Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrIf you are planning to visit India, you must add Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, to your itinerary. Once the capital of the British East India Company , Kolkata is now a modern city and is the capital of the state, West Bengal. An abode of vibrant culture and a place of historical interest, the city draws a vast number of tourists from all over the world, irrespective of any time in a year.
HistoryIt is a notion that Kolkata was founded in 1690 by a British named Job Charnock . Though this theory is popular among the people, records however indicate that the location where Calcutta was born later, started gaining prominence from the age of the ancient Mauryan civilization around 5th Century BCE. Recently, the High Court of Kolkata declared that the city has no specific date of establishment. Nevertheless, the British firmly took hold of the place by 1698 and Kolkata served as the capital of the British Empire until 1911. Kolkata was earlier known as ‘Calcutta’, as christened by the British. However, in 2001, the Government took steps to officially change the name to ‘Kolkata’.
The long reign of the British Raj has given Kolkata a vast number of spectacular Gothic architectures. The central part of the city, i.e. the downtown area, is filled with a number of such historical buildings. After independence, some of these buildings presently hold government offices, while some are more specifically preserved for tourists. Most of these heritage buildings in Kolkata were the residence of British rulers and once you visit them, you can feel the pomp and grandeur that prevailed at one time in Kolkata.
Calcutta is considered as an intellectual and cultural hub of India. Eminent personalities like the famous poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore , philosopher Ramakrishna, and his disciple Vivekananda, acclaimed Oscar-famed movie-maker Satyajit Ray , all hailed from this township.
In fact, the long cultural tradition of Bengal and the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century have given Kolkata a culturally important position amongst all other major cities of India.
The languages spoken in the city of Kolkata are Bengali language , which is also known as Bangla and Hindi , which is the national Indian language. Apart from these English is also commonly understood and spoken by all educated people in this township.
Sightseeing in CalcuttaThe admixture of modernism, colonial hangover and intellectual presence has given Kolkata some interesting places which are worth a visit. Some of the popular places that you may explore in and around Kolkata are:
Victoria MemorialIt is a large marble edifice which was built in between 1906 and 1921. It is dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria of England (1819-1901) and now serves as tourist destination and also a museum under the patronage of The Ministry of Culture. Victoria Memorial is situated by the bank of the Hooghly River, near Maidan at Jawaharlal Nehru Road.
Kalighat TempleKalighat Temple is one of the most auspicious Hindu Temple in West Bengal dedicated to Goddess Kali. The name ‘Calcutta’ (aka Kali-kata) is said to have been derived from the name ‘Kali-ghat’. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims visit the temple every day from several parts of India and even abroad. Although the temple site has been referred to in several Hindu manuscripts which dates back to 16th century, the present temple is only 200-years-old.
Marble PalaceIt is a palatial 19th century mansion situated in the northern parts of Kolkata. It was built by Raja Rajendra Mullick, who was a wealthy Bengali merchant during the time of The Raj, with a passion for collecting a plethora of European work of arts. The splendor of the Marble Palace boasts a Neo-Classical architectural style.
Howrah BridgeThis cantilever bridge was built in 1943 over Hoogly River, which flows beside the city, and is considered as a famous symbol of Kolkata.
Fort WilliamBuilt by Lord Robert Clive, Fort William, which was named after King William III of England lies in front of the ‘Maidan’- which is the largest urban park in the city.
National Indian MuseumFounded in 1849, Indian Museum is the earliest and also the largest multipurpose museum not only in India, but also in the Asia-Pacific countries of the world.
Saheed MinarFormerly known as the Ochterlony Monument, this monument was erected in 1828. It was built in the memory of Major-general Sir David Ochterlony, who was the commander of the British East India Company.
National LibraryAs an amalgamation of The Calcutta Library and the Imperial Library, National Library in Kolkata, houses one of the largest collection of books in the country. It has also an impressive flower garden which attracts the tourists.
St Paul’s CathedralThe Anglican Cathedral which stands next to Nandan, Victoria Memorial, The Birla Planetarium and The Rabindra Sadan theater complex, is a sacred place of worship for the Diocese of Calcutta. Its present incumbent bishop is Rt. Revd. Ashoke Biswas. The cathedral itself is an “Island of Attraction” in Kolkata.
Calcutta Jain TempleCalcutta Jain Temple, also known as Parshwanath Temple, the beautiful architectural form of Calcutta Jain temple was built by the Jains of Calcutta, way back in 1867.
Belur MathBelur Math is the holy headquarter of Ramakrishna Mission. Located in the west bank of the river Hooghly, the temple is notable for its architecture that fuses Hindu, Christian and also Islamic art forms.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic GardenIt is situated in Shibpur Howrah near to Kolkata. Founded in 1787 by Colonel Robert Kyd who was an officer in the British East India Company, this famous garden spreads over 109 hectares and has a rare collection of 12,000 specimen of trees.
Since Kolkata was once regarded as the ‘Second city of the British Empire’ (after London) before the Indian Independence , most of the places in Kolkata have historical evidences and are located in and around the central zone of the city.
