Durga Puja is an exciting time to be in Kolkata. But all that excitement may also wear you down. So take a look around the city, enjoy its heritage and cosmopolitan history, savour its street food or simply enjoy an outing in a verdant vista.
Take a ride in India’s only tramways while it is still around. Owing to a spate of road widening and construction of new metro railway tracks, many of the tram routes of Kolkata have been closed down. Only a few are operational. Esplanade in the heart of the city is one of the popular terminals from where you may take a tram to various locations. Tram number 36, travelling between Esplanade and Khidderpore, goes past the city’s green lungs, the Maidan. Do not miss the Tram Museum in Esplanade (closed on Thursdays).
While the city immerses itself in Durga Puja, the business district lies forlorn. Take an early morning walk around Benoy Badal Dinesh Bagh (BBD Bagh, formerly Dalhousie Square) to take a look at the heritage buildings, including the Governor House, the Town Hall (closed for repairs), General Post Office, St John’s Church, Royal Insurance Building, etc. Unfortunately, the famous Lal Dighi is inaccessible.
Flowing to the west of Kolkata, the Hooghly River – name for the last stretch of the Ganga River before it flows out to the Bay of Bengal – looks sluggish. But don’t forget that it was this river that had a key role to play in the making of modern Indian history, trade and commerce. The river bank is dotted with several ‘ghat’ and jetties. Take an early morning exploratory walk along the bank and watch the city waking up. At one end is the 1883-built Palladian porch of Prinsep Ghat, built in honour of scholar and antiquary James Prinsep. A landscaped pathway leads northwards from here. In the middle of the long river bank is the Strand and the Millenium Park. At the end near the Howrah Bridge is the 130-year old Mullickghat Flower Market, said to be one of Asia’s largest flower markets. Photography enthusiasts will find it an interesting place if they can manage through the crowd and the wet muddy path. Or, be there in the late afternoon, to see the sun going down in the river. May be go on a country boat ride. At night, the lit up bridges over the river (the Howrah Bridge and the Vidysagar Setu) twinkle against the dark sky.
Heritage and cultural walks conducted by Calcutta Walks is a good opportunity to learn about the city’s layered existence. Their Confluence of Culture walk will take you back in time when the Chinese, Parsi, Jewish and Armenian communities called Calcutta (as Kolkata was known then) home. The curated Street Food walk is best for those who want to sample the city’s street food. They organise customised walks too. They have also restored an old 1926 homestead built in classical style into a heritage bed and breakfast hotel called Calcutta Bungalow, where each room has been designed to reflect the various facets of Kolkata. https://calcuttabungalow.com/
The latest verdant addition to Kolkata’s landscape, Prakriti Tirtha (popularly known as eco-park), is located in Rajarhat on the eastern fringe of the city. It is spread across an area of 194 hectares, including a 42-hectare water body with an island. There a host of attractions, and more are being added. Some of the popular attractions include water sports, butterfly garden, sculpture garden, lakefront promenade, mask garden, musical fountain, tea garden, Seven Wonders Park, etc. The Eco Island contains cottages for staying and two restaurants, one of which is designed like a Kerala boat house. Entry charges apply. Park is closed on Mondays. For more details and online booking, check http://www.ecoparknewtown.com/index.php