How living in Kolkata as a Bangladeshi made me more culturally aware

In August of 1947, the Bengali nation found itself divided into two countries. But geopolitical borders can only separate people, not their cultures and souls. West Bengal and Bangladesh are two bodies with one soul, with their hearts beating within the people who contain a bit of both entities. The culture differences might be overwhelming to some, but to many, the similarities is where the harmony is strengthened. The capital of West Bengal, Kolkata is specifically loved by many Bangladeshis because of still containing the residue of original Bengali traditions and inspirations gracefully enough, while becoming a modern cosmopolitan city.

A tale of two cities

Kolkata is not just a city to many, it is also an emotion for being the heart of emergence of the historic personalities, events and art that have shaped the dimensions of our collective culture. It will forever remain precious since it has still preserved it all with simplicity, sincerity and joy.

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Read more: In Kolkata, the city of joy

Dhaka is different. It might not be as aesthetically pleasing but it has had the fortune of being the home of Nawabs. This 400-year-old city still preserves the faint scent of its lost glory days in the narrow alleys of Old Dhaka. Being someone who appreciates food and fraternity, my love for Dhaka is eternal since you will find it in loads here. The versatility of cuisines and food habits here beats some of Kolkata’s for me. Old Dhaka is undeniably the heart of likeable chaos and urban heritage. This is how it steals my breath, even after being overwhelmingly crowdy.

Read more: 6 places in Dhaka that remind us of our glorious past.

A tale of two teachers

I have been blessed with the fortune of having a residence in Kolkata, unlike many. Being a wanderer in nature, Kolkata as a city has always actively taken part in shaping my emotions, feelings, values and cultures. The city has a particular aesthetic that no other city could beat for me till now. This is a city for the people with a hearty appetite and curious eyes. Kolkata gave me so much more than a place to stay. It gave me comfort, peace, diversity and joy. So much, that I became addicted to its roads flooding with sodium lights, yellow ambassadors with loud Bollywood songs from the 80s, earthen tea cups that have their own flavour and so much more!  The air of this city has a distinct smell, the smell that will excite anybody who is familiar with the diversity it offers.

How life in Dhaka University changes you

Dhaka pampers you with unpredictability and availability. It gave me a home to grow up in and understand myself better. Nothing in Dhaka is too far but it consumes time like no other. Even then, it will still give you hope. From the delicacies to the nightlife, everything here is a trade. The trade of time, energy and sometimes, life.

Kolkata or Dhaka, why not both?

While Kolkata wows me with art and ethereal beauty, Dhaka prepares me for the worst. It is like Yin and Yang, balancing each other in harmony. Kolkata was originally inspired by the British. Their credit? They built it. Kolkata’s credit? It preserved and carried it, even today, like it’s their own. The historic buildings, churches, temples, mosques, offices.. everything gives you the feeling of being in the right place, no matter how many times you’ve visited the place already. The best thing about Kolkata carrying its cultures so devotedly even today is the candidness behind everything in this city. Nothing feels forced, nothing feels odd. Even the shady alleys will offer something to your thoughts.

6 places in Dhaka that remind us of our glorious past

Being a frequent visitor of Kolkata since the age of 4, I realized there’s more of Kolkata in me than Dhaka, as I am now labelled an adult by society.

The cultural similarity we share has been sowed within me by Kolkata and was nourished here in Dhaka. Every time I visit Kolkata, I learn something new, even if it isn’t directly associated with anything cultural.

A tale of two art forms

Dhaka has its own way of expressing itself. It will express its ‘sorrows’ through the sweat stains of a tired Rikshawala on a humid day, ‘happiness’ through the smile on the face of a mother when her child returns home, ‘fear’ with the speeding buses and trucks on busy streets, ‘anger’ with every innocent life lost, ‘hope’ with every warning a girl receives from random strangers when her orna is tangled to the wheels of a rickshaw and ‘joy’ with every cricket match Bangladesh team manages to win. We have our own graceful way of doing things here.

