Kolkata: The Things To Not Miss In The Cultural Capital of India
June 10, 2019
by Angana Bhattacharya
India, the one name that brings about a burst of recollection of colors, cultures, values and lifestyles, is a melting pot steaming as hot with the maddening diversity of her own 29 states and 7 union territories, as with the multifarious interpretations and impressions it has in the minds of the travelers who have visited her, and those who wish to. Despite the mutual and wholehearted appreciation Indians have for the rich cultural and natural history of their country, they are, very proudly, and each justifiably, biased towards their own cultural landscape. As an unabashed example, I would let the eagerness in my fingers take over as I introduce you to the one city closest to my heart, my hometown, Kolkata.
Nicknamed the ‘the City of Joy’, Kolkata is the capital city of the state of West Bengal and is the cultural capital of India. There are numerous aspects that may contribute to defining the city: its old buildings guarding narrow lanes, its blazing summer heat, the rain-kissed leaves on leisurely evenings, or its highways stretching on into infinity.
The following is an attempt to compress into a few points my brimming enthusiasm in sharing with the readers the things they should not miss while visiting the city.
Nestled at the heart of the city is a majestic structure reminiscent of the British India era, the Victoria Memorial. It is a museum comprising 25 galleries elaborately ornamented with fragments of history, fringed by a picturesque garden. It is one of the most popular landmarks of Kolkata.
Dakshineshwar Kali Temple
The Dakshineshwar Kali Temple alongside the river Ganga resonates with the religious sentiment of a wide section of people of Kolkata. Devotees immerse in the spirituality of the place and seek blessings from Goddess Bhavatarini, an aspect of Goddess Kali.
The Belur Math, situated on the West bank of the river Hooghly, is a place of pilgrimage for people from all across the world and belonging to different religions. It is the headquarter of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, which are sacred organizations of apolitical and humanitarian nature operating globally.
The Indian Museum, established in 1814, is one of the most remarkable structures of the country. It has earned the accolade of being the oldest and largest museum in India. It comprises six sections dedicated to the fields of Art, Archaeology, Economic Botany, Anthropology, Geology and Zoology, spanned across 35 grand galleries.
The Prinsep Ghat, named after an Anglo-Indian researcher, is a recreational site by the banks of Hooghly river. With food stalls sprinkled aplenty, it is a popular place where the youth gorge over snacks and memories.
Some of the many other notable structures of Kolkata include St. Paul’s Cathedral, Marble Palace, Shobhabazar Rajbari, and Writer’s Building.
Amusement and Educational Parks
Known as the ‘Disneyland of West Bengal’, the Nicco Park is among the most popular amusement parks of the city. Tourists and locals alike flock to the park’s various attractions including rides like gondolas, toy train, its famous family carousal, as well as its water park and Super Bowl.
The Ecotourism Park, popularly referred to as the Eco Park, earns the crown for being the biggest urban park in India. The emerald green environs interspersed with an elaborate variety of trees and shrubs, has more to it than its greenery. It has for offer a plethora of sports and activities like angling, archery, cycling, duo-cycling, bird watching, floating in a pontoon, e-bike riding, kayaking, paintball, trampolining, water cycling and yet many others.
The Science City is a spectacularly unique hub dedicated to the awe-inspiring wonders of science and technology. Being an absolute favorite among children and adults alike, the educational park and museum has a very special place in the heart of every Kolkatan. Some of its finest attractions include the Space Odyssey which comprises a 3D theater, a “time machine”, and a “Mirror Magic” hall, the Dynamotion Hall, Maritime Centre, Musical Fountain and an Outdoor Science Park, among others. All of these constitute the Earth Exploration Hall. There is also a Science Exploration Hall which displays a digital panorama of human evolution and the science and technology heritage of India.
Boat Ride Underneath the Howrah Bridge
The Howrah bridge is a structure synonymous with the very name of the city. The 17th century cantilever bridge sprawls over the river Hooghly. One of the most enriching experiences one can have in Kolkata is to avail a boat ride across the serene waters underneath the grandeur of the bridge, witnessing the orange of the dusk melt into the blue of the night, while the bridge sheds off the day’s heat and puts on its glittering evening robe.
Star-gazing at Birla Planetarium
The Birla Planetarium hosts an entrapping display of astronomical magic through its sky-shows. It sheds light, quite literally, on the mysteries of the cosmos and has segments explaining the evolution of the Earth and the exploration of Mars. It is the largest planetarium in all of Asia and the second-largest in the world.
Grabbing a Meal at Kolkata Gate
The latest addition to the city’s major marvels, the Kolkata Gate is a symbolic gateway into modern Kolkata. Towering over a crossroads junction in the increasingly popular locale of Narkelbagan, the gateway offers a 360 degrees view of the lush but busy landscape that enfolds it. What is more, the gorgeous circular structure is also a coffee shop during the day which doubles up as a fine dining restaurant by night.
Ask a Kolkatan what Durga Puja means to her, and see how the gleam in her excited eyes lights up the darkest corners in your heart. Durga Puja, or the worship of Goddess Durga, is the festival closest to the soul of the city. Mother Durga is the Goddess of Motherhood and Power and She represents the epic battle and the subsequent victory of Good over Evil. The week long celebration of spirituality, joy, and devotion commences when, as per Hindu culture, Goddess Durga descends the Earth with Her four Children, bestowing Her blessings upon our lives. Durga Puja exists in our hearts as the ever-lasting thread of nostalgia that runs through our veins, defining our lives and culture, and giving us the strength to lead on with our lives, winning it as we can, and never losing hope. The five days of festivities bring together the hearts of people of every age, religion, and nationality, and the city, dressed up as a bride, refuses to sleep for a single moment. The festival that generally takes place in the month of September or October sees the entire city, especially with regards the idols of the deities their marquees, become a breathtaking canvas of the most exquisite, intricate and mesmerizing art imaginable, .
Our unbridled reverence and adoration for the festival transpired into an event of global respect as Durga Puja was nominated in 2019 for acquiring the UNESCO World Heritage status. The festival, most of all, is a celebration of hope, of our culture, our roots, and of the love and togetherness that it fosters among hearts and souls.
Kolkata, thus, is as much about its old, narrow streets and structures that breathe nostalgia as it is about its flight into modernization and development. But what truly defines Kolkata is its emotion, and its determination to adapt to the new while never losing sight of the roots it grew from.