Chinese Dragon Boat Festival – Kolkata

Chinese-Dragon-Boat-Festival

There was a festive mood at the Calcutta Boating and Hotel Resorts near Tangra on the afternoon of 11th June 2017. Kolkata was celebrating the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. And the whole place was filled with people of the Kolkata Chinese community as well as others. All were there to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival.

Dragon Boat Festival
Celebrating Chinese Dragon Boat Festival in Kolkata

The Dragon Boat Festival also called Duwanu Jie is usually held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. This year, the date was May, 28; but in Kolkata, the festival was celebrated on June 11. The festival involves dragons, spirits, loyalty and food – the most important elements of the Chinese tradition and culture. The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival that is now celebrated worldwide is known for the boat race and eating sticky rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. These narrow wooden boats are decorated with dragons (hence the name Dragon Boat Race). The rice balls are called ‘Zongzi’ in Mandarin.

Dragon Boat Festival
Zongzi or Rice Dumplings wrapped in Bamboo leaves

Like every festival, there is a mythology or story attached to it. The Dragon Boat Festival also has a story behind it. And the story belongs to Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet and Minister in the state of Chu during the feudal dynasty period of ancient China. He had advised the King to ally with the state of Qi (one of the seven warring states) to fight against the most powerful state of Qin. The king, however, did not believe in him and actually thought him to be a traitor and sent him to exile. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry that showed his love for his country.

Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat

Qu Yuan was however right, and the state of Chu was captured by its enemies. On hearing about the tragedy, Qu felt so much remorse that he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River in the Hunan Province.

Dragon Boat Festival
At Calcutta Boating and Hotel Resort

When the death of Qu Yuan came to the knowledge of the local people, they were aghast. They took out their boats and rowed to the river in search of Qu’s body. But alas! They were unable to find his body. So they paddle their boats up and down the river, hitting the water with the paddles and beating drums in order to scare away the water spirits. They also threw rice dumplings into the water to keep the fishes and the water spirits away from Qu Yuan’s body. Later these rice dumplings also became offerings to the spirit of Qu Yuan. From here originated the Dragon boat race and the rice dumpling ‘zongzi’.

Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival celebrated at Kolkata

The Calcutta Boating and Hotel Resorts was adorned with festoons and posters and were all in the cheerful mood. Stalls were made all red in colour. Chinese lanterns adorned the ceilings. There was food stall at the sides serving All the Chinese delicacies. The Chinese vendors who sell breakfast at Tirreta Bazar every morning had put up their stall. There were mouth watering momos, buns, dumplings and wantons. Veg and Chicken chowmein was there for all the foodies. And there was also zongzi! There were two versions – a sweeter one and another one made of chicken.

Dragon Boat Festival
Rice Dumplings
Dragon Boat Festival
Wow! Momos
Dragon Boat Festival
Steamed Bun

There was also a stall were various designs of paper cutting was displayed. A stage was set up at one end where various cultural programmes were held.

Dragon Boat Festival
standing with own Paper cutting portrait
Dragon Boat Festival
Can you believe this is also a paper cutting work?

The programme started off with the boat race. We were just in time to witness the race. Narrow boats were decorated with dragons. There were a few teams who took part in the race. And true to the tradition, the participants beat drums during the race. As the boat race was in action, rain played a spoilsport and many of us had to run for shelter.

Dragon Boat Festival
Braving the rains
Dragon Boat Festival
Enjoying the boat race

After the race, there was a small function and then the cultural programme started. The programme consisted of the Lion Dance, Artistic Fan dance and other traditional performances. It was a memorable evening for all. Although we could not stay for the entire evening; but the time spent there was indeed a unique experience.

Dragon Boat Festival
The crowd at Calcutta Boating and Hotel Resort

Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival
PIN IT !!

Did you like our post? Please share your thoughts. You can also read our other posts on the Chinese community in Kolkata.

Ramzan Food Trail at Zakaria Street, Kolkata

Ramzan Food Trail

Kolkata is celebrating the holy month of Ramzan or Ramadan. And the Ramzan fast breaks after the sunset with Iftar. Like all other festivals, Kolkata celebrates the month of piousness with equal passion. And exploring the area around Nakhoda Mosque during this time is an experience of a lifetime. So we got ready for a Ramzan Food Trail. What we experienced there was not only an experience of our palates but also a feast of our senses and reaffirmation of our faith!

Ramzan Food Trail
The busy Zakaria Street at the evening

During the Ramzan month, the area around the Nakhoda Mosque in Chitpur adorns itself in a festive mood. Makeshift stalls are made at the Zakaria Street. These stalls sell some of the best cuisines as well as lachchhas, ittar (scent), clothing items, stone jewellery and much more. The food stalls remain active almost throughout the day from the afternoon till around 3.30 AM, the time of Sehri (the last meal before fasting); feeding all those who are fasting and also those who are not on fast.

Ramzan Food Trail
Kebabs and more

The Chitpur area is one of the oldest neighbourhoods of Kolkata. Chitpur was the heart of the “Black Town” while the European part of Calcutta (the White Town) grew towards the South.

Ramzan Food Trail
Making of the Kheeri Kebab and Malai Kebab

To get to know about the area and the food, we accompanied our fellow blogger Sumit for a food walk at Zakaria Street. We entered from the Coolotolla Street and our first stop was the Adam’s Kebab Stall. We tasted the famed Sutli Kebab from here. The Sutli kebab is so soft that it has to be held together by a thread (sutli).

Ramzan Food Trail
Sutli Kebab being made

The Kebab delicacies do not end here. There are varieties like Dahi (boti) Kabab, Malai (sheekh) Kebab, Kheeri Kebab (made from cow’s udder) and Gurda (kidney) Kebab. The stall of Dilshad Ahmed is one of the best for kebabs. The stall remains open round the year. There are other stalls also selling kebabs all along the road.

Ramzan Food Trail
The mouth-watering Sutli Kebab

The most sought after item during the Ramzan is the Haleem. Haleem is a stew made from wheat, barley, various lentils and meat all taken together and then cooked for hours along with the best spices till everything dissolves and becomes a mash. Haleem has its origin in the Arab. In fact, its ancestor ‘Hareesah’, a dish containing meat, wheat, cinnamon and ghee is still popular in Yemen! This savoury dish with a bit of coriander and lemon juice on top is a must have. The haleem can also be packed and taken home.  There are varieties of Haleem apart from the normal, beef, mutton and chicken like the Arbi Haleem, Koftas, Magaz (brain) and Zuban (tongue). One of the best places to have haleem is Sufia Restaurant at Zakaria Street near the Rabindra Sarani end. In fact, the firni here is also one of the best.

Ramzan Food Trail
The royal Haleem

Zakaria Street also has a lot to offer for all those who do not want to have beef. The place also is a haven for chicken and fish lovers. There are stalls selling fried chicken and fish. Large chunks of chicken and fishes are marinated and kept. They are sold not by pieces but by weight of the food item. Once bought, the marinated chicken or fish will be deep fried and served. And they too have fancy names – Mahi Akbari for the fried fishes and Chicken Changrezi! Taskeens and Muradabadi  Laziz Kebab Stall are two places selling these items.

