Kolkata is my favourite city after Mumbai. They say “Once you live in Mumbai you cannot survive in any other city”. Mumbai is magical, but Kolkata is peaceful. It was my first visit to Kolkata in the month of December 2014. The occasion was to meet my girlfriend in Dhaka. Here are my experiences of being in Kolkata for twice.
It was December 2014. ‘Mumbai-Howrah Duronto Express’ left Mumbai at 5.30 pm. Duronto is a Bengali word which means Restless. Duronto trains are non-stop trains which cover long distances in short time. The distance between Mumbai and Kolkata is approx. 2000 km. This train travels within 27 hours and reaches Howrah at 8.30 pm. As I board the train, I found the train full of Bengali people. These people are generally kind in nature. Their skin, face glows. They are patient, book-worms, sweet and highly sensitive. The train moved towards the Eastern coast of India. It was my first time to travel to the eastern part. Duronto trains are clean, safe and fully air-conditioned. The food is included in the ticket. From evening snacks, tea to lunch and dinner they serve you everything. I was overwhelmed with their services. I met a manager of our boogie and had an interaction with him. He expressed that he stays in train throughout the year. As the train would reach Howrah, he will stay at friend’s house for a night. Next morning, he will leave for Mumbai by serving and customers. This is his job without any complaint and by spreading services.
The clock hit the Eight and the Howrah station arrived. Swapnil, my childhood buddy welcomed me at Howrah station with roses and a crazy smile. Howrah is definitely a part of Kolkata but actual Kolkata starts after crossing the Hugli River. As we exit the Howrah station, I was amazed to see the surroundings. Felt the time has flown in 90’s. The orangish street lights fell on narrow roads, yellow cabs, chilling wind and a strange city! I was loving it!!!!! The bus depot is near to the Howrah station. Our hotel was at Dharamtala. It is a place from where all trading with Bangladesh happens such as foreign exchange, bus transfers and bank businesses. After reaching bus station, I noticed rush, crowd and yes… The iconic structure – HOWRAH BRIDGE! A marvel example of an architect. Howrah Bridge is a British-era bridge which is one of the longest single suspension bridge in the world. It connects Howrah to Kolkata city. The bridge is suspending on Hugli River. It also considered as world’s most crowded pedestrian bridge laying on a river. After catching a bus I realised the government buses are so poor in condition. They are small, with less brightness and with a poor ticketing system. The tickets are printed on newspaper kind of things. The bus was on Howrah Bridge and I was lost into Hugli River and its serenity. Since childhood, we all are watching this bridge in books, movies, and songs. I was on the bridge, on the bus! Alas! The photography is not permitted on the bridge, even halting is restricted. I do not know the reason but almost everyone follows that rule.
Kolkata doesn’t have much nightlife. All the shops and restaurants close by 11 pm. The mornings are so glorious in Kolkata. The paper sellers, fish traders, chicken dealers and the historical TRAM! It just passed by me, Trams runs on roads. The English people inaugurated Tram services in Kolkata and currently, they are widely used for transportation.
Transportation in Kolkata –
The big reason for my liking to Kolkata is transportation connectivity. This is the only city in India which has various kind of transportation and each transportation plays its vital role. Kolkata uses Underground Metro, Tram ride, Cycle rickshaw, Rickshaw pullers, Yellow Taxi, River ferries, buses and local trains. Kolkata was the first Indian city to start Metro service in 1984. If there is any cheapest mode of transport available in India, it is Kolkata Metro. The longest journey wouldn’t cost you more than INR 20. Well connected, frequent, fast and most reliable source of transport is Kolkata Metro.
If after Manhattan there are any famous Yellow Taxi’s then they are in Kolkata. The Ambassador cars are everywhere in Kolkata. The rates are comparatively higher than other transportations. Rickshaw-pullers are banned in Kolkata but you can still find it’s rooted in New Market area.
