Dominique Lapierre in his book City of Joy, first named Kolkata as the City of Joy, and since then it has been known by this nickname. This nickname truly captures its real essence. This city indeed exudes warmth, hospitality, and a sense of euphoria and to experience it, you have to see it. Let me take you through a list of reasons why you should visit and revel in this city at least once or else you haven’t seen a significant chunk of India, in its making, its present state and in its history.
This city was the first capital of the nation until 1911, when it was shifted to Delhi. The name it holds today hasn’t been its original name though, formerly known as Kalikshetra, the land of Goddess Kali, thereafter Kalikata, and finally the British christened the name of Calcutta to it and only recently has it been renamed to Kolkata. This city has given birth to pioneers and veterans in many walks of life be it freedom struggle, literary geniuses, or protagonists of films and plays, or veterans of Dance or missionaries. You name it we have it all covered under the spectrum of this city. There is so much to know about the rich history of Kolkata and believe me the City of Joy will keep you intrigued throughout your trip.
The connection of a Bengali and delicious food is invincible. This is the land of sweets and fish primarily but not limited to just this. Welcome aboard to the place where food is next to art. Kathi rolls(Meat Stuffed wraps) to Kabiraji (Chicken or fish fillets fried in crispy egg batter), Doi Maachh (fish cooked in curd) to Mishti Doi (sweetened yoghurt), Basanti pulao to Calcutta Biryani, Shutli Kabab to Daab Chingri (prawns cooked inside coconut shells), the list is endless. Also this is the place where pani-Puri meets its better rival called phuchka at a LPG (lowest price guarantee) of 9-10 phuchkas in just about 10 Rupees. Not just pocket friendly food, this place is the destination to fine dining as well, try Trincas at Park Street, or Ohh Calcutta, for authentic Bengali food try Bhojo Hori Manna and for Mughlai cuisine try Arsalan or Zeeshan.
3. Places of interest
This entire city is a piece of history, architecture and art. From Park Street to Victoria Memorial to St. Paul’s Cathedral to Writer’s building to Esplanade to Coffee House in College Street to the Race Course to Princep Ghat and finally to Howrah Bridge. All these architectures are mostly classic British in their style and even today they stand tall in their elegance and grandeur telling and retelling the tales of the city that was, is and will be.
4. Cost of living
They say money cannot buy happiness, I say money buys everything that makes me happy. This city is the cheapest metro city to live in. The added advantage being more money to dispense at other luxuries of life and to save. Some people crib Kolkata doesn’t pay enough which isn’t true entirely. It must also dawn upon you that this is the only city where you can travel a whole zone in a metro in just five bucks, a shared rickshaw ride will cost you anywhere between 5-15 rupees, you can have a sumptuous meal of rice, fish or eggs, vegetables and daal in just about 25 Rupees. The rent for a 2bhk apartment could be almost half of what you pay for a 1 bk apartment in a city like Gurgaon. Difficult to believe? Its true and this world also exists.
5. Laid back life
Yes this is a metro but not in a race, if you are tired of all the hustle bustle that most of the cities are akin to these days move to Kolkata, and see how relaxed this place is. There are MNCs here as well but people know how to live their lives here, you will not find a single corporate slave in here. People live their life just the way it should be lived, comparatively money may be a little less than the other cities but rat race is what we don’t run in, it’s just not our kinda thing!
Adda means group discussions and the real feel of it can be got in Kolkata alone. We have paaraas here, meaning residential colonies and every paaraa has a club where we do the world famous adda or discussions or debates over topics as varied as politics, economics, football, films, art, literature, just over a cup of cha(tea) and marie biscuits. This is the source of all the knowledge we possess and we do believe in sharing it through none other than Adda!
Yes we are not very fashionable people, cause fashion is just a fad, we believe in style and style is eternal. This place is a paradise for shopping and there’s every kind of market for it. For budget shopping visit Gariahat or New Market and bargain to your heart’s delight. A little better but affordable shopping can be experienced at places like Metro Plaza, Vardaan Market or the AC Market and if you want to buy the best wedding attire then Bada bazaar is your heaven. If you’re a bookworm gift yourself an extravagant shopping experience at College Street.
8. Durga Puja
If you have not seen this, you haven’t seen Bengal in totality, Durga Puja is the main festival celebrated here and the festive season has an aura to it which is unbeatable, the earthy musk of the Autumn air around, the full bloomed Kaash Phool (kans grass) and the Dhaaker awaaj (the sounds of reverberating drums) mark the very beginning of a ten daylong celebration of Goddess Durga along with her four children Ganesha, Karthik, Lakshmi and Saraswati. You can witness art in the form of the huge pandals that are built with utmost precision and finesse generally based on a certain thematic inspiration. This is the time where you meet your large and extended family and revel in the festivities. This is a magical festival and one must experience this atleast once to know the magic in it.
Weddings are a wonderful way of getting to know a place better. Bengali weddings, neither are much of noisy affair nor are they flashy. The weddings are mostly elegant but not boring, roughly it takes three days to get married in Bengal, with Biye (the Wedding night), Bashi Biye (the second wedding day with Vidaai (bride’s final farewell to her parents) and Bou Bhaat (the reception). These places are the destination for ultimate gastronomic extravaganza. Don’t forget to carry Gelusil (antacid) with you if you are of the faint stomached.
10. Public transport
Welcome to the world of the cheapest and classic logistics that could ever be. This is the only city where you can still see the tram running, hand pulled rickshaws, though sad and brutal to look at, but this is one of those few things that define Calcutta and has also inspired many photographers to document the spirit of this city. The ambassador yellow taxis are one of a kind and not to forget the first city to ever have a well connected Metro rail service that was underground until very recently when they started extending the reach of it. The blue Calcutta transport buses were also worth an experience with their wooden floors and weird seating arrangement, and last but not the least the mini buses that are undoubtedly driven by F1 racers. Seriously these drivers could make a career out of this kinda speed! Woof!
I love this city not just because I am a Bengali, but because this city leaves me overwhelmed every time even if I think about it. The Howrah Bridge makes me skip a heartbeat and there’s a whole another story to it, someday I shall pen that down too. Until then you make your plans to visit this corner of our country. Happy travelling!