Kolkata - India's cultural kingpin
In West Bengal, East India
Go there for :
Museums, Art Galleries, Sweets
38°-41.7°C (Sum); 16°-29°C (Win)
When to Go:
STD Code :
+91 - 33
Kolkata, aka Calcutta, is the West Bengal Capital, third largest
urban agglomeration in India, fourth-largest Indian city, a British capital
for monitoring the sub-continent till 1911. Some tags attached, but these
don't interest a tourist, do they!
The vengeful Kali (Lord Shiva's consort) is the patron Goddess here and the
same passion, runs through the life and blood of the Bengalis. Be it the
sacrifices at the pyre of nationalist struggle, the compulsive call of their
sweet-tooth, a Rabindrasangeet (Rabindranath Tagore songs), political
confabulate, film-making - the zeal is just enviably perfect. And before we
head further, some legendary products this 'City of Joy' owes to the nation
and perhaps, the world - Rabindranath Tagore (artist), Jyoti Basu
(politician, CM for 23 years), Satyajit Ray (film-maker), Sushmita Sen (Miss
World 1994), Mother Teresa (Missionary nun), Subhas Chandra Bose
(nationalist), Ilish-masheer-bhappa (a fish curry), the Rôshogolla (a
sweet), and a legion of writers, film-makers and what not. Come to Kolkata India and feel
painted in a different hue from what Delhi, Mumbai and the likes are!
Tale of the City
A part of the decolonization spree (that turned Madras - Chennai,
Bombay - Mumbai) is Calcutta becoming 'Kolkata' derived from
'Kalikata'(called so before the British came), in turn, is an anglicized
version of Kalikshetra (Land of the goddess Kali). During the colonial
period it was called 'the City of Palaces'.
It is Lord Curzon's white marbled
memorabilia for Queen Victoria, resonates the colonial era with its house of
artifacts and impressive Western style architecture. It is one of the most sought after tourist spot in Kolkata. Its 25 galleries, house
about 3,500 articles relating to the Raj, plus the black marble throne of
Siraj-ud-Daulah and the mammoth painting of a Jaipur royal procession
(perhaps the largest in Asia). Don't miss the Light and Sound Show held
everyday, except Mondays, when the Museum remains closed.
Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu):
The third largest cantilever bridge
in the world and an engineering marvel completed in 6 years, the gracious
Howrah Bridge of Kolkata has a world record of being the third largest
cantilever bridge. Its 71ft wide road has 8 lanes of traffic and 2 footpaths
on both sides. As you travel, along with the 2 million that reportedly
crosses the bridge daily, its 500 meters with no pillars in the middle,
gives the spine a strange chill. Quite an attraction of the Kolkata tourist guide.
Just near the crossing of the Theater Road and
Chowringhee Road is one of world's most famous planetarium with an
astronomical library and art gallery, an otherwise landmark (its dome shape)
for tourists who feel lost and confused in this bustling city. Daily shows
are held in English, Hindi and Bengali as the planetarium's gigantic
projector recreates the night sky.
Now the name here is a confusion of sorts. Incase your
mind is racing already, this place has got nothing to do with the Biblical
Eden. And its fame as a garden is passe, considering its roaring popularity
as a site for the international cricket matches. However, it still offers a
quiet stroll along the banks of the Hoogly River, add to it a short cruise
down the river with the Vidyasagar Setu Bridge silhouetted in the
The popular Dalhousie Square is just another one to come
under the renaming spree. Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh, after the three martyrs
of Bengal, is the city's administrative hub with famed historical buildings
like the Writers' Building, Raj Bhavan, State Legislative Assembly, Kolkata
High Court, St John's Cathedral, GPO and Reserve Bank of India. Another tourist spot in Kolkata that you can visit.
Banking Hoogly, south of Howrah and sprawling a
vast 270 acres, is this world famous herbarium with some 50,000 species of
plants, the Botanical Survey of India, a 250 year old and 98 ft tall banyan
tree, is the oldest botanics in India founded in 1786.
Dakshineswar Kali Temple:
Flanking the mighty Ganges River, on the
Kalighat Road, north of Kolkata India is this sprawling temple with a Goddess Kali
shrine in the center, surrounded by 12 of Lord Shiva. The great religious
thinker Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is believed to have achieved spiritual
nirvana, here and today pilgrims from around the world visit the temple to
bask in its ethereal serenity. The goat sacrifice ritual everyday (that
allegedly replaced the ancient practice of human sacrifice), however might
leave one with a bad taste if sighted.
This Jain temple at the Badridas Temple street,
dedicated to Sitalnathji (the 10th of the 24 Jain tirthankaras or perfect
souls), is more of an architectural orchestra with mirror-inlay pillars,
marble floors with floral motifs, chandeliers from Paris and Brussels,
blocks of glass mosaics and European statues painted in silver, gold-gilded
dome and what not.
Marble Palace (former 'Palace of Arts'):
If you have already had a
dekko of Hyderabad's Salar Jung Museum, you will be amazed at the exactitude
of this similar structure. Located in north Kolkata at Muktaram Babu
Street, the conglomeration of some hundreds of marble varieties from across
the world, pristine fountains from Rome, original painting masterpieces by
Rubens and Joshua Reynolds, glass chandeliers and much more await your
vision. A large pool near the small granite bungalow has ducks, peacocks and
ostriches. It remains closed on Mondays and Thursdays.
