Whether you are a foodie, an architecture enthusiast, a book worm, a history buff, or a poet at heart, Kolkata has something for everyone, says Kalyani Majumdar who lists six must-do activities to do in the city
Through the meandering streets and by lanes flanked with a mix of colonial, vernacular and modern built structures you land on a busy street where along with cars, bikes and buses you see a tram moving at its own pace. That is Kolkata for you! With all the hustle and bustle of a city it still manages to have a whiff of leisurely pace to it.
The Trams from yore
Did you know that the trams in Kolkata are the oldest electrically operated trams in Asia?At first when it was introduced by the British in 1873 it was horse drawn. In 1902 they became electric. This is the only tram network in India which is still operating. The slow pace of a tram ride gives you an opportunity to enjoy the sight and sound of the city properly and has the added feel good factor that your mode of transport is environment friendly. The old trams still have wooden interiors. If you want to feel nostalgic of the good old days then choose a tram ride that take you northwards of the city as that is the old part of Kolkata.
College Street and Coffee House
The name College Street goes back to 1817 when Sir David Hare started the Hindu College. Now of course, it also has Kolkata’s most prestigious and renowned academic institutions such as the University Of Calcutta, Calcutta Medical College, Presidency College, Sanskrit College and Hare School. This stretch is a paradise for book lovers. It is a one stop place for all your book search.
Once you are done with your book browsing, stop at the legendary Coffee House. Even if the coffee they serve is too sweet for your palate, and the fact that the place does not have fancy amenities, it can beat any modern coffee shop for its old world charm. A spiral staircase takes you to the coffee house. Waiters wearing headdressgreets you, as a young Rabindranath Tagore lookson over everyone from his life size portrait. The place has been graced by notable personalities such as Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray, Manna Dey, Amartya Sen, Shashi Kapoor and Aparna Sen to name a few.
The entire city is filled with delectable food to try out. Bhojohori Manna is a good place to try out authentic Bengali cuisine. Thedaabchingri (prawns) and bhapaIlish (steamed hilsa) are mouth-watering. Also vegetarian dishes such asmochar chop (banana flower) and alooposto (potatoes cooked in poppy seeds) are delicious. Another interesting feature of this place is that the menu changes according to the season. Without dessert a meal is quite incomplete and for that a trip tothe famous K.C Das must be part of your itinerary. Entice your taste buds with sweets made of nolengur (date plamjaggery) and of course theroshogullahs (cottage cheese balls soaked in sweet syrup) and also lyangcha (fried sweetmeat made of flour and cottage cheese dipped in sugar syrup). When walking on the streets of Kolkata there are ample opportunities to snack on street food such asphuchka(which is Bengali version of paanipuri) and jhaalmuri(puffed rice snack).
Exploring the streets, museumsand ghats
Walking is the best way to not miss the vibrant energy of the city. Amix of architectural styles can be observed such as the Victorian, Neo classical, Indo-Saracenic and also few art-deco buildings.Do not miss the majestic Esplanade mansion, built in 1910. Also, visit the Indian Museum. It is the oldest in India founded in 1814. In 1878 it was transferred to the present building. It houses an Egyptian mummy.
Make a trip to the Marble Palace in North Kolkata. Walking around this property takes you back to the 19th century. It is a popular location for movie shoots. Also, nearby is the JorasankhoThakurbari. It was built in 1785and was the ancestral home of Rabindranath Tagore. It houses a lovely museum which is worth visiting. After a good measure of history and culture take a leisurely walk either at the PrincepGhat or the OutramGhat in the evening. It is highly recommended that you take a boat ride under the starlit sky and appreciate theVidyasagarSetu, a cable-stayed bridge from the river.
A dose of spirituality
Plan an early morning visit to the beautiful Dakkhineshwar temple. It was built in 1855 by Rani Rashmoniand has a traditional Bengali nine-spired architectural style. The spacious temple complexis dedicated to Goddess Kali and is associated with the spiritual leader Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa.From here take a boat ride across Hooghly River to visit Belur Math. It was founded in 1938 by Swami Vivekananda. The serene and quiet atmosphere at Belur is a perfect place to unwind while providing a splendid view of the river.
The potters of Kumartuli
A trip to Kolkata is incomplete without visiting Kumartuli. The name Kumartuli or Kumortuli comes from the Bengali word kumor meaning potter and tuli meaning locality. As you negotiate through the labyrinthine lanes of this area it is like visiting an art and crafts workshop. Rows of idols of Durga and the entire pantheon can be seen standing on either sides of the narrow lanes as you see sculptors in action. The idols for Durga Puja are prepared here and also exported to different parts of the world. It is an amazing place for budding photographers and is a delightful experience to interact with the potters.
Although the name of the city changed from Calcutta to Kolkata in 2001, the city has managed to keep the unique mix of both worlds alive in a graceful manner, and that is perhaps what adds to the extraordinary charm that Kolkata imbues.
Photo credit: Kalyani Majumdar