Kolkata – known to the whole world as the City of Joy is a 320 plus years old city standing and evolving every day ever so proudly along the banks of river Hooghly. Just a few days ago, the city celebrated yet another birthday on 24th August – the date which is officially considered as the founding date of Kolkata.
History says that on this date, Job Charnock, who is accredited with the founding of Calcutta, first came to the village of Sutanuti as a representative of the British East India Company to establish a factory and also on the very date, he finally established British jurisdiction in the land. Later on, when the British started their colonial rule in India legitimately, under Queen Victoria’s reign, Calcutta was the capital of the whole empire.
Even though the capital was shifted to Delhi in 1931, Calcutta remained one of the most important administrative and cultural centres of the country. It also got the first underground metro rail network in India. Calcutta, which got its new name Kolkata in 2001, has raised many great personalities who made the country proud at the global stage. From a whole lot of freedom fighters like Khudiram Bose, Surya Sen, Binoy-Badal-Dinesh to great reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy, Vidyasagar, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and modern-day icons like Satyajit Ray and Saurav Ganguly.
But apart from all of that, the city itself is as beautiful and full of colour and festivity as it comes. People who have visited the place have surely complained about the humidity, crowd and pollution; but they have also been enchanted by the absolute heartiness and warmth the city has to offer.
But Kolkata is much more than rosogolla, machherjhol and Howrah Bridge.If you are planning on taking a trip to the City of Joy anytime soon, here are the places you must pay a visit:
- VICTORIA MEMORIAL
A visit to this monument is equivalent to visiting Kolkata. Surrounded by an extensive garden and a lake, this structure was built in an early 20th century in the memory of the late queen of England, Queen Victoria, as the name suggests. There is a grand statue of the monarch right in the middle of the stone path that leads up to the main building from the front gate. There are statues of other eminent British personalities too like Outram, Curzon, Dalhousie, Hastings and so on. The revolving angel atop the dome is used worldwide as an unofficial emblem of the city.
Inside the building are galleries which serve as museums for scriptures, craft items, weapons, coins, stamps, textiles, paintings, artefacts, copies of rare books and important documents during the British Raj, and some of the queen’s personal belongings. On one hand, the Memorial is ideal for art-lovers because of its brilliant Indo-Saracenic revivalist architectural style and on the other, it is a storehouse of glimpses into the yesteryears. A magnificent reminiscence of the glorious Victorian era, this place is a must-see in the city.
- PRINSEP GHAT
Not so far from Victoria Memorial stands the edifice constructed in memory of the Anglo-Indian scholar and antiquary, James Prinsep. He was known for deciphering many ancient scriptures and texts, including being the first to decipher the Ashokan edicts in Brahmi scripts dating back to Before-Christ era. The building in itself is a white stone one made in Greek and Gothic styles, but the main attraction of the place is its scenic beauty. Crossing the structure and the rail-lines of the circular railway that runs around the city (which also has a station there at PrinsepGhat), there is a riverfront pathway stretching for 2 kilometres from PrinsepGhat to BabuGhat. It is maintained by the State Govt. and is illuminated and beautified and is dotted with food and drinks stalls and renovated ghats for people to sit and relax.
People gather here from around the city during the evening to witness the stunning beauty of the place. The scenery created by the setting sun along the glistening water of River Ganges and the great Vidyasagar Bridge across the waterbody is bliss for the eyes.
- PARK STREET
Park Street is not one particular place, but an entire road connecting one public transport road with another. It is perhaps the most famous road in the entire city, and rightfully so. During the British era, it used to be the location of all recreational places – diners, bars and pubs, social banquets and so on strictly meant for the English people. Indians were not allowed on Park Street.
But times have definitely changed. It is not only famous but also the most exquisite and liberal localities; and most importantly, a paradise for foodies. Occupying plot after plot are eateries of all kinds on both sides of this popular street. From cafes to confectioneries to pubs to diners – everything is available to suit your taste buds. Apart from the regulars like CCD, Barista, KFC, Dominos, Subway and so on, there is a host of other places like Moulin Rouge, Peter cat, Oly Pub, Trincas and Flury’s which have their own history and heritage. Tantra, Roxy and Someplace Else of the Park Hotel are the most famous nightclubs in the city.
These are the favourite haunts of celebrities across the town, and also of those who visit from outside, or even abroad. The best time to come here is during the Christmas holidays, or rather the worst; because with all the pubs and high-end restaurants located here along with the winter special streetlights the Government puts up; Park Street gets too crowded for its own good. There is also an age-old Cemetery at the southern end of Park Street which is a popular haunt among youngsters and historians interested in Anglo-Indian heritage. It is beautiful in its serenity and silence.
- THE INDIAN MUSEUM
Near the other gate of the Park Street, metro station is situated the Indian Museum, also known as Jadughar – the oldest and largest museum in Asia-Pacific, established in 1814 and the ninth oldest one in the whole world. Inside its vast expanse, it holds an equally extensive amount of ancient to modern scriptures, relics, documents, weapons, currencies, fossils, skeletons, mummies, paintings and artificially manufactured figures to represent the older times.
The whole place is so huge and so full of interesting facts and information that it takes an entire day to cover it entirely. With its unquestionable heritage and a bank of knowledge, it is definitely a mandatory visit for any tourist.
- THE KOLKATA ZOO (ALIPORE ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS)
Another by default tourist attraction of Kolkata is its zoological gardens at Alipore, a place famous for being the home to a cluster of government maintained structures including the National Library and the Central Jail. Although not the largest in India, this zoo holds over 100 species and 1200 animals on an average. Opened to the public in 1876, it is probably best known as the home of the now expired Aldabra giant tortoise Adwaita, which was reputed to have been over 250 years old when it died in 2006. It also has a generous number of Royal Bengal tigers, different species of deer, a host of reptiles, leopards, birds and many other mainstream species.
Like many other zoos, this one also has the provision of animal adoption and caretaking. Even though excessively crowded during the winter, it is still the best time to visit this place because winter is the time when more or less all the animals prefer to come out and give us a glimpse of their grandeur.
In short, winter is any way the right time to visit Kolkata because of the heat and humidity it experiences all year long, maybe except for the Durga Puja time when the city looks like a dreamland. There are many other places to visit in and around the city – the Kalighat Temple, Belur Math, Botanical Gardens, St. Paul’s Cathedral, amusement parks like Science City and Nicco Park and malls like South City and Quest. The lush green open fields of Maidan are the oxygen of the city and grassroots of age-old heritage. The ShaheedMinar, the Calcutta Race Course and of course, the Eden Gardens – all stand on these green patches. If you can fight the heat and all the pollution and traffic that even the residents of the city find disturbing, the whole city is out there for you to explore.
But in spite of that, Kolkata is still one of the most beautiful cities ever. Verses of smitten poets say that one can hear its heartbeat in the rustling and bustling through its venous cobweb-like streets – a City of Joy, rightfully so.