Kolkata (Bangla:কলকাতা)(formerly Calcutta) is the capital of West Bengal and one of the largest cities in India. It is also the largest city in the historic region of Bengal (today's West Bengal and Bangladesh). Kolkata is an 'in your face' city that shocks and charms the unsuspecting visitor. Long known as the cultural capital of India and home to the Bengal Renaissance, Kolkata continues to spawn generations of poets, writers and film directors. If your trip only allows for a visit of one or two of India's metropolitan cities, than definitely consider placing Kolkata on your itinerary. Love it or hate it, you definitely won't forget the city on the Hooghly river bank.
Ancient and Pre-British History
Kolkata's history is intimately related to the British East India Company, which first arrived in 1690, and to British India, of which Calcutta became the capital in 1772. Job Charnock was widely known as the founder of Calcutta (There were 3 villages named Sutanuti, Govindapur & Kolkata.Later the village Kolkata became the city Kolkata.) but in recent years a number of Indian historians have disputed this claim, arguing that Kolkata occupies the site of an older Indian city, centered around the ancient Kali temple at Kalighat. This claim has been accepted by the Kolkata High Court. The Court has dismissed the name of Job Charnock as the founder of the city and 24th August as its date of birth. The historic Judgement was based upon an high level Expert Commitee findings. It has been proved that Kolkata had an highly civilized society for centuries before the Europeans first came here.
Whatever its origins,Kolkata flowered as the capital of British India during the nineteenth century, the heyday of the Raj. Calcutta University, the first modern Indian university was founded here in 1857.Kolkata became the center of Indian arts and literature, and the national movement for independence got its start here. However, with the transfer of the capital to Delhi in 1911, the pains of the partition of Bengal in 1947,a violent and bloody Maoist movement (the Naxalite movement) in the 1970s and many political betrayals which no other city experienced,Kolkata had become synonymous with urban decay and poverty, but reversal changes can be already seen.
Calcutta is the main business, commercial and financial hub of eastern India. Calcutta witnessed an economic decline from the late sixties till the late nineties. The city's economic fortunes turned the tide as the economic liberalization in India during the early nineties reached Calcutta during late nineties. Calcutta is a multicultural, cosmopolitan city. Apart from the diversity of India, there are also Europeans (including Germans, Armenians, and others) and other Asians (including Chinese, Sinhalese, and Tibetans).
Since 1977, a "Left Front" coalition of communist and Marxist parties has continuously ruled the state. This is reflected in street names and memorials in the city. For example there are streets like Lenin Sarani, Ho Chi Minh Sarani, etc. The Left Front regained control of the Municipal Corporation of Calcutta from the Trinamul Congress in the 2005 civic elections, but in 2010, Trinamul Congress again captured the power over Municipal Corporation of Kolkata.
Kolkata is fast developing into a modern infotech city with various private sector companies setting up shop here. The landscape of the city is also fast changing with flyovers, gardens and several new commercial establishments. Kolkata city itself has expanded into its suburbs, with the Greater Kolkata stretching from Kalyani (in Nadia District) in North to Diamond Harbour in South (in the South 24 Parganas District).
The city's fortunes have looked up since the early nineties, coinciding with the liberalization of the Indian economy. Its economy has been amongst the fastest growing in the country. The New Metro city is characterised by popular spots such as Multiplexes, theatres, Clubs, Pubs, Coffee Shops, and Museums.
Kolkata is home to many industrial units, of large Indian corporations, whose product range is varied and includes - engineering products, electronics, electrical equipment, cables, steel, leather, textiles, jewellery, frigates, automobiles, railway coaches and wagons.
Several industrial estates like Taratola, Kalyani, Uluberia, Dankuni, Kasba, Howrah are spread throughout the urban agglomeration. A huge leather complex has come up at Bantola. An export processing zone has been set up in Falta. Specialized setups like the country's first Toy Park, and a Gem and Jewellery Park have also been established.
Kolkata is also starting to become a major hub for the IT (Information Technology) industry. With the formation of New Town at Rajarhat and extension of Salt Lake's Sector-V, Kolkata is rapidly turning into a pro-IT town. More and more businesses are coming to Kolkata to set up their offices.
