After exploring majestic Bhutan, I wanted to explore the northeastern states of India. As it was the monsoon season, half of Assam and Meghalaya were flooded and the transportation systems were affected. Therefore, I made an impromptu plan to go to Kolkata and, before I knew it, I was standing outside the Kolkata airport, waiting for my cab. Kolkata is one of the four metro cities in India, and it was always on my list. As I had never been to the ‘City of Joy’ before, I thought this would be a great chance to see the city as a tourist and meet some locals. I had an idea of the city from my friends from this city. My first impression of the city during the 1-hour ride from the airport to the hotel made me feel very nostalgic. Busy roads, street food shops, old architecture and old coffee shops gave me the feels I had expected. I ended up in the heart of the city, Park Street. Wandering around the streets, I noticed the small things that took me back in time. I saw more people in a bookstore than in a coffee shop for the first time.
Here are the things I managed to do in Kolkata while I was there and will surely recommend everyone to give a go.
I am not a historian, but I can assure you the collection of European art I saw in Marble Palace was beyond anything I have ever seen. Raja Rajendra Mullick, a businessman and honorary titleholder in the early nineteenth century, collected antiques during his trips to Europe. He built and decorated this place. He collected works of art, marble statues and almost all sort of antiques from all over the Europe, especially Italy, England, Spain, and France. The place is still owned and occupied by his third-generation grandchildren, so taking pictures is not allowed.
The city is called where ‘East meets the West’. Just a few hundred meters from Marble Palace is the place dedicated to one of the greatest poets of Indian history and the ambassador of Indian culture abroad: Rabindranath Tagore. He was a serious inspiration to literature lovers. The Tagore House is a serious traveller’s goal. The house is now converted into a small museum that takes you through different phases of his life and his work. Starting from his personal belongings, his living room and the room where he died, the museum takes you through different galleries displaying his journey. It bears testimony of his journeys to China, Japan, and the rest of the world. His achievements and words are a true inspiration, and the house takes you back to the nineteenth century.
Tram and Yellow Taxi
You must have heard of the iconic London black taxi. In Kolkata, we have our own version of it. Every Indian kid of the 90s remembers the joy of getting the first family car and, at the time, Ambassador Cars were just what we had. Today, the only place you can see those cars is Kolkata. These old cars are painted bright yellow and ply everywhere in the city. If the old yellow taxis are not enough, Kolkata has more to offer; decades-old trams cover most of the Northern and Central part of the city. Trams can only be found in Kolkata. They give the city a unique look, but they are in a very bad condition and you do not really feel proud when you look at it.
Do you want to experience the madness for books? Head to Mahatma Gandhi road in Kolkata, also known as College Street. The narrow lane is full of big and small stores selling second-hand books as well as new books on every topic and genre imaginable.
Victoria Memorial in Kolkata is one of the most iconic buildings of British Colonial India. It is a stunning structure and clearly represents the Victorian architecture. Tickets cost about INR 20 for Indians and INR 200 for foreigners. I missed the museum in the building because it was Monday and all the major attractions in Kolkata are closed on Monday. This building is famous and must be on your list as a traveller. However, being an Indian, I hated looking at the Victoria Statue. I wondered why we still take pride in being an erstwhile colony and maintain the statues that make us realize we were a colony at some time. When I went to South Africa last year, which was also a British colony at one time, there were protests going on to take down the statues of Churchill and other British leaders in the country. There is no point in being proud of the sad history of colonial oppression.
Raj Cafe and Blue Sky Cafe
Talking to backpackers in Kolkata, I found out about these two streets cafes and almost all the budget travellers in the city go to these places. Sudder Street and Park Street are two of the busiest streets, and that is where you will meet all the backpackers in the city. Raj Cafe and The Blue-Sky Cafe on Sudder Street are famous for being backpackers’ favourite food joints. When you are tired of experimenting with Indian food and craving home food, you should head to these non-luxury and affordable cafes. I had a word with the owner Raj who speaks three languages, including Spanish fluently. Hearing your own language and having a range of home food options makes travellers feel comfortable. You can always find people sitting there and just having a good time.
Rabindra Sarovar (Lake)
Named after Rabindranath Tagore, the lake and its surrounding areas are popular recreational areas in Kolkata. I met some locals and spent half of my Sunday afternoon next to the lake, just chilling. I also had the opportunity to take the oldest metro in the country—Kolkata Metro. Kolkata Metro is the first and oldest one in the country, and it was on my list to try it once. The lake was beautiful and filled with locals enjoying picnics. It is a good place to run away from the city’s chaos for some time.
There were other places in the city I wanted to check out. However, one of the days being Monday, all the attractions were closed. Here is the list of things you should have on your list if you are visiting the city:
- Subhash Chandra Bose House
- Dakshineshwar Temple
- Botanical Gardens
- Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium
- New Market
- Howrah Bridge
- Mother Teresa House
Overall, my three-day visit to the city was full of mixed feelings. On one hand, I was very happy to see things that I thought I had lost with time, but I felt the local government can do a lot more to improve the lifestyle of the locals, provide better facilities and do more improvement work. I feel that the development of the city has been held back in the name of heritage. The only thing I could think of while leaving the city on my way back to the airport: You do not run a city for tourist, you run it for the people of the city; if the standard of living of the people is not high, then the city’s heritage is of no use.