Rad more: 5 unique experiences in Dhaka that most tourists never see

In Kolkata, the city of joy 9

Kolkata is a living art. From Howrah to New Market, the extended roads with shadowy alleys, sodium lights and oversized billboards, the faint smell of incense coming from a distance and the classic yellow ambassadors lining up one after another in traffic, everything will please your eyes. Kolkata isn’t entirely modern but it doesn’t want to be it either. It is almost like a modern cosmopolitan woman draped in a saree, unpretentiously appreciating the combination. This effortlessly beautiful city has always been therapeutic for me, whenever I felt dilemmatic, whenever I needed a breath of fresh air. The discipline of this city despite the chaotic charisma as it may seem to many, is praiseworthy as well.

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Being in a love-hate relationship with Dhaka has enabled me to appreciate the best of both cities.

Dhaka will always capture a bigger part of my heart and a broader part of my understandings of culture. The city may not be as artistic and aesthetically pleasing, but it will make you appreciate the little things in your life. Dhaka lets you set priorities and act on it everyday. Dhaka will disappoint you, but some days it won’t and you’ll fall in love with it. The heart of Dhaka is not what it contains but the people who make this city liveable. Culturally, Dhaka has given me the concepts of assertiveness, relationships and the importance of being there for each other. Dhaka will destroy you first and then build you up better. Compared to Kolkata, Dhaka gives you hopes with conditions. Dhaka gives you freedom with restrictions. But Kolkata?

Divided by a border, united by culture

Kolkata lets you live, in all the ways you want to. As Dhaka keeps me grounded, Kolkata gives me the wings to fly. The combination of two didn’t only help me appreciate the beauty of the Bengal, but also it gave me a strong sense of security and cultural awareness.

If these words didn’t make enough sense to you as someone who’s yet to breathe the air of Kolkata, why don’t you pack your bags and board the next flight to make sense out of it? And if by any chance, you’re reading this from Kolkata, it’s never too late to visit this cousin city at least once.

Everything you need to know about Indian visa

India, the country we love and support except for when it comes to cricket matches. Visiting India might not seem like a big deal because it’s a country that we visit so often, but for people who are planning to get their visa for visiting India for the first time and can’t find where to look or whom to go to, this article is for them. 

Read more: In Kolkata, the city of joy

Visa types

The first and foremost thing you need to do is find out what type of visa you need.  You could apply for 

  • A tourist visa
  • A business visa 
  • A short-term single-entry visa 
  • A long term multiple entry visa
  • Transit single entry visa
  • Transit double entry visa 
  • Medical visa
  • Student visa 
  • Research visa 

Now, here is the most important thing you need to remember while deciding which visa to get, unlike other countries which might be a bit more lenient, Indian airports or railway stations will reject your entry if you try to enter the country with a type of a visa that does not match your purpose.

Read more: 5 visa-free countries for Bangladeshis

This is the most recent law passed by the Indian government. So, if you are going to a conference, get a conference visa and not a tourist or business visa.  However, in this particular article, we will focus on what you will need to do to get a tourist visa for India being a Bangladeshi citizen. 

Visa validity

A tourist visa is applicable for either 3 months, 6 months or 12 months. you can choose whichever option you prefer along with either single entry or multiple entries.

In Kolkata, the city of joy
Streets of Kolkata

However, it is always better to apply for 6 months if you are aiming for a 3 months visa and to apply for a 12 months visa if you are aiming for a 6 months visa. This is because you sometimes may get a visa that is less than the time frame for which you applied. 

