india travels: wandering calcutta.

i spent a month in calcutta back in 2007 to get certified to teach english as a foreign language, but between classes and lesson plans and teaching practice – and being down with the flu for a week – i barely got to see anything of the city. a group of us spent one saturday fitting in as much as we could – kalighat, victoria memorial, tagore’s childhood home, and lunch on the floating restaurant [not good and wildly overpriced, by the way] – but i never really got my bearings in the city, which was why i was excited to return this month.

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beautiful buildings next to college square. calcutta, india. december 2015.

luckily for me i now have friends and colleagues in the city who had recommendations and who graciously offered to host me and wander around with me. this allowed me to see places on my list as well as others i had never heard of before.

time was at a premium on this trip, so i was limited in what i got to see. but the point is that i had a great time and had the opportunity to catch up with old and new friends, and that’s what really matters.

below are the highlights from my trip:

an evening visit to prinsep ghat.

prinsep ghat, built in honour of james prinsep, sits on the banks of the hooghly river and is a beautiful sight to see in the evening when it is all lit up. the lawn looks great for picnics, and the palladian porch would be a great setting for taking family or wedding photos. jayeeta and i wanted to go for a boat ride on the river, but it was quite expensive, so we settled for a leisurely stroll along the footpath instead. we people-watched, we checked out all the food and goodies for sale, and we took photos of the boats on the river and of the howrah bridge. definitely a cool place to see.

a late morning stroll through south park street cemetery.

i have been wanting to visit the south park street cemetery since i read this roads & kingdoms article earlier this year, and i put it at the top of my list when priyanka and deboo set their wedding date. as luck would have it, sneha had just helped set up an exhibit by local high school students inside the cemetery, so she showed jayeeta and me around on thursday morning. the cemetery itself is a beautiful place to wander around, with the gorgeous tombs built to honour those who have passed on. it was interesting to read the epitaphs and wonder about the lives of the people who are buried there, and the exhibit really enhanced that experience. the exhibit unfortunately ended just after i left, but the cemetery itself is nonetheless an amazing piece of history in the heart of the city.

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the outside of the marble palace. calcutta, india. december 2015.

seeing the exterior of the marble palace.

after hearing sneha’s description of the collection inside the marble palace, i was very intrigued to visit. sadly for us, the palace and grounds are closed on thursday, so we were unable to venture inside. the building itself is stunning, and i really would have loved to have a wander inside, but i guess i’ll have to save that for a future visit [note to self: check timings next time]. and although photographs are not allowed, i snuck the above shot while the guard was busy shouting at someone else.

enjoying a dub sarbat at paramount.

when we reached college street, jayeeta mentioned a hole-in-the-wall place called paramount, famous in calcutta for their sherbets. sneha and i both love visiting local places like this, so we headed over to check it out. paramount’s most well-known drink is the dub sarbat – tender coconut – so that is what jayeeta and i opted for. after trying a sip of mine, sneha buckled and ordered one for herself as well. it was so delicious and refreshing, and if i hadn’t been so full from our lunch i would have had another.

browsing the book stalls on college street.

college street is like nothing i’ve ever seen before. on both sides of the road, stretching for about two city blocks, are stalls upon stalls of books. and not just any books, but primarily textbooks. i never knew the textbook trade in calcutta was so lucrative, but the men sit or stand at their stalls and beckon passerby to look through their collections all through the day and into the evening. i saw old indian textbooks leaning against new kaplan gre and lsat study guides, and i saw question papers from the last 30 years for students to use in preparation for end-of-year exams [which take place in december for most schools in calcutta]. in between we found a few who were selling novels and biographies and coffee table books, but for the most part it was textbooks, textbooks, and more textbooks. definitely a sight to see.

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the pool at college square. i can’t imagine what it must have looked like fifty years ago. calcutta, india. december 2015.

what i missed:

sadly, i ran out of time and missed out on a few things, but i guess that just means i’ll have to go back one day! on my next visit i would like to:

  • see the inside of the marble palace.
  • wander through new market.
  • take a tram ride.
  • eat roadside momos! [still gutted i forgot about this one]
  • have a bengali thali. [hey, that rhymes!]

calcutta is a pretty cool city, especially when you have friends to offer suggestions and to take you around. i will definitely be back one day.

have you ever been to calcutta? what else should i add to my list?


4 thoughts on “india travels: wandering calcutta.

  1. Tim Blight says:

    Oh I love Kolkata! THank you for all the memories. I can’t remember the name of the place I loved the most, but it was an old city area, and there was a big mosque in the centre. It was like “MMR Area” or something – so atmospheric ❤


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