DISTRICTS, NEIGHBORHOODS AND STREETS 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. 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.
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.
Chinatown (eastern Kolkata) is one of the largest settlements of Chinese migrants in India but not nearly as big as it used to be. Around 20,000 ethnic Chinese once lived here. As of 2009, about 2,000 lived there as a result of multiple factors including repatriation and denial of Indian citizenship following the 1962 Sino-Indian War, and immigration to foreign countries for better economic opportunities. The Chinese community traditionally worked in the local tanning industry and ran Chinese restaurants. [Source: Wikipedia]
Sights and Walks in Kolkata
Sights in Kolkata worth checking out are the Armenian Church, Jorasanko (residence of Rabindranath Tagore), Kakoda Mosque, Japanese Buddhist's Temple, the circular canal, the chaotic traffic of Shambazaar, the huge water tower in Tallah, and Mother Teresa's Shishu Bhavans. The modern Belur Math temple (in the precincts of the Ramakrishna Mission Headquarters), the Bengali-style Dakshineswar Kali temples and 12 Shiv temples are located on the opposite sides of the Hooghly River. It is also possible to take a boat trip on the Hooghly and float underneath Howrar Bridge. The Zoo once had seven white tigers.
Many consider Kolkata to be a great city to walk around in. 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. Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “ For a walk in the city, arm yourself with a good map, available at good hotels or bookshops, like Oxford Book Store on Park Street. The streets are not well-marked; ask for directions. Kolkata folk will rise from their seats and practically take you where you need to go. English is widely spoken.” Kolkata “has great eavesdropping potential, even if you understand only English, and it is perfectly acceptable to start up a conversation with strangers, whether about the rain or Shakespeare.[Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]
“For the traveler with limited time, the best way to explore Kolkata is roughly to trace the route of the Hooghly, meandering on and off the main thoroughfares by foot, tram and subway, known here as the Metro. This is not a luxury destination. It is more a journey through the grimy layers of time. History is inscribed on every lane, like tattoos on an aging diva. Kolkata was once quite a diva.
“You could start by boarding a tram at the Esplanade, just north of the Oberoi Grand Hotel, and head north on Bidhan Sarani. The last time I tried, the tram crawled through traffic and then stopped crawling entirely. The power had gone out. If you get out near Cornwallis Street, as I did, make your way through the dense alleys of books (mostly used textbooks, but a careful hunt on Kolkata’s streets can turn up jewels, such as a Chinese Communist children’s book of manners, translated into English, which I once procured) to the Indian Coffee House. 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.
“Around the corner from the Coffee House on Cornwallis Street stands Presidency College, founded by Indian philanthropists in 1817 as a center for the teaching of European thought. Around the College Square water tank are three buildings testifying to Kolkata’s melting pot heritage: the Baptist Mission, in the so-called Indo-Saracenic architectural style; the Mahabodi Buddhist temple, founded by a Sri Lankan monk; and the Bengal Theosophical Society, one of the world’s first esoteric East-meets-West religious movements.
“A short tram ride north along College Street takes you to Bethune College, created in 1849 as the city’s first school for girls, a remarkable feat, considering that most privileged Indians secluded their women in purdah at the time. My own grandmother, a lawyer’s daughter, could study only until the age of 13.”
Kolkata Walks ( www.Kolkatawalks.com) offers guided walking tours of Black Town, White Town and what it calls Grey Town, where Marwari traders, Baghdadi Jews, Zoroastrians from ancient Persia and others settled. Best of all, their tours stop for snacks. The walks take two and a half to three hours and cost 1,000 rupees, or about $20, at 50 rupees to the dollar.
The Hooghly River is a branch of the Ganges. It divides Kolkata about 120 kilometers (80 miles) north of the Bay of Bengal and 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of the border with Bangladesh. 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. The Hooghly River is considered by Hindus to be the true continuation of the Ganges. It is often silted up and was often closed to navigation until a canal was opened between Padma and Bhagirathi to flush way the silt and keep the port of Kolkata open. There are four bridges over the Hooghly river, The Howrah Bridge, the Second Howrar Bridge or Vidyasagar Setu, the Vivekananda Setu and the Nivedita Setu, which is considered an engineering marvel.
Howrah Bridge crosses the River Hooghly and connects Howrah with the downtown Kolkata. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the world's busiest bridge. It estimated that more than a million people cross it every day going to a from work. It carries 80,000 vehicles and hundreds of thousands of pedestrians every day. The bridge has a unique cantilever structure. It is about 500 meters (1,500 feet) and 23 meters (72 feet) wide.
Howrah Bridge is a huge steel bridge constructed over the Hooghly river during the British era. Believed to be one of the longest cantilever bridges in the world, it was built in 1943 and was called the New Howrah Bridge. Despite tough weather conditions including incessant rains, a Japanese air attack, and the heavy a daily traffic the bridge stands proud and strong. It is especially impressive when it is lit up at night.
