India Tourism office hands out free maps of greater Kolkata, with major sights and stops marked, and also has useful information about travelling to other parts of India.
India Tourism Kolkata
Regional government office in Kolkata, India
Address: 4, Embassy Building, Ground Floor, Shakespeare Sarani, Elgin, Kolkata, West Bengal 700071, India
Hours: Closes 6:00pm
Tel: +91 33 2282 7731
Website: www.incredibleindia.org

West Bengal Tourism, according to Lonely Planet, primarily sells its own tours (last sales 4.30pm), and has good free city maps. Its website is useful for local travel information, as well as booking state-operated hotels and lodges across the state.
West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation Ltd Tourist information center in Kolkata, India
Address: 3/2, Binoy Badal Dinesh Bag E, Road, Kolkata, West Bengal 700001, India
Hours: Closes 6:00pm
Tel: +91 90733 86804
24 Hour helpine: 1-800-21216
Website: www.wbtourismgov.in

Kolkata Information Centre
Tourist information center in Kolkata, India
Address: Circus Ave, Road, Maidan, Kolkata, West Bengal 700071, India
Hours: Closes 7:30pm
Tel: +91 33 2223 2451

Orientation and Lay Out of Kolkata

Kolkata is situated on both sides of the Hooghly (a branch of the Ganges), about 120 kilometers (80 miles) north of the Bay of Bengal and 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of the border with Bangladesh. Most of the tourist sights, colonial buildings, museums, parks and gardens are on the west side in downtown Kolkata . Most of the slum and poor neighborhoods are across the Howry Bridge in Howry.

The main tourist area of Kolkata — centered around Park Street, the India Museum and Chowringhee — is relatively compact and it is easy to get around on foot. Maidan Park, a large open field in the heart of the city, takes up a large area between the Howry Bridge and downtown Kolkata. Some large sporting events and public meetings take place here.The Victoria Memorial and Kolkata Race Course are located at the southern end of the Maidan. Among the other parks are Central Park in Bidhannagar and Millennium Park on Strand Road, along the Hooghly River.

The main part of Kolkata is shaped like an ear extending out from the Hooghly River. The inner ear is "White Town," the former European city of spacious homes and broad avenues built around the Maidan—Kolkata's large central park. Beyond that is "Black Town," an area of ruined mansions, slums, bazaars and temples. The oldest part of Black Town is on the top of the ear at North Kolkata. Kolkata proper lies along the eastern bank of the Hooghly River. Howrah, often considered a part of Kolkata, lies along the Hooghly’s western bank.

Kolkata city, under the jurisdiction of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation ( KMC), has an area of 205 square kilometers (79 square miles). Relatively narrow, it stretches for about 10 kilometers from the Hooghly River in the west to roughly the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass in the east. The Kolkata metropolitan area is spread over an area of 1,886.67 square kilometers (728.45 square miles) and is comprised of three municipal corporations (including Kolkata Municipal Corporation), 37 local municipalities and 24 panchayat samitis. The urban agglomeration encompassed 72 cities and 527 towns and villages. Suburban areas in the Kolkata metropolitan area incorporate parts of North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, and Nadia.

1) Central Kolkata is the home of the central business district and contains B. B. D. Bagh, formerly known as Dalhousie Square, and the Esplanade on its east; Strand Road is on its west. The West Bengal Secretariat, General Post Office, Reserve Bank of India, High Court, Lalbazar Police Headquarters, and several other government and private offices are located there. Another business hub is the area south of Park Street, which comprises thoroughfares such as Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Camac Street, Wood Street, Loudon Street, Shakespeare Sarani, and A. J. C. Bose Road.

