New guy in the city- Calcutta

Photo of New guy in the city- Calcutta by Sarthak

I was 20 when I saw Wake up Sid. And that scene when Ayesha writes and shares an article about being in a new city, it stayed with me for long.

I had my college and the first job all within 250 kms of my native place so somehow I never had that experience of staying and facing the challenges of a new city.

Also, on top of it, Calcutta was a place I could never imagine I would come to. Somehow, I was acquainted with the culture of Southern and West part of India but there was not even a distant relative/friend of mine whom I knew from Calcutta, thus making it a completely alien city for me.

Though, now, after spending 2 years in the city of joy, I am happy that I didn't had any pre-notion about this place and I came all empty headed.

I was a keen observer, for frames, for noticing people around me and their culture, their daily chores. It always brought me happiness to see how they live, how they cook.. Isn't it fascinating to see different ways of leading a life, different from how we all were living and seeing from childhood.

This thought, this emotion helped me cope up the fear when I closed the door of train as it was leaving the Delhi station and almost 10 years of comfort zone that Delhi provided me, behind. I was moving to a place where I knew none, nor the culture. The only thing I had within me was to explore..

Its been two years and I can proudly say that I have seen most, if not all, the things that makes someone a 'Bengali'.

Below are the lists of places I covered here in Calcutta, also how this city embraced an outsider and the gratitude, that outsider holds for the 'city of joy/love/sweetness'

I will start with Howrah bridge, the very first place I saw as my journey from Delhi ended and I took the iconic yellow taxi ride through it.

Howrah bridge is just opposite to Howrah station (the biggest and the oldest railway station in India). At first, it just looks like a gigantic structure made out of steel but as you go closer, you get the feel.

With local buses hustling around and yellow taxis lined up for the passengers, on one side is the red painted Howrah station and on another, Howrah bridge.

There is a pathway that goes near the ghat and the shore of Hooghly river and the boat ride is a must. A little time travel to 'Chingari koi bhadke of Rajesh Khanna's' era.

It was new year's eve just after 5 days that I came to this place and I had no one to celebrate with. So without hesitating, I punched old monk and coke, had my shades on and the traveler was all set to explore.

Park street is easily accessible through Calcutta metro (Yes, Kolkata had metro since 1984, no wonder people here are way ahead of time).

About this place, the best time to visit this place is 5 days before Christmas and it stays till 5 days after New Year. The whole street is lit up and its like a big carnival that goes on and on. If you like clubbing and want to enjoy night life, Park street is the place for you.

Carpe Diem, Tantra, HRC, Trinicas are some of the places where you can booze and party.

For that retro/vintage feel, you can go to OlyPub, Silvergrill and enjoy your beer with some fish fingers.

About food, as I was from North India and especially Delhi, I was a bit disappointed with the food here (when it comes to non veg), though there are some places which are famous and very old and deserves a try.

For cakes/bakery, Flurys tops the list, though I found it a bit overrated and the famous Chello Kababs of Peter Cat. For some street side food, you can try the varieties of Rolls at Kusum Rolls. (Each one of them including the pubs are within 500-700 mtrs)

For me, I was more into the offbeat places which held the charm of the city and the place that tops the list here was Park street cemetery.

It is walk able distance from Park hotel (the starting of Park street) and the timings for this place is 10-5 with a minimal entry fee.

This placed used to be a cemetery during 18th century and now declared as an archaeological heritage holds the serenity/calmness that will hold your sight.

Also, you can visit St. Thomas church and just a stroll around the park street will give you the feel.

With urban and highrise buildings, famous brands on one side, to that small tea shop under the shade of tree playing old bengali classics, everything goes here hand in hand.

If you are planning a visit to Parkstreet during the day (though evening time is recommended), you can pay an early morning visit to Maidan (for photography lovers) and just opposite to this is the jewel of Calcutta- The Victoria Memorial.

You can then head towards Birla Planetrium, St, Paul's Cathedral (must visit) and Nandan (for theatre/art lovers, also includes the art gallery)

All these three places, fall in one line and are barely 1 km apart. After covering these, one can then head towards Park street which is around 2 km away.

No wonder Britishers entered India through Calcutta but there was one more country that has some connection with Calcutta- The Chinese.

If you want to taste authentic Chinese (a must try if you are here in Calcutta), Tangra is the place for you. Its near to ITC Royal Bengal and few of the famous restaurants serving authentic chinese are Golden Joy, KimLing, Big Boss and China Town.

The entry gate itself will give you the Chinese feel with mandarin scripted on few old buildings and those red chandeliers.

You can also visit Acropolis mall which is nearby along with Gariahat Market. Gariahat is a place where you can find everything from Bengali Sarees to Kurtas and those tiny eating joints and tea shops.

Yet another Foodie's hub, Dacres lane holds the history within itself. This was the place where sailors used to have their lunch and now you can see a whole lot of people coming and having their lunch.

Best time to visit is from 1-3 PM and head straight to Suruchi Restaurant. The food is average, though better than many places but its the chaos and at the same time, the pause that this place has to offer. You can find many food vloggers hopping around.

You can reach here through metro at Esplanade.

