I am back in Kolkata and this time with a group of my expat friends living in Delhi who are a part of my ‘Explore India Club’. I want them to see Kolkata my way. I have booked us at a landmark that has witnessed the unfolding history of India, principally of Bengal — The Hyatt Regency Kolkata. When Jay Pritzker bought a Los Angeles airport hotel from businessmen Hyatt von Dehn and Jack Dyer Crouch in 1957, it marked the beginning of the story of one of the best-known hotel chains in the world.
In 2002, the City of Joy become home to the Hyatt Regency Kolkata. The moment I enter the gates of the hotel, I pause to take in the Hyatt Regency’s heritage and history through the beautiful driveway and lobby. The air of composure sets in, our check-in is done in a jiffy and we are led to our room. The Waterside Cafe is where we and others choose to kick off the day with a nourishing breakfast with superfoods. La Cucina is where decadent Sunday brunches turn into sundowners — I have booked that for our last afternoon in this lovely city.
City on foot
One of Kolkata’s paramount assets, aka Tangra Chinatown, is a captivating place to visit. It is the only place in India that is home to sizeable residents of Chinese heritage, where old Chinese ethnicities and customs are well-preserved. I will endorse the unsurpassed way to see a city is on foot, and I am a big fan of walking tours. It also makes impeccable sense to have a walking tour in Kolkata with its scarcely motorable streets. We are on the Chinatown walk that goes through the city’s old part. The tour is led by Manjit Singh Hoonjan, the creator of Calcutta Photo Tours, an urban voyager whose understanding of the city goes beyond the encyclopedia. He’s well-informed, full of treasured trivia and a generous guide, supplying us with peanuts and kulhads of hot tea.
A little distance from Manjit’s home in Bowbazar, which we reach somewhere in the middle of this specific walk, are the residences of Bow Barracks, with its locally created bakery items and wines, and the Buddhist Temple Street, with its rest house for travellers. The route also brings us the flavour of Kolkata’s Chinese heritage. Soon, we are at Old Chinatown, where I find shops with pork sausages dangling from their windows (and a pool of pig parts piled up below).
On this walking tour, we also venture into the Chinese temple, Sea Ip Church. By now we have explored Old Chinatown. We cross over to grab a bite of the famous noodles before we finish the walk with a delightful Chinese lunch at Tung Nam restaurant, said to be one of the oldest remaining Chinese restaurants in Kolkata. If you are looking for a shutterbug to capture your memories with a good chat, Manjit has you covered.
A visit to Kolkata is incomplete if you haven’t reserved a table at the classic home of flair and style, Flurys. With its European heritage, Flurys is viewed as the place to be for indulging in top quality cakes, pastries, chocolates, cookies and other items in the well-heeled Park Street. Flurys prides itself in being a space that is stress-free, modern and chic and where one can sit and relax in luxury. I would recommend the baked beans on toast and the rum balls... divine!
Dinner that night is at Sneha Singhi’s home; the expats are a bit wary going to a home where they do not know anyone. I have known Sneha since she opened her first Paris Café many years ago, and I know she’s a brilliant chef; her better half, Saugat, is an excellent host. We break the ice over drinks and fish fry followed by a delicious Bengali meal comprising kosha mangsho, aloo dum, luchi, murgir jhol, among other dishes.
To finish off the meal, Sneha serves us some black tea infused with spices, with a decent quantity of sugar; the tea is usually served after a meal to aid digestion. Dessert comes in the form of sandesh. We all have an intimate chat about Bengali food and lifestyle, which is something one should absolutely explore; it is a good way to immerse oneself in local customs.
The tastiest momos
On our last day, we head to The Blue Poppy Thakali, where we try spicy chicken and vegetables and fried rice. We absolutely OD on baskets of baskets of steamed momos. In our defence, they’re beautifully juicy and tasty and no one makes them like Doma Wong does. Interestingly, the restaurant’s made the crossover from cliché momo joints to smart global, drawing residents and expats alike. Thanks to its smart format and sticking to tradition with butter tea. Did I say butter tea? Now this is an idea to get back home. Next, we speed to the ghat for a boat ride.
On the way back, we achieve all our clandestine Bollywood ambitions by hopping through the gorgeous Victoria Memorial. Undeniably we look more like blissful animals than beautiful stars. But still. At least we have ticked off over fifty percent of our ‘must see, must do’ list and have some good pictures and videos for Instagram.
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