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. Red Savannah's India Travel Specialist shares her top experiences and 'must-see' sights when visiting this fascinating region.
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.
Watch a game of cricket
The British introduced cricket to India
during the days of the Raj and today it remains the country’s number one sport and the subject of considerable passion for Indians of all ages. Visit Eden Gardens, the world’s third largest cricket stadium, to experience some of the most voluble, ardent cricket fans you’ll ever encounter. Eden Gardens was established in 1864 and today is home to the Bengal cricket team and the Kolkata Knight Riders as well as being the venue for Twenty20 International, Test and One Day International matches. For cricket fans, this is India’s premier venue.
Explore Kolkata’s colonial history
Victoria Memorial - KolkataKolkata is inextricably linked to the days of colonial rule. It was established as a trading post by an English trader for the East India Company and rose in importance to become the capital of the British Empire in India until 1911. Everywhere you look there are remnants of the Raj, with imposing municipal buildings, monuments and museums. The Indian Museum started life as the Asiatic Society in 1814 and is India’s oldest museum. Today it houses sculptures, prehistoric and geological finds. The vast white marble Victoria Monument, crowned with a huge dome, was erected at the bequest of Lord Curzon in 1906 in memory of Queen Victoria. Inside, there are marvellous treasures including statues of colonial era heroes, historical documents from the East India Company and Victorian works of art, all capturing an age now long gone. The heart of colonial Kolkata is the BBD Bagh (formerly known as Dalhousie Square), where the State Secretariat accommodates a building that once served as the East India Company’s headquarters. Nearby stands St John’s Church, which resembles London’s St Martin-in-the-Fields, and a cemetery where a monument stands to commemorate the victims of the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta. Also nearby is the Governor’s Residence, built in 1802, and the domed Post Office. Explore Kolkata’s colonial past with Husna-Tara Prakash, whose own family heritage is similarly linked with England.
Sail along the Hoogly at sunset
As part of the River Ganges, the waters of the Hoogly (the Anglicized name for the Hughli) are considered sacred. Sail along its course at sunset sipping Darjeeling tea and watch as you pass riverside temples and bridges as your guide, Devika, reveals the river’s history. Devika is the daughter of a prominent family from Kolkata and she has an intimate knowledge of the city she calls home.
Visit the Kalighat Kali Temple
The Kalighat Kali temple is dedicated to the fierce Hindu goddess Kali, from whom the city is said to take its name. Her imposing statue – with three eyes, four hands and black face – is worshipped by garlanded visitors. New mothers come to adorn the ‘tree of life’ with black stones to give thanks for fertility. The temple was originally constructed on the banks of the River Hoogly but over time the course of the river has changed and the temple now stands next to a canal tributary. Adjacent to the temple, and far more peaceful is a ‘tank’ where people bathe.
If you want to find out more about India contact Red Savannah's travel specialists on 01242 787800.