Kolkata, which the world knows as Calcutta, is a 300 years old city in east India. The city has seen better days. It is now one of the largest Indian cities, but once, Kolkata used to be the capital of the British Empire in India, and was considered one of the top 5 cities in the world – London, Paris, Tokyo, and New York. After London, Calcutta was the second city of the British Empire.
Often called the “City of Palaces” because of the huge palatial buildings that still stand tall in the city, Kolkata is still an amazing metropolis. The city is too crowded and full of poverty to a casual visitor. But spend a few days here, and you will begin to see why it is such a lively city, and a place with a heart. The lanes and by-lanes, the monuments, crumbling and renovated palatial buildings of the British era, and the French, Danish, and Dutch suburbs… there is much to see here.
Kolkata is best visited on foot, on a walking tour, or in a motorcycle tour.
White Town Walk – Dalhousie Square
Dalhousie Square is at the center of the city with a large number of government offices. It is often called the White Town, because this was the erstwhile European area. There are many fascinating heritage buildings and architectural styles to see here.
See the Writers Building, GPO (General Post Office), Currency Office, Chartered Bank, St. Andrew’s Church, St. John’s Church, Royal Insurance Building, the Dead Letter Office, Jobe Charnock’s Mausoleum, and many other fabulous landmarks. You can see them all in 3-4 hours.
Black Town Walk – Sovabazar
This is where Kolkata was born out of 3 villages, after Jobe Charnock arrived in his boat down the Hooghly River in 1689. The British used to call Sovabazar the Black Town, because the natives lived here. But Sovabazar grew to become a cosmopolitan blend with Bengali, Victorian, and Baroque influences.
This was home of the richest Bengalis. Many palatial buildings stand to this day. Explore the narrow lanes of North Calcutta and visit Sovabazar Rajbari, Chatu Babu Latu Babu Thakurbari, Anath Nath Deb Bazaar, W C Bonerjee’s home, Ray Brothers’ Workshop, Twin Shiva Temples, Darjeepara Duttabari, and the many ghats of the Hooghly River.
Confluence of Cultures – The Melting Pot Walk
Calcutta used to be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, even 100 years back. In this walk, you can trace the origins and remains of the many communities that lived in Calcutta. Have an authentic Chinese breakfast at Tiretta Bazar, see the Parsi and the Armenian communities, visit the Anglo-Indian root at Bow Barracks, and the Jews at Pollock Street. There is also a Portuguese colony at Canning Street.
You will also see the Marwaris, Biharis, Muslims, and understand why all the cultures lived in Calcutta together to make it a truly melting pot. Also visit the Fire Temple at Metcalfe Street, and Zakaria Street. This fabulous walk can be done in 4-5 hours.
Little Europe Motorbike Tour – Barrackpore to Bandel
The city’s suburbs go back longer in the past than Calcutta itself. Chinsurah, Bandel, Chandannagar, and Barrackpore were already populated when Calcutta was just a small village (Kolikata at that time).
See the heritage of the Danes at Serampore, the Dutch buildings at Chinsurah, and discover the French and Portuguese influence at Chandannagar. On a full-day trip in your Royal Enfield motorbike, you will also visit Barrackpore, where India’s first struggle for independence started, at the British army base.