2) North Kolkata is the oldest part of the city. It is characterised by 19th-century architecture and narrow alleyways, it includes the areas of Shyambazar, Shobhabazar, Chitpur, Cossipore, Baranagar, Sinthee, and Dum Dum. 3) South Kolkata developed after India gained independence in 1947; it includes upscale neighbourhoods such as Ballygunge, Alipore, New Alipore, Lansdowne, Bhowanipore, Tollygunge, Jodhpur Park, Lake Gardens, Golf Green, Jadavpur, and Kasba. 4) Two planned townships in the greater Kolkata region are Bidhannagar, also known as Salt Lake City north-east of the city; and Rajarhat, also called New Town, east of Bidhannagar. In the 2000s, Sector V in Bidhannagar developed into a business hub for information technology and telecommunication companies.

Entertainment in Kolkata

Kolkata is regarded as the intellectual and literary center of India. Some Bengalis say that it has more poets than Paris and Rome combined; more literary magazines than London or New York; and more theater companies and art galleries than anywhere else in Asia. The film industry here is second only to Mumbai; poetry readings are major events and "Full House" signs are often posted outside theaters. Many claim the theaters are so popular is because couple who want to hold hands and kiss have nowhere else to go." During the cool season, Kolkata comes alive with Indian poetry, music, drama, painting, sculpture, and dance programs. The Kolkata School of Music hosts concerts.

Most discos and nightclubs are found in the large hotels. Some hotel restaurants have live dance bands or musicians that play Indian music, jazz or rock. Folk dances and Indian music programs are usually held at auditoriums. Many of the city's theater productions are in English. Park street is a lively area with restaurants and nightclubs with bands and crooners. Street performer, monkey trainers, trained rats and magician often perform in Maidan Park. There are moveie theaters around that mainly show Bollywood and Bengali movies but also some Hollywood ones. A calendar of events and entertainment information may be obtained from the tourist offices, local newspapers and entertainment magazines and websites, the Lonely Planet Books, and posters put up around town.

Kolkata has the largest sex business in India. More than 20,000 prostitutes work in the city. There are 11 red light districts. The largest, Sonagachi, employs 11,000 prostitutes and is run by powerful brothel landlords, pimps and madams. Many of the prostitutes work in the districts 350 or so brothels. The rest walk the streets. About 40,000 customers visit the district every day, which means the average prostitutes services five to six customers a day.

Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “ “They told me, ‘If you want to play jazz, man, go to Kolkata,’” recalled Carlton Kitto, a bow-tied guitarist. No trip to Kolkata is complete without an evening on Park Street, the onetime mecca of jazz. Clubs once lined Park Street and Chowringhee: Mocambo and Moulin Rouge, Firpo’s and the after-hours Golden Slipper. By the late ’70s most of the musicians had left for Mumbai, but Mr. Kitto stayed behind and plays standards each night at a tame bar called Chowringhee inside the Oberoi Grand Hotel; he packs up at 11 o’clock. Bengali rock has since become the soundtrack of the city; one of its most popular venues is a club called Someplace Else, one of three bars on the ground floor of the Park Hotel (17 Park Street, 91-33-2249-9000; Kolkata.theparkhotels.com). There was a Deep Purple tribute on a recent evening. Next door, at Trincas (17/B Park Street; 91-33-2229-7825), you can still dance most nights to a live band, mostly rhythm and blues.” [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]

Entertainment Venues in Kolkata

Star Theatre (junction of Grey Street or Aurobindo Saranee and Cornwallis Street or Bidhan Saranee) has long been the cultural center of Kolkata and city and was first commercial Bengali theatre, Some of the first films in Bengal made by Hira Lala Sen were screened here. The auditorium's acoustics are well known, and Star Theatre has at least 10 plays staged per month, especially in December and January. While the interiors have all been modernised, the facade remains heritage. Visitors can park in the underground space where a nominal fee is charged. The tramcars and their tracks add to the heritage charm of the place. Well-known personalities including Rabindranath Tagore, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Vidyasagar have visited here. Constructed in 1883 on Beadon Street, Star Theatre was moved to Cornwallis Street or Bidhan Sarani. The Star Theatre was returned to civic ownership in 2012 with an aim of stopping commercialisation.