Vidyasagar Setu is a bridge over the River Hooghly that opened in 1992. It holds the record for being the longest cable-stayed bridge in the country. It is a toll bridge measuring a little more than 457 meters, with a deck that has a width of 35 meters. This six-lane bridge has the capacity of carrying 85,000 vehicles daily. From here, you can get a bird's eye view of the bustling city: the busy dockyard in the middle of the Ganges, serene boats cruising below the bridge and ongoing pujas, all add to the appeal of the bridge. During sunsets, as the water gleams with the colors of the sun, the view from the bridge is spectacular. The bridge has been named after Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the highly respected 19th-century Bengali educationist and reformer. The total cost for building it came to Rs 388 crore. It was built by Public Sector Undertakings with private companies, under the direction of the Hooghly River Bridge Commissioners. The bridge was inaugurated on October 10, 1992.
Princep Ghat (on the Kolkata side of Hooghly river, just north of 2nd Howrah Bridge) is a majestic structure noted for its Gothic inlays. It is a pleasant place to catch splendid views of sunsets and sunrises. The ghat is currently used as a venue for several cultural festivals. Its gardens are an idyllic spot to relax in natural beauty. Small boats are available for hire for short trips on the river. Short river cruises are possible on traditional wooden boats as well as speedboats. It's well-designed lighting makes the ghat stand out in the evenings.
Outram Ghat (Hooghly River, 300 meters west of Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium) is a popular gathering place. Bbirth-related ceremonies and idol immersion during the festive season can be seen here. It is a pleasant place to enjoy a morning or evening stroll.
River Cruises and Ferries on the Hooghly River
Kolkata provides many opportunities for boating and cruising along still waters. You can sail along Serampore, an old Danish colony and disembark at Barrackpore and explore the cantonment area. The quaint town of Kalna can also be reached via a boat and tourists can get down to see some of the most beautiful terracotta temples in the area. Sail upstream to Mayapur and pay your respects at the ISKCON Temple, which seems to almost pierce the skyline. The hamlet of Matiari, lying on the side of the river is another attraction. Here you can witness how brass pots and metal articles are made.
Steam ahead to the ground where the Battle of Plassey took place between Robert Clive and Siraj-Ud-Daulah. You can moor at Murshidabad for the night. As you sail further upstream, the next morning, you will reach the beautiful Hazarduari Palace that houses a fine collection of china, paintings, weapons etc. Other stops along the way are Katra Mosque, Nashipara Palace and Katgola Palace. You can also enjoy a quiet boat ride at the Princep Ghat in traditional wooden boats and experience the ghat in all its majesty when it is lit up in the evenings.
Ferry services across the Hooghly connects Babu Ghat and Fairlie Place in Kolkata with Howrah on the other side of the 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.
Mother Teresa’s Missionaries Of Charity
Mother House of the Missionaries Of Charity (54A, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Rd, Ripon Street, 1.5 kilometers east of Maidan) was established by Saint Mother Teresa and is where she is buried. Supported by 4,500 members, called 'Sisters', this Roman Catholic facility provides free service to the poor and also runs a soup service, along with schools to educate homeless children. One area has been demarcated for the followers of Mother Teresa, who can pay their respects to the mother.
The Missionaries of Charity is where Albanian-born, Nobel-prize-winning Mother Teresa welcomed the diseased, neglected and downtrodden. Founded by Mother Teresa is 1948, it was was regarded as an oasis in the middle of teaming slum. It is a blue building with a large courtyard and a garden with blue and white flowers. The sisters wear white saris with blue trim; and their white vans collect the dying, starving, leprous and orphaned from Kolkata's back streets.
The mission is now a tourist attraction as well as refuge for the needy. It includes the Home of the Pure Heart (Nirmal Hriday) (formerly Mother Teresa's Kalighat Home for the Dying Destitutes), a hospice for the sick, destitute and the dying — a small, place filled with the dying tended by nuns and volunteers. At some hotels half the Europeans are volunteers at the mission. Some come for a few hours. Others come for years.
The sisters at the "Gift of Love" (Prem Dam) hospice take care of some of the most stomach-churning patients. An English volunteer, who was working on a man whose face was so swollen all you could make out was his mouth, told National Geographic journalist Harbey Arden" "At first I could barely cope with the suffering, the body fluids, the excrement. Then one day I looked up at a sign: 'This is the body of Christ.' Suddenly I understood. Not only had God given me strength to do it, but he had filled me with love instead revulsion.
