Known as the ‘City of Joy’, Kolkata holds an important place in the economy, politics and culture of India. The West Bengal capital is among the four metropolitan cities in India and has retained its quintessential charm despite modernization.
‘What Bengal thought today, India thought tomorrow’, is a famous line associated with the city for having produced some of the greatest thinkers, artists, filmmakers and writers like Rabindranth Tagore, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. Rabindranth Tagore’s work is still preserved in the city.
Kolkata’s ideas in the field of art, literature, cinema and theatre have provided inspiration to rest of the country. Satyajit Ray, who was awarded Oscar for his contribution to cinema, was among the most famous filmmakers produced by the city.
Earlier known as Calcutta, the city was founded in 1698. It served as the capital of British Empire till 1911 when it was shifted to Delhi. The city was renamed as Kolkata in 2001.
Sitting majestically along the banks of river Hoogly, Kolkata’s long association with the English is clearly evident in its architecture. The city boasts of several Raj era buildings like the Raj Bhavan, Writer’s Building and the Victoria Memorial.
Unlike other metros known for their hustle and bustle, Kolkata is rather laidback. Adda, the popular past time with locals, is an indicator to the Bengali way of life. Adda is a leisurely activity where locals engage in discussions about football, politics, art, etc.
The city is known to have some of the best educational institutes in the country. Ideas and spirit of the famous social reformist Swami Vivekananda and Indian freedom fighter Shubhas Chandra Bose prospered during their years of education in Kolkata.
Kolkata is among the 52 Shakti Peethas in the world. Goddess Kali is deeply revered and Durga Pooja is celebrated in the grandest manner in Kolkata. The city is also an important centre of pilgrimage as Mother Teresa spent a major part of her life and also lies in eternal rest in the city.
Kolkata is also famous for its cuisine. Kolkata is a foodie’s delight for serving some of the most delicious foodlike milk sweets, puchka, kathi kebabs and fish curry.
Kolkata has produced some of finest sportsmen to have represented the country like Sourav Ganguly and Leander Paes. It is also home to some of the most popular international sports stadium like Eden Gardens and Salt Lake stadium.
Kolkata is situated where three villages – Suttanutte, Gobindpore and Kalikata – originally stood before the advent of the British. Kolkata flourished under the rule of the British who started their rule in India from Bengal after defeating Siraj-ud Daula in the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
However, British influence in the city started much before that when the British East India Company was assigned the rights to collect taxes. To protect themselves, the British constructed Fort William in 1712. Siraj-ud-Daula’s opposition to their growing influence led to the conflict between them which ultimately resulted in the Battle of Plassey in which Siraj-ud-Daula was defeated.
Job Charnok an administrator with the British East India Company is considered to be the founder of the city. Calcutta was the capital of British India, before it was shifted to Delhi.
By 1850’s Calcutta was divided into two parts – White Town and Black Town. White Town was the area around Chowringhee where Britishers lived. North Kolkata was the Black Town where Indians lived.
Under the British rule Kolkata underwent rapid industrial growth in the 19th century.
Bengal Renaissance was a social reform movement centred in and around Kolkata started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy which led to the birth of a class of intellectually and artistically enlightened people.
Kolkata also played an important part during the Indian freedom struggle. People of Kolkata took up to boycott of British goods to protest against the division of Bengal on communal lines.
Kolkata also came under the line of fire during the Second World war when the city was bombed several times in 1942 and 1944 by the Japanese.
- Kolkata Book fair is the largest book fair in Asia
- Salt Lake stadium is the second biggest football stadium in the world
- Kolkata is the second most populous city in the country
- College Street is the largest second-hand book market in the world and the largest book market in India
People of Kolkata are known as Bheto Bengalis for their love of rice. Rice and machher jhol (fish curry) is the staple diet. Ilish, a variety of fish, is the most popular fish.
Bengalis cuisine is known for its use of mustard oil. Mughlai delicacies are also extremely popular in Kolkata. Bengalis are known for their love for sweets. Milk sweets like rasagulla, sandesh and misti doi are extremely popular.
Kolkata boasts of several museums. Jorasanko Thakur Bari, the ancestral home of Rabindranath Tagore, is popular for depicting the Nobel Laureate’s life. Other literary giants like Bakim Chandra Chattopadhyay and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay were also born or lived in Kolkata.
Kolkata is also known for its thriving art and culture. The Bengal School of Art, started by Ernest Havel with help from Abanindranath Tagore, became popular across India.
The Government College of Arts and Craft has been a cradle for many eminent artists. The Academy of Fine Arts is extremely famous for holding regular art exhibitions. There are many training schools in the city that impart training in Rabindra Sangeet.
Kolkata is known for its excellent quality of work in theatre and cinema. The city is home to Bengali film industry. It has produced some of the country’s finest actors and directors. Satyajit Ray, who was awarded the Oscar for his contribution to cinema, was the most famous.
North Kolkata has Victorian architecture as it developed first. Most of the buildings in this part of the city are over 100-years-old.
Kolkata being a metropolitan city celebrates festivals of all religions. However, the festival mood peaks during the five days of Durga Pooja which is celebrated with great pomp and gaiety. Other festivals like Poila Baisakh and Kali Pooja are also important days for everyone in Kolkata.
Kolkata has innumerable markets throughout the city. New Market and Old New Market are the most popular bazaars of Kolkata. Handicrafts, Baluchari saris and leather goods are the most popular tourist buys in Kolkata. Saris and other textiles having kantha embroidery are also extremely famous. One can also find muslin cloth in some of the emporiums in Kolkata. Considered one of the finest cloth materials in the world, muslin is a slightly expensive.
Where to stay
Kolkata offers innumerable accommodation options to suit everyone’s budget and needs. Budget accommodation is available on Chowringhe Road and Sudder Street. There are quite a few mid-range accommodation options near Dalhousie Square. Apart from these, Kolkata also has innumerable luxury hotels in different parts of the city. Luxury accommodation is also available in the British-era clubs.
Where to eat
Kolkata is a foodie’s delight. One can find eateries serving delicious authentic Bengali cuisine to other Indian and international cuisine. Most of the famous eateries are over hundred-years-old. Park Street is the most famous place to eat in Kolkata.
Kathi kebab is the most famous fast-food in Kolkata served at its best in the New Market area, Hogg Market and Elgin Street. Almost every restaurant in the city serves sea food and Mughalai delicacies.
Kolkata thrives on street food like chops, rolls and puchka that are also extremely delicious and found throughout city. Puchkas are known in rest of India as gol gappas or pani puris.
Flurry’s on Park Street is considered one of the best Swiss bakeries in the continent.
Coffee bars in Kolkata are extremely popular. Coffee House is the most famous coffee shop where the intellectuals of the city meet. International coffee shops also have their outlets in the city.
Bengali milk sweets like rasagulla, misthi doi, sandesh, ras-malai, etc. are served at its best in Kolkata. They are found almost everywhere in the city.
Best time to visit
Kolkata can be visited anytime of the year. However, summers tend to be extremely hot with temperature soaring above 40 degree Celsius. Winters are pleasant and temperature dips to as low as nine degree Celsius. Kolkata receives heavy rainfall during monsoon. October to March is the best time to visit the city. Kali Pooja which is celebrated with great zest and fervor in October is a popular tourist attraction in Kolkata.