Calcutta, a city that means many things to many people. For some, Calcutta is the city of joy, while for others it is dirty, crowded, and noisy. Once the greatest colonial city in the Orient, Calcutta was later reviled as a cauldron of poverty, dirt, and disease. Today, it ranks among the four major metropolis of India along with Delhi, Mumbai, and Chennai. A mere village in the 17th century, Calcutta is not an ancient city like Delhi. Like Mumbai and Chennai, it originated largely due to the expansionist ambitions of the European powers, especially the British Raj. Little wonder, Calcutta has some of the finest Raj edifices built in a variety of styles.
The metropolitan city of Calcutta in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal extends between the latitude 22°82' N and longitude 88°20' E. The city is well connected to the other cities of India through train, bus, and air services. Most of the countries in the Asia have flight links to the city.
The first capital of the British in India, Calcutta does not have an ancient history like Delhi. The city was established in 1686 when British moved to the small villages of Sutanati, Govindpur, and Kalikata from their trading port of Hooghly. The city got its name from the last of the settlements mentioned above. The city progressed well until 1756 when Siraj-Ud-Daula (Nawab of Bengal) attacked the town and drove away the British. Lord Clive retook Calcutta and until 1911, Calcutta remained the capital of the British government in India. Being the center of power for so long created a unique culture and heritage of the city, totally unlike any other city of India. The people here are proud of their culture and can go to any length to defend it. The humanity of the city can be felt only through visiting the place and not by reading.
To know and understand Calcutta in its eternity, one is invited to the city during Durga Puja-a time when Calcutta becomes unforgettable. Every year, for four days, Calcutta forgets its worries and yields to a paroxysm of celebration and worship. This special time of the year comes just before the full moon in late September or October. This is a special occasion because of the transcendent place Goddess Durga holds in the Bengali imagination.
Saraswati Puja is the celebration of Saraswati, the goddess of learning. The festival is celebrated just before the coming of spring in the months of January or February.
Calcutta Book Fair is the largest in Asia and provides ample opportunities to the bibliophiles to explore the fascinating world of books. The event is held every year in the month of January or February.
Poush Mela is celebrated in the Shanti Niketan usually on the 22nd or 23rd of December. The three-day function marks the foundation of Shanti Niketan.
Other important festivals celebrated in the city are Kali Puja, Diwali, and Holi.
As Calcutta is near the sea, the city has uniform temperature throughout the year. The temperature ranges from 12-27°C in the winter and 24-38°C in the summer. Annual rainfall is around 160 cm. Humidity level can be very high in the summers and can make one's life difficult.
Victoria Memorial is a huge white-marble structure and the most enduring of remains of the British Raj in India. The structure, which is now floodlit in the night, gives a fascinating site. It has been now converted in a museum that houses the most impressive collection of memorabilia's from the days of Raj.
Indian Museum, built in 1874, has a beautiful structure. The oldest museum in India, it has one of the rare collections of archeological. The entrance to the museum houses an original Lion Capitol, the national symbol of India. The museum is opened all days of the week except Monday. The normal timing is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Fort William was constructed in 1781 after the unfortunate happenings of 1756 in which many British soldiers with their families were killed by Siraj-Ud-Daula. Large area around the village of Govindpur was cleared off the forests and this fort was constructed, which for some time also lent its name to the city. The fort is still in use and visitors are allowed inside only after getting special permits. The area around the fort is a very large patch of green known as the Maidan (ground). The Maidan is also known as the lung of Calcutta and stretches 1 km in width and 3 km in length.
Eden Garden, located in the northwest corner of the city, is a small and pleasantly laid-out garden. The place also houses the renowned cricket ground by the same name.
Birla Planetarium is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and a good place to enjoy oneself. Regular shows in Hindi and English are held here.
Kali Mandir is the temple dedicated to Kali, goddess of destruction. This is the temple from which the old village Kalikata took its name, which, in turn, also gave the city its name.
Howrah Bridge is an excellent example of engineering techniques of the early 20th century. The whole bridge is 450 m long without any pylon in the river. The bridge also has the distinction of being the busiest bridge in the world catering to around 100,000 vehicles and innumerable pedestrians.
When Calcutta was the capital of British India, BBD Bagh was the center of power. This is the place that houses the now famous Writer's Building (clerks were known as writers in the British India) and the old Fort William.
Belur Math, the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission, is situated in the north of the city. The place was founded in 1899 and houses a structure that was designed to be a church, temple, and mosque all in one.
Other important sites that can be visited are Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, Botanical Garden, Marble Palace, Tagore House, Church of St John, Nakhoda Mosque, Raj Bhawan, Town Hall, and St. Paul's Cathedral.
The most popular place to visit around Calcutta is Shanti Niketan. Situated 136 km northwest of the city, this is the place where Rabindranath Tagore lived and established a university.
Bishnupur, 100 km northwest of Calcutta, is yet another exciting and hitherto unexplored holiday destination. Bishnupur houses unique terracotta temples, each more beautifully embellished than the other. Once the capital of the Malla kings, Bishnupur is renowned for its crafts such as intricate Balucheri saris, the rare ganijifa (circular Indian playing card), delicate carving on shells and bell metal artifacts.
Chandernagar (35 km) is the former French settlement that still abounds in buildings from that period of history. The important places to visit are the Quai Dupleix, Eglise Du Sacre, and image of Joan of Arc.