After a fun Day 1, I got a good nights sleep and was up and ready to explore more of this beautiful city…Was up by 6am, spent a few minutes sorting out work and the plans for the day, and was out by about 7.30am .
Breakfast at China Bazaar
After reading about this place, and watching many a travel show cover this area, I knew I had to visit. Surprisingly, when I asked around , many said the place still exists but the quality of food has gone down. They warned me to be cautious about what I ate or tried there. Throwing caution to wind, I got out of the hotel making my way to the market. Found me a yellow cab and asked him to take me to the China bazaar, he dropped me off at the entrance of Terret Bazar telling me to just keep walking, past the makeshift stalls to find the food vendors. I was in for a surprise alright, cos most of the shops here were selling meat, freshly cut meat and seafood..
Luckily, I was used to the strong smell, but then I wasn’t prepared for how strong it would be plus the sight of the butchers going at it with their machete… I nearly sprinted across the whole thing, hoping the food stalls were better.. I had kind of lost my appetite by the time I got to the Sen Yat Sen Street section, and so just tried some momos and steamed buns from 2 stalls before getting out of the market and getting some fresh air.
Probably the only place where I did not pull out my phone or the DSLR to click pics.. :/
Note: Carry water when heading to this part of town, and wear comfortable shoes
Kumortuli – Idol makers area
Having heard about Durga pooja and the beautiful idols made just for the festivities, I knew I would be visiting the area where these very idols were made- Kumortuli. A short ride from where where I was staying, this was my 2nd stop for the day. I got off the cab and began walking down the narrow alley when I spotted not one but 100s of half done Saraswati idols on either side, inside small sheds.
I spotted an artist working on an idol and gingerly walked into the narrow space and asked him what he was doing. He showed me the straw frame of Saraswati with a different version of the veena and he was working on attaching her fingers and feet. Finally the head would get attached and then the idol would get painted, he added. Watching his hands work on the delicate fingers was mesmerising. When I enquired about the monsoons, he said the idols would be done and dried, so rains did not affect them much. He also told me that Saraswati was the 1st idol they made.
Today, they also got orders from abroad to make them and export them, which helped them run their households. While the number of artists had dwindled over the years, he was happy to be doing these year after year. I bid him adieu and walked down the lane, further inside, watching men work with clay, creating different elements for the idols- handcrafting a veena or a piece of jewellery from clay. There were some who were painting the idols, while others were attaching lotus petals or the head, blending it with the rest of the body.There were some faded movie posters atop the workshops, and on one building I spotted Spiderman, looking like he was ready to fly off into the skies..
Some idols were small, while others were bigger & taller than me. I also noticed a few heritage buildings behind these work sheds, and one stall where they were working with paper to create the jewellery that went on the idol before she was featured at one of the pandals. These idols would be immersed after the Durga pooja celerbations in the River Hoogly. As I walked away from this lane, i could hear the fingers sculpting Saraswati’s eyes and bringing her to life…
Note: Carry water when heading to this part of town, and wear comfortable shoes
Jorasanko Thakur bari -The ancestral house of Rabindranath Tagore
Donated by the Sett family of Burrabazar to Prince Dwarkanath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore’s grandfather, the Jorasanko Thakur Bari is one lovely place to visit. Infact, Rabindranath Tagore was born here back in 1861 and lived a good part of his life, and passed away here… The place is more like a museum, showing off various works of literature of Rabindranath Tagore [ he was called Kavi Guru afterall] including how he lived. There are rooms, floors covered in his works, some from his travels and other from India. It was a fascinating experience, to say the least.
I walked into what looked like a courtyard, before making my way towards the stairs on the side to explore the Museum… The place has a total collection of 2071 books, 770 journals, 16 paintings, 3297 photographs, 27 crafts and sculptures, 208 personal collections and 53 pieces of furniture.
Infact, at the end of the corridor on the 2nd floor, I thought I was done when few security guards beckoned me towards them, and pointed to a whole wing tucked away with artefacts and writings done during Tagore’s visit to America & China. We had to exit the space the same way we entered and so when coming back , I asked the security guards why there were no boards indicating what was on each floor, and what lay ahead with arrows to guide visitors. One of them smiled and said “hum usi keliya hain na yahan pe” [we are here just for that right] .. I did not know what to say, smiled and walked ahead towards the stairs that took me downstairs.
I was so glad to have visited this place, inspite of some warnings from friends about how boring the place was.. lol.. I discovered the Rabindranath Tagore University was also close by. I walked towards the road trying to decide where to head next- lunch or explore more~!
Note: Entry fee- Rs10 , for camera it is extra..
It took me a while to find this place, even though it was very close to Jorasanko, not more than 300-400 mts for that matter. But the road on which the Marble Palace was located is completely dug up, and I really had to hop skip jump over construction material to get to this place. But am glad I persisted, cos the place was beautiful. Anyways, had a bit of adventure before I got to explore the grounds.
At the gate, the security stopped me asking for pass. I told him I did not have one and was looking for the ticket office for which he pointed at the banner on the gate that said “passes can be picked up at Bengal Tourism office”.. I had no clues of this and told him as much. Wonder what changed his mind, he smiled and told me i could go ahead, but to “take care” of him on my way out.
As I approached the main building, the guard near the steps told me to go wander about the garden before getting to see the inside. I promptly followed his instructions and well, the gardens, the various artefacts scattered across the place was quite breath taking- all made out of white marble. There were also a few cages with birds in them- exotic ones at that [ just wished they were cleaner and maintained better]. After a few minutes, I got back and hired a guide to give me a tour of the space.
