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Kolkata - The City of Joy
The cultural capital of India, Kolkata might be second to Mumbai in terms of size, but its intellectual and artistic heritage puts it in another class entirely. French author Dominique Lapierre wrote a book about Kolkata in 1985 titled City of Joy, but this is far from the only reason why this metropolis enjoys such a nickname. Often remarked as the friendliest city in the whole of India, residents of Kolkata are known to have an incredible sense of happiness no matter what their situation is, whether they live in a palatial hotel or otherwise.
Enjoy a Cup of Chai
Whether at your hotel in the morning, at a regal tea house, or from a street vendor, you’re never far from a cup of chai. Kolkata is undeniably the tea capital of India, where huge shipments of Darjeeling and Assam tea leaves leave the port heading to Europe and beyond. If you want to taste some the most authentic, and cheapest, tea in Kolkata, head to Elgin Road. Here you can take your pick of the dhabas, or roadside stalls, that line the street. Served in a delicate clay cup that replaces the Western equivalent of a disposable paper or foam cup, after you’ve finished your tea you can do as the locals and drop the clay cup to the floor (it will be ground underfoot and might end up filling in a pothole!).
Explore the Magical Museums
Dating back to 1814, the Indian Museum has not changed all that much over the years and still has an old-fashioned charm that you can’t help but enjoy. There are amazing exhibits to see, from ancient Egyptian mummies to relics of the colonial opium trade. You can easily spend all day here, and luckily there are plenty of hotels to stay in nearby. If do you find yourself ready for more, then head to Mother House where you can see the bedroom in which Mother Theresa once slept, her tomb, and a moving exhibition about her selfless work. Ramakrishna Mission Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House and Culture Centre is another Kolkata museum not to miss, where you can learn about this influential Hindu monk who was one of the first people to introduce Indian philosophy and the practice of Yoga to Europe and the United States.
Stroll or Sail the Hooghly
One reason that Kolkata developed into such a large city was thanks to the Hooghly River. When the East India Company sailed up this river and into Bengal they stopped in the area that would become Calcutta and set up a port, once the busiest in all of India. The lifeline of West Bengal, no trip to Kolkata is complete without a trip along the Hooghly. Walk through the sprawling green space of the Maidan to reach Strand Road and the riverfront walking path that hugs the banks of the Hooghly. Here there are a few ghats where you can board a ferry for a boat ride along the river. The most magnificent has to be the Prinsep Ghat built in 1841, with its Greek and Gothic architectural styles that seem more suited to a posh hotel than a river jetty!
Kolkata is home to many amazing buildings, steeped in heritage and unique to the city. On the colonial side, the jewel in the crown has to be the Victoria Memorial, a magnificent white marble masterpiece that took 15 years to build. This historic monument would undoubtedly be considered one of the finest buildings in the country if it wasn’t overshadowed by its dedication to a foreign queen. For distinctly Indian architecture, look no further than the Belur Math religious centre and its centrepiece, the Ramakrishna Mandir Hindu temple. Wandering through the centre of Kolkata reveals a variety of colonial heritage buildings, from grand hotels and centres of government to old book stores and tea rooms. Organise a walk with a tour guide to hear the fascinating stories behind all the crumbling remnants of empire.
Eat Like a Bengali
No visit to Kolkata would be complete without sampling some of the scrumptious local cuisine on offer. Many of the most iconic Kolkata foods are sold by street vendors, so you’ll have to venture outside of your hotel to find the best puchkas and jhal muri. With a filling of green chillies, coriander, cumin, mashed potato, onion, and tamarind, puchkas are a small snack that pack a punch! For something completely different, jhal muri is a combination of puffed rice mixed with onion, chilli, potato, cucumber, tomato, peanuts, and tamarind, along with a variety of special spices. It’s often served in a popcorn-style carton so you can eat it as slowly or quickly as you like!