From Calcutta to Kolkata.... or is it the Bengali’s Kolkata to the anglophiles’ Calcutta, as named by the British. The old struggles with the new here... For a first timer the city may be somewhat daunting, but it grows on you as many will tell... A city is yours with what you make of it. It is no different for Kolkata, the city known for its palaces and mansion. We have listed here suggestions of the important landmark of the city, places of interest that capture the city like no other..... But the best way to enjoy a city is to find your own; so set out, walk the lanes and the streets and the by lanes and discover your own Calcutta or Kolkata.

Victoria Memorial (VM)

The rotating ‘Angel of Victory’ on a revolving shaft atop the central dome of Victoria Memorial (VM) is the most iconic landmark of the city. It might look lithe but at 3 ton and 16 ft in height it’s enormous!

Conceived by the imperialist Lord Curzon in memory the Queen Empress it was built entirely in white makrana marble. Surrounded by acres of lawns, gardens and ponds it attracts many denizens on a hot summer evening. What is not known to many is that the VM is also a 25 gallery museum and has the largest collection of water colors of 19th century colonial chronicled by the Daniell duo − Thomas and his nephew, William, during their pan-India travels, and the country’s largest oil painting, the entry of the Prince of Wales to Jaipur in 1876 measuring 274 by 196 inches. The other most interesting exhibit must be the ‘Calcutta Gallery’ built during the tercentenary of the city; depicting the city’s history from Job Charnock to 1911 when the capital of India shifted to Delhi.

The multi-lingual Son-et-Lumiere is not operational for now.

Fort William

Fort William has the unique distinction of being the only Fort in the world where a gun has never been fired in war or at an enemy but only in a gun salute.

In fact there are two Forts; the older was built in 1696 on the banks of the Hooghly by the British East India Company at the present location of the General Post office (GPO) at Fairly Place. It housed the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta. When the Fort fell to the Nawab’s army in 1756, 146 prisoners were locked up for the night in a guard’s room, many died due to suffocation, the incident came to be known as the Black Hole tragedy. The old Fort was repaired and used as factory and offices including the Customs House from 1766. The present Fort was built by Robert Clive after the battle of Plassey. Spread over an area of 70.9 hectares and surrounded by a dry moat it is huge and is presently the headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. The sprawling green around the Fort, the Maidan is maintained by the army.

From Left: GPO & Sahid Minar From Left: GPO & Sahid Minar

General Post Office – GPO

What catches your eyes about the GPO is this magnificent white building, with a huge conspicuous dome that raises over 220 ft with an attached clock. It is supported by an octagonal base and 28 slender fluted Corinthian columns ending in decorative leafy motifs that scroll along its sides, making it one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

The postal system was introduced in India by Warren Hastings in 1774 and the GPO opened in 1868. It’s considered to be the architect Walter B. Grenville’s best classical composition. He also designed the Indian Museum, Calcutta High Court and the University of Calcutta (later destroyed). It was built on the remains of the first Fort William, almost exactly at the spot where the Black Hole Tragedy happened; an embedded brass plaque marks the spot.

One of the oldest Post Offices in the country, the GPO handles the bulk of the city's inbound and outbound mail and parcels. The Postal Museum started here in 1884 gives a glimpse of the history of the Indian postal system, old post boxes, stamps, stationery of the British and Mughal eras, and other postal paraphernalia. It also has a Philatelic Bureau which is a philatelists’ delight!

Shahid Minar or Ochterlony Monument

Mark Twain famously termed it the “cloud-kissing monument.” Situated at Esplanade overlooking the Brigade Grounds where often political rallies are held, one could mistake the Shahid Minar as Kolkata’s Quttab Minar. Erected in 1828 in memory of Major General Sir David Ochterlony, Commander of the British East India Company, it was rededicated as the ‘Shahid Minar’ or ‘martyrs monument’ in 1969, in memory of the martyrs of the India’s freedom struggle. Architecturally, Ottoman in style, it is 157 ft in height and you have to climb 218 steps to get to the top for the most magnificent panoramic view of the Maidan and the Calcutta skyline. In 1997, after a tourist jumped off the monument to his death, it is mandatory to get permission from Lal Bazar Police Head Quarter to climb to the top. Renovated and lit up it looks very romantic in the evening.