Kolkata is in the eastern part of India at 22°82′ N 88°20′ E. It has spread linearly along the banks of the river Hooghly.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation has an area of 185 square kilometres. The city proper today can be roughly divided into two sections along Mother Teresa Sarani (which was known, till 1998, as Park Street). North of Park Street is the more congested part of the city. South of Park Street is the slightly better planned section of the city. South Kolkata is better planned with wider roads and better equipped police force for keeping Law&Order. South Kolkata is better planned because much of it was built after Independence. The North is the real, old Kolkata and most of the oldest families and buildings are situated there.
The old Central Business District (CBD) is where the seat of the West Bengal Government is located, along with many other government offices. Several banks have their corporate (Allahabad Bank, United Bank of India, UCO Bank) or regional headquarters (Reserve Bank of India, State Bank of India, Bank of India, Central Bank of India amongst many others) around the B. B. D. Bagh area (named after the revolutionaries Binoy, Badal and Dinesh who forced entry into The Writer's Building, the seat of the British government in Bengal, and killed the officers who were famous for their rude and cruel treatment with the people and their various techniques of oppression). Many of Kolkata's older business groups have their main offices here. The area is a mix of multi-storeyed office blocks and colonial buildings.
The newer CBD is around the south of Park Street, Camac Street and AJC Bose Road. Several high-rise office blocks including some of Kolkata's tallest commercial buildings - like the Chatterjee International Centre, Tata Centre, Everest House, Industry House, CGO Building - are located here. An even-newer CBD is now being set up in the Rajarhat (Newtown) area, lying between Salt Lake and the Airport.
Maidan (meaning open field) is situated between the river Ganges and J.L.Nehru Road (or Chowringhee). It is said to be the lungs of Kolkata. The lush green meadow also houses Victoria Memorial, Eden Gardens, and several sporting clubs. Kolkatans simply love to stroll in the Maidan.
In an effort to relieve congestion in the main city, many government offices have shifted to high-rise office buildings lining Bidhan Nagar's (Salt Lake) Central Park.
The residential buildings are mainly lowrise and comprise of older colonial buildings and numerous new four storied apartment blocks. Ten to twelve storied apartment blocks have come up in large numbers in south Kolkata. The city has relaxed its rules on high-rise construction recently and twenty storied buildings are becoming more common. The tallest residential towers of eastern India - the four thirty-five-storey towers of South City has recently finished construction on Prince Anwar Shah Road.
Heavy construction activity along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass is changing the face of the city. Luxury hotels, a convention centre, speciality hospitals, condominium complexes, malls and multiplexes are coming up at a rapid pace.
The city's expansion in the eastern side is spearheaded by the construction of a large new city called New Town adjacent to the well planned Bidhan Nagar. Located in Rajarhat, it is one of the largest planned urban developments in eastern India.
Slums and dilapidated structures exist in many pockets of the city proper and house over 25% of the city's population (Census 2001). Slum redevelopment schemes have helped improve living conditions by a small extent but there is huge scope for improvement in this area. Efforts to shift slum dwellers to newer developments have often met with resistance and failure because many of the slums are in prime areas of the city and the slum dwellers who are integrated in the social structure of the neighbourhood do not want to shift.
The aborted Nano factory at Singur, 50 Kms. away from Kolkata, where the Tata group planned to build the cheapest car in the world, has had an impact on the investments due to come to the state. But in recent times, specially after the ousting of the communists on 13th May 2011, the state including the city, has received many investment proposals from national as well as international corporations.
Kolkata has three main seasons- Summer, Monsoon, and Winter. Summer, during March-May, is hot and humid with temperature touching 38-40 degree Celsius. Monsoon starts in June and lasts till September, October. Winter starts in November and stays till February and weather is very pleasant with temperature ranging between 9-18 degree Celsius. Best time to visit Kolkata will be during winter that is November to February.
Kolkata is GMT+5.5 time zone.
Kolkata's "Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport" connects the city with the rest of the world as well as other Indian cities.
Because the airport is about 20km outside the city centre you should take a prepaid taxi. Expect to pay about Rs 150-250 depending on your destination. There is also a new rail link connecting the airport to the Circular Rail station in Dum Dum, however very few trains actually operate on the line at present.
