Kolkata

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Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is the capital of West Bengal and one of the largest urban agglomerations in India. It is the largest city in Eastern India, as well as in the historical region of Bengal (today's West Bengal and Bangladesh. Kolkata is an 'in your face' city that shocks and charms the unsuspecting visitor. Long known as the cultural capital of India and home to the Bengal Renaissance, 'The City of Joy' continues to spawn generations of poets, writers, film directors and Nobel Prize winners. If your trip only allows for a visit of one or two of India's metropolitan cities, then definitely consider placing Kolkata on your itinerary. Love it or hate it, you definitely won't forget the city on the Hooghly river bank. (less...) (more...)

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Points of Interest in Kolkata

The city sprawls along the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges, which divides it from Howrah on the western bank. For travelers, the most relevant parts of Kolkata are south of the Howrah Bridge in the areas around BBD Bagh and Chowringhee.

  • A walk along Chowringhee Road sets the pace as you set out to unravel the rare beauty of this city. Across the road sweeps a huge, lush green, open parkland called the Maidan, centering around Fort William, the massive and impregnable British Citadel built in 1773. The fort is still in use and retains its well guarded grandeur. Visitors are allowed in with special permission only.
  • Jawahar Shishu Bhawan
  • A walk across is the Town Hall, built in 1813, in Doric style of architecture. It is now the City Magistrate’s Office.Don’t let the riverfront mesmerize you yet !Between the Town Hall and the Strand is the Calcutta High Court, scene of legendary legal battles. Completed in 1872, the Gothic architectural style was copied from the Staadhans at Ypres, Belgium. The tower measures 55 mts.
  • The Howrah Bridge frames the skyline of the riverfront. The ambience is as amicable and profound as the river that flows alongside.But, turn back to your trail of discovery. Dalhousie Square was the administrative centre for British India. On one side is the General Post Office, a majestic specimen of Edwardian architecture. It is built on the site of the original Fort William. On the other side stands Writers’ Building, a massive Gothic structure with lonic pillars – still the house of political power.
  • The dulcet whispers of history echo through the old mansions of Hindu aristocrats in North Calcutta. One such old house, Tagore House, at Jorasanko, is the birthplace of Rabindranath Tagore, India’s greatest modern poet. Converted to Rabindra Bharati University, it is now a centre for Indian Classical Fine Arts.
  • At Chorbagan is the Marble Palace, built in 1840 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, now a museum. Spend your afternoon among precious objects d’art including works of Rubens and Sir Joshua Reynolds.When tired, take a tram ride along Red Road with the green expanse of the Maidan around you. The perfect antidote.
  • A little away, in the south of Kolkata, is a stately mansion. Once home of the British Viceroys, Belvedere House is now the National Library. It houses over a million books and is the biggest in India. A must is a day spent at Science City. Pick your special thrill at this exposition park. A space theatre, space flight simulator, recreated Jurassic forest, aviary and butterfly corner and much more !
  • The Missionaries of Charity is a new order formed in 1950 by Mother Teresa. Their vow ‘to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor’ was put into action with the setting up of several homes.Visit Mother Teresa’s tomb at the Mother House and witness the generosity of the her spirit at Nirmal Hriday (home for the dying), Shanti Nagar (for lepers) and Nirmala Shishu Bhavan (the children’s home). For voluntary work with the Mission, in India, you may contact the London branch of the Missionaries of Charity, 41 Villiers Road, Southall, Middlesex, UK, or write in to the "Mother House", 54A, Lower Circular Road, Calcutta 700 014.
  • Maidan, 3 km in length and over 1 km in width, is a rambling green ‘lung of Kolcuta’. Dotted with colourful maidan clubs, the area is a hub of diverse activities.
  • Eden Gardens, named after Lord Auckland’s sister, this picturesque garden has a tiny Burmese pagoda set in a small lake. It also houses Calcutta’s Cricket Stadium.
  • Outram Ghat, Ganges riverfront - A pleasant walk . View the majesty of the busiest bridge in the world, the Howrah Bridge and the Vidyasagar Setu – an awesome structural feat . Or enjoy a cruise on the river in a panshi.
  • Zoological Garden, 6 hectares of land and built in 1876. The lakes within are a favourite retreat for migratory Siberian birds.
  • Horticultural Garden, a lush environ and also the venue for exotic plant and flower exhibitions.
  • Rabindra Sarovar, park and picnic spot with a central lake and overhanging trees. The rowing regatta events are held here.