From Left: Calcutta High Court, Marble Palace
From Left: Calcutta High Court, Marble Palace

Calcutta High Court

The Calcutta High Court is the oldest High Court in India. It was established as the High Court of Judicature at Fort William on 1 July 1862. It has jurisdiction over the state of West Bengal and the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was preceded by the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William.

The Neo-Gothic High Court building was modelled on the 13th-century Cloth Hall at Ypres, Belgium. After the original building at Ypres was destroyed in1914, the remodelling architects visited Calcutta to rebuild the original to its former glory, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The High Court Library has an unparalleled collection of handwritten archival material, documents, rare books and Bare Acts, journals, online and off line database. The Sesquicentenary of this building was celebrated in 2012.

Marble Palace or Mullick Bari

No prizes for guessing why Lord Minto named it the Marble Palace! One hundred and twenty six types of colorful Italian marble make up the walls and floors of this opulent mansion built by Raja Rajendra Mullick in 1835. Architecturally, a curious medley of traditional Bengali, Oriental and Neoclassical, the enormous surrounding ground once housed India’s first zoo, of which only the aviary remains.  The Palace is known for its eclectic collection of statues, sculptures, clocks, western furniture, chandelier and more, mostly gifted to the Raja.

The Painting Room is most famous for housing some of Kolkata’s collection of impressionist art; and includes Rubens' The Marriage of St. Catherine and Amazon's War, Murillo's The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, Sir Joshua Reynolds’ The Infant Hercules Strangling the Serpent, and Venus and Cupid, and John Opie's Shower of Gold amongst others.

Writers Building
Writers Building

Writers Building

Perhaps no other structure has been a better witness to the city than the ‘Writers Building’ or just ‘Writers’ since its initiation in 1780. Designed by Thomas Lyon, a former carpenter in England it was constructed by the East India Co (EIC) to house the 14, 15 year-old clerks and writers,   fresh from England, who, supposedly, had some wild parties within its precinct. Earlier the lads were housed in mud shanties inside the first Fort.

The skeleton of the original building still remains with outward changes; firstly in 1800 to accommodate Fort William College and the Government Engineering College and again in 1858 after the 1st Parliamentary Act, it was expanded in French Renaissance style to house the new Secretariat. The red-surface of exposed brick that we see now was included between 1879 and 1906 when the Writers’ acquired its Greco-Roman look. Presently it stretches across 2.8 acers, comprising thirteen, four-storied buildings across 10 acers of land and employs approximately 6,000 people.

In 1930, Benoy Basu, Badal Gupta and Dinesh Gupta laid siege to the building killing the notorious IG of Police, Colonel N.S. Simpson, and lost their lives in the aftermath. The area now is dedicated to them as Benoy Badal Dinesh (BBD) Bag.

Eden Garden Park

For most Indians, Eden Gardens means the famous cricketing stadium in Kolkata. Few know that the stadium is named after the park on the opposite side. Built during the time of Governor-General Lord Auckland in 1841, the Eden Garden Park was named after his two sisters Emily and Fanny Eden, more likely the former who was an author in her own right, comparable to Jane Austen. One of the oldest parks in the city spread across an area of 50 acres, it has a large pond and some very old mango, banyan and mahoganies trees which provide shady coves and pathways. Beyond the manicured lawns is the gold and red Burmese Pagoda brought from Prome in Burma by Lord Dalhousie in 1856. A place well-worth a visit but do ensure you go on a non-match day if you really want to enjoy its tranquillity.

Howrah Bridge
Howrah Bridge

Howrah Bridge

It was immortalized in the movie ‘Howrah Bridge’, where much of the action was played against the backdrop of this iconic bridge connecting the city of Kolkata with Howrah and the Station on the other side of the Hooghly. It has featured in countless other films as well, including Roland Joffé’s ‘City of Joy’.

Previously a pontoon bridge it took 7 years to complete at a cost of Rs. 333 Crore before it was opened to the public in 1943. It is the largest single-span bridge in the world at a length of 1528 ft and a width of 62 ft with 7 ft wide pedestrian pathway on both sides. Built with 26,500 tons of high-tensile steel, supplied by Tata Steel, it is supported by piers on either end. A cantilever suspension bridge without nuts and bolts it is held together by riveting the steel; an engineering feat at its time, and still remains a marvel. The bridge daily ferries 100,000 vehicles (approx) and 150,000 plus pedestrians. It’s subject to constant erosion and damage by usage including by bird droppings compelling the Kolkata Port Trust to spend Rs. 5,00,000 annually towards its maintenance.

