Difference between revisions of "Kolkata"
Revision as of 07:23, 18 August 2014
Kolkata (Bengali:কলকাতা)  (formerly Calcutta) is the capital of West Bengal and the second largest city in India (after Mumbai). If Bangalore is the Seattle of India, than Kolkata is the sub-contintent's New York. It is an 'in your face' city that shocks and charms the unsuspecting visitor. Abject poverty mix inexplicably with crumbling British Raj-era gems, sprawling gardens and historical colleges. Long known as the cultural capital of India, Kolkata continues to spawn generations of poets, writers, film producers and Nobel Prize winners. 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.
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 of in 1772. Job Charnock was widely known as the founder of Calcutta (Sutanuti, Govindapur & Calcutta) but in recent years a number of Indian historians have disputed this claim, arguing that Calcutta 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 24 th 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, Calcutta 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. Calcutta 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, and a violent and bloody Maoist movement (the Naxalite movement) in the 1970s, Calcutta has become synonymous with urban decay and poverty ("New York is deteriorating into New Calcutta," opined an editorial in The New York Times on Dec. 25th, 1988).
Kolkata is the main business, commercial and financial hub of eastern India. Kolkata 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 Kolkata during late nineties. Kolkata is a multicultural, cosmopolitan city. Apart from the diversity of India, the cultures represented are that of the 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 Kolkata from the Trinamul Congress in the 2005 civic elections.
Although the Govt claims that Kolkata is fast developing into a modern infotech city with various private sector companies setting up shop here, it seems the city is stuck somewhere in the 70's. 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 like Inox Multiplexes, Nandan, Tantra, Barista Coffee Shops, Sourav's Pavilion and Science City.
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 Taratolla, Kalyani, Uluberia, Dankuni, Kasba, Howrah are spread throughout the urban agglomeration. A huge leather complex has come up at Bantolla. 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 (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.
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. 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 (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 are under 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 India.
The neglected western side of the urban agglomeration has got a boost recently with the signing of an agreement with Chiputra, an Indonesian company to build the Kolkata West International City (KWIC). Another huge new township is in the proposal state in Dankuni.
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.
Opposition to the setting up of the Nano factory at Shingur, 50 Kms. away from Kolkata, where the Tata's plan to build the cheapest car in the world, threatens to take away a lot of the investments due to come to the state.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport  (IATA: CCU) connects Kolkata with South East Asia and receives some flights from Europe but is surprisingly small for a city of this size and hasn't been refurbished since the 1950s, although it is expected to be updated by 2011. The domestic terminal, on the other hand, is among the best in India. It is undergoing a major face-lift and expansion to cope with the expanding bulk of air traffic and new airline companies popping up almost every month.
Take a prepaid taxi from the airport to the city. It is about 20 km from the city. Expect to pay about Rs. 150-250 depending on your destination. There is 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.
There are two major railway stations in Kolkata - 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. Directly facing Howrah are ferries (Rs. 4) that can get you to the other side of the river either Babu Ghat or Fairlie Place from where you can arrange onward transportation with anything from taxis to public buses to human rickshaws. With the traffic situation this might actually save you time as well as money.
The Foreign Ticket Office is on Fairlie Place (with the main GPO on your left, take the next left - the office is a few minutes walk on the left) - very helpful and efficient service.
Kolkata is well connected by rail to almost all the big stations in India and also serves as the gateway to the North Eastern India. 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. Pre-paid taxis are reliable and will save you money and also the bargaining hassle. However beware of touts who would claim themselves to be running pre-paid taxis. Always collect the receipt from the counter first. The receipt has two parts - one part is for your reference and the other part you will need to handover to the taxi driver only after you reach your desired destination. The Taxi driver will get his payment by submitting or producing this other part to the Pre-paid Taxi counter.
You can find many cabs on the roads or you can always hire one from the numerous taxi stands strewn across the major cities. There are pre paid taxis also available at major railway stations and airports. You can also hire luxury vehicles from certain travel agencies like Carzonrent , Easycabs .
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 owned West Bengal Surface Transport Service Corporation (WBSTSC) and the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation  (BRTC). WBSTSC 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 Rs550 or BDT600-800, roughly $8-12. If you're only headed to Haridaspur the fare is Rs86 (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.
Esplanade Bus Station is the Kolkata's main station for inter-state and inter-city buses.
The river Hooghly that runs through the west of the city offered one of the first reasons to the foundation of the British commercial settlement. The river continues to offer one of the 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. They are extremely safe though. Even if you don't get any exotic manual boats 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.
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 meters are, however, outdated.
