By Pradeep Chamaria
The fun of exploring a place is heightened if you make a list of where to go, what to do, how to behave like a local, and what to binge. And if you are visiting Kolkata, this is very important. Kolkata being a mixture of colonial era and modern developments, it is a major tourist spot. The city is a wonderful place to go and explore many places of significance.
Calcutta where I was born was renamed Kolkata in 2001. The British used to call it Calcutta, but it was still called Kolkata in Bengali – derived from the name of one of three villages: Kalikata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur, which is believed to have become the modern village city of Calcutta. Another accepted view is that it comes from the Hindu goddess Kali and the original name was KaliKshetra, “the place of Kali”.
British settlement in Kolkata began when a trading post was set up here by Job Charnock, an agent for the English East India Company, in 1690.
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Kolkata has its own charm and never fails to delight visitors. Kolkata is a city defined by superlatives and a rare blend of past and present. Kolkata, a bustling metropolis and the first city of the British Raj never fails to enchant artists, poets, writers, filmmakers, photographers and tourists. It is also the only city in India where Chinatown still exists. Today, despite its underground metro, high-rise buildings, bustling nightlife and grand offices, Kolkata masterfully retains its status as India’s cultural capital, with many memories of the city’s colonial past strewn about. corners of the city.
Kolkata excels in almost every area and is labeled differently from time to time viz. the ‘Cultural Capital of India’, ‘City of Processions’, ‘City of Palaces’ and ‘City of Joy’. The city is rightly known as the city of joy; it is a city with a soul due to its soulful embodiment of culture, love, mystery, respect, enthusiasm and certainly incredible sweet delights. Kolkata is a perfect blend of old world and modernity.
Kolkata has something for everyone whether they are a foodie, a bookworm, a history buff or just a traveler like me. There are fish markets, museums, planetariums, libraries, cricket grounds, football stadiums, amusement parks, nightclubs and other entertainment options and many places of religious interest . Kolkata still has theaters where regular dramas are performed, and even today drama theaters are more famous than movie theaters. It has College Street, the second largest second-hand book market in the world. Regular visitors say that if a book isn’t available here, it’s probably never been printed.
Places like Victoria Memorial, Ghats along the Hooghly (Ganges) River, (still) running trams, Dakhineswar Temple, Belur Math, Gardens of Eden, Mother Teresa’s house, the Kali Ghat, India Museum, Botanical Gardens, Alipore Zoo, etc. .
Transportation in Kolkata
If you visit Kolkata for any length of time, you will find that public transport is the lifeline of the city. For those looking to explore on the cheap, there are yellow cabs, minibuses, trams and the famous hand-pulled rickshaw, a holdover from the British era.
If you want to travel back in time, you can definitely opt for a tram, as Kolkata is one of the few cities in the world that has this mode of transport. Kolkata Tram is an urban rail system in Kolkata, and is currently the only operating tram network in India, as well as being the oldest operating electric tram in Asia, operating since 1902.
Then there is the hand rickshaw, a two-wheeled, cheaper and non-polluting means of transport for short distances, light mobile devices pulled by a barefoot man who often does not look totally up to the task. Wrapped in a lungi from the waist to the knee, sometimes without a shirt, this skinny man traverses the narrow lanes of Kolkata transporting seated people in his rickshaw. The rickshaw is the lifeline of North Kolkata and helps you through the narrow lanes of the city, which poses a challenge for any four-wheeled vehicle.
Every street, every corner of the city has a story to tell. You will come across a lot of British architecture all over the city. Kolkata is full of heritage structures, for example. the Victoria Memorial, Raja Ram Mohan Palace, Fort William, Belur Math and Writers Building, etc. Most of these buildings adorn the classical Indo-Islamic and Indo-Saracenic architectural motifs.
You have the Howrah Bridge, one of the largest cantilever bridges in the world and the only one in India. The glory of the bridge is seen in the evening when it lights up like a bride.
Kolkata Exotic Food
Food is an essential part of any traveller’s planning. And if you don’t sample Bengali delicacies, your visit to Kolkata is incomplete.
Mishit doi (sweetened milk curd), Rosogolla and Sondesh are must-haves whether you’re a foodie or not. Rosogulla, a traditional candy, is the most consumed candy here. During our stay in Kolkata, we loved the rosogollas from the chefs at the Howard Johnson hotel. Rosgulla is the most important brand of Bengali culture and the face of Bengali cuisine. Sondesh prepared from milk and sugar is another widely consumed dessert.
Fish preparations in Bengali cuisine top the list when it comes to satiating the taste buds of true foodies. In Bengali cuisine, they eat almost all parts of the fish, with the head being highly preferred. Freshwater fish, namely carp varieties – rui (rohu), koi (climbing perch), catfish varieties, ilish (Hilsa) as well as shuţki (small dried sea fish) are favorites . Chingri (prawn) is a particular favourite. Ilish saltwater fish (hilsa) is the icon of Bengali cuisine. The fish preparation can be fried, cooked in a sauce based on roasted spicy tomatoes or ginger (jhol), or mustard based with green chillies, steamed, cooked with curd, etc. They even make the fish taste sweet on one side and salty on the other. The other. A Bengali can cook Ilish (Hilsa) in 108 distinct ways.
Calcutta Biryani biryani is much lighter on spices than other biryani. If you are a biryani lover, be sure to eat Kolkata biryani when you go to Kolkata.
You’re on the go all day, so you should make it a point to savor the street food in Kolkata. The simple food available on the street can put a smile on your face and also be light on your stomach. Phuchka, churmur, bhelpuri, kachori, jalebi, bengali samosa and vegetable chos, hot, hot Darjeeling momo are some names that will surely make your mouth water.
How can you miss the gem of Bengali street food, Jhal Muri, in Kolkata. It is one of the most popular and iconic snacks in Bengal – jhal literally meaning ‘hot’ or ‘spicy’. It’s puffed rice with spices, vegetables and raw mustard oil. It is a must for those visiting the city.
With all that spicy street food, you’ll need a glass to wash it down, so don’t forget to ask for a sip of tea in a Sikora (earthenware cup).
Park Street, or now known as Mother Teresa Sarani is a famous road. This place was the center of Kolkata’s nightlife in the 1970s and 1980s. Park Street is still known as “Food Street” and “The Street that Never Sleeps”. It is the main restaurant district of Kolkata with many restaurants and pubs here.
Burrabazar used to be a yarn and textile market, but it is the trading hub and one of the biggest wholesale markets in India. It is one of the main markets where non-Bengali, especially Rajasthanians, come to shop.
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Kolkata and Durga Puja is an unbreakable combination. Almost all offices are closed during this festival, which is celebrated with much spectacle and grandeur during the Ashwin month of the Hindu calendar, i.e. in the months of September and October.
Kolkata Metro or Calcutta Metro is a metro system serving the city of Kolkata. It is the first underground metro railway system in India which opened commercial services in 1984. It is a must visit and travel spot for all visitors to Kolkata.
Obviously, you will need good places to stay when visiting as a traveler. Kolkata has excellent options for stay. Whether you are staying in the colonial part of town or in the newly developed areas near the airport, you will find a hotel to suit your budget. Most travelers nowadays prefer areas like Newtown, Salt Lake and Eastern Bypass etc. due to their proximity to the airport. Various hotel chains have established properties in these areas. The 90-room Howard Johnson by Wyndham Hotels is one such hotel, just 3.1 km and 15 minutes from Kolkata’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport. We stayed at this fun and friendly place that is suitable for the whole family with amenities to put a smile on your face.
(The author is a well-known travel writer. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the position or official policy of Financial Express Online.)