Soul of Kolkata – Festivals, Food, and Sports

Table of contents for Kolkata - The City of Joy

  1. Heart of Kolkata – Experiencing the Rich Heritage
  2. Soul of Kolkata – Festivals, Food, and Sports

Part 2: This will cover the details about the city of festival

Calcutta also known as the city of festivals almost remains enlightened all through the year with various festivals every now and then. Whether it’s Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Laxmi Puja, Kartik Puja, Vishwakarma Puja, Holi, Diwali, Christmas or whatever, the city enjoys them all with full celebration. Durga Puja is ideally the biggest festival of Calcutta (and West Bengal). The city of Calcutta has a completely different look.

Calcutta during the days of Durga Puja
Durga Puja, arguably the biggest festival of Bengalis, celebrated across the various places of the country, but when it comes to Calcutta, the city stands apart from the rest of the country. For the entire 4-5 days of Puja starting from shasthi (the 6th day) to Bijoya Dashami (Dusshera), there is only one thing in the minds of the people of Calcutta throughout the day. And that’s Durga Puja. Although the Puja spans for only 4-5 days, the preparations and celebrations began as early as around 1 month prior to the actual date of Puja. The city remains live and illuminated throughout the 24 hours during this period of 5 days.

City buses, trams, autos and metro timings are extended for the ease of commute for the people of Calcutta. Additionally the Calcutta Police is specially prepared for all kinds of threats and precautions are taken at the highest level to prevent any kinds of accidents or crimes. Worth noting are the crowded streets of Calcutta. There is almost uncountable number of Durga Puja Pandals in the streets of Calcutta. But few of the oldest and most beautiful renowned Puja always stand apart and make them special ones to visit. These include the:
• Bag Bazaar Puja
• Mudi Ali Puja (my favourite in terms of the Durga Idol)
• Shib Mandir
• Dum dum Park
• Shree Bhoomi
• Tridhara Sammilani
• Kashba Rathtala
• Kashba Golpark
• Jodhpur Park
• Md. Ali Park

It is almost worth mentioning here that each of these Puja has its own specialty. For e.g. Mudi Ali always have an amazing Durga Idol, while Bag Bazaar is known for the amazing chandeliers used inside the Pandal. Jodhpur Park, Tridhara, Salt Lake and many more are known for their amazing Pandals that represent various themes or famous monuments.

Most beautiful idol of Mudi-Ali Durga Puja


Bagh Bazaar Chandeliar

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Amazing Pandals of Bag Bazaar

Amazing Pandal representing Harry Potter’s Castle replica in Salt Lake

The ideal way to enjoy Durga Puja in Kolkata is to hire a taxi or a cab and go in for an entire night out. There is no other better way to get a feel of the lighting and celebrations in the city.

Md. Ali Park Pandal

Pandal at Aahiritala

Another beautiful Durga Idol

Durga Puja in all essence marks the beginning of the festive season in the city. The Durga Puja is essentially followed by the Laxmi Puja; Kali Puja (Diwali), Vishwakarma Puja and virtual end to the Puja season comes with Saraswati Puja somewhere in January/February time. All these Puja are celebrated with utmost zeal and people thoroughly enjoy themselves.

Part 3: This part will describe the city as arguably the best food hub of India.

Ideally the best food hub of India, Calcutta beats it counterparts Delhi and Mumbai and may be even Hyderabad, when it comes to the variety of food available. And to add to that, starting from a common man to the richest of the men, will find no difficulty in finding his ideal place to have food and fun. Food of all varieties and at each level of economy is available readily in this city of joy. And if you are a non-veg, the place is a heaven for you.

You get up early in the morning and are searching for breakfast and ample amount of street shops selling Luchi aaloor dum (puris with dum aaloo) or may be Radha Ballavi (slightly different variation of Puris with dum aaloo), or may be motor shutir kachuri (stuffed peanuts inside puris) with lassis, jalebis, some sweets are waiting for you. All these make an ideal start to a day. And if you want to go in for a little more standardized breakfast place, then you can go in to Sharma’s in Lake Road or Bansdroni. Sharma’s is a chain, well known for its kachuris with chili pickle and sweet chutney. And after that a wonderful lassi with malai over it (just for Rs 15) and 2 pieces of jalebis made in ghee, makes it just an ideal breakfast one would like to have.

In terms of having a good lunch, opportunities starting from simple restaurants like Bhuri Bhoj, Bhojohori Manna, sholo aana bangali, gol Bari’s kasha mangsho (mutton with thick gravy) and many more. They are not just restricted to one place in Kolkata, especially bhuri bhoj and bhojohori manna. Food are quite cheap, very descent, and all variety of food especially fish of all kinds are available in plenty. One should specially try dishes like Prawn malai curry, yellow puri, daab chingri, paabda macher jhaal, rui shorshe, these being the specialities of Kolkata. Gol Bari kosha mangsho is a famous outlet in the congested shyam bazaar 5 head street. Apart from that, one will find some restaurants every here and there in Calcutta, providing, food that meets his/her requirement.

