Written by phileasfogg on 11 Dec, 2009
As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bedSo it spread—Chance-directed, chance-erected, laid and builtOn the silt—Palace, byre, hovel—poverty and pride—Side by side;—Rudyard Kipling, A Tale of Two Cities.This gloomy picture was supposed to be of Calcutta; Kipling obviously didn’t like the city much. Well, I…Read More
As the fungus sprouts chaotic from its bedSo it spread—Chance-directed, chance-erected, laid and builtOn the silt—Palace, byre, hovel—poverty and pride—Side by side;—Rudyard Kipling, A Tale of Two Cities.
This gloomy picture was supposed to be of Calcutta; Kipling obviously didn’t like the city much. Well, I don’t like Kipling much, because Kolkata—chance-directed and chance-erected and whatever else, is still a city of indescribable charm. A major part of that charm comes from its very vivid and vibrant colonial influence.
Just about every Indian history buff knows that Calcutta owes its existence to an East India man called Job Charnock. Charnock arrived in the vicinity—strictly speaking, in Kasimbazar—in 1656 or so, where he was appointed a Junior Member of the Council. By the end of the century, Charnock had worked his way up to become an important cog in the wheel that was the East India Company in Bengal; he had also become highly conversant with local customs and the language—he had even acquired a native wife. When struggles broke between the East India Company and the native rulers of the area (as well as the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, far away in Delhi), Charnock played a significant role in the negotiations and the to-ing and fro-ing that ensued. In 1698, thanks mainly to the efforts of Charnock, the East India Company acquired three villages on the bank of the Hooghly river; this was where, the following year, the Calcutta Presidency was established.
The 1700’s were critical years for the East India Company—the Battles of Plassey and Buxar brought them significant victories, and in 1772 Calcutta became the capital of British India. The first Governor General, Warren Hastings, arrived in Calcutta, and over the following years, the city grew by leaps and bounds. Calcutta University was established in what was to be a fateful year for India (1857), 3 years after India’s first railway line (Calcutta to Hooghly) was launched. By 1873, Calcutta had horse-drawn trams; by 1896, the first motor cars. It was a spiffy capital, smart and bustling, no matter what Kipling had to say about it.
Calcutta’s status as national capital was lost to Delhi in 1911, but the city has remained the state capital of West Bengal. It’s a little less fashionable now—even the swinging night clubs my mother remembers from the 60’s are gone—but the edifices remain, and a lot of them are great sights to see if you’re keen on history.
Kolkata is what the city is officially called now; the original pronunciation in Bengali is anyway ‘Kolkata’. Old Anglicised Calcuttans often still refer to the city affectionately as Cal. Well, Cal has quaint old houses with semi-circular arches, shuttered windows, pediments and wrought iron balconies all over the place. There’s no end of colonial buildings here—but the majority, especially the homes of middle-class Calcuttans—are sadly dilapidated, with peeling plaster, patches of black mould, and (sometimes) ‘renovations’ that consist of hideous and incongruous modernisation. Walk down the streets in Ballygunge, Alipore and Chowringhee, by all means—but do take time out to see the better-known sights: St Paul’s (the Anglican cathedral), St John’s (the first Anglican church in Calcutta—it preceded St Paul’s as the cathedral), the Victoria Memorial, the Indian Museum and the Marble Palace. Sights like the Calcutta Mint, La Martiniere’s (the Boys’ School and the Girls’ School), Loreto House, the Calcutta Club and the Bengal Club (the latter very cosy and clubby in an old-world way) are among the other great colonial buildings, though not too many tourists are able to enter. We managed to see the two clubs simply because we had friends who were members and took us there for drinks. Fort William, which has a number of delightfully tantalising historic buildings, is occupied by the Indian Army and is off-limits to just about everyone, even Indian civilians.
The main district for impressive and well-maintained (at least on the outside) colonial buildings is in the area around what used to be called Dalhousie Square—it’s now officially BBD Bagh. This is the heart of governmental Kolkata, where the offices of the judiciary, the administration, and public services ranging from post offices to nationalised banks and governmental insurance companies are concentrated. Many of the buildings are awesome, but beware: do not take photographs. You could get into serious trouble if you do, because the police tend to be very suspicious and regard anyone taking photographs as a potential terrorist.
Some of the buildings around Dalhousie Square that are must-sees, though most of these can only be seen on the outside:
1. Writers’ Building: Named after the clerks and scriveners who originally worked here, doing all the paperwork for the administration. This is a massive structure, all red and white and ornate, that now houses the ministries of the Government of West Bengal. Don’t even think of loitering here, not even on the pavement opposite.