Scheduled Passenger Airlines
Apart from the Taxis (prepaid or waved down) you can now avail of the new Volvo Bus service by WBSTC (West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation) (Rs 20 (50 US cents), 40 (1 USD), 60 (1.5USD)) to the city centre. The bus plies on 5 different routes, so in case you are not sure, please ask the driver about the route and ask for his suggestion if the destination does not match the route. These air-conditioned buses are a wonderful way to escape the Kolkata heat and humidity. Cheaper, and hassle free, and since you can hail a taxi anywhere in the city centre to take you to your final destination, you do not need to worry. However, in case you are arriving at the wee hours, it is better to opt for a prepaid service, which takes you directly to your destination.
The buses are parked right outside the arrival gate at the DOMESTIC terminal- international travellers would have to walk down from their terminal for a distance of 800metres only. As you come out of the international terminal, turn left and keep walking towards the domestic terminal. Do not be dissuaded by the taxi touts, who would try and make you believe that the buses do not run anymore!
Kolkata is well connected by rail to almost all the big stations in India and also serves as the gateway to North-Eastern India. The cities two major railway stations are Howrah (not in Kolkata actually, it's in the adjoining city Howrah) and Sealdah. A new terminus station called 'Kolkata' has also started functioning since 2005, but presently it accommodates very few trains. Santragachhi and Shalimar are the other stations where some trains terminate.
The Maitree Express provides a direct link between Kolkata and Dhaka, the capital of neighboring Bangladesh. Train depart from Dhaka on Tuesdys and Sundays at 9:30AM, arriving 6:45PM the same evening.
Directly facing Howrah are ferries that can get you to the other side of the river to either Babu Ghat or Fairlie Place from where you can arrange onward transportation with anything from taxis to public buses to human rickshaws. With Kolkata's traffic situation this might actually save you time as well as money. If you are coming to Kolkata by trains using Sealdah station, you may prefer taking a pre-paid taxi to enter the city. The pre-paid taxi stand is just outside the station's main entrance. The counter is under a tin shade. Find all Trains to Kolkata- http://trainspy.com/static/station/(HWH)HOWRAH-JN
To/from Bangladesh There are numerous bus options between Kolkata and Bangladesh. The most common way is the regular comfortable a/c buses from Dhaka to Kolkata via the Haridaspur / Benapole border post. Private bus companies Shohagh , Green Line ,Shyamoli  and others operate daily bus services on this route. Govt. buses run under the label of the state govt. undertaken West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation Limited(WBSTCL) and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation  (BRTC). WBSTCL and BRTC both operate buses from Kolkata every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 5:30AM and 8:30AM, and 12:30PM while from Dhaka they leave on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 7:00AM and 7:30AM. The normal journey time is around 12 hours with a one-way fare of Rs 550 or BDT600-800, roughly $8-12. If you're only headed to Haridaspur the fare is Rs 86 (2.5 hours). The Shyamoli Paribahan ticket office is at 6/1 Marquis St (parallel to and one block south of Sudder Street, and just west of Mirza Ghalib St, next door to DHL), 2252 0693. Beware that several travel agencies around this area also sell tickets for these buses, but at very inflated prices. At the border it's best to change money on the Indian side, but count it carefully and double-check the math on their calculator. On the Bangladesh side you can catch a flat-bed cycle-rickshaw for Tk5 for the 2km trip to the bus stand for onward travel - or you can walk, but expect the hopeful rickshaw-wallahs to follow you at least half way.
To/from Eastern India via Bangladesh Bus travel to some points in Eastern India are faster via Bangladesh (please note that visas may be required for entry into Bangladesh as well as for re-entry into India). If you're heading to points in Eastern India (Tripura for example) beyond Bangladesh -- then there is a regular bus service between Dhaka and Agartala, capital of India's Tripura state. Two BRTC buses leave daily from Dhaka and connect with the Tripura Road Transport Corporation vehicles, running six days a week with a roundtrip fare of BDT600 ($10). There is only one halt at Ashuganj in Bangladesh during the journey. Call +880 2 8360241 for schedule. Other entry points to North-Eastern India through Bangladesh are Hili, Chilahati / Haldibari and Banglaband border posts through Northern Bangladesh and Tamabil / Dawki border post for a route between Shillong (Meghalaya) and Sylhet in North-Eastern Bangladesh, and some others with lesser known routes from north-eastern Indian regions. Although scheduled bus-services to Shillong/Meghalaya from Kolkata through Dhaka may not be offered at present -- it is still possible to get to those points via land routes going through Sylhet and then on to Tamabil/Dawki border outposts. Enquire at the Bus Service Counters for details.
