Kolkata is a mystery of a city and you need to unravel it slowly, taking the time to cherish every layer you remove. There is the Kolkata which the Bollywood shows you, there is the Kolkata which the travel sites tell you, there is the Kolkata which the poets and writers have written about and then there is the Kolkata which the city the native dwellers face. I would guide you to a Kolkata which is a combination of all those.
Victoria Memorial: To start with, let’s go to the omnipresent in every Yatra blog on Kolkata, Victoria Memorial. Created by Queen Victoria for her visit to India in the capital of India, the structure was clearly inspired by Tajmahal. The place is frequented by the couples taking advantage of the romantic atmosphere, elderly citizens for some fresh air and of course, the tourists like you. Entry is cheap and it’s open for the most of the day. There is a very rich museum inside and contains Queen Vic’s carter for Indian subjects, some very rare Urdu, Arabic and Farsi books and manuscripts, some very large oil painting of old India and Kolkata by British painters, weapons and firearms of Rajah, Nawabs, and Viceroys of India. People often miss the second floor of the building where you can freely go. Look up once you are inside to see appreciate the artwork on the ceiling! Sadly, you can’t take pictures inside.
Esplanade: Esplanade has two other names, Chowrangee and Dharmatala. This is where the independent India’s Kolkata thrived. All the big-name cinema halls of Kolkata are here. All the old eateries of Kolkata are here, Aminia, Nizam, Sabiria and more. These eateries are the best when it comes to Mughlai cuisine and the biriyani at these places are rollicking good! Then there are all the shopping places because not only are there the modern malls and bazaars, you also get all the big brands having their showrooms and outlets here, shoes, watches, clothes, and what-not! Above all, here is New Market, the mysterious shopping complex which pulls every Bengali for their numerous needs. Park Street is walking distance from you and Indian Museum, Asiatic Society, Tipu Sultan Masjid, Shaheed Minar all are around this area. This is where you find all the kolkata hotels as well, ranging from Oberoi or 400 rupees a night ones.
College Street Book Market: Not many bloggers would tell you of this location but I don’t miss it. If there is a Bengali, Hindi or English book in existence in India, every chance that you would find it here. Skip the academic books section, you will find big publishers lining up with their collections for you and offering you heavy discounts. But if you are like me, you would skip all and check the 200 (yes, 200) stalls on what is popularly called “Presidency Wall”. These stalls deal in 2nd handbooks and 95% of my 800 books library (yes, right, I’m bragging) was collected from here. The price they ask is unbelievably low. Expect to find a genuine Agatha Christie here for as low as 30 rupees. You can also check Presidency College (now Presidency University), Kolkata University and grandest schools of Kolkata including Hindu school.
Do pay a visit to Coffee House, the intellectual capital of Bengal within a building. You will be amazed to see how many intellectual celebrities, writers, painters, poets and likes, you find here.
Ganga Cruise: This is not exactly a place (or a place if you call Ganga so) but a river cruise on Ganga is something you shouldn’t miss during your visit to Kolkata. While you can go to the ghats of Ganga and negotiate with the local maajhis, you can also be more modern and choose a more professional entourage of Ganga. In fact, many hotels in Kolkata offer this tour for their guests. The tours go along Ganga before coming to an end and show you important landmarks from the river. They will treat you with food (and wine) on the river and trust me; you will not get this experience anywhere else. Ganga is calm in Kolkata and relatively clean as well. Enjoy a whole evening on the river and enjoy the breeze, the bhatiyali (songs by the maajhis) and pure Bengali cuisine.
These are some of the experiences which make Kolkata such a nice city to visit. Kolkata is a gem of a city with warm and welcoming people, amazing foods, dirt cheap accommodation and enough places to visit. Do visit Kolkata between October to March so you can avoid the heat of summer and the downpour of the famous Kolkata monsoon!
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