QUEEN OF BEN­GAL

From tem­ples to food in­dul­gences, Akanksha Maker rec­om­mends a day well spent in West Ben­gal’s cap­i­tal

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents -

From tem­ples to food in­dul­gences, Akanksha Maker rec­om­mends a day well spent in West Ben­gal’s cap­i­tal

Kolkata, formerly known as Cal­cutta, has many names and faces. This city of joy bears a con­ta­gious, happy vibe that in­stantly over­whelms you with heart­warm­ing smiles and wel­com­ing faces of its peo­ple. It is also known as the “cul­tural cap­i­tal” of In­dia; expect con­ver­sa­tions about the­atre and mu­sic to be the usual fare with lo­cals. Time and ef­fort is in­vested into art, which is a way of life.

It is there­fore no sur­prise, that some of the coun­try’s best known tal­ents hail from Kolkata. Satya­jit Ray, one of the great­est film­mak­ers of his time, and Rabindranath Tagore, cel­e­brated poet re­spon­si­ble for re­shap­ing In­dian art and mu­sic and writ­ing the na­tional an­them, called Kolkata home.

Its cul­tur­ally in­clined so­ci­ety has many in­ter­ests, and food is an in­te­gral part of life. Kolkata is known for an ar­ray of home­grown restau­rants that draw food afi­ciona­dos from across In­dia.

Cited as the cen­tre of the city, Park Street is pop­u­lated with most of th­ese iconic eater­ies. A sub­tle, colo­nial charm ex­udes. To best ex­pe­ri­ence its by­gone so­phis­ti­ca­tion, there is no place as ideal as Flurys (flurysin­dia.com). A quaint tea­room founded in 1927 by the Flury fam­ily, it has been a pref­er­en­tial meet­ing venue for Kolkata’s dis­cern­ing crowd. Over the years, it ac­quired the name – “Queen of Park Street” – be­cause of its au­then­tic Eu­ro­pean con­fec­tionery. Its clas­sic English break­fast priced at 410 or its sin­gle-ori­gin choco­lates (made from co­coa beans that are grown in a sin­gle ge­o­graphic re­gion) priced be­tween 800 and 1,200 per box are in­dul­gences worth your time and money. Sit by the win­dow and watch the bus­tle of Park Street while you sip on Vi­en­nese cof­fee along­side a Sacher Torte, that tastes al­most as good as the orig­i­nal. Its Cof­fee Sprungli, in­spired by David Sprungli’s cre­ation for his tea­room in Zurich, is another spe­cial­ity.

As you step out­side, Park Street’s chaos filled with the ban­ter of lo­cals and blar­ing horns of Kolkata’s sig­na­ture yel­low Am­bas­sador taxis will po­litely take you out of Eng­land, soon enough.

To delve into Kolkata’s rich his­tory, hail one and re­quest to be driven to­wards Queen’s Way for a tryst with Vic­to­ria Memorial (10am-5pm Tue-Sun; In­dian/for­eigner ` 10/150; vic­to­ri­amemo­rial-cal.org). Stop and take a few min­utes to ob­serve this daunt­ing struc­ture’s ex­te­ri­ors. Built in marble from Makrana in Ra­jasthan (the same ma­te­rial used to build the Taj Ma­hal in Agra) in the mem­ory of Queen Vic­to­ria, by ar­chi­tect Wil­liam Emer­son, the struc­ture boasts of an ar­chi­tec­tural blend of Mughal, Bri­tish, Vene­tian, Egyp­tian, Dec­cani and Is­lamic styles. Two marble lions guard the gate that open to lush gar­dens of the com­plex. It has a num­ber of gal­leries that house some ex­cep­tional arte­facts, paint­ings and sculp­tures. While Royal Gallery show­cases por­traits of Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert, the rather re­cent Cal­cutta Gallery (set up in 1970) ex­hibits the chronol­ogy of this once im­pe­rial city. Vic­to­ria Memorial also or­gan­ises fre­quent tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tions and flaunts an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of rare manuscripts and books – a par­adise for those in­ter­ested in In­dia’s Bri­tish an­tiq­uity.

Just when you’re get­ting used to Kolkata’s re­gal tem­per­a­ment, it’s time to visit Ka­lighat Kali Tem­ple at the banks of the old course of the Hooghly river. The name “Cal­cutta” is said to have been de­rived from Ka­lighat, the revered land­ing stage of this tem­ple.

Avoid vis­it­ing this tem­ple on Tues­days, Thurs­days or Satur­days, when it is most crowded. Try reach­ing be­fore 8am to en­sure com­fort. Shoes can be de­posited at one of the many shops that re­tail of­fer­ings for the Garba­graha, a room where the idol is placed. Be wary of ac­cept­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in prayers or rit­u­als as you may be charged heavy sums. This ex­pe­ri­ence might be in­tim­i­dat­ing for a few, as this is one of the few tem­ples in In­dia that still prac­tises rit­u­al­is­tic an­i­mal sac­ri­fice.

Bal­ance this spir­i­tual ex­pe­di­tion with some culi­nary de­bauch­ery; drive back to Park Street. Kolkata has con­ceived sev­eral food trends – a per­sonal favourite be­ing“In­dian Chi­nese”. China’s cui­sine is of­ten per­ceived to be bland for the In­dian palate. Kolkata’s large Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion pi­o­neered a vari­ant of Chi­nese dishes through a higher de­gree of spices and veg­e­tar­ian of­fer­ings.“In­dian Chi­nese”has made its way to restau­rants across In­dia. Park Street is dot­ted with restau­rants that serve this tweaked cui­sine with lip smack­ing dishes that are sharper in flavour. Try Bar

B-Q’s chilli gar­lic pep­per chicken, some chilli chicken along­side Bar-B-Q spe­cial fried rice for a quin­tes­sen­tial ex­pe­ri­ence. In­form the staff about your spice tol­er­ance be­fore hand to avoid any un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tions.

Kolkata’s multi-faceted per­son­al­ity will charm you to spend per­haps more than just a day. From its abun­dant an­tiq­uity to its ex­u­ber­ant vibe, this city’s charm is quite en­dear­ing.

Clock­wise from top left: Am­bas­sador cab on Howrah bridge; Park Man­sions on Park Street; Ka­lighat Kali Tem­ple; Flurys

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