Kolkata formerly Calcutta is the capital city of West Bengal state of India. The city of Kolkata rich in history and architecture is one of the best places to visit in India. Kolkata is located on the east bank of the Hooghly River which is a distributary of the Ganges River. The city is home to numerous Nobel Laureates in the field of art, literature, and science and Hicky’s Bengal Gazette the first English-language newspaper published in both the Indian sub-continent and in Asia.
Kolkata is nicknamed ‘The City of Joy’ after 1985 novel by Dominique Lapierre which based on stories from Kolkata. We explored most of the city but it was difficult to spot skyscrapers. We could hardly find buildings more than 3 or 4 floors higher. And most of them exuded a colonial charm, the buildings are hundreds of years old. You will find human driver rickshaws, motor-driven rickshaws, the classic ambassador cars (yellow cabs) which are symbolic of the city of Kolkata and plenitude of trees everywhere which filled us with delight. Bengali cuisine is rich in flavors and Bengali sweets are famous worldwide. The city is a time warp and aptly called ‘the City of Joy’.
Where Did We Stay?
We stayed at the ‘Hotel Esteem’ in Sushil Sen Road in the heart of the city. The hotel is located in a calm residential area close to the Chowringhee Road (Elgin Road). The rooms are spacious with free Wi-Fi and 24 hours running hot water. Victoria Memorial is only a couple of km. The legendary Bengali sweet shops Sen Mahasay and Balaram Mullick & Radharam Mullick are located at a walkable distance.
For city sightseeing hiring cabs is the best option. We used Ola and Uber all the time and the local yellow cabs only a couple times. Yellow cabs are omnipresent you just need spot an empty one and hop into it. The only thing you need to keep in mind is you need to bargain hard on the fare they offer.
Places to visit in Kolkata – Day 1
Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Our first stop on Kolkata City sightseeing had to be the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. One of the popular tourist attractions located in Dakshineswar near Kolkata. We hired a cab from our hotel in the city center close to Chowrangee North to the temple. The cab dropped us right outside the temple gate.
Luggage, any kind of bags, cameras or mobile phones are not allowed inside the temple premises. You will need to deposit them in the counters for a small amount. Just before the counter, there is a gate to the garden area. You can get the best view of the temple from here and you can even click some great pictures.
Dakshineswar Kali Temple is a popular Hindu temple and pilgrimage destination in Kolkata. The temple is situated on the banks of the Hooghly River features a magnificent architecture. The temple is built in the ‘Nava-Ratna’ or nine spires style is an exemplary Bengal architecture. The temple itself three-storeyed with the nine spires distributed in upper two stories.
Dakshineswar Kali Temple History
The temple dedicated to goddess Kali was built in 1855 by Rani Rashmoni. It is said that Rani Rashmoni a well-known philanthropist and devotee of Kali had a dream where the goddess instructed her to build a temple on the banks of the Ganges river in Kolkata. The temple enshrines Bhavataraini, one of the forms of Goddess Kali.
Surrounding the main temple on the bank of the Hooghly River are twelve identical Shiva temples. The temple complex comprises of a Vishnu Temple, a shrine dedicated to Rani Rashmoni, a temple to Rama Krishna Paramahamsa who served as a priest in the temple and a columned hall. There is also a bathing ghat situated between the row of Shiva temples.
There was a queue for darshan when we visited but it didn’t take much time. The temple is open from 5 AM to 8 PM.
Opposite to the temple is several shops selling brass and copper puja items, shells artworks, toys and another kind of handicrafts. There is also a couple of eateries where you can buy snacks, Bengali sweets, and tea/coffee. We were not very sure about the hygiene of the place so we only bought tea and skipped snacks.
The cheapest and the quickest way to reach Belur Math from Dakshineswar Kali Temple is by boat. A small street lined with souvenir shops on the right of the temple gate leads to the boat pier. We bought tickets at the counter and waited for the boat. The boats run every hour and takes about 20 minutes (10 INR in 2018).
We cruised past a group of people taking a dip at the ghat to the pier. The domes of the Belur Math were prominently visible. Once you get down at the pier the Belur Math is some 5-10 minutes walk. There is a shoe stand where you can deposit your shoes. Usage of Mobile phones is not allowed in the temple premises though you need not deposit them. There are guards everywhere who will keep reminding you to switch off your mobiles.