Kolkata just wouldn't look the same without the plethora of yellow ambassador taxis that ply on its roads. They're easily available and relatively cheap, and will usually use their meters.
The fare is 2.4 times plus Rs 1 of the reading of the meter. The Meter starts from Rs 10, which means Rs 25 actually. There is a "green taxi" which is red coloured (!) and charges the same. In case you are confused always ask to see the chart that the driver is supposed to carry with him. Expect to pay a bit more if you are going to the outskirts of the city or travelling at night - it will depend on your bargaining skills but should not be more than Rs 20 on top of the taxi meter. Unlike other metro cities in India, there is no 50%-100% surcharge for late night hires.
Kolkata's "Metro Railway" was the first underground rail in India,from Dumdum to New Garia (Kavi Subhas). It is the cleanest, most reliable, least but still rather crowded and most efficient of all the transportation Kolkata has to offer. Trains run every 6-15 min and at Rs 4-12. It runs from 7AM-9:45PM from Monday to Saturday and 2PM-9:45PM. on Sunday. Work is underway to connect districts further South. There is also an East-West line in the works on full swing, which will connect Salt Lake to Howrah stn.
"Calcutta Tramways" is the only tram service in all of India, and the oldest surviving electric tram network of Asia. Though decommissioned in some part of the city, electric trams are still one of the means of travelling between a few places within the city. They move slow on the laid tracks in traffic jammed streets, but they are environment friendly (no emissions on the street, only at the source of energy generation).
The electrified suburban rail network of the SER and the ER is extensive and includes the Circular Rail.
The city has an extensive bus network (possibly the most exhaustive in the whole of India) and this is the cheapest, though not always the most comfortable means of transport. The routes are written all over the colourful buses in Bengali and also in English. The conductors call out their destinations to everyone he's passing and all you have to do is wave at the bus anywhere and it will stop, often causing a small traffic jam in the course. Just jump in.
Among the buses that ply the city streets, the deluxe buses run by CSTC (Calcutta State Transport Corporation), CTC (Calcutta Tramways Company),JNNURM (Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission) and WBSTC (West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation) are probably the better option. A/C buses (VOLVO) are also available to selected destinations.
Shared auto-rickshaws are available from different points. They travel in fixed routes and the fare is fixed(although you might find the driver charging a little more as the darkness sets in). They are supposed to take four persons, three in the back seat and one sharing the driver's seat!
Long the world's only major metropolis where human-pulled rickshaws were still a major form of transport, a complete ban was supposed to be imposed in November 2006 - but with 35,000 union members who are unlikely to disappear overnight it was not implemented.
The river offers a less crowded but slow traffic medium. There are several points (popularly called Ghats and jetties) on the bank of the river from where you can board several regular routes of ferry services. Ferries can be fairly large launches to small improvised motorized boats. Even if you don't get any exotic manual boat like you get in Varanasi, the river transport of the city lets you go to several old spots near the bank in a hassle-free manner with an additional dash of the view of decadent river front of the city.
Hiring a car
Privately owned rental cars are available, from hotels and travel shops, all across the city. Rates depend on the make, model, size and comfort level of the car. Agreements are flexible, for example, cars can be rented even for couple of hours at an hourly rate. Most rental cars are accompanied with a driver from the rental agency.
Being in Poshchimbongo, i.e.West Bengal, the native language of the people of Kolkata is Bengali. However, most educated people speak Hindi and English as well, and many others such as shopkeepers and taxi drivers would be able to communicate in broken English at the very least. Although it is generally not a problem getting by with English, it goes without saying that learning some Bengali will make your trip much smoother.