2. The Calcutta High Court: Another stunner of a building, also in red, with a tall clock tower flanked by rows of arched corridors. Very striking. The building was modelled exactly on the Stadt Haus (the Cloth House) in Ypres, so much so that when the Ypres Stadt Haus was bombed out of existence during WWII, this was used as a reference to rebuild it after the war. Again, not a building you can enter, unless you’re part of the legal profession (or, I guess, have to appear in court).
3. The General Post Office: Not very pretty on the outside, though it is a colonial building. Fortunately for visitors, this is open to the public, and the vast rotunda on the inside—recently renovated—is worth a look. The street on which the GPO stands is the one place I could get some niceish photos, by the way: the colonial buildings around are mainly occupied by private or semi-governmental organisations that couldn’t care less if you took pictures of their office blocks.
4. Raj Bhavan (Government House): The official residence of the Governor of West Bengal, though it was built in 1803 as the residence of the Governor General of India—the first man to occupy the building being Lord Wellesley. It’s modelled after Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, the ancestral home of the Marquess of Curzon (one of whom later became Viceroy of India and ended up living at Raj Bhavan!)
5. Metcalfe Hall: Off near the Strand (the road which runs along the bank of the Hooghly River), this is all high white columns and has a very Greek feel to it all. We didn’t have the time to explore Metcalfe Hall, but I’m sure visitors are allowed in—the building houses the Archaeological Survey of India’s exhibition galleries and sales counters, besides some sections used by the Asiatic Society to store its rare manuscripts.
6. Reserve Bank of India: No, you can’t enter this one, either, and you can’t take photos. But it’s an attractive building and worth a look, in the almost-trademark pale yellow-and-red colour scheme of Kolkata’s government buildings.
6. Police Headquarters: Again, regulation red building, with tastefully done creamy-white highlights on the windows, ventilators, etc. I wouldn’t suggest biffing a policeman in an attempt to get arrested and take a peek at the inside of the building—government offices in most of India tend to be filthy.
7. Shaheed Minar: Like dozens of other monuments in India that were originally meant to commemorate those who helped the British set up their empire in India, this one started off as a memorial to Sir David Ochterlony. It’s a prominent white tower, a sort of chunky obelisk topped off with a double storey of balconies. The tower’s now been dedicated to Indian martyrs (shaheed means ‘martyr’). It stands south of Dalhousie Square, in the stretch known as the Maidan.
Written by phileasfogg on 08 Dec, 2002
Ask any Indian- or rather any urban, educated Indian- and he or she will tell you that India has five metropolises: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. And if the Indian you choose to question has a little bit of time to spare, he or…Read More
Ask any Indian- or rather any urban, educated Indian- and he or she will tell you that India has five metropolises: Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bangalore. And if the Indian you choose to question has a little bit of time to spare, he or she will probably also tell you that each of these cities has a distinct character all its own. In Delhi, it’s politics, administration and pollution all the way; in Mumbai, it’s business and film-making; Chennai is populated by the upwardly mobile, as is Bangalore, which is, more or less, the Indian equivalent of Silicon Valley. Coming to the question of Kolkata (or Calcutta, as most of the world still knows it), your Indian may take some time to decide; because assigning an off-the-shelf character to Kolkata is quite a task. Politics is important here (and despite the sleek brands and big stores on Park Street, Kolkata is the capital of one of India’s communist states: the state of Kerala holds the record for being home to the world’s first elected communist government, and right on Kerala’s heels followed West Bengal). Literature, and culture, and art- all are important here. As is fish, football, cricket, filmmaking, commerce… and so much more.
Kolkata has an ambience all its own. We landed on a cool morning in October, and traveling the stretch from the airport to Ballygunge, where we were to stay, was an experience in itself: the bright yellow taxi we took was ramshackle, and the driver drove like a lunatic, but Kolkata’s traffic was too dense and too slow for even him to make his way to Ballygunge in less than the hour we eventually took. Trams rattled slowly past, on gleaming lines which had half-disappeared between grass; men went past, their cycles loaded with green coconuts; a roadside barber vigorously rubbed alum on the freshly-shaven jaw of a customer. Rickshaw-pullers ran past, bare feet thudding on the tarred road; pools of water, some covered with a thick carpet of water hyacinth, stood alongside the highway- and we saw another day begin in Kolkata.