Nandan Cinema and Cultural Complex (on St Paul's Cathedral Road, southeast of the Victoria Memorial) is a government-sponsored cultural centre inaugurated in 1985 by Oscar-winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray, who was also one of its patrons and designed the emblem on the building facade. There are three large movie theatres here that can accommodate 1,324 people; one theatre screens only art films. A grand stage along with a seminar and conference hall are also part of Nandan. It is said to be the top cultural centre of East India and is patronised by the likes of actors Utpal Dutt and Anil Chatterjee. Several books including A Poet with a Camera, 100 Years of Cinema, Bengali Film Directory have been published by Nandan. It hosts numerous national and international film festivals, seminars, discourses and annual lectures, training courses, retrospectives and exhibitions. One will find live performances of theatre and dance happening here every single day. Nandan shares space with the Rabindra Sadan cultural centre, Sisir Mancha and the Academy of Fine Arts.

Rabindra Sadan (near Nandan Cinema and Cultural Complex on Belvedere Road) was made in the memory of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Dance, drama and other cultural programmes along with exhibitions are regularly held at the sadan. Its large stage allows for the performance of premier theatre as well as the screening of films, and many film festivals of Kolkata have been held at this venue for many years. The Nandan Pashcimabanga Bangla Akademi (West Bengal Bengali Academy) and Ganganendra Pradarshanshala are also located here. Besides, Sisir Mancha, Academy of Fine Arts and The Calcutta Information Centre make Rabindra Sadan the favourite haunt of culture lovers.

Mahajati Sadan (Mahatma Gandhi Road Metro station) is a landmark heritage building that houses a cultural auditorium, which acts as a venue for magic shows, seminars, meetings and music and dance events. Another attraction is the library that shows exhibits of the freedom fighters of Bengal, along with their clay models on the first floor. You can also find pictures of these great personalities on the walls of the sadan. The idea of the sadan was conceived by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and the foundation stone was laid by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore in 1939. He called the sadan the "House of the Nation", and recited his popular poem "Banglar Mati, Banglar jal". However, the construction of the building stopped when Netaji suddenly disappeared. After independence, Bidhan Chandra Roy got the building completed.

Sports in Kolkata

Cricket, polo and field hockey are often played at Maidan, Kolkata s biggest playground, and other parks in Kolkata. The Race Course hosts horse races and occasion team races between Gurkhas and Indian Army soldiers playing Scottish tunes on bagpipes. Tourists can also visit Elliot Park which is close to Maidan Ground. There are numerous sports clubs in Kolkata. Sports enthusiasts can enjoy shooting, basketball, swimming, soccer, rowing, tennis, and golf.

Eden Gardens is the largest cricket stadium in India and the second-largest in the world in terms of seating capacity. It holds 120,000 people. Many in Kolkata say that if the stadium was large enough another half million would come to watch matches. Fans enjoy doing the wave and lighting of fireworks when something important happens. After India defeated West Indies by 102 runs in 1993 to capture its first major international cricket tournament, at home, fans rolled up newspapers , set them on fire and held them over their head. "You will not find a crowd like this anywhere in the world. They're really fanatic," a West Indian player said. "Indians worship cricket and their cricketers are like gods to them."

You can see a cricket or football game at or near Eden Gardens. The stadium is the hub of cricket in the city. It is the third-biggest cricket stadium in the world in terms of size after the Melbourne Cricket Ground and ANZ Stadium, and is among the cricket stadiums in the world to have a giant electronic scoreboard. Eden Gardens is also one of the first few stadiums in India with floodlights where day-and-night matches are held. Several important cricketing events, both local and international, including the World Cup 1987 final, the World Cup 1996 semi-final and the Hero Cup have been held here. Test matches, one-dayers and Twenty 20 international matches have also been played in this ground. Eden Gardens is the home ground for the Bengal Cricket Team and the IPL’s Kolkata Knight Riders.

