If you are not from Kolkata, hardly anything can prepare you for the city. The experience can neither be preempted nor can it be replicated. Even though a blanket of soot accompanies you, there is also an unmistakable air of mysticisim that hovers around the city.
The city is a lesson in the rise and inevitable decline of everyone & everything. It was once the second city of the British empire but now lags behind younger counterparts like Bangalore & Hyderabad. Kolkata has seen it all in what is a pretty young age for a great city.
As a traveler to the city, it is up to you to try and match the eccentricity of the city of Kali, of joy, of processions, of conflict and romance.
Here are some things that I managed to do
1. Neemtulla Ghat:
Located in the heart of the city by the banks of the river Hooghly, this is the main Hindu burning ghat of the city. Walk down the banks of the ghat and you will know why it is special.
It is a heady mix of magic, mysticism and madness.
There is a new electric crematorium which looks more like a government office, but to the right is the real deal. It is a place that probably hasn’t changed much in decades. Giggling kids playfully jump into the Hooghly deceiving the grief that is associated with death. Sadhus with their heavy locks sit smoking hashish or accepting offerings from devotees. Everyone seems to be engaged in a ritual of some kind. Some pray, some mourn and a few others while away their time lying on the ground.
The presence of many temples makes the place even more fascinating. One of them is the Bhootnath temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. If you are lucky, you might bump into a bunch of devotees and musicians – dancing in worship-driven intoxification.
2. Walk Around Chitpur:
For the pragmatic in others, Kolkata is old & decaying. And for the romantic in you, it is old & decaying too. But that is what makes the city special. It seems to be stuck in a time warp without being too conscious about it.
The city of the past is on full display in Chitpur & areas around it. Every window, every lane showcases a piece of accidental art. The streets walls are filled with political graffiti and the shops seem to have been around since the beginning of time. The old trams push their way through traffic and there is festival like atmosphere every other day.
3. Take A Tram:
Trams are proof of Kolkata’s eccentricity. Other cities like Mumbai gave up on this form of transport half a century ago. Kolkata on the other hand has kept this delight alive.
The heritage tram, I am told, is quite an experience since it takes you through the attractions of the city. If that isn’t incentive enough, then the air conditioning bogies might help you make a decision in its favour.
The normal trams are an interesting enough experience anyway. You can hop into any one of them that melancholically keep chugging around the city. Imagine like it’s the early 20th century and view the city with different eyes.
With its low priced rides and long duration, it is a favourite with young couples. It saves them the money they would otherwise have to shell out in a coffee shop.
4. Metro Ride:
Like the tram, the Kolkata metro is an institution too. It is an interesting departure from the swanky, futuristic metros that we are used to. Built before any other metro in the country, they possess an old world charm that is worth savouring.
5. Go To A Single Screen Cinema:
Kolkata is good reason to experience everything old (as you may have noticed with my post already). And watching a movie in a single screen theatre should be on your list. The city still boasts of a lot of good singleplexes like Priya, Roxy, Globe and Menoka to name a few.
Watch a Hindi or English movie in any of these cinemas. But if you are feeling ‘bong’ enough, then head to Nandan to watch a Bengali film. Nandan is to Kolkata what Prithvi Theatre is to Mumbai.
I settled for the most obvious choice at Menoka theatre – Detective Byomkesh Bakshi. For the romantic in me, the protagonist wasn’t the mild-mannered detective but the city of complexities itself.
6. Relish A Roll:
Kolkatans love their roll and why wouldn’t they? These wraps filled with spicy chicken and minced veggies & potato can make anyone drool. Worry not; there are enough options for vegetarians too. I would stick my neck out on this and say that non- descript Kolkata stalls do better rolls than some big names in Bombay & Delhi.
7. Haunted Houses Hunting
Kolkata is a treasure trove of stories. It seems to specialize in one kind better than any other Indian city. And those are ghost stories.
From the spirits of Neemtalla to the ghost of Warren Hastings which is still looking for something, Kolkata will cast a spell on you if you oblige.
If these things excite you then go hunting for haunted stories. Some of the famous stories are at the National Library, Ravindra Sarai metro station(suicide spot) and Neemtalla ghat.
Or when you spot an eerie looking abandoned building, ask around. There is a good chance that a ghost lives in it.
These are some of my odd tips on how to spend time in Kolkata. But the city is blessed with many other treasures you can discover. Follow these suggestions or create your own & share with meJ