Kolkata has many faces- and that can be a bit surprising, considering the fact that this city, compared to many of India’s other big cities, isn’t that old. Where Delhi or Chennai claim a past of many centuries, Kolkata is just over two centuries old. An East India Company man, Job Charnock, is credited with having established Calcutta (as it was named by the British), and it was the British who made Calcutta what it is. They built Fort William here; they made this the base of their expeditions into the rest of India; and they eventually made Calcutta the capital of India (before it was shifted to Delhi, in 1911).
The British have gone, as have most of the Anglo-Indians who were an important part of Calcutta society till the 1960s; but even today, Kolkata retains more than a trace of its colonial past. While India’s other cities call their municipal divisions `wards’, Kolkata calls them `boroughs’. While Delhi has done away with Hastings Road and Curzon Road and renamed them after patriotic leaders, Kolkata sticks stubbornly to Entally, Royd Street, and Elliott Street- each of which have more visible signs of a Brit past. Walk down them- or Park Street, Jawaharlal Nehru Road and Mirza Ghalib Street- and you’ll see what I mean: shuttered wooden windows, Corinthian columns, arches, wrought iron balconies- they’re all there, well-preserved, well-kept.
There are, of course, the more prominent monuments to the past: the imposing Victoria Memorial, its pristine white marble surviving, almost miraculously, the pollution of nearly a century; Fort William itself; St Paul’s Church; St James’ Church (known by everyone around as the `Joda Girja’- the `Pair Church’, because of its twin spires); Chaplin Square, its main gate topped with a black dome in the shape of a distinctive bowler hat; and- not to be overlooked- Kolkata’s very own brand of English. Bengalis are among the best educated of India’s people, and English in Kolkata’s better schools is of a very high standard, but whoever writes the slogans on Kolkata’s walls, no matter with how good an intent, apparently needs a bit of help. "Hooking can land you in prison" will probably not make any sense to the average illiterate hooker- but it definitely provided some entertainment for us.
There is much that is dear to Kolkata and its people. Fish would be among the top ten; for any Bengali, no meal would be complete without fish, and Kolkata consumes thousands of tons of seafood every year. As high on the list as fish, is football. Where the rest of India worships cricket with a fervour which borders on fanaticism, Kolkata thrives on soccer- although in recent years, with India’s cricket team being captained by a Calcuttan, loyalties have shifted a bit.
`Adda’ is another of Kolkata’s big-time favourites. It’s a Kolkata classic, the name given to the almost-daily meeting of a group of men, usually at a neighbourhood teashop, to discuss everything from poetry and politics to literature and love. Adda is the life-blood of too many Calcuttans to die out completely, and despite television and other more contemporary forms of entertainment, adda survives. Like the Calcuttan’s love for sweets; like his enthusiastic celebration of the annual festival of Durga Puja, in October, when all of Kolkata holidays. Like his respect for illustrious Calcuttans of the past: Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore; film-maker Satyajit Ray; philosopher Raja Rammohan Roy; scientist Meghnad Saha, who first translated Einstein’s Theory of Relativity into English…yes, to list all of Kolkata’s best-loved people would require more than just a few pages. It would also probably require a visit of at least a month to come to understand this city really well.
If you’re in India, come to Kolkata: this is a city with a deliciously cosmopolitan feel to it, a charm and a quaintness which none of India’s other big cities can match.
Written by ManuelaPop on 05 Aug, 2006
In the Streets of IndiaSudder Street looked so much different in the daylight. A few tobacco stores opened for business. On the left side, a couple of rickshaw drivers were lying down, sleeping inside their rickshaws, waiting for passengers. Not far away from them, a…Read More
In the Streets of IndiaSudder Street looked so much different in the daylight. A few tobacco stores opened for business. On the left side, a couple of rickshaw drivers were lying down, sleeping inside their rickshaws, waiting for passengers. Not far away from them, a cow sat chewing from a pile of garbage. Further down, a couple of men were lying down on bamboo sheets, sleeping. They must have been really poor. A couple of cars crossed each other in the streets, barely missing each other.I tried to make my way through the busy street, passing a few Indians on the way."Rupees, Madame, please?" A woman walked toward me, begging for money.She carried a baby in her hands. A couple of children followed her."Rupees, Madame?"I searched my bag and gave them small change. They continued walking along."Rupees, Madame, please?""I gave you some, now go away, please." They still followed me.I entered a small restaurant at the corner of the street. I sat down and ordered tea and toast.A few Westerners sat down in the restaurant. They looked rested and calm. I wished I felt that way. I lacked sleep and felt rather anxious.A blond girl quietly sat at the table in front of me, reading a book. She looked beautiful in her blue Salwar Kameez suit. I thought of buying one too.The restaurant looked