There’s something special about the ‘City of Joy’. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a city as charming and conflicted as Kolkata. Kolkata has seen it all. It has been the overseas capital of the British empire. It has been at the epicenter of Indian Independence movement. It has also been the cornerstone on which the Indian modern art and literature scene was built and it has seen one of the most devastating disasters the country has ever faced. Surprisingly, despite its rich history and culture, Kolkata is a city that finds itself neglected by travelers for other exciting destinations
The stereotypes about Kolkata quickly fade as you find yourself in the ‘Cultural Capital of India’. It’s not hard to find similarities with London; after all Kolkata was envisioned to be the ‘London of the East’. Largely a lot of Kolkata’s beauty lies in its old world charm.
It’s as if Kolkata has found itself in a time warp it can’t escape from – in a state of perpetual nostalgia. While this may be frustrating to the locals who have been left disappointed by the city’s dwindling infrastructure, to travelers this is arguably the strongest highlight of Kolkata. You find yourself in a time that has been long gone. You get to experience Kolkata in its timeless warp, not something that you just read of and imagined but actually bear witness and gain priceless insight into what Kolkata in all its glory must have been like.
History And Culture Of Kolkata
There are few other cities that are as synonymous with history as Kolkata. The historic relevance of Kolkata is further signified by the fact that Kolkata is considered the cultural capital of the country. Kolkata’s recorded history compared to a lot of other Indian towns and cities is relatively recent and more closely intertwined with the advent of the British than perhaps any other town.
Up until 2003 when the Kolkata High Court declared otherwise, Kolkata was believed to be founded by Job Charnock, a British administrator who worked for the East India Company. The fortification and the building of the city began in the early 18th century and Kolkata was the primary season for the skirmishes between the Nawabs of Bengal, The French East India Company and the East India Company.
Throughout the late 18th and 19th century, Kolkata remained the hub for East India Company’s opium trade. This was one of the reasons why Kolkata became home to a sizable Chinese population. (Opium was not considered illegal in India until after independence). In the late 1850’s, Kolkata underwent an industrial revolution in their own right. The British wasted no time in tapping into Kolkata’s vast potential and quickly invested in telegram services and the construction of the Howrah Railway Station.
Kolkata is also the birthplace of the ‘Babu’ class. This Babu culture personified the Indian officials working for the British services. A ‘Babu’ is someone who is in a position of power and commands respect. The title has a few negative connotations today and dealing with a Babu has been associated with redtapeism and corruption.
From the late 19th century and through much of the 20th century, Bengal went through a renaissance. A lot like the European Renaissance, Bengal went through an intellectual awakening and Kolkata was at the heart of it. A lot of artistic, cultural and social reforms took place during this period and the movement spread to the rest of the country. Visionaries like Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Satyendra Nath Bose, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo are some of pioneers of the movement. This intellectual rebellion led to questioning of existing societal norms, patriarchy, caste laws and led to the birth of the Indian independence movement.
Kolkata to this day remains extremely relevant on the culture and arts scene. Many in the art scene believe that an artist, especially in the fields of theater and music, must perform in Kolkata and earn their rite of passage. Greater Kolkata has more than 30 museums, more than any other Indian city. The Indian Museum in Kolkata in particular is the oldest in the country. Kolkata is also home to India’s sole ‘Chinatown’. While the Chinese population has dwindled dueto a multitude of reasons, it’s still home to 2,000-odd Chinese Indians.
A huge part of Kolkata’s culture is the Durga Puja, a nine-day-long festival, wherein Hindu devotees worship Goddess Durga. The festival is celebrated with a lot of fervor and the frenzy is akin to the Ganesh Chaturthi festivals in Mumbai. Since the Durga Puja celebrations primarily take part in the evenings, Kolkata practically turns into a carnival during these days. There’s never better time to be in Kolkata than during the Durga Puja.
Kolkata also takes its sports seriously with cricket and football being the major favorites. In ATK Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, Kolkata has two of the most iconic and historic football clubs in the world. The rivalry between these two is considered one of the fiercest and is widely supported by passionate locals. People from Kolkata take their cricket very seriously and the Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata is not only the biggest cricket ground but is also fondly considered the Mecca of Indian Cricket. While we don’t recommend being in the stadium for the Kolkata Derby (ATK Mohun Bagan Vs East Bengal) due to the possibility of violent clashes between both fanbases, watching a game at the Eden Gardens is an absolute treat and must not be missed.
Food In Kolkata
The locals of Kolkata take a lot of pride in their food. The staple consists of freshwater fish and rice. Kolkata is also popular for its street food, Calcutta Rolls, Puchka and now Tibetan cuisine like Momos and Thukpa outline the fabric of Kolkata’s street food scene. Bengali desserts have always been extremely popular, since dessert makes up a large and important part of the traditional Bengali meal. Mishti Doi, Roshogolla, Sandesh and Rajbhog are some of the most popular Bengali sweets.
