Ever wondered why of all places a City of sluggish trams and lazy hand pulled rickshaws and occasional “Cholchhe Na Cholbey Na”s, was blessed with the sweet-tag of “City of Joy”? For that matter is Delhi or any other city in India any less fun? I have spent an endearing childhood and a lovely adolescence in Delhi and it was all so much fun, but even then, I could never tag Delhi as the “City of joy”. I couldn't do so primarily because:
1. In Delhi fish markets would be like specialty appendixes to the elaborate Subzi Markets. In Kolkata, Subzi Markets are ornamental appendixes to the elaborate Fish Markets. Essence of Kolkata’s philosophical existence.
2. Peace is Daal Bhaat. Happiness is Mangsho Bhaat. Thumb Rule. No City thrives on a thumb rule that is simpler.
3. It is almost unconstitutional in Kolkata to indulge in less than four winter picnics. Unlike in any other place.
4. As a Bengali settled in Delhi, I thought Durga Pujo flavor is something that would linger on your mind for 7 days. But my current stay in Kolkata has convinced me that a Year has two halves: One half when you wait anxiously for Pujo. Second half when you Plan and execute your Pujo. Simple.
5. You get to speak in a Language that has “Bhalobasha” in it: 24 X 7.
Now that I live in the city, I know its attitude , flavour and joy. Following is a list of places where I would visit on a day's city tour of Kolkata:
Inside a taxi .
I am not an early riser but to enjoy a walk from Maidan (Brigade parade ground) to Victoria Memorial it is worth waking up at six and feel the mist on these lush green grounds.They serve joggers, aspiring cricketers and footballers and many strollers like me with greenery all around and fresh air, may be that is why it is also called “Lungs of Kolkata”.
Its vast stretch of area covers Race course to Eden Gardens. One can also enjoy a tram or a horse cartridge ride surrounding these grounds during the day. After walking for couple of kilometers I would need to fuel my stomach and for that will park myself at Flury's for breakfast.
My next destination would be College Street. From Park Street one can take a bus or taxi to reach there or can walk upto chowringhee and take a metro from Esplanade station.
Chowringhee, the place crafted by Englishmen in mid eighteenth century with magnificent buildings and streets connecting it (then gobindapur) with other two villages Sutanuti and Kolikata. These 150+ years old buildings are still in existence and are occupied with both private and government offices and banks. To name a few prominent buildings like Writers Building, Royal Exchange (once home of Sir Robert Clive), and GPO etc are standing tall in between Chowringhee to Dalhousie Square (now BBD Bag).
College Street is 5 mins walk away from Central Metro station via Colootola .If Dalhousie is heart of the city then College Street is its beats. Coolotolla is the place where you get various editions of decade old magazines to tattered switched novels at a price of 15 to 20 rupees after hard bargain. These stalls on the pavement have never disappointed me on my search. After all College street is the largest second hand book market in the world.Three things that I will never miss having if I am in College Street are Sherbat from Paramount, a coconut sweetmeat of Putiram and আমেজ (charming Bengali word for flavour of the mind) [read espresso ] of Coffee House.
From College Street my journey would move further to north of Kolkata, crossing Shaymbazar, Cossipore to reach Dakhineswar. These colonies are one of the oldest in the city. The residential plots are still the old houses from British era. They run parallel to river Hoogly (distributary of Ganga). So the commuters have an advantage of using water transports in addition to road. Dakhineswar Kali temple was built by Rani Rashmoni who appointed Ramakrishna Parmahansa as its chief priest. Every year on 1st of January it holds Kalpataru Festival. The day when Ramakrishna revealed about his incarnation and turned into a wish fulfilling tree.
Dakhineswar is a religious place but I will be visiting it for a different purpose i.e. to have a mesmerizing steamer ride; crossin gwide Ganga to reach other side of it. Usually I prefer evening time, when the sun is about to set, and its vermilion shades are floating over the river along with strands of hyacinth.On the other side of the river lies famous Belur Math founded by Swami Vivekanda. This Piece of architecture resembles of a temple, a church, a mosque if seen from different position. It lies on the west bank of river Hoogly. One should not miss its evening arti in the hall. The aura of those thirty minutes is inexplicable in words.
My last destination of day’s travel would be New Market from Belur Math. There are local trains in morning and evening those ply in between Howrah and Belur Math. After reaching Howrah usual options are to take direct bus or taxi to New Market. However, I would prefer taking launch (vessels) from ferry ghat to cross the river. It is a beautiful experience to stand on its deck and watch the Howrah Bridge while the cool breeze ruffles your hair. After crossing the river, one can take any Esplanade bound bus to reach the market.
New market also known as Hogg Saheber Bajar, named after Sir Stuart Hogg in 1903. Here also one can find buildings built by Britishers.The market area was developed by them and it is kept intact.
From Georgettes to imported Georgia coffee, everything is there to shop for. I generally buy fruits (those are not available in my colony market), fabrics, silver earrings and perfumes from here.
I would pick up a fruit cake from Nahoum's for my family and would conclude the tiring yet beautiful day on a plate of Aminia's Biriyani.