Kolkata a day into bliss –
Kolkata is a hub for India’s pride monuments such as India’s largest library, India’s oldest Museum and India’s oldest Planetarium. As a traveller, I started Kolkata by visiting India’s oldest Museum i.e. Indian Museum which was established in 1814, so old, isn’t it? I found this museum so huge and fully informative! The museum has various rooms which resemble or represents the different departments such as Coin section, Textile section, Stone section, Art section, etc. The one thing which attracted me was an Egyptian Mummy! This Mummy is kept under a chilled room where brightness is lower than other rooms. Flash photography is not permitted here. The Mummy looked around 5.6 Feet tall and it was preserved with some chemicals which ancient Egyptians used decades ago. This mummy represents the culture and history of Egypt. Indian Museum has a huge room full of stones. These stones are collected from different parts of India. I was amazed to see flexible stone at Indian Museum. The textile section is such a beautiful with a number of gorgeous mats and cloths. It took me 3 hours to explore the Museum. If Indian Museum starts Guided tours or audio guides, then it will be very beneficial as a visitor will get proper and accurate information.
After visiting this historical Museum, I had a sip of Coke-lassi, an innovative drink in Kolkata. You can find these drinks near Indian Museum. They put Lassi in Coke. It tasted delicious! The nearest Metro station is Park Street. Kolkata is famous for its Kathai Rolls. There is a shop near Park Street Metro station which is quite popular for Kathai Roll. We ordered double egg chicken roll. We had no idea how large it would be. It was really longer than the other rolls which we ate in other cities. The crispy chicken and the sense of egg made Kathai roll tastier. It was the best Chicken Roll I ate in India. After heavy lunch, we took Underground Metro from Park Street to visit Planetarium. Maidan is the nearest Metro station to Birla Planetarium. This Planetarium is India’s oldest-one. The show was quite boring, but currently, this Planetarium is under renovation. Hope they come up with latest discoveries and advance systems. It was evening once we get out of Planetarium. Victoria memorial is close-by so we decided to have a walk. There are various tea sellers en-route who sells tea in Kolhar (tea earthen pots). The evening in Kolkata was in rush. Everyone was travelling back to their home. Victoria Memorial closes by 6 pm but its garden remains open till late. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit Victoria Memorial but the garden is very huge and beautiful. It has a lake which reflects the replica of Victoria Memorial on the water.
This monument holds the collection and important stuff of Queen Victoria. The entire palace is made up of marbles. After the photo stop at Victoria Memorial, we waited for the Tram to reach Esplanade. It was not so dark but the dull evening with a huge playground in front of us. Few boys were playing Football. Tram track was passing through greenery and trees by both of the sides. A bright light and ‘Tin-tin” sound were approaching us from a distance. It was Tram. Tram are usually 2 boogies with a conductor on both of the cars. As we boarded the tram, we were enthusiastic to see it’s historical side. It was old, with a huge fan on the top of the ceiling. I never saw such big fan. The lights were as dull as Kolkata buses. The trams are noisy. The weird thing I observed was other vehicles were running on our track, in spite knowing that a tram is coming. It was funny!
After getting down at Newmarket area, (Nearest metro is Esplanade), we saw tremendous rush. There was a bus terminal from where the buses for Bhutan and Siliguri were departing. Siliguri is a Gateway to the North-east India. The bus tickets are generally INR 1500 for Siliguri. Royal Bhutan bus grabbed our eyes. The bus was looking so attractive. With huge luggage on it, and the colour appeared dark black. Bhutan doesn’t need Visa for Indians, but a valid identity proof is required. We moved towards our hotel. Being a Chinese cuisine lover, I thought to try Noodles in Kolkata. In Mumbai, we get wheat noodles but in Kolkata, noodles were so thin and made up of rice. I didn’t like the Chinese cuisine in New Market area. It was a tiring and a lovely day in a new city. The eyes closed immediately after falling on the bed.
