering to the old heritage of Kolkata) costing me 15 bucks for a distance of approximately a kilometre. After reaching hotel, I took a shower. I kept on watching TV until the room service knocked . I opened the door and found my delicious dinner being served with Crab Curry as per my order. I had to hit the sack after such a lip smacking dinner, as I was terrifically sleepy.
Next morning, I woke up late, around 9am, got my bag packed and went to a nearby cyber cafe (with Voter ID Card) to get my train ticket print out. I checked out around 11:15 am to Howrah Station to catch New Delhi Duronto Express departing Howrah at 1pm.