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Madhurima Vidyarthi

  • Writer's pictureMadhurima Vidyarthi

A Walk Through Kolkata



INTRODUCTION:

Travel begins at home. Which is why the first of my travel posts are about Calcutta, a beloved city! There is no end to exploration in Calcutta, no end to the discoveries that can be made.

This piece was originally written three years ago for the commemorative brochure of a medical conference. It was meant to serve as an introduction to the city for foreign delegates and all those who were visiting it for the first time. Sometimes that includes us, who have lived here all our lives. Enjoy this walk through the city. The choice of illustrations, deliberately avoiding photographs, is taken from two eternal favourites: An Artist's Impression by Desmond Doig and Kolkata, Ekaal O Sekaal by Rathin Mitra.



KOLKATA

The Strand


Welcome to Kolkata. The City of joy. Of maach, mishti and more. The City of

Palaces with its grand colonial architecture and its vibrant arts scene.


Kolkata, or Calcutta, as it was known previously sits on the east bank of the

Hooghly and has been a great melting pot over the centuries. Today it retains its

place as the commercial, intellectual and cultural capital of East India. A true

metropolis.


Let us start with the iconic Victoria Memorial, the prime stop for most first-time

visitors to the city. Set on the Maidan, in 64 acres of lush gardens, its Angel of

Victory has become one of the most durable symbols of the city. Constructed

between 1906 and 1921 as a memorial to the Empress of India, it now houses a

museum and is a favourite destination for academic and cultural events throughout

the year.

St. Paul's Cathedral


Look east from the Victoria Memorial and you will see the marvellous Gothic

edifice of St Paul’s Cathedral. Completed in 1847, it was built to replace St John’s

Church, which by then had become too small for the burgeoning European presence

in the city. Continue along Cathedral Road in the so-called island of attractions’,

which includes Nandan – a film and cultural centre with its trademark Satyajit Ray

logo, Rabindra Sadan and the newly refurbished Birla Planetarium. The Rabindra

Sadan Complex includes the Rabindra Sadan auditorium, Nandan, The Paschimbanga

Bangla Akademi, Gaganendra Prodorshonshala, and Sisir Mancha among others

making it the heart of the performing arts scape in the city. On the other side of

the cathedral is Birla Planetarium, built loosely in the style of the Buddhist Stupa

at Sanchi, it is held to be the largest planetarium in Asia and the second largest in

the world.

Turf Club


An imposing backdrop here is the Calcutta Race Course with the Royal Calcutta

Turf Club. Founded in 1847 it became the premier horse racing organisation during

the British Raj, governing almost all the racing courses in the sub-continent. Then cross over the historic but less well-known Zeerut Bridge opposite, in your approach to the Belvedere Estate. Before you reach it, look right and you will see the Alipore Zoological Gardens, India’s oldest formally stated Zoological Park. Covering over 40 acres of land, it opened its doors in 1876 and became famous as the home of the Aldabra giant tortoise Adwaita reputed to be 250 years old when it died in 2006.


Few know the formal name of the Belvedere Estate which comprises of Belvedere

House and 30 acres of grounds. Belvedere House was the former viceregal

residence and later home to the Governor of Bengal before housing the National

Library in 1948.


On leaving Alipore you may choose to go further south to the Acharya Jagadish

Chandra Bose Botanical Gardens spread over 109 hectares and famous for The

Great Banyan, the largest tree in the world at over 330 metres in circumference

and a wide variety of botanical rarities.



Calcutta High Court


Or move north towards the “White Town” of Old Calcutta. Reach BBD Bagh and

look around. This was the heart of Calcutta and under the British, the

administrative centre of the British Raj till 1911, when the capital was shifted to

Delhi.


The General Post Office


Here is the General Post Office, known affectionately as the GPO, standing

on the site of the original Fort William. Opposite stands the Calcutta High Court,

the oldest High Court of India and behind it the Town Hall in Roman-Doric style,

built by funds raised from lotteries to provide Europeans with their own

recreational space.


Raj Bhawan


Also look around The Writers’ Building which served, till recently, as the State

Secretariat. The name derives from its original purpose – to house the writers of

the British East India Company. But the gem of this area is obviously Raj Bhawan

or Government House as it was known, modeled on Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire.

Built in 1803 it is the official residence of the Governor of Bengal and is known by

its distinctive architectural of a central core with four radiating wings. It is also

known as the first building in India to have a lift installed inside in 1892!


Within a stone’s throw is St John’s Church, formerly a cathedral, modelled on St

Martin in the Fields Church in Trafalgar Square. Of historical interest also, is the

mausoleum of Job Charnock and Johann Zoffany’s Last Supper amongst others.

Where would you like to go next? You could wander down the riverside, marvelling

at the iconic Howrah Bridge and taking a river cruise along the Hooghly. Or you

could move down Chowringhee and reach the Indian Museum, the largest and oldest

museum in India founded by the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1814.


The Armenian Church


A short ride from here are Marble Palace and Jorasanko Thakurbari, magnificent

private residences, the latter being Rabindranath Tagore’s family home. Moving

sideways through myriad gullies and lanes and hidden alleyways you would reach

Armenian Street, witness to the very old presence of the Armenian community in

the city. Also visit the Maghen David synagogue at the junction of Brabourne Road

and Canning Street, accessible to the public.

Kalighat Temple


For a temple experience visit Kalighat with its well-known idol of the goddess Kali

and further afield, the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple. While you are at the latter,

take a boat and cross the river to Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramkrishna

Mission housed in a building that fuses Hindu, Islamic, Christian and Buddhist

motifs in its architecture.


So, welcome to Kolkata! We hope you leave with this wonderful city in your hearts

and return for more adventurous explorations of your own! -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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