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Things to do in Kolkata

Updated: Apr 2

Journal Entry

November in Kolkata, 2017

“There seems to be very many commonalities in our cultures. The city has stood through centuries but doesn't lack any charm. The people are helpful, hurried but with time enough to pause. They smile when I roll my ‘O’s to be better understood. When I come home after a day of wide-eyed staring, my heart is shaken. I’m definite that these rumblings are the beginning of a life-long adventure with cities and spaces”

 

Kolkata was my very first solo trip and probably my approach to it was like any other work project. A lot of research notes, scribbling down addresses, scanning pictures online to end up with a shortlist of activities to do and places to see. I included all the familiar haunts, as well as a few different ones.


I did most of my commute via the metro to save on time and expenses. It also helps to discover the city purely by walking around and getting lost. I find that there’s no fun going from point A to point B without getting distracted in between, especially when you’re on a solo trip. Leverage the freedom and move with the flow - you will not be disappointed.


Here are my top picks when you’re in Kolkata, divided into zones. 1. Cathedral Road Landing on this road will help you cover three of the prominent spots in Kolkata. If you’re arriving by metro, get off at the stop titled Maidan and walk past Eliot Park to: a) St. Paul’s Cathedral - Open from 10am to 6pm, this 18th Century church has preserved it’s Gothic architecture and is one of the largest churches in town. Stop by in the evening for a dramatic play of light within the premises. b) Victoria Memorial - This location has two parts to it, the sprawling garden maintained by 21 gardeners and the memorial gallery. The garden is used by localities to walk as well, so it stays open all days. The gallery however will be closed on Mondays so be sure to plan around it.

c) M.P. Birla Planetarium - Hop into the neighboring planetarium, fondly called Taramandal, for a quick one hour show and to rest your legs. Shows are offered in multiple languages, so buy tickets in advance and come in early to pick the best seats for the show.

Although all three places are in close vicinity, each needs to be planned for. Victoria Memorial is best done in the mornings before the tourist buses drop their crowd. The planetarium has fixed timings for its shows (depending on the language this changes). The ideal path would be to buy tickets, rest up at the planetarium, and head to the church in its off hours of the late afternoon. 2. Park Street

Situated 2km from Cathedral Road is Park street. It is walkable, but advisable to take a cab to the beginning of Park street and cover the length of the road with all its stops.


a) Someplace Else - Since I was doing most of my city seeing during the day, I missed out on the incredible live music acts this place has at nights. Stop by this retro bar, grab a drink, and spill over onto the street for the rest of the walk


b) Oxford Bookstores - I can’t ever do a trip without going to a bookstore, and if there isn’t one where I’m heading I make it a point to grab one right at the airport. Luckily this was Kolkata and their love for literature and mine matched up perfectly. Peruse for rare titles (if you’re lucky) at the bookstore and end with a light snack in Cha Bar housed inside the store.


c) Peter Cat - The only time I felt I was back in Bangalore was when I strolled over to the highly recommended Peter Cat and was met with a huge, vibrant crowd. The waiting list had me at 45 min minimum but thankfully the observant waiter checked to see if I was only one person dining today and would I be okay fitting into a small table in a corner? Absolutely, that sounds perfect I said. I came for one thing only, a Chelo Kabab and my quiet table was serviced despite the rush and I walked out to a few irritated faces that recognized me.


d) Flurry’s - Back in the 1900’s I’m sure this bakery-cafe was such a symbol of the elite. This is the first outlet of the multi-branch tearoom today and walking inside invokes waves of nostalgia. The gentle pink of the interiors and the smell of melting butter is bound to relax your nerves as you are walked to your table. If you’re looking to take something iconic back home, this is it. They have beautiful confectionery tins for which I was a personal fan. 3. South Park Cemetery

Yes, I visited a cemetery because the past of a place is as important as the present that we can access. This British-era, first non-church burial ground in Kolkata has a story to tell. With deaths happening frequently in the early years, the influential people came together to set aside a separate burial ground for 1600 odd souls. They even made a different route to reach this, so as to not disturb the cheer of the city. The name of the road, Burial Ground Road a.k.a the swanky Park Street as it stands today. Funny things in life, no? Overgrown banyan trees, moss covered structures, mausoleums and a thick canopy cover shrouds the site in a cool quiet. 4. Indian Museum One of the biggest in India, Kolkata’s main museum will take time getting through if you’re a true history buff. From paintings and sculptures to furniture and armory - there’s a lot to see so set aside a good half day for this spot. Goes without saying to visit such places at odd hours to avoid the crowd. You can book your ticket online if needed, but they can always accommodate a large number. Walking down the road from the museum, you can stop by to purchase old coins, postcards, and trinkets as souvenirs. 5. Bara Bazzar I still remember the day I embarked on covering the areas around the bazzar. I did feel rather ambitious, after all it was my first solo trip and I had a lot of mistakes to be made. Half the day was spent with coffee and books, that’s okay, but the rest was a pure blur. Here’s what you can cover around Bara Bazzar:


a) College Street - Books, can’t have enough of them. A whole street of stalls selling all kinds of books? Yes please. What’s more, if you want to spot a tram in action, this stop would cover that too. Shop for rare books, magazine covers, and old untranslated works in Bengali amongst the students buying books according to the syllabus.


b) Indian Coffee House - A ten minute walk will take you to an iconic cafe of the bygone eras. The fares are simple, the people even simpler, but what needs to be acknowledged is what this place stood for. The nondescript building held under its roof the literati, politicians, artists, and other influential people of the time. Here is where speeches were made and dreams were instilled. As I sat sipping on a rather bitter yet sweet coffee, I tried hard to imagine the triangle of Tagore, Bose, Ray around a table.


c) Jain Shwetambar Panchayati Mandir - I was on foot, guided by Google Maps through the industrial marketplaces next to Howrah Bridge when I chanced upon my next spot. If you’re religious, you can visit the bigger, more prominent Jain temples a little further from here. For me, it was an accident and I still stepped in for the pretty, delicate tiles and intricate marble work. Photography isn’t allowed, so check for sentiments before clicking


d) Howrah Bridge - It took me an hour to walk through the streets of Bara Bazar. The crowd didn’t look like it had any tourists and being brushed off every now and then, I realized I should’ve stuck to some main road. I clutched my small bag and walked through shops selling all kinds of things. I even saw a whole street just for paan. When I reached the famous bridge, Bhagirati was a sheet of water, gold foil under the sun. The tint of yellow and swirling dust whisked me off to the side where I stood and watched buses with Bengali lettering passing by. I didn’t take the ferry, but you can find yourself one for the sunset to top off your trip’s moments.

Planning a trip and need recommendations on where to stay? Click here.

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