filthy. The waiter brought me breakfast. He cleaned my table. No matter how hard he cleaned it, it was still dirty.I quickly ate and went back onto Sudder Street. It was hot. I thought of buying a bottle of water."No good water, Madame," said a young boy passing by.I took the bottle of water I bought from the tobacco shop and looked at it."What's wrong with it?" I asked."This water bad name," he explained.It was another scam to make a few extra rupees. The bottles have been refilled with tap water. As a traveler, the number one survival rule in Asia was to neither drink the tap water nor eat the uncooked fruits or vegetables washed in it.I threw away the bottle and bought a different brand. The bottle was sealed properly. It was safe to drink it.The weather started to get hot. The air was polluted. I had hard time breathing.I went inside the market and roamed around, searching for clothes to buy. I had the impression the Indian men's eyes followed me everywhere I went, watching me."Madame, you need help? I show you nice store." The Indian man started walking along with me."I will find the stores myself, thank you," I told him."Madame, you want to buy?" said another Indian man as I approached his store.I bought a red Salwar Kameez suit and put it on. I thought of buying a Bindi, the red dot the Indian women wear between their eyes."Madame, need help?" The salesman asked."I need a Bindi.""I give you beautiful Bindi." He took out a bunch of small packets of Bindis of different colors and shapes. He chose one, took it out, and placed it on my forehead."Beautiful, Madame." He smiled.I bought a small pack.Back in the streets, I noticed I was being stared at less than before. It must have been the Indian attire.The traffic was chaotic: cars going in all directions, their horns honking. To my amazement the cars didn't collide."Why do they use the horns so much?" I asked myself.A strange vehicle passed in front of me: a two-seat and two-wheel rickshaw dragged by a tiny Indian man. Two women sat behind him.On the other side of the street, a few Indian men waited by the bus stop. They wore white pajama-like clothes and slippers.I walked along the sidewalk through the slums of Calcutta. There were blue tents set up all along the sidewalk, and many families found shelter underneath them. I tried to look inside a tent. I could only see colorful, ripped clothes hanged in front of the tent. A woman washed her skinny naked children. As I got closer to them, they started begging me for money. I gave away some change. As other families saw me, they came closer. I found myself surrounded by tens of people begging for money. I threw some rupees in the air, and as they tried to pick the money up I ran away.I suddenly got dizzy. I felt exhausted and confused. I scanned the images in front of my eyes, but I had a hard time realizing what was happening. This was not the reality I knew. There was too much chaos and too much poverty all around.The above is an excerpt from the book 'Young Female, Traveling Alone.' To find out more information about the book, please visit my website Close
Written by Vaidya on 02 Jan, 2006
If you look across the river from Belur Math you will see the small flight of stairs and a big crowd of villagers, shopkeepers, kids, and mothers. For a small fee the small boat takes you across. In the beginning you have a feeling that…Read More
If you look across the river from Belur Math you will see the small flight of stairs and a big crowd of villagers, shopkeepers, kids, and mothers. For a small fee the small boat takes you across. In the beginning you have a feeling that you are not in a temple complex but in a small fair—in fact the area just adjacent to the river is not a part of the temple complex. It is a resting, eating, and purchasing area for the devotees who throng from all over the country.
As you walk towards the temple, the bright colourful conical top of the temple catches your attention. I really got a feeling that someone had a poetry in his heart when he was designing it.
Inside, you find the temple devoted to Goddess Kali on the left-hand side and a series of Shiva temples on the right hand side. In front of you is the large courtyard—Sri Rama Krishna, Sri Vivekananda, and a score of divine devotees of the mother goddess would have walked on the same stone laid courtyard for years together as they went about serving the Goddess and spreading the knowledge imparted by her to the mankind.
The temple complex was built by Rani Rasmani and her statue can be seen on one end of the complex.
The room where Sri Ramakrihna used to stay can also be seen. His bed, and other day-to-day items tell us how simple a person he was but how divine. We saw some people sitting in deep meditation in the same room—we also sat for some time and slowly the only sound we could hear was the silent sound of the great river flowing to meet the sea. Is the man born great or the place where he works has a divine effect that ushers him into greatness? Visit Dakshineshwar—decide yourself.
Written by Vaidya on 01 Aug, 2005
This section explains the basic fundamentals of physics – motion, collision, viscosity, acoustics, etc., in such a manner that it feels as though you are playing a game as you learn.
The hall is very big, and there are a lot of exhibits scattered here and…Read More
This section explains the basic fundamentals of physics – motion, collision, viscosity, acoustics, etc., in such a manner that it feels as though you are playing a game as you learn.
