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WHY KOLKATA CALCUTTA
Although Calcutta has a rich heritage the first impression about Calcutta may not be very flattering. However the general portrayal of Calcutta as the city of all ills is not fully true. Calcutta is beautiful in its own way. It is a friendly city with a big heart. The survival spirit of this city gives hope to mankind. This city has been associated with many great men and women - from Rabindranath Tagore to Mother Teresa, from Satyajit Ray to Amartya Sen, from Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to Swami Vivekananda. There are of course many who will urge you to give Calcutta a miss from your India itinerary. But then Calcutta is India !
When to visit:
Greater Calcutta is a massive mixture of urban and semi urban sprawl. The best time to visit Calcutta is between the months of October and March when its cooler than the rest of the year. This is also the best time to visit India. However like other Indian metros, the smog can be bad during the winter months. It is sweaty during the summer (May - Jun) months. The monsoons (Jun - Sep) sometimes bring in heavy rain which can throw the city out of gear. All said and done, Calcutta's weather is moderate compared to the extremes in other parts of India. Calcutta's famous Durga Puja festival is held sometime in September or October (depending on the Hindu religious calendar).
Getting there and getting around:
Calcutta's airport is served by a few international airlines which provide connections to Europe and South East Asia. Domestic airlines link Calcutta to other Indian cities. Howrah and Sealdah are well connected by the railways to all major Indian cities and towns. Bus services to nearby places are also available. For any kind of long distance travel, reservation in advance is always a good idea. Local transport includes buses, taxis, rickshaws (auto, hand pulled, cycle), ferry boats, an underground railway and an extensive suburban railway system. Public transport is generally crowded and traffic jams can be frustrating. Walking is sometimes a good alternative (provided the heat is bearable) because the core city is not very large. Check out the transport section on this website for further details.
While this whole website is geared towards presenting a lot of information about Calcutta - here's a brief outline of some of Calcutta's attractions.
Central Calcutta and Howrah:
Most of the attractions of Calcutta are around the Maidan which is one of the few open spaces in the city. The Maidan was created in 1758 by clearing the jungle around the new Fort William. This was to allow the guns to fire freely. Strangely enough not a single shot has been fired from the fort. The treeless character of the Maidan changed almost a century later when trees were planted and avenues constructed. Access to this park was limited during the British rule. Today it is a free public park and the Maidan is the pulse of Calcutta's throbbing life. Access to the Fort William is still restricted.
The center of attraction of the Maidan is the Victoria Memorial Hall. The project was commissioned by Lord Curzon (infamous for his partition of Bengal) in 1906. The architect was Sir William Emerson. The monument was finally completed in 1921 by the Prince of Wales. Built with white marble from Markana, Rajasthan, it is probably the most graceful structure in Calcutta. Today it's a museum having various Victoria memorabilia, Raj paintings and other displays.
To the west of the Victoria Memorial is the Royal Calcutta Turf Club. It is one of the largest race courses in the nation and the club celebrated 150 years in 1997. Just beyond the Race course is the Vidyasagar Setu, a modern bridge, linking Calcutta to Howrah city. This impressive cable stayed bridge provides an alternative to the Howrah Bridge. This bridge is a convenient link to the Indian Botanical Gardens in south Howrah. This 273 acre park was set up in 1787 by Col Kyd of the East India Company. It has a variety of botanical specimens. The Great Banyan Tree has one of the largest canopies in the world.
To the east of the Victoria Memorial Hall is a triangular plot of land which forms the cultural complex of the city. It is anchored by the a modern auditorium called the Rabindra Sadan and a cinema complex called the Nandan. A smaller theater called the Sisir Mancha, the Pashchim Bangla Academy, the Academy of Fine Arts and the Calcutta Information Centre complete the setup. Slightly ahead towards Shakespeare Sarani is the St Paul's Cathedral, which was built in 1837. Next to it is the Birla Planetarium. It is modeled after the Buddhist stupa of Sanchi. On Chowringhee road near the Rabindra Sadan Metro station is the Nehru Children's Museum which has a clay doll exhibition based on the story of Ramayana and the Mahabharata.
