24 hours in Kolkata
Written by N Khanna
Widely considered the cultural capital of India, Kolkata is situated on the banks of the river Hooghly in the eastern state of West Bengal. Rich in colonial charm, it houses two landmark bridges, noteworthy palaces, and cathedrals, as well as bustling markets and a colourful tramline. Historically, it has always been at the forefront of modern thought and creativity. In recent years, this has given birth to a new breed of designers and artists who are taking the entire country by storm. Heritage structures, public festivals, and indigenous cuisine all compete for attention in this artistic city.
The Oberoi Grand is a peaceful oasis despite being located in the heart of the city. This Victorian-style hotel has a refreshing poolside venue, which offers excellent fondue, private dinners, and early morning yoga classes.
Start the day with a trip to the photogenic flower market, where you’ll see hundreds of marigolds, tuberoses, and lilies blooming against a chaotic backdrop of wrestling tents, religious ceremonies, masseurs, and barbers.
Flury’s (Park Street) is an old Kolkata institution serving English breakfast and Swiss confectionery. Bubbling with nostalgia, the menu still serves dishes from the 1920s and an excellent pot of Darjeeling tea.
India’s premier fashion designer, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, had his humble beginnings in Kolkata. His quirky store displays an exquisite range where craftsmanship is proudly displayed on natural fabrics.
Mullick Bari is an old landlord’s house converted to a museum; complete with Greek statues and Corinthian pillars. Nearby is Jora Sanko Thakur Bari, home of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Eu Chew is a legendary stop near Kolkata’s old Chinatown. Its signature dishes are chimney soup (served in metal dishes with fire below), with sizzling chicken and Josephine noodles.
Book a heritage walk tour at calcuttawalks.com. They cover everything from Colonial Calcutta to the Kali goddess temples, and offer cycle tours on Sundays and early mornings.
The Academy of Fine Arts boasts the largest art space in India. Paintings from M. F. Hussain, Jamini Roy, and others are showcased in their galleries. There are also sketching and sculpting studios in their gardens.
End with a traditional meal at Kewpie’s Kitchen, where food is served in rustic earthenware. Try daab chingri (coconut prawns) and bhekti paturi (steamed fish) for a taste of Bengal’s famed seafood.
Distance: 3,748 km
Flight Time: 5 hours
For a cool and comfortable ride, you can hire a range of chauffeur-driven cars at fairly reasonable prices. Most drivers will know major landmarks and tourist destinations, and may even divulge some local secrets.
Kolkata cabs appear old-school but are widely available and payable by meter. There’s also a new, more comfortable fleet of ’no refusal‘ cabs which will not refuse passengers, whatever the time or weather conditions.
The Kolkata Metro is the oldest underground subway system in India and an efficient way to beat peak-hour traffic. It spans the length of the city, and five additional lines are under construction.
This is the only city in India to have an iconic tram network, albeit a slow-moving one which is restricted to certain areas only. Hop on if you have time to spare and want an old-world transport experience.