Required documents

  • NID/Birth certificate,
  • Bank statement/Dollar endorsement (Endorsement should not be older than 1 month at the time of submission)/Active international credit card / Travelcard (Issued by Indian Visa Application Centre or IVAC. Read on to find out)
  • Profession proof i.e. Photocopy of trade license if the employer is NOC, student ID card or salary receipt and trading
  • Last passport copies and all old passports. the passport must be signed and have 6 months validity beyond stay in India. It should also have at least two blank passport pages available for Indian visa stamps. 
  • One recent (not less than 3 months old) passport-size colour photograph depicting full face; Applicants would be required to scan and upload their photograph in the designated space provided in the online application form.
  • Photocopy of a utility bill (electricity bill, gas bill, phone bill)

Read more: 10 cities to visit under budget

Applying for a visa

You can go to the website http://www.ivacbd.com/existing/online_visa.php . This is the official website for the Indian visa application centre. You can download the form from this website. The documents you will be required are already mentioned above.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime 36
Magnificent Darjeeling

Now, you can appoint an agent to do this for you if you don’t want to go through the tedious process. However, given the Indian visa form is very extensive, the chances of a mistake being made by the agent are very high. So, it is better to do it by yourself. Once you are done with filling the form, you have to make the payment. 

Visa fees and how to pay them

According to the most recent (5th August 2018) visa processing law in India, the visa processing fees is 800 bdt. You can pay this fee by yourself through Bkash, Rocket, DBBL Nexus, credit card, etc.

The number to which the money is to be transferred can be found on the IVAC website and this payment getaway link. This information will only be available to you after you fill the form.

Once you have made the payment, you will have exactly 3 days to submit the form at a visa application centre. If you do not submit the form within 3 days, the payment will be considered inapplicable for the form. 

Submitting the application

All Indian visa applications from Dhaka are now accepted only at the IVAC centre in Jamuna Future Park. When you submit the form, you will receive a receipt including your Name, Passport Number, Web file number and Date of delivery. You can use the Web file number to track your application status by logging into the IVAC website. 

It usually takes about a week to get an Indian visa. When your visa is done, you will get a text message and you can collect your passport using the receipt. 

As per the new rule, walk-in applications are also accepted at IVAC without prior application.

Read more: A guide to falling in love with Darjeeling

Necessary contact

Indian Visa Application Centre, Dhaka ( JFP )
Floor – G1, South Court, Jamuna Future Park,
Progoti Sharani, Baridhara, Dhaka-1229, Bangladesh Hot Line: 09612 333 666
E-mail: [email protected]
Website: www.ivacbd.com

BTV is now available in India and we don’t know how to react

According to reports cited by ANI of India, India will broadcast Bangladesh’s BTV from now on under a new contract signed by the two countries. Anyone else feeling funny here or is it just us?

We all, especially the 90’s kids, have a soft spot for BTV. It was our sole source of legendary shows like Alif Laila and Ittadi. But times have changed. BTV, however, hasn’t.

BTV, as old as time

As time went by, we grew up but BTV couldn’t. Where two negatives make a positive, two positives make a BTV. Even during some dire national situations, BTV would just stay overjoyed with lemons and agricultural successes. BTV’s program quality hasn’t improved in ages and the actual function of this TV channel remains a mystery.

Pardon us if we fail to see how broadcasting BTV in India will portray our cultural and media scenario to our neighbours.

One-sided cultural overflow

The free flow of cultures between the countries has been strongly evident since the last 30 years. Bangladesh had access to almost all of Indian entertainment channels where India had zero. Television media and preferences in Bangladesh are now so inspired and influenced by Indian media that BTV solely can’t balance out the one-sided cultural overflow.

Zee Bangla and Star Jalsha making their mark on our cultural territory along with Indian advertisements and products has made us more aware about India than Bangladesh. A large portion of Indians on the other hand, don’t even know how Bangladesh has been relying on them for almost everything; even how our geographical maps collide.

A futile attempt?

The cultural invasion is so massive that with a minimal contract like this, it is nearly impossible for Indians to learn more about Bangladesh and its media unless a new contract for broadcasting is made that ensures the equal flow of media and channels, if not Teesta’s water.

A guide to falling in love with Darjeeling

The majestic Kangchenjunga in the backdrop of a bustling small town, the echoing sound of the old steam engine train running through its streets, the captivating smell of momos and warm tea. Welcome to Darjeeling. 

