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Published: October 27th 2011
I’m glad I went, and I’m glad I never have to go back. - Mark Twain on Calcutta (Kolkata)
I expected to feel this way about Kolkata but didn't. Many travelers report being overwhelmed by the humanity, the squalor, the poverty. Certainly Kolkata has all these things, but in comparison to the other places we visited I found it relatively tidy and orderly, with many people employed looking out for the tourists and their fellow Kolkatans, in the streets as well as in the museums. It reminded me a bit of Mumbai, although quieter and more spread out, at least in terms of the sights. It's a city I'd like to return to and experience again, as two days certainly wasn't enough here.
We began our stay at the Broadway Hotel, a nice place with pleasant yellow shutters, helpful staff, a bit of history and a good bar. Although I never saw another female there during our stay I never felt uncomfortable or overly conspicuous, unlike, say, Delhi, where wearing a burka wouldn't have been much help. It was reasonably priced to boot. Definitely recommended.
On our first day all the major museums and monuments were closed, and
With a statue of the Empress of India herself.
so we explored the city a bit, for which the metro was very helpful. We started the day with a tasty early meal at Anand, and then found our way to the Kali Temple in Kalighat, Kolkata's holiest spot for Hindus and possibly the source of its name. In addition to an interesting three-eyed Kali image there are daily goat sacrifices here, which understandably put me off this otherwise very lively and engaging temple. Wanting something a little different we visited the Mullik Ghat flower market beneath Howrah bridge, another busy and flamboyant spectacle but decidedly better smelling. We took the very reasonable ferry ride across the Hooghly river to the Howrah train station, then back again to the BBD Bagh area of the city, home to much of the finest colonial architecture in Kolkata. Here we made a stop at St. John's Church, and took a stroll around Dalhousie Square, the Writers' Building and St. Andrews Church (closed). Hot and tired, we headed back in the direction of our hotel, grabbed a bite at Bayleaf and then a drink at the bar. A peaceful end to what seemed like a very long day.
The second day in comparison
No photos allowed inside.
was much too short. We took in a whirlwind tour of the Victoria Memorial and then made a dash for the Indian Museum. Not really enough time to see both on the same day but we made a good attempt.
Our first stop of the day was the Victoria Memorial, a vast, beautifully proportioned confection of white marble domes surrounded by a lovely and spacious garden. Lots of pools and large trees. Built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1901 diamond jubilee it was finally finished nearly 20 years after her death. There was enough to see to recommend a full day here, especially if you have any interest in the city's history, for which there was an extensive display. There are also many wonderful portraits upstairs, and we were very lucky to catch an exhibition of the finest Kalighat paintings from the collections of several London museums as well as the Victoria Memorial itself.
Afterwards I was looking forward to exploring the entire Indian Museum but mainly spent my time with the sculptures on the ground floor, which were supposed to be the highlight anyway. Extensive and entrancing, including a bit of work from the temples at Khajaraho. I
would have seen more but the people working here were most strict about closing time - the time for them, not you, to leave. I've never been herded out of a museum so quickly!
We grabbed some delicious sweets at Ganguar - some with pistachio and others with rose - and took a break for tea at Flury's after trying for a bit of shopping. Too much running about!
Dinner was at the excellent Bengali-fusion restaurant Oh! Calcutta. Banana hearts with coconut for me, a shrimp dish for Clement, and cocktails. We couldn't have been happier.
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