Ramzan Food Trail
Marinated Chicken and Fish
Ramzan Food Trail
Marinated Fish

For the Biriyani lovers, there is Aminia for the Ramzan special Awadhi Biriyani. There is also the famous Royal Indian hotel serving one of the best biriyanis in the city. It is one of the few restaurants that have carried forward the legacy of delightful cooking that had please the insatiable Nawabs!

Ramzan Food Trail
Mouth-watering and tasty Pyare Kebabs

In between, we quenched our thirst by having Faluda at a street side shop. The shops here also sell cold Rooh-Afza, Lassi and Faluda.

Ramzan Food Trail
Faluda

The food walk does not end here. In the midst of the kebabs and biriyanis, there are stalls selling fresh fruits, dahi vadas, various fritters and dry fruits. I personally do not recommend having any of these apart from the dry fruits.

Ramzan Food Trail
Lachchha and dry fruits being sold at Zakaria Street

There are also a lot of exotic bakery products sold. Between the Aminia and Taskeens stall, there are a few stalls selling bread and biscuits. These special varieties of bread are called bakarkhani and sheermals. The Bakarkhani is a crispy-layered bread made with khowa, milk or coconut. Sheermals, on the other hand, is a sweet variety of the Naans. Different types of biscuits are also sold here.

Ramzan Food Trail
The bakery products – Bakarkhani and Sheermals

Then came the desserts! Firni had always been one of my favourite dishes and I kept looking for it. The Shahi Tukra, another dessert made from bread and milk – a dessert for the royals!

Ramzan food Walk, Kolkata
Shahi Tukra

And to satiate your sweet tooth, there is Haji Alauddin shop that sells Gajar ka halwa, Gond ka halwa and Karachi halwa.

Ramzan Food Trail
Bowl of Lachchha with milk

The foodie in me enjoyed all the kebabs and Haleems and faludas. But this place is not only for food. The place was an assault on our senses. The smell of the fried kebabs and fresh bread was pleasing; and so was the colourful merchandise sold at the stalls. Starting from the kurtas and bright clothing materials and the colourful dupattas, everything was in a festive mood. There were people selling and buying stone jewellery, bangle seller selling bangles to pretty girls. These baubles looked bright and attractive and as if showing the happiness of the celebrations that was going on.

Ramzan Food Trail
Baubles at sale

This was not just a food walk, but also a walk of faith and a walk of celebrations. It is a festival where everyone celebrates together without any discrimination of religion. And to me, that is the true spirit of Kolkata – a city that loves all and unites all!

So how did you like our Ramzan Food Trail at Zakaria Street? Please let us know and share your thoughts.

You can read our other posts about Kolkata here.

Ramzan
Calcutta Walks

WIKIPEDIA TAKES KOLKATA VI – Kolkata Photowalk

Kolkata photowalk

We know that Wikipedia is the world’s largest knowledge repository. But have you ever wondered from where does Wikipedia access all these lesser known information? Wikipedia, the world’s largest online encyclopaedia runs entirely on a voluntary basis. For this Wikipedia conducts Photowalk and workshops in various cities and those attending these activities voluntarily contribute to the great knowledge repository. Wikipedia holds city walks in almost all the major cities. Kolkata is no exception. Till now Kolkata had 6 Kolkata Photowalk, the last one, Wikipedia Takes Kolkata-VI was held on 29th January 2017. We were fortunate to be invited to such an event where we could explore the unexplored facets of Kolkata. This year the walk was conducted in the Cossipore-Baranagar area, a place where we had very less knowledge about.

Kolkata Photowalk
Meeting point in front of Chitpur PS

All the participants met in front of the Chitpur Police station. After a brief introduction, our walks started covering the old and heritage sites of Cossipore and Baranagar area.

Adi Chitteswari Temple, Kolkata Photowalk

Our first stop was the Adi Chitteswari Temple. The temple is perhaps the oldest temple of Goddess Durga. It is said that the notorious robber of those time Chitey built this temple. The temple lay abandoned after his death. Later in 1610, Zamindar Manohar Ghosh constructed the present temple and reinstated the deity. The Deity is carved out from a block of Neem wood and remains as it was during the time of Chitey. The Chitpur Road is named after Goddess Chitteswari.

Kolkata Photowalk
Chitteswari Temple

Sarbamangala temple

Like all the older temples of Kolkata, the Sarbamangala Temple was associated with dreaded robber Raghu Sardar. He had a divine order of worshipping a stone as a symbol of Goddess Kali. The first priest of this temple was Ram Charan Shimlai and his descendants are the present custodian of the temple. Unfortunately, the priests of the Sarbamangala Temple did not allow us to photograph much.

Kolkata Photowalk
Sarbamangala Temple
Kolkata Photowalk
Inside the Sarbamangala Temple

Udyan Bati

Udyan Bati is known as the place where Sri Ramkrishna attained enlightenment. Sri. Ramkrishna was suffering from a serious ailment and was not showing any signs of improvement. After the suggestion of Dr Mahendra Lal Sarkar, Sri Ramkrishna was brought to Cossipore Garden House or the Udyan Bati on December 11, 1885. His devotees believe that Sri Ramkrishna revealed himself as an Avatar or Kalpataru on January 1, 1886 and blessed many of his devotees. This day is celebrated as Kalpataru Diwas till today by the devotees of Sri Ramkrishna.

Kolkata Photowalk
Udyan Bati
Kolkata Photowalk
The tree where Sri Ramkrishna attained enlightenment

Bamandas Mukherjee House

Kolkata Photowalk
Mukherjee Bari

A few minutes’ walk from Udyan Bati and one can see the grand house standing. Bamandas Mukherjee was a well-known businessman and inside the premises is the huge Kali temple. The temple has a central courtyard and the shrine is on its northern side. Facing the road is a cast-iron balcony on the first floor, and at its northern end is an octagonal tower-like structure.

Kolkata Photowalk
Mukherjee Kali Temple

Narail House

The famous Zamindar of Narail (now in Bangladesh) Pulin Behari Ray established the Narail house in the Cossipore area for the purpose of Zamidari work. The house used to cover a large area on the Ratan Babu Road consisting three houses with the address of 27, 18 and 30. Presently, only two buildings remain in a very dilapidated condition and there is no existence of House No. 28.

Kolkata Photowalk
Gate of the Narail House
Kolkata Photowalk
Biswas Bari

Ratan Babu Ghat

This ghat is named after Ram Ratan Roy from the rich Narail family. The Ratan Babu Road is also named after him. He was a successful indigo trader of that time. The ghat has a square pavilion and a crematorium beside it.

Kolkata Photowalk
Ratan Babu Ghat

Kuthi Ghat

Kuthi Ghat is a small ghat that was also used as a watch station. Earlier Baranagar was under Dutch occupation and the Dutch used Kuthi Ghat as their watch tower. There was a building near the ghat is known as the “Dutch Kuthi” where the  Governor used to reside. Presently, nothing remains of the building. The Kuthi Ghat is a lovely place and you can see the Belur Math Ghat right opposite to it. Also nearby is the old Victoria School building built during the 17th century.

Kolkata Photowalk
Kuthi Ghat
Kolkata Photowalk
Victoria School

Joy Mitra Kalibari

Joy Mitra Kalibari is also known as the Kripamoyee Kalibari built by the famous Zamindar Joyram Mitra in 1848. Goddess Dakshina Kali is worshipped in this temple and there are twelve Shiva temples surrounding the main temple.