People who grew up listening to Anjan Dutt and reading Satyajit Ray have an irresistible fascination for Darjeeling. Even if you’re not into any of those, the appeal of a small town lifestyle in the backdrop of the mighty mountains, the Tibetan culture, the sound of prayer bells and the colourful prayer flags is sure to call you back to Darjeeling over and over again.

Does this not want to make you go to Darjeeling right away?

Also, a trip to Darjeeling would probably cost you less than your usual trip to Cox’s Bazar. Did I get you hooked yet?

Is winter in Darjeeling a good idea?

Some people have an extremely low tolerance to cold. So, if you sleep with heavy blankets in 25 degrees, you probably should not go to Darjeeling in December. But winter in Darjeeling is beautiful. The temperature usually stays between 12 to 13 degrees, so with enough warm clothes, you will be set. Don’t forget to take multiple pairs of socks, gloves, and winter caps. Load up on moisturizers and dry shampoos. Also, make sure your hotel has a constant supply of warm water and a proper heating system. Checking on these before your trip will help you get the full winter experience in Darjeeling.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime
A bustling city at the foothill of the Himalayas

Bon Voyage!

The route to Darjeeling is fairly simple. Want to go by road? Take a train to Panchagarh. The border is about an hour away from the rail station. Cross it and you will be able to enter through the Phulbari port. Make sure you apply for Phulbari while applying for the Visa. The immigration will not be too hectic, and you can reach Shiliguri in about another hour. From there, it is a two hour drive to your destination.

Another way to go to Darjeeling is by air. You will be dropped off at Bagdogra airport, and from there it will take a little more than an hour to Darjeeling. Pay attention to the fare, though. Everything in Darjeeling is a rip off if you are not careful.

Everything that Darjeeling has to offer

As tempted as I am to recommend that in Darjeeling, the best thing to do is just find higher ground and keep staring at the majestic Kangchenjunga, there are a lot of other things to see in Darjeeling.

A bustling city at the foothill of the Himalayas
An unworldly view from Tiger hill

When going to Darjeeling, take the long way through Mirik, and you will be amazed how organized and colourful everything is. It almost feels like someone handcrafted this entire place, and the creator put a lot of thought into the design.

You’ll see colourful little cottages decorated with flowerpots. You will see a billion types of flower bushes. The air will make you feel as if you haven’t breathed in years. The spiral roads, the echoes of the toy train, the colourful temples, the valley with a million tiny lights, and people with the friendliest smiles- everything about Darjeeling is heartwarming and perfect. Once you get there, hire a car with a package. The car will take you to all the tourist spots in Darjeeling. You can go paragliding/river rafting in Kalimpong too- so there will be plenty of food for your adventurous soul! But these sports are not always open. Ask around before you head out to Kalimpong.

Beauty and culture

Darjeeling has a beautiful Tibetan culture to show off. You’ll see colourful prayer flags hanging around from almost every other establishment in Darjeeling. Contrary to popular belief, the Tibetan prayer flags do not carry actual prayers or mantras to particular deities or Gods.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime 40

It is believed in the Tibetan culture that the mountain wind will carry the messages of peace, compassion and wisdom that’s written on the flags and bring peace to the world.

And the best part? On every turn you take in the mountainous roads of Darjeeling, Kangchenjunga will peek out and welcome you. And that is a sight unforgettable.

Pro tip- Do not miss out sunrise on Tiger hill, as the first ray of the sun touch the peak of Kangchenjunga before dawn breaks upon the city. Visit Ghoom Monastery, Mahakal Temple, Rock Garden, and the zoological park. If you are into history, check out the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute Museum. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes because there will be a lot of uphill walking.

Eat like there’s no tomorrow

Darjeeling is a heaven for food lovers. From fancy English breakfast to street style Maggie- you will have way too many options and not enough space in your stomach.

