Kolkata, India – A locals guide

Best time to visit: December – February (Indian winter after the rain’s stopped)

This post is closer to our hearts than the others because Yoda lived in Kolkata for many years & Dalek spent many a holiday in the city. So we decided to make it our 1st post for 2017. Also, as India got the #1 spot on the 2017 Rough Guides Top 10 Countries (with Scotland #2 ), we’re expecting more travellers to India and Kolkata is a common stopover city for those seeing Eastern India. So hoping this post would help.

Reasons to visit

Foodie heaven

One of the best cities in the world to eat your way through (4000 listed on TA). Plus the people are very knowledgeable and passionate about food (that’s where we get it from). The caveat is that it’s mostly meat, fish & sweets that rule the roost so it’s not the most vegan friendly city. However, lots of vegetarian options are available in almost every restaurant you go to. Either way, the flavours will be bold!

Our top tip is to NOT follow TripAdvisor rankings as a representation of where to eat. Five of the top 15 restaurants are chains (BBQ Nation, Dum Pukht, Mainland China, Asia Kitchen) and you should avoid these. We’re also not big fans of Peter Cat.

Here’s a list of our top 3 recommendations at different price points (prices per person). If you can only eat one meal in the city, pick one from these. Also checkout our honorary mentions available widely in the city.

Biryani at Arsalan (< INR 300 / $4.5): For the uninitiated, Biryani is a rice, meat & potatoes dish that’s a complete dish in itself. Kolkata prides itself on its Biryani with good reason & Arsalan is the best place to have some. Many locations but Park Circus is the OG.

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Arsalan Biryani – The meat’s under the bed of rice

Kosha Mangsho & Luchi at Koshe Kosha (< INR 300 / $4.5): The dish is a super-tender & super-flavourful lamb curry that has been cooked for a few hours. It’s served with a airy, fluffy “bread” called Luchi. The Ripon street location for the bengali food chain Koshe Kosha is the most central but you can try it at any Bengali restaurant of repute.

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Its not the healthiest or prettiest but so damn tasty

A meal at Bohemian, Kolkata (< INR 1,500, $23): Among the high-end food experiences in the city (Peshawari & 6 Ballygunge Place are awesome too), we recommend Bohemian as the food here is art (its dessert was one of our top 3 dishes of 2016). The dishes here are made with Indian ingredients & cooked with western techniques (French & American mostly) and it really works. You can trust us because we’ve eaten a lot in the US & Europe and this couldn’t be a better introduction to Indian ingredients for westerners and to western techniques for Indians.

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Fish cutlets with cumin smoke @ Bohemian

Honorable mentions

  • A Kathi roll at Kusum rolls,
  • Firni at Aminiya &
  • Bengali food at Bhojohori Manna
  • Streetfood like momos, shingada, kochuri, golgappa (fuchka).
  • Bengali sweets, especially Rosogolla, Pantua, Jilipi from any good sweetshop (e.g. Girish Chandra)
Finding the soul of the city via shopping

At first glance, Kolkata is chaotic with its people & traffic. But just under the surface is a beating heart. The people are warm, friendly and helpful. The city is a melting pot of people and cultures from all around India, and the influences are visible everywhere: be it food, music or everyday life. Go to a local market in the morning (like Jagu Bazaar opposite Bhowanipore metro station) and walk through it. It’s a very different type of people watching than in the west and hopefully will be a good experience. If nothing else, it’ll give you photos full of life.

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A morning market setting up at 6 am

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Inside a traditional market

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Fresh fish & conversations, quintessentially Bengali

A visit to College street is a must for Book lovers for the experience. The Kolkata International book fair is an absolute must-visit for readers slated for 25th Jan – 5th Feb, 2017.

Clothes, leather accessories & jewellery are products that you’ll find a wide variety of. For a traditional shopping experience, visit the New Market (haggle with the sellers to bargain for the best price) or just head to one of the many swanky malls to shop till you drop (South City mall is our favourite).

See the sights

Kolkata was the British capital during the colonisation of India, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself drawing parallels to London! A number of areas in northern parts of Kolkata, and some of the attractions, still echo the past in terms of architecture. Here we are actually in agreement with TA, their top 10 looks very close to our recommendations. Let’s start off with how to escape Kolkata’s chaos (which will eventually get to you) – head over to the South Park Street cemetery. Built in 1787, it’s a quiet & verdant oasis with many interesting obelisk type graves. Visiting this place is like stepping back in time and space. Along with Victoria Memorial, this a stark reminder of the colonial past of the city. Nevertheless, it’s a brilliant place to walk about in.

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Interestingly shaped graves at South Park Street cemetery

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Also in B&W

Museums: Both the Victoria Memorial & the Indian Museum are great museums to visit. If you’re visiting the Victoria Memorial, try to take a walk in the nearby Maidan (park) as well, Kolkatas version of Central Park.

Tip: Most museums in India do have a much higher fee for foreigners than for Indians (about INR 500/$7.30). The justification for this is that maintaining museums anywhere is quite expensive and most Indians don’t earn nearly as much as travelers from abroad. This differential gives museums much-needed supplemental income while staying relevant to the mass local audience.

Temples: On our last trip we visited Dakshineshwar Kali temple and it was a good experience (unfortunately cameras aren’t allowed). The river bank accessible from the temple was especially pleasant & there weren’t too many people. Another favourite is the St. John’s cathedral near Park Street. Other famous temples include the Birla temple & Kalighat.

Tip: If you’re visiting a temple, try to visit as close to opening time as possible to avoid crowds.

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Dakshineshwar temple facade

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St. John’s cathedral looking pristine

Admire the Ganges river: The river is the crown jewel of the city with people flocking to it during the evenings & weekends. A couple of picturesque spots to see the river from are the Prinsep ghat & a boat ride between Kolkata & Howrah. Both the old & the new Howrah bridges are charming!

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Taken from the Babughat – Howrah ferry

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Boats at Princep ghat

 Getting in & around

Flying into Kolkata international airport is the most convenient option. The rail alternative is generally to take a train to the sister city of Howrah though some trains do go to Sealdah.

For a first timer, we recommend sticking to taxis/ubers. Public transport is available from both the airport & the railway station. We’ve written an extensive public transit guide for Kolkata to explain the various modes of transport & how to take them like a pro.

© 2017 Beyond Our Horizons

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