Kolkata Photowalk
Joy Mitra Kalibari

 Kancher Mandir

Kancher Mandir or the temple made of glass is situated in the premises of the Ramkrishna Ashram of Baranagar. It is also called the Seesha Mandir and was founded by Swami Satyananda. The temple has a statue of Sarada Devi.

Besides these old and heritage structures, we also saw the Biswas Bari and the Roy Bari in the Ratan Babu Road. These houses belong to the rich Zamindars of the region. These buildings are all in dilapidated conditions and in urgent need of maintenance.

Kolkata Photowalk
Interiors of Biswas Bari

The photo-walk was a unique experience – an opportunity to know Kolkata even better. The walk ended with a workshop and a great lunch.

Kolkata Photowalk
Enjoying the walk

An interesting thing worth mentioning is that Kolkata is the only city where Wikipedia has held 6 walks. That is also a record in itself!

The previous walks held in Kolkata were as follows:

Wikipedia takes Kolkata I, 18 Dec. 2011, BBD Bag Area

Wikipedia takes Kolkata-II, 3 March 2013, Bow Barracks, Tiretta bazar and canning Street area.

Wikipedia takes Kolkata III, 23 Feb 2014, Manicktala, Gouribari, Shyambazar and Belgachia area.

Wikipedia takes Kolkata-IV, 14 Dec 2014, Tollygunge and Chetla area.

Wikipedia takes Kolkata V, 24 Jan 2015, Kidderpore Area

The Chhapakhana Trail – A walk down the memory lanes

Chhapakhana Trail

A century old printing technology is on the verge of dying, but still struggling to carry on the legacy. The letterpress printing in a nondescript shed in Potuatala Lane in College Street is one such printing press still printing reams of paper using the age old technology. Not everyday we come close to our past, or get to see the heritage of our city. The Chhapakhana trails organised by the “Future of the Past” in collaboration with Kolkata Bloggers aimed to make us aware of our past, our heritage. The Future of the Past is a project that aims to bring the present and future closer to the past and this year they focused on communities. The Chhapakhana Trail is the result of this project where we came to know about the community that ran the printing press in the city. Though dwindling in numbers, they are still present in various nooks and corners of the city.

Chhapakhana Trail
Chhapakhana Trail

Chhapakhana Trail

The Chhapakhana trail started from the famous Coffee House of College Street, a very apt beginning.

We started from “Boichitra” – literally meaning books and picture. The place was the studio of famed Charu Chandra Guha, the master photographer of portraits and group photos. Boichitra is on the second floor of the Coffee House.

Chhapakhana Trail
Boichitra – at the Coffe House Building

The building that houses the famous Coffee House – the meeting place of talents and intellects is also known as the Renaissance Building. The building was the birthplace of several printing presses of the erstwhile Calcutta. The Renaissance Press was founded by Narendranath Bhattacharya who used the pseudonym of Manabendra Nath Ray. He was a revolutionary and radical activist of those times.

Chhapakhana Trail
The famous Coffee House

From the Coffee House, our walk started through Bankim Chatterjee Street. Another important place was Cygnet Press. The building looks very ordinary today, but it was once the literary hub of the city. It was founded by Sri. Dilip Kumar Guha who was the first one in Kolkata to give importance to book covering and designing.  Satyajit Ray had worked here as a visual designer in this publishing house at the beginning of his career and many of the books don the covers designed by him. The press has published many renowned books like Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay’s Pather Panchali and Chander Pahar, Jibanananda Das’s Rupasi Bangla and Banalata Sen. Unfortunately the press did not meet the commercial success so desired. It was soon closed and was later taken over by Ananda Publisher.

The trail brought us before the house of Sri. Aurobindo, or as the KMC plaque states. It was actually the house of Krishna Kumar Mitra, uncle of Sri Aurobindo who was also a Brahmo reformer. He founded the Sanjibani Press that went on to become the mouthpiece of the Indian nationalists. Sri Aurobindo had taken shelter in this house during his active politics days.

Chhapakhana Trail
The “House of Sri Aurobindo”

The Baptist Mission students hall

This was actually a boarding house for the students founded by the Baptist Mission press in 1916. The Baptist Mission press has to its credits a lion share of books that were published in the 19th Century Bengal including those from the Asiatic Society or other major institutions.

Chhapakhana Trail
Baptist Mission Hostel

We visited the Letter Press printing house on the Potuatala Lane. It was a very dilapidated building with four workers running the press. The machine was itself quite old and they do not get much order nowadays.

Chhapakhana Trail
Letter Press

After the Letterpress printing, we saw the gold foil printing technology. Earlier gold printing was done, but now only gold foil is used for obvious reasons.

The third press that we saw used etching technology. This process uses different chemicals and acids for etching a particular design on a lead sheet. As the design is etched, they are then used to print on different surfaces.

Chhapakhana Trail
Etching
Chhapakhana Trail
The Dark Room for etching

The trail also took us to the house of the famous Bengali writer Sri Trailokyanath Mukhopadhyay. He is known for introducing fantasy in Bengali literature. His characters of Kankabati and Damrudhar are famous among the Bengali literature circle.

Chhapakhana Trail
Examples of printing displayed at Vidyasagar Smriti Bhavan

We stopped at the residence of Hemendra Mohan Bose, a famous entrepreneur. He had excelled in the perfumery business. He was also the founder of Kuntalin Press. It is said that he was the first one to introduce Literary award in India – the Kuntalin Award. It only came with one condition – the writer has to mention one of his products in his novel! Jagadish Chandra Bose and Sarat Chandra Chatterjee were the recipients of the Kuntalin award.

Chhapakhana Trail
House of Hemendra Mohan Bose

The Chhapakhana Trail concluded at the Vidyasagar Smriti Bhavan. A cultural programme was arranged here for the evening.

Chhapakhana Trail
Vidyasagar Smriti Bhavan – the end point of the trail
Chhapakhana Trail
The Vidyasagar Smriti Bhavan

The Chhapakhana Trail is an interesting initiative to take an interest in our past and the lost heritage of the city. We have always maintained that Kolkata is a place that is full of wonder. Trails like this will definitely make us more curious towards our heritage and culture. We would like to convey special thanks to Kolkata Bloggers for inviting us for this event.

Words when printed , have a life of their own. – Carol Burnett

 

 

Chinese New Year Kolkata

The year of rooster

New years are the time of celebration and are perhaps one of the most important festivals of the community. The Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals of the Chinese calendar. And the Chinese community in Kolkata celebrates it among mush festivities. 2017 is the year of Rooster according to Chinese Calendar. The Chinese New Year Kolkata is also one of the many cultural events that Kolkata boasts of.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year , 2017 – The Year of Rooster

Many a time I had seen these colourful processions during the winters near the Territy Bazar area – dance performed by a handful dressed as dragons amidst the sound of drums and cymbals, bright coloured paper patterns adorning the streets. I had previously dismissed it while being stuck in traffic silently cursing the procession! But today as I have started knowing Kolkata and appreciating its tradition, I am being part of one of the most beautiful celebrations in the city – the Chinese New Year.