Start your day with mouthwatering breakfast from Sonam’s Kitchen, a small cafe run by a lovely couple who’ll fire up a conversation with you. Treat yourself with momos, pakoras and other street food at Batasia Loop. Warm your stone-cold heart with a bowl of steaming Thukpa at Kunga restaurant. Lose yourself in the live music at Glenary’s while munching on delicious food and enjoy a scenic mountain view from their wooden deck. For such a small place, Darjeeling has a lot to offer. It’s your job to take full advantage of it.

Shopping in Darjeeling?

Darjeeling has a lot of souvenir shops and old Tibetan art shops. You can buy beautiful winter clothes, breathtaking silver jewelry, and simple trinkets as gifts. Go to mall road and take your pick. If you want branded stuff, go to Big Bazaar. But if you’re shopping from the streets, make sure to bargain. Otherwise, you will be ripped off, and you won’t even realize it until it’s too late.

Darjeeling: An experience of a lifetime 35

The night life!

Darjeeling at night is exquisite. But unfortunately, everything usually closes down by 9 because of the cold. This is the reason why, you will not get to dance your night away at clubs. However, you can still enjoy your evenings at a number of cafes, pubs and restaurants.

But that’s not it. You’ll experience an unworldly sight at night if you’re looking out of your hotel window, balcony or rooftop. You’ll see a sky full of a billion stars. And the entire Darjeeling city on the hills with its flickering white and yellow lights in the dark offer an illusion that the stars have come down on the dark hills.

In the distant, the white snowy peak of the Kangchenjunga will still be visible in the dark.

And you’ll hear distant sounds of prayer bells and hymns from temples. Words fall short in describing this ecstatic and unworldly experience.

Is it safe to roam around alone?

The thing I loved about Darjeeling was how safe it was. The people are helpful, and they will be kind to you as you are a tourist. As a result, travelling alone is not gonna be as hard as you might think. But even if you are alone, chances are that a kind stranger will help you find your way. Again, it’s India. It doesn’t hurt to stay on your guard.

Go easy on the ol’ wallet

Last but not the least, do not worry much about the money. As long as you have around 15,000 BDT in your hand, you can have a comfortable, three day tour (minus the shopping, of course).

What are you waiting for? Go explore this piece of heaven on Earth! And don’t forget to let us know about your experience!

Netflix’s Ghoul: guilt, tyranny and the monsters among men

Quietly released on 24th August, Ghoul is a sharply directed, enigmatically paced political allegory of a TV show, with a dash of supernatural spices thrown in for good measure.

The little ads and marketing you may have seen for the miniseries suggests the reverse is true, as does the director himself. “Dystopian future is something I’ve always enjoyed seeing in fiction,” Patrick Graham said, explaining how the idea of Ghoul came to be. “So we thought it would be a nice backdrop to this oppressive, claustrophobic story to have this fascist state behind it all. But really the main bulk of the story came first, and the atmosphere we wanted to create came after.”

The evil that men do

Ghoul unfolds in a dystopian India, suffering from sectarian conflicts and fascist state policies. Nida Rahim (Radhika Apte) chooses the state over her own minority roots and hands over her dissenting father to the state for reconditioning camps. Sometime later, she is assigned to Meghdoot 31, a remote interrogation facility to draw a confession out of Ali Saeed, a feared terrorist. Amidst tensions within and between the military staff and the prisoners, it soon becomes clear that there are other, far more sinister forces in play.

The allegory, while daring and thought provoking, is anything but subtle. The persecuted minority, which includes intellectuals and priests, all bear Muslim names. Graham, however, does a great job in creating an oppressive, paranoid atmosphere. The limited number of locations also helped heighten the intensity. Originally intended to be a film, the three-part acts were shot on location over one month, for fourteen hours a day, in a smelly, ‘damp setting with no sunlight’.

Produced through a unique collaboration between Ivanhoe, Blumhouse and Phantom Productions, it also features some serendipity in the form of the lead actress, Radhika Apte. This is her third Netflix feature in 2018, following Lust Stories and Sacred Games. “I’m very excited,” Apte commented on the coincidence. “I’m loving the attention, but it wasn’t by design.”