The city sprawls along the eastern bank of the Hooghly River, a tributary of the Ganges, which divides it from Howrah on the western bank. For travelers, the most relevant parts of Kolkata are south of the Howrah Bridge in the areas around BBD Bagh and Chowringhee.
A walk along Chowringhee Road sets the pace as you set out to unravel the rare beauty of this city. Across the road sweeps a huge, lush green, open parkland called the Maidan, centering around Fort William, the massive and impregnable British Citadel built in 1773. The fort is still in use and retains its well guarded grandeur. Visitors are allowed in with special permission only.
Along St George’s Gate Road, on the southern fringe of the Maidan, your sight is arrested by a splendid monument in white Makrana marble. Built in Italian Renaissance cum Saracenic style, Victoria Memorial was planned by Lord Curzon and opened by the Prince of Wales in 1921. This British attempt at building a second Taj Mahal is dedicated to Queen Victoria and houses a fantastic collection of rare memorabilia from colonial days. A light and sound show recreates history every evening.
The adjoining Race Course, built in 1819, is one of the best in the east and is the scene of much gaiety, especially during the winter season.Northwards, along Chowringhee Road, stands the Birla Planetarium, one of the largest in the world. The central dome measures 25 mts in diameter.
Located on Chowringhee Road is the Indian Museum built in 1877 in Italian style of architecture.Walk in to a varied collection of exhibits that include unique fossils, Buddhist Gandharan art, an Egyptian mummy and a roomful of memories !
The 48 mt tower of Ochterlony Monument , now renamed Shahid Minar, holds command at the northern end of the Maidan.And the mighty river Hooghly beckons.At the northern end of the Maidan, towards the river, is the Old British Government house now called Raj Bhavan . Built in 1803, modelled on Lord Curzon’s home, Keddleston Hall, Derbyshire, England, this is now the official residence of the Governor of Bengal. There are many rare works of art and other interesting items. Entry is restricted.
A walk across is the Town Hall , built in 1813, in Doric style of architecture. It is now the City Magistrate’s Office.Don’t let the riverfront mesmerize you yet !Between the Town Hall and the Strand is the Calcutta High Court , scene of legendary legal battles. Completed in 1872, the Gothic architectural style was copied from the Staadhans at Ypres, Belgium. The tower measures 55 mts.
The Howrah Bridge and the Vidyasagar Setu frame the skyline of the riverfront. The ambience is as amicable and profound as the river that flows alongside.But, turn back to your trail of discovery. Dalhousie Square was the administrative centre for British India. On one side is the General Post Office, a majestic specimen of Edwardian architecture. It is built on the site of the original Fort William. On the other side stands Writers’ Building , a massive Gothic structure with lonic pillars – still the house of political power. Dalhousie is a must see since it is full of old British architecture from the time of the East India Company.
The dulcet whispers of history echo through the old mansions of Hindu aristocrats in North Calcutta. One such old house, Tagore House, at Jorasanko, is the birth place of Rabindranath Tagore, India’s greatest modern poet. Converted to Rabindra Bharati University, it is now a centre for Indian Classical Fine Arts.
At Chorbagan is the Marble Palace built in 1840 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, now a museum. Spend your afternoon among precious objects d’art including works of Rubens and Sir Joshua Reynolds.When tired, take a tram ride along Red Road with the green expanse of the Maidan around you. The perfect antidote.
A little away, in the south of Kolkata, is a stately mansion. Once home of the British Viceroys, Belvedere House is now the National Library. It houses over a million books and is the biggest in India.A must is a day spent at Science City. Pick your special thrill at this exposition park. A space theatre, space flight simulator, recreated Jurassic forest, aviary and butterfly corner and much more !
The Missionaries of Charity is a new order formed in 1950 by Mother Teresa. Their vow ‘to give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor’ was put into action with the setting up of several homes.Visit Mother Teresa’s tomb at the Mother House and witness the generosity of the her spirit at Nirmal Hriday (home for the dying) , Shanti Nagar (for lepers) and Nirmala Shishu Bhavan (the children’s home).For voluntary work with the Mission , in India, you may contact the London branch of the Missionaries of Charity, 41 Villiers Road, Southall , Middlesex , UK, or write in to the "Mother House", 54A, Lower Circular Road , Calcutta 700 014.
