With a metropolitan population way over 14 million, Kolkata (also known as Calcutta) is one of the largest and most important cities in India. Situated proudly on the Hooghly River, Kolkata is stretched upon a land area of 185 square kilometres (the metropolitan area expands to 1,886). In fact, its metropolitan area is so vast that it is the third most populous in the entirety of India. Additionally, the port of Kolkata is the oldest one operating in the country (not to mention the fact that it is the only riverine port). Besides these fascinating characteristics, it is the capital city of the Indian state of West Bengal.
Kolkata is located within the bounds of the tropical wet-and-dry climate zone and thus it does not suffer from temperature fluctuations. Let’s put it this way: Kolkata is as hot as you can imagine it. This is directly reflected by the fact that its annual mean temperature is 26.8 degrees Celsius. The record high ever recorded was 43.9 degrees, which makes your blood boil! No, just kidding – you do need to pay attention to take in an adequate amount of water, though. The other thing worth mentioning about Kolkata is that it lies in a place where powerful gales and cyclones are quite abundant. In fact, it has been officially declared that Kolkata faces a high damage risk from the aforementioned. Let’s look at the bright side, besides its undeniable beauty, Kolkata may blow you away literally as well (wink).
Kolkata is served by the massive Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport located 17 kilometres from the city centre. Previously known as Dum Dum Airport, it was soon renamed after the national hero, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Handling more than 12 million passengers and nearly 140,000 tonnes of cargo each year, it is the fifth-busiest airport in India (after the juggernauts of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai). If you wish to travel to Kolkata by air, you might want to keep an eye out for the airlines to which it serves as hub: Air India, Air India Regional, Blue Dart Aviation, IndiGo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways, and, finally, Spirit Air (India).
You cannot visit Kolkata and miss out on riding one of their iconic rickshaws (or even those queer-looking auto-rickshaws). What’s interesting about them is that fare prices vary from operator to operator and that they usually take to streets that are far too narrow for buses or cabs. Note that you can usually only travel shorter distances using this means of transport due to the heavy manual labour that it inadvertently involves.
Other urban means of transport include the obvious ones: buses, metros and, of course, trams. Trams seemed to have taken the lead to some degree due to their affordability. They tend to be crowded, however, so if you know yourself to be uncomfortable in tight and hot places, avoid them!
SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES:
No visit to Kolkata would be complete without basking in the brilliance of the world-famous Dakshineswar Kali Temple. Dedicated to Bhavatarini, an aspect of Kali, the temple adheres to the Bengal architectural style. Built in 1855, the establishment is located in the North 24 Parganas district of the city. Situated proudly on the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, it is especially revered for its subtle affiliation with the mystic and sage, Ramakrishna (he spent a significant amount of his life there).
Next up, you should head over to the Indian Museum, the largest and the oldest of its kind in the country. Boasting with a massive collection of over 100,000 items, the establishment was founded by Danish botanist Dr Nathaniel Wallich in 1814. Museum-hunters, rejoice, for this juggernaut has 35 galleries spread into 6 main sections: Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Economic Botany. Notable items include an elephant skeleton, Buddha statues and an Ashok Sambh.
You don’t have to overturn too many rocks to find a picture of the Victoria Memorial for it is one of the most photographed monuments of Kolkata. Established in 1921, it serves as a prominent cultural landmark and, above all, an art museum. With a significant collection of over 30,000 art pieces, the establishment is located on the bank of the Hooghly River, near Jawaharlal Nehru Road. Dedicated to Queen Victoria, of course, it is one of the most beautiful sights that one can behold in Kolkata at night due to its intricate and vivid illumination. Definitely a must-see!
If you are up for another eye-popping structure, make sure you hop over to the St. Paul’s Cathedral located on 1A, Cathedral Road. Designed and built in 1847 (its groundwork had actually been laid in 1839) by the architects Major William Nairn Forbes and C. K. Robinson, the cathedral adheres to the Gothic Revival architectural style. What’s even more imposing about it is that it reaches a spire height of 61 metres, thus becoming an important beacon from a distance. If you have the time, check out the entire “island of attractions” that encompasses the Victoria Memorial, Nandan, Rabindra Sadan and the Birla Planetarium.
Kolkata is something that you would call a traditional Indian city with obvious signs that it has once been colonised. People are friendly and the streets are vivid and loud. Petty thefts do occur sometimes but if you keep an eye on your purse, you are sure to be fine. Have fun in the City of Palaces (you’ll see the nickname come to life once you visit the place – no spoilers here for it will be obvious when you get there)!