Mother Teresa was buried here in 1997. Her tomb and preserved room and a small exhibit can be visited. In the exhibit are several pictures of her work along with articles about here and awards she received. also lies here. You can also find some of her personal belonging like saris, bags and sandals. It is said that this was the house where Mother Teresa's service to humankind began and ended. The community she built still continues to work towards saving the needy.
White Town in Kolkata
The main part of Kolkata is shaped like an ear extending out from the Hooghly River. The inner ear is "White Town" (Kalikata), 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.
Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “White Town, or the center of British business and government, emerged around its own drinking-water tank and became known as Dalhousie Square. It has since been christened B.B.D. Bag, for the three young gunmen — Binoy, Badal and Dinesh — who stormed the British administrative office, the Writers Building, in 1930 and shot dead the British inspector of prisons. A black statue of the trio faces the Writers Building, now the headquarters of the Communist government of West Bengal state. Modernity continues to be debated. Protests erupted here against a plan to build the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano, in a factory on the city outskirts. Peasants revolted, and the Nano is being built elsewhere. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]
“Kolkata has another guerrilla hero: Subhas Chandra Bose, who broke away from Gandhi’s nonviolent movement to raise an army against the British. The central narrative of his erstwhile family mansion on Elgin Road, now a museum of Bose memorabilia, is his “great escape” from house arrest. Red footsteps on the balcony mark how he tiptoed out on a January night in 1941. The gray Wanderer in which he was driven away sits in the driveway. In one gallery is an extraordinary collection of photographs, including Netaji — “respected leader” as he is known — shaking hands with Hitler in 1942; apparently, he took help where he could get it.
“Every guidebook will opine on the sights of Dalhousie Square, which the World Monuments Fund lists on its 100 most endangered heritage sites....Much of White Town is in sad shape. A mysterious fire claimed a significant portion of the headquarters of MacKinnon Mackenzie, a prominent managing agent for British industry in Kolkata.Bow Barracks, a red-brick row of onetime army barracks and home now to Chinese and biracials known here as Anglo-Indians, is due to be demolished. Groups like Public are goading the city to start saving its past. St. Andrew’s Church, built by Scots in 1818, has been illuminated as a means of drawing investment and tourists to the heart of the city. “No longer is there an anxiety that we have to be anticolonial,” the city’s municipal commissioner, Alapan Bandyopadhyay, gamely said.
Park Street is the center of the main tourist and shopping area in Kolkata. The handsome buildings have apartments on the higher floors, and plate-window showrooms on the pedestrian level. Lined with eateries, malls, jewelry shop, high-end restaurants and hotels, Park Street draws huge crowds that includes children in school uniforms, beggars and tourists. During festivals of Christmas, Diwali and on New Year's Eve, the street is resplendent like a bride, and is lit with colorful and bright lights. It also hosts landmarks like St Xavier's College, Asiatic Society, The Park Hotel and South Park Street Cemetery.
Park Street is now known as Mother Teresa Sarani, as well as Food Street. It runs between Chowringhee Road and Park Circus. The area that falls between Chowringhee Road and Mullick Bazar has especially been a favourite for several years. The people of Kolkata consider it an entertainment zone. It was originally called Burial Ground Road because the South Park Cemetery is located here. There are several cenotaphs and tombs of well-known people from the British era as well as the Armenian gentry.
Park Street Cemetery (a short taxi ride from Dalhousie Square) is one of the oldest cemeteries in Kolkata. It is filled with graves of English who died in the 18th and 19th century before they reached the age of 30. One man died from eating a pineapple. There are obelisk and pyramid-shaped tombstone as tall as 20 feet. Park Street Cemetery offers vivid proof of the disease and pestilence that devastated the British imperialist community.
Dalhousie Square (near the Hooghly River, just north of the Maidan, in western-central Kolkata) is the seat of power of the state government, as well as the central business district in Kolkata. The square is now officially called B.B.D. Bagh, the shortened version for Benoy-Badal-Dinesh Bagh.Built around the old Lal Dighi tank, the square was the heart of White Town in old Calcutta.. The old fort built by the British was near where the General Post Office now stands.
Dalhousie Square lies at the heart of White Town. It began as a British East India Company's trading post along the banks of the Hooghly River. Between the river and the tank, was the original Fort William. In the summer of 1756, Nawab Siraj ud-Daulah of Bengal launched his infamous attack on the British town for the company's decision to strengthen the fortifications around it. The survivors of the attack were imprisoned in the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta, a cramped garrison within the fort. The British under Robert Clive soon retook the city and within a year, the British East India Company's forces had taken all of Bengal and Calcutta,
After all this,Dalhousie Square became the commercial and political center of British-occupied India. Over the next one and a half centuries, the square grew in importance and influence. It was named after Lord Dalhousie, the Governor-General of India. After the fall of company rule in India, the Writers' Building became the secretariat of the Viceroy of India. A number of corporations and institutions opened offices and headquarters in and around the square, giving it its role as the central business district of the city. In 1912, the capital of British-occupied India was officially moved to New Delhi, but the majority of the financial and political institutions in the area remained.