Beluṛ Maṭh was founded in 1897 by Swami Vivekananda disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa though the present structure was completed in 1938. It is situated in Howrah on the banks of Hooghly River and serves as the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission. Belur Math comprises of temples dedicated to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and Sarada Devi.
There is also a museum in the premises which displays information and artifacts on the history of Belur Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. The museum also displays possesions of Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Sarada Devi.
Beluṛ Maṭh Architecture
The temple architecture is a wonderful blend of Hindu, Christian and Islamic architectural styles symbolizing the unity of all religions. The architecture was inspired by the mission of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who followed and preached universal faith. We had an amazing time exploring the fusion of various architectural styles in the main monastery of Belur Math. The main entrance reminded us of the Buddhist cave temples in Ajanta and the pillars or columns of the Greek style of architecture.
While the towers of the temple looked much similar to the lofty towers of south Indian temples and the domes, windows and balconies resembled the Rajput-Moghul architectural styles. But the central dome is said to be based upon the design of the magnificent Renaissance dome of St. Maria-Del-Florence in Italy.
The interior of the temple has a large hall which much simple when compared to the exterior. The hall houses the sanctum with a statue of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa seated on a hundred petalled lotus. The hall resembles a church and is said to be inspired by St Peter’s Church of Vatican City. The sanctum preserves the sacred relics of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
There is a bookshop where you can get books on Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Vivekananda in Hindi, Bengali and English Languages. The bookstore also has storybooks with picture illustration and coloring books for kids.
We walked around the garden and exited from the main gate. The street here is very narrow wide enough for rickshaws and local two-wheelers. The street is lined with street food stalls. Again its street food so it’s up to you if you wanna give it a try. We had chana puri with our 4-year-old daughter Chhavi and we did not encounter any health issues. We, in fact, had a lot of cups of tea from the roadside shops during our city sightseeing. The tea is served in a small clay cups and each of the places we tried served tasty tea. We definitely recommend you to try tea at these stalls along the stalls.
It is Difficult to get taxis here so we walked further to a junction which had a bus stop and even taxis available. We had Rasgulla from a small shop in the corner which was the yummiest we ever had and hired a motorcycle rickshaw to Howrah (30 INR in 2018)
If you are planning Dakshineshwar temple first and then Belur Math keep in mind that the temple closes at 12 and opens only at 4 in the evening.
Temple Timings: 6 AM–12 PM and 4–9 PM
The iconic landmark has always been on top of the list of tourist places in Kolkata. The bridge spans the Hooghly River and connects the two major cities of Howrah and Kolkata. The bridge comprising of 4 lanes along with two lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. The bridge is also known as the Rabindra Setu named after the famous Bengali poet and the first Indian and Asian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
The Howrah Bridge replaced an old pontoon bridge which was constructed around 1874. When the Pontoon Bridge couldn’t handle the increasing load of traffic, the building of new bridge – Howrah Bridge was planned and completed and opened to the public in 1943.
The Howrah Bridge is the sixth-longest cantilever bridge in the world and one of the busiest. We asked the rickshaw driver to drop us at one end of the bridge so that we could walk on it to the other end. The lanes for the vehicles and the and the pedestrians path both were jam-packed accompanied with continuous honking. Though a complete chaos the bridge truly is a wonder and we couldn’t stop gazing at the structure. One of the interesting facts of Howrah Bridge is it does not have nuts and bolts and was formed by riveting the whole structure.
Mullick Flower Market
At the other end of the Howrah bridge are a flight of stairs that descend into the chaotic but colorful Mullick Ghat flower market. The market is chock-a-block of piles of flowers and vendors that making way through them becomes overwhelming. Mullick Ghat flower market is one of the largest flower markets in Asia and the largest in Kolkata. The frenetic market set along the banks of Hooghly River is over 130 years old and is a major source of livelihood for hundreds of flowers vendors. The magnificence of the market is evident from the fact that its open the whole day with no shortage of flowers when compared to the Dadar flower market in Mumbai where the flowers are almost sold out by 10 or 11 in the morning. The bustling market starts as early as 3 am in the morning and does not close until 10 in the night.
