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Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is the capital of West Bengal and one of the largest cities in India. It is also the largest city in the historic region of Bengal (today's West Bengal and Bangladesh). Kolkata is an 'in your face' city that shocks and charms the unsuspecting visitor. Long known as the cultural capital of India and home to the Bengal Renaissance, Kolkata continues to spawn generations of poets, writers and film directors. If your trip only allows for a visit of one or two of India's metropolitan cities, than definitely consider placing Kolkata on your itinerary. Love it or hate it, you definitely won't forget the city on the Hooghly river bank.
Around Fort William, the massive and impregnable British Citadel built in 1773. The fort is still in use and retains its well guarded grandeur. Visitors are allowed in with special permission only.
Along St George’s Gate Road, on the southern fringe of the Maidan, your sight is arrested by a splendid monument in white Makrana marble. Built in Italian Renaissance cum Saracenic style,Victoria Memorial was planned by Lord Curzon and opened by the Prince of Wales in 1921. This British attempt at building a second Taj Mahal is dedicated to Queen Victoria and houses a fantastic collection of rare memorabilia from colonial days. A light and sound show recreates history every evening.
The adjoining Race Course, built in 1819, is one of the best in the east and is the scene of much gaiety, especially during the winter season.Northwards, along Chowringhee Road, stands the Birla Planetarium, one of the largest in the world. The central dome measures 25 mts in diameter.
Located on Chowringhee Road is the Indian Museum built in 1877 in Italian style of architecture.Walk in to a varied collection of exhibits that include unique fossils, Buddhist Gandharan art, an Egyptian mummy and a roomful of memories !
The 48 mt tower of Ochterlony Monument , now renamed Shahid Minar, holds command at the northern end of the Maidan.And the mighty river Hooghly beckons.At the northern end of the Maidan, towards the river, is the Old British Government house now called Raj Bhavan . Built in 1803, modelled on Lord Curzon’s home, Keddleston Hall, Derbyshire, England, this is now the official residence of the Governor of Bengal. There are many rare works of art and other interesting items. Entry is restricted.
A walk across is the Town Hall , built in 1813, in Doric style of architecture. It is now the City Magistrate’s Office.Don’t let the riverfront mesmerize you yet !Between the Town Hall and the Strand is the Calcutta High Court , scene of legendary legal battles. Completed in 1872, the Gothic architectural style was copied from the Staadhans at Ypres, Belgium. The tower measures 55 mts.
The Howrah Bridge and the Vidyasagar Setu frame the skyline of the riverfront. The ambience is as amicable and profound as the river that flows alongside.But, turn back to your trail of discovery. Dalhousie Square was the administrative centre for British India. On one side is the General Post Office, a majestic specimen of Edwardian architecture. It is built on the site of the original Fort William. On the other side stands Writers’ Building , a massive Gothic structure with lonic pillars – still the house of political power. Dalhousie is a must see since it is full of old British architecture from the time of the East India Company.
The dulcet whispers of history echo through the old mansions of Hindu aristocrats in North Calcutta. One such old house, Tagore House, at Jorasanko, is the birth place of Rabindranath Tagore, India’s greatest modern poet. Converted to Rabindra Bharati University, it is now a centre for Indian Classical Fine Arts.
At Chorbagan is the Marble Palace built in 1840 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, now a museum. Spend your afternoon among precious objects d’art including works of Rubens and Sir Joshua Reynolds.When tired, take a tram ride along Red Road with the green expanse of the Maidan around you. The perfect antidote.
A little away, in the south of Kolkata, is a stately mansion. Once home of the British Viceroys, Belvedere House is now the National Library. It houses over a million books and is the biggest in India.A must is a day spent at Science City. Pick your special thrill at this exposition park. A space theatre, space flight simulator, recreated Jurassic forest, aviary and butterfly corner and much more !
How to reach
Kolkata's "Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport" connects the city with the rest of the world as well as other Indian cities.
Kolkata is well connected by rail to almost all the big stations in India and also serves as the gateway to North-Eastern India. The cities two major railway stations are Howrah (not in Kolkata actually, it's in the adjoining city Howrah) and Sealdah. A new terminus station called 'Kolkata' has also started functioning since 2005, but presently it accommodates very few trains. Santragachhi and Shalimar are the other stations where some trains terminate.
Kolkata has three main seasons- Summer, Monsoon, and Winter. Summer, during March-May, is hot and humid with temperature touching 38-40 degree Celsius. Monsoon starts in June and lasts till September, October. Winter starts in November and stays till February and weather is very pleasant with temperature ranging between 9-18 degree Celsius. Best time to visit Kolkata will be during winter that is November to February.