"Kolkata - Re-Visited" Top 5 Page for this destination Kolkata (Calcutta) by lynnehamman

Kolkata (Calcutta) Travel Guide: 649 reviews and 2,206 photos

My Impressions of Kolkata

'As we enter the town, a very expansive Square opens before us, with a large expanse of water in the middle, for the public use… The Square itself is composed of magnificent houses which render Calcutta not only the handsomest town in Asia but one of the finest in the world.'
(L. de Grandpré, French visitor in A Voyage in the Indian Ocean and to Bengal, 1803)

India is a country of great diversity- and Kolkata (or Calcutta) must be THE most diverse city in all of India- if not the world. Our feelings about the city (even on our second visit) seemed to change by the hour. This is a city that has everything- grinding poverty sits alongside immense wealth.- Crowded, unclean lanes hide the architectural beauty of the old colonial buildings. Kolkata is filled with beautiful trees of many varieties- but the green leaves are so covered in dust & pollution that they look brown.
When Job Charnock, who was an agent for the British East India Company- founded this city, on the banks of the river near a village called Sutanuti in 1690, he could never have dreamt that it would turn into the throbbing metropolis that it is today. (the founding by Charnock has been dismissed by the Kolkata High Court- the city is believed now to have originated on a site near Kalighat Temple)
Whatever its origins, Calcutta became the capital of British India during the 18th century, and the centre of the Raj. Calcutta University, the first modern Indian university was founded here in 1857. Calcutta became the center of Indian arts and literature, and the national movement for independence began here. However, with the transfer of the capital to Delhi in 1911, the tragedy of the partition of Bengal in 1947-when millions of refugees flooded into Kolkata, and a violent Maoist movement (the Naxalite movement) in the 1970s, Calcutta has become synonymous with urban decay and poverty.
After the war with West Pakistan, East Pakistan gained its independence, became a new country called Bangladesh,and the slaughter & rape that had occured during this war forced the Bangladeshi people to flee. Millions headed for Calcutta- and never left. Terrible famine and floods in Bangladesh brought even more refugees into the already over-crowded city.
The infrastructure of the city was overloaded-- refugees slept wherever they could find a place to lie down. Families lived in drain-pipes and under bridges and on Howrah Station.. And these families multiplied a thousand-fold over the years. Tragically, too many still live on the streets. Begging is their way of life. For a western tourist, this is a hard cold fact of life that one has to deal with in their own way. Its very sad.

There is of course, another positive & brighter side to Kolkata.
It has wide open green spaces- the Maidan is wonderful,open area that is filled with people every day, picnics are a great family institution there. Cricket games, horse rides and joggers fill the Maidan. There are beautiful parks, filled with birds and exotic trees.The Botanical Gardens have lakes filled with waterlilies. In the gardens around the Victoria Museum lovers shyly sit on park benches holding hands.
Boats ply the Hooghly River- as they have for centuries. The Howrah bridge stands proudly above the Hooghly River, and many thousands of cars tear across it all day, honking their horns in true Indian custom.
There are huge, modern shopping centres now- there are modern restuarants, bars and clubs. Park Street is a very "happening" place. Groups of beautiful young Bengalis sit in the coffee shops, and in perfect English- talk about- well- whatever young people talk about anywhere in the world. They are the future of Kolkata, having probably attended top-class schools like St Xaviers College.

The Cultural Heritage

Long known as the cultural capital of India, Kolkata continues to produce generations of poets, writers, film producers (Satyajit Ray being the most famous) and Nobel Peace Prize winners. Rabinranath Tagore is considered to be a National Treasure- with good reason. We went to find the famous "Indian Coffee House" in College Street, where all the famous intellectuals used to meet, read poetry and argue, and as Rabindranath Tagore gazes down, even today, from his portrait on the fly-stained wall, the atmosphere is fundamentally the same.The coffee has improved, I was told, by a charming Bengali University Lecturer who befriended us.

