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Kolkata, once the capital of India until 1912 when the capital was shifted to Delhi, is currently the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. It is still considered by many to be the intellectual capital of India. With a population of almost 5 million, and an extended metropolitan population of over 14 million, it is the third-largest metropolitan area of India, preceded by Greater Mumbai and Delhi. The place (where Kolkata now stands) has an ancient history in the form of a legend associated with Kalighat, Atlanta Property . a shrine dedicated to Hindu goddess Kali. In the near term, the history of the city began in 1690, when an English man, Job Charnock, docked at Hooghly River, which flows to the Bay of Bengal, and set up some camps on the marshy land. In 1970, the English purchased three villages named Sutanati, Gobindpur and Kalikata from the local rulers. They constructed a fort, the Fort William. From then onwards, the place around the fort continued to grow and emerged as the nerve center of the British Empire in India.
The city has lived a glorious past, and has experienced the emergence and shaping of Indian literary and intellectual renaissance in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It has been a center of many social and political movements, and continues to be a city where you may expect to find a rally or a procession, for the most trivial issue or the most serious ones, almost everyday of the week. The city has a cosmopolitan culture interspersed with the innocence of the people from the rural hinterland who live in the city for work and livelihood. However, the refined culture of Bengal is all pervasive. The population is composed of many ethnicities of India, and they speak many languages, but most of them speak and understand Bengali and Hindi. Anyone having even a very little working knowledge of English would be able to manage fine in the city.
The metropolis of Kolkata has been described as a City of Joy in a novel of the same name by the French writer Dominique Lapierre, and a movie of the same name was also produced under the direction of Roland Joffé. Kolkata is a city of absolute diversities. On the one hand, it is a well known center of art, literary, intellectual and cultural activities. And, on the other hand, the city is notorious for its crowded roads, dirty slums, traffic snarls, waterlogged roads and streets, and frequent power failures. However, this should not daunt the determination of a tourist to visit the city as once you are done with Kolkata, you shall certainly feel awesome. After seeing the city, knowing about its history, and being in the vicinity of its many historical monuments and structures, you shall feel the centuries roll by your mind’s eyes; and being witness of its cultural saga, you shall be transported to a world of oriental charm, exotic and unique.
Hotels and lodgingEdit
There are many points in Kolkata waiting for you, and some of them are:
- The Victoria Memorial is the most famous symbol of Kolkata and was constructed during the British Raj. The beautiful and attractive white marble structure would remind you of the Taj Mahal of Agra. The Victoria Memorial has several wings some being used as a museum. The collections shall remind you the elegance of the British Raj in India, which was really a jewel in the crown of the British Empire.
- The Indian Museum was built in 1874 and is the oldest museum of India. The museum has many rare archeological collections. The entrance of the museum has an original Lion structure, which is the national symbol of India. The museum remains open on all days of the week except Monday and the general timing is from 10 am to 5 pm.
- Like the Victoria Museum, the Fort William has long remained a symbol of Kokata. It was constructed in 1781 and around this the metro of Kolkata developed over a period of time. The open area around the Fort William is very large and there is also a large green ground called Maidan (ground) which are like lungs of Kolkata. Visitors with special permits are allowed to enter the Fort William.
- The Armenian Church was built in the 18th century and is the oldest Church of Kolkata. The interiors of the Church are beautifully decorated.
- Asiatic Society was founded in 1784 and is the oldest literary society in this part of the globe. The Society has many rare collections of manuscripts, coins, engravings and copper plates.
- Botanical Gardens of Kolkata is the oldest such garden in India. It is spread over around 275 acres and has over 30,000 varieties of trees and plants. There is a large banyan tree, which is about 200 years old with over 600 aerial roots hanging from the banyan tree.
- Howrah Bridge opened for the public traffic in 1943 is one of the largest cantilever bridges. The 71 ft wide bridge has eight lanes of traffic with wide footpaths on both sides. The bridge is very heavily used and in many pictures featuring Kolkata either the Howrah Bridge or the Victoria Memorial is shown to identify the city.
- St. Paul’s Cathedral was consecrated in 1847 and is an imposing structure, more than 60 metres high, and about 80 metres long and 25 metres wide, has beautiful mosaics, murals and frescoes, and several paintings of biblical scenes. The cathedral also has a good collection of rare books.
- The Zoological Gardens of Alipore (Kolkata) covers an area of about 16 hectares and has many species of animals from different parts of the world. You will find the Royal Bengal Tigers and the white tigers in the zoological gardens. There is a section housing many species of snakes, crocodiles and alligators. The place remains open generally from morning 7 am to 11 am and for few hours in the afternoon from 3 pm.
Maps and transportationEdit
Getting to KolkataEdit
Kolkata is like an intellectual capital of India, and the College Street is perhaps one of the places to explore to indicate a special aspect of Kolkata’s intellectual face. Only local people generally frequent the numerous pavement book stalls and rarely people from outside would go there. The College Street is actually the outer wall of the Presidency College (of Kolkata) and rows and rows of book shops and book stalls are all around on the side of the wall facing the other side of the street where numerous elite book shops are located. The beauty of the College Street’s pavement shops and smaller shops is that they have several collectors’ items tucked away inside the piles of the books. If you search a little, you may find a rare print of Shakespeare’s play or a Jane Austin’s rare edition at as little a price as US $ one. These shops do not stock the latest bestsellers; they specialize in the rare books, rare editions and rare prints. The College Street started with only two small book shops opened in 1874, the first one was opened by Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, the famous writer and social reformer of Bengal. During the next 100 years, by the 1990s, the number of book stalls and shops had increased to more than 100. Currently (2006) only 30 such shops remain, and several pavement stalls - but they have some of the rarest editions and prints. Once you have found a print of your choice you may enjoy the same with a cup of black coffee in coffee houses and being part of "India’s intellectual consciousness", a phrased often used to describe the Experience College Street.
After roaming around the College Street and getting great food for thought, one would surely feel hungry. In case, you have a taste for the ethnic foods of Bengal, you may find your way on a Food Trail of Kolkata and behave like a true Kolkatan "obsessed" with food. You may get good foods in many restaurants, but you may also explore the food stalls across the College Street selling Laal Doi, the sweetened red curd or you may taste few Telebhaja (batter fries) from the same stall from where Swami Vivekanand used to order the same. There are many other places. You may find fish-ball soups and pork chops in the old Chinatown of Kolkata or take a typical breakfast of bacon and eggs at the Blues Café on Free School Street. During the afternoons lunch recess, you would find a meal of cooked plain rice and fish curry in front of many stalls in front of the Writers’ Building, the headquarters of the government of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal. You may top your meal with a sandesh, a really good sweet preparation from thickened milk. The unique ethnic lunch would cost you mostly less than 50 cents. Only problem would be the big wait and you should be "accustomed" to take foods standing under the sky. In case, you are more enterprising, you may decide to take your dinner also in this style. You have a variety of choices. Chicken stew with toasted, buttered, and even sugared breads in the Dalhousie area or a biryani preparation of rice and meat in the Park Circus. The list is long. Each food trail of Kolkata shall take you to a different local delicacy.
Practical information and resourcesEdit
- Currency: Indian Rupee
- Electric supply: 220 Volts
- Language: Bengali and Hindi. One can also manage with Simple English.
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