Words: PRIMROSE MONTEIRO-D’SOUZA
Photographs: KRISHNA PRABAKAR T
There is no one Kolkata that a visitor can meet. Instead, there are many cities waiting by the Hooghly River to welcome you, and the best way to get a quick introduction to some of the paras(neighbourhoods) is with a tour. One of these demands that you wake up quite early – at 5am. Soham Chakraborty of Calcutta Capsule will meet you in Shyam Bazar, taking you on the first tram of the day on his Magic Hour Tour across the city He likens the tram to Bengalis: charming but quite laid-back – in a nice way. From the moment he cajoles the tram driver from his first cuppa into the vehicle, Soham has a way of getting his timing right – on the five-hour tour, you’ll find four other modes of public transport waiting to help you discover North and Central Kolkata, and he nails that perfect moment when the rising sun meets your group as you stand awestruck in a massive maidan. Expect an opportunity to immerse yourself in the freshest flowers and a chance to walk among gods-in-the- making. Expect to receive simple but carefully-curated gifts, and to enjoy street snacks the way the local work force does. Expect an insider’s perspective on the North Kolkata – South Kolkata divide and a tongue-in-cheek explanation of why North is best. Expect, most of all, to be floored by Soham’s enthusiasm, and his willingness to share his city with you in all its complexity.
The Melting Pot Walk with Calcutta Walks is a more leisurely affair, putting into perspective the many different communities that have made the city their home. On the discovery menu are rent-controlled Anglo-Indian quarters, restored Chinese houses, and Buddhist and Parsi free guesthouses.The walk throws up forays into charming re temples and stunning Chinese ‘churches’. You’ll find out more about the controversial hand-pulled rickshaws, take a break for some rich fruit cake, and marvel at the last Chinese breakfast stalls at Tiretti Bazaar. The ebullient Anirban is also a filmmaker and photographer, so he will point out many architectural details you would otherwise miss. The most striking point on the tour is when you stand at a crossroads with a Protestant church to your right, a Scottish kirk on your left, a mosque behind you and one of the largest synagogues in Asia ahead of you. It’s a moment to appreciate how different cultures are so much a part of the fabric of this charming city, and how everything in Kolkata has changed but also remained the same.
The vegetarian Barra Bazaar ki Shaam food trail begins with khasta kachoris with curry, lashed with tamarind chutney and mota bhujiya, much beloved of the Marwaris whose stronghold this area is. This Navpreet Arora of Fun On Streets will tell you, is where life began in Kolkata for those who came from Gujarat and Rajasthan. The men came first, and, in the absence of home fires burning, a food culture grew that remains strong even today. Navpreet introduces you to the small shops serving all her personal favourites: hing ke kachoris with potato curry and pickled chillies; singhadas (samosas that are much lighter and less spiced than their namesakes in the Punjab); puchkas tinged green with spinach in the puris; jhal muri (puffed rice served with cucumber, boiled potato, onion and a lashing of mustard oil); kachoris with kadhi; amazing kulfi ; and indulgent sukka malai rolls. It is a food walk that will leave you feeling full and happy, and the charming Navpreet will be a friend by the time you stagger away from each other. You’ll be glad you’ve been wearing your walking shoes and the loosest clothes.