On Chowringhee Road north of Park Street is the Indian Museum. Founded in 1814 by a Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich, it is the largest museum in India. It is also known as the Jadughar (house of marvels).The area is popularly known as the Esplanade or Dharmatala. Next to the museum is the Sudder Street which is a favorite haunt of the foreign tourists.
The next important road is the Lindsay Street which is the main shopping area of central Calcutta. The Sir Stuart Hogg Market is named after Calcutta's first Municipal Commissioner. Opened in 1874, it is better known as the New Market. A section of it was gutted in a major fire but a new annex has been added to the complex. The area is home to several large showrooms and two other market complexes - the Shreeram Arcade and the Treasure Island.
The Oberoi Grand Hotel, a luxury hotel and its next door neighbor the Peerless Inn are on the Chowringhee Road. Many movie theaters like the Metro, Elite, Roxy, New Empire, Lighthouse and Globe add to the hustle and bustle of Esplanade. Old palatial mansions, some in need of major repairs, become more common in this part of Calcutta. The Esplanade East or the Sidhu Kanu Dahar is a favorite demonstration area for Calcutta's political parties. The Shahid Minar is the landmark in the northern part of the Maidan. It was built in 1828 in honor of Sir David Ochterlony who led the British forces to victory in the Nepalese wars. It was renamed as the Shahid Minar in memory of India's martyred freedom fighters. The monument is a combination of three styles - the base of the monument is Egyptian, the column Syrian and the crown is a Turkish cupola. Calcutta's main bus terminus is at the base of Shahid Minar.
Just beyond Esplanade East is the Raj Bhavan or the Governor's house. It was formerly the official residence of the Viceroys, when Calcutta was the capital of British India. It is probably the largest residence in Calcutta with 137 rooms. It was built between 1799 and 1803. Turning towards west one can see the Akashvani Bhavan which houses the offices of the All India Radio. The massive Ranji Cricket Stadium, more popularly known as the Eden Gardens is just behind the Akashvani Bhavan. The stadium with a capacity of 90,000 is one of the world's top cricketing stadiums. The Eden Gardens complex also has a small park. The Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indoor stadium is also in this complex. On the southern side of this complex is the maidan with several football grounds of Calcutta's top clubs. The West Bengal Legislative Assembly or the Vidhan Sabha is at the crossing of the Government Place West and the Esplanade Row West. The Calcutta High Court is a block away from here. For the historically inclined the mausoleum of Job Charnock, the founder of the city, is in the graveyard of the St. John's Church. On 24th August 1690, Charnock established a factory at Sutanati. This is generally accepted as the date of foundation of modern Calcutta. Nearby is the Calcutta Town Hall which has now been converted into a city museum.
A little north of Esplanade East is the Benoy Badal Dinesh Bag. BBD Bag is the administrative heart of the city with a rectangular tank at the center. A massive red building called the Writers' Building occupies the northern side of the square. The original building was constructed in 1770 and was modified to its more imposing look after a century. It was used to house the writers (junior servants) of the East India Company. Today it houses the West Bengal Government secretariat. It is named after Benoy, Badal and Dinesh, three young martyrs. The other major buildings that dominate this area include the General Post Office (built 1868), the Reserve Bank of India and the Telephone Bhavan. Incidentally the GPO is built on the site of a wing of the first Fort William and is said to be the site of the blackhole incident. The Calcutta Police Headquarters more commonly known as the Lalbazar is a few minutes walk from the square. Many of the old trading houses have their corporate offices around BBD Bagh. There are several banks, government offices, public sector corporations and private companies in this locality. The Calcutta Stock Exchange is nearby at Lyons Range. The Birla Building housing the offices of the various Birla companies is one of the tallest buildings in the city.
A short drive from the BBD Bagh is the Rabindra Setu or the Howrah Bridge which has become symbolic of Calcutta. The Howrah Bridge connects the massive Howrah Railway Station and the city of Howrah to central Calcutta. It was built in 1943 and is 97 meters (295 ft) high and 705 meters (2,150 ft) long. The Howrah Bridge hums with activity throughout the day making it the world's busiest bridge.
South of the race course is the neighborhood of Alipore. It is the district headquarters of 24 Paraganas (South). The Zoological Garden was opened in 1876 by the Prince of Wales and is spread over an area of 41 acres. It's a popular spot especially during the winder months. The luxury Taj Bengal Hotel is just across the zoo. A little ahead is the National Library of India housed in the historic Belvedere House. As the Vice Regal lodge it served the residence of the Viceroys when Calcutta was the capital of British India.
