"Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf" ~ Tagore

Destinations


Kolkata (Calcutta)

Overview

Visit Kolakata, one of the most intriguing cities of the world. The city of music, theatre, historical buildings and interesting side streets. The erstwhile capital of British India, Kolkata has grown into one of the largest metropolitan cities of the world. A fascinating amalgam of life's extremities, where the hand drawn rickshaw of the yesteryears and the modern underground metro rail co-exist. It is a city with a soul.

The gateway to the mystic east, it has a fabled past and a fascinating present. The enigma that is Kolkata, is for every individual to discover. The heritage trail winds along the bustling streets to reveal a treasure of antiques, architecture, music, festivals and fairs, soccer matches, quiet evenings on a boat and much more. Visit the Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, St.Paul's Cathedral, Sahid Minar, Tagore House, Marble Palace, Kalighat, Pareshnath Jain Temple, National Library or the clubs of Kolkata.

Great wealth yet great poverty, spaciousness cheek by jowl with the most overcrowded slums in the world, labour rallies and processions, Durga Puja and the delicacy known as misthi doi - Kolkata has all of it and more. A fascinating city with history and a treasured culture.

Calcuttans are friendly, warm and always ready to help. The city has many hotels and guest houses for the weary traveller and a well-knit transport system. Kolkata make you feel at home.

About Kolkata
History
People & Culture
Festivals
What to see
General Information

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History

Three hundred years ago, the city of Calcutta was born on the banks of the River Hoogly. The story dates back to Job Charnock and his chance mid-day halt near the quaint little village of Sutanuti, where the sparkle of green on the horizon promised repose to a tired British sailor.

It was much later that the villages of Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kalikata were united to form the city of Calcutta, a British trading port that was destined to shape centuries of Indian history. A city of Nawabs and palaces, of Zamindars and baijis, of mujras and mushairas, of artists and craftsmen, it was the repository of a rich artistic tradition. Over the years, Kolkata thrived and became an important centre of the British Raj, a leading centre of commerce and a port of call for east bound vessels.

People and Culture

Patronized by wealthy and cultured connoisseurs, Kolkata had become a social and cultural capital. Gateway to the orient, it is where many journeys to the East begin.

The exquisite Victoria Memorial shining in the afternoon sunlight, the majestic facade of the Kolkata Museum, the gracefully sloping roofs of the Dakhineshwar Kalibari and the delicacy of the style of the Bengal School of painting reveal the rich diversity of the Bengali artistic heritage. Kolkata, a city with 25 museums, 22 identified heritage buildings, two golf clubs and the finest Polo club from the days of the Raj, is where the trail leads.

This city sheltered five Nobel laureates who have done India proud: Surgeon Major Ronald Ross, who discovered how malaria was being carried; Dr. C V Raman - the mathematician; Rabindranath Tagore - the bard of Bengal; Mother Teresa who needs no introduction and Amartya Sen who won the prize for Economics.

Kolkata is the hearth of art, literature, theatre, music and cinema. Drop in at The Academy of Fine Arts and The Alternative Art Gallery at Park Street to view the paintings of contemporary artists of Kolkata. Watch the native theatres of Bengal at the Mudhusudan Mancha in Dhakuria or the cultural shows at the Kala Mandir. Drop in at Nandan Cinema Hall. Visit the music stores to buy the popular albums of Usha Uthup, classical melodies of Ravi Shankar, Rabindra Sangeet or Nazrulgeet. Watch the magic shows of the P.C. Sorcar family.

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Festivals and Events

Calcutta is a festive city. People love to celebrate. The main festivals are:

Basant Panchami
The festival is also known as Sri Panchami when Saraswati, the Goddess of learning is worshipped. Students take a leading role in this festival. In the evenings, music and cultural programs are organized.

Kolkata Book Fair All the major book publishers of India set up stalls at the Kolkata Maidan. Publishers from other countries regularly participate. Books are available at amazing discounts.

Holi A spring festival. The traditional Bengali name of the festival is Dol-Jatra, a festival much loved by Bengal's religious leader Sree Chaitanya.

Bengali New Year
Known to Bengalis as Poila Bhaishak. They offer prayers to gods, pay respects to the senior members of the family and taste traditional sweets. This festival ushers in summer.

Rabindra Jayanti
The birth anniversary of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore is celebrated on the 8th/9th of May. Educational institutes put up cultural programs dedicated to the literary artist.

Ratha Yatra
Celebrated in the early rainy season when the image of Jagannath is taken out on a chariot. The most popular place for this festival is Mahesh on the West Bank of Hooghly.

Durga Puja
Durga Puja, the most important festival of Kolkata, celebrating the slaying of the demon Mahishasura by the goddess, thereby restoring peace. Images of the goddess are set up in every neighbourhood, the city is adorned with bright lights, fairs are held. On the last day the images are immersed in the holy Ganga.

