When one mentions the name “Kolkata”, thoughts immediately turn to those of suffering, abject poverty, and the kind-hearted lady who dedicated much of her life to alleviating it, Mother Teresa. While all of this is part of this Indian megacities’ past and present, there is so many more positive things that lie in wait for the determined traveler.
The home of the Bengal Renaissance, a cultural revolution that transformed India’s social norms and enabled the arts to flourish between the 18th and the mid-20th century, Kolkata is full of attractions that will enthrall the culture vulture, from monuments to museums.
While economic contraction and stagnation contributed to the conditions that made this city a poster child for depravity throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the liberalization of India’s economy in the 1990’s helped it turn the corner, leading to the sunnier days that it finds itself in today.
While you definitely will notice a severe income disparity here and in the rest of India, on the whole, this is a city that is on the rise, and a look around at the rising buildings and the scores of newly minted members of the Indian middle class will verify this.
Most people that make the trip to Kolkata are aware of the connection that a certain famous nun has with this place, so coming here and not dropping by Mother Teresa House would be almost unthinkable. After hearing a call from God to serve the poor and suffering people in the streets of Kolkata in 1946, she began a ministry that aided countless ailing patients over the decades, granting them dignity where they previously had none. The place that was formerly her humble home is a free museum where her tomb is situated, and several artifacts related to her daily existence are also on display.
Inspired by the Taj Mahal, British colonialist authorities aimed to build a tribute to Queen Victoria in their new adopted home in East India. The Victoria Memorial was the result of this effort, a marble Revivalist style with multiple domes, which today serves as a museum. The gardens on the grounds are most impressive, which will only set you back 8 rupees to explore.
Those seeking out the most sacred place to locals in Kolkata should seek out Kalighat Kali Temple, the most prominent Hindu temple in the city. Thousands of pilgrims seek out this place on a daily basis, with a statue of Kali being the main draw. Be aware that this sight is the location of a well-established scam, where a congenial man will give you a tour of the place, and then proceed to ask you for a donation to the temple, with faked donation amounts written in a book (amounts equivalent to $80-$100 to coerce you to part with the maximum amount of money possible). Don’t fall for it!
For those looking for a large-sized retrospective of Indian history and more physical connection to the things that make the subcontinent what it is, the Indian Museum will go a long way towards accomplishing this end. Being the largest museum in the entire country and one of the oldest in the world, it contains a large variety of artifacts and relics (over 100,000!) covering 35 different subject areas. This place is very popular with locals, so come early to avoid the crush of people that move through during the prime hours of the day.
For those looking for a break from the madness of Kolkata’s streets, a trip to the Maidan will prove to be just the break you need. Defined literally as “open field” in English, fellow Kolkatans also recreate themselves here, as they will gather here on evenings and weekends to hang out, play cricket, and for those looking for a romantic diversion, get horse carriage rides around the park complex. Many significant travel sights are within immediate or close proximity of the Maidan, making it a convenient place to go for a break from sightseeing.
Those looking for some unique souvenirs for curious family back home will find it at the New Market, a frenetic place that will shock and stimulate your senses. In addition to a variety of handicrafts that will instill wonder in their recipients, there is also no shortage of regional food to enjoy here. If you are staying in budget accommodations, this place is located a short walk from Sudder Street, an area widely considered to be the backpacker ghetto of this metropolis.