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    Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is a city of contrasts and contradictions, and one which has a lasting impact on its visitors. It is India's third-largest city, and home to some of the country's holiest temples and finest colonial structures.

    As the 'Cultural Capital of India', Kolkata is said to have the biggest concentration of artists, writers and publishers in the country. Although it is the centre of Bengali culture, Kolkata is also a diverse city, with a diverse mixture of languages spoken among its 14 million inhabitants. Kolkata was home to two Nobel Laureates: Mother Teresa, whose humble home can still be visited; and writer Rabindranath Tagore. The city also accommodates sports fans, with Eden Gardens, the city's temple to cricket and the second-largest cricket stadium in the world; and Saltlake Stadium, one of the world's largest football venues, with an impressive crowd capacity of 120,000.

    From 1772 to 1912 Kolkata was the capital of the British Raj, a legacy evident in its superb colonial architecture - highlighted by the enormous Victoria Memorial - and well-planned infrastructure. The latter half of the 20th century, however, saw Kolkata enter a period of decline, with rampant poverty and economic stagnation. It was only in the 1980s, under India's first democratically-elected Marxist administration, that the city turned the corner.

    Today, visitors making the journey to this eastern corner of the country will find a city that has rediscovered its pride and cultural identity, offering a Bengali welcome warm enough to seduce even the most jaded traveller.

    Kolkata

    Kolkata is India's third-largest city, and home to some of the country's holiest temples and finest colonial structures.The 'Cultural Capital of India' is a diverse city with a diverse mixture of languages spoken among its 14 million inhabitants. It was also home to Mother Teresa, whose humble home can still be visited, and the famous writer Rabindranath Tagore. Kolkata is a city of many cultural attractions and some impressive colonial architecture. The India Museum, India's oldest, largest and arguably best museum, is a must for those interested in the history of the country. The lovely Victoria Memorial is celebrated as one of the architectural gems of the colonial period. The Marble Palace, an eccentric, privately-owned mansion with some intriguing features is also very popular.

    A deeply religious city representing several faiths, some striking temples often top the list of things to see in Kolkata. The Kalighat Temple is the city's holiest site, and those willing to brave the hordes of worshippers and pilgrims will find this attraction to be a profound experience. The Sri Mayapur Chandrodaya Temple, frequented by devotees of Lord Krishna, is popular with tourists; and the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, stunning architecturally, is another favourite.

    Victoria Memorial, Kolkata Victoria Memorial, Kolkata Cacahuate
    Great Banyan Tree

    The Indian Botanical Garden in Kolkata has many floral treasures, but none as impressive as the 250-year-old Great Banyan Tree, which covers nearly 5,300 square feet (500sq/m). What at first seems like a forest of narrow trunks is, in fact, 1,573 drop-roots from a single banyan tree - either the largest or second largest canopy tree in the world depending on who you believe.

    The gardens, located on the west bank of the Hooghly River, contain about 12,000 living plant species from every corner of the globe and offer some good bird watching opportunities and a quiet green space in which to walk, relax and picnic. There are many paths and trails to explore. Since July 2012 the gardens have been closed on Mondays for maintenance but walkers and joggers are still let in. Officially the gardens open at 8am, but those wanting to exercise can usually get in as early as 5:30am. The gardens are not as impressive in winter and maintenance seems to take a backseat in the off-peak months but the Great Banyan Tree is worth a visit at any time of year and in spring and summer the birds, butterflies and flowers are a joy.

    Address: Andul Rd and Kurz Ave, five miles (8km) from the CBD
    Great Banyan Tree Great Banyan Tree McKay Savage
    Victoria Memorial

    This astounding marble building is probably the most impressive colonial structure in India. In a city known for several great monuments and buildings, this palace is often considered the primary architectural gem and most iconic landmark. It was built to commemorate Queen Victoria (although she never actually visited the city) and only completed in 1921, after 20 years of solid work. Inside is a fascinating museum of Indian history, including some wonderful sculptures and paintings. The monument is situated on 64 acres of land, which includes lakes, gardens and walking paths. The gardens are well-maintained and for many the lovely grounds and exterior facade of the memorial are the highlight - the museum is fascinating for those genuinely interested in India's colonial history, but the exhibitions are informative rather than entertaining. Although the museum officially opens much later, visitors can usually get into the gardens for a small fee as early as 5:30am. This is a really beautiful time of day to visit and wonderful for photographs or morning exercise. Note that no photography is permitted inside the memorial. There is a sound and light show most evenings at 7:15pm.

