Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World


As a child, I spent summers with my grandparents in Shantiniketan, and Kolkata was always a stop. But I never got to really see the city. I was visiting relatives, and being fed delicious food – but I always wanted to know the city a little better. Sure, I crossed Howrah Bridge in bright Yellow Ambassador taxis, and yes even enjoyed the street food people got me – the kathi rolls, the ‘chops’ (cutlets), Mughlai paranthas and of course Phuchka!

But apart from the one instant when I was a kid, where my dad took me and my cousin to see Victoria Memorial, the Nehru Doll Museum and I believe a certain popular restaurant called ‘Peter Cat’.

But, this year (before the pandemonium of the pandemic) I got a couple of days to discover Kolkata’s old-world charm like I haven’t before. A couple of days only, but enough to make me get to know the city for the first time in my life.

I’ve always loved history and I think it’s because there is a ‘storytelling’ aspect to it. And Kolkata is full of stories.

Here is mine. The one where this Bengali girl from Goa, discovers the ‘city of Joy’.

1. Victoria Memorial

I start my story about discovering Kolkata with the day I dragged my mother to Victoria Memorial. I simply wanted to catch a glimpse of the gardens this time. Of course, nothing was in bloom like I assumed it would be. But the tickets were cheap and I got to stroll around a park with my mom.

Photo of Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World 1/1 by Yashodhara Roy

I would have gone inside to see the exhibits but this time I chose to admire the Palace from the outside. I love history but I was in no mood to walk with crowds who don’t have any respect for the ‘attraction’ they have come to see.

2. Indian Museum

I had always known that Kolkata has a very rich heritage and it had made me sad that I never got to set out trying to learn about it. So when I had a day or two in hand this year, I wanted to be able to visit a few special places and I wasn’t disappointed with what the city had to offer.

Photo of Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World by Yashodhara Roy

Founded in 1814 this museum deserves a lot more attention than it gets. It’s got some decent exhibits and I only wish it had a better audience (but that is a different issue with our society today). I did love the artwork more – but I normally do find myself admiring that, wondering what the story behind each stroke, each stone can be.

The building itself is what I instantly loved. The very pillars and structure had a story that is worth reading. Imagine if we could personify those inanimate objects and if every brick could have memories and tell a story.

Wonder, what would they say?

3. The Park Street Cemetery

The Park Street Cemetery I happened to come across while browsing and found an article on Homegrown

It instantly caught my attention. This might be creepy, but I love old cemeteries. In the daytime.

There is something so romantic about an epitaph. It’s poetic.

An ode to someone who was there – whether they are a couple of lines or a long paragraph, some epitaphs truly touch my heart. Infact I might just ask for a tombstone on my will. I just hope I have someone who can write me an ode.

Photo of Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World by Yashodhara Roy

The Park Street Cemetery was special from a historic point of view – established somewhere in the 1700’s and houses around 1600 tombs. But what sets it apart are the designs. The architectural style is Gothic and apparently something that is referred to as Indo-Saracenic – which refers to a style that is built in ‘Panchyatana’ as an ode to Hinduism. But I’m not history expert – I am sure a google search for those interested would lead to a lot more information than I can provide.

No my role here is that of a storyteller, what I found on my visit to this amazing place. From the few among the 1600 tombs that I could admire and read, I found poems, I found messages of love, I found sorrow and the afternoon was inspirational to any writer. Maybe a few more minutes there would have made me one too. A real writer.

Photo of Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World by Yashodhara Roy

I had heard that among many important people, Walter Dickens, son of Charles Dickens was also buried here – but I never found the tomb. Nor did I find the tomb of Rose Aylmer, who apparently has a very famous poem as her epitaph. Would be nice to go back to find these in another lazy afternoon.

3. St Paul's Cathedral

So, this beautiful cathedral is apparently in one of the most popular spots for ‘attractions’ in Kolkata – it’s next to the famous Birla Planetarium for one. But in my story, this was just me choosing to visit a rustic old Cathedral, say a small ‘hello’ to God, and hopefully carry back some positivity with me.

Photo of Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World by Yashodhara Roy

No doubt, I did that, but it really was a very attractive building. There were certain elements about the architecture that were Gothic but I also spotted stained glasses that were probably more Italian. Like I said, I am no history expert and surely not an art-history expert. I am just a reader, and a visitor and a storyteller in my head. The cathedral was rather charming. There is something about sitting in any church and asking God to hear you. The old walls somehow make that prayer more relevant and make you feel, the chances of getting those heard are stronger.

Photo of Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World by Yashodhara Roy

Myth or magic, I cannot say. As much as I wanted to continue sitting inside, the minute I spotted tourists flooding in from the corner of my eye, I knew it was time to explore the Cathedral from the outside. And I am glad I did. It was gorgeous.

5. Princep Ghat

When I think of Princep - I remember a song... from the movie The Bong Connection...

"Majhi re, o majhi re,

Dekha hai kya tumne usse,

Majhi re, o majhi re,

Dekha hai kya tumne usse,

Kagaj ki nao, mein hain bhare,

Sapne mere..."

Photo of Kolkata Beyond Phuchkas - A Taste of The Old World by Yashodhara Roy

How do I describe the place? River, rail, 2nd Howrah bridge, old ice-cream stores, boats and lazy afternoon. That would be it. The place is the Nariman Point equivalent when it comes to couples sitting in every second corner. But doesn't stop the rest of us from going there to spend a few minutes watching the water does it?

Speaking of stories, this was my story of discovering iconic spots in an iconic city, but there is still so much more left to see, to hear and to discover. I should already start making a list for my next visit - what do you think?