Note: Before deciding to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity you should perhaps make yourself aware of some of the many criticisms of their medical practices. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missionaries_of_Charity#Controversy If you are discouraged, there are many secular charities that operate in Kolkata that would be suitable to volunteer at.
The Green Belt Enjoying a different Kolkata at the :
Maidan : Three km in length and over one km in width, the rambling green is the ‘lung of Calcutta’. Dotted with colourful maidan clubs, the area is a hub of diverse activities.Eden Gardens :
Outram Ghat, Ganges riverfront : A pleasant walk . View the majesty of the busiest bridge in the world, the Howrah Bridge and the Vidyasagar Setu – an awesome structural feat . Or enjoy a cruise on the river in a panshi.
Zoological Garden : Covers 16 hectares of land and built in 1876. The lakes within are a favourite retreat for migratory Siberian birds.
Horticultural Garden : The lush environ is also the venue for exotic plant and flower exhibitions.
Rabindra Sarovar : A park and picnic spot with a central lake and overhanging trees. The rowing regatta events are held here.
THE SPIRITUAL SOJOURN
Birla Temple In the heart of the city and beautifully maintained. Temple Timings are 5:30AM - 11AM and 4:30PM - 9PM.
Kalighat : According to the legend, when Lord Shiva’s wife Parvati’s body was cut up, one of her fingers fell here. Rebuilt in 1809, this is an important shrine of Hindu Shakti worship. The temple is in the southern part of the city.Dakshineswar Kali Temple and Belur Math :
Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture : Commemorates the birth centenary of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Religious discourses and cultural exchanges are held here among international scholars. The institute is located at Golpark. The library here is a major attraction.
Nakhoda Mosque : Modelled on Akbar’s tomb in Sikandra, the red sandstone mosque has two minarets 46 mts high, a brightly painted onion shaped dome and can accommodate 10,000 people. Built in 1926 and located on Chitpur Road.
St John’s Church : Built in 1787 with Grecian columns. The burial ground has the mausoleum of Job Charnock, founder of Calcutta. On the north-west side of Raj Bhavan.St Paul’s Cathedral :
Armenian Church : The oldest place of Christian worship in Calcutta. The church of Holy Nazareth was built in 1764.Among the other churches to visit are St Andrew’s Church. The Old Mission Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.
Jewish Synagogues : The Maghen David Synagogue on Jewish Synagogue Street and the BETHEL on Pollock Street are very old worship houses and a reminder to the cosmopolitan nature of the city.
Parsi Fire Temples : They cater to the religious needs of the prominent Parsi community of Calcutta. Located on Metcalfe Street and Beliaghata.
Japanese Buddhist Temple : Located on the eastern bank of Rabindra Sarovar.
Pareshnath Jain Temple : The temple is an ornate mass of mirrors, coloured stones and glass mosaic, and overlooks a beautiful garden. It is in Shyambazar.
Apart from the above, many colleges of excellence has emerged in the outskirts of the city.
Volunteering is a real option here with several opportunities.
Kolkata is an important trading center for handicrafts produced in Eastern India. Bankura horses, saris from Shantiniketan, and leather goods top the list of Kolkata specialities. It is also famous for its rasgollas and a tin or two as a gift for the folks back home. New Market is probably the most famous place to go shopping but there are bargains everywhere.
Maidan Market for all sport items at cheap price Chandni Market is famous for all small electronical items/gadgets & old reusable electronical products New Market for all kinds of Clothing,Toys,Collectible Shopping needs. Treasure Island is like a muti-storeyed market mainly fulfilling needs of Clothing demands & various other make-up & cosmetic items. Fancy and 5-star market in Khidderpore house all sorts of shipped goods starting from apparels to electronic gadgets.
Real Estate in Kolkata has seen tremendous growth in recent years with a number of big players getting involved in construction. Numerous real estate agencies have come up to take the process of buying and selling properties into a matured property market. This has been further helped by the entry of major internet based property search sites like Homes Located, taking the brokering of properties to the web.
(See district pages for restaurant listings.)
If you consider yourself a foodie, try the Kolkata Food Walk.  It has been recently started by a bunch of food enthusiasts and it's FREE!