The Chinese population in Kolkata is mainly concentrated in two regions – the Territy Bazar or the “Old Chin town” and the Tangra (New China Town). Though the Chinese first came to Kolkata during 1780. Tong Achew, a trader had obtained land for setting up a sugar factory in Achipur near Budge Budge. With it, the Chinese population came to Kolkata. Very soon, they migrated to Kolkata and settled in the area of Territy Bazar and Tangra. The Chinese Community in Kolkata celebrates the New Year in a completely traditional way at Territy Bazar and Tangra.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year Kolkata playing drums and cymballs

This year the new year fell on January 28. The celebration starts much before the actual date and lasts for a few days. Stages are set up at Tangra and Territy Bazar for cultural shows. On the actual day, dragon and lion dances are held on the roads of Tangra and Territy Bazar.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
The Chinese New Year in Territy Bazar

On any normal day, you will pass off Territy Bazar just as you would see any busy Kolkata street. But during the Chinese New Year day, you can see the people getting ready for a lion dance with some others playing the drums. The dance starts with an offering in front of the Chinese temple. The group dances amidst bursting firecrackers – a sight to behold.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
Among the festivities – Chinese New Year Kolkata

These groups then make their way through the lanes and bye-lanes of Territy Bazar and go in front of business establishments, shops and local households.

An interesting event happens here. The local Chinese people put some money in a red envelope and tie it with a bunch of lettuce leaves and hang it from their windows or verandahs. The dancers dressed as lions then try to grab the money and the lettuce leaves. They form a human tower and the one dressed as the lion goes on top and grabs the money. There is an interesting folklore related to this. It says that long ago when the beast called Nian came out from the mountain tired and hungry, it tried to prey on the people on the eve of the New Year. An old man advised to frighten the beast using red cloth and the loud sounds of drums and cymbals. This explains celebration with drums and the lettuce leaves are given to the hungry lion for food. They burst firecrackers as a symbol to ward off the evil forces.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
Offering lettuce and red envelopes – Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year Kolkata
Fire crackers to ward off the evil spirits
Chinese New Year Kolkata
The Lion dance – a spectacle

Although the number of Chinese is decreasing in Kolkata just like the other communities, they celebrate the rituals in a traditional way. Even the youngsters who are today not familiar with the traditional Mandarin or Cantonese language, they follow the rituals on the New Year.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
The kids enjoying the New Year

No festival is complete without food. The Chinese have a grand feast during this time. The dance procession that starts in the Territy Bazar usually ends at the Bow Barracks. Also, on Sunday next to the New Year, the Chinese community pays a visit to Achipur to pay tribute to the Tong Achew, their founder.

The Chinese are trying to keep their tradition and culture alive among the cosmopolitan Kolkata. This year the number of dancing groups was lesser than previous years. Our trip ended with visiting the Chinese Temples in the Territy Bazar Area.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year Celebration in Kolkata
Chinese New Year Kolkata
The Lion Dance – Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year Kolkata
Celebrating the Chinese New Year in Kolkata

Kolkata has always been a place that has welcomed all communities alike. The city is a rare potpourri of communities and culture. We are trying to bring forth the various cultural and traditional facets of Kolkata through our blog. If you like this post, please share it and let others know about the real Kolkata, the Kolkata behind the high rises, the Kolkata of the streets and alleys and finally Kolkata for all.

If you are aware of any other traditional festivals and programmes, please contact us. We will be happy to showcase it.

Chinese New Year Kolkata
Chinese New Year celebration at Territy Bazar Kolkata
Chinese New Year Kolkata
All are welcome to celebrate the new year

To know more about Chinese New Year click here.

The pictures are all taken in Territy Bazar Area and is the property of Tale of 2 Backpackers. Please do not use them in any form without obtaining permission.

St. John’s Church Kolkata – roaming around the lawn

St. John's Church Kolkata

In our last post, we had shared our visit to St. John’s Church, Kolkata. As mentioned, the church complex was actually a burial ground known as the old burial ground which was later donated by Raja Naba Krishna Bahadur of Sovabazar to Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Calcutta. The church complex has other monuments and memorials which speak of the colonial past of Calcutta. Here are the other structures present in the complex.

St. John's Church Kolkata
The Church was actually built over a burial ground
  1. Job Charnock’s Tomb

This is perhaps one of the most important monuments of Kolkata itself. There are so many beautiful things to be seen in Kolkata that we often forget about this little piece of monument. We literally ignore to know about the founder of Calcutta, Job Charnock. On August 24, 1690, Job Charnock landed on the village of Sutanuti (currently North Kolkata). As we know, that it was Charnock who combined the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindapur and Kalikata to form the present day Kolkata. He died two years after his arrival in Sutanuti. His eldest son-in-law Charles Ayer had built the octagonal Moorish style tomb. The tomb was built by stones brought all the way from Pallavaram near Chennai. This type of stone was later come to be known as Charnokite.

St. John's Church Kolkata
Job Charnock’s Tomb
St. John's Church Kolkata
Interiors of the tomb
  1. Black Hole Monument

The Black Hole of Calcutta is perhaps one of the most controversial historical events of Calcutta.The monument was originally built by John Hollwell in the memory of all the British who died in the Black hole tragedy. According to British history, it is said that after the seize of Calcutta by Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula, he had taken about 146 British as prisoners. These prisoners were all confined in a small room without ventilation measuring about 14 feet by eight feet. It is said that when the door was opened the next day, only 23 survived and the rest died due to suffocation. John Hollwell was one of the survivors and he built the Black Hole Monument in memory of those died on that fateful night. But the Black Hole tragedy is itself a matter of great debate with Indian historians claiming that no such life was lost. Infact, it is believed that the British residents escaped through a secret tunnel to river Hooghly, from where they were taken to Chennai by a ship.

St. John's Church Kolkata
The Black Hole memorial
  1. Rohilla War memorial

This memorial is in the form of a rotunda supported by 12 columns. It was built in 1774 in the memory of those British soldiers who fell in the Rohilla war (1772-1774).

St. John's Church Kolkata
Rohilla War Memorial at St. John’s Church, Kolkata
  1. Lady Canning Memorial

Lady Charlotte Canning, the wife of Lord Canning, the Governor General and Viceroy of India was immortalized in Calcutta by the famous confectioner Bhim Nag. It was he who had designed the sweet “ladykeni” in honour of Lady Cannings.

Unfortunately, the lady died of malaria and was buried at Barrackpore. His memorial though stands at the St. John’s Church compound.

St. John's Church, Kolkata
Memorial of Lady Canning, St. John’s Church, Kolkata
  1. Frances (Begum) Johnson’s grave

Frances Johnson was a very colorful character of Bengal. She lived up to a ripe age of 89 and was declared the oldest British resident of Bengal. Married for four times, she was fondly called Begum Johnson. She was widely respected, loved and revered by both the British and the Indians. Her grave is located at the end of the St. John’s Church, Kolkata.

St. John's Church, Kolkata
Begum Johnson’s grave, St. John’s Church, Kolkata

A visit to the St. John’s Church is itself an insight into the world of old Calcutta. The morning that we spent there was equally interesting and the experience worth sharing.

St. John's Church, Kolkata
St. John’s Church Kolkata

Some information:

Location: At Council House Street. It is a walking distance from Raj Bhavan, the residence of Governor of Bengal.

Nearest Metro Station: Esplanade Metro Station

How to reach: One can simply walk from either Esplanade Bus Terminus or Raj Bhavan. Or take a taxi.