B.B.D. Bagh (Dalhousie Square) is still the commercial and political center of East India and many of the business and political institutions from the colonial era still exist. The centerpiece is the Writers' Building which is the secretariat of the Government of the State of West Bengal and houses the office of the Chief Minister of West Bengal. To the west lie the General Post Office, the Royal Insurance Building, the eastern office of the Reserve Bank of India, the headquarters of the Eastern Railway, head office of the Kolkata Port Trust, and a number of other government offices.
Lal Dighi is an artificial water tank that is said to have been built before the British arrived in India. The British used to call it 'The Great Tank' or 'Dalhousie Square'. During Holi or Dol festival, its waters would turn red because of the colours of the festival and hence it was named 'lal dighi', which literally translates into red water in Bengali. While tourists can admire its heritage, there are options for angling as well. The tank enjoys a serene surrounding as it enveloped by tall trees and lush bushes. Several other heritage buildings like Andrew's Church, Writers Building, High Court, General Post Office lie in close proximity to the tank. Lal Dighi is situated at the centre of BBD Bagh
Colonial Buildings in Kolkata
Colonial buildings, many of them in around Dalhousie Square, include the General Post office , the Writer's Building, Fort Williams, St. Johns's Church, St. Andrew's Church, Raj Bhavan (the governor's official residence), the High Court, Legislative Assembly, Metcalfe Hall, Belvederes (where the national Library is housed), Hastings House and the Greek Church. St. John’s Church ( 2/2 Council House Street, south of Dalhousie Square) is the site of the grave of Job Charnock, an employee and administrator of the East India Company, traditionally regarded as the founder of the city of Kolkata..
Kolkata Heritage Walk (Colonial Trail) traces the city's legacy from its rich colonial past. It takes you to St Andrew's Church, Great Eastern Hotel, Currency Office, Dead Letter Office etc. The areas of Chandannagar, Chinsurah, Bandal and Serampore in Kolkata were highly influenced by colonial rule – starting from the French to the Portuguese and Dutch, and later by the dominant British. When India got its independence in 1947, there were several buildings and cultural practices that still bore the mark of these influences. One can take a stroll through these areas to get an idea of how the countries influenced Kolkata’s architecture and culture.
General Post Office (Dalhousie Square) is known of its monumental architecture and is the home of the Postal Museum. Being the central post office of Kolkata, the General Post Office is in charge of most of the inbound and outbound letters and parcels of the city. Designed by Walter B Grenvile (who was consulting architect to the Indian Government between 1863 and 1868) in 1864 and completed in 1868, it has towering ionic-corinthian pillars that are hailed for their grandeur. Its high-domed roof, rising to 220 ft, is also well-known. The dome has a huge clock on it and it is supported by an octagonal base and 28 Corinthian pillars. The introduction of the postal system was done by Warren Hastings in 1774. In 1884, a postal museum was created that displays a fine collection of stamps and artefacts.
Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “I recommend a visit...for their collection of old stamps and the brass buckles of the “dak” runners, or postmen, who carried letters on foot. “Kolkata’s first foreigners often died young, sometimes before they received mail from across the ocean. The Returned Letter Office housed the letters to the dead. It stands on the southeast corner of the square. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]
Kolkata Town Hall (north of Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium) is a majestic pristine white structure and one of the most important heritage buildings of the city. Built in the Doric style of architecture, Town Hall has wide steps on the front that lead to a vast portico. The building was constructed in 1814 and is a two-storey structure that was used as a venue for balls, concerts, receptions and public meetings. These generally took place on the first floor that has a 30-ft-high ceiling and is boarded with shining teak. The building has a carriage entrance at the back under the portico. Town Hall was built by architect and engineer Major General John Garstin (1756-1820) with Rs 700,000 that was raised from a lottery. Initially, the public was allowed to use the hall on the terms and conditions fixed by the government. There were statues and huge portraits on the ground floor that the public could come and see, but access to the upper storeys was limited. When the Town Hall came under the custody of the Calcutta Municipality (now Kolkata Municipal Corporation) in 1867, it was renovated in parts.
Writers Building (Dalhousie Square) is famous for its Corinthian facade and is prominent heritage site. The building is a 150-meters -long monument that reflects the Greco-Roman style of architecture. The sprawling structure has 13 blocks, out of which six were added after India attained independence. The building is peppered with several statues of Greek gods, along with a sculpture of the Roman goddess, Minerva.
