There are plenty of things to do in Kolkata and almost all travellers will be planning a visit to the famous ancient Kalighat temple and Tagore house, a shrine-like museum to India’s greatest modern poet. We look beyond the guidebooks to find out what else you should do in this vibrant city.
1. Cruise down the Hooghly
It is said that great rivers spawn great civilizations. The Hooghly is a perfect example and a cruide down this tributary of the Ganga is great way to see the many influences Bengal has had down the ages. You will come across several pilgrimage spots like Dakhineshwar and Belur (set up in 1899 by Swami Vivekananda, it is the headquarters of Ramkrishna Math and Mission); as well as European colonial towns like Bandel, Plassey and Chandannagore. So get to Millenium Park, buy a ticket for one the many water taxis and embark on a cruise down the river. You can take your pick from long and short cruises.
2. Art matters
Check out an art show at the Centre for International Modern Art (CIMA). They have a shop selling some interesting stuff from prints, art on t-shirts and coasters, as well as some clothing, jewellery and accessories.
3. Idol walks
Spend an afternoon walking around the narrow lanes of potters townships – Kumartuli and Potuapara. Here the potua (potters) community can be seen making idols of various gods and goddesses throughout the year. The lanes come alive in August-September, the months before Durga Puja, Kolkata’s biggest festival. Hundreds of idols in different sizes, and stages with half finished heads and arms and bodies present a rather surreal picture. A lot of the idols are exported to countries abroad.
4. High tea at Flurys Flurys is a Kolkata institution that is a must-do.
If you are in the Park Street area between four and five in the evening, head down to Flurys for a cup of Darjeeling tea. Have it with their excellent and iconic Baba pastry, a concoction made of almonds, cashews and cherries that dates back to the days when butter was Re 1 a kilo. It belongs to the ‘heritage category’ of the menu at Flurys. Or ask for their dessert platter. Also recommended are their excellent Englsih tea sandwiches.
5. Take a ride on a tram
Boarding at the Esplanade, crawl through the green canopies of the Maidan, head north on Bidhan Sarani. You’ll have enough time to take in sights as the tram literally crawls through traffic and stops frequently.
6. Take a bibliophile’s tour of Kolkata
When in Bengal, do as Bengalis do – hang out with a book at one of the bookstores and stalls in the city. Visit the excellent Seagull Book Store in Bhawanipore; the old College Street book lanes (though they have somewhat lost their sheen with most selling only adcademic books); and Oxford Book Store on Part Street which also has a cha bar serving great tea.
7. Sample chimney soup at Chinatown
Kolkata used to have a sizeable Chinese community at one time. It has dwindled somewhat, but the city still has the only Chinatown in India at Tangra where, for the past 50 years, restaurants owned by mostly Hakka people (a Chinese community tracing its origins to the Han ethnic group) have served up delicious Chinese food. At the shops here, you can also pick up momo steamers, jasmine tea, shiitake mushrooms and Chinese sauces from shops in the area. If you are an early riser, try the morning breakfast fare of dumplings, noodles, and soups on weekends.
8. Get a taste of decadent Kolkata
Marble Palace, the home of the Mullick family, houses a strange and kitschy mish-mash of sculpture, Victorian furniture, and paintings by European and Indian artists, large chandeliers, clocks, and busts of kings and queens. The collection is supposed to have two paintings by Rubens and works by John Opie. In his book Calcutta, Geoffrey Moorhouse says it looks “as if they had been scavenged from job lots on the Portobello Road on a series of damp Saturday afternoons.”
9. Try a sambusa at Nahoum’s
Take a side trip to this Jewish bakery in New Market. The Nahoum family came to Kolkata from Baghdad bringing the cheese-filled delight to the shores of Kolkata.
10. Watch the sunset at Princep Ghat.
Your images from Kolkata will be incomplete without an iconic shot of the sunset and Howrah Bridge from Princep Ghat on Strand Road. It was built in 1841 as a memorial is a memorial to James Prince, a scholar who was the secretary of The Asiatic Society.
Homestays offer the perfect opportunity to get a local insight and your host family will be happy to provide guidance on the best way to experience the celebrations. Check out our Indian homestay collection.