Kolkata (22°34′11″N, 88°22′11″E ), formerly known as Calcutta, is regarded as the cultural capital of India. Historically, it was the capital of British India from 1773 to 1911. Therafter, it became the capital of undivided Bengal until the 1947 Partition of Bengal, after which it has remained to be the capital of West Bengal. It is a major metropolitan city, known for being the melting pot of several cultures, embracing, with graceful ease, the new without endangering the old. This riverside city of culture, heritage, spirituality, music, literature, arts and architectural wonders offers an amalgamation of various types of tourist spots, all affirming its respect and love for its rich cultural heritage.
Memorials and museums:
An iconic tourist attraction is the Kolkata Maidan
, also referred to as the "lungs of Kolkata", which houses the Victoria Memorial
, the Eden Gardens
(the 100,000 seater cricket amphitheatre), Fort William (the Eastern zone high command of the Indian Army) and Shaheed Minar
("Tower of the Martyrs”). Of these, special mention should be made of Victoria Memorial, which is dedicated to Queen Victoria, the nineteenth-century monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and also Empress of British India. The Indo-Saracenic style marble structure is modelled on the Taj Mahal, Agra. It not only houses paintings of the British Royal family, the Mughal School and the Company school, but also historical artefacts like the throne of the Nawab of Bengal and several lithographs and documents of historical interest. Its architecture as well as the invitingly sprawling lawns make it a major tourist attraction.
Jorasanko Thakur Bari (also called Tagore Museum)
just off Rabindra Sarani, north of BBD Bag, is the ancestral home of the Tagore family . For almost a century, the sprawling mansions were the cultural hub of Kolkata: a major force in the women's liberation movement and an important centre during the Independence movement. The museum displays the life and works of Tagore and the historical facts about the Bengal Renaissance. The daily sound-and-light show, in Bengali, at 6 and 7 pm is a must-watch.
The Indian Museum
The largest museum in Asia, has an immensely valuable and comprehensive collection of specimens of Indian natural history and Indian Art .The Meteorite hall and Dinosaur hall in the Natural History and Geology section are must-visits, as are the numismatics section and the collections of Gandhara Art, Burmese woodwork and Mughal miniatures in the Indian Art section.
Birla Industrial & Technological Museum
The first popular science museum in Asia, has an immensely significant collection of interactive popular science exhibits of gadgets and machinery of the late 19C and early 20C.
The Birla Planetarium
Another landmark of the city, is the largest planetarium in south-east Asia and one of the biggest in the world. It regularly runs, in English, Hindi and Bengali, the educational show which introduces the spectators to various celestial bodies.
Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu) and the Second Hooghly Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) are iconic structures which silhouette the cityscape. This can be ascertained by the Strand Road riverside walk past the "ghats" or piers.
Gardens and Parks The Indian Botanical Garden
, the oldest "botanics" in India, houses 50,000 species of the flora world. The major tourist attraction is the 250 year old, 98 feet tall banyan tree, arguably the banyan tree with the largest girth ever recorded (1300 ft).The sprawling expanse of the herbarium makes it a popular picnic spot. Another major tourist picnic spot is the Alipore Zoological Gardens
which is home to innumerable species of the fauna world. Apart from the zoo, the major amusement parks are Nicco Park, Aquatica, Science City and Millennium Park
World-class shopping experience awaits the urban shopper in malls like Forum Mall, City Centre, South City Mall and Mani Square Mall
, to name only a few. For believers in the old way of shopping, New Market (Hogg Market) is the answer.
Places of worship
The famous Kalighat Kali Temple
, dedicated to the goddess Kali, is one of the 51 Shakti ‘Peethas’. It is a famous pilgrimage site for Hindu ‘Shakta’
(Shiva and Durga/Kali/Shakti worshippers) followers.
Another greatly revered temple is, Dakshineshwar Temple
, which is dedicated to Goddess Kali. It lies on the bank of the Ganges, north of Belur Math
. Ramakrishna Paramhansa
, a devout worshipper of the goddess is associated with this temple, as the temple site is believed to have been his place of meditation.
Belur Math on the western bank of the Hooghly, in the Howrah district, was founded by Swami Vivekananda
, the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa
, and epitomises the disciple’s love for his guru. The Math is easily accessible since it is well connected by bus and train routes. The Math houses a prayer hall, a monastery, several temples as well as the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. The architectural design of the Math, a blend of the structures of temples, churches and mosques, bears out Ramakrishna Paramhansa’s belief in the principle of religious fraternity.