Writers Building is located in BBD Bagh (Dalhousie Square) area, one of the busiest parts of Kolkata. Legend has it that the area got its name after the incident of the shooting of Lt Col NS Simpson, who was the Inspector General of Prisons. As he was notorious for his brutal treatment of Indian prisoners, three revolutionaries, Badal Gupta, Dinesh Gupta and Binoy Basu, disguised themselves as Europeans and shot the colonel. BBD Bagh was named after the initials of these three revolutionaries.
Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: Binoy, Badal and Dinesh “stormed the British administrative office, the Writers Building, in 1930 and shot dead the British inspector of prisons. A black statue of the trio faces the Writers Building, now the headquarters of the Communist government of West Bengal state. Modernity continues to be debated. Protests erupted here against a plan to build the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano, in a factory on the city outskirts. Peasants revolted, and the Nano is being built elsewhere. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]
Raj Bhavan (200 meters east of Town Hall, north of Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium) is the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal. Built in 1803, it was known as Government House before the independence of India.A monumental structure that was once the seat of British imperial power, Raj Bhavan is three-storeyed building that looks somewhat like the White House in Washington D.C. There are many acres of gardens around the building and intricately carved tall gates in wrought iron with lions sitting on top.
Raj Bhavan boasts a grand central area that has generous halls. Curved corridors on all four sides lead to separate wings that are houses in themselves. The Throne Room, the Banquet Hall, the Blue Drawing Room and the Brown Dining Room are all on the central area of the first floor. So is the Council Chamber, which was the venue of many important government decisions. The governor’s apartments and the grand Ball Room are located on the second floor.
In total, Raj Bhavan is spread over 27 acre while the building occupies 84,000 square feet of floor space. There are grand residential suites on the second floor. The grandest of all, the Prince of Wales suite, is on the first floor. Governor general Lord Wellesley started staying here immediately as the ruler of the British empire in India. After him, there have been 23 governor-generals and many viceroys who have lived here until the capital of India was shifted to Delhi. The last to occupy Raj Bhavan was Sir Fredrick Burrows after whom Shri C Rajagopalachari took up residence here as the first Indian Governor. Built between 1799 and 1803, Raj Bhavan was inspired by the Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, which was Lord Curzon’s ancestral house.
Bow Barracks (just east of Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium) is cluster of red brick buildings formerly used as army barracks and now home to Chinese and biracials known here as Anglo-Indians, Bow Barracks is one of Kolkata’s busiest neighbourhoods. It was built to house the soldiers of World War I and was later turned into apartments for Anglo-Indians. The best time to visit Bow Barracks is during Christmas festivities when the neighbourhood is transformed into a wonderland. The celebrations kick off a week prior to Christmas and the grotto, which is the praying spot for people, is decorated to the hilt. A spruced up Christmas tree laden with baubles and a crib are laid out, and a star is hung on the balcony of almost every flat.
During the celebrations, various events and programmes are organised and food is distributed to the poor and the needy. Sports events like football matches are also held. In the evening, the entire area is lit up with fairy lights and melodious tunes of carols can be heard in the background. Swings for children and musical programmes for adults are organised as well. Moreover, locals set up stalls and sell authentic delicacies.
Sengupta wrote: Bow Barracks “is due to be demolished. Groups like Public are goading the city to start saving its past. St. Andrew’s Church, built by Scots in 1818, has been illuminated as a means of drawing investment and tourists to the heart of the city. “No longer is there an anxiety that we have to be anticolonial,” the city’s municipal commissioner, Alapan Bandyopadhyay, gamely said.”
Maidan (just south of Dalhousie Square) is a huge, sprawling, grass-covered park in the middle of Kolkata covering 1,280 acres (about half a square kilometer). The Victoria Memorial, Eden Gardens, Fort Williams and Indo-Gothic St. Paul's Cathedral are all located here. Eden Garden is one of the world’s largest cricket satdiums. Fort Williams is an extraordinary tower built Sir David Ochterlony, an eccentric member of the East India Company who like to parade his 14 mistresses around, each on the top of different elephant.
The Maidan (grounds) lies on the banks of the Hooghly river. Nearby is well-known Chowringhee Road or Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Rich businessmen and of educated and elite gentlemen, locally known as bhadrolok, used to take long walks here. Today, you can ride in horse-drawn carriages ply through the park and broad roads around the Victoria Memorial.
Gamblers can bet on horses at the Race Course; and spectators can watch cricket, polo, field hockey, street performer, monkey trainers, trained rats and magicians. Quack doctors sell tar-like miracle medicines that "cure stomach pains and improve sexual energies!"; a fortune teller uses a parrot to selects envelopes, high-wire acts work two meters above the ground, and children contort themselves through metal rings. If you are lucky you may even see a band of Bengalis bagpipers clad only in dhotis. The park is so large it even has its own golf course.