Spiritual

  • Kalighat, according to the legend, when Lord Shiva’s wife Parvati’s body was cut up, one of her fingers fell here. Rebuilt in 1809, this is an important shrine of Hindu Shakti worship. The temple is in the southern part of the city.
  • Dakshineswar Kali Temple and Belur Math, built in 1847 on the banks of the Hooghly, north of Calcutta, the temple is associated with Shri Ramakrishna, the eclectic 19th century saint who revived Hinduism during the British Raj. Across the river stands Belur Math, headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission. The monastery is a haven of peace and religious harmony.
  • Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, commemorates the birth centenary of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Religious discourses and cultural exchanges are held here among international scholars. The institute is located at Golpark.
  • Nakhoda Mosque, modelled on Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, the red sandstone mosque has two minarets 46 mts high, a brightly painted onion shaped dome and can accommodate 10,000 people. Built in 1926 and located on Chitpur Road.
  • St John’s Church, built in 1787 with Grecian columns. The burial ground has the mausoleum of Job Charnock, founder of Calcutta. On the north-west side of Raj Bhavan.
  • St Paul’s Cathedral : Constructed between 1839 and 1847 in Gothic style with stained glass windows and two Florentine frescoes, the cathedral is the largest in the city and next to the Birla Planetarium. St Paul’s was conscerated in 1874.
  • Armenian Church, the oldest place of Christian worship in Calcutta. The church of Holy Nazareth was built in 1764.Among the other churches to visit are St Andrew’s Church. The Old Mission Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.
  • Jewish Synagogues, the Maghen David Synagogue on Jewish Synagogue Street and the BETHEL on Pollock Street are very old worship houses and a reminder to the cosmopolitan nature of the city.
  • Parsi Fire Temples, cater to the religious needs of the prominent Parsi community of Calcutta. Located on Metcalf Street and Beliaghata.
  • Japanese Buddhist Temple, on the banks of Rabindra Sarovar.
  • Pareshnath Jain Temple, an ornate mass of mirrors, coloured stones and glass mosaic, and overlooks a beautiful garden. It is in Gauri Bari, near Maniktala.

Victoria Memorial

Armenian Ghat

Academy of Fine Arts

St. Paul\'s Cathedral

Howrah Bridge

Birla Planetarium

Shahid Minar

BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square)

Dakshineswar Kali Temple

New Market

Eden Gardens

Indian Museum

Milennium Park

Netaji Indoor Stadium

Bally Bridge

Calcutta General Post Office

Raj Bhavan

Fort William

Science City

Alipore Zoo

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About Kolkata

History

Kolkata's history is intimately related to the British East India Company, which first arrived in 1690, and to British India, of which Calcutta became the capital in 1772. Job Charnock was widely known as the founder of Calcutta (There were 3 villages named Sutanuti, Govindapur & Kolkata. Later the village Kolkata became the city Kolkata.) but in recent years a number of Indian historians have disputed this claim, arguing that Kolkata developed naturally over a period , centered around the ancient Kali temple at Kalighat and the port at Khidirpur. This claim has been accepted by the Kolkata High Court. The Court has dismissed the name of Job Charnock as the founder of the city and 24 August as its date of birth. The historic judgement was based upon a high level Expert Committee findings.

Whatever its origins, Kolkata flowered as the capital of British India during the nineteenth century, the heyday of the Raj. Calcutta University, the first modern Indian university was founded here in 1857. Kolkata became the center of Indian arts and literature, and the national movement for independence got its start here. However, with the transfer of the capital to Delhi in 1911, the pains of the partition of Bengal in 1947,a violent and bloody Maoist movement (the Naxalite movement) in the 1970s and many political betrayals which no other city experienced, Kolkata had become synonymous with urban decay and poverty, but reversal changes can be seen.

Climate

Kolkata has three main seasons- Summer, Monsoon, and Winter. Summer, during March–May, is hot and humid with temperature touching 38-40 degree Celsius. Monsoon starts in June and lasts till September or October. This is the time when heavy showers sometimes lead to waterlogging. Winter starts in November and stays till February and the weather is very pleasant with temperature ranging between 9-18 degree Celsius. Best time to visit Kolkata will be during winter that is November to February.

Geography

Kolkata is in the eastern part of India at 22°82′ N 88°20′ E. It has spread linearly along the banks of the river Hooghly.

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation has an area of 185 square kilometres. The city proper today can be roughly divided into two sections along Mother Teresa Sarani (which was known during English rule as Park Street). North of Park Street is the more congested part of the city. South of Park Street is the slightly better planned section of the city.South Kolkata is better planned with wider roads and better equipped police force for keeping law & order. The better planning in South Kolkata is because it was built much later. The North is the real, old Kolkata and most of the oldest families and buildings are situated there. Over the past several years the city has expanded to the south and the east.

