Where India is Juxtaposed Alongside her Colonial Past…
India’s second-biggest city is a daily festival of human existence, simultaneously noble and squalid, cultured and desperate. By its old spelling, Calcutta conjures up images of human of famine and suffering that was faced in this beautiful city to most Westerners thanks to our tryst with our colonial invaders. But locally, Kolkata is regarded as India’s intellectual and cultural capital. The dapper Bengali gentry continue to frequent grand old gentlemen’s clubs, back horses at the Calcutta Racetrack and tee off at some of India’s finest golf courses.
As the former capital of British India, Kolkata retains a feast of colonial-era architecture contrasting starkly with urban slums and dynamic new-town suburbs with their air-conditioned shopping malls. Kolkata is the ideal place to experience the mild, fruity tang of Bengali cuisine. Friendlier than India’s other metropolises, this is a city you ‘feel’ more than simply visit. Walk the chaotic back alleys, ride the Hooghly ferries and, if you’ve got more time, take an excursion to the Sundarbans.
Here’s a look at some of the ‘must-see’ sights and sounds of the beautiful city of Kolkata.
The incredible Victoria Memorial is a vast, beautifully proportioned festival of white marble. This domed beauty flanking the southern end of the Maidan would surely be considered one of India’s greatest buildings. Commissioned by Lord Curzon, then Viceroy of India, it was designed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s demise in 1901, but construction wasn’t completed until 20 years after her death. Inside, highlights are the soaring central chamber and the Calcutta Gallery, an excellent, even-handed exhibition tracing the city’s colonial-era history. Even if you don’t want to go in, the building is still worth admiring from afar: there are magnificently photogenic views across reflecting ponds from the northeast and northwest. Or you can get closer by paying your way into the large, well-tended park, open from dawn to dusk.
Set very attractively amid palms and manicured lawns, this large religious center is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, inspired by 19th-century Indian sage Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who preached the unity of all religions. Its centerpiece is the 1938 Ramakrishna Mandir, which somehow manages to look like a cathedral and Indian palace at the same time. Several smaller shrines near the Hooghly riverbank include the Sri Sarada Devi Temple, entombing the spiritual leader’s wife, Sarada.
A beautifully presented dual-level museum charts Ramakrishna’s life and the travels of his great disciple Swami Vivekananda. During Durga Puja, the institution comes to life with absorbing spells of ritual and festive splendour, and the immersion of the goddess on the ultimate day in the Hooghly River is a spectacular draw.
Calcutta Botanical Garden
The Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden was founded in 1786. The gardens – home to more than 12,000 plant species – played an important role in cultivating tea bushes smuggled in from China by the British, long before the drink became a household commodity. Today, there’s a cactus house, palm collection, river-overlook and a boating lake with splendid Giant Amazon Lily pads.
The most touted attraction in the park is the 250-year-old ‘world’s largest banyan tree’ with an array of cross-branches and linked aerial roots. The enormous banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) is more than 330 metres in circumference. The banyan is five minutes’ walk from the park’s Bicentenary Gate.
Park Street is a prominent entertainment and commercial hub of Kolkata. The street was officially called as Mother Teresa Sarani. The street which extends from Chowringhee Road up till Park Circus crossing ran through a deer park in British Raj and thus called as Park Street. The street has number of hotels, shopping stalls, restaurants, night Clubs etc and so the street will be bustling with activities even at night time. People of Kolkata call this street as “Street that never sleeps”. Other than that, most popular buildings like St. Xavier’s College, Asiatic Society, and South Park Street Cemetery etc are also located in and around Park Street.
Built in 1835 by a raja from the prosperous Mallick family, this resplendent mansion is as grand as it is curious. Arguably one of India’s best-preserved royal homes, its marble-draped halls are overstuffed with dusty statues of thinkers and dancing girls, much Victoriana, ample Belgian glassware, game trophies of moose heads and fine paintings, including original works by Murillo, Joshua Reynolds and Rubens. Of particular note within the building is the music room, lavishly floored with marble inlay. There’s also a private menagerie on the mansion’s grounds.
Countless clay effigies of deities and demons immersed in the Hooghly during Kolkata’s colourful pujas are created in specialist kumar (sculptor) workshops in this enthralling district, notably along Banamali Sarkar St, the lane running west from Rabindra Sarani. Craftsmen are busiest from August to October, creating straw frames, adding clay coatings, and painting divine features on idols for Durga and Kali festivals. In November, old frameworks wash up on riverbanks and are often re-purposed the following year.
Sit in at a studio and observe the idol-maker immersed in his work. Apart from gods and demons, you’ll often see statues of Victorian figurines, popular historical figures and local legends being constructed, as these are often used to decorate puja pandals.
The stately 1784 family mansion of Rabindranath Tagore has become a shrine-like museum to India’s greatest modern poet. Even if his personal effects don’t inspire you, some of the well-chosen quotations might spark an interest in Tagore’s deeply universalist and modernist philosophy. There’s a gallery of paintings by his family and contemporaries, and an exhibition on his literary, artistic and philosophical links with Japan. There’s also a 1930 photo of Tagore with Einstein.
Tagore’s House is maintained and run by Rabindra Bharati University, and the museum is located on the university campus.
The Howrah Bridge
Commissioned in 1943,the bridge was originally named the New Howrah Bridge, because it replaced a pontoon bridge at the same location linking the two cities of Howrah and Kolkata (Calcutta). On 14 June 1965 it was renamed Rabindra Setu after the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first Indian and Asian Nobel laureate. It is still popularly known as the Howrah Bridge. The bridge is one of four on the Hooghly River and is a famous symbol of Kolkata and West Bengal.
Air India Express flies from Kolkata to Dhaka and Singapore. Take a trip to the enchanting city of Kolkata with us. Our wings already exists. All you have to do is fly!