Calcutta, the gateway city to eastern India, is three hundred years old. Calcutta grew to be the capital of the British empire, with grand palaces, buildings, grand hostelries, and shops that traded in some of the finest goods of the world.
Calcutta is in many ways a literary city too, most easily evinced in its people who are creative, and inclined to political and social debate. It also manifests itself in the lively theatre of the city and the excellent talent in writing, music and dance. Its many museums and libraries are a storehouse of information and archival wealth. Fine arts permeates all levels and sections of society. Calcutta's beautiful buildings have not been eclipsed by the highrises.
There is a hint of the past everywhere, though visitors can never escape the present. It is a physical presence that makes for an amazing and bustling city. Calcutta has a social side too, a tradition of the finest clubs in the country. Leisure hours are spent at the many golf courses, and by the turf where races and polo are regular events. There's a lot to see in Calcutta, but the city also opens up the floodgates to travel opportunities in the east.
Orientation Kolkata sprawls north-south along the eastern
bank of the Hooghly River, which divides it from Howrah on the western bank. If you arrive from anywhere west of Kolkata by rail, you'll come into the immense
Howrah Station and have to cross the Howrah Bridge into Kolkata proper.
The more relevant parts of Kolkata are south of the bridge in the areas around BBD Bagh and Chowringhee.
A splendid architectural structure in white marble, modeled on the Taj Mahal, was built in the early 20th century. In memory of Queen Victoria and was formally inaugurated by the Prince of Wales in 1921 who later became King Edward VIII of England. The stately bronze statue of the queen near the entrance, the brass canons, wrought iron street lamps, manicured lawns, gardens and pathways, the magical lighting effect in the evening and a fairy tale 'Fountain of Joy' facing the memorial building create an atmosphere of unforgettable charm.
This museum was established in 1878 on Jawaharlal Nehru Road. The museum is built in Italian architectural style and is considered as the largest museum in the country and one of the best in Asia.
Places to Visit
The largest museum in the country, the museum has six sections
Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Industry (economic botany). From the Egyptian mummy to the skeleton of the whale and some rare statues; the museum has every thing. One of the rooms has a collection of meteorites. The museum also has a unique fossil collection of prehistoric animals which includes a giant crocodile and a huge tortoise. The art collection has many fine pieces from Orissa and other temples and superb example of Buddhist Gandharan art.
In the North-West corner of the Maidan are small & pleasantly laid out Eden Gardens. The gardens were created in 1840 and named after the sister of Lord Auckland, the former governor general. The idea was to make a Biblical - style garden of Eden in India. The expanse dotted with beautiful trees and shrubs is intersected by winding paths, and there is a large artificial lake.
Alongside the gardens, is the world famous Eden Gardens cricket stadium. The stadium is supposed to be the largest in Asia with a seating capacity of more than a lakh spectators. The Kolkata cricket ground, where International test & one day matches are held, is also with in the gardens. Near the gardens you can take a pleasant walk along the bank of hoogly river.
Maidan & Fort William
After the events of 1756, the British decided there would be no repetition of the attack on the city and set out to replace the original Fort William, in the Maidan , with a massive and impregnable new fort.
First they cleared out the inhabitants of the village of Govindpur and in 1758 laid the foundations of a fort. Around the fort a huge expanse of jungle was cut down to give the cannons a clear line of fire but, as usually happens, the fort has never fired a shot in anger.
The fort is still in use today and visitors are only allowed inside with special permission. Even the trenches and deep fortifications surrounding the fort's massive walls seem to be out of bounds.
The area cleared around Fort William became the Maidan, the 'lungs' of modern Kolkata. This huge green expanse stretches three km north to south and is over a km wide. It is bound by Strand Rd along the river to the west and by
Chowringhee Rd, lined with shops, offices, hotels and eating places, to the east. The stream known as Tolly's Nullah forms its southern boundary, and here you will find a racecourse and the Victoria Memorial. In the north-west corner of the Maidan is Eden Gardens, while
Raj Bhavan overlooks it from the north.
Now officially renamed the Shahid Minar, this 48m
column tower over the northern end of the Maidan. It was erected in 1828 and named after Sir David
Ochterlony, who is credited with winning the Nepal War. The column is an intriguing combination of Turkish, Egyptian and Syrian architectural elements.