Kali Puja
Observed in late Autumn and celebrated with fire crackers. More than 2000 altars are erected throughout the city.

Christmas
Called Baro Din by Bengalis. Celebrated with Christmas trees, gifts and traditional Christmas delicacies.

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What to see

Academy of Fine Arts
Art galleries which exhibit works of contemporary artists throughout the year. Local theatre and dance programs are performed in the auditorium. The Rabindra Gallery exhibits paintings, manuscripts and personal belongings of Rabindranath Tagore.

Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art
Established in 1937, it contains museum pieces particularly connected with Bengal.

Armenian Church
Designed in the early 18th century, the Armenian Church is today the oldest extant church in Kolkata. The interiors of the church are decorated with marble, and the overhead gallery contains mural tablets.

Asiatic Society
Founded in 1784, the Asiatic Society is the oldest literary society of the east. The rooms of the society contain valuable works of art, including original paintings by Rubens, Guiles, Reynolds and others. The Library also has an interesting collection of manuscripts, copper plates, coins and engravings. The Ashokan Rock edict is a unique item here.

Birla Industrial and Technological Museum
The Museum is a testimony to the Industrial and Technical development of India and valuable to scholars of science.

Birla Mandir
Lakshmi Narayan Temple built in the usual temple style with marble and granite. The huge structure, bright illumination and evening breeze make it a pleasant visit.

Birla Planetarium
One of the most technically advanced in the World, the Birla Planetarium is close to the crossing of Theatre Road and Chowringhee Road. Daily shows are held in English, Hindi and Bengali as the planetarium's gigantic projector recreates the night sky. The Planetarium also has an astronomical library and art gallery.

Belur Math
The Math is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, situated 6 kms north of Kolkata. The Ramakrishna Temple; which looks like a church, mosque or temple; depending from where it is viewed, is a building of unique architecture that symbolizes the unique faith of its congregation. On the other bank of the river is the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple where Ramakrishna received his spiritual vision after meditation. There are also 12 Siva temples here.

Botanical Gardens
Twenty kilometres from the heart of the town is the oldest botanical garden of India and a haven for nature lovers. Spread over 273 acres, it contains over 30,000 varieties of trees and plants. The garden's main attraction is however the world's largest banyan tree, 200 years old with 600 aerial roots.

Eden Gardens
It is laid out with ornamental trees, shrubs, winding foliage, sparkling fountains and a beautiful Burmese pagoda. Well equipped with all the latest facilities, the cricket stadium here, has one of the finest cricket pitches in India.

Fort William Named after King William III of England, construction of the present Fort William was completed at the end of the eighteenth century at the cost of two million pounds. A garrison of ten thousand can be accommodated here and six hundred guns can be mounted. Within the fort premises there is a church, a market, a post and telegraph office, a cinema, a swimming pool, a boxing stadium, parade and football grounds and a firing range.

Howrah Bridge
A spectacular construction, the third largest cantilever bridge in the world. Opened in 1943, the 71 feet wide bridge can accommodate eight lane traffic and is flanked by two wide footpaths.

Hastings House
Situated along the Judges' Court Road and shrouded in an aura of legend and mystery; it was built in 1774 by Warren Hastings as his residence.

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High Court
A beautiful Gothic style construction, built in 1872.

Indian Museum
Once the largest museums in India, it is popularly known as 'Jadughar'. Contains relics of India's cultural heritage from the ancient Indus Valley civilization to the modern era. The museum exhibits also cover geology, botany, zoology, anthropology, archaeology, the arts, industry and commerce.

Jain Temple
Built in the Burmese Pagoda style by a jeweller in 1867, the Pareshnath Jain Temple is a masterpiece of Indian art with intricate hand painted panels depicting scenes from Jain mythology.

Jorasanko Palace
The ancestral home of the famous Tagore family. The great poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore was born here and died here. The Rabindra Bharati University is devoted to dance, drama, art and music. The Rabindra Bharati Museum deals with the life and times of the great poet.

Kali Temple (Kali Ghat)
Legend says it was built a thousand years ago. Facts show it closer to 350 years. Pilgrims from all over India visit this temple. Some say that the very name of Calcutta derived from this temple.

Marble Palace
Resembling Hyderabad's Salar Jung Museum it contains within its area of twelve acres the most precious collection of antiques. We see fountains collected in Rome, ornamental clocks from Geneva, statues from Naples, almost a hundred variety of marbles from around the world, multicolored chandeliers of prismatic glass, priceless original paintings by Rubens and Joshua Reynolds.

The Maidan
Once a dense jungle, now a lush green park, with playgrounds for every sport. Surrounded by landmarks such as the Race Course, Victoria Memorial and Sahid Minar.

Nakhoda Mosque
Modelled on Akbar's tomb at Sikandra near Agra, the mosque has a prayer hall that can accommodate a congregation of ten thousand at a time.

