Calcutta Travel Guide

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Flower Market

Flower Market

S. Basu


Calcutta , also famous as the "City of Joy" is one of the largest city of India and the capital of West Bengal. It is a city made famous by its people and its culture. However, being one of the most populated cities in the world, it has its associated problems. Still all Calcuttans regard it as a "fascinating , bewitching and bewildering" city and it is well worth a visit. Calcutta is known to a lot of people because of mother Teresa and her charity works. Although she passed away, the helping of the poorest of the poor still continues.

Popular belief is that Calcutta was an obscure village before 1686 , when Job Charnock, a British merchant decided to make a settlement there. However, recent studies suggest that Calcutta was an area of pilgrimage in the medieval age.

Durga Puja, which is celebrated every autumn , is the main festival of Calcutta and it is a good time to visit Calcutta and get the essence of the city. For five days, the city is all lit up and resonant with the sound of drums. The pandals (where the festivals take place) and the idols of the gods and the goddesses are great works of art.

Apart from religious festivals, there is a myriad of other attractions that make the city richer in its latent tradition. The gorgeous structure of the Victoria Memorial, the tranquility of the St. Paul's Cathedral, the glittering lights of the Second Hooghly Bridge cast a mystic spell over the city centre. The old buildings of North Calcutta, the Marble Palace, The National Musuem preserve the heritage that the city has been flaunting for centuries.

Its the people who always form the attribute of a place, be it urban or rural. Calcutta is no exception. It can be proudly asserted that the Calcuttans are one of the most hospitable and cordial people by any world standards. The city, in fact, derives its vibrant ambience from the people. A rich tradition of education runs in the blood of the Calcuttans and time and again Calcutta has produced some of the best brains in the fields of literature, art, music, science to name a few. In a scorching day when the merciless sun renders someone paralysed by a heat stroke, you can still find a large group of people rushing to his or her help, irrespective of the meagre resources they might have. This is something that is defintely missing in many cities of the world, although they might be studded with skyscrapers and mammoth concrete structures. After all, if there is no feeling or emotion associated then a city would just be a necropolis in spite of all its glittering bounty.

History

Founded in 1690 by Job Charnok of the British East India Company, Calcutta (now renamed KOLKATA) went on to become the Second City of The British Empire. Much of the city went on to decline since it ceased to be the capital of India in 1911. It has been plagued by its fair share of problems, but it remains a well and truly a living city. It is the cultural capital of India. Currently Calcutta is the State capital of west Bengal and is the gateway to Eastern India. To many a westerner Calcutta is a city of poverty and poor hygiene and but to millions it is the City of Joy. Surely the experience will overwhelm most people visiting for the first time but with time you can get the feel of the warmth of it's people, it's rich colonial past, it's vibrant art and culture and so on. Kolkata and its people are passionate about art, literature, music, dance, theatre, and sports. Kolkata has produced international figures in many fields, most notable among them are Nobel Laureates Rabindranath Tagore (Literature), Amartya Sen (Economics), Sir Ronald Ross (Medicine), Prof. C.V. Raman (Physics), Mother Teresa, and Oscar-winning film-maker Satyajit Ray. Calcutta along with the rest of Bengal was also the hotbed of Indian freedom struggle.

Traveling in and out of the City

Calcutta is well connected by Air, Rail and Road. International carriers such as British Airways, KLM, Air India, Singapore Airlines, Royal Jordanian, Royal Nepal, Royal Brunei, Thai Airways, Biman Bangladesh, connect Calcutta with London, New York, Rome, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai, Moscow, Katmandu, Paro (in Bhutan) and Dhaka. Domestic carriers such as Air India, Indian Airlines Sahara, Jet Airways and Alliance Airways connects Calcutta to most parts of India. The airport is at Dumdum and it is 17 Kilometres north-east from the city centre. From the airport to get to the city the best bet is a Pre-paid Taxi. The airport is clean, basic and not overly crowded. The domestic terminal is busier and much more developed than the International terminal. If taking a taxi there do mention which terminal you want. There are money changing facility at the airport and if you already do not have any you should get some changed.

Calcutta is a major railhead and is linked to all parts of the country by an extensive network of trains. The two important stations are at Howrah on the eastern side of Hooghly (just across Howrah Bridge) and Sealdah in the city itself. Railways is the most common mode of transport in India due to its affordability and network coverage. For an excellent website on Indian Railways (the largest employer in the world) from a westerners point of view check out http://www.seat61.com/India.htm. Travellers from UK can also visit http://www.indiarail.co.uk/. Generally long distant train journey has different classes in India. Many backpackers travel Second class for a true experience but for a more convenient journey specially across longer distance try and book yourself into Air-conditioned 2tier or 3tier called AC2 or AC3 or if your budget allows AC First Class. Rail tickets can be booked from 60 days in advance and usually get snapped up quickly. So book your tickets in advance from The Railway Reservation offices around the city or from some travel agents (with some nominal extra fee). Foreigners can buy Indrail passes valid from half day to 90 days which entitles them to reserved seats on special tourist quota. For details contact Tel : 220 2789 when in Calcutta. There are also a lot of frequent rail service to and from the suburban towns from both Howrah and Sealdah stations. Before and after office hours these services can get extremely busy so please try and avoid them coming into Calcutta from 8 am till 11 am and returning from 4 till 8pm.

Calcutta is also connected by road to most parts of the country but journey on road is not recomended unless for shorter journeys, (maximum up to North Bengal). The Grand Trunk Road (read about it from the Lonely Planet) built by the Mughals in 16th century starts from Howrah and continues all the way to Pakistan touching many a important places on the way. This road also connects Calcutta to many popular suburban towns. Regular Bus services serve many places in West Bengal including Siliguri for Darjeeling. The main Bus depot is in Esplanade on Chowringhee area.

