The British capital of yester years, Kolkata, the cultural capital of India, still holds the old British monuments to their splendor. Sights of colonial architecture, cultural evenings and the soft running moods of the Hooghly River, Kolkata has something for everyone. The people, the place, the culture, all have made it a city of various colors and moods.
A fine blend of the old and the new, it has the only underground railway of India, coexisting peacefully with hand pulled rickshaws and trams, as a means of transport. Standing tall to the legendary Howrah Bridge, it has the new Vidyasagar Setu. Moreover it is also the home to Rabindranath Tagore and Mother Teresa, cricket player Saurav Ganguly and Oscar award winning director Satyajit Ray.
Recently changed from Calcutta to Kolkata, its history is 300 years old. Job Charnock merged the three islands Sutanati, Govindpuri and Kolkata to form the present-day Kolkata. Kolkata's development took place, only after defeating Siraj-ud-daula in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, marking the beginning of British rule in India and the capital of British India.
Later in 19th century, when Bengal became an important center in the struggle for Indian independence, the British shifted their capital to Delhi, in 1922. Loss of political power did not alter the economic control of Kolkata, and the city continued to prosper until after World War II. Later the Partition of Bengal into West Bengal and East Bengal (Once East Pakistan, now Bangladesh), saw a tremendous influx of refugees, as did again, during the Bangladesh war.
Moreover, to escape floods, people from every part of Bengal would rush into Kolkata, seeking employment and money. This gave Kolkata, an uncontrolled population and an economy, cut in half. Yet the city remains to date one of the most progressive and economically advanced cities in India.
A city with strong cultural, literary and religious flavors, Kolkata is the cultural capital of India, whose icons are mishti doi, jhol, puja, theatre, Rabindra sangeet and Tollywood. A Bengali city, its influence of Bengali culture, is seen in every aspect. Seemingly blind to the dirt in the rest of the city, they guard the Metro (Only underground railway of India) with a ferocity that is almost amusing. Despite the problems, Kolkata is a city of many colors that has risen up and produced many writers, statesmen, sports personae and creative minds, in every possible field that the country can be proud of. Mother Teresa, Rabindranath Tagore, Saurav Ganguly, Satyajit Ray, Sharmila Tagore and Amartya Sen to name a few.
Home of many of leaders of India, activities in the field of fine arts, music, dance, theatre and writing make the city a happening place.
Kolkata is a true gourmet experience and dining is not under the 5* canvas! Try the mutton chaap at Dhaba or the aromatic biryani from Shiraz. For some serious indulgence, opt for the kaathi rolls at Nizams or the impromptu corner at Karnani Mansions, try the double egg double mutton combo for the best burp! Mughlai food comes attractively packaged at the old favourites -- Tandoor and Amber.
The sweet-lover could not be in a better heaven, for come New Year and the festive season, the city gets baked and rolled in delightful variations. Walk in to Flurry's for the traditional mince pies and the famous Christmas pudding, and carry back some of the great stickjaw and disc-shaped peppermints. Take a mouthful of the decadent rum balls at Nahoums in New Market or sample some fruitcake in the baker's lane; remember to buy packets of the cheery barley sugar/ candy that the city is famous for.
Ganguram never fails to satisfy with soft rossogollas while the sandesh freaks can head to Bhimnath; for the best mishti doi, stop over at Sen Mohashoi's. Kolkata's hallmark phuchkas are great for a snack. This Bong variation of the golgappa/ pani puri is best at Metro Goli and Dhakuria Lake.
Chinese food is at its best with soups, momos and flaky rice accompanied by flavourful preparations of prawn, chicken, lamb, beef and fish. Some of the best in the city is available at Chungwa and Waldorf. Outer city limits offer the famous Tangra eateries of China Haus and Kafulok.
The New Market, which was founded in 1874, is the oldest shopping establishment in the city. It is also known as the ?Hog Market?. You can purchase everything from saris and jewellery, to vegetables and poultry under the same roof. Other markets such as the Air-Conditioned Market and Vardaan Market have lots of shops where you can buy clothes, shoes and sundry. Kolkata is famous for its Tangail saris and these can be found in abundance at Kundahar, 10, Sarat Banerjee Road and Ananda, Russell Street. For handicrafts and textiles you should visit Dakshinapan, which houses several emporia such as Gurjari or the Bengal Home Industries off Lord Sinha Road. You can purchase good Chinese shoes at the Chinese shoe shops in New Market, and if you are looking for mishti doi (sweet curd) or rasgollas, try Ganguram or K C Das.
Durga Puja is the main festival in Kolkata. The entire city is bedecked a week before the puja begins, and you will find it next to impossible to move around the city during this time. The Durga Puja usually takes place in October and all Bengalis are dressed in their finery for the occasion. You have beautiful pandals dotting the city, and there is a prize for the best pandal every year. There is a lot of music, dazzling lights, movement and the city generally has an air of festive gaiety about it.
Saraswati Puja is held in February in honour of the goddess of learning and music.
The Bengali New Year or Poila Baisakh is celebrated on 14th April with the worship of Lord Ganesh.
Dover Lane Festival includes all night festivals of Indian classical music, both vocal and instrumental.
The Sagar Mela is held at Sagar Island off Diamond Harbour in January.
The Vintage Car Rally is held in January and draws large crowds who come to see and admire the cars of yesteryears.
Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, sprawls right along the eastern bank of the Hooghly River.