There's a fine view from the top of the column, but permission to ascend must be obtained from police headquarters, which is on
Lal Bazaar St. It's only open Monday to Friday and you should simply ask for a 'monument pass' at the Assistant Commissioner's office on the 2nd floor.
St Paul's Cathedral
Built between 1839 and 1847, St Paul's Cathedral is one of India's most important churches. It's east of the Victoria Memorial at the South end of the Maidan. The steeple fell during an earthquake in 1897 and was redesigned and rebuilt. Inside there's some interesting memorials and stained glass, including the west window by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. It's open to visitors from 9 am to noon, and from 3 to 6 pm. Sunday services are at 7.30 and 8.30 am, and 6 pm.
During Partition however, Calcutta was severely damaged as the economy collapsed due to the fall of the jute industry which passed into East Bengal.
Then there were millions of refugees flowing in from the east. Both these contributed to abject poverty.
Come 1971, and the Bangladesh war brought home hordes of refugees to add to the distress. To top it all, there was a militant Naxalite movement around this time that led to serious political unrest. Power shortages, Industrial sickness and strikes were rampant. Calcutta has seen through bad times over and over again.
Legends of Kolkata
Despite the problems, Calcutta has risen up and produced many a people the country can be proud of. We have examples of
Teressa, Rabindranath Tagore, Saurav Ganguly, Satyajit Ray, Sharmila Tagore, Amritya Sen to name a few.
The British Capital in the past, Calcutta has become a city to be reckoned with due to a lot more factors than one can think.
The people, the place, the culture all have made Calcutta a city of various colours and moods. The variety of monuments, the legendary
Howrah Bridge, persona like Rabindranath Tagore and
Mother Teresa, cricket player Saurav Ganguli have brought the city to life.
The tram transport is still subsisting in this city though it symbolises backwardness of the city in terms of traffic. Apart from these, the city also has a few bests to flaunt like the the Indian Museum,
Victoria Memorial and Maidan.
The Durga Puja and Kali Puja are known to Indians all over the world. Apart from this, one can coin this city as the real capital depecting British Imperialism for the many reminiscents that have been kept intact till date.
There are numerous interesting shops along Chowringhee Rd selling everything from carpets to handicrafts.
Shopping in Kolkata
The Central Cottage Industries
Emporium at 7 Chowringhee Rd is quite good. The shops along the entrance arcade to the Oberoi Grand Hotel are interesting but not as entertaining as Chowringhee's amazing variety of pavement vendors who sell everything from water pistols to underwear to dancing dolls. Kolkata's administration is trying to move the street hawkers to underground markets in an attempt to clear the footpaths, but the unionised street merchants have so far resisted attempts to budge them.
Amid this melee are runners from other shops, particularly the New Market, looking for customers. Naturally, 'their' shop is only 'just round the corner', but this is rarely true. If you follow them, it's going to take up quite a bit of your time and the prices of the goods which you are invited to examine will be relatively high. After all, it's a long way back and a lot of wasted time for them to find another punter.
New Market, formerly Hogg Market, is Kolkata's premier place for bargain shopping. Here you can find a little of almost everything and it is always worth an hour so of wandering around. A particularly good bargain, if you're flying straight home from Kolkata, is caneware.
This is ridiculously cheap compared to prices in the west and is, of course, very light if rather bulky.
Between Sudder St and New Market is an expensive air-con market. In the basement is City Express Supermarket offering fully computerised checkouts and at least one supermarket helper per customer, some even involved in product promotion!
There's another good street market along Lenin Sarani in the evenings. Down Sudder St or in the lanes running off both sides, those in search of highs derived from the plant kingdom are attended to by touts offering a range of services. Discretion is the key word.
Like any big city, Kolkata has numerous options for stay. Luxurious star rated hotels, government owned hotels, guest houses, hostels, lodges and budget hotels provide the tourist with variety to chose from.
The weather is very Indian, slightly on the humid side. Summers are hot, the temperatures fluctuating between
max. 30c - 35c and a min. 14c - 25c.
The rainy season begins in the month of June and lasts upto October bringing in moderately severe rains. The temperature is also moderate.
Air : Kolkata is home to the N.S.C. International airport at Dumdum. Regular flights to rest of India and world are available here.
Rail : Howrah and Sealdah are the two major railway station, which are very well connected to the other parts of the country.
Road : Kolkata, being Among the top metros of India, is connected to the rest of India by excellent road network.