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Oh, Kolkata! Welcome to India’s Intellectual, Artistic & Cultural Capital


Das Antra

Over in the eastern India, in the state of West Bengal, the country's third largest metro area (pop 14.1 million) was founded in 1690 by the British colonizers as Calcutta, and was the capital of the Raj until 1911. Also dubbed "the City of Joy," it's a mix of splendid colonial-era and contemporary architecture, as well as modern-middle-class neighbourhoods and squalid slums.

Most of all, though, it's considered India's intellectual capital and foremost hotbed of creativity and the arts, giving rise to cultural figures such as 20th century poet Kazi Nazrul Islam; filmmaker Satyajit Ray; and poet, musician, and artist Rabindranath Tagore. The dynamism, cosmopolitanism, and Bengali culture of Kolkata give it a feel quite different from elsewhere in India

I stayed - and attending one of the best weddings I've ever attended - at one of the finest one of the city's finest hotels, The LaLiT Great Eastern Kolkata, a colonial-era grande dame which I used as a base to visit top Kolkata classics such as:


The Victoria Memorial  - This palatial white-marble building completed in 1921 in memory of Britain's Queen Victoria houses filled with both fine Western and Indian art.

Howrah Bridge - An impressive steel span over the Hooghly River, completed in 1942 and a well known symbol of the city and of West Bengal state.

Dakshineshwar Kali Temple - This grand, 165-year-old temple compound (above) is devoted to the goddess Kali and god Shiva and associated with the famed 19th-century mystic Ramakrishna.

The Indian Museum - Founded in 1814, India's oldest museum (and the world's ninth oldest) is a treasurehouse of Indian art as well as archaeology, anthropology, geology, zoology, and botany.


There are plenty of other places and experiences here that will captivate you, as well. Massive Gariahat Market is always thronged with people browsing its shops selling exotic clothing, jewelry, home decor, electronic goods, household items, and even pets; there are also plenty of eateries. Spending an evening at the 179-year-old, Neoclassical-style Princep Ghat (above), where locals gather to stroll along the River Ganga, go boating, and eat street food, was a beautiful experience, sitting on the riverbank with my legs in the water and watching it shimmer under the moonlight; I spent hours with my camera trying to capture that surreal beauty. The reknowned College Street Coffee House was also on my list. It's not the coffee that lures Belgalis here but the vibe, and to sit with friends and discuss politics and philosophy. Perpetually busy Park Street is another major attraction, full of restaurants, shops, pubs, and other nightspots; it's said that Park Street never sleeps.


Speaking of restautants, food is of course also a big part of the Kolkata experience, both mouth-watering street food and dining establishments serving elegant Bengali cuisine, with specialties including macher jhol (Bengali fish curry, above), bhat (lentil soup), shukto (mixed vegetables cooked in a milk-and-mustard based gravy), aloo posto (potatoes cooked in poppyseed paste), biriyani (rice mixed with various meat and vegetables), and luchi (deep-fried flatbread).

And every step of the way, I made memories - and saved many of them on film. I made it a point to make pictures of everybody I met, everywhere I travelled, and everything I ate. Photography being my hobby, in all my itineraries my only constant has been my camera, my quintessential travel companion. Travelling the world with my camera allows me to capture emotions and create memories, and photographs help me to go back in time and relive those beautiful moments. What can possibly be better as a companion than your camera, which has always got your back? 

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