I personally think that Kolkata is not an easy city for a first time traveller to India- it is very confrontational, and can be overwhelming.It is difficult finding ones way around-its the second largest city in India., with 15 million people living in it. Do not be put off from visiting this fascinating city, though. Careful planning and reading about the city will ensure that you enjoy your visit here.
There is so much history - so many interesting sights and sounds. It is not typically tourist-friendly. Touts never bothered us at all- in fact, in shops, it is quite difficult to find someone to actually sell you anything. A bit like New York, I thought. Love it or Hate it- one cannot ever forget Kolkata.

WHILE YOU ARE IN THE AREA- VISIT MY SUNDERBANS PAGE!
Sunderbans

ALSO READ MY KOLKATA TRAVELOGUE (follow the link)
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Interesting Areas to see

South Kolkata- Tollyunge, Ballygunge and new Alipore. It is considered to be one of the better areas of Kolkata.Rabindra Sarovar is a beautiful park nearby.

Esplanade- this colonial district is still the central business area and is considered the heart of Kolkata. Park Street, Mirza Ghalib Street (Free School Street), Dalhousie Square (BBD Bagh), Chandni Chowk, Barra Bazaar and Sudder Street (backpacker heaven) are in this area. Many fine examples of architecture can be seen around here- the Writers Building is splendid.

North Kolkata -the older area of the city, a fascinating but shambolic area dominated by narrow little lanes (all unmarked, so finding ones way around is very hard) and hundreds of century-old bulidings. Includes the famous College Street area. Bookstalls and Bookshops crowd the pavements. The university is also situated here.

East Kolkata- Rapidly developing, specially IT sector and home to India's largest mall. Salt Lake City, Rajar Hat, Lake Town and the E.M. Bypass. Many five star hotels, theme parks, modern housing estates and large Business Complexes are being built in this area. It is being called "The New Kolkata"

Kolkata monsoon can be heavy. Monsoon season starts around mid July- continues till September. The Monsoon can be unpredictable, though.
If a heavy monsoon arrives, disruptions of trains cars and buses could occur. So bear that in mind when making travel plans to this interesting city.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Green leafy parks- beautiful old buildings- history
  • Cons:Pollution- Noise- Way too many cars & taxis
  • In a nutshell:I can understand why Kolkatans are proud of their city- and frustrated by chaos that surrounds them.
  • Last visit to Kolkata (Calcutta): Dec 2008
  • Intro Updated Jul 1, 2012
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Reviews (24)

Comments (41)

  • kenHuocj's Profile Photo
    Dec 24, 2010 at 3:34 AM

    my Father stopped over en route to S Africa in 1921, but no photos nor more details ~ Merry Christmas down under ;-)))

  • easterntrekker's Profile Photo
    Nov 25, 2010 at 7:42 AM

    Amazing pages,so enjoyable to read.It must have been very touching to see Mother Theresa's sandals.....

  • vpas's Profile Photo
    Oct 23, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    wow!so well written.especially loved reading your introduction.love,seetha

  • Durfun's Profile Photo
    Aug 17, 2010 at 8:57 AM

    Very fun-tasty pages here :-) D

  • samitbabu's Profile Photo
    Apr 22, 2010 at 12:02 AM

    Lynne, this is a fantastic article. I hope more people reads this and makes plan to visit the city. Thanks again.

  • mircaskirca's Profile Photo
    Feb 25, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    I would spend hours in those bookshops along College street, and same as you, end up buying an extra bag to bring them home :) The Coffee House sounds interesting and I would certainly take time for visiting the peaceful Botanical Gardens :)

  • RickinDutch's Profile Photo
    Feb 19, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    Wonderful Kolkata pages. The city never leaves you no matter how long it's been since your last visit. Glad to hear the underground is completed. Took a few decades!

  • Trekki's Profile Photo
    Jan 30, 2010 at 8:49 PM

    I would love to see Mother Teresa's mission and house and the botanical garden... oh and eat, haha :-) The Fame Grill description makes me hungry....

  • nickillops's Profile Photo
    Nov 20, 2009 at 11:34 PM

    Happy Birthday Lynne - from J

  • yumyum's Profile Photo
    Oct 15, 2009 at 11:20 AM

    Great page on this crazy city! I actually stayed at the Fairlawn Hotel in 1985. In those times not all rooms were with aircon and I could only afford one with a fan :)))

lynnehamman

“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.- Rudyard Kipling”

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