Though marigold in orange and yellow colors was ubiquitous in the market we could also find roses in various shades, tuberose, lotus, sunflowers, shoe flowers, chrysanthemums, tulips, jasmine and many other varieties of flowers. An interesting sight was of the porters wearing the strands of flowers on their shoulders completely hidden in the pile of garlands.
Several small shops in the back-alleys sold a variety of garlands, bouquets and decoration items used in the floral arrangements. At the other end of the market reached from the underpass beneath the bridge, there are shops selling spices and fruits. As we walked past the spice market an aromatic fragrance wafted through the air. The market is one stop for all kinds of floral requirements be for puja, festivals, ceremonies or aesthetic needs. The splash of colors and the fragrance market is a feast for the senses!
For the market in full bloom visit early in the morning. The path through the market is muddy and slushy you may need to wear appropriate shoes.
Kolkata China Town
After clicking pictures of colorful heaps of flowers to heart’s content we headed to China Town for lunch. China Town spans across the neighborhoods of Tiretti Bazaar (Old Chinatown) and Tangra (New Chinatown) in East Kolkata. The localities have some of the popular restaurants serving traditional Chinese cuisine. Tiretti Bazaar area draws foodies early morning for street side Chinese breakfast. The breakfast includes soups, dumplings, sausages, momos and much more.
Chinatown of Kolkata is said to be India’s only Chinatown home to over 2000 ethnic Chinese Indian nationals. The Chinese community has been Indian inhabitants for over 200 years now. The people here have preserved their culture through pomp celebration of Chinese New Year and other Chinese festivals. It is interesting to know that a Chinese newspaper is circulated every morning and the community also has are Chinese schools with Mandarin as the medium of language. There are several Chinese temples in Tiretti Bazaar area some of which are over 100 years old.
South Park Street Cemetery
Our next stop after lunch was the South Park Street Cemetery, one of the important historical places in Kolkata. The articles we read on the cemetery pictured it to be haunted, deserted with the only sound heard to be of crowing crow. It sounded eerie and though we were a little uncomfortable we still decided to visit the cemetery to explore its history and for the impressive number tombs.
We hired a cab to the cemetery which took us around 15 minutes. There is an entrance fee to the cemetery with additional fees if you are carrying a camera. (50 for entrance, extra 20 for the camera in 2018). As we started walking through the lanes lined with tombs on either side we were amazed to find numerous college students and youngsters. The cemetery seemed more like a park with ample of trees for shades minus the crows.
The cemetery was opened in 1767 and was used as a cemetery until 1830. The South Park Street Cemetery is one of the largest non-church Christian cemeteries and houses over 1600 tombs. There are cenotaphs, epitaphs, mausoleums, obelisks, sarcophagi, and pyramids.
The tombs are built in Gothic and Indo-Saracenic style, we were surprised to find one in Greek temple style with Ionic columns. The cemetery and is now a heritage site and is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Apart from the tombs of soldiers, sailors, civil servants, traders, the cemetery is also home to tombs of several prominent personalities during the colonial period. We were stunned to find that most the tombs belonged to people who died young, youth, children and even infants. It is said that they succumbed to tropical disease and battles.
Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity
About a km (10 min walk) from South Park Street Cemetery is the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity. Pilgrims visit Mother’s House to pay homage at Mother Teresa’s tomb. The Missionaries of Charity was founded by Mother Teresa and her pupils in 1950 to carry out their mission of serving the needy and the destitute. There is a museum displaying the possessions of Mother Teresa, one can also visit the room where Mother Teresa carried out her daily activities. Mother’s House is open on all days from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm and from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm except on Thursdays when its closed to the public. Photography is not allowed inside the House, it is recommended that you keep the phone on silent and dress modestly.
New Market or Sir Stuart Hogg Market
Our last stop for the day was the New Market which is one of the best places to visit in Kolkata for shopping. New Market also known as Sir Stuart Hogg Market or just Hogg Market is situated on Lindsay Street. Presence of numerous eateries and sweet shops also make New Market one of the top tourist places in Kolkata. The market is crowded and chaotic but great for bargain shopping.
Originally New Market referred to an enclosed market complex opened in 1874. The New Market built during the colonial rule is a magnificent Victorian Gothic with a historic clock tower painted in a striking a brick-red color. There are over 2000 shops selling everything and anything from clothing, garments, electronics, accessories, fresh vegetables, fruits, spices, meat, and fish. There is also a flower market which sells all kind of exotic flowers.
