Calcutta's streets tell stories. Old mansions dripping in moss and spotted with mildew make it easy to imagine its spectacular trajectory from rural village to Imperial India's most imposing city. Set on the Hooghli River and originally leased by the British East India Company in 1690, by the late 19th century it was the capital of the Raj, with burgeoning trade and a reputation for being more cosmopolitan than the rest of India. A century later Calcutta was famous for urban chaos and poverty, but somehow it has triumphed and emerged as one of India's most creative cities: residents claim the poverty is no worse than any other major conurbation on the Subcontinent, the crumbling relics of the Raj are still there, powerful and atmospheric, and the city is acknowledged as a powerhouse of the arts.
Travel through history as you visit the Victoria Memorial, St Paul's Cathedral and the excellent India Museum, housing one of the world's finest collections of Indian art. There are also smaller treasures, such as the atmospheric South Park Cemetery, the Marble Palace (with its Western art collection) and the idol-making workshops at Kumar Tuli. A sunrise visit to the flower market on the banks of the Hoogly river will be sure to awaken your senses, as will a Hoogli sailing trip to spot Gangetic dolphins. Visit Kalighat, one of Calcutta’s oldest neighbourhoods, which is densely populated but brimming with life and soul. Explore the Raj Bhawan, Assembly House and Writers Building, and discover a holy trail of religious sites around Brabourne Road – once home to Calcutta’s many immigrants including the Chinese, Armenians, and Jews & Muslims from the Middle East – with a number of different religious structures coexisting in close proximity. Highlights here include the Magen David Synagogue and the Belur Math Shrine, which resembles a church, a temple or a mosque depending on where you are standing.
Calcutta is home to arguably the most evolved of all the Indian cuisines and it is a city obsessed with food. As soon as you enter into the smouldering heat of Calcutta you will be struck by the heady smells wafting out of its packed eateries. Explore Calcutta’s famed architecture and intoxicating culture on a walking tour as you discover its delicious food. You have authentic Bengali food and world-famous street food from Jhaal Muri to the Kathi rolls. Experience the legacy of the British through the Anglo-Indian cuisine and discover the ‘Indianisation’ of Chinese food. This state is also home to the most sought after Darjeeling tea.
Calcutta is a wonderful destination for people-watching and there is always an array of fascinating characters to be seen. Considered the intellectual capital of India, Calcutta was the birthplace of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and still today her cafes are filled with debating intellectuals wearing thick-rimmed glasses. Despite its cultural prowess, Calcutta feels slightly stuck in the past, which holds huge charm. It is an intoxicating blend of British colonial history and 21st century India – eccentric, charismatic and simply one of a kind.
>> Read our blog: Ampersand's Insider View of Calcutta
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