Eden Gardens is also a park that stretches over 50 acre and established in 1864.. The pathways of the gardens are shaded by tall mango, mahogany and banyan trees that add serenity to the landscape. Tourists can visit the yellow-and-red, three-storeyed Burmese Pagoda brought here by Lord Dalhousie. Governor-General Lord Auckland's dream of making a circus and a garden resulted in this beautiful space. There is an oblong tank with space around it for recreational activities. It was originally named Auckland Circus Gardens. Later the name was changed to Eden Gardens.

Race Course (near the Victoria Memorial) is among the largest horse race venues in India. Established by the British in 1820, it is set amidst picturesque surroundings and verdant gardens. Several prestigious events are held here and it has traditionally been hotspot for elites. The main seasons are from July to September and November to March, when elaborate races are held. You can catch a thrilling race on Saturdays or on public holidays. Some of the prominent races include the Kolkata Derby and the Queen Elizabeth Cup. The course is also used as a ground for polo matches. The Race Course is located in the heart of the city and maintained by the Royal Turf Club of Kolkata.

Restaurants in Kolkata

The best restaurants are generally located in the large hotels. Indian food, Chinese food, Tibetan food, fast food, International food, are all available in Kolkata. Traditional Bengali food is generally not found at restaurants but is served up primarily at the wayside eating stands. Eliot road has a several low prices restaurants run by voluntary welfare organizations and Park street is a lovely area with a number of Indian, Continental and Chinese restaurants and nightclubs. Chinese restaurants can also be found in Chinatown Muslim restaurants can be found near Nakhoda Mosque and on Chitpur Road and Zakaria Street. Some bill themselves as “pure veg”; others are overflowing with mutton. The Kolkata tourist offices and newsstands may have restaurant guides. Also check lists of restaurants in local entertainment magazines and websites, newspapers, the Lonely Planet books and other guidebooks.

Hilsa is a kind of fish that is popular in Kolkata. Other dishes that are worth a try are spongy rosogolla (a cottage cheese dessert), spicy and sweet water-filled puchka (a savouy), delicious daab chingri (prawns cooked in green coconut), ilish paturi (a type of steamed fish) and kosha mangsho (dry mutton curry). Whole Goat Roasted is made with a special marinade and cooked over a charcoal fire. It is a fixture of wedding celebrations. Kolkata Biryani is a layered rice dish mixed with potatoes and meat. Legend has it that the exiled Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow once had to go to Bengal and he brought back the Awadhi biryani. However, with his limited means, he had to replace meat with cheaper vegetables.

In-season fruits and vegetables are plentiful. Bananas, oranges, and limes are always available. In winter, cauliflower, broccoli, red cabbage and squash are easily found. Excellent and inexpensive beef and mutton is plentiful in the market. Pork and poultry are also available. Better cuts of these meats are usually purchased at higher prices from specialty shops or vendors who deliver. Fresh fish is reasonably priced in season. Shrimp, crabs, and lobster are available.

Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: ““At Eau Chew (12 Ganesh Chandra Avenue; 91-33-2237-8260), the fish in black bean sauce costs 450 to 550 rupees. Kewpie’s (2 Elgin Lane, 91-33-2486-1600; www.kewpieskitchen.com) serves traditional home-cooked Bengali food. Kewpie was Minakshie Dasgupta, one of the city’s most important food writers; her daughter, Rakhi Purnima, runs the restaurant now out of the family home, and her steamed banana blossoms, or mocha, in Bengali, is a must try. Served on terra-cotta platters, vegetarian meals cost 350 rupees; for fish and meat, the meal is 450 rupees “Prince Restaurant (91-33-2252-1432) is an unpretentious and excellent restaurant on Free School Street, now Mirza Ghalib Street. Bhupendra Saha goes to market shortly after dawn each morning and trolls for fish, which is cooked according to his wife’s East Bengali recipes. On my last visit, prawn in coconut milk sauce was 90 rupees. Best of all, in Kolkata, you can eat the world. The royal chefs who decamped here from the Mughal court of north India brought a cardamom-laced mutton rezala stew. The British Raj offered a canapé of cheese and pineapple. From Baghdad, David Nahoum’s Jewish forefathers brought the cheese-filled sambusa to Kolkata’s New Market. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]