Kolkata was famous for having the best restaurants long before Indians in other cities learned to eat out. Many of the restaurants that line the streets in the Esplanade area have been around for more than a hundred years (unfortunately, many also show their age!). Flury's , on Park Street, was once considered the best English bakery in all of Asia and you can almost imagine Joe Stilwell and Lord Mountbatten arguing over who had command over the allied forces in Burma while enjoying tea, scones, and clotted cream! Park Street also houses the famous (but old) "Peter Cat" (their Chello Kebabs are famous) and "Mocambo"
But the joy of food in Kolkata is in its Indian foods. Nizam's (at 23-24 Hogg Street), in New Market, is credited with the invention of the famous Kati Kebab roll and still serves up the best of the best. For Mughlai dishes the best place is 'Arsalan'. It has few branches across the city, the fanous being at Park Circus 7 point crossiing.
Street vendors selling egg rolls/chicken rolls abound and their freshly prepared kati rolls are safe to eat and enjoy. Mughlai Paratha (a paratha stuffed with minced meat) is a Kolkata speciality and can be found in various 'cabins' off Chowringhee Road ( Best is Anadi Cabin,9A Jawahar Lal Nehru Road(Chowringhee).Try Devilled Eggs at Niranjan Agar 279 B chittaranjan Avenue 'Chops', a sort of deep fried ball stuffed with beet and veggies is another peculiarity that you won't find anywhere else in the world. Fuchka, the Kolkata version of paani-puri,but very different than the ones found in Delhi, is available on the streets but be wary of the water!It never troubles the local people and outsiders can safely taste this delicacy as long as they don't drink too much of the water.A few sips will,of course,not cause any harm.
Bangali sweets are famous all over India. Roshogolla (cheese balls dipped in a sugary syrup), Panthua - a fried variant of the same, Roshomalai- the same cheeseballs dipped in creamy sweetened milk, Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt), Shondhesh (several variations available). Try some shops like K.C. Das, Jugal's, Bhim Nag, Nakur Nandy, Sen Mahasoy, Ganguram, Balram Mullick and not to forget Mithai. These are cheap and should be eaten fresh.
Kolkata is also the home of Indian Chinese food (now making inroads in far-off New York!). Chinese restaurants are everywhere so try the Indian variant of hot and sour soup and the famous Indian chinese dish of chilli chicken. The best place to have Chinese is to visit China Town near Tangra - EM Bypass. It serve the best of the chinese dishes and you will find plenty of large, small & medium resturants. Other than China Town, you can try Mainland China, a part of the speciality group which serve authentic chinese food. For fine dining Chinese/ Asian food you could visit Chinoiserie at the Taj Bengal, Pan Asian at ITC Sonar, Zen at The Park Hotel or Baan Thai at The Oberoi Grand.
Bengali food is centered around fish. Macher jhol, literally fish in curry gravy, is a watery fish curry available everywhere and goes well with rice, but Bengalis everywhere swear by the hilsa fish (a variant of shad). Hilsa, lightly marinaded in mustard and steamed is up there with the best fish dishes in the world.
"Oh! Calcutta!" on the fourth Floor of Forum Mall, Elgin Road, serves authentic Bengali food. The specialities are the boneless Hilsa Fish fillet, steamed in a bannana leaf and served with a Mustard Gravy. Many expats, yuppies and affluent Kolkattans frequent this restaurant. The food is great, though bordering on the expensive, and portions usually small. Makes for an interesting evening out, accompanied by the incessant Bengali chatter, so characteristic of Kolkatta.
While it can be difficult to find a restaurant serving authentic Bengali food, today Kolkata has of as many 10 Bengali restaurants. One of the most authentic is Kewpies, situated behind Netaji Bhavan at 2 Elgin Lane. Here, food is served on terra cotta plates with banana leaves. There's also "Aaheli" at Peerless Inn, or the more reasonably priced "Suruchi" at 89 Elliot Road. There is a wide choice of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes with an emphasis on local fish. Thalis (platters) are also available. Still, being invited back to a local's place for a home-cooked meal is the best way to sample Bengali cooking!
