Kolkata has a huge fascination for all kinds of travellers from all parts of the world. And, unlike megapolises of its stature, it has something to offer to travellers with every possible kind of budgets. But I am going to concentrate on a particular type of travellers in this piece, on request, from friends in Bangladesh. Hope it serves their purpose.
The area that the people from Bangladesh are most comfortable putting up in Kolkata, is, you guessed it, around New Market in Esplanade, often specifically around Free School Street. While the Oberoi Grand, the Peerless Inn and the Park Hotel are bang in there, there also are innumerable smaller, more wallet friendly lodging and boarding facilities stretching from the exotic to the simply functional. The area is a veritable foodie’s paradise and whether you are adventurous or not, I can assure you that the delights culinary will not leave you wanting.
After checking in, on the first day walk to the Indian Museum (established in 1814, it is a class in itself), Victoria Memorial (formally opened to the public in 1921, a monument to the Queen, a national gallery and Valhalla of the Indian Empire), St Paul’s Cathedral (completed in 1847, dedicated to Paul the Apostle and known for its Gothic architecture) and the Planetarium. They are all a stone’s throw from each other, even if one strolls through them casting cursory glances, one can spend the day easily. I will not go into the details about all the exhibits and attractions that are on display in these places as they are listed all over the place and would in any case, rob one of the excitements of discovering them on one’s own. If one so desires, one can also take a ride in a horse drawn carriage available just across the main entrance gate of Victoria Memorial. On the way back, take the Chowringhee Road footpath to walk towards New Market, for the simple reason that the hawkers here have a treasure trove to offer to the bargain hunter. If possible, one can also check out the Asiatic Society in Park Street.
The evening can be spent in the New Market (formerly called Sir Stewart Hog Market). Many say that this market offers the best at the most competitive prices and continues to be one of the main draws of the city. From the hawkers on the street to the different markets that dot the area, me thinks, the evening will be taken care of, well and truly. Alternatively, one can take a taxi, or hop on to the Metro rail to visit Kalighat.
The next day should be spent making a trip to Jorashanko Thakur Bari (the house where the poet and first non-European Nobel Laureate in Literature, Rabindra Nath Tagore was born, and which currently serves as the Tagore Museum with invaluable nuggets not only about the life and the times of the poet but also about the Bengal Renaissance and the Brahmo Samaj); Marble Palace (palace of raja Rajendra Mullick, one of the most well preserved monuments of the city, the palace is known for its invaluable collection of antiques, gardens and private zoo) and the Jain Temple (built in 1867 and dedicated to the 23rd tirthankara, Parshwanath the temple is located in the Maniktala region and is known for its typical architecture).
After the hectic day spent touring, the evening can be best spent in the Oxford Book store in Park Street, which also houses a tea bar. Alternatively, there are a number of book stores in the Free School Street are which can also be checked out. A brisk walk from Park Street, down Camac Street will also take one to the Pantaloon and Westside, popular destination for shoppers.
One can, if one may, also hire a cab to take a quick run down the Howrah Bridge (perhaps the busiest cantilever bridge in the world). Cross over to the other side of the river Ganges, see the Howrah Station (the oldest and the largest existing Railway complex in India, one of the busiest rail stations in India) and drive back across the Second Hooghly Bridge (the first and the longest cable stayed bridge in India). If time permits, during the way back the road adjacent to the river can be taken and one can stop at any one of the ghats that dot the riverside to take a short boat ride.
Kolkata knows how to party and the Park Street area offers n-numbers of watering holes apart from night spots that cater to different taste buds. While the Park Hotel has some destinations that are pretty popular with the hip and happening crowd, there are others offering a variety of entertainment options to the more raffishly inclined. For tourists in a new city venturing out at night, naturally, the usual disclaimers apply and one should take necessary precautions, if you know what I mean.