Being interested in the history of the British Empire in India since long, I decided to start with Kolkata and then go on to other Indian cities subsequently. An Englishman named Job Charnock combined three adjacent small villages named Kolikata, Sutanuti and Gobindapur to form what became known as Calcutta or Kolkata as it is known today more than 300 years ago.
The city of Kolkata is well connected by both air and land and boasts of the third largest cantilever bridge in the world built by the British in 1943 over the river Ganges. I took a plane to Kolkata and got down at Dum Dum airport. I had decided to travel to Kolkata during the month of December as the weather there is cool and comfortable. The airport is about 20 to 25 kilometers from the center of the city and I took a pre-paid cab to the main thoroughfare of the city called the Chowringhee Road or Jawaharlal Nehru Road. The whole 2 to 3 kilometer length of this road runs beside a huge open area consisting of tree lined roads which crisscross this open area called the Maidan which forms the lungs of the city.
I found the main and the much celebrated landmark of this city named the Victoria Memorial at the southern tip of the Jawaharlal Nehru Road where the Maidan ends and the road enters the southern parts of the city. The Victoria Memorial was built by Lord Curzon, the then viceroy of India, in 1921 as a monument to the ascent of British power in Southeast Asia. The sight of the Victoria Memorial in the early morning was quite fantastic and I was quite amazed by the pristine and white beauty of the monument built in white marble from Markana in Rajasthan, a northern state of India. I later found that this is the same place which had supplied the marble for the world famous Taj Mahal in Agra near Delhi. A 20 foot bronze statue of the Angel of Victory brought from Italy at the top of the main dome of monument can be seen from quite far off. The marble statue of a young Queen Victoria sculpted by Thomas Brock in 1921 stands in the center of the main hall. There is also a statue of Lord Cornwallis inside the hall and a bronze statue of Queen Victoria sitting on the British throne which I liked very much.
On the other side of the road on which the Victoria Memorial stands is the St Paul’s Cathedral designed and built in 1847. The spire was designed on the lines of the Canterbury Cathedral in England and was added to the monument in 1938. The most beautiful thing which I saw here was a great stained glass window built in memory of another British viceroy to India named Lord Mayo. I loved the grounds lined with trees and the quiet atmosphere on the grounds of this monument. Their other religious monuments like the St. John’s Church, the St. Andrew’s Church and the St. Nazareth Armenian Church which I thought of seeing on my next visit to this city.
From the St. Paul’s cathedral I took a cab to the Zoological Gardens which were established in 1875. On the way to the zoo I passed the huge Kolkata Race Course of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club which becomes a center of activity when the Saturday races are held. I came across another beautiful building built as the residence for the British Lieutenant Governors of Bengal on my way to the zoo. The original building was called Belvedere and at present houses the country’s biggest library, the National Library, which has millions of documents related to world history and other subjects stored there.
I was already feeling very hungry by the time I reached the gates of the Alipore Zoological Gardens. I looked around for some restaurant to have a bite in but most of the stalls on the pavements were offering only tea and snacks. One of the largest hotels in Kolkata called The Taj is located just opposite the Zoological Gardens but I found both the lodging and the food to be too expensive. In any case I was here to get a feel of the city so I decided to taste something which was local. I found a bench in front of a small eatery selling chow mien which seemed a favorite around these parts and ordered a plate of vegetable chow mien. I almost gobbled it up as I was completely famished and had water from the bottle of mineral water which I was carrying from my hotel. As I was already introduced to Indian curries I did not have any problem of having spicy Indian food which may not be attractive to others.
I bought a ticket to enter the Zoo after standing in a long queue of beautifully dressed people in traditional costumes. After entering the Zoo I found the grounds absolutely crowded with people jostling to get a sight of the animals there. The children especially seemed to be having a jolly good time with picnics on the grounds and the sight of the animals to boost their visit. This zoo was established in the year 1875 and boasts an animal which is named Tigon which is actually a cross between a tiger and a lion. There is a huge collection of animals here which an animal lover or a child would find highly interesting as a subject. The best time to visit this zoo is the period from October to January when you find the animals out in the open having their siestas under the sun.
The city of Kolkata is famous for Mother Teresa who had come to this city from Albania in 1929 and lived and worked for the downtrodden in this very old city. So I took a cab to Nirmal Hriday or “Pure Heart” which used to be The Mother’s house. The Mother and her disciples treated all the destitute, poor, forgotten and terminally ill people who came here looking for love and sympathy irrespective of their class, creed or religion.
From this place of complete calm and happiness I went to see the Kalighat temple which is the oldest pilgrimage place since the medieval times as it was very near. I got hold of a tout who showed me around and proceeded back to the hotel where I had put up as it was getting dark. The hotel was located near Park Street which starts from the Chowringhee Road and ends at a place called Park Circus. It is one of the busiest and main thoroughfares in the central portion of the city where you can find world famous eateries like the KFC, the MacDonald’s and the Flury’s here along with offices and residential buildings.
I decided to visit the Botanical gardens the next day to see the world famous banyan tree. This garden was established in 1786 on the banks of the river the Ganges by Colonel Kyd. It is home to an astonishing variety of flora from all over the world. The main attraction is the banyan tree which is more than 200 years old and claimed to be the world’s largest banyan tree with branches meeting the ground at a distance of 60 meters all around.
I spent the last day of my stay in Kolkata by visiting the other imposing buildings built during the British Raj, like the Writers Building or the seat of the government since 1777, The Raj Bhavan or the residence of the Governor of Bengal built in the mid-eighteenth century, the General Post Office building built in 1860, The High Court, Job Charnock’s Tomb and other places of interest around the area called Dalhousie Square which houses most of offices in Kolkat