How To Get To Kolkata
Getting To Kolkata By Air
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport is one of the most well-connected airports in the country and is connected to all major Indian metros. Cities in the eastern part of the country and South East Asian cities also enjoy good air connectivity with Kolkata.
Getting To Kolkata By Train
Kolkata has five major railway stations – Kolkata, Sealdah, Howrah Junction, Shalimar and Santragachi. The city has great railway connectivity with most major Indian cities, especially the North East.The Rajdhani, Shatabdi and a few other superfast trains provide great connectivity between Kolkata and Delhi.
Getting To Kolkata By Road
Kolkata enjoys good bus connectivity with most Indian cities. If you live far away from West Bengal, traveling by road is not a good idea and can be very taxing. If on a budget, take the train!
Best Time To Travel To Kolkata
Like the rest of North India, Kolkata has a very tropical climate. Anytime between October to March is a good time to visit. We highly recommend tourists to visit Kolkata in October as the city celebrates various festivals like Durga Puja followed by Laxmi and Kali Puja. The city is on a different high and this is a must visit.
June to September is when Kolkata receives heavy rains. The weather is extremely pleasant. Kolkata at its scenic best but heavy rains also mean your sightseeing plans could be disrupted. Avoid the summers: it’s hot, humid and sticky and the worst part is that it stays that way even after sunset.
Getting Around Kolkata
Kolkata has a very efficient public transit system. The metro connects to most of the city. The bus service is extensive with both AC and non AC buses plying across all the major routes. The pretty yellow ambassador taxis that are synonymous with Kolkata are also comfortable options, and since the fares are decided by the meter, you’re unlikely to be ripped off.
You can also take autos for shorter distances and ferry to cross the Hooghly River. Kolkata is home to India’s only tramway. It’s also the oldest tramway in Asia. While not a functional mode of commute, a ride on the tramway is a great way to dive deep into Kolkata’s nostalgic past.
Breaking Stereotypes About Kolkata
“Kolkata does not have a lot to do.”
With more than 30 museums in Kolkata, the city has a lot to offer and even more to do. It’s literally the city of celebrations and street processions. Kolkata’s Christmas celebration on Park Street is considered one of the best ways to celebrate Christmas in the country. There’s some celebration always taking place in Kolkata.
Go Check Out
Durga Puja Celebrations In October
Don’t miss the biggest celebrations in Kolkata. The entire state, especially Kolkata, is in a frenzy with a lot of pandals and delectable food stalls. Durga Puja celebrations are a must attend.
India’s Only Chinatown
While Chinatown does not have a sizable Chinese population left, a walk around the neighborhood is a great way to gain perspective on what’s left of this neighborhood and what it must have been.
Art And Museums
Kolkata was at the forefront of a cultural revolution. So it’s an absolute given that Kolkata would be home to some of the most inspiring art galleries in the country. Kolkata is also home to about 30 museums and some of the oldest museums in the country.
Make it a point to visit the Indian Museum and the Victoria Memorial.
You’ve to check out the most iconic landmark in Kolkata. Taking a walk on the bridge in the evening is one of our favorite things to do in Kolkata. Visit the Howrah Bridge at night if you can to see this beautiful structure all lit up.
Which Is The Best Month To Visit Kolkata?
October is the best month to visit Kolkata. In addition to the comparatively pleasant weather, it’s also the time when Durga Puja is celebrated.
Is Kolkata Safe For Tourists?
Kolkata is a safe city for tourists, with it also being rated the safest city in the country for women. But as with all cities, avoid desolate and shady areas as a general precaution.
What Is Best To Buy In Kolkata?
The Sweets! – West Bengal is well known for its desserts, so make sure you don’t miss out on any of those delicacies. The most popular among them are Mishti Doi, Roshogullas and Sandesh.
Dhokra Artifacts – These bronze and brass sculptures of the Bhumji and the Santhal tribes are something you can take home as souvenirs. The Dhokra artifacts represent rural Bengali culture.
Jute Crafts – Kolkata has always been well known for its jute products. You can get some articles for decor, and also get jute shoes and bags.
Does Kolkata Have A Beach?
Kolkata city proper doesn’t have a beach. But you can go to some beaches including Bakkhali Beach, Digha Beach, Mandarmani Beach and Tajpur Beach, which are all approximately 4-5 hours’ drive away.
Which Is The Coldest Month In Kolkata?
January is when Kolkata is usually the coldest, with an average temperature of 18°C.
Which Is The Best Area To Stay In Kolkata?
Park Street – This is the place where you must stay if you’re looking to experience the food, nightlife and go shopping around Kolkata.
Chowringhee Road/Jawaharlal Nehru Road – This major street in Kolkata is where you want to be at if your priority is sightseeing. Places of interest including Maidan, Victoria Memorial, Tipu Sultan Mosque, and The Indian Museum are all on this street.
Salt Lake City – The chaos of Kolkata may be a bit overwhelming to some tourists. If that’s the case, staying at Salt Lake City (aka Bidhannagar) would be ideal. It’s quieter, has more open spaces and generally more suited for those traveling with families.