Close to this place is yet another Chinese eating joint- Tirretti Bazaar. Though there are small stalls that serves authentic Chinese on every Sunday morning in between 5-7 am, which I could barely manage but you won't regret if you can manage waking up that early. This place is reachable from Dacre's lane.

Completing the above circuit, you can go to New Market area in Dharmatala which is kind of a big flee market selling anything and everything. Famous attractions of this place are Nakhoda Mosque, and few other old yet beautiful masterpieces of architecture.

Must try here are Kathi rolls at Nizam's, dated back to 1937 (apparently, they are the ones that brought Rolls to Calcutta). If you want to try some cakes/pastries and other baked products, Nahoum and sons is the place for you. This place too, like Nizam's, has time traveled from 1902 and still serve the very best of patisseries.

You can find many hand pulled rikshaws here with those giant wheels and you can take a quick ride across the entire market. Calcutta is the only city in India to have this mode of transportation still on (including the trams, every one's delight).

All the above places, including Park street can fairly be covered in a day, only if your tummy allows :)

As river Hooghly flows just through the center of Calcutta, there are many 'ghats' amplifying the beauty of sunsets. Go for a sunset view to Princep ghat which is close by Maidan and you can have the evening tea here, seeing the bigger (and much better) versions of paper boats we all used to make during rains.

Don't forget to take a ride over Vidyasagar setu aka second Hooghly bridge and you won't be disappointed.

Just at walking distance to this place is every cricketer's dream ground, 'The Eden Gardens'.

You can see all the posters of the iconic rivalry between India Pakistan matches and of course, the famous India/Australia test of 2001.

Even if it is vacant, you will sense those loud sounds of cheering enough to get you goosebumps, the same way I had when I first saw this Mecca of cricket.

This place holds a special place in my heart because this was the only place where I could write and words came to me, a bit easy.

Belur math is the headquarters of Ramakrishna mission and you can see monks all wrapped in orange robes meditating. Personally, I found this place very peaceful and there is an aura of positivism that surrounds this place. There is a beautifully crafted temple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa and just sitting there for 5-10 minutes will fill your mind with peace and tranquility.

Best way to reach this place is to first visit Dakhineswar Kaali temple which is almost 150 years old and located on the bank of Hooghly river and pay homage to the Holy Shrine and then, take a boat ride which runs under WBSTC from Dakhineswar to Belur.

It takes around 15-20 minutes for the boat ride and it's a must do thing. Earlier they had those small wooden boats ( like the ones in Swades Movie) which I personally loved but now there are big vessels that is used for transportation. In all, this isn't the ride you can afford to miss.

Try to take a stroll from Belur harbor to Belur temple with those birds chirping as you move pass those small lanes surrounded by small houses.

Next on my list is the College street, the second largest book market in the world. Yes, Bengali's have a good appetite when it comes to literature and arts and this place holds everything to take the knowledge from- Books.

If you are an avid reader, try this place and you can find any book from any genre you want. Closest metro station is Girish Park.

And when it come to books, coffee gets along and for that, go no other place then to Indian Coffee House.

This iconic place is dated back to 1876 popularly known as Albert Hall and it used be the 'adda' of famous personalities/writers like Satyajit Ray, Amartya sen and Ritwik Ghatak.

Trams, the heritage of Calcutta and infact of entire of India has a route just infornt of Indian Coffee house and a small ride is highly recommended.

If its the first time you will see a running tram with that sound of ringing bell, I bet the kid inside of you will not hold back and you leave everything just to take a ride.

Try to go on Sunday as you will get minimum rush and some good frames to capture.

To savor your sweet tooth, there is a very famous sweet shop - Girish Chandra Dey and Nakur Chandra, near to College Street. Don't get carried away with the humble look of the shop but the sweets offered here will want you to keep visiting this place again and again.

These are the few places that can be visited in a span of 2-3 days depending upon your urge to explore the city.

For me, I just couldn't hold back and visited all these places on my own noticing every detail, capturing every moment and it sure was, a time travel to an era, that holds the beauty of this city.

There are few additional tips/ must do things worth mentioning which are my personal favorites to get that 'Calcutta' feel.

* Try visiting Kumartuli also known as Potter's lane before Durga Puja (15-20 days prior to Navratris). You will be amazed to see how beautifully the artisans turn mud into sculptures.

*Tune in to the radio at around 04:30 am one day before the start of Navratri also known as 'Mahalaya' to listen to the holy hymns. What's more amusing is that it is played at at every shop, every house/temples and in infact, in the entire city. You will get that feel of festivities about to come- "Durga Pooja", the most exciting time for every Bengali.

* Try and visit the city during Durga Pooja, the city looks altogether different and it is decorated like a newly wed bride.

You will see the entire city out on roads, hopping the beautiful pooja pandals and indulged in festivities. The city never halts during those 9 days.

I am sure those 9-10 days of Pooja will give you memories, worth remembering through the entire lifetime.

This was my take, from someone who was once an outsider to this city, but not anymore :)

This place gave me memories, I just can't forget and will always remain close to my heart. No matter where I go, I would never give a second thought to meet my old friend, my City of Joy again.

Thanks for the read and keep exploring.