10 things to do in Calcutta (Kolkata), the cultural capital of India

Vir Sanghvi once said, “Calcutta is not for everyone. You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore’s your place. But if you want a city with a soul, come to Calcutta.”

Having lived in Delhi, Bangalore & Mumbai, I can declare with full confidence that Vir Sanghvi has never been more right. Delhi is really a city of large hearted people. Bombay sparkles with all the glitz & glamour. And Bangalore is truly the unofficial beer capital (Yes, not Goa, it’s Bangalore).

Then, what’s Calcutta?

Calcutta is music that lives within the ordinary: the walks on the college street, the food that’s served on street stalls, the rides in the Yellow Taxi, the queues for darshan in the temples, the traffic on Howrah Bridge & the noise everywhere in the city. A friend once asked me if Calcutta was really as magnificent as I say it is in my posts?! You can guess my response. 🙂

Calcutta might be crumbling at places, might be hot & humid, might not be as welcoming as you think Delhi is, might not be as posh as Bombay is supposed to be, and might not be as young as Bangalore assumes itself to be. But the thing is that Calcutta doesn’t need to be. Calcutta is more. Yes, Calcutta is old.

Calcutta is like a sweet dish, the more you eat it, the more you get addicted to it. Just take one bite; you won’t be able to stop at the first one. Where to start? Here are 10 recommendations for the time when you visit Calcutta (Kolkata):

1. Breakfast at Flurys

If you come to Kolkata, you have to come to Flurys at Park Street. Started by a Swiss Couple in 1927, Flurys opened up as a European style tea-room & bakery shop. Almost a century later, Flurys has become an iconic spot for Modern India. Flurys remains popular not only for its cake, pastries & croissants but also for the memories that one makes with their loved ones over breakfast, a cup of Darjeeling tea or a rum ball. Their menu is quite good & reasonably priced. You would see that a lot of dishes are marked with ‘H’, these are Heritage dishes. You may try a few.

2. Watch Sunset at Prinsep Ghat

Built on the banks of Hooghly river, Prinsep Ghat is one of the many reminders of India’s diverse and rich history. As you enter the Ghat, you can’t miss the white, Palladian porch made in the memory of James Prinsep. You can take a walk, click some pictures & enjoy the evening hustle-bustle. When it’s time for the Sun to set, hire a boat & go for a ride. The view of Vidyasagar Setu and the vast Hooghly river would calm you to your core, and you will come back home as good as new.

3. Pay homage to Gurudev, the first Nobel laureate of India by visiting Jorasonko, Thakurbari

One of my favourite writers & one of my heroes of all time is Gurudev. Whenever I share this with someone, they ask me if I am a Bong?!

“Why? Because I am a fan of Robindra Sangeet, read his books & admire him greatly?”, I ask.

“It’s because of your eyes and round face”, they tell me.

Gurudev doesn’t belong to any region or community. He belonged to India and most of us form his fan following. A trip to Calcutta of course meant paying homage to Gurudev by visiting Thakur Bari, Jorasonko. This was the ancestral house of the Thakur Family. The place is of immense significance because Gurudev was born here, and left this world for good in here too.

The place has got a nominal ticket and has museums inside. Worth every penny!

4. Try local delicacies: puchka, sondesh & kathi roll

When in Kolkata, forget all about calories and eat. Eat as much as you can, as many times as you can, and as much as you can (Oh, I already said that. Didn’t I? You get the gist.) Kolkata is famous for Sondesh, Kathi rolls and puchka. Of course, you will eat all of this. It’s also famous for many other delicacies such as Luchi Aloo Dum, Rosogolla of course, Daab Chingri, Kasha Mangsho, Ghoogni, Aam Kasundi Ilish, and other seafood dishes.

5. Buy flowers from 130-year-old flower market, Mallick Ghat

One of the largest flower markets of India, Mallick Ghat has been around for the last 130 years. A walk through the market would be a treat (or mistreat ;)) to your senses: chaos everywhere, many weird noises, smells of all kinds and crowds of all sorts. In between this, you will see the beautiful sights of freshly harvested flowers: Roses, Marigold, Orchids, Tuberoses, Jasmine, and everything else that could be grown in that weather of the country.

If you are an early bird, these flowers are meant for you. Come and buy as many as you can. It won’t cost you much.

By the way, there’s a special flower that’s sold in the market. It’s called Tagore Phool and looks like Jasmine. Can you find it?

6. Ride a Yellow Taxi

There are some things about a city that you must do: getting stuck in the traffic jam at Silk board in Bangalore, being a part of road rage in Delhi, playing Suicide Squad in the local train of Bombay and riding a Yellow Taxi in Calcutta.

There’s nothing special about it. It’s a shiny, Yellow taxi. It can be really dirty from the inside (not as much as the Kaali-Peeli’s of Bombay but close). It won’t even have an AC & you would have to bear with it in the humid weather of Calcutta. Yeah, there’s nothing special about it, and that’s exactly why it is a must-recommended thing to do.

7. Buy a book from the College Street

College Street, as the name suggests, is a long street full of shops that sell books. 🙂

Known by the name, Boi Para which means a colony of books, College Street is believed to be the largest second-hand book market in the world. Can you believe it? No?

It’s also the biggest book market in India and Asia.

There’s something romantic about book streets. When I see a stack of books, it does something to me. The book covers call for me, and I get overwhelmed with this strange desire of buying everything that I can see and touch.

You? You might not be as crazy as I am. So, you might do well with buying one book, any book.

8. Admire the architecture of Victoria Memorial

What India Gate is to Delhi, Gateway of India to Bombay & Char Minar to Hyderabad, Victoria Memorial is to Calcutta.

Victoria Memorial was built in memory of Queen Victoria & has completed 101 years of its existence. Apart from being built by Marble, the monument is a beautiful example of fusion architecture with elements of Indian, Mughal & Egyptian influences. When you visit Victoria Memorial, there’s just one thing that you got to do: look.

9. Go for a walk across the Howrah Bridge

Howrah Bridge or Rabindra Setu is the sixth-longest cantilever bridge in the world (third at the time of its construction). But who cares about these statistics?

What really matters is what the Bridge stands for. And what’s that, you might wonder?! Keep wondering, I won’t tell you.

As shown in many movies: Howrah Bridge, Amar Prem, The Namesake, Piku, Yuva, Gunday, Calcutta 71, Howrah Bridge is a part of every Indian’s memory & identity. The mere mention of it reminds you of your favourite songs, favourite actors, movie scenes & people who once ruled (or still do) your hearts.

A walk across the bridge will take you down memory lane or help you create some memories.

10. Feel the vibe at the iconic, Indian Coffee House

Indian Coffee House, anywhere in India, evokes memories. Indian Coffee Houses are not just places that serve coffee but almost always have remained an adda for the intellectuals of that area, a central place where many rebel ideas have taken shape and the hotspot for stories that have outlived their characters.

Indian Coffee House, located on College Street, is no different. The place has been a favourite of the city’s intellectual society, artists, students & locals. Practically everyone!

Many celebrities have smoked nicotine & ingested caffeine in this place and that list includes Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen, Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak & Narayan Gangopadhyay.

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