Kolkata (Calcutta)

I endeavored to “see” Kolkata – a steamy, teeming city of over 15 million people – in a single morning tour by taxi.

It is, of course, foolish to hope to visit and properly understand a city of 15 million people, once the capital of British India, in a single morning.  After my visit to IIT Kharagpur, however, that was my plan. Read on and check out the photo galleries!

India. Kolkata. Sights.

I returned to Kolkata [location] from Kharagpur in the late afternoon, capturing more intriguing photos of the countryside during the first hour. A rain shower, a stop for tea, and bad traffic in Kolkata, turned a three-hour drive into four.

I thought I would arrange for a car and driver for the morning, as my flight was not until 4:30pm and I figured I could tour some of the key sites, visit the shopping district around lunch, and catch a major temple on the way out to the airport.  Whew, was that optimistic.

After much confusion (the staff did not speak much English), a car arrived an hour late.  It was a rattle trap, and in retrospect I should have sent it away.  The driver spoke no English, had no mobile phone (which spoiled my plan of a walking tour in which I met him at some other location), and the car had no A/C (which in Kolkata, at 90+ degrees and 500% humidity, makes for an unpleasant ride). 

The Victoria Memorial. Kolkata.

So, I managed to see just two of the sights I had hoped to see, because my gestures at the map (which I think he couldn’t read), and his difficulty in understanding my English (and, to be fair, my total lack of any Bengali). At one point I told him that I wanted to visit the riverbank, in particular, a ghat (a riverside landing where people often take ritual baths). Unfortunately, the only words he caught were “River Hooghly” and the next thing I knew we were on the toll bridge crossing the broad river to the west side, landing in the suburb of Howrah.  Instead of crossing back, as I asked, he drove us up the “Grand Trunk” road – which is so congested with people, bicycles, scooters, buses, cows, and shops that we progressed at about 1km/hour.  On the other hand, this slow pace gave me plenty of opportunities for photographing the market stalls that lined the street.  One needs to go with the flow.

A girl at the temple ghat.

Since we were over there, we stopped briefly at Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna mission. Unfortunately we arrived when they were closed for lunch.  So we moved on to Dakshineswar Kali Temple, which is beautiful and impressive.  Unfortunately, I arrived just after they closed the temple, again, I think for lunch.  Nonetheless, I was able to take some nice photos from the outside, including some down at the ghat.

In Kolkata I passed a few of the estimated 2,000 pandals being prepared for Durga Puja, next week. “During the week of Durga Puja, in the entire state of West Bengal as well as in large enclaves of Bengalis everywhere, life comes to a complete standstill. In playgrounds, traffic circles, ponds – wherever space may be available – elaborate structures called pandals are set up, many with nearly a year’s worth of planning behind them. The word pandal means a temporary structure, made of bamboo and cloth, which is used as a temporary temple for the purpose of the puja. While some of the pandals are simple structures, others are often elaborate works of art with themes that rely heavily on history, current affairs and sometimes pure imagination.” [Wikipedia]

Goddess Durga, I believe. Kolkata.

See my photos of the Kolkata sights and Kolkata streets.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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