Whether you arrive at Howrah, or at Dumdum Airport, the first thing you notice about Kolkata is the sultry humidity that seems to be everywhere. The first hundred metres you walk in the city will probably result in a thin film of sweat on your brow.
The enthusiasm and cacophony is unparalleled however. Step out of the terminal/railway station, and you will be immediately accosted by excited taxi drivers, asking you where you want to go. Choose your ride, slam the door of the large ambassador shut, and be on your way.
Driving through the city streets, one immediately notices the difference between Kolkata and other Indian cities. There are not many glitzy skyscrapers, like Mumbai or Delhi, nor are there a multitude of malls. Look closely, while the taxi slowly makes its way through traffic, and you will see old buildings, with massive balconies, their paint peeling off, reminiscent of a glorious time gone by.
Kolkata refuses to budge and is very happy in its own time zone – one which encourages its relaxed and languid character. On the surface, the city isn’t much. But delve deeper, and you will be swept away by a wave of culture, fun, food and frolic.
Every tourist who visits Kolkata, does the usual tourist routine, visiting famous landmarks. However, the soul of the City of Joy is entrenched deeply in other places as well. Kolkata is a sum total of unique experiences. While every one of them might not be detailed below, the list is a great starting point for anyone who wants to explore Kolkata slightly differently.
1. Go back in time, thanks to the stunning architecture:
Bengal has always been a cultural hub. During the days of the British Raj, Kolkata was India’s capital. The British constructed many buildings and localities here and their architectural designs are easily recognisable. To view the finest examples of British architecture, go for a walk to Dalhousie.
Regarded as the central business district of the city, it is a place where you can expect to see MNC companies housed in gorgeous British-era buildings. Now known as B.B.D Bagh, the area houses many business and political institutions from the colonial era as well.
Feast your eyes on the Writer’s Building, the secretariat of the Government of the State of West Bengal, the General Post Office, the Royal Insurance Building, and other regal structures. The Central Telegraph Office, Royal Insurance Building, and Hong Kong House are a testament to the architectural prowess of the British.
2. Dig into the city’s famous food: The city is a foodie’s playground. Kolkata is known for its varied street-food and a stroll down the Maidan area during evening hours won’t disappoint you. Row upon row of stalls, sell chaat, bhelpuri, papri-chaat, jhal-muri, and other lip-smacking delicacies.
After you have satiated yourself, dig into the hot pakodas, bhajiyas and sip warm tea in and around Dalhousie. Kolkata has the distinction of inventing the ‘kathi-roll’ and Nizam is the best place to dig into these sumptuous rolls. Right next door to Nizam, Aminia serves some of the best biryani in the city. Kolkata’s biryani is very famous, and some really good biryani can be eaten at Arsalan, and Royal Hotel.
3. Indulge your sweet tooth:
It is no secret that Bengal is a hub for sweets. There are so many varieties of Bengali sweets, one is usually spoilt for choice. From the humble Sandesh, to the legendary nolen gur, to the rich, delectable paayesh – scores of varieties of sweets are available here. Bengali sweet-shops are often handed down from generation to generation, with each very proud of the family heritage.
The recipes have been perfected and patented over time. Many of these legendary sweet-shops have been established during the 1800’s as well. Visit K.C Das in central Kolkata, for the famed Rosogolla. Since 1866, this shop has been churning out sweet delights for the population. Their Rosogolla is legendary, so much so that a stamp has been released in the inventor Nobin Chandra Das’s name. 2020 will be his 175th birth anniversary.
To eat the best Sandesh in the city, and possibly in the world, head to the old, and aristocratic Girish Chandra Dey & Nakur Chandra Nandy. Established in 1844, this shop is the Sandesh capital of the globe. Dig into the Chana Sandesh, and Jol Bhora Sandesh, to experience nirvana.
4. Jive to some live music: Kolkata has always been famous for its legendary music scene. Many stalwarts, like Usha Uthup, started their career singing in one of the many jazz clubs in the city.
Live rock and jazz across Park Street during the heady 60s and 70s saw Arthur Gracias play at Magnolia’s, Joe Perreira at Blue Fox, Delailah at Moulin Rouge and Shirley Myers at El Morocco.