“On the south side of the college is the family-owned Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra Nandy, makers of nothing else but the celebrated Bengali shondesh. To its detractors, including me, the shondesh, made of sweetened slow-stirred cheese, resembles cement. To its fans, it is proof of divine love, eaten at any time of day, and always when there is something to celebrate. In winter the shondesh is sweetened with palm syrup, and it had arrived from the countryside this afternoon in terra-cotta pitchers. Mr. Nandy, without stirring from his perch, ordered his latest creations to be fetched — one stuffed with coconut and nuts, another with a truffle-like injection of palm syrup, a third dunked in syrup. The Nandy workshop’s green walls were plastered with Hindu goddess posters. Men sat on the floor, crafting each shondesh from wooden molds. Not that the Nandys have eschewed New India. They now have an outlet inside an air-conditioned supermarket.”

Indian Coffee House

The Indian Coffee House (15 Bankim Chatterjee Street, off Cornwallis Street, one kilometer east of Howrah Bridge) in a Kolkata institution. The hub of students and alumni of Presidency College (and other colleges), which is located right opposite, as well as intellectuals, the Indian Coffee House was founded in 1942. Since then, it has continued to host top poets, artistes, literati and filmmakers including Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sanjeev Chattopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Subhas Mukhopadhyay and Shakti Chattopadhyay.

Indian Coffee House is hailed as the venue for the well-known hungry generation literary and cultural movement in which the poet brothers Malay Roychoudhury and Samir Roychoudhury were arrested for having pioneered this movement. There are many magazines that have taken birth during discussions over cups of coffee here. It is known by all as College Street Coffee House even though it stands on Bankim Chatterjee Street. The Coffee Board decided to start a coffee joint from the Albert Hall and soon it gained popularity. Its name was changed to Coffee House in 1947 by the government (Tel: 91-33 2237-5649).

Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “Built in the late 1800s as the Albert Hall to commemorate a visit of the prince consort, it eventually became the city’s most venerable institution of revolutionary chatter and flirt. There is still plenty of flirt. “The waiters don’t chatter. They scowl under their white caps, thick black dirt in the stiff creases. They complain that no one orders anything. A cashier told me last summer that the cafe had been posting losses for more than 25 years. I guiltily ordered the fritter-like vegetable pakoras.”

Shopping in Kolkata

There are more than 300 markets in Kolkata. Shoppers gather in early morning while the choice is good. Larger markets have a good selection of products such as traditional handwoven textiles, books, handloom sarees, terracotta items and souvenirs. The city is famous for its flowers, silver, gold, shadow-worked linen, cotton and silk saris, smoked Bandal cheese, chocolate, confectioneries, masks, kantha embroidery, Kalighat Pats painting, conch shell crafts, Bankura horses, brass and bell-metal works, jute d cor, Dokra metal casting and Shola pith.

The auction houses on Park and Russell streets are open on Fridays and Sundays, respectively. The main shopping areas are situated around Park Street, J.L. Nehru Road and the Dakshinapan Shopping Complex in South Kolkata. The Forum shopping mall is one of he most Westernized placed in Kolkata. Gariahat Road is a great place to stock up on traditional textiles such Benarasi silk and Kantha embroidery.

New Market (on Lindsay Street at Free School Street also known as Mirza Ghalib Street) opened in 1874 and remains the best place to shop even though part of it was destroyed by a fire several years ago. The market is lined with about 2,000 stalls that offer great choices of white 'lal paar' sarees, which are worn during Durga puja and feature a red border. You can also get good buys on Vishnupuri and tussar silk sarees. Running from Park Street to New Market, Chowringhee Road is a bizarrely beautiful market that offers almost everything under the sun. Who knows what you may find sifting through the pile of junk - maybe an ancient relic! Look out for attractive terracotta ware that is a unique speciality.

