Visiting Calcutta: Where India and England Collide
India is quite the destination for people who are looking to explore new cultures and immerse themselves in the raw and rugged environment and lifestyle of locals. On this vast subcontinent, there is always something new and exciting around every single corner. Whatever you seek to find, be it architecture, food, adventure, a deeper understanding of the country's history or just a plain old good time, the options are infinite and endless.
While studying here in India, I have been blessed with the opportunity to discover many of these wonders, and I have taken great pleasure in visiting one city, in particular—Calcutta.
On the eve of a crisp December Tuesday, I disembarked from an eight-hour train ride at the Howrah Railway Station and was immediately mesmerized by the hustle and bustle around me; Calcutta was positively teeming with people. The distinct yellow cabs endemic to the city swarmed the roads at a snail’s pace, thanks to frequent traffic jams. We had barely gotten out of the railway station, and it was already obvious—this was going to be one crazy and fun trip!
Calcutta Is Not a Quiet, Sleepy City
Calcutta being quite the overpopulated city, the first thing you notice is its people. One could argue about the cheerfulness and friendliness of its citizens. Everybody seemed to be intent on going about their day, trying to make it through the chaos. Unlike some other places, people in Calcutta aren’t overbearing, and we were able to have our moments of peace.
At this point, I have come to realize that the attitude of locals towards you depends on whether they realize that you are a foreigner. Coming from the South Asian region, it is hard to differentiate me from the locals, so most of the people we interacted with were quite nice and helpful.
During our stay in the city, we resided in Alipore, where we were hosted by family friends. We mostly hung around in the Park Street district and roamed through the areas on the west bank of the Hooghly River.
Weaving through the streets, you get the essence of what India is all about. Your senses are always overloaded; the sound of traffic and honking horns fills your ears while the pungent smells of the street mix with the savory aromas of street food, making your mouth water and your stomach grumble.
The City's Architecture Is Astounding
There are many sights to see and things to do in Calcutta. The most prominent site we visited was definitely the Victoria Memorial Hall. It was built back in the early 1900s to honor Queen Victoria of England. The impressive Indo-Saracenic style of the architecture simply blew me away, and the surroundings were pleasant, encouraging us to relax and loosen up.
We also visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was my first time in a cathedral; it was exciting and awe-inspiring. The architecture of the cathedral had a similar tone to the Victoria Memorial, with a Gothic overlay.
While we are talking about buildings, the way that traditional Indian building styles and English architecture have come together and blended to form a well-balanced emotional composition that fits so well into the city is quite incredible.
The Museums, Planetariums, and Parks Are Delightful
The Indian Museum and Birla Planetarium are also among the places we visited. There, we got to educate ourselves on the history of India as well as that of our universe. We also did a little shopping here and there in the market areas, which were scattered along the west bank of the river. We also went thrill-seeking at the Nicco amusement park and played billiards, boated and cycled in the famed Eco Park. With such a flurry of activity, four days seemed to pass by quite fast.
Public Transportation Is Cheap, but Rather Uncomfortable
As I said earlier, Calcutta is a densely populated city, and this means that public transport can sometimes become difficult and uncomfortable. In spite of this, we mostly travelled between districts via bus. The bus network is cheap and well established. However, it can get quite crowded, so prepare to be packed in like a sardine, and remember to be mindful of your belongings. A metro railway is also available, but there is only one line so far. More lines are due to be built in the near future.
The Regional Dishes and Sweet Treats Are Incredible
Calcutta is famous for its delectable cuisine, and we got to enjoy a lot of it during our stay. While we mostly ate at the house, we tried a lot of street foods and local food stalls. I particularly remember the puchkas, which is the Bengali name for pani puri, a crispy, hollow bread with a potato-based filling and flavored water inside. Calcutta has become my personal favorite place for these bite-sized flavor bombs. We also tried kathi rolls, pakora and jhalmuri, among other things. We tried kathi rolls at Nizam’s restaurant, the birthplace of the original kathi roll; they are simply unbeatable.
Let's not forget the sweets! If you have a sweet tooth, then Calcutta is surely the right place for you. You can find every imaginable variety of sweets made of milk and nuts, and what’s more, they are pretty cheap. These little treats will blow your taste buds.
Travelling in Calcutta Is Quite Cheap
During the four days we were on this exhilarating trip, we spent about $75 USD per person, including train fares. Our costs were minimal as accommodation was free, and we had most of the meals at the house. Nevertheless, travelling in Calcutta is fairly inexpensive, and I would highly recommend the city for budget travelers looking to have a good time and experience the true essence of India.
Although we visited Calcutta during the Christmas holidays, we didn’t stick around for Christmas, thus missing out on the festivities. I wish we had stayed around a bit longer to see the famous celebrations that go on in the Park Street area on Christmas. However, it was still a great trip, and Calcutta is just an eight-hour train ride away. Maybe I will visit again during the upcoming Christmas holidays. What do you think? Until the next adventure, take care!