Sri Aurobindo Bhavan

A scholar, a revolutionary, a yogi in that order; Sri Aurobindo Ghosh was born in an illustrious Bengali family at the present address of Aurobindo Bhavan on Shakespeare Sarani. Sent to England for his education, upon return he joined the Baroda College. Post Partition of Bengal he plunged headlong into the nationalistic movement and was implicated in the famous Alipore Bomb case. As an under-trial prisoner in solitary confinement he dreamt of divine intervention and upon his release he moved to Pondicherry where he founded the Aurobindo Ashram.

The Bhavan houses the sacred relics of the rishi; the memorial shrine has become a place of pilgrimage. A serene place at the heart of the city, with an open-air meditation space, which you can use individually on your own or join the half-hour group meditations. Additionally, it has a lending library with an excellent children’s section, lessons in classical Indian dance, customised yoga classes, lectures and cultural activities. It also has a store stocking typical Auroville products, scented candles, incense and handicraft items including excellent quality groceries such as honey, spices, sauces, and pickles etc.

National Library
National Library

The National Library

The story goes... on a full moon night after closing hours the ghost of Lord Warren Hasting visits his former home on a phaeton, one can hear the clip clop of the horse and then the Governor- General disembarks and the sounds of his boots go up the porch steps. There are other ghost stories too attached to this palatial building on Belvedere Estate which was the former home of the Governor-General of British India and now houses the largest library in the country - The National Library of India. The original building was built by Mir Jafar in 1760 and handed over to Warren Hastings, perhaps as part of the war indemnity after the Battle of Buxar.

The former Calcutta Public Library was merged with The Imperial Library and opened to the public by Lord Curzon at the Metcalf Hall on 30th January 1903. This was renamed ‘The National Library of India’ post-independence, and shifted to the present address. A beautiful public library on a scenic 30 acer estate it has over 2.2 million books, some extremely rare, 86,000 maps, and 3,200 manuscripts, an unbelievable 45 km of shelf space and can accommodate over 550 people at a time.

Jorasanko Thakur Bari

Tagore’s ‘Chele Bela’ – ‘Reminiscence of Childhood’ narrates his childhood in this house his ancestral home at Jorashanko Thakurbari (as this palatial building is known) – name etymology, the twin Shankar (Shiva) temples close by, was built by Rabindranath’s grandfather Prince Dwarkanath Tagore in 1785 on land donated by Vaishnav Das Sett of Burrabazar. It was here that the world-renowned poet of Bengal was born, spent a large part of his childhood and also passed away.

Perhaps no other family in the annals of Indian history had such charismatic members who influenced the history, politics and culture of the nation more than the Tagores of Jorashanko. Spread over 35,000 square meters, the house is a museum and a tribute to them. It has three galleries dedicated to the poet laureate and other illustrious members of his family such as his father Maharishi Devendranath Tagore, and brothers Jyotirindranath, Abanindranath and Dinendranath Tagore and to the Bengal Renaissance.

The building also houses the Rabindra Bharati University, inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru on Tagore’s birth centenary on 8 May 1962.

race-course
Race Course

Calcutta Race Course

One of the outstanding monuments of the city is the Calcutta Race Course which has a long and glamorous history. The British, credited with creating so many race tracks around the world, set up the city facility over 200 years ago. It is arguably one of the most picturesque on the globe with the rolling grass of the Maidan (large lawns) and the Victoria Memorial serving as backdrops and a tradition of British jockeys and trainers as regular visitors. The romance was further enhanced by numerous visits from nobility from around the world culminating in the visit by Queen Elizabeth II in 1961, pictures of which event still gracing the walls of the Clubhouse.

While Russell Street used to house the headquarters of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, now it all functions from the sprawling buildings on the course.  It is, in fact, an island of green amidst the bustling city. It boasts of a magnificent monsoon track which can survive any amount of rain, very rare in the racing world.