Open: All days, 10 am – 5 pm

Sunday service: 8–9 am

Entrance Fee: Rs 10

Photography/Video Charges: Nil

Reliving the history – St. John’s Church, Kolkata

Kolkata

Just as you move around the north-western corner of Raj Bhavan, the Governor’s house, you come across a Neo-classical structure – the St. John’s Church. The church stands tall as a witness to all the bygone eras of Kolkata. St. John’s Cathedral is the third oldest church in Calcutta only after the Armenian Church and the Old Mission Church. You might as well pass by the structure every now and then and might have dismissed it off as just another church. But the place is a treasure house of historical facts.

Calcutta Walks
The steeple of St John’s Church Kolkata

The land on which the St. John’s cathedral was built was actually a burial ground known as the old burial ground. In fact, the tomb of Job Charnock lies here. The land was the property of Maharaja Naba Krishna Bahadur of Sovabazar Rajbari. He had donated the land to Warren Hastings, the Governor General of Calcutta. All the graves were dug up and the remains removed barring that of Job Charnock and Admiral Watson. The foundation stone of the church was laid on April 6, 1784, by Warren Hastings. This was one of the first few constructions commissioned by the East India company in Calcutta and the construction was completed with Rs.30,000.00 raised by public lottery. Military engineer James Agg was the architect behind this colossal structure. He had modeled the church on the lines on St. Martin’s-in-the-field, London. The construction was completed in 1787 and St. John’s church served as the Anglican Cathedral of Calcutta till 1847 when it was transferred to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. John's Church Kolkata
Entrance to the St. John’s Church

The church was built by a combination of bricks and stones. Stones were quite a rare construction material during those times. So stones were robbed from ancient ruins of Gour near Malda and were shipped down the Hooghly river and brought here.The use of stone gave the church its native name “Pathure Girja”. The church was built on the neo-classical architectural style. The impressive spire is 174 ft high. The verandah was added in 1811. The structure rests on tall columns. The interior of the church is quite ancient but well maintained. Stained glasses, marble works, woodcarvings and beautiful paintings add beauty to the interiors. The Church was consecrated on the 24th of June, 1787, the date being that of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The church was used for baptisms and weddings of the nobles of British Bengal of that time. In 1798, merchant and Calcutta Sheriff William Fairlie, after whom Fairlie Place got its name, married Miss Margaret Ogilvie here. The notables inside the St. John’s church include these and all of them have interesting anecdotes behind them.

St John's Church Kolkata
Interiors of St John’s Church Kolkata
St John's Church Kolkata
St John’s Church Kolkata interiors

Memorial of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, the White Mughal

St. John's Church
Memorial of James Achilles Kirkpatrick

Lt. Col. James Achilles Kirkpatrick was initially a resident of Hyderabad and was quite fond of Indo-Persian culture. Initially, he too came to India with the burning ambition of subjugating the nation, but it is so said that he was himself conquered by a Hyderabadi noblewoman Khair-un-Nissa. Kirkpatrick fell in love with Khair-un-Nissa and they got married in the 1800s after much resentment from her family and the Hyderabadi nobles. He even took on to the customs and religion of India. As Lord Wellesley became the new Governor General of British India, he strongly disapproved British- India liaison. Kirkpatrick was asked to come to Calcutta, the then capital of India and was dismissed from his service later on. He died in Calcutta due to ill health on 15th October 1805. He was buried at North Park Street cemetery but neither the cemetery nor the grave remains today.

James Achilles Kirkpatrick was the protagonist of William Dalrymple’s best-selling novel “The White Mughal”.

Memorial to James Pattle and his wife

Near the Kirkpatrick memorial, there is the memorial of James Pattle and his wife. There is an even more interesting story behind James Pattle. He was the ancestor of noted historian William Dalrymple. In the very own words of Dalrymple  – “Seven generations of my family were born in Calcutta, there are three Dalrymples’ sitting inside St John’s graveyard. And a great-great-grandfather’s plaque is on the St John’s Church wall, James Pattle. James Pattle was known as the greatest liar in India. A man supposed to be so wicked that the Devil wouldn’t let him leave India after he died. Pattle left instructions that when he died, his body should be shipped back to Britain. So, after his demise (in 1845) they pickled the body in rum, as was the way of transporting bodies back then. The coffin was placed in the cabin of Pattle’s wife and the ship set sail from Garden Reach. In the middle of the night, the corpse broke through the coffin and sat up. The wife had a heart attack and died. Now both bodies had to be preserved in rum. But the casks reeked of alcohol and the sailors bored holes through the sides of the coffins and drank the rum… and, of course, got drunk and the ship hit a sandbank and the whole thing exploded, cremating Pattle and his wife in the middle of the Hooghly! That’s why you see a plaque on the wall and not a grave in the graveyard of my great-great-grandfather.”

St John's Church Kolkata
Memorial to James Pattle and his wife

Zoffany’s painting of the Last Supper

Another attraction inside the St. John’s Church is the “Last Supper” painting by Johann Zoffany. In spite of the painting being a replica of Leonardo’s famous masterpiece, Zoffany had added Indian touches to the painting. Interestingly, Zoffany based the characters in the paintings on real people of Calcutta. Lord Christ was based on the Greek priest Father Parthenio. The effeminate police magistrate of Calcutta during the 1780’s W.C Blacquiere was modeled as John. William Tulloh, an auctioneer modeled as Judas. It is said that William Tulloh was under the impression that he was posing for St. John. Imagine his indignation when he found out after the unveiling of the painting that he was actually portrayed as Judas!

St John's Church Kolkata
Zoffany’s Last Supper

If you thought that is all that St. John’s Church has to offer, then you are quite mistaken. The St. John’s Cathedral compound also houses several other monuments of historical importance. Find about them more in our next post.

St John's Church Kolkata

Some information:

Location: At Council House Street. It is a walking distance from Raj Bhavan, the residence of Governor of Bengal.

Nearest Metro Station: Esplanade Metro Station

How to reach: One can simply walk from either Esplanade Bus Terminus or Raj Bhavan. Or take a taxi.

Open: All days, 10 am – 5 pm

Sunday service: 8–9 am

Entrance Fee: Rs 10

Photography/Video Charges: Nil

Heartfelt thanks to Rangan Da whose blog inspires us to explore Kolkata and West Bengal.

Galiff Street Pet Market, Kolkata – the hobbyists’ ultimate destination

Galiff Street Pet Market, Kolkata

As Sunday comes, the Galiff Street is bustling with the cacophonic sounds of birds, dogs and people selling their ‘merchandise’. Welcome to the largest and the oldest pet market of Kolkata – the Galiff Street Pet Market, also known as the” Bagbazar Sokher Haat”. The city of joy  holds the pet market every Sunday from early in the morning to the late afternoon and the Galiff Street literally becomes the “alley of joy”. Pets of various kinds like dogs, birds, rabbits and guinea pigs, fishes and even various types of plants are sold here.  The pet business owners from Kolkata as well as from the neighbouring states all gather here. Even hobbyists are seen. The Sunday morning thus becomes a carnival for selling and buying the stocks.

Galiff Street Pet Market
The Galiff Street Pet Market

Earlier the market was situated at Hatibagan area. But due to space constraint, the market was shifted to Galiff Street. The entire market is divided into different sections with all the owners selling their stocks.   The diversity of the pets in this market is simply overwhelming. The busy market is also flocked with people like us who just want to savour the moments through their eyes or camera.