Kolkata is an important air communication link to north-east India. IA, Alliance, Jet and Sahara all fly to Kolkata. IA flights are from Agartala, Ahmedabad, Aizawl, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Delhi, Dibrugarh, Dimapur, Guwahati and a host of other cities. Jet has a daily flight from Bangalore (via Hyderabad), Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai. It also has flights every Wednesday and Friday from Jorhat. Although the international airport is not as big as Delhi and Mumbai, there are many international flights from Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, and various destinations in East and Southeast Asia and Europe. Airport: Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport is in Dum Dum, 20 km from the city centre.
One of the major railheads in India with frequent trains via the Eastern Railway connecting the metro to most parts of the country. Some important connections are the Poorva Express, Kalka Mail and Rajdhani Express (from Delhi), the Madras Mail and Coromandel Express (from Chennai) and the Gitanjali Express and Mumbai Mail (from Mumbai). Additionally, the Darjeeling Mail plies to New Jalpaiguri from the Sealdah Railway Station. Railway station: Kolkata has two main railway stations ? Howrah, which is on the other side of the Hooghly River and Sealdah. Howrah is the busier of the two and is easily accessible from all over the city; Sealdah services the northeastern zone.
CSTC (Kolkata State Transport Corporation), NBSTC (North Bengal State Transport Corporation) and SBSTC (South Bengal State Transport Corporation) run buses connecting Kolkata to various destinations in West Bengal and other states. There is also a bus to Phuntshiling (Bhutan) via Siliguri. Bus terminus: The State Transport Bus Stand is in Esplanade.
Kolkata is connected to Port Blair by a streamer service run by the Shipping Corporation of India.
Being near the coast, Kolkata is very humid all through the year. The summers are very warm, with temperatures ranging between 38.1? C and 41.7? C. Winter temperatures range between 16? C and 29? C.
A fine example of British architecture, the Victoria Memorial stands proud in the heart of the city. Built as a memorial for Queen Victoria, this milk white marble museum, recalls India's colonial past. There are organized light and sound shows, which are held every day of the week, at the Victoria Memorial, Monday's, which is the only day the memorial is not open to visitors.
The goddess Kali represents the destructive side of Shiva's consort and this can be witnessed every morning outside the Kalighat Temple, where there is a daily goat sacrifice. Be wary of temple priests, who latch onto you and demand donations. The Kali Temple was once neat and clean but over time it has become busy and commercial. Despite this, followers of the goddess, visit this temple in hordes. Calcutta takes its name from Kalighat, where this temple is located.
To fix your culture fix, head out towards Shantiniketan, the venerable institution, founded by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. The Viswabharati University, 2 km from the nearest railway station Bolpur (a three-hour train ride from Kolkata), is known as a center of international studies and culture. Uttarayan, a complex where Tagore lived, houses a museum and an art gallery. 3 km from Shantiniketan lies Sriniketan, a center for traditional handicrafts like batik, pottery, weaving, kantha embroidery and dokhra tribal handicrafts. Theres a lodge runs by the Tourism Center, as well as some good private hotels such as the Camellia, Chhuti and Marks Meadow.
If you travel by rail, Howrah Bridge is the first Kolkata sight. It was constructed after 1943 and spans over 450 m. It is also known as the Rabindra Setu, and over 10,000 people and vehicles ply across it everyday, making it one of the busiest bridges in the world. Walking across it, is often the easiest bet, instead of waiting for the traffic to ease its way through the narrow bridge.
It is one of the first important churches built in India. Just east of the Victoria Memorial, this imposing structure is marked by beautiful stained glass. The kind of calm one feels within this church is truly remarkable, and if you are the kind of person who likes to spend a quiet moment with yourself, in the midst of a busy day, this place is a must-visit for you.
Dalhousie Square, renamed Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh, after the three martyrs of Bengal, is located in the heart of the city. Historical buildings like the Writers Building, Raj Bhavan, State Legislative Assembly, Kolkata High Court, St Johns Cathedral, GPO and Reserve Bank of India surround it on all sides.
The Birla Planetarium is one of the largest of its kind in India. It occupies a place in the center of bustling Kolkata and its dome like structure can be seen from almost every part of the city. They have daily shows in English and Hindi.
Just 185 km away from Kolkata, Digha is one of the most popular seaside retreats of West Bengal, with a fabulous 7km beach on the East Coast. It is renowned for its flat hard golden sands and is surrounded by fishing hamlets. This tranquil little place was a hit with the British sahibs, who fondly referred to it, as Brighton of the East. There is very little to do here, except take long walks, loll on the beach and of course enjoy the fantastic seafood. But the serenity of the place will lure you to come back.
BOTANICAL GARDEN - The largest and oldest of its kind in India, the Botanical Garden in Shibpur, Howrah was laid out in 1787. It covers an area of 109.27 km. and is famous for the old Great Banyan tree, which is 250 yrs old, and which covers 382 m in its circumference, with over 600 acres. EDEN GARDENS - The famous Eden Gardens, have surpassed their identity as gardens. They house the Kolkata cricket ground, where some of the most famous cricket matches in the history of the country, have taken place, such as the 1996 World Cup, semi-final match between India vs. Srilanka. KALIGHAT - The goddess Kali represents the destructive side of Shiva's consort and this can be witnessed every morning, outside the Kalighat Temple, where there is a daily goat sacrifice. Be wary of temple priests who latch onto you and demand donations. MALDA - This town, located 365 km north of Kolkata, was formerly known as English Bazaar. An English factory was established here in 1771. Malda is the base for visiting Gaur and Pandua, which are sites of archaeological finds. While Gaur has been the capital to VISHNUPUR - An interesting weekend getaway, Vishnupur, is famous for the exquisite 17th and 18th century terracotta temples and the seat of classical music. King Raghunath I of the Malla Dynasty founded Vishnupur in the 19th century.