The fare is 2 times the reading if the meter is inside, and 4 times the reading if the meter is outside. However, it is almost impossible now to find any meters outside. All Taxi meters are digital ones which are placed inside the cab. The Meter starts from Rs. 10, which means Rs. 20 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 traveling at night. How much more that depends on your bargaining skills, but it should be at most Rs. 10-20 on top of the taxi meter. Unlike other metro cities in India, there is no 50%-100% surcharge for late night hires (10PM-11PM onwards).
If you are lucky enough you can catch an air-conditioned cab, but those are very few in number.
'Blue Arrow' taxis can be called beforehand on the telephone. They are air-conditioned and have separate rates.
Metro Railway, Kolkata  was the first underground rail in India, yet it still has only a single route connecting the north and south of the city, from Dumdum to Garia.It is the cleanest, most reliable, least crowded and most efficient of all the transportation Kolkata has to offer. Trains run every 10-15 minutes and at Rs 5-20.It's very economical. Stops include Esplanade (for Chowringhee), Park Street, Maidan (for Victoria Memorial and Planetarium), Rabindra Sadan and Kalighat.etc
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 traveling between places within the city. They move slow on the laid tracks in traffic jammed streets, but they are environment friendly (no emission). Check their site for routes and schedules.
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. Among the buses that ply the city streets, the deluxe buses run by CSTC (Calcutta State Transport Corporation), CTC (Calcutta Tramways Company) and WBSTC (West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation) are probably the better option. A/C buses are also available to select destinations from near the airport.
Shared auto-rickshaws are available from different points. They travel in fixed routes and the fare is fixed. 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.
Hiring a car
Privately owned rental car places are available throughout 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. Here are contacts of a few rental car agents:
South of BBD Bagh is the huge, lush, green, open parkland known as Maidan. Continuing south from here you will find
The Northern part of Kolkata houses the old buildings belonging to the Zamindars (Landlords), other rich Bengalis who used to trade with the British. It preserves the cultural heritage of Kolkata. The building structures give an impression of the royal people who stayed there. River Ganga is the hot spot for the development of the North along with Kolkata. It is generally crowded and has some interesting markets including the famous Posta, Burrabazar whole sale markets, College Street Book market where you can trace many out of print books with a little patience. While in College Street a visit to the College St Coffee House is a must. Also around the area are the Calcutta Medical College, the Presidency college and Calcutta University.
North of BBD Bagh you will find the
Southern Kolkata is less congested and more modern. You will find more apartment blocks, more green spaces and more affluent homes.
West of the Hooghly
Museums and Galleries
See a variety of preserved specimens that you wouldn't see in the US museums. It is the largest and oldest museum of India. Located near Esplanade it is one of the most important landmark.
Volunteering is a real option here with several options.
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
(See district pages for restaurant listings.)
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!
But the joy of food in Kolkata is in its Indian foods. Nizam's, in New Market, is credited with the invention of the famous Kati Kebab roll and still serves up the best of the best. Street vendors selling egg rolls/chicken rolls abound and their freshly prepared kati rolls are safe to eat and enjoy. Mughali Paratha (a paratha stuffed with minced meat) is a Calcutta speciality and can be found in various 'cabins' off Chowringhee Road. '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. Puchkas, the Calcutta version of paani-puri, is available on the streets but be wary of the water!
Bengali sweets are famous all over India. Rasagolla (cheese balls dipped in a sugary syrup), Pantua - a fried variant of the same, Rosomalai- the same cheeseballs dipped in creamy sweetened milk, Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt), Sandesh (several variations available). Try some shops like K.C. Das, Jugal's, Bhim Nag, Nakur Nandy, Sen Mahasoy, Ganguram 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.
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.
Kastur 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.
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 luxurious and big budget 5 star & 4 star hotels around town. Such as ITC Sonar (near Science city), The Oberoi Grand (Chowringhee), Taj Bengal (Belvedere Road, Alipur), Hyatt Regency (off EM Bypass), The Kenilworth (Russel St), Hotel Hindustan Internation (AJC Bose Rd), The Park (Park St).
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. Tollygunge Club is the ideal place to chill out. Drink chilled draft beer, lie in the outdoor jacuzzi and dine in style at the Belvedere.
there are scores of interenet cafes that have sprung up in every nook and corner of the city. just look for them and you will find them.charges vary at around ~Rs.15 to 25 per hour.
Kolkata is reasonably safe, and in general the people are more friendly and helpful than in many of India's other large cities. One noted problem is the drug dealers around Sudder Street. However, as the dealers obviously do not want to draw undue attention to their activity, they are generally not persistent and rarely a threat.
Embassies and Consulates
EC72,Sector 1, Salt Lake City, Kolkata-700064, West Bengal, India 
Part of the largest littoral mangrove in the world, and home to the famous Bengal Tigers