The hall is very big, and there are a lot of exhibits scattered here and there. Since it was not a holiday, the crowd was quite small. Some of the exhibits had crowds in front of them; we tried to avoid those and went for the ones that were fully available. Slowly, we found that the ones that were not crowded were slightly difficult to understand. Lack of proper explanation on the guide board could be one of the reasons. It so happened that once the people saw us operating the seemingly unpopular exhibits, they started coming towards us, waiting for a chance. This gave us the opportunity to see all the exhibits at a leisurely pace.
In the exhibit on acoustics, musical sounds would come from different directions and the child would have to choose the direction using a handle. Marks are given for the correct answer. The guide board explains how the ears, phase difference, etc., etc., lead to the mind getting a correct sense of direction.
On looking towards the roof, we found that there was a big, wrought-iron wire mesh kind of structure. Balls were thrown into it at regular intervals. The balls would pass through a predefined path within the structure and collide with many other things, leading to transformation of energy from motion to sound to mechanical, etc.
The exhibit showing the effects on the increase in the distance traversed when the friction is reduced, which was vacant presumably owing to the above-mentioned reason, became quite popular once we were able to make sense out of it. The same thing happened at the exhibit that demonstrated the principles of viscosity. We were feeling like celebrities owing to the meager knowledge of science that we had.
There were instruments to measure the speed of your throw when you throw a ball, then there was pigeon shooting and also an apparatus to demonstrate the production of electricity. I had never imagined that someone would take pains to make science so interesting and that the facility would be available at such a low cost.
There was a separate section only for the kids. There were interesting puzzles, hand-eye coordination games, models and charts, and electromagnets all kept on a big table with chairs around them. This section had a qualified guide inside to explain and play with the children.
The demonstrations exhibiting quicksand and earthquakes were not working. That was one small disappointment, but overall, it was quite good. I was wondering whether my life would have been different had I been lucky enough to have visited this kind of a museum during my childhood.
Written by Vaidya on 02 Aug, 2005
The first stop on my cherished biryani trail was Aminia in New Market. The initial look – dirty streets, open windows, slightly unclean floors, waiters in red and maroon uniforms - turned me off. The walls lacked décor and the furniture was old and worn…Read More
The first stop on my cherished biryani trail was Aminia in New Market. The initial look – dirty streets, open windows, slightly unclean floors, waiters in red and maroon uniforms - turned me off. The walls lacked décor and the furniture was old and worn out. But …at 4PM, the restaurant was highly crowded, the waiters were having a ‘no-nonsense’ type confident look on their faces, and they were well-groomed and not shabby like the street in front of them. The mughlai paranthas, butter chicken, and various kebabs that the people were seen relishing were looking well endowed and delicious. The gravies had the right amount of red-colored fat floating on the top (which if you are calorie conscious, you can take out). With water in my mouth, I went straight to the accountant. Accountants are generally busy counting money, so they do not have time for marketing – the right people for sage advice.
I asked him whether Biryani would be available at this hour. He immediately replied all the items on the menu are available all the time. This is the answer you get at a typical well-patronized mughlai hotel. I was satisfied. I then asked him his favorite kebabs; he said ‘take shammi kebabs’. The parcel of Biryani came in 5 minutes flat. In those 5 minutes, I noticed that none of the guests were asking for the menu card or enquiring about the stuff that is available. They were just coming, sitting, ordering, getting, eating, paying, and going. The entire operation must be taking around 20 minutes. I also noticed a glass counter inside, where a sample of each dish was kept. I disturbed the accountant again - and this time some waiters were also eavesdropping – about his opinion on Rahmania and Sheraz. He, as well as the waiters, said that I should try kebabs and Lacha paratha from Rahmania and make another visit to Shiraz some other day. I requested the driver to get me two plates of ‘shammi kebabs’ from Rahmania at Park Street.
About the biryani - "The test of a good biryani is that when a handful is flung on a surface, each rice grain should rest separately." This biryani neither had the gravy nor the layered structure of a Hyderabadi biryani. It did not have the overdose of cinnamon, cardamom, and asafetida of a Kashmiri biryani, or the coconut, curry leaves, and roasted gram found in the chettinad style. The rice was cooked in pure ghee (clarified butter) along with a little cardamom, black pepper, and mace powder. The curd-marinated chicken seemed to have been cooked in its own juices. The potato was there, and so was the boiled egg. The rice was further flavored with saffron and rose syrup. There were no colors, but some cashews were there. The entire thing had a yellowish tinge. The delicate handling of the full-bodied basmati rice – each grain separate because of its initial tango with clarified butter, put in exact quantity to avoid a greasy feeling - should be seen to be believed. It was as though an expert mother had made a delicacy with all her love and pure, rich, carefully selected spices and dry fruits for her child who was not keeping well and had lost his taste - but has been advised a light food.