St. Paul's Cathedral
, the first Episcopal Church of the Orient, is located on the Maidan. The magnificent structure is a specimen of superlative Indo-Gothic architecture. The main hall of the cathedral is very large and contains splendidly-carved wooden pews. Its eastern walls are covered with breathtaking artwork. In recent times, a meditation point has been set up in collaboration with the distinguished citizens of Shantiniketan. It is no wonder that the architecture and ambience of the Cathedral provides a spiritually as well as aesthetically rewarding experience.
Not only the city but also the neighbouring areas are equally picturesque and steeped in culture:
180 kilometres north of Kolkata lies the town of Shantiniketan
(Birbhum district), popularised by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore
, whose vision now stands in the form of Visva-Bharati University
. The town formerly called Bhubandanga (named after Bhuban Dakat, a local dacoit) was rightly renamed Shantiniketan, [abode (niketan) of peace (shanti)] by Rabindranath's father, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore. Apart from being the setting for many of Tagore’s literary classics, it has cultural and historical value since Tagore’s house stands there even today. Numerous social and cultural events take place throughout the year: Basanta Utsav, Barsha Mangal, Sharodotsav, Nandan Mela, Poush Mela, Magh Mela and Rabindra Jayanti. Of these, special mention should be made of Poush Mela, a three-day fair, starting on the 7th day of the Bengali month, Poush, which roughly corresponds to the last week of December. It not only attracts tourists but also artisans, dancers, and traditional Baul singers, making it the optimum place for having a taste of the real flavour of Bengali culture.
For the lover of snowy peaks, only twelve hours away, lies the breathtakingly beautiful hill station,Darjeeling
,a tourist hotspot. The former British sanatorium, located in the Lesser Himalayas at an average elevation of 6,710 ft (2,050 m), can be reached easily by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway from New Jalpaiguri or by National Highway 55, from Siliguri, 77 km away. The nearest airport is in Bagdogra, located 90 kms from the hill station. Darjeeling is internationally renowned for its tea industry and also the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (a UNESCO World Heritage Site)
which has one of the few steam locomotives still in service in India. Among several interesting tourist activities, watching sunrise atop the Tiger Hill is an experience that defies description. A must-visit is The Lloyd's Botanical Garden
which houses rare species of plants, including a wide variety of orchids. Another place of immense interest is The Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park
which specialises in conserving and breeding endangered Himalayan species. The nearby Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary shelters animals like the one-horned rhinoceros, elephant, tiger, leopard and hog deer, while the bird species include the Bengal florican and herons.
(named after the Sundari trees found here) is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world
. It lies in the delta on the Bay of Bengal formed by the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997, the forest forms the largest Tiger Reserve and National Park in India. Since the Sundarbans is an important wintering area for migrant water birds, the avifauna found here includes such rarities as the Masked Finfoot, Mangrove Pitta and the Mangrove Whistler, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise.The area is known for the Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), as well as numerous fauna including species of spotted (Chital)deer, rhesus monkey, crocodiles and snakes. the Barking Deer is found only on Holiday Island, while, the endangered river Terrapin, Batagur baska is found on the Mechua Beach. Surely,the Sundarbans, which has been enlisted amongst the finalist in the New Seven Wonders of Nature, offers a touring experience of which has an extraordinary allure of its own.
In a nutshell, the passion for enjoying life’s best is reflected in the festive spirit of the city, borne out by the saying "Baro mashe, tero parbon" -12 months, 13 festivals.The community puja is one of the most spectacular events in Kolkata. The main festivals are Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja and Saraswati Puja, Dol Purnima, Nabobarsho, Christmas, Bakr-id and Id-ul-fitr. Bengali fish items like bhapa Ilish, malai chingri, pabda maach and Bengali sweets like rosogolla, rosomolai and mishti doi, the major attractions on the culinary landscape, affirm the average Calcuttan’s passion for good food. It is the city that drinks “life to the lees” and casts a spell of intoxicating charm whether it be that of Park Street, the foremost dining district in Kolkata, with restaurants and eateries like Shiraz, Flury's, Trinca's and Peter Cat or the laid-back mesmerizing kind of old world charm of College Street, a book lover’s paradise, with thousands of books comprising the landscape, and of course, the historical institution, the India Coffee House. In this miracle of a city, contrasting lifestyles and philosophies thrive in a manner which would leave a traveller wondering in amazement at his encounter with the phenomenon called “Kolkata”…Welcome to the experience!