Galiff Street Pet Market
The cute Lhasa is surely going to make your day!

Dogs at Galiff Street Pet Market

“Happiness is a warm puppy “

As you enter the Galiff Street from the northern part, the right side of the road is dedicated to the dogs and the left side to the birds. As we strolled down the market, we were almost awed to see the variety of dogs and pups being showcased there. From a Spitz pup, a golden retriever, the spotted Dalmatian and the cute Lhasa, there was also the quintessential pug on display.  Here dogs of almost all the breeds and price range are available. Dog lovers are surely in for a lovely treat here.

Galiff Street Pet Market
Happiness is a warm puppy…
Galiff Street Pet Market
Man’s best friend

Birds at Galiff Street Pet Market

“If you’re a bird, I’m a bird” – Notebook

Galiff Street Pet Market
Pigeons

As we came to the birds’ section, we simply saw all the hues of a rainbow. Birds of various types and colours were created a mesmerizing scene. There were various types of sparrows, parrots and pigeons. But the bird market is not regulated. Birds that are prohibited from sale under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 are also found here changing hands. This section is simply a paradise for bird lovers. The costs of the birds are also not very high, Java Sparrows are sold for Rs.120/- each, and lovebirds are sold for Rs.500 /- a pair. We were also surprised to see the people selling chicks for Rs.15/- each! Though we cannot guarantee the health of the birds!

Galiff Street Pet Market
Do you love birds?
Galiff Street Pet Market
Chicks for sale… really??

Fishes at Galiff Street Pet Market

“Even a fish would not get into trouble if it keeps its mouth shut!

This section is as colourful as the bird’s section. Different breeds of fishes are sold here. But this section is quite organized with the Kolkata Aquarium Club looking after it. This forum regularly gives updates about the prices and other information to the hobbyist. Not only fishes, this section sells aquarium and all the accessories related to it. And the price is quite cheaper than the market price! They are selling a pair of goldfish for Rs.25/-. There were other exotic breeds of fishes also.

Galiff Street Pet Market
Fishes everywhere
Galiff Street Pet Market
For the aquarium

Rabbits at Galiff Street Pet Market

These are the cutest things we saw in the market. Little white rabbits in their cages were nibbling at leaves. There were guinea pigs for sale too. I was almost tempted to buy one of those cute white things!

Galiff Street Pet Market
Honey Bunny!!

Plants at Galiff Street Pet Market

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.”

The plant lover can find his love here. Various seasonal and flowering plants are on display. And so are plants and other bonsai varieties. I just thought that if my mother ever visited this place, she would have gone entirely crazy seeing such varieties of flowering and ornamental plants. This is a wholesale market for all the needs of your garden.

Galiff Street Pet Market
The plant market
Galiff Street Pet Market
Bonsai collection

There is also a section for pet accessories where you can find aquariums, bird’s cages and other things. Fish food is also sold here.

Galiff Street Pet Market
Colours everywhere!
Galiff Street Pet Market
Saplings to adorn your gardens

In spite of all its limitations, the Galiff Street Pet market is continuing a history. Being the oldest pet market of Kolkata, this place is a one-stop solution for the pet lovers and very rightly called the “pet lover’s paradise”. If you are in Kolkata and love animals, take some time on a Sunday and visit this “Shoker Bazar” (hobby market). You will not be disappointed.

Galiff Street Pet Market
Selling pure honey at Galiff Street pet market
Galiff Street Pet Market
The young seller

If you like the post, please like and share it and let others know about the place.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Chaotic canvas of Mullick Ghat Flower Market of Kolkata

mullick ghat flower market

Just below the towering Howrah Bridge, the fascinating Mallick Ghat flower market is located. It was early in the morning with very few people on the usually busy road leading to Howrah station. But the largest flower market of Kolkata was already bustling with activity. Lying just beside the Hooghly river and the two famous bathing ghats of Kolkata – Mullick Ghat and Ramchandra Goenka Zenana bathing ghat, the Mullick ghat flower market is a celebration of senses. It is not only a visual delight to be here, but also your olfactory senses will be at work.

Mullick Ghat Flower Market
The chaotic flower market

The market starts around 4 am in the morning with flower sellers from adjacent areas of Kolkata gathering with their colourful merchandise. The sellers displayed their merchandise – roses, marigolds, sunflowers, garden balsams and other flowers lay in all their colourful glory. There is utter chaos everywhere, the market is overcrowded, but the experience of seeing such a vibrant market is altogether unique. Quite obviously, the market becomes all the more booming during the festive and marriage seasons.

Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Roses for you…
Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Do you prefer lotus?
Mullick Ghat Flower Market
What about marigolds?

Visit to the Mullick Ghat flower market should be made early in the morning to get the essence of the place. Also, visit this place only if you are willing to overlook the dirty surroundings and the absolute absence of hygiene around you. The market is quite dirty and so are the bathing ghats around the market. If you are ready to neglect these factors, then another facet of colourful, raw and fresh Kolkata awaits you with all its colourful and vivid frames and zeal for life.

Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Frames of Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Flowers everywhere..

Visit the Mullick Ghat to get a magnificent view of the Howrah Bridge. There are so many people taking a bath, getting tonsured and doing chores. Each one seems to have a story of their own. Also, see the akhara near the ghat. If you are lucky enough, you may even see a wrestling match!

Mullick Ghat Flower Market
The Akhara

After a visit to the Mullick Ghat flower market, take a walk along the iconic Howrah Bridge which is also an experience to cherish.

Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Kolkata life

How to reach Mullick Ghat :

You can take any bus or taxi towards Howrah and get down at Mullick Ghat stoppage. It is just a few minutes walk from there.
You can also take a train to Howrah if you are coming from suburbs. Cross the Howrah Bridge and take a flight of stairs from the right end of the bridge to the flower market.

Mullick Ghat Flower Market
View of the busy market

Some tips:

Visit the market early in the morning.
Wear proper shoes as the market can get quite dirty.

Trivia:

This is the largest wholesale flower market in eastern India. But individual can also buy flowers from here at a very cheap rate.
The flower market is almost 125 years old.
The market supplies around 80% of the flowers sold in the world’s biggest flower auctions in Amsterdam, Auckland and Dubai.

Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Lotuses
Mullick Ghat Flower Market
Busy market
Mullick Ghat Flower Market
A riot of colours

Harry Potter In Kolkata

Harry potter and the cursed child

The enormous bridge was looking so elegant and strong. Harry looked out from the window of the OLA cab and felt the cool breeze blowing from the river Hooghly. “Yes, I am finally back home, I am finally at Kolkata.”

Harry’s reverie was suddenly broken by a long screech and Harry saw a long line of taxis and buses in front. “Some things will never change,” Harry chuckled. Harry clearly remembered the day when he first came to this big city. He was nervous about his future, tired because of the long journey, but overwhelmed seeing the city. The other students were in different stages of emotions – some edgy like him, while others chattering incessantly.