What turns good men cruel

Sacred Games and Ghoul are different affairs, and rightfully so. While the former is a big budget blockbuster production, this is a more intimate story that succeeds more due to the competent cast and tight storytelling. Apte does a fine job as the morally conflicted daughter who comes to see both herself and the state in a new light as the story progresses.

Manav Kaul plays Colonel Sunil Dacunha, the decorated war hero in charge of Meghdoot 31. It’s a more introspective role compared to Apte’s Rahim. Dacunha has long surrendered his conscience to the orders of the state. His guilt, however, remains submerged and potent. It’s this guilt, as well as the guilt of the rest of Meghdoot’s staff, that becomes fertile ground for the forces of chaos and terror to play with in the series’ third act, along with ideas of sedition and mutiny being played out both within the prisoners and the facility staff.

Demons in disguise

The supernatural aspects of the series, while novel, are a little underdeveloped and easy to counteract. Graham uses elements from Arabic folklore to great effect, but the horror of the story draws more from the Orwellian aspects of the setting. Graham was also conscious about limiting the use of jump scares. “Anybody can have a cat jump in through the window or have a bird hit a window pane. Jump scares are not the most challenging aspect of making horror.”

The main antagonist turns the table on the military staff, preying on insecurities and flaws such as collateral damage and broken marriages before eating their flesh to steal their identities. “I am nothing like them, Ahmed, and nor do I want to be,” is a key line that says volumes about Ghoul’s views on who the true monsters are. This is underscored to great dramatic effect in the film’s climax, with a line that reminded me, oddly enough, of Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt.

As a limited series, Ghoul also reminds me of The Thing, Alien and Pitch Black, as well as survival horror games such as Dead Space and F.E.A.R. The political elements borrow liberally from classics such as Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and A Clockwork Orange.

The Verdict

While it’s a good horror production, one can’t help but feel it could have benefited from a longer narrative that allowed more room for both the political and supernatural elements to breathe. Thankfully, the ending leaves room for a Season Two. “Yeah, anybody who watches it can very much realize that isn’t the end of the story,” Graham acquiesced when pressed on the series’ future.

Whatever lies in the future for Ghoul, Radhika Apte is optimistic about the future of Indian content on Netflix. “Sacred Games’ success has really made everybody believe that this is one of the biggest and best things that could happen right now.”

Originally published on Medium and UpThrust on August 26, 2018.

In Kolkata, the city of joy

One of the oldest and the busiest cities in the world, Kolkata nicknamed the city of joy, is also the proud holder of a very befitting title, the cultural capital of India. The city of Kolkata is full of people, colours, scents and noises of all kinds and a rich cultural heritage to boast about.

Kolkata is a coveted destination for all the history buffs, cultural explorers and spiritual travelers. This is the city that saw the rise of modern India and is the birthplace of the Bengali renaissance. For someone from Bangladesh, there is no better destination to travel to if you want to embark on a journey of discovering your roots and heritage.

Anyone who is looking for the experience of a lifetime on a tight budget, the city of Rabindranath and Satyajit Roy welcomes you.

Kolkatay Shwagotom
Traveling to Kolkata from Bangladesh is as easy as it gets. There are trains, which take roughly 8 hours, daily buses from Dhaka with a journey time of 12 hours (+ horrible Dhaka traffic) and of course aeroplanes that will land you in Dumdum airport in just about 2 hours or so. Indigo airlines would be the cheapest option if you’re planning to catch a flight.

Trains and buses will cost you the same, which would be a lot cheaper than an aeroplane. Trains operate between Dhaka to Kolkata four days a week from Kamalapur, tickets are sold as early as one month prior to your travelling dates. Check with the railway website for more information on timings and other details.

A number of buses operate daily on the Dhaka-Kolkata-Dhaka route. The best option would be to get a ticket for the BRTC-Shyamoli service. The staff is efficient and helpful and will get you a “VIP privilege” during land immigration, which can be a lot confusing than regular airport immigration. A round trip should cost you around 4000 or less, including taxes and other charges.

