One of my most compelling wishes was to visit Calcutta, – only metro city I had not yet visited. I was destined to go there after all. The excitement of the trip kept me awake all night. I kept glancing at the alarm clock, lest I miss this golden opportunity. The last hour passed with so much anxiety that I after the 4th time I woke up every 10 min. Not able to handle this anymore I switched off the alarm and got ready to take off.
My flight was an uncomfortable one, since i had been web checked-in on a non-recliner seat. Nevertheless the excitement kept me going for the next 3 hours.
Walking past the exit I opted for the local cabs just to feel the sheer pleasure of sitting in a brand of cars you no longer find in any other city – the yellow ambassador. Wow!
As I walked towards my car, a man came upto me. Speaking in English he opened the door for me to sit inside. “My, what a decent driver”, i thought to myself. As i settled inside the car another man sits in the driver seat. This man is actually the driver, and the other man, who opened the car door for me starts to beg for money. I was left bewildered listening to the beggar’s English and amused at my folly. I left the airport amused at my first encounter with the city.
On my mind were a list of places i had to visit and all it took was a few minutes of friendly chat with my taxi driver to get started.
I usually befriend the taxi driver who takes me from the airport to take me around the city, but the driver this time was too quiet to be my guide. I was in the city for an awards ceremony sponsored by the corporate giant i work for, held at the ITC Sonar Bangla.
The hotel caught my attention right away. It was beautifully decorated and portrayed an aura of luxury coupled with an old charm, since this was undoubtedly one of the oldest hotels in Calcutta. The evening was cold and chilly, and once the awards were over, i headed to my hotel.
The Astor Hotel at Shakespeare Sarani road, had recently undergone renovation and displayed a blend of old world charm with new age luxury. Great service coupled with a decent variety of food in breakfast, this hotel took my heart away.
The next day, I had booked a car to roam around the city, after checkout. On priority was Sweets, Food and local places to visit. My driver, a young man from Bihar staying in Kolkata for the past 6 years was thoroughly impressed by the fact that I was a first timer visitor to Calcutta and despite having very little time on hand I was keen to explore the city.
Sweet Delight at Kesidas
First he introduced me to what the city is famous for – Bengal Sweets.
Passing through the by lanes we reached Esplanade, and I made my way to the biggest outlets of the local sweet shop called Kesidas. The brand is famous for it’s Rasgullas or the Rasogullas as the locals call them. It was when I actually asked for the sweets with a little Bengali ascent, when the owner suggested me to buy Khir Kadam (kodam) too. He suggested the sweets would arrive in an hour and that i should try them. I took off with 20 pieces of sondesh and 3 tins of Rasogullas.
Places to visit in Kolkata
The stadium is a mecca for cricket fans, and has been host to a large number of cricket matches. It is the largest in India and the 2nd largest in the world after the Melbourne cricket ground, and has a seating capacity of 66,349. A glimpse from the stadium and i was fully aware of the frenzy that happens during a game.
A large building, dedicated to Queen Victoria is now a museum and tourist destination. The building lies close to the Hooghly river bank. Similar to the Taj Mahal at Delhi, this building is made of Makrana marble and echoes its design too. The massive gardens surrounding the building have a bronze statue of Victoria seated on her throne. The ticket costs Rs 10/- for Indians. The museum inside portrays detailed facts on the existence of this building, the sculpture in the garden and the central dome inside with another large marble statue of the queen.
Howrah & Visyasagar Sethu
On the way to the Victoria Memorial, we crossed the famous Howrah Bridge. The bridge is a cantilever bridge with a suspended span over the Hooghly River. Another famous bridge in the city is the Vidyasagar Sethu (bridge), which is a toll bridge over the Hooghly River. Both bridges looks magnificent at night, when they are lit up and there are many places for a photographer to capture the best view.
Howrah railway station and also had a birds eye view of the harbour from the Howrah promenade where shops were docked.
Next stop or no stop… was the trip on the famous Howrah Bridge.. I was left awestruck at the years old architecture of the singular platform standing bridge.I also got a chance to see the newly built Vidyasagar Sethu – Sethu meaning bridge… At the end.
I cudnt resist my sweet tooth so I made my way back to esplanade and took off with some more sweets. That time I was keen on riding the tram, especially when I really didn’t know when I would ever get a chance to visit the city again. The tram ride was an experience in itself. I also saw a new tram freshly painted. The tram stations are more like roads nothing too concrete but that’s exactly what gives it the old world charm. Busses, cars and other vehicles whiz pass the tram. After that my driver took me to Park Street. This street is said to be the most lively street well lit up and decorated during Christmas. I missed it by a few days, I told my driver. Nevertheless the old buildings especially the LIC building and others looked beautifully landscaped. Arsalan was my last stop, I picked up the very special chicken biryani and headed towards the airport.
I may not have spent even 5 hours exploring the city, but these few hours were well spent. I covered most of the city and it’s landmarks, something I really enjoy.
All is well, I sAid in Bengali to my driver and thanked him for his hospitality. I took off from kolkata airport with memories I’ll cherish.
Till next time …. Adieu CALCUTTA!!