Esplanade (in the New Market area) is a major shopping area, with clothing shops and places where you can stock up on toiletries, daily use products, fashion items and cosmetics. Tourists can indulge in street shopping or head to various high-end brand stores. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose statue is located in the southwest. In and around the Esplanade are colonial-era buildings of Dalhousie Square. The marketplace is reminiscent of the British Raj as the buildings in and around Esplanade boast typical British architectural styles. Esplanade is an important business centre of the city.

College Street (Centra Metro Station) is the home of the largest book market in India. It offers an unmatched variety of new and old books for the happy reader. In colloquial language, it is called ' Boi Para', which roughly translates into book locality. It is said to be the brains of the cerebral city and many believe that “if you can't find a book on College Street, it probably hasn't been printed.” It is considered as the largest second-hand book locality in Asia. A stone's throw from College Street lies Baithakkhana, meaning parlour. It is the largest paper market in Asia and you can find a wide variety of paper here. Shop for different sizes, textures, colors, thickness and quality. Paper from this market is sourced to College Street and is used by publishers to print the books sold in the market.

Malik Ghat flower market (at the foot of the Howrah Bridge on the east shore of the Hoogli River) is a colorful place with 240 flower shops 1,000 vendors selling a variety of flowers, including red hibiscus and tuberose given as offering and garlands of bright orange marigolds as well as bananas, vegetables and fruit. Cabbages are loaded off of trucks with hooks, Old men carry 50-kilogram boxes of tomatoes on their heads. Marigold garland sellers gather and produce huge swaths of orange The vendors are mostly poor from the countryside who have no other way to make money. Their numbers have soared in recent years, and this has angered many long-time vendors. Flowers that are unsold find their way to garbage heaps at night,

Art Galleries: Kolkata has a very active arts scene. Check local newspapers for exhibition and stroll into the city's many galleries. Kalighat painting or kalighat pat is an art form that developed in the early 19th century in the vicinity of the famous Kalighat Kali Temple in Kolkata. These are practiced by artists called patuas, who documented Bengali lifestyle, from the actions of gods and goddesses to the frailties of the Kolkata babus, in these paintings. The main theme of the art was housewives defending themselves with broomsticks, women playing tabla (a small pair of drums), bina (a string instrument) and some of them dressing up. The dominating scenes are those from religious and mythological stories. One can also find pictures of beasts and birds, along with those of historical figures like Rani Lakshmibai.

Traditional papier mache masks are vivid portrayals of deities and demons from mythological stories. To make these, paper is dipped in clay and then pasted over a clay model. Once dry, the mask is taken off the mould and painted in vibrant shades. The Purulia district is well-known as the hub for this art. The mask may be used to decorate homes or as an accessory to participate in folk festivals. Kantha is one of the oldest forms of embroidery in India. It is believed to have originated in the pre-Vedic period. In this, running stitches are creatively used to make flowers, birds, animals and geometrical figures on a cotton or silk cloth, which is used to make sarees and dhotis. Nowadays, blankets and quilts are also being created by stitching five or six cloth layers together. The motifs used in earlier times included symbols like the sun, the tree of life and the universe.

Accommodation in Kolkata

Kolkata has fewer deluxe hotels than Mumbai and New Delhi. Many of these are located on or around Nehru Road or near the airport. There are also quite a few standard hotels, hostels, guesthouses, and budget hotels. Some of the most popular cheap hotels and guesthouses are located east of the India Museum. The Lonely Planet books good lists of cheap accommodation options.

