Sounds of "Dada, eyi dike," and elderly aunties huffing and puffing enveloped me, as I made my way out into the streets of Kolkata. We stuffed our four hefty suitcases into the trunk of the bright yellow and black taxis, and climbed in, ready to embark on the half and hour journey to my Garia home. Snapping pics of ram lines, puchka stands, ancient buildings adjacent to designer stores, I passed my time quickly. Despite the ancient buildings, for some reason there is always a modern charm in this 'city of joy.'
The mixed aromas of spicy kebabs and sweet 'mishtis' clashed deeply with the polluted city smell. I traversed through the crowd entering a giant shopping complex with the Bengali letters etched on saying: "Dakhinapan," our first destination. Multitudes of customers from the well-dressed elite couples to middle class families strolled through the shops. Walking into the first store, I heard cries of "Oh Baudi, ita dekhun! Darun lagbe," from shopkeepers, flattering and persuading customers simultaneously into buying the latest collections.
The tangy smells of puchkas hit me as soon as I exited out of Dakhinapan, tempting me to just give it a try.
Puchkas, otherwise known as ‘pani Puri’ all over India, is the ultimate snack to gobble up during an evening stroll through the streets of Kolkata. I stuffed the round, crispy shell encasing a spicy and sweet stuffing, in my mouth, juice dribbling down. The spiraled, orange jalebis glistened nearby, as I made my way over asking the shopkeeper for a few. Endless rows of barfis, ladoos, and the treasured ‘roshugula’ lay before me, tempting me further.
A few days after, we were in for a girls night out. After getting all dressed up, my two aunts, mom, and I landed up at South City Mall. Sophisticated women sauntered into the branded shops with their Coach purses slung through their arms. Lines of the world’s best branded shops lay before me : Coach, Prada, Vero Mode, and much more. After catching a movie at the theatres, we headed to the best ‘kebab’ restaurant in town: Flame ‘n Grill! The highlight is the endless serving of multiple types of kebabs from prawn, chicken, fish, mutton, and the list goes on.
New Market is yet another great shopping destination. A bustling market place surrounded me with vendors yelling at the top of their lungs "Notun bags!" (new bags) "Juto dekhoon!"(see these shoes). New Market is a market place that is actually quite old, contrary to its name. It has been around since the British rule in India. Thus, there is a British influence in the infrastructure and some of the shops. There is a 110 year old bakery shop which holds some of the most unique sweets from cheese samosas, brownies, cakes, pastries, to fruitcakes.
As the days neared the end of this magnificent trip, I decided a trip to the mandir (temple) is a must. The Birla Temple, built in the 1970s, is one of the major tourist attractions in Kolkata. Located in the rather elite locality of Ballygunge, the Birla Temple looms over the main road with beautiful carvings etched intricately on marble. Stepping into the serene and spacious hall, there stood Lord Krishna and Radha dressed in bright red at the very centre. Several people stood in front of the idols, a few entranced by the magnificent aura, while others deep in prayer. I bowed my head in front of the 'pandit' (or priest) to accept the offerings, took one last look at the idols in front of me, and then turned around. A truly mesmerizing experience, I stepped out of the temple thankful for this wonderful trip.
It might just be the warm and friendly people, the glorious shopping, the endless stalls of delicious street food, or just the essence of home, which draws me into this city each time.
Although extremely pleasant during the winters, Kolkata can get quite sticky and humid during the summertime. The monsoon rains can also hamper down the trip, so it’s best to plan accordingly. Booking cabs are one of the ways to get around, but taking a rickshaw or mini bus is a far more authentic and fun way of traveling in the city. Whether it’s the crazy bargains at market places, the sweet roshugulas, the festivities, the laidback and fun loving environment, and the friendly people, Kolkata never loses its charm.