I took the 4:30 AM flight from Delhi and reached Calcutta at around 6:30. Took a taxi to The Corner Courtyard (at Lansdowne Road) and soaked in the vibes of the city on the way. Coming from Noida, the yellow taxis, buses and the prominent public transport system was fascinating to observe. Also, I have always been in awe of cities which have their own ‘culture’ for the lack of a better word (which I am gradually realising, every city does, duh!).
The Hotel I was staying in (The Corner Courtyard at Lansdowne Road) was a pretty, quaint and cozy home turned into a boutique hotel located at the main road and very close to Ballygunj, Bhowanipore and Gariaghat Market. The staff was super helpful and accommodating. The rooms have fancy names and themes (such as Crimson, Cadmium and Viridium – the one I stayed in had green décor with a wall of portraits and a balcony overlooking the street). The ground floor of this place has a pretty café, which is very popular amongst the locals.
After a quick shower, I decided to explore the area solo on foot (because that is how you get to know the place the best, I think) and that remains the most beautiful moments of the trip. Walking through relatively narrow lanes of Bhowanipore, I noticed a lot of things – the vintage architecture of homes which replicated the image of Calcutta painted by cinema and books, the morning hustle of people going through their daily routines – buying flowers for pooja, pot-bellied men bathing on the streets, fish and bhaaji being sold and negotiated, nameplates bearing a long list of academic degrees emphasising on the importance of education to the city and most importantly, I noticed an inner sense of safety in this solo of around 5 kilometres. Not once did I feel I was being stared at or made to feel uncomfortable, which to our utter misfortune is a given in most parts of India now. Further, the city has similarities to Mumbai, but everyone seems relaxed and in no hurry to rush to other places.
Also, what I concluded - again, my personal opinion and not a factual representation at all, was that this is a city of people who have worked really hard. The lives people from this place have built for themselves is not endowment but a product of their choices and toil.
The weather was cloudy as I was in midst of my deep thought process and soon, the pitter-patter commenced (to not end the whole day and get harsher within the next few hours).
*Sharma Tea Stall, Bhawanipore (opp. Gurudwara)*
Decided to deal with my hunger pangs at this place, which was recommended by friends from Cal and this was a gastronomical delight! This is a very tiny shop with barely any place to sit but serves the yummiest Club Kachories (mini kachories) and aloo subzi, amongst other things. Do not forget to order their kesar chai to wash the kachories off.
I took a taxi back to the Hotel to pick up my prettily decked-up friend to formally begin our trip. The taxis here go by meter, the minimum fare being Rs. 30 but the taxi drivers very notoriously would want something additional to the fare. Tip here would be to confirm with them that you will pay only as per the meter and also carry change with you or else, they would casually deny having the change to return to you.
Our next stop was the Marble Palace which was a private property – a 19th century mansion belonging to Raja Rajendra Mullick. The palace is pure magnificence – made of multiple types of marbles, amalgamated together, is a home to several original artefacts and paintings by eminent personalities like Peter Paul Rubens. There are exotic birds and mirrors and regal artefacts and what not. I am sure that my description does not do justice to the beauty this place holds, but this is a must visit place which should not be missed at any cost.
There is no entry fees but photography is strictly prohibited. A guide is provided to you to accompany you. This place is still a home to the royal family.
*Victoria Memorial Hall*
After walking through puddles and knee-deep water, we took a taxi and reached the Victoria Memorial and the first sight of it was breathtakingly beautiful. The palace was built to commemorate Queen Victoria but was never actually visited by her. The majestic architecture – the interiors, the building, the gardens and the lake surrounding it – everything is a treat to eyes.
Inside the Hall is an exhibition of paintings and artefacts of Mughal and Victorian history – a delight for history lovers.
We then decided to give a visit to the College Street – the place where you can find any book in the world. However, due to the Ayodhya Judgment and the cyclone arriving the same day, the market was largely closed and we had to move on from with place with just a sigh and no books.
We then took a cab to the Howrah Bridge – which is the first picture which comes to mind when one thinks of Calcutta and it is huge! The iron work and the banks of Hooghly were a mesmerising sight to gaze at. The bridge is a one way and the Howrah train station is located at one end of the bridge.
After having been drenched to our bones, we decided to call it a day and start over the next day.