With the weather in Kolkata gradually turning mellow, why not take a slow ride in the open-top double decker bus? The service was launched in October. Painted in glossy blue and covered with images of various attractions of West Bengal, and with the tagline ‘From the ocean to the skies’, the bus takes its passengers on a ride through the heart of Kolkata.
Kolkata’s iconic Double-Decker buses launched today by the Hon'ble Chief Minister @MamataOfficial
To read more: https://t.co/t3ZIwVsv49#DoubleDeckerBus #UnknownKolkata #WBTDCL #Kolkata #BengalTourism #ExperienceBengal #WestBengalTourism #DepartmentOfTourismWestBengal pic.twitter.com/HfrwKUGNVi— West Bengal Tourism (@TourismBengal) October 13, 2020
Unless you are accompanied by kids or elderly people, go for the open upper deck (it costs a bit more than the lower deck though). The railings on the upper deck are rather wide and the staircase narrow – hence the caution. The bus leaves from the Tourism Centre in Benoy Badal Dinesh Bag (Dalhousie Square) at 2pm.
So one Sunday afternoon, I reported at the Tourism Centre, armed with my ticket bought online. Not only did I have to submit to hand sanitising and temperature checking twice, once while entering the office and again while entering the bus, I was also handed over a small kit containing a pair of masks, a pair of gloves, and a small bottle of hand sanitising liquid. When you buy the tickets, you are also advised to carry sun blocks and sun shades if you are travelling on the upper block.
As we settled down, our young guide Aditi Chattopadhyay welcomed us aboard and reminded us to keep our seat belts on and not to stand up suddenly while the bus was in motion. The caution was necessary as we found later; stray branches swept overhead occasionally. However, the support staff from the tourism department were always around, warning us of such dangers in advance.
The Tourism Centre, which overlooks the historic Lal Dighi, is itself located in one of the heritage precincts of the city, with the St Andrew’s Church, the Writers’ Building and the Old Currency Building as its immediate neighbours. But the area is now in a jumbled state owing to the ongoing work for the construction of the East-West Metro line.
The bus tour covers a significant part of what the British used to call the White Town. Some of the major attractions covered on our tour were the Old Currency Building, the Return Letter (Dead Letter) Office, the Hooghly River Bank, the All India Radio, the Eden Gardens (including the famous cricket stadium), the Raj Bhavan, the Victoria Memorial, the Race Course, part of Chowringhee, St Andrew's Church, etc.
Looking at the vintage buildings from an elevation, sometimes through a thick screen of verdure, sometimes in the clear, was fun. Personally, one of the best views that we had was that of the Maidan. With the festive season and relaxation in COVID-19 restrictions, the green fields looked like a fairground with people milling around, the odd pony rider, boys playing football, balloon sellers, ice cream and bhel carts, the jhalmuri-walla.
While it was mostly a drive-by tour, there were a few stoppages too. Although guests on the lower deck are not allowed to climb to the upper deck while the bus is in motion, they may do so when the bus stops at particular locations. Although entry into the St John’s Church was denied on the day of our trip owing to some official business, it was fun taking a round of the premises in the bus. We also visited Prinsep Ghat (with the lit up Vidyasagar Bridge towering above it) and Eden Gardens (not the sports stadium but the well laid out park with its vintage Burmese Pagoda which was shipped from Prome in Burma to Calcutta by Lord Dalhousie and reassembled here in 1854).
The bus tour is divided into two halves with a sumptuous lunch pressed in between. After the first round, we were taken to Babughat where a single-deck houseboat (one of the fleet operated by West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation) waited for us. Boarding was preceded by another round of hand sanitisation and temperature checking. To our delight, while we tucked into a sumptuous Bengali lunch, the boat slowly sailed up north. It was very interesting to watch the twin cities of Kolkata and Howrah from the river. Guided by Aditi, we had a different view of some of the heritage buildings (like the Calcutta High Court) which we had earlier seen from the bus.
Post lunch, we continued on our journey. In this half, owing to some road restrictions related to the idol immersions, we drove past the Hooghly bank twice – once by day, and again by evening. Although the bus follows a fixed route, there may be some last minute changes to the route owing to traffic rules and congestion.
Information: The Kolkata Connect by Double Decker Bus runs from 2pm (reporting must by 1.30pm) to 6.30pm (four and half hours). According to the present schedule, it operates every day but check before making a plan. Owing to the COVID-19 protocols, only a limited number of seats are available for booking. Tickets for the lower deck cost Rs 1,250 and that for the upper deck cost Rs 2,500. Tickets can be bought online and includes the price of lunch and boat ride.