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Rooted in art and culture, and holding its traditions close to its heart, Kolkata is an emotion. The city, in many ways, presents a juxtaposition of the past and the present - some of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods where joint families live in century-old houses of north Kolkata and the slightly more hip and modern lifestyle of south Kolkata. But when it comes to food, football and Durgapujo - every part of the city appears on the same page. To get the best of Kolkata in 48 hours, here’s what you should do.
Start your day with a walk across Maidan, which the locals call the city’s lungs. Also called the Brigade Parade Ground, it is one of the most popular spots in the city for early-risers, morning walkers, joggers and budding sportspeople, who take to the open field for practice. Maidan is also one of the most beautiful vantage spots to get a clear view of the Kolkata skyline. Even in the wee hours of the morning, you will find independent vendors selling cha (sweet milk tea) in traditional bhaars(conical earthen cups).
The Victoria Memorial, Fort William, Eden Gardens are all situated close by.
8 am: Take a short five-minute stroll to reach Park Street and head to one of the city’s legendary bakery-cum-tea rooms, famous for its classic English breakfast. Order some eggs Florentine and rum balls. They serve a delicious cup of tea.
10 am: A 13-minute walk will take you to St Paul’s Cathedral. A vision in pearl white, this is one of the most revered churches in India. Built-in the Gothic Revival style of architecture, it features two Florentine Renaissance-style frescoes and is adorned with beautiful stained glass. Spend some moments of calm here before a day of exploration.
Hop on the city’s underground metro from RabindraSadan to Maidan. Exit the Esplanade station and walk two minutes to reach the Indian Museum. Said to be one of the oldest and largest multi-purpose museums in the Asia-Pacific, it was founded in 1814. Of the museum’s numerous galleries - botanical, bronze, Egypt, textile, coin, insect, painting and more - the mammal gallery deserves a visit. Do not be surprised to find students from art colleges sitting around and painting inside the museum compounds.
2 pm: Have a quick bite at the museum cafeteria before heading off to a popular landmark nearby - the Esplanade market. Locally called New Market, the area is situated about a six-minute walking distance away from the museum. With high-end retail outlets rubbing shoulders with street hawkers, with both getting equal attention from potential customers - this area is always bustling. Long before swanky shopping malls and multiplexes came into vogue, this area boasted such multi-storeyed shopping plazas as Sree Ram Arcade and Treasure Island and legendary single-screen theatres as New Empire and Lighthouse. The latter has sadly been closed.
4 pm: Enter the main New Market building, officially called Hogg Market, one of the oldest shopping spots in the city. From shops selling branded garments and the best of Indian handicraft to local and imported confectioneries - you’ll be spoilt for choice. The central area of this market once housed an ancient grand cannon, which is now on display at the Indian Museum.
The next stop is the colonial-era style St. John’s Church. This is where the Moroccan-style mausoleum of Job Charnock, the founder of the city, lies. The compound is also the final resting place for Lord Brabourne and Lady Canning (after whom the famous Bengali sweet ledikeni was named), among other British officials.
8 pm: Visit Princep Ghat next. A British-era built structure, it sits pretty on the banks of the River Hooghly and is a much-favoured recreational spot for tourists and locals. It is also a popular location for TV and film shoots. The Vidyasagar Setu stretches above this landmark making it one of the most photographed spots in the city.
10 pm: Take a ride across the Vidyasagar Setu. Lit up with bright lights, it is a sight to behold at this hour. Add the lack of traffic and the round trip journey becomes all the more special.
Begin your day on a floral note and visit the Malik Ghat flower market, touted to be the largest flower market in Asia. It is located near the iconic Howrah Bridge and is a haven for photographers. From marigold and lotus to roses and lilies and every flower you possibly know of can be found here. Business starts quite early in the morning and the vendors offer friendly knowledge on the flowers too.
8 am: Hire a yellow taxi, a city icon, and visit the Kalighat temple, one of the 51 Shaktipeeths (about a half-hour away but lack of morning traffic would reduce the travel time). Dedicated to Goddess Kali, the temple is one of the most revered sites in the city and the temple compounds house several small rooms where other deities of the Hindu pantheon are worshipped. There are several sweet shops and independent eateries around the temple that offer such local delicacies like luchi (deep-fried flatbreads), alurdom (spicy potato gravy) and sondesh (sweets).
10 am: Take the metro from Kalighat station to MG Road station and take an 11-minute walk to College Street, the world’s largest second-hand book market. Lovingly called boipara (book neighbourhood), it is said that if a certain book is not available here, there is a chance that it has not been printed. A haven for bibliophiles, here books are sold by weight and sometimes by number. You can easily pick up five novels at INR 100! This area also houses some of the noted educational institutions of the city, namely the University of Calcutta, Presidency University, Calcutta Medical College, Hindu School and College to name a few.
Another major attraction of College Street is the iconic Indian Coffee House. With its wooden tables and chairs and high ceiling fans - it appears to be a page out of history. Today an adda (a local term for chatting) spot for college students, this establishment was once a favourite haunt of the city’s intellectuals. Try the kabiraji(deep-fried mutton dish), fish cutlet and cold coffee here.
2 pm: Visit the Jorashanko Thakurbari next. The ancestral home of the Bard of Bengal, Rabindranath Tagore, it was built in 1784 and today houses the Rabindra Bharati Museum which showcases Tagore’s body of work and his family.
4 pm: Indulge in some wholesale shopping at Bara Bazar (locally called borobajar), about 10 minutes from here. True to its name, this market is huge and has designated sections for garments, spices, electronic goods, decorative items and more. Bargaining is allowed here so make the most of it.
After a satisfying retail therapy, head on to BBD Bagh, also known as Dalhousie Square (about 17 minutes away). Spend the last few hours in the city soaking some of its other iconic landmark buildings, reminiscent of the British era, located here - the Writer’s Building, the Grand Post Office, the Town Hall and the Metcalfe Hall, etc.
8 pm: A tour of Kolkata is not complete without tasting the city’s take on the biryani (rice and meat dish) and rolls. It is said that in Kolkata, biryani is judged by the flavour of the rice and the presence of melt-in-mouth potatoes and a roll is judged not by the stuffing but by the paratha (shallow-fried flatbread).
10 pm: Visit one of central Kolkata’s best-kept secrets - the neighbourhood of Bow Barracks. Today the residents of the city’s Anglo-Indian community, the close-knit group of red brick apartments were originally constructed to provide shelter to the soldiers of the First World War.