Built around 1835 by a raja from the Mallick family, the mansion is all about grandeur and pomp. The halls are packed with statues of rulers, thinkers and more..There are quite a few of Queen Victoria [across ages], plenty of vases & other pieces from China & Japan, Belgian chandeliers adorning the ceilings, trophies and paintings, including a few originals by Murillo, Reynolds and Rubens. The ballrooms are majestic, with 25ft tall mirrors, 19th-century disco balls that bounced off the light from chandeliers [ throwing different colour lights across the room].Oh there was also a 3D painting, that changes completely as you walk from one side to the other, quite a few Grandfather clocks that still worked fine…
The Marble Palace is three storey tall and features tall fluted Corinthian Pillars, has some amazing views from the balconies, and quite a few other elements that are said to be influenced from Chinese pavilions…
There are quite a few statues of Napoleon and Wellington. Each room has a theme- dance, music, art, etc… While each piece is beautiful, it looked like they had all just been placed wherever there was space, almost like a warehouse or an antique shop. The current generation live in a smaller house in the property, and a trust has been set up that maintains the place. I thanked the guide, tipped him Rs100 and then another Rs20 the security for being so kind and left the space wondering what kind of lives the Royal family back in the day, the places they/he must have travelled to ..
Note: To enter, you need prior written permission from West Bengal Tourism or India Tourism.. Since it is a private property, Photography prohibited across the space.. You will be asked to explore the gardens first by the guard at the main building, but it is a lovely space, so go for a leisurely stroll.
Hunger pangs were beginning to set in, but I decided to explore one more place before heading out for some food. Had heard about this street packed with books & so that is where I was off to. Turned on google maps, it said 1.2kms away, turned on directions and began walking in that direction…Good thing I was carrying some snacks & water..
College Street- Book stores
Imagine this- a long street of about 2kms, with nothing but book stalls on either side, packed in and crowded.. I had heard of this place and thought there would be general book stores as well, but I was wrong. The history of this street goes back to the time when The Hindu College was first established by David Hare in 1817. He also wanted to create a space/an institution that would provide liberal education to the children of the members of the Hindu Community.
You name a subject and you are sure to find books in one of the many shops here. It is haven for those who are into academics and constantly look for new material to keep their grey cells alive.. There are a few non academic stalls, but they are far & few… I spent about half an hour walking up and down, before deciding to move on.. Around the corner, on the pavement I did spot a few selling fiction and other genre of books, but did not buy any.
Note: Come here if you are into books, and ok to explore a few academic subjects. This street is located between Bowbazar and Mahatma Gandhi Road. There is the famous Coffee house [part of the India Coffee house chain] on this street, one that was frequented by the who’s who of the literary world..
Kati Roll @ Kusums, Park Street
Come to Kolkata and not have the renowned Kati roll from Kusum? No way~ This was my lunch on the 2nd day.. Took a yellow cab from near College Street and got off near Oxford Bookstore, heading straight to Kusums [ tucked away in a lane few yards from the bookstore]. I ordered an Egg veggie paneer role, and it was served up within minutes, inspite of the crazy crowds buzzing about. Took my roll and went across the space to dive in, and took my time enjoying it.
Every aspect of the roll was delicious- the roti, the egg, the sauces and the veggies.. It was filling as well.. As I stood there devouring my roll, I noticed most people stood near the wall chomping down on theirs, or grabbing a chai from the nearby stall before heading back to work.. It is situated inside a complex that houses an office building among others.
Note: This kati roll costed me Rs100 and was yummmm… I had some water and was good to go for the rest of the day…
Halt at CCD Square on Park Street
As I walking back towards my hotel, I stopped by some of the vendors selling books on the pavement, but having had bad experiences before [ pages missing, cover/title and main content being completely different. etc] I walked on without buying any.. I was in no hurry to get back to the room, was done with the day’s quota of work as well, I stopped by at the Coffee Day Square, and got myself a cup of Cappucino. The space was huge and well done up, very swanky infact.
Chilled there for a while, flipping through the photographs I had clicked earlier that day, reading a book and whilst there, messaged a friend [from Kolkata, but works/lives in Chennai] where to buy local sweets to take back home. After about 40mins or so, paid the bill and made my way out and began to look at the list of names friend had suggested. One of the shops was just a hop skip away.
Bought sweets at Balaram Mullick & Radharaman Mullick Sweets
Refreshed after the brief pause and coffee, I crossed the road to go buy sweets to take back home. My flight was the next evening, but well, the weather was lovely and therefore knew the sweets would survive in the room. Found the small store tucked away between others, and picked out a few varieties of sweets. I opted for a box of Baked rosogollas,Baked sandesh, Sandesh, and Jalbhara [sandesh with nolen gur syrup in the middle] . Happy with my purchases, I walked back to the hotel, to dump everything, rest a bit before heading out to explore Vardaan Market later in the evening.
Vardaan Market – Dal vada, Puchkas
The market was about 10mins from where I stayed, and while I wasnt going there to shop, I was keen on checking out the food stalls outside. This is one of those old markets that is similar to Palika Bazaar in Delhi. You keep walking, and all you see are small shops selling everything possible. Near the entrance, I found a stall selling Daal Vadai [ almost like the one we make at home], and I also tried Puchkas [ pani puri] at another stall. They were both yumm.. The vada platter infact had about 4-5pieces, I had 2, and gave away remaining+another plate of vada to a family on the pavement…
As I walked back to the hotel, I noticed how the streets were still buzzing with folks walking busily, and the tram chugging up & down sounding the alarm every now and then. With that ended my 2nd day in Kolkata … Stay tuned for my last day in this city…