The Oberi Grand is regarded as Kolkata's grandest hotel. The Fairlawn Hotel is famous for its eccentric customs and quirky guests. Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “The storied Fairlawn Hotel (13/A, Sudder Street, 91-33-2252-1510; www.fairlawnhotel.com), run by a Kolkata Armenian family, is on the central artery of the budget traveler. A famous wrestler, named King Kong, is said to have stayed there and broken some of the furniture. It has since been replaced. A double room costs 2,500 rupees, including meals, in the off season (late spring and summer). [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]

“Oberoi Grand Hotel (15 Jawaharlal Nehru Road, 91-33-2249-2323; www.oberoikolkata.com) is old-school opulence, tucked behind the arcades along Chowringhee. A double can be booked online in the off season for 7,500 rupees.”

Transportation in Kolkata

The main tourist area of Kolkata — centered around Park Street, the India Museum and Chowringhee — is relatively compact and it is easy to get around on foot. Public transport in the city is provided by the Kolkata Suburban Railway, the Kolkata Metro, trams, rickshaws, and buses. Public transport operators sometimes work 16-hour shifts often six days a week and under very stressful conditions. Cars with a driver can easily be arranged through hotels and cost about US$50 a day..

Taxis, buses and minibuses are plentiful. Taxis are readily available. Almost all of Kolkata's taxis are antiquated Hindustan Ambassadors by make; newer air-conditioned radio taxis are in service as well. Fares are reasonable. Drivers generally use meters if requested. Drivers should have a rate chart. Fares are higher at night or if traveling to the outskirts of the city. Drivers do not charge late night surcharges. Pre-paid taxis provide transport from Sealdah Station to anywhere in the city. Taxi drivers in Kolkata often have a picture of Kali, the god of destruction hanging from their rear view mirror.

Auto-rickshaws are available in some sections of the city. They travel fixed routes. Fares are fixed. Drivers may add a surcharge at night. Human-drawn rickshaws are largely gone now. In parts of the city, cycle rickshaws are used for short trips.

Ferries and Boats are available at several locations, provide traffic jam-free access to older sections of the city. Ferry services connect Babu Ghat and Fairlie Place in Kolkata with its twin city of Howrah, located across the Hooghly River. It is also possible to take a boat trip on the Hooghly and float underneath Howrar Bridge. The Port of Kolkata, established in 1870, is India's oldest and only major river port. The port hosts passenger services to Port Blair, capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Taxis, buses and rickshaws provide transport from ferry docking facilities.

Roads and Traffic

Roads make up six percent of the city area, compared to 23 percent in Delhi and 17 percent in Mumbai. Sidewalks are generally present and wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and vendor stands. Roads leading to the city include: Durgapur Expressway and Kona Expressway. Kona Expressway links the city with NH-6 and NH-2. The Grand Trunk Road (NH-2) is the main link to Delhi. The Kolkata–Delhi and Kolkata–Chennai prongs of the Golden Quadrilateral, and National Highway 34 start from Kolkata. [Source: Wikipedia, Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]

Due to its diverse and abundant public transportation, privately owned vehicles are not as common in Kolkata as in other major Indian cities. Still the city has witnessed a steady increase in the number of registered vehicles and traffic and vehicle-related pollution are serious problems. The Kolkata Metro has somewhat eased traffic congestion, as has the addition of new roads and flyovers.

Limited infrastructure, inadequate and inefficient surface public transport and rapid increases in the number of road users create difficult traffic conditions. Water-logging, caused by heavy rains that fall during the summer monsoon, can interrupt transportation networks.

Trams, Suburban Trains and the Metro in Kolkata

Trams run by Calcutta Tramways Company. operates in a few sections of the city. It is the only tram service in India. Transport is slow, partly due to heavily congested traffic. Service is unreliable. Some routes are no longer in service, equipment has not been modernized and tram tracks are not maintained. Tram tracks are in the center lane on main roads. Passengers often must pass through heavy traffic to get to or from tram stops. Tram tracks are being embedded into the pavement on many roads, creating a smoother surface for other road users. Website with bus and trams schedules: www.Kolkatatramways.com/schedules.htm. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010]

Suburban Rail Services: SER and ER have an extensive network of routes in the city and metropolitan area and includes the Circular Rail. The suburban rail network is fairly extensive and reaches the city's distant suburbs.