City Orientation (Central)

The city sprawls along the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges, which divides it from Howrah on the western bank. For travellers, the most relevant parts of Kolkata are south of the Howrah Bridge in the areas around BBD Bagh and Chowringhee. BBD Bagh, formerly Dalhousie Square, is built around a manmade lake called Laldighi. Around here among others you will find the Writers Building (the seat of the state government), The General Post Office (GPO) Building, The Reserve Bank of India Building, The Raj Bhavan (the Governor's Residence). In this area you will also find The West Bengal Tourism OfficeLalbazar (headquaters of Calcutta Police), other travel agencies, and other Government offices. A little west towards Strand Road you will find the main Railway Reservation Office at Fairley Place. South of BBD Bagh is the huge, lush green, open parkland known as Maidan. Continuing south from here you will find Eden Gardens (one of the most famous cricket stadium in the world), All India Radio building, Red Road and Fort William, the massive and impregnable British Citadel built in 1773. The fort is still in use and retains its well-guarded grandeur. Visitors are allowed in with special permission only. Along St. George’s Gate Road, on the southern fringe of the Maidan, you will find Calcutta's most famous landmark Victoria Memorial, a splendid white marble monument. Around the Eden Gardens you will find most of the football clubs of Calcutta including archrivals Mohan Bagan and East Bengal.

Going East from Raj Bhavan at the edge of Maidan is the area known as Chowringhee. Here you'll find most of the hotels, as well as many of the restaurants, banks and airline offices. Sudder Street runs off Chowringhee Rd and is famous for its budget hotels. At the junction of Chowringhee Road and Sudder Street you can find the Indian Museum building. Further south down Chowringhee Road, which runs along the eastern edge of the Maidan, is Park Street, with it's up market restaurants and shops and a few hotels. Further down you will come across Ho Chi Min Street with American and British embassies. Continuing along you will find Birla Planetarium (second largest in the world, with daily shows in English, Hindi and Bengali), Victoria Memorial, St. Paul's Cathedral (largest Anglican Church in Calcutta), Nandan (centre hosting international film festivals) and Rabindra Sadan. Turing right from here towards Alipore you will find the Zoological Gardens, Calcutta Race Course and the National Library. Also around here you will find Vidyasagar Setu (popularly known as second hooghly Bridge). you can cross the bridge back towards Howrah and visit The Botanical Gardens at Sibpur.

Rest of the City

Calcutta's underground called the Metro runs from Dum Dum in the north to Tollygunge in the South traveling through Esplanade (for Chowringhee), Park Street, Maidan (for Victoria Memorial, and Planetarium), Rabindra Sadan and Kalighat. It is quick, efficient, clean lot less crowded than overland transport and is a recommended way to travel whenever and wherever possible. The Northern part of Calcutta houses the old buildings belonging to the Zamindars (Landlords), other rich Bengali people who were trading with the British. It is generally crowded and has some interesting markets including the famous College Street Book market where you can trace many out of print books with a little patience. While in College Street a visit to the College St Coffee Shop is a must. Also around the area are the Calcutta Medical College, the Presidency college and Calcutta University. North of Chowringhee you will find  the the Nakhoda Mosque (the largest mosque in Calcutta) and the  Marble Palace where you will find The oldest zoo in Calcutta and a wide collection of art inside a palacial old Calcutta building. Further along you will find Jorasanko Thakur Bari (Tagore Family residence). From the Belgachia metro station you can visit the Pareshnath Jain Temple. From the Sovabazar Metro station you can visit the other less travelled Pareshnath Jain Temple at Gouribari (take an auto rickshaw). Travelling further east towards Ultadanga past the VIP Road you can go to Salt Lake City. It is an Satellite city of Calcutta housing the IT hub of Eastern India, some shopping Emporiums and the amusement park by the name of Nicco Park. There is also Nalban Boating Complex and Aquatica Water Park here. Across the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass road you will find The Swabhumi Heritage Park where one can sample local arts and crafts as well as some of the food from its various stalls. Travelling further along the Bypass you can visit the Science City at the junction of Park Circus Connector. From here you can easily reach Chowringhee area. Around Park circus is also the China Town housing some of the finest Chinese eateries. Kalighat temple (housing Calcutta's patron deity) lies just south of Maidan. Right next to the temple is Mother Teresa's Hospital for the destitute.

Southern Calcutta is less congested and more modern. You will find more apartment blocks, more green spaces and more affluent homes housing the cream of the modern society. Here you will find among others The Tollygunge Club (one of the oldest clubs and the most famous colonial relic housing a golf course, horse riding facilities, accommodation etc.), Rabindra Sarovar (big open lake and park area housing boating clubs, open air theatre and eateries), Birla Industrial & Technological Museum, and  Royal Calcutta Golf Club (the oldest golf club in the world after St. Andrews, Scotland). Tollygunge also houses Tollywood (the home of Bengali Films), Television centre among others. Jadavpore houses The Jadapore University. The Indian Institute of Management is in Joka. Golpark houses Ramkrishna Mission Institute. Gariahat has a good market to buy Saris and other clothing items. Birla Temple is the largest temple in Calcutta and is worth a visit. In Kidherpore you will find the Calcutta port.

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: Resident once and Treasurer of St Paul's Youth Club 1973.

Contributors

May 13, 2004 change by richardosinga

March 12, 2007 change by giorgio

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