Kolkata

Rainy gardens at the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

Rainy gardens at the Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

It all began when the Hindu Lord Shiva discovered his wife, Sati, had passed away. Enraged, Shiva began a celestial dance of destruction and Sati’s corpse was dismembered, her body parts flung across the earth. One of her toes landed by the Hooghly River in eastern India, and up sprung the temple of Kalighat. Kalighat would be one of the first human settlements in the region of Bengal. Bengal is a flat and wet land, criss-crossed by the River Ganges, the Brahmaputra River, and their thousands of tributaries, streams and offshoots. The waterlogged soil of this region provided a fertile ground for agriculture, and therefore trade. The flight from Chennai to Kolkata was mostly over water, a fitting introduction to a part of the world which is defined by its relationship with the element of life.

Iconic Kolkata scene; rain and yellow cabs.

Iconic Kolkata scene; rain and yellow cabs.

Kolkata is a city of parks, of regal monuments and of crumbling colonial architecture. It is a city of artists and beggars, of gentlemen and poverty. A city of devotion, culture, life and death in equal parts. I began my day by walking to the Victoria Memorial, a building which looks like a hybrid of the US Capitol building and the Taj Mahal, and is surrounded by lush gardens where Kolkata‘s well-to-do still come to think and discuss. There I met a group of photographers who were on an excursion to learn how to best capture the shifting light on the beautiful white marble structure. The monsoon had already provided two heavy downpours that morning, and the gardens glistened in the sun like dew drops in a mountain field. Yes, Kolkata was turning on its best for us, and the day had only just begun.

Victoria Monument, Kolkata

Victoria Monument, Kolkata

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

Exiting the gardens, I headed out into the streets of the city and took shelter near the English country-style St John’s church just as the heavens opened up again. On the streets around me were poor people, also sheltering from the rain.

St Paul's Cathedral, Kolkata

St Paul’s Cathedral, Kolkata

I quickly realised that Kolkata was home to a whole new level of poverty. In much of India, you see beggars on the street who disappear into shanty-towns or slums after when it begins to rain. In Kolkata, many of them sit on the streets with all their belongings in a bag next to them; the absolutely destitute who don’t even have a sheet of scrap metal to call home.

Old houses in Kolkata

Old houses in Kolkata

Once the rain abated I continued walking into the city centre, along streets lined by colonial buildings in various states of romantic disrepair. Some of the stone buildings were particularly eye catching, and more so because all these buildings are still in use; Kolkata is a city which utilises its past. In amongst all of this existed a sort of cultured rat race; businessmen sipping chai from cafes enroute to work, smartly dressed women laughing over their morning pastries, and near the metro stations, all sorts of people at news stands taking in the overnight developments.

Downtown Kolkata

Downtown Kolkata

Kolkata is an Indian city like no other, and I was beginning to like it. Bengalis are proud of their gentle, refined culture, and are often frustrated by the images that “Calcutta” conjures up in the minds of westerners. This is partly the reason for the name change in 2001. Bengali’s have always called it Kolkata, and have known it as the London of the East, “the city of joy”, India’s literary home. Kolkata gets drenched by not one, but two monsoons each year, back to back. Western writers describe the five months of solid rain as a source of despair, but Bengalis know that it was this melancholy climate which inspired India’s most beautiful and enchanting poetry, In fact it was a Bengali, Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote both the Indian and Bangladeshi national anthems – the only
instance of two countries sharing one composer.

British colonial legacy in Kolkata

British colonial legacy in Kolkata

Have you been to Kolkata? What did you think of it?

Comments (8)

  • Anna @ shenANNAgans Reply

    Gahhhh…. visiting my fave travel blogs makes me realise I havent been anywhere. Looks amazing, so green and regal and pretty. Adding to my list. 🙂
    Happy hump day! Hope you are having a swell week so far. Nab some warm for me too. Catch ya soon.

    July 29, 2015 at 3:28 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Hehehehe there’s soon much to add to the list, my friend!! Sometimes I feel like I’ve been everywhere… then I browse a few blogs, and realise I’ve hardly seen anything!!
      Hump day was ok – a bit under the weather… on the mend now though. Hope yours was more exciting!! 😀

      July 31, 2015 at 10:00 pm
  • Andrew Reply

    The ONLY time I saw rain when I’ve been in India was in Kolkata. A really interesting city, worth a visit!

    July 29, 2015 at 10:03 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Yep, Kolkata will do that to you! I <3 Kolkata - hope to go back there some day 😀

      July 31, 2015 at 9:59 pm
  • veena Reply

    I was in Kolkata very briefly about 8 years ago, and I am already looking forward to my return visit in December. I can’t wait to explore more of the city’s history and get to know it a little better. Great post! xx

    July 31, 2015 at 10:12 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Thanks for reading, Veena 🙂 Hope you have a great time – looking forward to reading about it!

      July 31, 2015 at 10:29 pm
  • Agness Reply

    Oh Tim, you are so right. Kolkata looks so beautiful when it does not rain there. Added it to my bucket list and I really hope that me and Cez can visit it soon!! By the way, Amsterdam has been a rainy city for the whole week :-(. I miss the sun a lot!

    August 1, 2015 at 6:25 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Hehehehe then don’t come anywhere near the subcontinent at the moment – we’re covered with monsoonal rains! At least it’s warm 🙂 Kolkata is beautiful without the rain… but there is also something magical about the rainy melancholy in this city… I hope you can go there, and I’m sure you’ll love it whether it’s raining or not 🙂 <3

      August 2, 2015 at 9:13 pm

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