Mr Amitabh Bachchan, a young sales executive in Kolkata during the 60s, occupied a window table in Trinca’s – considered the Mecca of Live Music in Kolkata.
Today, enter Park Hotel’s Someplace Else, and you will have the fortune of witnessing a live band. Every day, this watering-hole, known for its tight sound, hosts a band on stage. Someplace Else is Kolkata’s answer to the world’s Hard Rock franchise, except that the former has no other branches.
On Fridays, if you enter at 9:30 p.m, you might just catch the opening strains of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on you crazy diamond”, while you order your beer.
5. Get in touch with your spiritual side:
Kolkata offers you ample scope to get in touch with your spiritual side. If you wish to volunteer, or donate, do visit Mother Teresa’s House. The Missionaries of Charity are based out of this location.
Millions of devotees have come to pay homage to Mother Teresa, who is buried here.
Kolkata has many religious monuments of great significance. The Kali Temple in Kalighat, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Tipu Sultan’s mosque are just some of the famous places of worship in the city.
6. Shop till you drop: Kolkata is famous for being reasonable. Yes, there are high-street fashion outlets, where you can splurge more than what is needed, but the real joy lies in finding bargains that your friends will find hard to believe. Hit the streets to find some sweet deals. For chunky junk jewellery, the hawkers outside Oberoi Grand are the best. If you want clothes, head to the New Market vicinity, where sellers shout out prices till their voices turn hoarse.
Explore the Gariahat market, famous for everything from stoles to scarves, purses and ethnic clothing. Remember to bargain, as these prices aren’t fixed!
7. Raise a toast:
Kolkata, like every city, has its own unique set of cheap watering holes. Some of these establishments have a unique atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere. Oly Pub, on Park Street, is one such place. Carry currency; this place doesn’t accept cards! Known for its steaks and reasonable liquor prices, Oly Pub attracts everyone, from students in groups to middle-aged executives looking to nurse a few quiet drinks.
Another unique bar in Kolkata is Shaw’s, in Esplanade. This bar has an old-fashioned LED ticker, that shows the prices of the drinks. Here, it is difficult to find a place, and it gets so packed that waiters often stack glasses on top of each other while delivering orders. Don’t be surprised, if a waiter with a stack around 4 feet tall, passes you by.
8. Go to the river-side, and take a boat ride: The Hooghly river runs through the city and is a lifeline for many people living on its banks. The banks have been beautified, and during evening hours, are the perfect place for a leisurely stroll.
Populated with street-food vendors, the river-bank also has boats parked along it. Take a ride on the boat, and go under the massive suspension bridges across the river. Notice how large and imposing a ship’s hull looks, from the deck of a small dinghy. The boatman will take you for a short ride, paddling to navigate his way. That boat ride, for many, encapsulates the lazy, laid back and poetic soul of the city.
9. Catch a movie:-
Now, you might be wondering why should this be different from a theatre experience anywhere else? The answer is – Nandan. This theatre is unique in its own way- a government-sponsored film and cultural centre. Its primary aim is to encourage and facilitate cinematic awareness in the city.
Nandan hosted the Kolkata International Film Festival, India’s second oldest film festival, till 2010. Nowadays, a little magazine festival is also organised on its premises. Film buffs take note -Nandan was inaugurated by none other than Satyajit Ray, in 1985.
10. Indulge your inner science buff:- Kolkata loves science, and there is no denying that Science City, is quite a fascinating place. It houses a Space Odyssey, Dynamotion, Evolution Park Theme Tour, a Maritime Centre, and an Earth Exploration Hall. In terms of technology and architecture, Science City is unbelievable. There are many interactive installations, depicting simple and complex scientific laws.
Adults and kids both find this engaging place highly addictive. Once you finish learning the principles of science, learn astronomy in the Birla Planetarium. A circular shaped structure, it is known for its sky show. Various aspects of astronomy, and interesting stories about the world beyond our Earth are sure to keep you engaged.
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This February, Show Some Love For Your City!
We love our city, and we bet you love yours too. And since cities are meant to be experienced and not just seen, this Valentine’s Day, The Better India is celebrating the unique experiences — places, food and activities — that define 14 Indian cities!
So VOTE for your favourite city, SHARE what you love about it and TELL us your ideas for making it even better!