In 1758, a year after the Battle of Plassey, the British East India Company started construction on a Fort William in the center of the village Gobindapur, where the Maidan is situated today. The fort was completed in 1773. “The tiger-haunted jungle which cut off the village of Chowringhee from the river was cleared, and gave way to the wide grassy stretch of the Maidan of which Calcutta is so proud. The formation of this airy expanse and the filling up of the creek which had cut off the settlement in the south, led the European inhabitants to gradually forsake the narrow limits of the old palisades. The movement towards Chowringhee had already been noticeable as early as 1746.
In 1883–1884 the Maidan, along with grounds of the Indian Museum, hosted the Calcutta International Exhibition. In 1909, H.E.A. Cotton wrote: The great Maidan presents a most refreshing appearance to the eye, the heavy night dew, even in the hot season, keeping the grass green. Many of the fine trees with which it was once studded were blown down in the cyclone of 1864. But they have not been allowed to remain without successors, and the handsome avenues across the Maidan still constitute the chief glory of Calcutta. Dotting the wide expanse are a number of fine tanks, from which the inhabitants were content in former days to obtain their water-supply.”
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.
Shaheed Minar (in the Esplanade in central Kolkata, towards the north east of the Maidan) is dedicated to the martyrs of the Indian freedom movement. This 48 m-high tower has an Egyptian-style foundation while the structure itself has a classical fluted column and a Turkish dome with its upper part being designed in Syrian style. The tower is lit up at night and visitors are allowed to go up to the top where there are two balconies. A flight of 223 stairs leads up to the top.. This tower was initially constructed in memory of the commander of the British East India Company, Major General Sir David Ochterlony. The commander had successfully defended Delhi against the Marathas in 1804 and had ensured the East India Company s win against the Gurkhas in the Anglo-Nepalese War. Shaheed Minar, erected in 1828, was earlier known as Ochterlony Monument. The architect of the monument was JP Parker.
Eden Gardens (in the Maidan) 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.
Victoria Memorial (in the Maidan) looks like a cross between the Washington Capitol and the Taj Mahal. Built in honor of Queen Victoria and finished in 1921, it is filled with monuments from the British Raj. and know it symbolizes friendship between Britain and India. Around it men in dhotis and Nikes used to hang out.
One of the main landmarks of Kolkata, Victoria Memorial is a grand British-era structure built entirely of white marble. Constructed in the Indo-Saracenic revivalist style, using a mix of British and Mughal elements, the memorial draws influences from Islamic, Venetian, Egyptian and Deccani styles. Dedicated to Queen Victoria of England, it was constructed between 1906 and 1921 by the then Prince of Wales (who went on to become King George V).
A 16-foot-tall bronze statue – the figure of the Angel of Victory - stands atop the grand building – on the central dome. It is mounted on ball bearings and revolves with the wind. British Indian states and individuals who wanted favours from the British had contributed around INR 10 million to build this majestic building that took over 20 years to be completed. The main building sits amidst over 64 acre of gardens. A national leaders’ gallery with paintings of Indian freedom fighters, along with several relics, was added to the Victoria Memorial, post India’s Independence.
Today, the memorial is a museum, which according to the New York Times, is an “archive of imperial ambition,” with 3,500 exhibits in 25 galleries, including paintings, memorabilia and manuscripts from the British Raj. There are paintings of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the Royal Gallery, along with artworks depicting events from the queen’s life. A painting showcasing the state entry of the Prince of Wales in Jaipur in 1876 by famous Russian artist Vassili Verestchagin attracts attention. There are also exhibits of weapons, sculptures, maps, coins, stamps and textiles here. The museum is open 10:00am to 5:00pm. It is closed Mondays. The entry fee for non-Indians is 150 rupees (91-33-2223-1890; www.victoriamemorial-cal.org).
Black Town in Kolkata
"Black Town" is an area of ruined mansions, slums, bazaars and temples that lies beyond White Town. The oldest part of Black Town is on the top of the ear at North Kolkata. Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: Black Town is “ where Indians rich and poor were concentrated in the starkly segregated days of the empire. There is no evident city planning. The roads are so narrow it is difficult for cars to navigate; they flooded then and still do. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]
“Black Town was built by those whom Krishna Dutta, in her book “Kolkata: A Literary and Cultural History,” calls the Bengali compradors, who “patronized Indian classical music and the European arts, held lavish feasts and paid court to the British.” They are lyrically skewered in Amitav Ghosh’s novel “Sea of Poppies.”
“These lanes were also where the city savaged itself in the summer of 1946, just as the British were preparing to leave and India was about to be partitioned. Hindus cut Muslim throats; Muslims cut Hindu throats; Gandhi rushed to the city and launched a hunger strike. Every family, mine included, bore witness to the carnage, or took part in it. Behind the green shutters, there are stories. A good place to stop and ponder the past is the ground-floor bar of the Broadway Hotel, on Ganesh Chandra Avenue. The afternoon light pours in golden soft through the shutters. Across the street, above a gas station, is a hidden gem, called Eau Chew, where Joseph and Josephine Huang serve a fabulous fish in black bean sauce.”