About the kebabs, I would be short of adjectives. These were juicy, succulent, reddish, soft, spicy – a sample of perfection! They just melted in the mouth.
Once again, my research had resulted in a delightful culinary evening. It was raining heavily outside, I was with hot microwaved delicacies, and really felt like the king of Lucknow deposed in Raichak storm.
Written by Vaidya on 26 Jun, 2005
Fort Radisson is a five-star hotel built on lines of an old Portuguese fort. It is made of red bricks. There are well-manicured gardens all around, which we often visited for a morning stroll along the river or for yoga classes conducted by the activity…Read More
Fort Radisson is a five-star hotel built on lines of an old Portuguese fort. It is made of red bricks. There are well-manicured gardens all around, which we often visited for a morning stroll along the river or for yoga classes conducted by the activity center. The instructor who conducts the yoga classes is, incidentally, an ex-state-level winner in yoga. There is a shallow-water pool in the front with a lot of curves. There are pedal boats which one can use to enjoy boating. The boats, however, were not in working condition when we were there. Similarly, the Jacuzzi, air-conditioners in the table tennis rooms, and the bicycles of the Fort Radisson were also not working properly, but we hardly missed them.
As soon as you enter through the huge ‘gateway to the Fort’, the club is on the right-hand side. There is a huge terrace chessboard, a small discotheque (non-air-conditioned), a swimming pool, a gym, table tennis, air hockey table, sauna and massage room, etc., here. The activities include fishing, kite-flying, archery, cycling, etc. The swimming pool does not have a lifeguard, so care has to be taken. The staff is very helpful, simple, and knowledgeable. If required, they can be requested to take care when the kids are in the swimming pool. There is a small rent for cycling, but the friendly activity manager allowed us free use. The hotel gets a lot of guests in the weekends, so most of the activities of the activity center are done on the weekends. The weekends, in fact, keep you fully occupied. You start with yoga in the morning, and later there are water games, group activities, bird-watching, cookery classes, painting competition, treasure hunt, live music, and disco. I suggest that the visitors should visit adjoining areas on weekdays and keep weekends for the resort.
The Serena Spa offers various natural treatments – massage, Jacuzzi, herbal face mask, water therapy, and aromatherapy. The staff has been trained at their training center in Bangalore. The spa has branches all over the country. There are separate trained specialists for ladies and gents. The architect who has designed the spa must be a great creator. The place oozes out energy.
There are two restaurants; the one at the ground floor was always closed. The one at the second floor offered buffet meals on weekends and a la carte on other days. There is a good choice of Indian and Chinese food. The Bengali cuisine was not available, the reason being that most of the guests are Bengalis who may not relish there own food, even on a vacation. We were told that on special occasions like New Year and Durga Puja, traditional
Bengali fare is served. The high point, apart from the modern décor of the restaurant, is the terrace garden outside. The place gives a magnificent view of the expanse of the river, the boats and the greenery on the other side. The sunset is especially beautiful – invigorating.
The bar below, on the first floor, has a glass on the Western Wall. The same view of the river and the sunset can be seen through the glass while not missing your cocktails. The prices of the food, as well as the drinks, do not seem high if you are from Mumbai.
The lounge on the ground floor has a glass roof, and there are big, big beautiful paintings all around. Newspapers are available. There is a piano, which my daughter liked playing everyday.
Photographs of the Portuguese fort in-charge and his family, ammunition, swords and old umbrellas can be seen everywhere on the walls. They add to the theme of the old Portuguese fort on which the place is built.
Written by Vaidya on 25 Jun, 2005
The map shows that the river Ganges broadens and is the widest at the Diamond Harbour. We found that the West Bengal Suface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) runs launches from Raichak to Kukerhatee and also from Kukehatee to Diamond Harbour. From the bar at Fort Radisson,…Read More
The map shows that the river Ganges broadens and is the widest at the Diamond Harbour. We found that the West Bengal Suface Transport Corporation (WBSTC) runs launches from Raichak to Kukerhatee and also from Kukehatee to Diamond Harbour. From the bar at Fort Radisson, we had seen the beautiful view of the sun setting into the sea. We decided to make a trip in this launch in the evening. My plan was to start at 4pm or so and reach Diamond Harbour in time to catch the last launch back to Kukerhatee and then to Raichak. It was a close call, because a missed connection would have left us stranded at a secluded place on the other side of the river. I also wanted to have a Bengalee-style dinner at the Hotel Sagarika at Diamond Harbour but did not know how to get back. The resort staff did not know much.
