Last weekend, a friend’s wedding gave me a chance to visit Kolkata. My first trip to eastern India.
Bengal. The land of poets and revolutionaries. Communism and strikes. Byomkesh Bakshi and sondesh. Creative giants since time immemorial, every kind of pursuit will definitely have a Bengali linked. 🙂
I land at Kolkata airport on Mar 7. Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal is the 3rd largest Indian city and among the densest in the world. Unlike Mumbai though, it is pretty laid-back for its size and importance.
Everything in Kolkata is unique. The yellow Ambassadors. The traffic policemen in their white shirts and trousers.The British road names. Park street. Russel Street. Elliot Road. East India Company’s original capital, seems like the British never left.
By the way, the traffic police are surprisingly strict. After having experienced complete traffic lawlessness across nearly all major Indian cities, I can’t help but appreciate this aspect of Kolkata.
The northern part is older, the city is spreading more toward the south and east now.
Kolkata has so much historical significance that everything seems to be a landmark. History which I read in my school textbooks, comes alive here in this city. 🙂
But time is a constraint. The monument I visit first is perhaps the most famous. Victoria Memorial. Constructed more than a century ago, this massive and beautiful structure dominates the landscape. And then went over the new Hooghly bridge, connecting Kolkata to Howrah.
The wedding, at Stadel hotel, has a common wall with the Salt Lake stadium, the 2nd largest stadium in the world. In a cricket crazy nation, football is a dying sport, except in Kolkata, where matches between traditional rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan draw huge crowds.
Bengalis are major foodies! The amount of fish they consume must be more than all states combined (I am a vegetarian which makes me a minority in Bengal). 😀
And the sweets. Sondesh, rosagullas, gulab jamuns, misthi dahi. I ate more sweets in this wedding than I had ever in Gujarat, my home state known worldwide for its sweet food!
This city has perhaps all possible forms of transport available – metro trains, trams, buses, taxi cabs, boats, steamers, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws. Even hand-pulled ones. And everything is very cheap compared to other parts of India.
Mamata Banerjee, who was elected Chief Minister in 2011, was expected to bring in some fresh air, after more than 3 decades of communism stagnated the economy. But the people I met say, real change is yet to come.
Read part 2 here.