The Park (despite its micro dance-floor), Someplace Else,
Tantra are where you can shake a leg with Kolkata's hippest nocturnals. The
evenings can be flavored with a visit to one of the many theatrical
performances and cultural gatherings that are staged almost everywhere in
the city. The local newspapers or your know-it-all travel agent will furnish
the required information about venues et al. The Birla Academy of Art and
Culture (108-109 Southern Avenue), the Centre for International Modern Art
(Sunny Towers, 43 Ashutosh Chowdhari Avenue/Sun closed), the Academy of Fine
Arts (2 Cathedral Rd.) are perfect retreats for connoisseurs of art.
Home to some of India's best designers, the designer buys here are
really worth the splurge. Some names to mug-up are Sabyasachi Mukherjee (one
of India's best), Kiran Uttan Ghosh and Shabari Datta.
Bengal's famous Tangail sarees can be had from Kundahar (10, Sarat Banerjee
Rd.) and Ananda (Russell St.) For Bengali handicrafts, visit Dakshinapan or
the Bengal Home Industries (11 Camac St.) or Sasha (27 Mirza Ghalib St.).
The Central Cottage Industries Emporium in Chowringhee is where you must go
if you want to pick different ethnic Indian stuff, not necessarily Bengali.
New Market, the erstwhile Hogg's Market, is Kolkata's oldest and most
renowned shopping arcade on Lindsay Street. Right from leather goods, fancy
silverware, jewelery, garments, fabrics, garment to dry fruits, poultry
products, fish, meat, flowers - here is where everything can be bought
right. Park Centre, on Park Street is the fashion hub with a wide variety of
apparel, especially ladies' garments, cosmetics and electronic gadgets.
If you have a sweet-tooth, Kolkata India is a paradise of a sort.
Rasgollas (cottage cheese balls in sugar syrup) and mishti doi (curd
sweetened with molasses) are almost religiously sought favorites. Others
Bengali staples include curious names like sandesh, chanar payesh, and khir
kadom, and more delicately sweetened gulab jamuns and halwas of North India.
Try these at Ganguram Sweets (41 Bipin Behari Ganguly Street), K C Das (11A&B
Esplanade East), Mithai (48B Syed Amir Ali Ave.), and Bhim Nag (Bidhan
Sarani). And good news is, sweet-tooth or none, Kolkata is a gourmets
Shangri-La. Sententiously put, the Bengali kitchens are where the gastronome
is allowed to indulge in spicy, fried, tasty food, especially varieties of
Kolkata-Mughlai palate is what results when the Persian spices fall for the
East Indian herbs and fish. Try Nizam's (1 Corporation Place) where the
kathi kebab roll (kebabs wrapped in fried bread) was born. Shiraz is another
option for similar flavors. The murgh mussalam (chicken) and the mutton
chanps tikiya (chops) of the Royal Indian Hotel (147 Rabindra Sarani) are
Kolkatans have a panache for Chinese platters and some toothsome flavors
can be sampled at Mainland China (Uniworth House, 3A Gurusadary Rd.) and Taj
Bengal's in-house Chinese restaurant, Chinoiserie.
The Rôshogolla lore:
Defying the popular belief, the
Rasgulla is originally a Puri (in Orissa) product. The art was eventually
transferred to Kolkata, and during the Bengal renaissance, and finally it
was Nobin Chandra Das of Bagbazar (Kolkata) who evolved its 'spongy' form
and threw it right at the international gourmets table. A popular limerick
goes hence: "Bagbazar's Nobin Das, Rossogolla's Columbus".
Asia's first Nobel laureate, Tagore - the
avante garde poet, writer, philosopher, playwright, novelist - is a cult
figure in Bengal. The English translation of his poetry collection Gitanjali
was published under Yeats' auspices, and the Nobel Prize followed in 1913.
The poems also appeared in Ezra Pound's magazine Poetry. The British crown's
Knighthood was repudiated by this humble nationalist in 1919, in protest of
the Jallianwalabagh Massacre (Punjab).
Shantiniketan (212 km):
Founded in 1901 by Rabindranath
Tagore, a noted poet, writer and nationalist, this university resonates the
Gurukul system of learning, where student and teachers reside together and
learn the various aspects of life through practical experience and classes
are held mostly in the open air, under trees. Noted alumni include India's
ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Digha (185 km):
A classic fishing hamlet with an exotic beach on the
east coast sum up for a perfect weekend getaway from the city hum-drum.
Malda (365 km N):
Also called English Bazaar from the cenruries old
British factory here, is a base for heading to the archaeological sites of
Gaur and Pandua. Gaur has been the capital to three dynasties - Buddhist
Palas, the Hindu Senas and the Muslim Nawabs. Pandua has the third largest
concentration of Muslim monuments in Bengal.
Vishnupur (200 km):
This slice of 17th-18th century with terracotta
temples should not be missed. The endemic 'Bankura horse
' is a
popular handicraft item across the nation and once there you can buy some of
its terracotta pieces to adorn your walls.
Hop next to: Darjeeling
(686 km), Gangtok
(533 km), Kalimpong