From crumbling colonial structures to the fragrance of the city’s iconic flower market, Kolkata is one of India’s most charming big cities. Famed for its yellow taxis and architectural masterpieces despite modernization, Kolkata is a metropolitan city that has managed to retain all the elements that made it so irresistible to the British.
With a rich culture and streets that tell a story, the city also offers plenty options for tourists. The best time to visit the city is during October and March as the temperatures are cooler, the skies are clearer and in October you may even get to experience the surreal Durga Puja festivities.
Famously known as the City of Joy, Kolkata is rich in heritage and full of interesting places interspersed in every corner of the city. The streets are hectic and chaotic, and the city has created a beautiful juxtaposition of the old charm with a promising future. Admire the art, wonder amidst the bazaar, sit on the banks of the Hooghly River or savour the famous street food; Kolkata has something for everyone.
Where to stay:
In Kolkata, you will find a variety of hotels for a comfortable travel throughout the city. If you wish to stay in the heart of the city pick a hotel near Esplanade, Park Street or Sudder Street. If you want to be closer to the airport, then try hotels near New Town and Chinar Park.
While Kolkata is home to the usual 5-star chains, including The Oberoi Grand, ITC Royal Bengal, JW Marriott, Taj Bengal, ITC Sonar and more, the real charm of the city is found in colonial-era clubs like The Calcutta Club, Saturday Club and Tollygunge Club. These colonial clubs are not only spots for social gatherings but also serve as places to stay with meals included.
What to do:
Formerly the capital of the British empire, Kolkata is divided into new and old Kolkata. The older side of the city has numerous alleys and boulevards. In new Kolkata, you can find swanky modern roads with flyovers and malls and modern offices and apartments. If you want to soak in some of the city’s regal past, take a walk along the streets of North Kolkata, which houses some of the oldest mansions in the city. Amongst the many mansions is Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral house called Jorasankho, now converted into a museum, making it a must-visit for those who love history and literature. For those who enjoy history, the Indian Museum will also serve as a haven for you.
For those who seek some calm amongst the chaos, there are plenty of ghats all over the city where you can sit and enjoy a sunset while sipping on tea — one of the most popular of these being the Prinsep Ghat, which offers stunning views of the Vidyasagar Setu in the backdrop.
An iconic monument of the British Raj in India, the Victoria Memorial is located in the heart of Kolkata. This white-marbled opulent structure was built in memory of Queen Victoria to celebrate her 25 years of rule over India and is almost a replica of the Victoria Memorial in London. The memorial is surrounded by a lush green and well-maintained garden where individuals come to enjoy the outdoors. Spreads over 64 acres, it has numerous statues and sculptures in it, but it is at night when it is illuminated that it looks magnificent. A key attraction is the coveted Sound and Light shows that take place in the evening.
Situated on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, Fort William was built in 1696, the first stronghold of the British in the country. Today, Fort William is the property of the Indian Army and has the capacity to accommodate up to 10,000 army personnel. It also serves as the headquarters of the Eastern Command. Due to its importance with respect to Indian intelligence, access to the interiors of the fort is limited to army personnel and their relatives. However, you can visit the palace for its stunning architecture.
For those who wish to explore a spiritual side, Kalighat Temple is one of the most famous temples of Kolkata and Goddess Kali is considered to be the guardian deity of the city. The idol inside the temple is made of black stone. An interesting feature of the Goddess Kali of Kalighat temple is the long protruding tongue, made of pure gold. Unwind and spend a few minutes in a spiritual haven.
Yet another sacred temple is Belur Math, a sacred space visited by people from all over the world, irrespective of their religious beliefs. The temple is known for its distinctive architecture, which fuses Hindu, Christian and Islamic motifs as a symbol of the unity of all religions. Be blown away by the power of spirituality as you attend the evening aarti that takes place at 5:30 PM. However, unlike all other temples, for the aarti here one is expected just to sit and meditate and there are no religious offerings made. The peace in the Belur Math would be quite a pleasant experience for those who want to temporarily find some calm.
The most iconic landmark of Kolkata is the Howrah Bridge, and you can’t say you’ve visited Kolkata without stopping here to be awe inspired. Built across the Hooghly River, it connects the city to Howrah Station and is said to be the fourth busiest cantilever bridge in the world. The opulence of the bridge, however, comes alive when it is lit up at night and you can even take a ferry ride to get a view of the city. What makes this bridge unique is the fact that it was built without a single nut or bolt and is held together by rivets.
Just below the Howrah Bridge, is the largest flower market in Kolkata, the Mullick Ghat Flower Market. The market starts at 4 am as the flower sellers from the nearby areas pour in with their merchandise and continues through the day. With a fresh fragrant smell, chaos and a wide variety of flowers and colours, this is a paradise for nature lovers (and even those who aren’t). The sheer variety makes this a sight to behold.
Move away from the city to the lush Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden. The garden covers a huge area of 273 acres and contains about 12000 plants making it an ideal choice for a day visit. The main attraction of the Botanical Gardens is the colossal banyan tree known as the Great Banyan Tree. This tree forms the second-largest canopy in the world. Being a breath of fresh air amidst the chaos, this is the best place to unwind.
Street Food and Shopping
Shopaholics, don’t be disheartened, Kolkata has plenty for you as well. They say the best way to dive deep into the culture of a city is by exploring its craft, and what better than a stop at the local markets? The New Market, Esplanade Market, Camac Street, Quest Mall, and Gariahat Market are shopper’s paradise where you can find everything under the sun. But when in Kolkata, don’t forget to make a pit stop at Sabysachi’s Flagship Store if you have an unapologetic love for Indian couture and flamboyance.
However, what characterises Kolkata most is the street food! Kolkata is a foodies’ paradise and street food in Kolkata is one of the best. Some delicacies of Kolkata include lip-smacking rolls, phuchkas, bhelpuri, papri chaat, jhalmuri or ghugni chaat. But, Bengali food is definitely about sweets and lots of sweet dishes and no meal is ever complete without the quintessential rosogolla. Some of the best street food experiences include Puchkas at Vivekananda Park. Yet another dish to try is Churmur, a cousin of the phuchka family that is hard to resist.
Have kathi rolls at Zaika, Kusum and Hot Kathi Roll in Park Street, or Luchi – Alu Dom (similar to poori and dum aloo) at Fairlie Place. The Stock Exchange road is a great place to find Chilla, Dal Pakori and Dahi Chaat. Yet another must-have is ghugni chaat at Dacres Lane or make your way for deep-fried snacks from brinjal fries to fried fish, egg chops to mutton chops at the same place. From the traditional breakfast dishes by Kolkata’s Muslim community at Park Circus to the Dal Ghosht at Zeeshan and Tiretti Bazaar’s fishball soup and dim sums, the list is extensive. So be sure to head out with a BIG appetite and space for extra calories.
Coming to the sweet treats… from Roshogolla to Misti Doi, innumerable varieties of Sandesh, Rasmalai, Rajbhog and the sweet Payesh; it is impossible to not visit a sweatshop when in Kolkata. Balaram Mullick and Radharam Mullick are nothing short of institutions when it comes to sweets in Kolkata, making them a non-negotiable part of your visit.
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