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.
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 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
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.
Howrah Bridge: Also known as Rabindra Setu, Howrah Bridge is among the popular tourist attractions and an iconic representation of Kolkata. Situated over Hoogly River, the bridge is 705 metre long structure.
Mother House: Also known as the saint of the gutters, Mother Teresa spent 45 years of her life serving the underprivileged and destitute in the city. She treated the sick, poor, orphans, etc. and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Mother House lies in eternal rest at Mother House, the head quarters of Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded.
Raj Bhavan: The official residence of the West Bengal Governer, Raj Bhavan was constructed in 1799 along the lines of Kedleston Hall, the seat of the Curzon family. It is amongst the most beautiful structures in the city and the second largest government residence in India after Rashtrapati Bhavan.
China Town: Located in the eastern part of the city, China Town was once home to over 20,000 Chinese. It is famous for housing innumerable restaurants that serve delicious authentic and Indian Chinese. It also houses a lot of tanneries.
Kumartoli: Originally a potter’s colony, Kumartoli is where most of the clay idols of Goddess Durga and Kali Mata are made.
College Street: Famous for hosting some of the finest educational institutes in the country, the North Kolkata street is a place is a must visit. Nine colleges are situated in the street that stretches from Bowbazar to Mahatma Gandhi Road. The street also houses Coffee Shop, a famous coffee bar where intellectuals meet to chat. College Street is also popular for having a large book market. Innumerable small shops sell a wide range of books at throwaway prices. Some of the top Bengali publications also have their offices in College Street.
Jorasanko Thakur Bari: Built in the 18th century by Dwarkanath Tagore, it is the ancestral home has been turned into a museum. Light and sound shows are also held. Bari remains closed on Mondays and Thursdays.
Marble Palace: Built in 1853, the grand marble mansion has a collection of statues, paintings, glassware and Victorian artifacts. Special permission is needed from West Bengal Tourism to enter the palace. However, there are no entry charges.
Belur Math: Located amidst a picturesque landscape, Belur Math is the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission, the monastic order founded by Swami Vivekananda. It is also home to the stunning Ramakrishna temple.
St. John’s Church: Built in 1787, Job Charnock, considered the father of Kolkata, is buried in the church. The architecture of the church is stunning.
Museums: Railway Museum: Housing a two-storey model of the Howrah railway station, the open-air museum has several 19th century steam locos. One can also enjoy a toy train ride. Indian museum: One of Kolkata’s oldest museums, it has a vast collection of scriptures dating back to the 9th century, dinosaur armadillo, whale skeleton, etc. The museum also houses a life-size reproduction of second century BC Bahrut Gateway.
Victoria Memorial: Dedicated by William Emerson to Queen Victoria, Victoria Memorial houses a rich collection of paintings and photographs dating back to the British Raj. Light show on all days except Mondays is very popular.
Botanical Gardens: Founded in 1786, it is the site of the 250-year-old banyan tree and an array of beautiful plants. It is situated on the banks of Hoogli River.
Writer’s building: It houses the secretariat of the West Bengal government, Writer’s Building houses the office of the chief minister. The building once housed the writers of British East India Company. Originally designed in 1777 by Thomas Lyon, the building underwent several changes over time.
Kali temple: Considered Kolkata’s holiest Hindu shrine, it is among the 52 Shakti Peethas in the Kali temple is located in Kalighat. It is among the few temples in India where goat are still sacrificed. Lakhs of pilgrims visit the temple every year. Kalighat is also famous for its peculiar painting style.
Eden Gardens: One of the biggest cricket stadiums in the world with a seating capacity of over 90,000, Eden Gardens has hosted some of the most of the important cricket matches like 1987 World Cup final and the semi-final between India and Sri Lanka. Currently it serves as the home ground to Kolkata Knight Riders during IPL.