Although a metropolis, Kolkata connects you to the past instantly. It is easy to spot the famous rickshaw pullers on the road. Trams running since 1902 have dedicated tracks on most of the main roads. And the buildings in the heart of the city still have the same architecture of the British era.
I had made a bucket list for this city with the first stop over being Belur Math and the last, a traditional 'bengali' wedding, because I am convinced that if you want to taste the real culture, tradition, cuisine and vibrancy of a city or region, you must attend a local wedding to get a complete look and feel of the place. I was lucky to be invited to one.
I started at 6 am for Belur Math. It is a very important pilgrimage place in India. Situated on the banks of the Hooghly River, the math was founded in 1938 by Swami Vivekananda, the disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Belur math has a large prayer hall, where on entry, you are immediately awestruck by a huge and arresting statue of Ramakrishna.
This place is based on the principle of religious fraternity, as was advocated by Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. It is reflected in the architectural design of the Math, which has a unique blend of temple, church and mosque patterns.
Visiting hours at Belur Math are from 6 am in the morning till 11.30 am. Then the temple reopens for evening aarti around 4 pm, allowing devotees, visitors and believers to walk around and soak in the place till 7 pm. It is situated at a distance of about 6.4 kms from Howrah Station. This place is well connected by bus and train. Photography inside the premises is strictly prohibited. And a ferry ride from the Math across the river takes you across and gives you a mesmerising view of the entire math from the middle of the river.
Math over, my next stop on the cultural rendezvous with the City of Joy was the Calcutta Victoria memorial hall. It is a museum that was established in the year 1921.
Sir William Emerson, President of the British Institute of Architects is credited for designing and drawing the plan for this monument. It is a 184 ft tall edifice that is constructed on 64 acres of land. The Victoria Memorial, which is one of the familiar and iconic symbols of Kolkatta, houses photos and effigies of prominent personalities, who left their mark in the footprints of time and figured prominently in the history of Bengal. Today, this place also serves as one of the finest art museums in Kolkata, housing a group of magnificent figures above the north porch that epitomises prudence, learning and motherhood.
The next must see place on my itinerary was the Marble Palace, an exquisite art gallery. Built in the year 1835 by Rajendra Mallick, the palace houses rare objects of art, sculptures, pictures and oil paintings. Its major highlight includes Reuben's masterpieces. You can also find the original paintings of Rembrandt, Reynolds et al rubbing shoulders with some of the old Bengal greats. It also has a zoo, where you can find different species of birds and animals.
From here, I rushed back to my hotel to get ready for the wedding. I had to be there by 6pm. More than an insight into the culture, the wedding gave me at one place, the luxury of sampling the rich fare of 'Bengali' cuisine - different kinds of fish preparations, 'luchi' and 'cholar dal', a traditional preparation of mutton, wonderful preparation of chicken in 'bengali' style and ofcourse the mouthwatering sweets which included half a dozen variations of mishit doi, rosogoolas and rasmalais were just some of the items on the menu.
Other Places to See
Fort William: There are other must see places like Fort William. It is situated on the banks of river Hooghly, and named after King William III of England. Fort William of Kolkata, was established during the tenure of British Raj in 1696. It was the guardroom of this two-storied building, where the black hole tragedy took place.
Howrah Bridge: Located over the Hoogli River is said to be one of the busiest bridges of the world. It got its name owing to the fact that it connects the city of Howrah to Calcutta. The bridge also known by the name of 'Rabindra Setu', was set up in 1874. It stands on two 270 feet high pillars and looks different during the day and night. In most Bengali films, the bridge features as a leitmotif, somewhere in the background.
Streets of Kolkatta: While in Kolkatta, you have to sample the food that is available in the city and which gives street food an entirely different connotation. It is a must have, from the different chicken, mutton and beef rolls to the sweets, you just have to try some of it.
New Market: While shopping in boutiques, stores and malls could be part of your itinerary, a visit to New Market is strongly recommended, to get a feel of the city and also to see the amazing variety of shops, lanes and 'chaotic' display of just about everything
Lipi lives in Delhi and when not mulling over life and day dreaming of becoming a global nomad, directs creative brand development and marketing strategies for Bionaturals Wellesley Corp