Food and RestaurantsFor gastronomy, Kolkata has a lot to offer for all its tourists. The staple food of the local people in West Bengal is rice served with vegetables and curry. For a Bengali, fish is a de-facto delicacy for lunch and even for dinner. The Bengali foods are mainly spicy, but if you can manage the spice, it will be worthwhile to try it out for once. Bengalis also boasts for their sweet tooth. The famous 'Rasgulla' – a syrupy cheese based food, which is a typical sweet that is only available in Kolkata.
Besides Bengali foods, you can also experience several varieties of Mughal cuisine in Kolkata. Moreover, owing to a number of Christian and Parsi presence, there are several eateries in the city where you can taste some authentic foods of their choice. The roadside stalls are abundant in Kolkata and ‘Roll’ is one famous snack available widely and is savored by all who ever visits Kolkata. It is made of tortilla stuffed with minced meat, onion and spices. During the 60s the city came up with a number of restaurants that still serves oriental and continental cuisine, especially in areas like Park Street – a famous place in the downtown of Kolkata.
Kolkata has also been a location of Chinese immigrants giving rise to ‘Chinatown’ – a perfect place to enjoy Chinese delicacies. Interestingly, this place has strong resemblance to that of the Chinatown in New York.
Hotels and AccommodationThe rising number of tourists enabled a significant rise in the number of hotels found in Kolkata. However, most of them are located in the city’s central area-Esplanade. If you are a traveler and that too a backpacker who is looking for a budget stay, consider living in and around Sudder Street. This place is near Esplanade, where most of the foreigners reside, for there are several hotels in this locality which can accommodate a wide range of budgets. For a luxurious stay, you can check out Grand Hotel – one of the most traditional and respected hotels in Kolkata besides other five-star hotels like Hyatt Regency, Park Hotel, ITC Sonarbangla and others.
FestivalsIf you plan to travel in the month of October, be sure to book your hotel beforehand, as it is the time for the biggest Bengali annual festival called Durga Puja . The festival is enjoyed by all locals and also travelers from distant lands, who specifically visits Kolkata for enjoying the Durga Puja which is a five days' celebration, during this time.
Apart from Durga Puja, other major Hindu festivals that are celebrated in this town are Kali Puja , Dolyatra, Poila Baishakh, Vasant Panchami which is also known as ‘Swaraswati Puja’ and others. For the Muslim community that dwells in Kolkata, festivals like Eid ul-Fitr, Eid ul-Adha and others are also celebrated in the town.
Christmas is even celebrated with pomp and grandeur in Kolkata.
Among the cultural festivals that are held here, Kolkata International Film Festival and Kolkata Book Fair (which is held at the end of January) ranks the best.
The Dover Lane Music Festival is also another notable event that is celebrated by the music lovers in Kolkata.
SportsFootball is the lifeblood of the Bengali people. Like English league, the city has its two special teams – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan A.C. It is a wonderful sight to behold the fervent crowds out in the street when a match takes place in any of several famous stadiums located within the city. In the course of time and owing to its popularity, Cricket has now also become a popular game among the Bengali people residing in an around Kolkata.
ShoppingThere are several shopping malls in this town such as South City Mall, Forum Courtyard Mall; Fort Knox (Exclusive for Diamonds and Jeweleries), Downtown Mall; Simpark Mall, Aircondition Market; Shriram Arcade, Treasure Island Market and others where you can get all domestic and also foreign branded goods.
New Market, Kolkata is the oldest market complex in Kolkata which was also known as the Hogg Market (after Sir Stuart Saunders Hogg ) during the British rule. This market is located on Lindsay Street near Esplanade.
If you are keen upon buying Indian Sari (Indian women's clothing) one can visit the Gariahat Market or Dakshinapan Market near Dhakuria which also sells different sort of Indian Handicrafts.
SafetyKolkata is always considered a safe city. Though there has been a dispute about the level of safety in recent times, still the city can be explored without much ado. The people of Kolkata are friendly, but to be on the safer side, it's ideal not to explore the city’s outskirt areas in the night.
TransportationKolkata is well-networked with the rest of India by road, rail, and air. The Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport has both international and domestic air services. Kolkata is also connected by railway services with the rest of the world. The three major railway stations that operate in and around Kolkata are Howrah, Sealdah, and Shalimar.
Private and public buses are also available throughout the day and night to commute in and out of the city.
Kolkata even has an underground intra-city railway service and it is one of the best options to travel within the city in the shortest time. A circular rail service is also available in Kolkata, but its service in the present times is somewhat limited.
Kolkata is famous for its ‘Yellow Taxis’. These taxis are cabriolets, and are available for hire in the city throughout the day. Also you can even try riding a traditional hand pulled rickshaw while in Kolkata for a short ride.
If you are looking to experience a tram ride, you can also do so while you are in this township. However, the tram operation is limited and owing to high traffic in the streets it takes a long time to travel by such slow moving vehicles in Kolkata.
WeatherKolkata enjoys a tropical weather. The summer season from March - June is hot and humid in this township. The monsoon season spans from June – September when heavy rainfalls often cripple the city as the streets get waterlogged giving a tough time to all the commuters. October – March is however the best time to visit Kolkata, as it is the start of the winter season in this land. The month of January and February are the coldest month in Kolkata- but it’s really the most enjoyable time that one can visit this city.
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Author: SubhasishMitra. Last updated: Jan 12, 2015