The old Central Business District (CBD) is where the seat of the West Bengal Government is located, along with many other government offices. Several banks have their corporate or regional headquarters around the B. B. D. Bagh area (named after the revolutionaries Binoy,Badol and Dinesh who forced entry into The Writer's Building, the epi-centre of English government in West Bengal,and killed the officers who were famous for their rude and cruel treatment with the people and their various techniques of oppression). Many of Kolkata's older business groups have their main offices here. The area is a mix of multi-storeyed office blocks and colonial buildings.

The newer CBD is around the south of Park Street, Camac Street and AJC Bose Road. Several high-rise office blocks including some of Kolkata's tallest commercial buildings - like the Chatterjee International Centre, Tata Centre, Everest House, Industry House, CGO Building - are located here. An even-newer CBD is now being set up in the Rajarhat (Newtown) area, lying between Salt Lake and the Airport.

Maidan (meaning open field) is situated between the river Ganges and J.L.Nehru Road (or Chowringhee). It is said to be the lungs of Kolkata. The lush green meadow also houses Victoria Memorial, Eden Gardens, and several sporting clubs. Kolkatans simply love to stroll in the Maidan.

In an effort to relieve congestion in the main city, many government offices have shifted to high-rise office buildings lining Bidhan Nagar's (Salt Lake) Central Park.

The residential buildings are mainly lowrise and comprise of older colonial buildings and numerous new four storied apartment blocks. Ten to twelve storied apartment blocks have come up in large numbers in south Kolkata. The city has relaxed its rules on high-rise construction recently and twenty storied buildings are becoming more common. The tallest residential towers of eastern India - the four thirty-five-storey towers of South City have come up on Prince Anwar Shah Road.

Heavy construction activity along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass is changing the face of the city. Luxury hotels, a convention centre, speciality hospitals, condominium complexes, malls and multiplexes are coming up at a rapid pace.

The city's expansion in the eastern side is spearheaded by the construction of a large new city called New Town adjacent to the well planned Bidhan Nagar. Located in Rajarhat, it is one of the largest planned urban developments in India.

The neglected western side of the urban agglomeration has got a boost recently with the signing of an agreement with Chiputra, an Indonesian company to build the Kolkata West International City (KWIC). Another huge new township is in the proposal state in Dankuni.

Slums and dilapidated structures exist in many pockets of the city proper and house over 25% of the city's population (Census 2001). Slum redevelopment schemes have helped improve living conditions by a small extent but there is huge scope for improvement in this area. Efforts to shift slum dwellers to newer developments have often met with resistance and failure because many of the slums are in prime areas of the city and the slum dwellers who are integrated in the social structure of the neighbourhood do not want to shift.

Activities

  • Take a walk along the river. There is a good promenade near Eden Garden.
  • Take a stroll down memory lane at Princep ghat.
  • Take a boat cruise in small boats under the starlit sky at Outram Ghat.
  • Take an Auto Rickshaw / Tuk Tuk ride from Chandni Chowk to Lohapool, the driver will take you through some back alleys and narrow roads of Kolkata, sit tight and keep faith on the driver.
  • Several modern cinemas are dotted around the city, including INOX [1] at the Forum Shopping Mall and the City Centre in Salt Lake, 89 Cinemas [2] at Swabhumi near Salt Lake City and Fame [3] at Metropolis Mall in Highland Park, RDB Adlabs [4] at RDB Boulevard, Near Infinity Building in Sector 5, Saltlake, all showing Indian and American blockbusters.
  • Nandan, 1/1 AJC Bose Rd (east of Rabindra Sadan metro station),  +91 33 2223 1210. The symbol of art and culture in the city and the site of the Kolkata Film Festival every November.
  • Football (soccer) is a passion for many Kolkatans with the national clubs, Mohun Bagan Athletic Club [5] and East Bengal Club [6] being the best known teams.
  • Indian Premier League. Is the main club cricket league in India. It is one of the most widely attended sporting events in the world, and if you are in Kolkata during the season (April–May), consider going to watch the home team (Kolkata Knight Riders) play at Eden Gardens.
  • The Kolkata Book Fair takes place from the last week of January to the first week of February. This is the largest book fair in Asia and is a major event in the city.
  • Durga Puja, a festival honoring the Hindu goddess Durga, takes place in October. The biggest festival for Hindus in Bengal and Eastern India, Kolkata takes on an almost carnival like ambiance. Streets shut down for the construction of pandals, large stands that depict events from the Ramayana and crowds flock to the biggest and best ones. A great time to visit Kolkata (unless you have a fear of crowds!).