Moving into few expensive restaurants, options are available in the form of Oh Calcutta in Silver Spring (bypass) and Park Street, Mainland China, Machaan, Sigree in Silver Spring bypass, Mocambo, Peter Cat, Moulin Rouge in Park Street, and Silver Oak in Sarat Bose road. Oh Calcutta serves a typical Bengali cuisine with the chain starting from Bombay, then Delhi and then in Calcutta. Special highlights of the restaurant are the “Daab Chingri” (Tender Coconut with prawns over it) and “bhaapa crab chingri” (sort of assorted stuffed crab and prawn). Mainland china off course is a well known Chinese chain. Peter Cat is more famous for its sizzlers and chelo kebabs. Silver Oak with a special preparation of Bhetki fish.

If one wants to try a special buffet meal, Flame and Grill or Barbeque Nation are two beautiful Options in Calcutta. While Flame and grill is in Park Street, Barbeque Nation is located in Salt Lake Sector 5.

Moving on to evening snacks, Calcutta specialties are the various kinds of chops and rolls. These include egg chops (also known as egg devils), potato chops, mutton/chicken chops, peanut chops and many more. Special non-veg mutton rolls like mutton roll, egg roll, veg roll, double egg roll are available every here and there and they are very hygienic even being street foods. Egg/Mutton/Chicken cutlets and chowmeins are also very readily available along with these.

Time to have good dinner and again there is no better place than Calcutta to have a wide range of food and in all range. Starting with Biryani (chicken or mutton), almost everything is available in the street of Calcutta to have a perfect dinner. Food chains like Arsalan, Ali baba, Shiraz, Shabbir are biryani hubs and known for their wonderful preparation of non-veg biryanis. These are chains and are available in different locations in Calcutta. Shabbir is also well known for its Chicken and Mutton Rezala. Specialty of Calcutta biryani is the special rice they use for the preparation which is just awesome.
Apart from these restaurants like Azad Hind Dhaba, Flame and Grill, Barbeque Nation, Peter Cat and many more also typically serve very tasty and mouth watering dinner. Not only that, typical street shops of Calcutta are also special for dinner in Calcutta.

Coffee House of Kolkata

Speaking of Calcutta and off course Indian Coffee House deserves a special reference. Part of the famous restaurant chain, the Coffee House of Calcutta specially the one in College Street just opposite the famous Presidency College is a famous hangout place. The Indian Coffee house of Calcutta deserves special attention because of its history and the personalities who have been known over the years to hangout at this place including Satyajit Ray, Subhas Chandra Bose, and Rabindranath Tagore. Originally the Albert Hall founded in 1876, it was later converted to Coffee House. Most famous poets, laureates, artists of Calcutta used to visit Calcutta’s Coffee house and spend hours after hours giving a special importance to the place. Even today when one visits Calcutta’s coffee house, one finds the same aroma and charm, apart from the food, which off course is lovely in there? The one thing that one should try in the Coffee House of Calcutta is the famous chicken kabiraji. For more info refer to:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Coffee_House

Part 4: This part will describe the city mad about sports (especially football and cricket)

Calcutta has another image apart from the ones already described. And that is how energetic and supportive the city is when it comes to sports. Sports in Calcutta are mainly oriented to two fields:
1) Cricket
2) Football

When on one side Calcutta has the largest Cricket ground in Asia in the form of Eden Gardens, on the other hand, the city has the world’s 2nd largest Football ground in the form of Salt Lake Stadium (Yuva Bharti Krirangan). Although football is least of interest to people in India, when it comes to Calcutta, the city is simply mad about the sport. Whether a cricketing event or a football event, the city supports their teams with full zeal and celebration.

Whenever there is any major football or cricketing event in the city, the people of Calcutta just become mad and the streets are flooded with people all around. Traffic control near the stadiums becomes a big concern.

The excitement of football increases even more with the visit of international stars like Pele, Maradona, Lionel Messi, Romario etc in the city.

Here I present a few instances about how mad the city gets into when it comes to Cricket/Football:

Football World Cup:
Football world cup is a time which is worth spending in Calcutta. Although India never qualifies for the world cup, but Calcutta has a completely different picture during the football World Cup. The people of Calcutta have a special touch for South American Football and the entire city is divided into two groups: The Brazilian supporters and the Argentine Supporters. The city is almost equally divided into either of the groups, although the supporters of Brazil slightly outnumber the supporters of Argentina for historic reasons.
Walking down the streets of Calcutta during the world cup, one will not feel that he/she is in India, but it looks more of like one is walking down the streets of Brazil or Argentina. Big and huge hoardings, flags and posters of either of the football team players are seen in all the streets. And more rarely may be a German flag. It’s hard to believe but it’s true. The entire streets are filled with such kind of support. Every corner one will just find people discussing about only one thing, the previous days football encounters. People start thinking themselves as either Brazilians or Argentineans. I present a few photographs of Calcutta during the world cup 2010, when I was lucky enough to be present in Calcutta.