Luckily, the family in the adjacent unit also became interested and were ready to take the risk of getting stranded for some time at Diamond Harbour. The journey through the river was memorable: the river started widening, the greenery started becoming dense, the sun was looking like a red ball, and the horizon was covered in a plethora of colours, like orange, yellow, blue, and pink. There were small villages with villagers in tribal dresses on the way. Portuguese structures started becoming visible once we came near to the Diamond Harbour. It was an 80-minute journey on two launches. We were on the top (roof) of the launch, so we had an unrestricted view in all directions. The children had never experienced anything like this before and were thrilled.
It was dark by the time we reached Diamond Harbour. We had to make a choice to go back immediately or to eat at Sagarika and check how to go back once the dinner was over. There were four or five jeeps visible at the port. We decided to stay, thinking that we would surely hire one of the jeeps. The lonely ship in the port had put on all its lights and was looking like a happy bridegroom. There was silence all around--the only sound was of the water hitting the walls. We were sure that nothing could go badly on this lovely evening.
The hotel arranged a cruise on the river. It charged Rs.200 per person. We had done a longer cruise and had spent only Rs.15 per person. The experience at the Hotel Sagarika was a happy surprise. I wish to cover it separately under dining experiences. When we came out, it was 9pm, and there was not a being on the road. Now we were frightened. We kept on walking and met some drunkards on the way, but we could not make any inquiry because of language problems. Then we saw a bus going in the direction of Raichak. We just boarded that bus, thinking that we would make inquiries with the conductor. Before we could make any inquiry, the bus stopped at a petrol pump. Here I saw a seven-seater auto rickshaw. I asked him the amount he would charge to take us to Raichak, and he said something which sounded like 100 rupees. We all just jumped into the rickshaw. The roads were dark, and the only light that was there was from the moon and the stars above. The moon looked like a bright, heavenly, beautiful saviour from between the tall trees on either side of the road. I confirmed again and again that the driver had understood the destination and we had understood the amount to be paid. There was no problem, and within 40 minutes, we were at the resort. I think our children will never forget this trip all their lives.
Written by Vaidya on 24 Jun, 2005
Belur math is the place where the first ashram in the memory of Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa was set up by his famous disciple Shri Vivekananda. This place is quite a distance away from the main bus stand (Dharamtala/Esplanade) of Kolkata. We wanted to save money,…Read More
Belur math is the place where the first ashram in the memory of Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa was set up by his famous disciple Shri Vivekananda. This place is quite a distance away from the main bus stand (Dharamtala/Esplanade) of Kolkata. We wanted to save money, and the weather was cool, owing to a heavy thunder in the night, so we took the 5am bus from Raichak. Since the place is on the eastern side, it is quite bright at 5am. There are two buses that go to the math from Dharamtala. One bus starts from Dharamtala, and the other comes from somewhere behind. It is better to stand on the main road so that one can take the bus that comes first. Another choice is to go to the point inside the bus terminus from where the bus starts and here you get the best seat. We found that the taxis in Kolkata are also cheaper than Mumbai. The bus fare is Rs.5. The taxi was asking for Rs.100. We went by bus, and it was a 45-minute ride. The bus stops just at the gate, from where the ‘Math’ is just a 5-minute walk.
In some seasons, there is a launch service from Howrah to Belur Math. The same was not there in May. There are plenty of trains from Howrah to Belur. The journey time in case of trains is quite less but the Belur math station is a couple of kilometers away, so ultimately, it takes the same time whether you reach it by bus or by train.
The temple is beautiful but not of outstanding beauty. My wife is a great follower of this ‘mission’; there is a hall where one can meditate in peace in front of the statue of Shri Ramakrishna. I did not find the atmosphere as serene as many other ashrams of the same mission. This could be because our visit coincided with the death of the President Maharaj of the mission, resulting in a great crowd. There were a lot of scholars and saints moving around. I found talking to them quite interesting.
There is a big bookshop here, and there are a lot of books on ancient Indian scriptures and philosophy. The books are very nicely written, and I spent a lot of time reading them. I asked some questions to one of the saints for his views. This learned person not only gave his views but also presented me with four books written on the same subject. The math serves wholesome simple vegetarian food. The charges for this are Rs.5 only. There are regular discourses on a variety of topics. The details of these are written on the board outside the main temple. There are ‘aartees’ and ‘bhajans’ (devotional songs) also. The gardens in the math are nicely maintained. The river Ganges/ Hoogly flows by the side and looks magnificent. The room in which Shri Vivekananda used to stay has been kept in nearly similar shape. There are three more small temples and ‘samadhis’ of some disciples of Shri Ramakrishna by the side of the river.