Harry Potter

And when he reached his school, he was awestruck seeing the building. School was simply a great place. The place where he learnt, he played Quidditch and also first tasted tea, which Aunt Petunia always denied him. Harry made friends quite quickly. Ron and Hermione were always by his side, and Hagrid. The friendly giant of a man, he was always there to help him. With Hagrid, the trio was never hungry. Phuchkas, Bhelpuri, Muri masala were always ready with Hagrid. And sometimes there were egg rolls and chaats. Those were the days! Thinking of food, how can Harry forget about Mr. and Mrs. Weasely, Ron’s parents. They were connoisseurs. Harry remembered the luchi and alur dom made by Mrs. Weasely. The mere thought about the mutton made by her brought water to his mouth. The payesh made by her on his birthday was his favourite.

Harry Porter

Kolkata is the place where Harry grew up. “Not only my school, but this city also taught me valuable lessons of life.” Harry was thoughtful. The memories of his school days played like a kaleidoscope before him. The adventures he had with Ron and Hermione were experiences were unforgettable. The numerous visits to Victoria Memorial was so much fun. And so was College Street. While Hermione would be busy with her books, he and Ron with fool around and look at the Presidency College, one of the best colleges of the Muggles. And then there was the Book fair! The whole Hogwarts would be seen at the fair.

The three once went to the P.C Sircar’s show. Harry wondered whether Mr. Sircar was actually a muggle or a wizard like them. He still does not have the answer!

Harry vividly remembered the journey the three undertook to find the Horcruxes. They had to travel throughout the West Bengal. And finally the fight with Voldemort! With Voldemort gone, today the magical world of Kolkata is a much peaceful place.

Harry Potter

Now when harry is in Kolkata today, he could smell the scent of night jasmine. The bamboos are lying on the road and the structures of pandals have started. Durga Puja is coming, the time of festivities, to meet family and friends. Harry was eagerly waiting to meet Hermione, Ron and other friends. Ginny was also waiting. But before meeting them, he has to meet the CM of the state. She was felicitating him with the Kolkata Knight Riders team at Eden Gardens today. Dada will also be there. Harry was a great admirer of Dada. He was already late and must reach the venue in time. “Shall I use my broom? The thought crossed Harry’s mind.

This blogpost is an entry to the Blogging contest, a part of the book launch of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in association with Kolkata Bloggers.

Harry Potter

Kolkata Traveller’s Meet

A few days back I was quite fortunate to attend a Traveller’s Meet organized in Kolkata. The meet was organized by Kolkata Bloggers and Nomadic Clouds at Infinity Benchmark Building on 4th of May.
I had always wondered that in spite of the Bengalis being such a travel loving community, why travel meets eluded the city of Kolkata. I have seen a number of travel meets, blogger’s meet happening in other cities like Bangalore and Delhi, but very few in Kolkata. We Kolkatans love to travel as well as to write. What was holding us back? So when I heard about this event, I was quite excited. Kudos to Kolkata Bloggers for arranging such a meet!

Traveller's Meet Kolkata
Full audience at the Meet | Courtesy : Nomadic clouds

The meeting was quite an interesting and eye opening event for me. It was graced by some eminent personalities from the world of travel, photography, print media, and digital media. Also travellers, budding bloggers, start-ups had come and it was an absolute pleasure meeting them.
Mr. Abhishek Chamaria, social media strategist gave a useful insight on how to effectively use the digital media to popularize our blog. The blog monetization aspect was also very nicely covered by him. I surely did not know that Google plus was such an effective medium to popularize the blogs.
I was simply overwhelmed to meet travel blogger Anuradha Goyal. She shared her experiences with us and gave us tips on becoming a traveller as well as a blogger. She advised all the budding bloggers to develop  the content. “Follow the Saraswati, you will find Lakshmi coming after you”,she said. I think that was one of the biggest takeaways from the session for me.
Jayati Saha, a renowned photographer simply mesmerized us with her photographs. But the best of the lot among her pictures were reserved for “Ashabari”, a home for the destitute not very far from Kolkata. “Ashabari” or the home of hope was started by Mr. Joseph single-handedly. It is now the home of many mentally challenged persons. The story of Ashabari was beautifully and touchingly captured by the lenses of Jayati di.

Kolkata Bloggers
Mr. Joseph along with Ms. Jayati Saha and Rangan Dutta

Srivatsan Sankaran, a photographer from Chennai and the founder of Madras Bloggers were present and his photographs on “Theyyam” captured the soul of the festival and the dancers in an astounding way.
I also came to know a lot about “Coffee Table books” from the youngest Indian publisher from Kolkata Esha Chatterjee. She is the publisher of Bee Books.
Finally, Anirban Saha himself enlightened us on blogging and gave us valuable tips on popularizing our blogs.

Traveller's Meet
The Question-Answer session with the speakers

The question answer session was equally interesting with all the speakers answering on various topics from travelling to social media. The evening was quite engaging. With people from various backgrounds, all bound by their love for travel had met on a Wednesday evening making the event an experience to remember. For me, it was an affair to remember. There was an ineffable thrill of meeting my idols like Anuradha Goyal and Rangan Dutta (Yes, he was present at the meet, though I wished he was among the speakers!). Also, I met my school friend Aninda at the event. It was a long time since I had met him.
It was commendable of Kolkata Bloggers and Nomadic Clouds for arranging such an event. I would hope that they would arrange for more events like this in upcoming days.

Traveller's Meet Kolkata
Traveller’s Meet Kolkata

Victoria Memorial – a memorable experience

Kolkata Attractions

Victoria Memorial is one of the most elegant and grand monuments in the heart of Kolkata. A vast white structure made of marble is a cynosure of all eyes and a respite for the tired feet. Once you are in Kolkata it is a sin not to visit the Victoria Memorial.

Victoria Memorial
The magnificent structure dotting the Kolkata skyline

Victoria Memorial, which is located near the luscious green Maidan, is a testimony of the peak of the British Empire in India. The memorial was built between 1906 and 1921 in the memory of Queen Victoria’s 25 years reign in India.  Lord Curzon, who was then the Viceroy of India suggested setting up a stately memorial in the honour of the late Queen. He appealed to the people of India and the royalties to donate fund generously. The British government surprisingly did not spend a penny on this memorial. A whooping One crore Five Lacs rupees which was the cost to built the monument was donated by the people of India and the royalties!

Victoria Memorial
The Victoria Memorial

Sir William Emerson, the President of British Institute of Architects, designed the building. The construction of the building was done by Martin & Co. of Kolkata. The foundation stone of this building was laid on January 4, 1906 and it took almost 15 years to complete it. The doors were opened for the public in 1921.

The Victoria Memorial is perhaps the most opulent structure if the British Raj in India. The huge white memorial is made from Makrana marble brought in from Jodhpur, Rajasthan. It is the same type of marble from which the Taj Mahal was built. Perhaps the British built the Memorial keeping the Taj in mind! The elegant memorial has hybrid features with Italian style statues near the entrance, Mughal domes and other European styles of architecture. The Victoria Memorial also contains a museum which houses the art and artifacts of Victorian era. It also has a collection of oil paintings and water colour paintings of various European artists. After the Indian independence, portraits and relics relating to Indian independence found place in the museum.

Victoria Memorial
The bronze figures are scattered

There are many magnificent bronze statues throughout the sprawling structure. The most famous is the bronze fairy atop the dome.  The fairy is 13 tonne in weight and 16 foot in height and was said to move with the wind! But there are none except a few old timers who have seen the fairy move! But nonetheless, the fairy has become regalia of the Victoria Memorial and the Kolkatans are always optimistic that they will finally see the fairy move!