Chitpur Road forms the backbone of Black Town. Somini Sengupta wrote in New York Times: “ The mansions on and off this boulevard, now called Rabindra Sarani, are a whimsical mixture of West and East — introverted toward courtyards according to Indian architectural tradition and boasting fabulous Western facades with Corinthian pillars and nymphs on the pediments. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 29, 2009]
“The mansions are in varying stages of ruin. The height of kitsch is the Marble Palace, open to the public with a pass from the government tourism office and stuffed with crystal chandeliers and stone lions. Geoffrey Moorhouse, in his book, “Kolkata: The City Revealed,” says it looks “as if they had been scavenged from job lots on the Portobello Road on a series of damp Saturday afternoons.” The family home of Rabindranath Tagore is on Dwarkanath Tagore Lane. The unsung mansions sit on the smaller lanes, occupied by fragments of families. Old saris hang out to dry on the balconies and dogs snooze at the feet of faux-Venus statues.
“Off Chitpur Road, a lane takes you to the potters’ colony, Kumartoli (ask directions to find your way), a unique open-air workshop where gods and goddesses are molded by hand, traditionally using dust from the thresholds of nearby brothels. The city’s powerful prostitutes union objects to this practice now. Kumartoli is busiest in fall, in the run-up to the Hindu festival season. A variety of artisans hang on along Chitpur Road: makers of traditional perfumes, embroidered tunic sellers, purveyors of wigs, a row of musical instrument shops (at N. N. Mondal’s, Yehudi Menuhin got his violin repaired in 1952) and Chinese shoemakers.
Sights in Black Town
Marble Palace (Mahatma Gandhi Road Metro station) is a private residence with over-the-top opulence and a fine collection of bad art and sculpture. There is bad art from France, England and Italy, Persian rugs, a ballroom with Venetian mirrors, and many stuffed and caged birds. The mansion was built in 1835 by Rajah Rajendro Mullick Bahadur. His descendants still live in the house and feed hundreds of beggars with huge communal pots.
Jorasanko Thakur Bari (200 meters south of Girish Park Metro station) is ancestral home of poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's family, Jorasanko Thakur Bari or the House of the Thakurs lies to the north of Kolkata city. Tagore was born in this house and spent much of his childhood here. Today, the house has been restored and turned into Tagore Museum, which makes for an exciting visit. One can find several historical nuggets about the Tagore family, including their contribution to Bengal Renaissance and Brahmo Samaj. Of note are 700 paintings exhibited here, along with a self-composed invite of Tagore's wedding. Divided into three galleries, the museum also houses various books, manuscripts and antiques. Jorasanko Thakur Bari was built in 1784 and lies in close proximity to the Rabindra Bharti University that is noted for its prestigious education programme.
Sovabazar Rajbari (Sovabazar Sultani Metro station) is one of the oldest royal houses in Kolkata. It constructed by Raja Nabakrishna Deb, a prominent aristocrat of the city. This palatial structure is best known today for the iconic Durga Puja celebrations that take place in October-November. Some of the notable features of this monument are the Nat Mandap, which is a centrally located open courtyard. Supported by columns that are adorned with arches and have a square base, the courtyard was once a venue for special functions and celebrations. There are double-storey wings on either side of the courtyard that connects the mandap with Naach Ghar, which is now in ruins. Sovabazar (Shobhabazar) Rajbari was built in 1700 and is a mix of Moorish, Hindu and colonial styles of architecture.
Being a close confidante of Lord Clive, Raja Nabakrishna Deb wielded a lot of authority during his time. He was the first to celebrate Durga Puja on a lavish scale in 1757 after the British defeated Siraj-ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey. Top British officials including Sir Warren Hastings and Lord Clive were invited to this celebration. When Swami Vivekananda returned from the Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1897, this was where his first civic reception was organised by Raja Binoy Krishna Deb Bahadur.
Sutanati Trail in Black Town
This very interesting trail begins at Sovabazar Rajbari, one of the oldest royal houses in the city, constructed by Raja Nabakrishna Deb, the tutor of Lord Clive. This palatial structure is best known today for the Durga puja celebrations that take place in October-November. Some of the notable features of this monument are the Nat Mandap, which is a centrally located open courtyard. Sovabazar Rajbari was built in 1700 and is a mix of Moorish, Hindu and colonial styles of architecture.
