Our first introduction to Kolkata (then, Calcutta), was through Dominique Lapierre’s moving account of Hasari Pal, a poor Bihari man who comes to Anand Nagar, the City of Joy, in Calcutta for a better life, only to find that Calcutta puts him through even greater struggles. Now, Calcutta has a new name, and from what we hear, has made a substantial departure from its impoverished past. Yet, it retains the fragrance of its colonial era and with a thriving art scene, quaint bookstores, cafes and leaf-strewn cobbled streets, Kolkata calls out to the poet in us. Here are the top five things to do in the city of Bengali gentry (all of which will be on our list whenever we get a chance to visit).
Go back in time at Marble Palace and Zoo
This 19th century mansion in North Kolkata features walls, floors and sculptures made of marble. It was built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, an affluent merchant who doubled as an art collector. Along with the neoclassical architecture and traditional Bengali courtyards, we are attracted to this palace for its collection of paintings by artists like Peter Paul Rubens and Sir Joshua Reynolds, rock garden and serene lake. Best of all, there is even a zoo populated with peacocks, hornbills, pelicans, storks, cranes, monkeys and deer.
Watch the Idol Makers of Kumartuli
The kumars are the sculptors who fashion beautiful idols for Durga and Kali festivals in Kolkata. And some of the most skilled artists can be found in the Kumartali district, where you can watch them at work in their studios. Along with Hindu Goddesses, they also create Victorian sculptures and statuettes of historical figures and local legends.
Gawk at Art at Victoria Memorial
Originally dedicated to the Queen of Victoria, the stunning Victoria Memorial is today a museum housing 25 different galleries. Although its collections of Thomas Daniell’s works, rare and antiquarian books such as those by William Shakespeare and the Arabian Nights as well as arms and armoury are exemplary, we would love to visit simply to admire its arresting architecture.
Pay Homage at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple
A gorgeous Kali temple on the banks of the Hooghly River, Dakshineswar is also renowned for its connection to Ramakrishna, a 19th Century Bengali mystic. Along with the main Kali temple, there are also twelve shrines dedicated to Shiva, Kali’s cohort, a Radha-Krishna temple, a riverside bathing ghat and a shrine dedicated to Rani Rashmoni, who built the temple in 1885.
Wander through the Corridors of Tagore’s House
Jorasanko Thakur Bari, which actually means “House of the Thakurs (anglicised form: Tagore), was where Rabindranath Tagore was born. Today, the 1784 family home houses a museum full of Tagore’s personal effects, quotations and paintings by his family and their contemporaries. The mansion is now a part of the Rabindra Bharati University Campus, which organizes functions on the poet’s birthday.
We’d also love to indulge in a sunset boat ride beneath the Hooghly River (as seen in the featured image at the starting of this post). The five-star Park Hotel Kolkata would be our ideal choice for a stay in the city, given its location in the midst of the city’s nightlife and interiors that are inspired by the colours of the seven chakras in the human body. Being a metro city, it is of course well connected by air, road and rail, which makes it that much easier to slake your wanderlust!
If you’re from Kolkata, please leave a comment and tell us what makes your city so special. And don’t forget to subscribe for free travel and lifestyle inspiration: