If it weren’t such an awkward trek by public transport, Kolkata’s lovely 109-hectare Botanical Gardens would make a great place to escape from the city’s sounds and smells. Founded in 1786, the gardens played an important role in cultivating tea long before the drink became a household commodity. Today there’s a cactus house, palm collection, river-overlook and a boating-lake with splendid Giant Amazon Lily pads.
The most touted attraction is the 250-year-old ‘world’s largest banyan tree’. That’s a little misleading: the central trunk rotted away in the 1920s, leaving an array of cross-branches and linked aerial roots so it looks more like a copse than a single tree. The banyan is five minutes’ walk from the park’s Bicentenary Gate on bus route 55A, or 25 minutes’ walk from the gardens’ main gate where bus 55 and minibus 6 terminate after a painfully slow drive from Esplanade via Howrah. Taxis from Shakespeare Sarani charge around ₹180 via the elegant Vidyasagar Setu (Hooghly Suspension Bridge).