My visit was fruitful, owing to the discussions I had with one of the saints. If someone is interested in a crash course on ancient Indian scriptures and thoughts then this place is highly recommended. They have a simple guesthouse that can be booked in advance. It could be better to write to the ‘math’ and arrange an appointment with one of the saints.
Written by trainjunkie on 15 Sep, 2004
In November 2003, I traveled to Calcutta. Within India, I knew it as the cradle of India’s artistic and literary birthplace. It was the hub of India’s artistic intelligence. Calcutta had also been the star of Hollywood movies, such as "City of Joy," and in…Read More
In November 2003, I traveled to Calcutta. Within India, I knew it as the cradle of India’s artistic and literary birthplace. It was the hub of India’s artistic intelligence. Calcutta had also been the star of Hollywood movies, such as "City of Joy," and in the reporting of Mother Teresa’s work. Others had told me I would enjoy Calcutta. I looked forward to this trip, armed with all that I had heard about this enchanting city.
After 26 hours of traveling on the train with a long-time friend of mine, we landed at Howrah Station in Calcutta. We made our way through the throngs of people out of the station and hired a taxi. To get into Calcutta, everyone must cross the famous Howrah Bridge, a beautiful iron-suspension bridge which crosses the Hooghly River. It can take 10 minutes to walk across and can sometimes take longer to cross this in a taxi. Native Calcuttans told me there were occasions when they left their taxi to walk across the bridge to get to their destination faster.
Calcutta is a delicate balance of the old and new. Buildings are packed close together. These buildings are from all ages, from the time of the British Raj, and modern, high-rise buildings. Perhaps what I loved the most about Calcutta was how the old and the new lived side-by-side. This aspect seemed more amplified here than anywhere else in India. I remember passing by buildings no longer inhabited. The paint on the outside was peeling off, revealing red bricks underneath. Some bricks were missing, crowded out by the vines circling the walls, and in some buildings even a tree pushing its way through the building’s floor. Although this voiced neglect, my artistic tendencies were naturally drawn to this, and I enjoyed these older relics of Calcutta.
The city of Calcutta was originally intended to hold a population of four million and was built with this in mind. Today, Calcutta has far outgrown this with a population of 18 million. Although the city manages to hold them all, it doesn’t house them all. The streets of Calcutta are the living and sleeping area of many. Buildings are packed tightly together to accommodate people. But within the people of Calcutta, there is a camaraderie. They recognize within each other the survival instinct and willing raise a hand to help each other. Calcutta is no doubt a city of character. The people and its cultural heritage bring out this flavour in a powerful way.
A walk down Park Street is to see the cosmopolitan side of Calcutta. This street is filled with air-conditioned, impressive music stores, clothing stores, and cozy cafés. On Park Street, one can still find the street side shop selling a katti roll, a Calcuttan delicacy. A katti roll is a delicious mixture of meat and vegetables, or paneer, wrapped in a slightly greased, crispy flat bread.
New Market is a must to visit. New Market is an enclosed market with the feel of an outdoor market. It is the cheapest place to visit and features everything from hairclips to chicken legs. Eager merchants will greet you upon immediately entering, offering their services as a tour guide, which will ultimately end at their shops where you might be made to feel obliged to buy an item. Don’t be fooled by these men, just politely say you do not need their help in making your way around New Market. It is not difficult to find your way around. Shopkeepers will be persistent in making a sale. If you venture here in the evening, New Market will be crowded with shoppers. I would recommend buying most of your items to take home here. You can buy cheaply priced Salwar Kameezes (worn by women), Indian-embroidered shirts, and many other items to remind to remind you of your trip here that will not lighten your wallet.
Within the confines of New Market, is the meat market. To venture inside here is not for the faint of heart. There is a strong smell of meat which will greet you as the meat is hanging in the open air. Below these are gutters to catch the dripping blood. It is an experience for the senses to walk through here.
Calcutta is no doubt a city to be tasted slowly. It can be overwhelming with all the spices in its frying pan. But it is a deserving experience and one that will linger on after the city is left behind. The crowds and pollution may make you thankful for what you have. But underneath there is a mysterious power about the city that grabs you and begin to grow on you. This is city I recommend visiting, you may either love it or you may hate it, but the experience is definitely worth it!