6 Ballygunge Place is stituated in South Kolkata and also offers an assortment of Bengali dishes. Bhjohori Maana has 6 outlets across the city. In South Kolkata, the Hindisthan Road outlet (Gariahat) is the best. Taroparbon is situated in Hindusthan Park, and has a large menu.
Kasturi and Rahhuni are eateries, both offering Bangladeshi food and are situated off Free School Street, near Park Street.
Suruchi is an old eatery, which serves only lunch in simple surroundings, and is run by the destitute women of 'The All Bengal Women's Union' at Elliot Road, off Free School Street.
Kolkata also has many excellent vegetarian restaurants ranging from budget to expensive ones. One can find many outlets of "Haldiram's", "Bhikharam", "Tewari Brothers", "Gupta's" serving vegetarians snacks, chaats and sweets. There are also good South Indian restaurants serving crisp dosas, steaming idlis and hot vadas such as "Anand" on the Central Avenue, nearby "Madras Restaurant", "Jyoti Vihar" on the Ho Chi Minh Sarani, "Super Snack Bar" in Alipore & Upper Wood Street, "Garden Cafe" on the Lee Road & Alipore and many others.
For those looking for vegetarian street foods, one can find ubiquitous Jhal Muri (somewhat similar to bhel puri of Mumbai) a concoction of puffed rice mixed with various spices, vegetables & other ingredients available at street vendors all over Kolkata.
If you've had enough of the authentic Calcutta food and want some Italian food with a good ambience, you must visit Fire and Ice Pizzeria on Russell Street. Spaghetti Kitchen in Forum Mall also serves some great food! Mangios in Alipore beside Kookie Jar is also worth checking out.
Kolkata is the epitome of drinking and pubbing. Loads of liquer shops are scattered all around the city, in each and every locality. Kolkata has drinkers of all sorts-the regular working class to the aristocratic Bengali.
Pubbing and night-clubs are also common in Kolkata.
Note:Due to a recent government order all pubs are supposed to shut shop by midnight or max 1am.So start early if you want to club.
For individual hotel listings, please see the the various district pages.
Kolkata has long had a concentration of budget backpacker hotels in the Sudder Street area and many of these are colonial era gems, albeit decaying ones. Budget hotels can also be found around the station in Howrah. Sudder Street is more centrally located but both are well connected by public transport.
There are numerous big budget deluxe 5 star & 4 star hotels around town such as ITC Sonar (near Science city), Taj Bengal, The Oberoi Grand, Park Hotel, Hyatt Regency
British-era clubs such as Tollygunge Club, Calcutta Club (AJC Bose Rd), Saturday Club (Theatre Rd), Bengal Club (Russel St) have lavish rooms for rent. However, they only accept bookings through members.
Public call booths can be found easily throughout the city from where local, national, and international calls can be made. Else local sim card can be used for connectivity.Cell phone coverage is excellent with all major mobile service providers offering their services in the city.
The area dialing code for Kolkata is 33. From overseas dial +91 33 XXXX XXXX, from within India dial 033 XXXX XXXX. For mobile phones, dial +91 XXXXX XXXXX. Kolkata has only one area code (033).
Internet cafes are also available in plenty and charges between 10-25/hour. You need to show your identity card to use internet in those cafes.
Kolkata is reasonably safe, and in general the people are much more friendly and helpful than in any of India's other large cities. Pickpockets and other crimes are not common except in overly crowded places. Kolkata police is very friendly and emergency number is 100. Use common sense while dealing with beggars and touts. Normally people will not approach you to offer favors randomly,except in cases of emergency, trouble or you asked for it, so avoid/decline those who do. From the airport, USE THE SYSTEM in place. Dont try to make your own arrangements outside the terminal. The prepaid taxi service works perfectly. Volvo buses and local Trains are also there. If you need more comfort, get a radio cab (google "Megacabs in Kolkata").
To book train tickets the Foreign Ticket Office is on Fairlie Place - very helpful and efficient service.
Esplanade Bus Station is the Kolkata's main station for inter-state and inter-city buses.
Bhutan. Tucked away in the corner of the bus station is a small Bhutan Government kiosk selling tickets for buses running to the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing. Buses depart at 7PM on Tu, Th and Sa and the 18 hr journey costs Rs 300.