Food

Kolkata has old traditions about eating out. Wilson's Hotel (it later became Great Eastern Hotel) is credited to have been the first western-style hotel/restaurant in Kolkata, serving what was then forbidden food for Indians, particularly Hindus. One could be treated as an out-caste if caught eating there, but the idea caught on and others followed. Many of the restaurants that line the streets in the Esplanade area have been around for more than a hundred years (unfortunately, many also show their age!).

The joy of food in Kolkata is in its Indian foods. Nizam's (at 23-24 Hogg Street), close to New Market, is credited with the invention of the famous Kati Kebab roll and still serves up the best of the best. For Mughlai dishes there are several places to eat in the Park Circus area, and there are others all over the city.

Bengali food is centered around fish. Macher jhol, literally fish in curry gravy, is a watery fish curry available everywhere and goes well with rice, but Bengalis everywhere swear by the hilsa fish (a variant of shad). Hilsa, lightly marinaded in mustard and steamed is up there with the best fish dishes in the world. There are a number of eateries serving Bengali cuisine in all the districts.

Bengali sweets are famous all over India. Roshogolla (cheese balls dipped in a sugary syrup), Panthua - a fried variant of the same, Roshomalai- the same cheeseballs dipped in creamy sweetened milk, Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt), Shondhesh (several variations available).

Kolkata is also the home of Indian Chinese food. Chinese restaurants are everywhere so try the Indian variant of hot and sour soup and the famous Indian Chinese dish of chilli chicken. The best place to have Chinese is to visit China Town near Tangra - EM Bypass. It serves the best of the Chinese dishes and you will find plenty of large, small & medium restaurants. There are some restaurants serving Thai, Mediterranean or Italian food.

Kolkata also has many excellent vegetarian restaurants ranging from budget to expensive ones. There are two types - those serving North Indian and those serving South Indian food.

For those looking for vegetarian street foods, one can find ubiquitous Jhal Muri (somewhat similar to bhel puri of Mumbai) a concoction of puffed rice mixed with various spices, vegetables & other ingredients available at street vendors all over Kolkata.

Street vendors selling egg rolls/chicken rolls abound and their freshly prepared kati rolls are safe to eat and enjoy. Mughali Paratha (earlier it was a paratha stuffed with minced meat, but now the minced meat has been replaced by cheaper but tasty alternatives) is a Kolkata speciality. Fuchka, the Kolkata version of paani-puri, but very different than the ones found in Delhi, is available on the streets but be wary of the tamarind water! It never troubles the local people and outsiders can safely taste this delicacy as long as they don't take too much of the water. A few sips will, of course, shoul not cause any harm.

Earlier, the restaurants were stand alone entities. A cluster of eateries in a single mall is a comparatively new idea and has become a large crowd puller.

(See district pages for restaurant listings.)

Drinks

Kolkata is the epitome of drinking and pubbing. Loads of liquor shops are scattered all around the city, in each and every locality. Kolkata has drinkers of all sorts-the regular working class to the aristocratic Bengali.

Pubbing and night-clubs are also common in Kolkata.

  • Tantra (Park Hotel)
  • Olypub (21 Park Street), famous for the beer and the beaf steak
  • Afraa city center 1
  • Someplace Else (Park Hotel)
  • Big Ben (The Kenilworth)
  • Underground (HHI)
  • Shisha (Camac Street)
  • Venom (Fort Knox)
  • Roxy (Park Hotel)
  • The Basement (Sarat Bose Road)
  • The Fairlawn Hotel garden (Sudder St)

Note: Due to a recent government order all pubs are supposed to shut shop by midnight or max 1am. So go early if you want to enjoy in club.

Shopping

Traditionally Kolkata had certain shopping areas or districts. The New Market area was considered the core of fashionable marketing. That was the market place for the British and later patronised by the more sophisticated amongst Indians. There were large markets in Burrabazar, Hatibagan-Shyambazar, Gariahat and Bhawanipur. There were several specialised markets - electrical goods at Chandni Chowk, jewelry at Bow Bazar, books at College Street, fish at Maniktala, flowers at Jagannanth Ghat, the Maidan market for sports goods and so on. Over the years, these markets have flourished and attracted customers from far and near.

The malls are a more recent addition. The South City Mall, supposed to be the biggest in the city, is in Kolkata/Southern fringes. East Kolkata, the area that has come up in more recent years, has large number of malls. New malls are being added. One has come up at Park Circus, an old neighbourhood in South Kolkata , in 2013. All the district pages list malls and markets in the district. Where there are border-line cases, the mall is listed in one district with a link in the other.

Real Estate in Kolkata has seen tremendous growth in recent years with a number of big players getting involved in construction. Numerous real estate agencies have come up to take the process of buying and selling properties into a matured property market. This has been further helped by the entry of major internet based property search sites like Homes Located, taking the brokering of properties to the web.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Kolkata on Wikivoyage.

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