The third day in the city began with a visit to Science City. There are 6 Science cities in India which are dedicated to experiments, activities. I have been to Mumbai’s Nehru Science city many times, so we entered Kolkata Science city. This centre is located outside the city, but there are frequent buses which go to Science city. This place takes almost a full day to explore the centre. I highly recommend visiting this exciting place. With having lesser days to roam, we were bound to spend only a half day at Science centre. We rushed to catch a bus which would take us at Dakshineshwar temple. This temple is one of the most popular pilgrimage centres in West Bengal. It took 1 hour for us to reach this area. Dakshineshawr temple is situated on the banks of Hubli river which is considered to be the holy river for Eastern India. The other speciality of this area is a Brothel. In Bengali religion, Brothel soil is use to make the idols of Durga Goddess. The Ghat at Dakshineshaw is mind-blowing. The sun changed its colour to dark orange and it started to sunset slowly as we took a small ferry ride to reach Belur Math which is on another side of the river. We were riding above Hubli river.
A train a road bridge together is built above this river. The ferry passed under the bridge. The water was so closer. It was cold, and the river was calm. The ferry took 20-minutes to reach Belur Math. This is a head-quarter of Ramakrishna missions built by Swami Vivekanand. This headquarters is responsible for relief funds, Rural management, tribal welfare and much more. Every evening this centre organises a Bhajan which goes for an hour or longer. I and Swapnil couldn’t digest it. With due respect, we escaped the place and caught the bus to reach Howrah.
Today is the last exploration day in Kolkata. We must cover almost everything which is left-over. The very first thing is the morning what we did is – Kathai roll. We couldn’t stop ourselves from eating that yummiest, crunchiest and huge roll. After fulfilling or stomachs, we visited National Library. Meet India’s largest and oldest Library. With more than 2.2 Million books this library can accommodate around 550 readers at the same time. Isn’t it incredible? This library was built during East India Company rule over the India. Interesting thing is, in 2010 The conversation engineers discovered a hidden room on ground floor. This room doesn’t have any opening, any door or window. The mystery is still wandering about this room! Unfortunately, I couldn’t enter the library was under the renovation. Next to the library, you’ll find St. Paul Cathedral. It is the first Cathedral built by Britishers overseas. Also, it is the largest Cathedral in Kolkata. The largest Cathedral in India is Se Cathedral, Goa. After a quick visit to this cathedral, we entered the India’s one of the largest Zoo – Alipore Zoo!
Alipore zoo is huge, properly segmented. The coolest thing about Alipore zoo is you can even sponsor an animal. This zoo has a White tiger, Royal Bengal Tiger, Hyena, Porcupine, Bears, Gorillas, Elephants and a large number of birds. The cages are comparatively smaller but it seems they are well fed. The animal which took our attention was a Leopard. The cage looked empty initially. Once we took our sights upwards, we found a leopard sitting on the wall. How did he climb such a tall wall? We were standing near the fence, sooner the leopard held the cage with its paw and it put it’s all weight on the cage and gradually started climbing down. It was something new to see like this.
Another interesting thing happened at Alipore was an interaction with Parrot. The speaking parrot perhaps! I am least fond of birds hence we just passed by parrot cage when I overheard “Hello”. That was not a human voice for sure. I turned back and found the parrot calling us. As we stood in front of its cage, it started saying “Hello, Hi, Bye!” It was so fun to watch that bird speaking. It was repeating our sentences too. The parrot is certainly one of the clearest bird after Crow. The zoo sets to close and we exited it! With poor meals in Kolkata, we decide to enjoy the supper at China Town. China Town is closer to Esplanade. A small street with authentic Chinese restaurants. We chose “Beijing restaurant”. It was huge and almost full with foodies around. I recalled, we ordered schezwan rice. It tasted so good. Afer the last dinner in Kolkata, we slept at our hotel. The next morning we had a flight to catch for Bombay.
Dum Dum airport is 20 km from the main city and it could take 1 hour to reach by cab. We had a morning flight. The heart was surely not ready to accept a leave from this beautiful city but a home is a place which calls you every moment and you must return! The first trip by flight was the only excitement I had. After getting the boarding passes, we board the flights. Being first-time flight traveller, booking Window seat is essential. Since 20 minutes flight was at the airport waiting for clearances. I was eagerly waiting for a city sight. The plane moved and after catching a speed, it took off… As the plane was in the air, the next moment spectacular view of Kolkata city was on my window! The city which made me happy, the city which made my hungry and the city which made me crazy! The flight flew over the city and my eyes were stuck on the window, saying bye to the fascinating city – Kolkata!