Over the past two decades, the city fathers of Kolkata have regarded the tram with the same disfavour as Greg Chappell has Sourav Ganguly in more recent times. But like the Prince of Kulkutta, the tram continues to survive, and a ride on one of the Calcutta Tramways Company's 170-odd streetcars is easily the best way to sample the sights and sounds of the city. In its glory days, the CTC serviced 29 routes and, though many of these have closed down, those that remain transport the passenger through some of the most picturesque parts of the city.
Take, for example, Route No 36 which connects Kidderpore to Esplanade and runs for most part through the maidans. On a winter afternoon, the tram clanks its way musically past hundreds of cricket matches, phuchka-sellers and the stately silhouette of the Victoria Memorial, before crossing Red Road and disappearing into the shady recesses of Hastings.
When the same line connects up with Route No 30 and Kalighat, the passenger is in for an entirely different ride. He may be lulled into a stupor by the broad and open prospects after the Maidan, but soon the tramcar is lurching its way through the consular addresses and law courts of Alipore, before plunging headlong into the chaos that is Hazra Crossing. This is invariably the first crossing to be blockaded during political rallies, but salvation is not far way in the shape of the Kali temple at Kalighat.
For those who like their sightseeing in one tight package, the best route to take is the Belgachia-Esplanade one (Route No 1). This takes us through the heart of North Calcutta heritage, along Bidhan Sarani, College Street, Nirmal Chandra Street and finally turning right into Lenin Sarani. En route, one can hop off at the College Street coffee house for a cuppa or browse the second-hand bookshops.
Another eventful route runs from Sealdah station to Park Circus, passing through Entally and Mallikbazar, with the tram slowing down tantalisingly in front of the two best biryani eateries in town, Shiraz and Rahmaniya. And for those who'd prefer to use the tramcar for a long and leisurely shopping expedition, Route No 29 runs from the Ballygunge tram depot along the length of Gariahat. But look before you step off: the tracks have recently been 'de-reserved' — euphemism for levelling the tracks with the road so that unwary passengers can be run over by motorists!