The market is open 10 AM to 8 PM Monday to Friday, closes at 7 PM on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays.
Today the entire shopping area including the market building and the surrounding shops is known as the ‘New Market.
Places to visit in Kolkata – Day 2
Kumartuli Idol Maker
We started our day 2 sightseeing with a visit to the neighborhood of Kumartuli Idol Maker. We walked into a narrow lane lined with workshops on both sides filled with clay effigies of deities (Goddess Durga, Kali, and Lord Ganesh). With only a few months to go for the Durga Puja festival, the idol makers were all busy finishing their idols. As we were visiting a little early we could see the idol-making from scratch. We saw several models made of straw which is the initial stage, clay is coated on the straw frames and left to dry. Once dry the idols are painted to give a mesmerizingly colorful finish.
The artisans here have been working as idol makers for several generations. The idols are exported all over the world to the Bengalis celebrating the festival outside India.
We visited several workshops and watched artisans at work. We were a bit skeptical initially but the workers turned out to be very friendly and welcoming. We have heard that there have been several instances where photographers and tourists have created a nuisance. So make sure you don’t disturb or create any kind of inconvenience in their work.
Apart from the idols of Durga and Ganesh we also found several statues of popular historical personalities which are said to be used to adorn the pandals during the festival. There are several shops selling bamboo handicrafts, small statues, puja items, items used in Bengali wedding and decorative items used in ceremonies.
Durga Puja which is mostly celebrated in the month of September or October in India and is celebrated with great pomp in Kolkata. Pandals are set up across the city with elaborate decorations with respect to a theme, mostly mythological or historical. The beautiful idols of Goddess Durga are kept in the pandal and worshipped. Daily puja and cultural activities are held. And on the final day, the idol is immersed in the Hooghly River amidst bursting of crackers and beating of drums.
Kalighat Kali Temple
The Kalighat Kali Temple is yet another sacred temple in Kolkata dedicated to goddess Kali. It is a revered pilgrim site attracting thousands of devotees every day. Our can dropped us at the start of an alley which leads to the temple. The street is lined with shops selling souvenirs, handicrafts, toys, flowers and puja items. As it is a prominent pilgrim site you can expect a long queue for visit all the time.
There are several people around the temple who would pester you to buy something from their shop in return for taking care of your shoes. We recommend you to ignore and walk away or if you are really keen on buying something to offer to the goddess be aware of the things you are going to buy. The shop we shopped by kept adding a new item every now and then reasoning them to be mandatory items for the visit.
The Indian Museum is the largest and oldest museum in India founded by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1814. It is one of the top tourist attractions in Kolkata, especially with the younger minds. The museum is popularly known as the ‘Jadughar’ amongst the locals for the vast and comprehensive collection of the museum.
The museum collection spans across 6 different sections – Art, Archaeology, Anthropology, Geology, Zoology and Economic Botany. The collection comprises of over 100,000 exhibits of miniature paintings, antiques, armor, fossil skeletons, coins, porcelains displayed in over 60 galleries. The most important exhibit being the sacred relic of the Buddha, antiquities from the ancient civilization of Harappa and Mohenjodaro and a 4000-year-old Egyptian mummy.
The premises also houses a library if you are interested to explore more about the artifacts and historical details. There is also a bookshop for bookaholic and inquisitive readers.
Museum Open Times
March to November: 10 AM to 5 PM
December to February: 10 AM to 4.30 PM
The museum is closed on Mondays and public holidays.
Kolkata has some exemplary architecture buildings from the colonial era. One can find numerous grand buildings in Kolkata painted in the striking brick red color. New Market is one fine example. We had learned about two buildings which we wanted to visit the Writers’ Building and Calcutta High Court.
The Writers’ Building is a government building which served as the office for writers of the British East India Company. The building is decorated with Ionic columns, statues, and sculptures of Greek gods and goddesses. The driver informed that the building is under renovation and there is nothing to see there. And the Calcutta High Court is the oldest High Court in India. The neo-Gothic building was built in 1872.
From Indian Museum we hired a cab to Victoria Memorial and asked the driver to drive us past the two buildings.