National Library
Built in Italian Renaissance style, the Belvedere was once the residence of Warren Hastings. Then known as the Imperial Library and later National Library after Independence, it is the largest in the country and is aid to contain more than 2 million books and manuscripts.

Netaji Bhavan
Where Netaji Subash Chandra Bose lived and worked. His personal belongings are on exhibition here.

Netaji Indoor Stadium
Situated at Eden Gardens, this stadium hosts indoor games and sports like table tennis, basket ball, volley ball and badminton.

Nicco Park
A child's haven full of funky joy rides. Grown ups love it too. With plenty of food stalls selling mouth-watering food.

Rabindra Sarobar
A recreation spot, its other attractions are a Buddhist temple, a public swimming pool and a sports stadium.

Race Course
During the months of July to September and November to March, it is host to the events of Royal Calcutta Turf . Races are normally held on Saturdays.

Raj Bhavan
The Governor's residence is the finest example of Georgian architecture in India. Was the official residence of the British Governors during the pre independence period. The Throne Room contains Tipu Sultan's throne and its Ballroom has the finest polished dance floor in India.

Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture
Established by the Ramakrishna Mission, the Institute has a magnificent library, museum, prayer hall, meditation room and guest house. Salt Lake Stadium: Also known as the Yuba Bharati Kriragan. Is elliptical in shape with a sitting capacity of 1,25,000 persons.

Saheed Minar
The 52 m tall tower, one of the tallest in India, dominates Chowringhee. It was built in recognition of David Ochterlony's triumphs in the Nepalese wars. An architectural oddity, it consists of a combination of Syrian column, Egyptian base and Turkish dome.

St.Paul's Cathedral
The Metropolitan Church of India is a splendid Gothic structure with striking mosaics, stained glass, murals and frescoes. Its altar piece and communion plate are magnificent.

Victoria Memorial
Situated near the Maidan, the Victoria Memorial is an exquisite structure made of white marble built in the memory of Queen Victoria. It is surrounded by a lush green lawn laid out with trees, pools and pebbled pathways.

Vidyasagar Setu
Well known as the second Hooghly Bridge connecting Calcutta and Howrah.

Writers Building
This is the secretariat of the West Bengal government. It stands from the days of the East India Company.

Zoological Gardens, Alipore
Extending over an area of 16 hectares, the gardens have an amazing collection of animals and birds. The Royal Bengal Tigers and white tigers from Rewa are the main attractions of the zoo. The Reptile House has specimens from the King Cobra to the swamp adder as also crocodiles and alligators. In the southern region of the gardens, birds, deer, and cattle live in natural surroundings.

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General Information

Places to eat

Calcutta has a wide variety of hotels: multicuisine, Indian, Chinese and Vegetarian. Multicuisine restaurants include Blue Fox (Park Street ), Amber ( Waterloo Street ), Kwality ( Gariahata Road ). Indian restaurants include Regent ( Chowringhee Place ), Aminia ( S.N. Banerjee Road ), Royal Hotel ( Rabindra Sarani ). Vineet ( Shakespeare Sarani ) and Gupta Brothers ( Park Street ) provide good vegetarian food. Kim Wah (Garcha Road ) and Jimmy's Kitchen ( A J C Bose Road ) offer Chinese cuisine.

How to get there

Air: Calcutta is connected by Indian Airlines and other private airlines with all the major cities of India. Netaji Shubash Chandra Bose International Airport is served by a number of leading carriers, including Air India, Thai International, Royal Nepal, Bangladesh Biman and Burma Airways.

Rail: Calcutta is well connected by rail with all the major Indian cities. Its two main railway stations are at Howrah and Sealdah.

Road: Calcutta is connected with major cities and towns through an extensive network of national highways.

Sea: The shipping corporation of India operates steamers from Calcutta to Port Blair in the Andaban and Nicobar Islands.

Shopping

New Market is every shopper's paradise: garments, leather goods, jewellery and souvenirs are sold there. Fancy Market - Kidderpore sells a wide range of foreign goods. B.B.D. Bagh ( Dalhousie Square ) is the commercial hub of Eastern India and the nerve centre of the West Bengal government. Browse the road-side book stalls of College Street and Free School Street for rare and valuable books. Drop in at Seagull in Bhowanipore for the latest Indian best-sellers. Most definitely visit the Dakshinapan Shopping Complex having a huge galaxy of ethnic souvenir stores from various states of India.

Climate
Summer: Mean Max: 36.1 degree C Mean Min: 36.1 degree C
Winter: Mean Max: 26.6 degree C Mean Min: 8.3 degree C
Best Season: October to March

Languages: English, Bengali, Hindi

Tourist Offices
West Bengal Tourist Bureau, 3/2, BBD Bagh.
Government of India Tourist Office, 4, Shakespeare Sarani.

Information & photos: Pallavi Bhattacharya


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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.