Photos of Football fever in Calcutta:

Streets of Calcutta during World cup Football 2010


Domestic Football Competitions:

When it comes to domestic football the rivalry of ages becomes relevant and supporters of two major clubs Mohan Bagan and East Bengal comes alive in the city. The common encounter between these teams is generally a Derby and a big time in Calcutta. The salt lake stadium becomes jam-packed with full strength (around 80 lac people).

Cricket

Cricket is considered the religion of India and so does the people of Calcutta. At international level, a single international match in the Eden Gardens invites thousands of people in the street to support their country.
At domestic level, the more recent IPL has created another angle to the cricket support of the city. People are simply mad about supporting the “Kolkata Knight Riders”. The madness was clearly visible during the last IPL (2012 season), when the people celebrated entire days and even the honorable Chief Minister got involved into it.

A few photographs courtesy my friends Arindam Mondol (USA/Delhi), Arpita Ghosh (Calcutta), Nandita Das (Calcutta) and Anindita Paul (Calcutta)

  • Arindam Mandal

    Nice write up!! Kolkata food scene is amazing…very few cities in the world can compete with Kolkata in terms of price, quality and variety of food available. You should have mentioned about Fuchka (Gol gappa) and aloo kabli :)

    • Yep, i should have got it reviewed by someone, but could not find one at that moment :-(

  • Nice one. Fully agree with the food aspect of Kolkata. Its a food lover’s paradise and calorie conscious’s dilemma.

  • Tx Anupam for this post.

    To know Kolkata, one must visit Kolkata during Durga Puja. You will simply be amazed to see the people, people and people and….those few days everything is pardonable…there is no books to read, except ‘Puja Barshiki’, meeting friends, late nights outings with friends, street foods – noone (elders) will say anything – practically no restrictions at home…your enemies became your friends…I can go on and on…

    I am sure during your stay in Kolkata, you must have enjoyed Durga Puja – it is very very different from rest of India…the only way to enjoy Durga Puja is Walk down the street (at night) – where is the road to drive? You can take Taxi or car at day time to visit different pandals…those pandals are awesome…Tx for highlighting ‘Chops’ – my all time favourite ‘Tele Bhaja with muri (puffed rice)…

    I would like to invite all readers to plan a trip to Kolkata during ‘Durga Puja’…it’s a carnival similar to any famous carnivals in the world, if not the best…and for all Book Lovers, you will love to walk the place…if you pay a visit to ‘College Street’…

    I miss the city…Tx,

  • Yes Amitava, its a different experience to be in Calcutta during Durga Puja. The excitement of the people and specially the way the people of the city enjoy is not only unique in India, but actually throughout the world.

    We can have a nice time if we plan a trip in calcutta.

    Regards
    Anupam Mazumdar

    • I still remember those school & college days when we used to have a long queue to buy a ticket for Mohun Bagan & East Bengal match in Salt Lake – once we were beaten by Calcutta Mountain Police during heavy rain at Mohun Bagan ground…and once the steamer was about to overturn in the Ganges as it was overloaded, on our way back to Shibpur from Babu Ghats…it was difficult to manage the crowd!!! a die-hard fan of Mohun Bagan, we used to carry long flag of our team and entered in Salt Lake Stadium…I don’t know whether you know players of that era or not…Subrato Bhattacharya (Babluda), Shishir Ghosh, Satyajeet Chatterjee, Krishanu Dey…wonderful childhood memories…still a football fanatic…just wish to see one day in my lifetime, India will be a part of the World Cup football…and instead of discussing Brazil / Argentina in our ‘Adda’, we host our flags…cut-outs of our heroes…if that day comes, I will be happy

  • Sougata Roy

    Nice one Anupam to portray Kolkata in right spirit !!! Durga puja, culinery delights, passion for sports…list is endless.

  • This log is not helping me any more with a rumbling tummy (early morning travel to Jhansi and no lunch as yet). Only there once and love the limited food we could try in the two days.

    Visiting Cal during Pujo would be awesome. Insha Allah, pray for me that I find myself there.

  • Amrita

    Again, a very nice writeup…but then you perhaps missed to mention Nandan. Apart from coffee house, academy of fine arts and the Nandan area can actually be called the cultural heart of the city!!
    Nevertheless, the mention of football is fascinating…more so bcoz, football is actually the second religion here in bengal!! :)

  • venkatt

    Anupam, this log is turning out to be one of the most detailed and comprehensive Kolkata tour guides. Great writing.