The Victoria Memorial is one of the iconic landmarks and a popular tourist attraction in Kolkata. The grand marble building was opened in 1921 as a memorial to Queen Victoria. We entered into the premises from the south side, bought our tickets and started exploring the gardens. Walking towards the entrance we walked past the Edward VII memorial arch, a bronze equestrian statue of Edward VII and a marble statue of Lord Curzon.
Victoria Memorial Architecture
The Victoria Memorial is built in the Indo-Saracenic revivalist style. One can also see influences of Islamic, Venetian, Egyptian, and architectural styles. It is constructed of white Makrana marble which was the same marble used in the construction of one of the wonders of the world – the magnificent Taj Mahal. The building features a central dome topped by a statue of Angel of Victory. Other decorative features include various allegorical sculptures, domed pavilions, columns and sculptures of famous personalities.
On the north side of the building is a large statue of A bronze statue of Victoria seated on her throne.
The museum gallery displays various Indian and Western paintings, portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, portraits of Indian national leaders, important manuscripts, rare historical photographs, armors, coins, stamps and other items of historical significance. The Calcutta gallery in the museum displays artifacts on history and development of Calcutta.
The Victoria Memorial sits in a beautifully maintained landscaped garden decorated with colorful flower beds and plenty of foliage where you can sit and take in the grandeur of the historic building.
A light and sound show that takes place regularly. More details on the show time and ticket here.
The Museum Gallery is open all weekdays except Monday from 10.00 AM – 6.00 PM. The museum is also closed on public holidays. The gardens are open on all days from 5.30 AM – 6.30 PM.
There is an entry fee to the museum and the gardens (Museum is 30 INR and 10 INR for the gardens in 2018, the rates are different for foreigners)
St Paul Cathedral
When in Victoria Memorial also visit the magnificent St Paul Cathedral. Just head East through the gardens there is a gate which opens up to the main street. On the other side of the street is the St Paul Cathedral.
The cathedral was completed in 1847 in Gothic Revival architectural style and features stained glass windows, frescoes and numerous memorabilia in the interior.
Princep Ghat is one of the best picnic spots in Kolkata. Prinsep Ghat is a ghat built in 1841 on the banks of Hooghly River. The ghat has been named after the eminent Anglo-Indian scholar James Prinsep. There is a memorial to James Prinsep at the ghat. The Palladian porch memorial was built in 1843 and features Ionian Columns and Greek and Gothic design features.
The ghat offers a majestic view of the Vidyasagar Setu (Vidyasagar Bridge) and the Howrah Bridge at a distance. The place has a long stretch of pathways through the garden dotted with benches and lined with food stalls. Evenings are the best time to visit the ghat for a leisurely stroll and to take in the views of the Hooghly River and the enjoy the sunset. There is also an option to go boating for 30 minutes or 1 hour in the traditional boats. (400 INR for 30 minutes in 2018).
There is also a railway station in Prinsep Ghat and you can watch trains pass by parallel to the garden regularly. There is a jetty along the ghat called Man-O-War jetty used by the Indian Navy.
Best Restaurants in Kolkata
If you looking for an authentic Chinese cuisine then Tangra (New China Town) has some of the best restaurants in Kolkata. Try Beijing Restaurant and Big Boss Restaurant. Both are located on the same street. For authentic Bengali Cuisine, the top choice is Bhojohori Manna. The restaurant has several branches across the city. Aaheli is the restaurant if you are looking for mouth-watering Bengali Thali. Apart from these try Kathi Rolls at Nizams in New Market and Chelo Kebab at Peter Cat in Park Street. For special Bengali sweets, though there are numerous shops around the city most of which serve hygienic and delicious desserts, there are some popular shops you much try – KC Das, Sen Mahasay and Balaram Mullick & Radharam Mullick.
Shopping in Kolkata
As we already discussed earlier New Market or the or Sir Stuart Hogg Market is one place where you can go shopping for almost anything to everything and Mullick Flower Market for a wide range of flowers. Park Street is another popular hangout in Kolkata. Most of the popular restaurants in Kolkata are located in Park Street. There numerous brand shops, street food options, sweet shops and traditional Kolkata saree shops. The College Street is the place if you are looking to shop for books, the street has numerous bookstores which sells all kind of books at throwaway prices.
If you are looking for places to visit in Kolkata in one day we recommend you not to miss the Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, Princep Ghat, Dakshineshwar Temple and Howrah Bridge.
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