The Birla Planetarium

The Birla Planetarium or the popularly known Taramandal on the southern end of Chowringhee besides the St Paul Cathedral was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1963. Built like a stupa the dome above replicates the night sky.

Presently the planetarium is under renovation till Aug 2016. 

Town Hall
Town Hall

The Town Hall

A place for ‘gup-shup’, the Town Hall was built by the British in 1813 to give the white populace a place for a tête-à-tête. The two-storied building was originally used for public meetings, receptions, balls, and concerts held on the upper floor which’s boarded with teak and a thirty-feet-high ceiling. Built in the Doric style by the architect and engineer Maj. Gen. John Garstin, it has steps leading to a grand portico in front while the carriage entrance is at the back.

The Hall was a witness to many historical events − JC Bose demonstrated his microwave optic experiment here; people gathered to celebrate Swami Vivekananda’s speech at Chicago World Religion Congress, the first protest against the Partition of Bengal was initiated and Rabindranath Tagore’s 70th birthday was celebrated here. After independence, the building ran to seed till around 1998 when the ASI and the Calcutta High Court intervened. The Kolkata Museum was opened to the public in 2002; this state-of-the-art museum is a walk through on the history of the city and its tumultuous moment in the fight for India’s freedom.

The Town Hall Library within the precinct has in its collection about 12,000 books and journals and some very rare ones at that.

The Missionaries of Charity

She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, on 26 August 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, of Albanian parents and went on to find perhaps the most famous and largest charitable missionary in the world The Missionaries of Charity putting Calcutta on the tourist map for totally new kind of tourists, for whom the city is a Mecca for serving the ‘poorest of the poor’. Started in 1950 by Mother Teresa, The Missionaries of Charity now includes more than 4,500 sisters in about 133 countries. In Kolkata alone, there are 19 homes where services are provided without charges. It embraces in its folds refugees, ex-sex workers, destitute, mentally-challenged patients, sick and orphaned children, lepers, AIDS sufferers, the aged, and convalescent.

Mothers House, where Mother Teresa lived during her life time is perhaps the most well-known with constant visitors (mostly Christian pilgrims) coming to pay homage at her tomb. A small adjacent room displays her worn sandals and battered enamel dinner bowl. Upstairs is her unassuming bedroom where she worked and slept from 1953 to 1997.

new-market

New Market

It is said that you canfind anything from a needle to Tigers’ milk in New Market. Despite the mushrooming of shopping malls and arcades, Calcutta’s first municipal market can still hold its own. The old Fenwick’s Bazaar was razed to design this Victorian Gothic market complex by Richard Roskell Bayne, an architect of the East Indian Railway Company exclusively for the white populace in 1874. Located on Lindsay St, it’s officially Sir Stuart Hogg Market (1903) or Hogg Market, but the popular name ‘New Market’ remains.

Over time about 2,000 shops have made it their home. Florists are located near the entrance, A. Bose Pvt. Ltd. (1874) being the most renowned of the lot. Fresh and preserved foods are sold towards the rear and beyond are the butchers. Until the mid-1970s, a separate wing at the back sold exotic animals supplied from across the British Empire.

Some shops here are iconic, like Nahoum & Sons (estd. 1902),l a family business started by one of the last Jewish families of the city. Renowned saree shops are, Dayaram & Co. (estd. 1908), Bombay Silk House and Ghanashyam and Pumposh-Kashmir Shawl Emporium (estb.1935). The market survived a devastating fire in 1985 when the renovated extension at the back happened.

Indian Museum

April 1st is not always a day for playing practical jokes on people, certainly not the Indian Museum, which was established at its present venue on erstwhile Chowringhee Road on that date in 1878. Earlier housed at the Asiatic Society building on Park Street, it is the mother of all modern museums in India and still remains the largest in the Asia-Pacific region. Often referred to as the ‘Jaadu Ghar’ because of its eclectic and magical collection; it houses the three-lion Ashoka pillar, the official emblem of the Republic of India. The famous Bharhut gate sculpture is perhaps the museum’s most prized collection. A fine example of post Mauryan Buddhist art the Eastern Gateway and railings of the Stupa reassembled here narrates the jataka tales. Exquisite columns, panels and friezes in red sandstone, depicting life-size luscious figurines absolutely fascinate you. If stones could speak, these figures would tell you tales!

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