Rich with intoxicating smells and sounds, vivid colours and rich culture, India assaults the senses, captivating visitors and leaving a lasting impression. All of life can be found in India: holidays here are defined by cultural discovery, fascinating history and an overwhelming sensory overload. Arguably India’s most diverse region, the north east is a profusion of cultures, landscapes, people and history. Kolkata (often known by its colonial name of Calcutta) in West Bengal is its cultural and intellectual heart and the logical starting point for exploring the region. Once the country’s capital under the British Empire, Kolkata is a vibrant metropolis which shocks some visitors with its decaying buildings and indisputable human poverty and yet it has more cultural life than India’s modern capital, Delhi, or its commercial heart, Mumbai.
Visit the potter’s district of Kumartuli
Kumartuli is a wonderfully magical place. Originally a worker’s district as Kolkata grew under the British East India Company, Kumartuli was the city’s potter’s quarter, where artisans made pots and religious figurines out of clay from the river. Today, the same craftsmanship survives and the streets are filled with idols of Hindu gods, statues of mythological creatures and elegant clay figurines. People visit the markets of Kumartuli to purchase clay icons for pujas in Kolkata and neighbouring districts. Its reputation means items are also exported worldwide.
Enjoy brunch with Bomti
Kolkata’s reputation as an intellectual hub grew alongside British rule, and an intelligentsia emerged that would eventually see India to independence. Local socialite Surajit ‘Bomti’ Iyengar, enjoys regaling visitors with the city’s present day cultural scene over traditional Bengali brunch at his family’s beautiful heritage home in the Chowringhee district. Featured in Elle Décor, the apartment is an artistic treasure trove, adorned with beautiful ceramics, antique colonial furniture in dark wood, vintage clocks and eclectic works of art by young Bengali artists. As an art dealer and collector himself, Bomti is well placed to advise guests on where to visit to purchase or view works of art by rising stars. An hour or two chatting with Bomti over brunch is an absorbing and most enjoyable way to spend a morning. Literally food for thought.
Enjoy a flutter at The Royal Calcutta Turf Club (RCTC).
Founded in 1847, The Royal Calcutta Turf Club is one of the most influential racing clubs in the world. Originally the premier horse racing organisation in India during British colonial rule, the RCTC was once the governing body for almost all courses in the sub-continent, defining the rules for the sport of kings. During its heyday, race meetings here were some of the most anticipated sporting and social events of the calendar, often with the Viceroy of India in attendance. Taking a private box here is one of the best ways to experience Kolkata’s legendary social scene.
Visit a tailor for a bespoke silk suit:
Indian silk is renowned for its quality and so visit one of Kolkata’s excellent tailors for a bespoke suit. One of the most recognised is Barkat Ali & Sons. Barkat established his first tailoring shop in 1900, and made his name tailoring uniforms for regiments fighting on behalf of the British war effort. Known for attention to detail and wonderful, intricate designs, Barkat Ali & Sons has created suits for India’s society as well as visitors from around the world.
Read more: When in Kolkata - Part II
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