The heart of Bengal, the seat of the Raj, the city of Joy…. Kolkata is a city with many names, and similarly, several waves of history. It is these contrasting elements, however, that make it one of India’s most interesting cities to visit.
Once the centre of power for the centuries-long British rule, and today stands as the capital for the state of West Bengal. While other rulers have spent their time, none have left a mark as deep and prominent as the British. Various icons of those times, such as colonial marketplaces, civic monuments, Victorian-style buildings, and picturesque gardens, among others continue to dot the city even today.
The biggest centre for the arts, spirituality, cinema, music, and all things literature, Kolkata is very well the cultural capital of India. Home to scores of intellectual stalwarts such as sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, film maker Satyajit Ray, spiritual leaders Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, and laureates such as Rabindranath Tagore, Kolkata is definitely where you need to head if you are looking for intellectual fulfillment in your journey.
Known as Calcutta until being renamed in 2001, the metropolis is far from the slum-dotted picture of poverty that has been portrayed in many a novels. While there are slums here, that is certainly not all to the city. The many urban attractions here include the massive central “Maidan” park, the cricketing grounds of the Eden Garden, the Howrah Bridge connecting the ends of the river Hooghly, the crisscrossing railway network, the busy bazaars of Dhakuria and Rabindra Sarani, and the endless shelves of the College Street bookstores. Monuments from the Raj era too, stand in their full glory. Think the Indian Museum near New Market, the Victoria Memorial and Fort William are only some of the many structures here.
All said and done, however, no trip to Kolkata is complete without seeing her in the full glory of the Durga Puja. The biggest festival of the Bengalis, the occasion marks the win of the Goddess Durga over the demons, and people celebrate this victory with a week longs worth of pomp and fervor.
Those looking for a little extra, of course can visit the nearby valleys of Darjeeling in the lower Himalaya or the swamps and tiger reserves of the Sundarbans.
Some facts about Kolkata:
- The Great Banyan Tree in the famous Botanical Gardens is more than 250 years old
- Once the capital of the British Raj India, Calcutta – as it was then called, was once the world’s second most important country – right after London
- Calcutta is home to the world’s first ever Polo club, which the British established in the year 1858