The brief Kolkata winter is the most agreeable season here and people enjoy it to the fullest. This is the time when the Bengali ‘baboo’ will merrily don the fabled ‘monkey cap’. During weekends and holidays you will find people thronging the roads in gay attire. With its roots in the celebrations organised by the British during the colonial days, the run-up to the New Year is an interesting period to be in Kolkata.
The Maidan and a tram ride
Said to be the lungs of Kolkata, the sprawling green Maidan is one of the best places to people-watch in the city. Citizens treat the Maidan in their own way, especially during the brief winter – enjoying an early morning walk, taking a break between work, a nap under the shady trees, enjoying a snack from the myriads of vendors, playing cricket and football, holding a family picnic, the list is endless. It is also a year-round favourite ground for political rallies. History books will tell you that the Maidan came into existence after the vast jungle below the newly built Fort William (completed in 1773) was cleared. The city and many of the iconic buildings (for example, Victoria Memorial and the Eden Gardens stadium) gradually developed around this vast open space. One of the best ways to have a quick look at the Maidan and its surroundings is to take a tram ride through it (check with the Esplanade Tram depot for the latest running of trams as the regular routes and timings have been affected by the ongoing work of the Metro Railway extension). By day, you will enjoy a look at the people and their activities; in the evening, you will enjoy the illuminated city. At the top end of the Maidan, you will find the ornate horse carriages which will take you for a brief ride around the place – rates negotiable.
Note: There are no designated entry points to the Maidan. The underground metro railway has a station called the Maidan and you can use it as a reference point. Avoid a visit to the area if there is any large political rally afoot.
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden
Winter is the best time to visit the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, popularly called the Howrah Botanical Garden. You can simply enjoy the verdant precincts or take young children on an educational tour here. The garden is located in Shibpur (near the iconic Bengal Engineering College) on the Hooghly Riverbank opposite to Kolkata. According to the Botanical Survey of India, the 112-hectare park has approximately 1,200 specimens of plants or 14,000 individual plants. Founded in 1786 by Colonel Kyd of the British East India Company, it is believed to be the oldest botanical garden in India. The garden merits a visit for The Great Banyan Tree (Ficus benghalensis L) alone, whose massive canopy found it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. The legacy of the centuries-old banyan tree (the decayed main trunk was removed in 1925) lives on with over 3,500 prop roots spreading into a veritable forest. Timing: The Botanical Garden is open from 8am to 5pm.
Note: Ticketed entry. The Botanical Garden is a huge area. Better to visit early in the morning when there is less crowd and the sun is not harsh. Carry drinking water and light snacks but do not litter the area. While walking around is the best way to see the place, you can also avail the battery-operated paid buggy service. A good option for senior citizens or for families with very young or differently-abled children. The buggies are available as you enter the main garden after the ticket counter.
Prakriti Tirtha/New Town Eco Park
Located at the eastern edge of Kolkata, this 480 sq km park, including a large tract of waterbody, is one of the greenest parts of the city. The mellow weather during the year end is the perfect time to budget a whole day to explore and enjoy the park as there are lots of things to see and do. Major attractions include various thematic gardens, musical fountains, an exhibition related to Durga Puja, replicas of Seven Wonders of the World, Biswa Bangla Haat, etc. Enjoy a ride on the Toy Train designed after the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. There are plenty of land and water based activities such as rifle shooting and archery, trampoline, ice skating, land zorbing, paddle boating, kayaking, water cycling water zorbing, etc. Walk as much as practicable, with rest breaks at the promenade and sitting areas strewn around the park. For a fee, you may avail a bicycle, a duo cycle or an e-bike. Senior citizens may use the e-carts (on payment basis) but note there can be a long queue on crowded days. The park also offers accommodation in cottages. There is an island restaurant and many eateries strewn around the park. Timing: The park is open from Tuesday to Sunday, with seasonal timings. Between November 1 and February 28, it is open from noon to 7.30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday; and from 11am to 7.30pm on Sundays and holidays.
Note: Car parking is available. There are several entry gates and tickets bought at a particular gate is valid for that gate only. If you have any particular option in mind, then check the map/website or call the park to know which is the nearest gate. Visitors are not allowed to carry outside food. Follow their Facebook page to know about the New Year celebrations.
You may also combine a visit to the Mother’s Wax Museum (Monday closed) located near the Eco Park.
Picnics and Parties
The brief winter is a great excuse to enjoy the outdoors in Kolkata. Hence people indulge in picnics by day and parties by night. Many garden houses and resorts have developed around Kolkata where picnics can be arranged for large groups. Many of the luxury hotels offer alfresco barbeque dinners, especially by the poolside. Rooftop restaurants (read sky lounges) too offer specially curated food and drinks menu along with variety entertainment to enjoy the weather. Musical nights are organised at prominent locations. And on New Year’s Eve hotels and restaurants organise special gala dinners. If you have an acquaintance or a friend who is a member of the city’s old and prestigious clubs, then they may be able to take you along as a guest for the club’s New Year parties, often reminiscent of the good old days. The recent trend is to gather on Park Street (which is anyway the city’s most popular party address) to ring in the New Year at midnight. Note: Although there is heavy police arrangement for security of the revellers, it is still advisable to be cautious especially if you are returning home late night. Traffic accidents do happen despite all police precautions.
Bingeing on sweets
One of the best ways to bid adieu to the old year and ring in the new is to enjoy the special winter sweets of Kolkata. This is the time when the fresh date palm jaggery (nolen gur or notun gur). An immense variety of sweets and concoctions are made flavoured with this jaggery – from the traditional nolen gur rosogolla and sandesh to payesh or rice kheer to the experimental nolen gur ice cream and tea. This is also the time to enjoy Joynogorer moa and pithepuli. Of late, nolen gur is also being sold in packaged form (though with limited shelf life).