Enjoy the River
A river running through a metro city. Paris has that, as does London, Amsterdam, Bangkok... and Kolkata. A trip to Kolkata would be incomplete without a boat ride on the Hooghly. Choose a nouko (the small traditional oar-driven boats), or a ferry ride. The best time to traverse the river would be just when the sun is about to set and the twin bridges over Hooghly get lit up.
Stay At A Former Indigo Plantation
Indigo has played an important role in the Indian freedom struggle and it has had an unsavoury link to Bengal--think about the indigo riots. The state had many plantations in the British era. One of these, Balakhana, is an estate which was formerly part of one such plantation. Now it's open to public as a rather atmospheric heritage home stay with antique furniture, and a 2,000sq ft columned veranda. It's situated in the middle of 16-acres of farmlands and orchards full of mango, lychee and guava trees. Go for an early morning cruise on the River Jalangi or try your hand at billiards on the vintage table made by Lazarus & Company.
Have Biryani Made By A Descendant Of Wajid Ali Shah
Have delectable nawabi biryani, ghutwan kebab, and dal Muharramwali at Manzilat's. The cosy eatery is run by Manzilat Fatima, direct descendant of Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Awadh who settled in Bengal when the Brits took over his kingdom in 1856. Kolkata biryani is known for the addition of half a potato and it's said that the cooks who accompanied Wajid Ali Shah thought of this (now wildly popular) innovation.
Browse Rare Journals At The Largest Library In India
Located on sprawling 30-acre greens, this used to be the residence of Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of the East India Company. It's on the most haunted places list as word is that Hastings' ghost can be spotted at times in its vast corridors and rooms. The collection here has a jaw-dropping 21,00,000 books, maps, journals, some 86,000 maps and 3,200 manuscripts. However, to access the main reading room, you need a reader’s pass for which an application form attested by a government gazette officer is needed.
Visit A Unique Bookstore
Kolkata is a bibliophile's city with its history of boi para, the secondhand bookstalls of College Street and the iconic book fair. It also boasts two standout bookstores. Earthcare Books tucked away inside a decrepit looking Dive Inn on Middleton Street has handpicked books on feminism, environmental issues, history, Dalit rights and more. They also have a lovely children’s section. Seagull Books is a special interest store known for translations of works by European writers.
Book A Polo Session At A 157-Year-Old Club
You don't have to be a member (or know one) to walk in. The Calcutta Polo Club, established in 1861-62, offers riding classes and polo sessions to guests. And all in the midst of the vast manicured lawns with the magnificent Victoria Memorial in the background. Book a day trip and you can avail of stable tours, rides and polo practice. Do visit the polo shop and their history gallery. For outstation guests, they charge ₹ 600 for a ride (with stick and ball, it is ₹ 1,000).
Check Out A 256-Year-Old Banyan Tree
The Indian Botanical Gardens at Shibpur houses the world's widest tree, a 255-year-old great banyan that covers 3.5 acres. From afar, what looks like multiple trees are its 3,600 aerial roots. It has survived two cyclones in the 19th century. And it continues to spread, growing wider and wider.
Row on the lakes, Oxford style
Not just the river, Kolkata also has the picturesque Lakes. And the Lakes have a couple of rowing cubs attached. Anyone can come in for a trial session, but you have to know how to swim. The rowing starts early at dawn.
Take A Tram Ride Or Dine In A Tramcar
One of the oldest transport systems in Asia - they have been operating since 1902 - the trams of Kolkata should be on your must-do list. One of the most picturesque routes is the one that goes to Kidderpore via the green Maidan and Victoria Memorial. You can also hop on to the recently introduced Victoria Tramcar for a meal on a tram. It starts from Shahid Minar and goes to Kidderpore and you can hop on at any stretch.
Take a walk down the streets of Terreti Bazaar, India’s oldest Chinatown. Check out the Chinese clubs and temples such as Gee Hing and Toong On. The latter was built in 1924 and had housed the famous Nanking restaurant where celebrities like Dilip Kumar, Meena Kumari and Shammi Kapoor used to hang out. The Sea Ip Church's antique wooden staircase is from China. Pick up Chinese spices, tea, noodles, dried mushrooms from Chinese provision stores.