During the British colonial era from 1700 to 1912, when Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) was the capital of British India, Kolkata witnessed a spate of frenzied construction activity of buildings largely influenced by the conscious intermingling of Neo-Gothic, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Oriental and Islamic schools of design. Unlike many north Indian cities, whose construction stresses minimalism, the layout of much of the architectural variety in Kolkata owes its origins to European styles and tastes imported by the British and, to a much lesser extent, the Portuguese and French.
The buildings were designed and inspired by the tastes of the English gentleman around and the aspiring Bengali Babu (literally, a nouveau riche Bengali who aspired to cultivation of English etiquette, manners and custom, as such practices were favourable to monetary gains from the British).
Today, many of these structures are in various stages of decay. Some of the major buildings of this period are well maintained and several buildings have been declared as heritage structures. Conservation efforts are patchy and are often affected by problems of litigation, tenant troubles, ownership disputes, old tenancy laws and a lack of funds.
The metropolitan city of Calcutta in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal extends between the latitude 22°82' N and longitude 88°20' E. The city is well connected to the other cities of India through train, bus, and air services. Most of the countries in the Asia have flight links to the city.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
As Calcutta is near the sea, the city has uniform temperature throughout the year. The temperature ranges from 12-27°C in the winter and 24-38°C in the summer. Annual rainfall is around 160 cm. Humidity level can be very high in the summers and can make one's life difficult.
Tour to Kolkata Victoria Memorial is a huge white-marble structure and the most enduring of remains of the British Raj in India. The structure, which is now floodlit in the night, gives a fascinating site. It has been now converted in a museum that houses the most impressive collection of memorabilia's from the days of Raj.
Indian Museum, built in 1874, has a beautiful structure. The oldest museum in India, it has one of the rare collections of archeological. The entrance to the museum houses an original Lion Capitol, the national symbol of India. The museum is opened all days of the week except Monday. The normal timing is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fort William was constructed in 1781 after the unfortunate happenings of 1756 in which many British soldiers with their families were killed by Siraj-Ud-Daula. Large area around the village of Govindpur was cleared off the forests and this fort was constructed, which for some time also lent its name to the city. The fort is still in use and visitors are allowed inside only after getting special permits. The area around the fort is a very large patch of green known as the Maidan (ground). The Maidan is also known as the lung of Calcutta and stretches 1 km in width and 3 km in length.
Eden Garden, located in the northwest corner of the city, is a small and pleasantly laid-out garden. The place also houses the renowned cricket ground by the same name.
Birla Planetarium is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and a good place to enjoy oneself. Regular shows in Hindi and English are held here.
Kali Mandir is the temple dedicated to Kali, goddess of destruction. This is the temple from which the old village Kalikata took its name, which, in turn, also gave the city its name.
Howrah Bridge is an excellent example of engineering techniques of the early 20th century. The whole bridge is 450 m long without any pylon in the river. The bridge also has the distinction of being the busiest bridge in the world catering to around 100,000 vehicles and innumerable pedestrians.
When Calcutta was the capital of British India, BBD Bagh was the center of power. This is the place that houses the now famous Writer's Building (clerks were known as writers in the British India) and the old Fort William.
Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission, is situated in the north of the city. The place was founded in 1899 and houses a structure that was designed to be a church, temple, and mosque all in one.
Other important sites that can be visited are Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, Botanical Garden, Marble Palace, Tagore House, Church of St John, Nakhoda Mosque, Raj Bhawan, Town Hall, and St. Paul's Cathedral.
PLACES AROUND CALCUTTA
Tour to Kolkata The most popular place to visit around Calcutta is Shanti Niketan. Situated 136 km northwest of the city, this is the place where Rabindranath Tagore lived and established a university.
Bishnupur, 100 km northwest of Calcutta, is yet another exciting and hitherto unexplored holiday destination. Bishnupur houses unique terracotta temples, each more beautifully embellished than the other. Once the capital of the Malla kings, Bishnupur is renowned for its crafts such as intricate Balucheri saris, the rare ganijifa (circular Indian playing card), delicate carving on shells and bell metal artifacts.
Chandernagar (35 km) is the former French settlement that still abounds in buildings from that period of history. The important places to visit are the Quai Dupleix, Eglise Du Sacre, and image of Joan of Arc.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS
To know and understand Calcutta in its eternity, one is invited to the city during Durga Puja-a time when Calcutta becomes unforgettable. Every year, for four days, Calcutta forgets its worries and yields to a paroxysm of celebration and worship. This special time of the year comes just before the full moon in late September or October. This is a special occasion because of the transcendent place Goddess Durga holds in the Bengali imagination.
Saraswati Puja is the celebration of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. The festival is celebrated just before the coming of spring in the months of January or February.
Calcutta Book Fair is the largest in Asia and provides ample opportunities to the bibliophiles to explore the fascinating world of books. The event is held every year in the month of January or February.
Poush Mela is celebrated in the Shanti Niketan usually on the 22nd or 23rd of December. The three-day function marks the foundation of Shanti Niketan.
Other important festivals celebrated in the city are Kali Puja, Diwali, and Holi.
WHERE TO STAY
With the growth of the city, Calcutta provides very good choices in accommodation. Every income group has wide spectrum of accommodation to choose from. The hotels are convenient and provide all the modern facilities.
HOW TO REACH
BY ROAD - Calcutta is connected with most of the Indian cities by road. The Esplanade Terminus in the heart of the city is the main bus terminus. A new development is the starting of Dhaka-Calcutta bus service. The buses are colorful, air-conditioned, and comfortable.
BY RAIL - Trains from the other parts of the country connect Calcutta. Super-fast trains such as Rajdhani Express and Shatabdi Express join the city from Delhi and nearby cities such as Bokaro and Rourkela. Coromandel Express and Gitanjali Express connect Calcutta to Chennai and Mumbai respectively. The city has two major railway stations-one at Howrah and the other at Sealdah.
BY AIR - Most of the domestic airlines have direct services to and from Calcutta to other important cities of India such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Patna, Varanasi, Lucknow, etc. Calcutta provides direct flights to most of the countries in the Southeast Asia. The airport in Calcutta is situated at Dumdum, around 17 km northeast of the city center.
BY WATER - Mechanized boats and ships are available on a regular basis for Andaman & Nicobar Islands. One should contact the offices of the Shipping Corporation of India on 13, Strand Road for more information on schedules. Luxury cruises are also operational between Calcutta and Haldia, a modern port city nearby.
LOCAL TRANSPORT - For local transport, Calcutta Metro is India's first and only underground railway network and a good option to move around the city. Trains run from 8:15 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. on Monday to Saturday and 3 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. on Sunday. Other options to explore the city are taxis, trams, and buses. The services are basic and crowded but cheap.