Kolkata New Market

A place to stay
If you’re traveling by bus, they’ll drop you off right in the heart of the city, Marquis street. Just adjacent to Marquis street, is Sudder street, the central backpacker’s district. You’ll find a number of cheap to mid-range hotels on Marquis and Sudder street. Just walk into any if you haven’t pre-booked one.

If you’re looking for a cheap stay with quality rooms, check out Ashreen guest house on Cowai Lane. Right in between Sudder street and Hogg’s market, the Ashreen guest house has 3 star rated rooms, in terms of quality, for a jaw-dropping cheap rate. Just don’t expect a proper 3-star hotel facility. You get what you pay for.

Many of these hotels are in heritage buildings that are hundreds of years old and are meant to keep it that way. Whether you’re looking for a heritage stay or a quality upgrade for a little value for money, finding a stay in Kolkata is an absolute no-brainer.

Explore, explore and explore
Kolkata is a crowded and crammed city. It has its own fair share of dirt and filth. But every street in Kolkata has some sort of history and culture associated with it.

The streets of Kolkata are a bold mixture of the old and the new. When Job Charnock of the East India Company first arrived in the banks of Hooghly in 1686, he realized the potential of the region for English settlement. For the next 150 years, English colonists would clear the jungle of Hooghly and establish roads, erect buildings in British architectural style and turn Kolkata into the first capital of the British Raj in India. Kolkata still bears the sign of its glorious past. Old British colonial buildings still adorn the streets of Esplanade and Park Street. The Park street cemetery houses the graves of 200 years old British families who were the first to arrive in India.

College street houses the largest street book market in Asia alongside the Calcutta University, the first institution for westernised higher education in India and Asia. Calcutta University and the subsequent educational institutions in Kolkata would, later on, produce some of the brightest minds in Bengal and create an educated and politically conscious middle class who were the pioneer in the movement for Indian independence. The college street is also home to the infamous Indian Coffee House. The intellectuals of Bengal would come here often to discuss literature, politics and everything in between over a cup of coffee.

This is the same coffee house Manna Dey wrote his famous song about. And it is believed that Roma Roys and D’Souzas really did exist.

There’s Victoria Memorial, a magnificent structure built by the British in memory of Queen Victoria. Built with a mixture of Victorian and Mughal architecture in style, Victoria Memorial was quite literally erected because the British happened to be jealous of the Taj Mahal in Agra wanted something as magnificent as Taj Mahal for the Empress too. Whether it served its purpose or not is of course, for you to decide.

Victoria memorial Kolkata
Victoria Memorial

St. Paul’s Cathedral is near to the memorial. It’s an 18th-century church built in English-Gothic architectural style, for the increasing number of English populaces in the city. The church is open to all and visitors are expected to maintain civic and silence when visiting the church. The church also houses a number of Graves inside its walls. Some of these graves belong to prominent British bishops, reformists and Lords who died in Kolkata.

St. Paul's church Kolkata
St. Paul’s

Birla Planetarium, the second largest planetarium in the world is close by and Birla Mandir, a magnificent temple with intricate marble stone carvings on its walls, is about 20 minutes taxi ride from the planetarium.

The famous Howrah bridge stands proudly on the Ganges river. Go to the Mullickghat flower market very early in the morning to witness one of the largest flower markets in Asia alongside the morning view of the Hooghly bridge.

Jorasanko Thakurbari, the ancestral home of Rabindranath Thakur is a must visit. The house is now turned into a museum and you can get inside the rooms Rabindranath and his family used to stay. The house also served as a center for intellectual practices during the renaissance period and now doubles as the Rabindra Bharati University. Satyajit Ray’s ancestral home is also nearby.

