Kolkata- a 3-day itinerary

28th Nov 2019
Photo of Kolkata- a 3-day itinerary by Tasneem Udegadhwala

I was really excited when we landed at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport past midnight, flying from Ahmedabad, my home town. Over the last two hours, we had flown across the country, from the western most state of India to the jewel of the East- Kolkata. I was excited not only because this was just another vacation, but because it was close to being something I was always looking forward to, a solo trip. I was accompanying my husband on one of his conferences, and since he would be engaged for most of our time here, I would be exploring Kolkata on my own- a little daunting for someone not conversant in the local language Bengali, but nonetheless an exciting journey to look forward to.

We had our stay booked at Howard Johnson in New Town, which is a ten-minute drive from the airport. There was just one thing on our minds since we had landed- dinner. After getting comfortable in our pajamas, the first thing we checked out was the 24-hour menu. After some half-logical discussions with my husband of what wouldn’t be a good choice to eat at that hour, we finally ordered ‘Chicken Kathi Rolls’, a local delicacy, for both of us. It was delicious and filling; I hardly managed to finish half of mine. Having satiated our hunger, sleep came easy after the tiring journey, despite the restlessness to explore the city inside out during our limited 3 day stay.

In the morning, I got my first impression of the city, seemingly not different from the other Indian cities that I had visited previously, except the yellow ambassadors that stood out. New town is located on the east of the Ganges river (locally known as Hooghly), a well-planned, clean locality with broad roads much like the newly developed areas of most cities across the country. After my husband left for his commitments, I set out to visit the lesser known tourist destinations on the first day.

My first visit was to Salt Lake in Salt Lake City, where I managed to reach via public transport. Some knowledge of Bengali would have been helpful, but I managed with my Hindi and English. Private taxis can get really expensive in Kolkata, as the distances between tourist destinations are quite large. Also, traveling in a city’s local transport is one of the more intimate ways of getting to know a city and its people, in the most unadulterated form. To my amusement, a fishing festival was underway at Salt Lake City. The entire lake was surrounded with men, who were fishing and enjoying themselves.

Photo of Bidhannagar, Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala

Having spent an hour there, I next went to Mother’s Wax Museum, a miniature version of the Madame Tussauds Museum in London. I’m not sure how it fares compared to the latter, but for those who haven’t been to London, like me, it’s certainly an enjoyable place. Having had myself clicked alongside Indian Bollywood celebrities, superheroes, fantasy characters including my favourite Harry Potter and the great stalwarts like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Mother Teresa, I had started feeling hungry again. After having a modest lunch of chicken momos and Oreo shake, I then went to Eco Park, which is just across the street from the wax museum.

Photo of Mother's Wax Museum, Action Area II, CBD-I, Newtown, Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala

Eco park is immensely huge. I spent the afternoon walking around the rose gardens, bamboo parks, clicking pictures of miniature versions of the wonders of the world, and enjoying a bicycle ride. It would take an entire day to explore the Eco Park end to end, so it has multiple gates from where you can enter and exit.

Evening was setting in fast, which reminded me of how far east I was. Soon I was joined by my husband, and after a short visit to our hotel to freshen up, we set out again to explore the city’s night life, something that any Gujarati is always looking forward to, for the lack of it. We ended up in ‘The Irish House’, a great dining place in Quest mall, with its modern ambience and rock music. Having delicious food and drinks, we soon returned to the hotel and called it a day.

Photo of Quest Mall, Syed Amir Ali Avenue, Park Circus, Beck Bagan Row, Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala

The next morning, I was joined by an old friend from school who had moved back to his hometown Kolkata years back. Little was I aware that the Kolkata I had seen until now was nothing compared to the cultural extravaganza I was about to experience. I took a bus till Dum Dum station, and then a ride in the crowded metro to Esplanade. I was joined by my friend at the Indian museum there, which is worth a visit if you’re into history and science and culture. Having spent some time there, we next had a walk through the local market, bustling with all kinds of shops- clothes, electronics, and vendors selling mouth-watering street food. We had brunch in a local, renowned shop, savouring Luchi Alur Dum (Aloo-Puri), Radhaballabhi (Puri with a filling of Chhole Daal), and devouring hungrily the mouth-watering local sweets Sandesh, Rasgulla and Kheer kadam.

Photo of Esplanade, Janbazar, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala
Photo of Esplanade, Janbazar, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala
Photo of Esplanade, Janbazar, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala

In the evening, we took a boat ride in the river Hooghly, a must have experience, that helps you connect with the spiritual aura of Kolkata, reminiscent of the great sages like Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekanand. On the way back to the hotel, I tried some of the nonvegetarian street food delicacies like Chicken and Fish fry. Already full and tired after having a long day, my husband and I had a modest dinner at a local place, and decided to take some rest and plan our last day in the city.

Photo of Hooghly River, West Bengal by Tasneem Udegadhwala

The next morning, we booked a Zoom car (not recommended, as parking is a huge problem anywhere in the city) and went on first to Belurmath, situated on the banks of Hooghly where Shri Ramkrishna Paramhansa had stayed most of his life. It is now the headquarters of the Ramakrishna mission and has a huge campus, even an independent university. It’s a serene place, and is frequently visited by the local people, as was evident by the crowd that morning. Having spent some quality time there, we next went to visit the Victoria memorial, known for its magnificient beauty. We took a small detour to get here, so that we wouldn’t miss the famous Howrah bridge.

Photo of Belur Math, Belur, Howrah, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala
Photo of Belur Math, Belur, Howrah, West Bengal, India by Tasneem Udegadhwala

As we approached the memorial, a glimpse of it made it clear that its majesty was an understatement. There was a long queue at the ticket counter, but the wait was worth it. A tall white monument in the midst of a vast green landscape, conveying the grandeur of the colonial architecture, lot of which we still get to see in Kolkata. Most of the rooms in the memorial are kept for public display, with paintings and illustrations of the landmark events of the British rule in India. Having had a walk through all the rooms at the memorial, we rested for a while in the gardens outside. Feeling hungry, we went on to Park Street, famous for its lavish restaurants and cosy eateries. We had the best lunch of our trip at Mamagoto. I sincerely recommend the place for its food and service.

Having visited most of the places on our itinerary, we spent the rest of the day in the local market, trying out some local sweets; and talking about how Kolkata was a city with a soul. When you explore a city so rich in its history and culture, you not only move through space but also through time. It is amazing to see a city that has protected the relics of several decades. From hand rickshaws to one of the most complex metro networks, from the poorest slums to astoundingly posh localities, this city will amaze you with its contrasts. Maybe that is the secret to its charm. The past and the present, coexisting together, the present proud of its past. As we took off on our return flight, I was sure I was taking an impression of the city of joy with me, that would last a lifetime.