Further south in the neighborhood of Kalighat is the Kalighat Temple. This is one of the 51 "pithas" of Hinduism and the temple is dedicated to Goddess Kali. It is a major pilgrimage center. The Dhakuria Lakes or the Rabindra Sarobar is a public park in South Calcutta. There is a stadium and cultural complex the Nazrul Mancha (formerly the open air theater). The Birla Academy of Art and Culture on Dr Meghnad Saha Sarani,overlooks the lake. It is one of the best in the nation. The Birla Temple,on Ashutosh Chowdhury Avenue, Ballygunge, is another landmark of Calcutta. This is a beautiful Orissan style temple.
North Calcutta is home to several of Calcutta's aristocrat families. Although the fortunes of many have seen a downward spiral and their palaces are often in ruins, some of the palaces are better maintained. The Marble Palace is on the Muktaram Babu Street. Built in 1835 by Raja Rajendro Mullick, it has a collection of Oriental and Western artifacts. The Thakurbari or the house of the Tagores is in Jorasanko, north Calcutta. It was built in the 18th century by Prince Dwarkanath Tagore (Rabindranath Tagore's grandfather). The complex has several buildings. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was born here. The house is today a museum. The Rabindra Bharati University which specializes in the fine arts is also in this complex. The Shobhabazar Rajbari belongs to the Deb family. Raja Nobokissen Deb is believed to have started Calcutta's tradition of public celebration of Durga Puja. The first such Puja was held in 1757, to celebrate the victory of Lord Robert Clive in the Battle of Plassey. While the Durga Puja of the Rajbari is still famous, Calcutta itself is famous for the five day Durga Puja celebrations. These five days (generally in September or October) bring out the best of Calcutta.
Calcutta's College Street is not a tourist attraction but it may be an interesting place for some folks. The center of activity is the College Square. The University of Calcutta, established in 1857, is on the western side of the square. Next to it is the prestigious Presidency College originally the Hindu College. The Eden Hindu Hostel is behind the University. A little further off is the IISWBM, India's oldest management institution. South of the university is the Asia's oldest medical school - the Calcutta Medical College. Other institutions around the College Square include the Hare School, the Hindu School and the Sanskrit College. The section of College Street in front of the Presidency College and the surrounding areas form a veritable book bazar which attracts readers of every kind. The Indian Coffee House is a favorite hangout for many Calcuttans. College Square is also the site of one of Calcutta's prestigious Durga Pujas.
In the neighborhood of Manicktala is the Parasnath Jain Temple. It is dedicated to Lord Sital Nath, the 10th of the 24 Jain Tirthankaras (Prophets). It was built in 1867. A pretty long drive (because of traffic) along B.T.Road and then towards the Vivekanada Bridge leads to the Dakhineshwar Kali Temple. This beautiful temple on the banks of the Hooghly river was built in 1855 by Rani Rashmoni (1793-1861). This temple is associated with one of India's greatest religious philosophers - Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (Gadadhar Chattopadhyay - 1836-1886). The main temple is dedicated to Goddess Kali. On the opposite bank, a little to the south is Belur Math - the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. The mission was founded in 1938 by Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and named after his mentor Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa (1836-1886).The Ramakrishna Mission is famous for its missionary work and has branches all over the world. The main temple in Belur Math incorporates the various architectural styles of the different religions of India.
Much of Calcutta's expansion is now towards the east. The Eastern Metropolitan Bypass has resulted in a spurt in construction activity in this region. At the crossing of the Park Circus Connector and the EMBP is the Science City. This complex houses a convention center, a space theater and several other science exhibits housed in some of the most modern architectural buildings in Calcutta.
Further north along the bypass is the modern Salt Lake City or Bidhan Nagar. This is one of the few well planned areas of Calcutta and many government offices have shifted to Salt Lake City. An electronics complex called Saltlec is home to many software companies. The Nicco Park, a small but well maintained theme park, is in Sector V. The massive 120,000 capacity Salt Lake Stadium (Yubabharati Krirangan) is at the southern end of Salt Lake. Next to it is the Sports Authority of India's training complex
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