WONDERS OF THE ‘CITY OF JOY’
Call it Calcutta or Kolkata — it is a city that is easy to fall in love with. A city that clings to every bit of its history to preserve its heritage. A bit of the past juxtaposed with the present.
Kolkata is a place that I love to the core. The very thought of visiting the city stirred up excitement in my soul. Come vacation time and I would be looking forward to going to the “City of Joy” to be with my grandma’s maternal family. And to catch up with my Bengali friends, I had this “Bong Connection” to Kolkata. It used to be just one night journey by train from my hometown, Ranchi.
Kolkata is not a city you visit during a short trip. There’s a lot to see and rushing through the tourist traps makes little sense. To get a true feel for the city, you have to stay there for a few days and experience its people, food and traffic jams. To me the only way to experience Kolkata is to live the city life to the fullest. It can feel like being in kaleidoscope. I must have visited Kolkata more than a hundred times but still the diversity of this city never ceases to amaze me.
Let me paint a picture of the city for you. Kolkata has its own unique feel —the old yellow Ambassador taxi, the peeling paint on crumbling colonial architecture and people on the streets everywhere. The ever-spreading banyan trees reluctantly give a little room for modern buildings to squeeze in between. Not an inch of the city is without hustle and bustle.
The most different thing about this city is the iconic mode of transport — the hand-drawn rickshaws pulled by the rickshaw pullers as they weave their way through busy, narrow streets taking tourists in the Bara Bazaar area — the biggest wholesale market in Asia. The rickshaws are scary but the ride is exciting. And the old trams aren’t intimidated by the modern-day SUVs that tailgate them. No matter which mode of transport you take — the taxi, bus or tram — you will definitely enjoy the old Bollywood songs of Kishore Kumar or Kumar Sanu — the two singers every Bengali is proud of.
The Howrah Bridge, a relic cantilever bridge of the British past, stands firm. Everything is so crowded, yet seems so quiet. I usually would take a ferry from Babughat to the Howrah Station as it saves time and lets me enjoy the beauty of the Ganga river. The Ganga is a bubble of calm in the chaotic city of Kolkata. The ferry approaches the Howrah Bridge and somehow, everyone stares in awe, although they see it every day. This colossal, utilitarian edifice has become such an inseparable part of the cityscape, yet, this all-steel structure manages to evoke a sense of wonder.
The flower market right outside the station is one of the busiest markets for fresh flowers and they have it all. No wonder they are available at a very low price.
Dakshineswar, Belur Math, Shantiniketan, Botanical Garden, Niccopark, Birla Planetorium, Rail Museum, Aquatica, Science City and the Victoria Memorial are just a few must-see places but the city has a lot to explore.
The international cricket matches at the Eden Gardens are another popular attraction and former cricketer Sourav Ganguly is yet another pride of Kolkata.
Science City is the largest science museum and a very popular tourist attraction in East Kolkata. There are many educational and fun activities to see and do here. The view of the city from a ropeway is outstanding .
The Victoria Memorial Hall is a must-visit destination located in Maidan. The white marble architectural design will surely catch your attention. This historic hall was built between 1906-1927.
The phaeton ride is one of the major attractions outside the Victoria Memorial, usually as the sun goes down. And the sprawling ground opposite the structure has plenty to offer in the evenings.
No matter how many tourist spots this city has, the food is what attracted me the most. And don’t get mistaken — it’s no luxury restaurant. Kolkata is all about the street food.
Everywhere you turn in the city you can come across food stalls and, believe me, they have the most delicious food. From jhal muri (puffed rice with lots of masala, boiled potatoes, onions and mustard oil), phuchka or the pani puri, chilla (crepes made of lentils), the variety of snacks and samosas is never ending. The best way to finish a meal is with a plate of roshogulla (sweet). The food at one of the famous stalls —Tewaris or the kesar kullahad chai (tea served in a mud pot with strands of saffron) at the Sharma Tea is a must try. I can vividly recall going to Sharma Tea, usually late in the night around 1am, and the stall would be as crowded as if I was there in the middle of the day. Try a bit of everything and I can guarantee you’ll want to visit the place again.