I begin my day in Kolkata with… a morning run in the forested lakeside parks fringing Rabindra Sarovar. The area used to be an Allied Forces medical camp during WWII, and eventually morphed into one of Kolkata’s best green spaces after years of careful manicuring and beautification. While I’m jogging along a paved track under the green canopy, groups of other city folks gather for yoga sessions, music rehearsals, rowing contests on the lakes, and birdwatching amid the thickets. It’s a great place for people-watching in general, while breathing lungfuls of fresh, clean air.
When I have friends in town… I take them for an evening outing to the Hooghly Riverbanks. It’s a wonderful feeling walking along a leafy promenade admiring the beauty of the Hooghly River, with its landmark bridges and countless boats and ferries ploughing through its muddy waters. The innumerable ghats (riverside steps) along its banks are a constant flurry of human activity, and offer fantastic photo ops. My friends almost always come away with some great shots on these excursions.
On Saturday nights… I put on a smart black shirt and hit Park Street, Kolkata’s nightlife central. After a few drinks at a popular watering hole like OlyPub, my friends and I stroll over for a hearty dinner at Peter Cat, and then end the night with some live jazz, blues and rock sessions at Someplace Else, one of Kolkata’s best live music venues. Unlike many other Indian cities, Kolkata has a rather late curfew hour, so we just keep the music and spirits flowing!
My favourite cheap eat in Kolkata… is an office-goers’ lunch at one of the many food stalls lining Dacres Lane, in the heart of the city’s business district. An incredibly popular lunch spot for the area’s office workers, the roadside eateries along this narrow by-lane serve a mind-boggling spread of dishes, ranging from wok-fried noodles to hot parathas (pan-fried flaky Indian bread) and curry sauces. My favourite treat is a plate of mutton and papaya stew, served with toasted bread, which can be had for less than Rs 100, about US$1.50!
My favourite season in Kolkata is… autumn. It’s the season for mega festivals in the city, and the celebrations kick off with Durga Puja in late September or early October. The four-day jamboree is Bengal’s biggest carnival, marked by the mass public display and veneration of vividly-colourful statues honouring the goddess Durga. Following in quick succession is Kali Puja, which doubles as Kolkata’s version of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. Around this time, the city also finally gets some respite from the heat, and wakes up to mellow sunshine and cool northern winds that herald the approach of winter. Combined with all the merriment, this makes it the best time to be in town.
Kolkata’s best-kept secret is… its trams. Given quicker and more modern transport options like Uber taxis and the Kolkata Metro, few people these days care to hop on to one of these obsolete slowcoaches plodding along the city’s thoroughfares. But if I’m not in a tearing hurry to get anywhere, I often take a tram for the leisurely delight of rolling down the road and watching the city go by me in slow motion. The Heritage Tram, crawling past the Maidan parks and on through quaint northern districts, is a joyride matched by few other experiences in town.
When I want to get out of the city… I visit Shantiniketan, a beautiful university town founded by Bengal’s Nobel Laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore. All manner of culture, music and intellectual discourse is on offer at this sleepy campus, which has trained many doyens of Indian art, literature and music over the years. Shantiniketan is just a couple of hours away from Kolkata by train, and makes for a great weekend getaway.
The one thing I dislike about Kolkata is… its drains. Thanks to the British-era drainage system, the city can be prone to severe flooding, especially during the monsoons. Commuting can be a real pain with the waterlogging that results from just a few hours of rain. It’s one reason why I always try to talk friends out of visiting Kolkata during the rainy season stretching from June to August.
I know I am a Kolkataite because… no matter where I travel or live in the world, a part of me always resides in Kolkata. Like they say, you can take a man out of Kolkata, but you cannot take Kolkata out of the man.
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