    Address: Queens Way, Central Kolkata
    Victoria Memorial Palace Victoria Memorial Palace Diganta Talukdar
    Indian Museum

    With 60 galleries of art, archaeology and anthropology, this is India's largest museum, India's oldest museum, and quite possibly India's most attractive museum, housed as it is in a stunning, colonnaded palace. The Indian Museum was established in 1814 and the collection is vast and varied, including fossils, skeletons, coins, manuscripts, all kinds of Indian art and sculpture, traditional games, icons, puppets, toys, musical instruments and much more. The natural history collection is thought to be one of the world's finest and the museum library is famous for its impressive collection. Unfortunately, although there are fascinating things to see and learn in the museum, it is not as well-maintained as it could be, and sometimes the beautiful building seems slightly dilapidated. Nevertheless, a visit here is mandatory for those wanting a snap-shot view of India's past. As the collection is so big it is best to join one of the four guided tours that are available each day. There are restrooms and a simple little gift shop at the museum; there are also usually many hawkers outside the museum selling snacks, souvenirs and trinkets.

    Address: 27, Jawaharlal Nehru Rd, Colootola, New Market Area, Dharmatala, Taltala
    India Museum, Kolkata India Museum, Kolkata Mjanich
    Mother House

    This humble and touching temple to Mother Teresa's life and work in downtown Kolkata is well worth a visit. Upstairs is a small museum, full of affecting and interesting displays. Visitors even have a chance to see Blessed Teresa's bedroom, preserved exactly as it was when she lived in the building. Tourists can also visit Mother Teresa's tomb and spend a quiet moment praying or reflecting in this inspirational place. Not so much an 'attraction' as a deeply emotional and inspiring insight into a life of self-sacrifice and devotion, a visit to Mother House makes a fine counterpoint to more traditional tourist pursuits. In fact, for many visitors to the city it tops their list of worthwhile things to see and do, particularly as Kolkata is so strongly associated with Mother Teresa in the global imagination. Mother House is a memorial and museum but it is also an active charity organisation with real nuns at work. Donations of money or clothes are greatly appreciated, and there is an orphanage nearby which is a beneficiary of the organisation and which some people like to visit to lend a hand. Mother House is a real gem in this sprawling city and a special place to visit.

    Address: 54a AJC Bose Rd, Chowringhee
    Mother House Mother House Sam Hawley
    Kalighat Temple

    This 350-year-old temple dedicated to Kali is Kolkata's holiest site, attracting a throng of excited pilgrims every day. Visitors need to tip one of the priests in order to get inside through the mêlée of devotees. Inside the temple there are several shrines: a Krishna shrine where goats and buffalo are sacrificed to the goddess (the meat is distributed to the poor); a shrine to the goddess Manasa which consists of a tree, to which devotees (typically women) tie rocks with red thread in order to receive blessings, usually regarding fertility; a Shiva shrine with a Vedic fire pit in which a fire ceremony is performed daily; and, of course, a shrine to Kali which is a statue of the god with a three-eyed black skull and a long, golden tongue. Stalls selling votive items and various artefacts surround the temple. To avoid the worst crowds, the best days to visit Kalighat Temple are Wednesdays and Thursdays. Visitors are advised to take ample change (in Rs 10 denominations) to tip the various priests and ushers. Visiting the Kalighat Temple can be quite overwhelming as it is a chaotic place but it is a fascinating experience and a good way to be immersed in the local religion and culture.

    Address: Just off Ashutosh Mukherjee Rd, South Kolkata
    Kalighat Temple Kalighat Temple Alice Popkorn
    Marble Palace

    One of Kolkata's most unusual sites, this palace was built by a local member of the 19th century gentry in a marvellous patchwork of classical architectural styles. Lavish use is made of Italian marble, and the lawns contain an eclectic pantheon of statues including Christopher Columbus and the Buddha. The Marble Palace is a place of drama and dilapidation - and unsurprisingly, has frequently been used as a movie set. It remains a private residence, however, so you'll have to arrange a permit to view the interior (a worthwhile activity, if only to gawk at the impressive art lining the walls). Permits can be obtained from the West Bengal Tourism Information Bureau. With a permit, entrance to the palace is free and a member of the staff will show visitors around and tell them about the place. Frequently, those who arrive without the permit are persuaded by the guards to pay bribes to get in but this is not advisable as one bribe may quickly lead to another a few steps later! Next to the palace is the Marble Palace Zoo, the first zoo opened in India, which is now primarily an aviary, housing peacocks, hornbills, pelicans, storks and cranes. No photography is permitted in the palace.