Kolkata Metro has been in operation since 1984. The oldest underground mass transit system in India, it spans the north–south length of the city and Salt Lake, and covers a distance of 33 kilometers (21 miles) from Dum Dum to Garia Bazar, linking North Kolkata and South Kolkata. Dum Dum station is about 5 kilometers from the International Airport. As of 2020, four Metro rail lines were under construction.

The Metro is Kolkata’s pride and joy, even though there is only one line. It is primarily an above ground system that services a limited number of places. Each station is decorated with paintings and sculptures. In Kalighat station, reproductions of Kalighat paintings hang on the walls. Other stations display reproductions of paintings by Tagore or early scenes of European Kolkata. Televisions show popular films and cricket matches. Metro stops are about one kilometers apart. Service is reliable. Trains runs every 10-15 minutes. Cars are clean, but overcrowded. It is very cheap. The fare is based on distance traveled.

Buses in Kolkata

Local Buses are the most commonly used mode of transport and are operated by government agencies and private companies. The buses are beat up and often dangerously overcrowded, especially in rush hour. Routes are written on the buses in Bengali and English. Conductors also call out destinations. Buses can be hailed. Drivers will stop anywhere to pick up passengers. Website with bus and trams schedules: www.Kolkatatramways.com/schedules.htm.

Long Distance Buses are operated by the government and private companies. State buses ply regular routes at regular intervals to and from most of the other cities of West Bengal, South Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, North Bengal and Bhutan. Agencies operating long-distance bus services include the Calcutta State Transport Corporation (CSTC), Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC), West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC), the South Bengal State Transport Corporation, the North Bengal State Transport Corporation, and various private operators. Tickets are available at bus stations, ticket offices and travel agencies. Cost is often higher at travel agencies.

Air-conditioned buses provide transport between Kolkata and Dhaka in Bangladesh. Visas may be required for Bangladesh and for re-entry into India. Visa on arrival are generally offered at airports and not land border crossings. Privately-owned bus companies, state-owned West Bengal Surface Transport Service Corporation (WBSTSC) and Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC) buses provide transport between Kolkata and larger cities in Bangladesh. Bus service from Kolkata to cities in Eastern India is also available. Many run through Bangladesh. There is regular bus service from Dhaka and Agartala, capital of Tripura state in Eastern India.

Bus Stations: Kolkata’s main bus terminals are located at Esplanade (Tel: 28-1916, most buses arrive here) and Babughat.

Trains and Train Stations in Kolkata

Long-Distance Trains link Kolkata city with most of India’s larger cities. There are rail connections to Northeastern India. There are three major railheads in Kolkata: 1) – Howrah, 2) Sealdah and 3) Kolkata railway stations. Each of them has good connections with the rest of the cities of India. Howrah and Sealdah Stations are the city’s largest train stations.

Kolkata serves as the headquarters for three out of seventeen of India’s railway zone. The three regional divisions are 1) the Kolkata Metro Railways, 2) the Eastern Railway and 3) the South-Eastern Railway. Kolkata has rail and road connectivity with Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh

Train Stations: There are two main train stations in Kolkata: Howrah Central Station and Sealdah Railway Station. For information about: incoming trains (Tel: 20-3545), outgoing trains (Tel: 20-3535-44), eastern trains (Tel:20-4025, 20-6211, 28-4670) and southeast trains (Tel: 28-9530). It is advisable to get to the train stations early.

Howrah is India's largest passenger terminal. It serves trains to northern, western and southern destinations, including Howrah, Lucknow, Varanasi, New Delhi, Bhopal and Gwalior. Sealdah serves trains in the east and northeast. There are two other smaller long-distance railway stations, Chitpur and Shalima.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website (incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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