Tagore house Kolkata
Tagore’s house

Visit the Indian Museum, the largest in India to witness the vast and rich collection of our ancient civilisation and heritage. Top it off with a quick visit to Sir Stuart Hogg Market, commonly known as the New Market. The market built mainly for the British back in the 1800s now houses hundreds of shops that sell everything from antiques to traditional clothes. Shopping in the Hogg’s Market is an unforgettable experience.

Visit the Kalighat temple. The largest temple devoted to Goddess Kali or Durga. It is one of the 51 Shakti Pithas in Hindu mythology. According to some historians, the etymology of Kolkata is directly related to Kalighat. Mother Teressa’s house, Nirmal Hridoy, is right adjacent to the temple.

KolkataAbove everything, the most important aspect of traveling that I’m an advocate of is that, take random aimless walks down the streets and alleys of a city. Breathe in the smell of the city as every city has a smell of its own. Experience lives of the locals like the locals do. If nothing else, it enriches the soul.

The magnificent culinary journey
It is needless to say that food in Kolkata are practically crafted to our taste buds. The street foods are to die for. In Madge lane, right opposite to the New Market, you’ll find stalls selling hot Pav Bhaji, Chicken Paneer Kebabs, Chow mein etc. Don’t forget to try the Kulfi Falooda.

In New Market, you’ll find Nizam’s which have been around for 100 years selling delicious Kosha Manghso, Chicken Roll, Chicken Kabirazi etc. Head over to Baba Rolls in Park street to try the mouth-watering hot kathi rolls. The momo chain “Wow Momos!” sells some of the best pan-fried momos in the continent.

In college street, you’ll find Hindustan Dhaba. They sell the best Punjabi thali in the city. A hearty lunch at the dhaba is not only easy on the wallet but also one of the most delicious meals you’ll ever get to try. The juicy butter chicken and tandoor roti alone is enough to make one come back to Kolkata just to try it one more time.

Food in Kolkata
Thali in Hindustan Dhaba

You’ll, of course, go to the coffee house when on College street. One heads up is that the coffee at the coffee house is nothing special to be absolutely honest. But it’s the conversation that people come here for, not the food.

You’ll find some of the best South Indian idly and dosa in Friend’s Eating House behind the new market and their masala chai is a must try. There’s a small stall in Hartford Lane, near Ashreen guest house, that sells snacks like sandwich, omelettes, toast, chai and many more. They open early for breakfast and close late at night. Head over there for a cheese omelette if you’re not feeling too adventurous. The boy who runs the stall is a talkative young chap who can recommend you a thing or two.

And the best for the last, Roshogollas. Kolkata would not be Kolkata if there were no roshogollas. Try Bheem Nag and KC Das to taste these delicious sweets and maybe get a box or two home.

Getting around in Kolkata
At times it feels like Kolkata never moved on from the colonial times at all. 1958 models of Hindustan Ambassador yellow taxis and Royal Enfield motorcycles ply the streets along with trams, a forgotten mode of transport in most parts of the world.

Kolkata has the oldest running tram system in the world right now and getting a tram ride is a part of the Kolkata experience. Human run rickshaws are still found in the streets.

There are of course buses and conventional Uber rides. Kolkata also has a metro line which happens to be the first and the oldest underground metro in India. Travelling in the metro is cheap and fast for covering long distances. However, get one of the trademark yellow taxis to cover short distances and places where the metro will not go. Make sure you bargain well. They’re not very costly anyway.

Biday Kolkata
As night falls over this 300-year-old city, you should take a long look at the city from somewhere high enough that overlooks the old colonial buildings and crowded streets. The scent of incense would swirl into the sound of Azaan and the church bells would remind you that time is almost up.

You’ll get your return bus tickets from the same counter where you were dropped off. Or you could always take the train or the aeroplane, the choice is up to you.Kolkata taxi

As your bus/train will keep taking you further away from the city, you wouldn’t know what it is that’d keep calling you back. Is it the coffee house? Esplanade? The yellow taxis? Or is it the hundred years old night over Hogg’s market that stands witness to numerous events of history and culture? You will only know if you get back again. Kolkata, as always, welcomes you.