    Address: 46 Muktaram Basu Street (off Chittaranjan Avenue)
    Marble Palace Marble Palace Mjanich

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Kolkata experiences a tropical climate, with wet and dry seasons. Kolkata arguably has three seasons: summer, winter and monsoon. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures soaring as high as 104ºF (40ºC) during the months of May and June. The summer months are often punctuated with dusty squalls, followed by hail or thunderstorms, bringing slight relief from the humidity and heat. Winters are short, lasting only about two to three months, with temperatures dropping to 54°F (9°C) during the day between December and January. There are occasional showers in winter but the wet season is brought by the monsoon between June and September, when the city receives a lot of rain. Visiting during the monsoon season is not recommended.

    The best time to visit Kolkata is in the cooler months between October and April. February is probably the best month of all from a weather perspective. Kolkata has a problem with pollution and there is regularly haze and smog in the city reducing visibility. In winter the mornings are often hazy and misty, but there is usually sunshine in the afternoons.

    Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport
    Location: The airport is located 17km (11 miles), or 60 minutes drive, from the city centre
    Time: Local time is UTC/GMT +5.5 hours
    Getting to the city: Transport from the airport includes trains, taxis and buses. All modes of transport are easily accessible from the terminals.
    Car Rental: A few car rental companies, including Avis, Europcar, and some local companies, have desks in the international arrivals hall.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis are available at the airport. Taking the metro to the airport requires that you take a taxi to cover the final 3 miles (about 5km).
    Fascilities: Airport facilities include ATMs and currency exchange offices, baggage wrapping services, a VIP lounge, tourist information centre, first aid room, childcare room and a post office. There are limited duty-free shops and a few gift stores, and some dining establishments. A small selection of cafés offer convenience foods, while tea, coffee and soft drink vending machines are situated throughout the terminal building.
    Parking There is plenty of parking available in the 3,000 underground spaces and 2,000 outdoor parking spaces.

    Useful Contacts:

    Kolkata has one of the best transport networks in the country. The metro - India's oldest underground - runs the length of the city, while trams and buses provide wide coverage as well. The ubiquitous yellow Ambassador taxis are good value and a thrilling means of getting around. Hand-pulled rickshaws are a fun way to travel short distances - though this practice is being discouraged by policy-makers, who deem it ignoble. Car hire is available, with drivers included. Tourists are advised to not even attempt to drive around Kolkata; it is simply too congested and chaotic and will be overly stressful for the uninitiated.

    As in all Indian cities, traffic congestion is a problem that results in frequent, noisy gridlock. Walking from one attraction to the other is, therefore, often the quickest way of getting around. Some of the attractions are conveniently close together, especially in some of the old, colonial neighbourhoods, but it is a huge city so some transport other than feet will be required. Note that the 11-mile (17km) journey to and from the airport usually takes over an hour.

    Kolkata is associated powerfully in the global imagination with the inspiring figure of Mother Teresa. Mother House, which her order still uses as a headquarters and where visitors can see her tomb and a small museum, is one of the top attractions in Kolkata. It is also a city of scholars, with many cultural attractions and some impressive colonial architecture. The India Museum, India's oldest, largest and arguably best museum, is a must for those interested in the history of the country. The lovely Victoria Memorial is celebrated as one of the architectural gems of the colonial period. The Marble Palace, an eccentric, privately-owned mansion with some intriguing features is also very popular.

    A deeply religious city representing several faiths, some striking temples often top the list of things to see in Kolkata. The Kalighat Temple is the city's holiest site, and those willing to brave the hordes of worshippers and pilgrims will find this attraction to be a profound experience. The Sri Mayapur Chandrodaya Temple, frequented by devotees of Lord Krishna, is popular with tourists; and the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple, stunning architecturally, is another favourite.

    For a break from traditional cultural sightseeing, wander through the spooky 18th-century South Park Street Cemetery, or visit the Great Banyan Tree in the Indian Botanical Garden.

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