My parents met and got married in Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta) and it is basically 'where we are from' if someone asks us.
The name changed to Kolkata, along with several other major cities in India in 2001 to be called how the locals call their cities. Frankly, I thought Calcutta sounds nicer, but whatever. Kolkata was India's capital under the British Colonial times between 1773 and 1911. Today it is known for its grand colonial architecture, art & culture, food, pollution (sadly) and is also known as the City of Joy.
Despite the chaos of Kolkata, everyone seems to work well within this strange system of no system. The cars, people, rickshaws, cycles, buses could look like they are all going to collide into each other at any point, but they usually do not. I have seen quite a few indifferent old people casually walk in front of cars to cross the road, without a hint of being afraid. The vehicle drivers do not seem to care about the pedestrian crossings either, so to get to the other side, unless you fancy standing for a long time, you will need to brave it.
The main spoken language is Bengali. This is the same language, in its purest form, as the national language of Bangladesh, but the dialects in Bangladesh over the years have evolved to sound completely different. It is one of 22 languages spoken in India. Other languages spoken include Nepali, Oriya and Hindi as well as some others that I can't even pronounce.
history and landmarks
Before New Delhi, Calcutta was the capital of India and still has an obvious essence of the British colonial times. Victoria Memorial, built in memory of Queen Victoria, is one of the main landmarks (it looks a bit like the Taj Mahal), surrounded by serene gardens, students reading under trees, lovers chilling by the ponds, and a line of horse carriages (Tangas) waiting outside the gates to charge tourists extortionate amounts of money (in local standards) for a ten minute round trip.
Note: negotiation is common in Kolkata, despite being pretty cheap. You pay what you think you can get away with, there is a standard few minutes of haggling, followed by a final price, somewhere in the middle. Depending on how foreign you look, you are more likely to be overcharged. But even after being overcharged, you will probably think it was money well spent.
Having said that, it is a lovely ten minute ride, especially in the evening when Bengali songs, play on the loud speakers attached to the street lamps. You are almost taken back in time, and you could close your eyes and pretend to be a rich Bengali prince(ss) on a horse carriage from the colonial times. Or you could just keep your eyes open and enjoy the ride.
Other places you should check out:
When you are done with the ride, you can pick and choose between all the street food stalls, including Phuchka (hollow crispy balls of flour, stuffed with spicy potato, dipped into minty water and served really, really quickly). Customers circle around the phuchka seller, and are served one at a time on disposable environmental friendly mini bowls, made from dry leaves. Sometimes I may not have finished one and I am served my next one, and they keep serving until you hold your hand up and /or tell them to stop. It amazes me how the sellers remember how much each customer owes them, how many they had. I struggle to remember my own! It is also common to have phucka-eating competitions in Kolkata... 20... 30... 50! My PB is 15, and working on it.
In terms of food in general, as long as you are careful with where you eat (to avoid stomach problems), I personally think Kolkata has some of the best variety of tasty food: from Chicken-Egg Rolls (link), to Biriyani at Anarkali in New Market (one of the oldest shopping areas in Kolkata), or Indo-Chinese food in Park Street (check out Oasis Restaurant).
Kolkata feels like a massive market. From food to jewellery, accessories, clothes, shoes, kitchenware to furniture, paintings, miniature models of Hindu Gods, clocks, almost all of these are sold on the streets of Kolkata by small stalls.
There are obviously, bigger shops and quite a few shopping centres with the international and high quality brands, but the real fun is haggling with the street vendors.
Oh and if your shoes or bags break while you are working, worry not: you can pay less than 50p (if that) and get it repaired by the street cobblers.
ENVIRONMENT AND PEOPLE
Now for the two main problem with Kolkata: pollution and poverty.
There is a lot of both and it breaks my heart, because it is one of the most authentic Indian cities, full of character, imperfections, where people experience culture, art, cuisine, shopping, celebrations, diversity and joy. The city of joy.
fun facts about india