Victoria Memorial
Fairy tale…

Another beauty of the Victoria Memorial is its sprawling gardens and lush green lawns. Spread across a total area of 64 acres, it has one of the best maintained gardens of Kolkata. Colourful flowers blooming are pleasant sight to the eyes.

Victoria Memorial
Victoria memorial in all its splendor

The gardens provide a relaxing place for the families and a playground for children.

The Victoria looks even more beautiful by the night. A grandiose structure, it is truly the pride of Kolkata.

Victoria Memorial Timings:

  • The garden remains open from 5:30 AM to 6.15 PM everyday.
  • The Victoria Memorial Gallery remains open from 10 AM to 5 PM
  • The Victoria Memorial Hall (museum) remains open on all working days except Monday. It also remains closed on public holidays. The timings are from 10 AM to 5 PM
  • A special sound and light show is held every evening at the gardens of the Memorial. The show depicts the erstwhile Calcutta to the modern Kolkata with all its pride and glory.
Victoria Memorial
The beautiful surroundings | Photo courtesy: Mainak Debnath

Bow Barracks – Forever Yours – Celebrating Christmas

Christmas at Bow Barracks

Bow Barracks, a place tucked in the heart of Kolkata near Bow Bazar celebrates the spirit of Christmas with aplomb.  This place is a confluence of heritage and culture. I have always maintained that Kolkata is a nurturer of cultures and traditions of various kinds. Bow Barracks is one such place where the Anglo Indians have made their home.

The Past of Bow Barracks:

The bow Barracks were originally made as barracks for the soldiers of the second World War. As India gained independence in 1947, there was a marked exodus of the Anglo Indians to the English speaking countries. But there were many who preferred to stay back and consider India as their own country. Bow Barracks was the block of flats constructed by the Calcutta Improvement Trust and was provided for them and it still houses a considerable section of the Anglo Indian community. They have made Kolkata their home. The community has become one of us.

Bow Barracks kolkata
Celebrations at Bow Barracks

The Present:

The Bow Barracks celebrate Christmas with great festivity. To experience the Christmas at Bow Barracks, we visited there at Christmas Eve. Bow Barracks can be reached through a narrow lane between Hare Street and Bow Bazar Police Station. The moment I reached the place, I was completely swept off by the charming old buildings and colonial look of the place. The narrow lane is flanked by blocks of three storeyed red bricked buildings. The green window frames add a rustic medieval touch to the place. And don’t be surprised if you hear a Bob Dylan, John Lenon  or Elves Presley at the background! The place seemed perfectly calm and at peace between mad rush of Central Avenue and Chandni just a few yards away. And we fell in love with this place!

Bow Barracks
Grotto at Bow Barracks

That was before we met its residents. We roamed about the alleys of Bow Barracks trying to know the place. But the spirit of this place lies in its residents. Being Christmas eve, the place was decorated and lighted up. There was a mood of happiness and warmth in the cold winter air. The people on the road were merrily chatting with each other. They greeted us and soon after we were celebrating Christmas with them.  And we fell in love with the people!

We decided to visit one of the apartments. So we just strolled in and rang the bell. A very sweet and jovial old lady opened the door for us. She ushered us in as if we were her best of friends. She even served us home baked Christmas cakes. “Nobody goes from here without having cakes and wine at Christmas”, she told us with all smiles. We were completely overwhelmed at their hospitality.

The Wine and cake of Bow Barracks:

We had heard from reliable sources that the home made wines at Bow Barracks were wonderful. We hesitantly asked our host about wine. She readily offered us a glass of home made wine. The wine was one of the best that I tasted! They also sell the wine at quite unbelievable low rates, if you want to take some for home!

Bow barracks
Canopy of lights

The Party:

After enjoying the hospitality of our host we were out at the road to celebrate the festival of joy –   The Christmas. Christmas is celebrated at Bow Barracks from 23rd December to the 1st January. The buildings are decorated with lights and streamers. A canopy of lights makes the place look ethereal. And the Christmas carols are played. A large stage is erected in middle of the road for musical performances. Dance competitions are also held. Many relatives of the residents of Bow Barracks who are living outside India visit them during this period.

The festival is not confined to the people of Bow Barracks alone. Anyone who comes there during the Christmas automatically becomes a part of the festivities. We too lost ourselves in the celebration. A dance competition was about to be held at midnight and we were invited to take part. We really wanted to be a part of it but decline as we had to be back at home!

Celebrating Christmas at Bow Barracks is something we would remember always. It is not just a festival, it is the spirit of the place, its people. Bow Barracks spread love and joy through this festival. So why not spend the Christmas eve at Bow Barracks? It will be a different experience altogether!

How to reach:

Take the metro to Chandni Chowk.it is a 5 minute walk from there.

Trivia:

Renowned Bengali Film maker, Anjan Dutt had made a film on the life of the people at Bow Barracks named “Bow Barracks Forever

Kolkata Infographic – things to know before you go

Kolkata Travel Guide

Kolkata – The City of Joy

Things to know before you go

Kolkata
Kolkata the city of joy
Trivia
  1. Howrah Bridge – the entrance to the city as well as its identity is the largest cantilever bridge in India. It is also one of the world’s largest!
  2. Kolkata is one of the fewest cities to have trams.
  3. The Botanical garden has the world’s largest tree- a Banyan tree whose circumference is more than 330 meters!
  4. Kolkata Book Fair is world’s third largest book fair. It has an annual footfall of about 2 millions. It is perhaps the world’s largest book fair by attendance.
  5. Birla Planetarium is the largest planetarium in Asia.
Places to visit
  1. Howrah Bridge
  2. 2nd Hooghly Bridge
  3. Victoria Memorial
  4. Alipore Zoo
  5. Birla Planetarium
  6. Botanical gardens
  7. Marble Palace
  8. Indian Museum
  9. Princep Ghat
  10. Synagogues of Kolkata
  11. Paul’s Cathedral
  12. Nandan Complex
  13. Kalighat temple
  14. Dakshineswar and Belur Math
  15. Science City
Places to eat
  1. Ambar
  2. Shiraz
  3. Arsalan
  4. Mainland China
  5. Peter Cat
  6. Bhojohori Manna
  7. 6 Ballygunge Place
  8. Barbeque Nation
  9. Zaranj
  10. Oh! Calcutta
Streets foods of Kolkata
  1. Phuchka
  2. Churmur
  3. Papri Chaat
  4. Jhalmuri
  5. Shingara or Samosa
  6. Telebhaja
  7. Ghugni
  8. Alu Kabli
  9. Ghoti Gorom
  10. Dimer Devil
Best Place to shop
  1. New market for anything & everything
  2. Gariahat for street shopping
  3. Ram Mandir for sarees
  4. College Street for books and beyond
  5. Bowbazar for jewellery
  6. Chandni Chowk for e market
  7. Flower Market
  8. Hatibagan Market
Major festivals:
  1. Durga Puja
  2. Kali Puja
  3. Saraswati Puja
  4. Poila Baisakh
  5. Makar Sankranti
  6. Dol or holi
  7. Ratha Yatra
  8. Eid
  9. Christmas
  10. Poush Parban
Mode of conveyance
  • Cab
  • Metro
  • Bus
  • Local Trains