One then goes on to Jorasanko Thakur Bar or the House of the Thakurs, which is the ancestral home of poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's family. Tagore was born in this house and spent much of his childhood here. The next stop is the Jorasanko Rajbari with its verandahs, terraces and delicate cast-iron grills, which belonged to Rajendra Narayan Roy. One will then visit the residence-turned-museum that used to be owned by Rajendra Nath Mullick. Located at 46, Muktaram Babu Street, this elegant mansion was built in the 19th century.
The trail ends at Kumartuli, a unique neighbourhood in Kolkata that is renowned for its tradition of making clay idols for the Durga puja celebrations. Located on the banks of the Hooghly river, this potter's hub is home to around 30 women artisans and many talented male artisans, who create beautiful clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. These are supplied to barowari pujas around the city and surrounding areas and are also exported. A few weeks before Durga Puja, the focus is on making idols of the goddess. And the Puja at Kumartuli itself is well-known as one of the oldest in Kolkata.
College Street (Centra Metro Station) is the largest book market in India and one of the largest in the world. Julian Crandall Hollick wrote in Smithsonian magazine: it is "a half mile of bookshops and bookstalls, spilling onto the pavement, carrying first editions, pamphlets, paperback in very Indian language, with more than a fair smattering of books in and out print from France, Germany, Russia and England."
College Street 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. Visitors can shop for books to their hearts' content and then unwind with a cold beverage in Paramount Cold Drinks and Syrups, one of the oldest sherbet joints in the city. It has been visited by famous names like Subhash (Subhas) Chandra Bose, Satyajit Ray, Saurav Ganguly, Uday Shankar. There are several Bengali publication houses here. Tourists can also visit Vidyasagar Sarovar known as College Square, and the well-known hub for intellectuals the Indian Coffee House.
Many prominent institutes of the country dot this area, including Kolkata University, Presidency University, Sanskrit College, Scottish Church College, Medical College, Vidyasagar College, Hindu College, Bethune College, Indian Institute of Social Management and Business Management and University and Hare School. College Street runs from Bowbazar to Mahatma Gandhi Road crossing in North Kolkata. 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.
Sonagachi (in North Kolkata near the intersection of Chittaranjan Avenue and Shobhabazar with Beadon Street, about one kilometer north of Kolkata's Marble Palace area) is Asia's largest red-light district. Kolkata has the largest sex business in India. More than 20,000 prostitutes work in the city. There are 11 red light districts. Sonagachi, the largest, 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.
In Bengali, Sona Gachi means 'Tree of Gold'. According to legend, during the early days of the city the area was the den of a notorious dacoit by the name of Sanaullah, who lived here with his mother. On his death, the grieving woman is said to have heard a voice coming from their hut, saying, “Mother, don’t cry. I have become a Gazi”, and so the legend of Sona Gazi started. The mother built a mosque in memory of her son, although it fell into disrepair. The Sona Gazi was converted into Sonagachi.
The 2005 Oscar-winning documentary “Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids” depicts the lives and homes of children born to prostitutes in Sonagachi. Another documentary about Sonagachi, “Tales of The Night Fairies,” by Prof. Shohini Ghosh and Dr. Sabeena Ghadioke also won an award. Popular actor Kamal Haasan's movie Mahanadhi conveys the story of women being trafficked and forced to become sex workers in Sonagachi. In his documentary “The Five Obstructions,” famous Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier asks poet and experimental filmmaker Eybi Sulam to name the worst place in the world he's ever visited, and Leth quickly responded: "The Red Light District of Calcutta."
Today, several NGOs and government organizations operate in Sonagachi to prevent of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) including AIDS. The book Guilty Without Trial by the founders of the NGO Sanlaap based much of their research into human trafficking in India on this area. The Sonagachi Project is a sex workers' cooperative that promotes condom use and combats abuse.
Kumartuli (between Chitpur Road and the Hooghly and Sovabazar and Banamali Sarkar Streets) is a former red light district that is now "a rabbit warren of shed, workshops and alleys where some 4,000 potters shape bamboo, straw and clay into life-size reproductions of gods and goddesses." Many of the images are used in the city's many festivals.
Kumartoli potters’ colony, the traditional potters quarter of Kolkata, is renowned for its tradition of making clay idols for the Durga puja celebrations. Located on the banks of the Hooghly river, this potter's hub is home to around 30 women artisans and many talented male artisans, who create beautiful clay idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. Most of these idols feature Goddess Durga, a lion said to be her mount and Mahishasur, the demon she is believed to have slain.
The process of making clay idols is an intricate one. It takes place in workshops that comprise a working space, a storage space for materials and idols, and places for cooking, eating and sleeping. The idols are supplied to barowari pujas around the city and surrounding areas and are also exported. A few weeks before Durga puja, the focus is on making idols of the goddess. And the puja at Kumartoli itself is well-known as one of the oldest of Kolkata.
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