A Trip to remember: Kolkata often called the City of Joy has an aura of its own. The city as I remember it from the nineties, had streets bustling with taxis painted yellow and black, trams in the middle of the road, rickshaws pulled by men, warm and beautiful people, and of course tea in ‘bhar’ (clay) cups. It was early December 2017, I took an impulsive decision to revisit Kolkata and spend a long weekend with friends whom I have wanted to meet for quite a while.
I often hear people say Kolkata has great food to offer at affordable prices, and given the Hyderabadi foodie I am, I had to taste the Kolkata Biryani, which I did eventually. I love the name of Kolkata’s Airport – ‘Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’ International Airport. I still wonder why my people had to name Hyderabad’s airport after Rajiv Gandhi. Anyway, it was 26 January 2018 and I landed at Kolkata where i was delighted to be welcomed by Republic day themed decorations. I met my friends Kabir, Deya & Abhra at the airport and began our journey that is truly a trip to remember.
We headed straight to a street shop for breakfast – hot Kachori coupled with Aloo curry. Boy was it tasty! Breakfast had to end on a sweet note and Rosogolla did the job. I freshened up at Abhra’s place and set off to explore parts of Kolkata. We all met our friend Sohom at Dum Dum station, boarded a metro to Esplanade where we met Kabir’s college friend Arjit (That makes 6 of us). I got to say Kolkata’s Metro prices are so damn economical.
We spent some quality time walking and exploring streets from Esplanade station going along Peerless Inn and Oberoi Grand hotels to reach New Market when hunger struck us again. Kabir suggested a café nearby called Raj’s Spanish Café for authentic continental dishes. We ordered Espinacas salteadas (Fried Spinach with garlic and fried seafood), Lasagna De Pollo (Baked Pasta layered with chicken and cheese), Chicken Rolls, Tuna topped on bread and the tasty Cafe Bombon (Spanish Coffee with condensed milk). It was quite a feast!
Kabir and Deya went shopping for a while, so we found our time-pass in watching Abhra and Sohom playing with a street puppy. We walked towards Birla Planetarium through Maidan, the largest open park in Kolkata. A lemon soda from a street vendor in Maidan got us going again. Most of the tourist attractions remained closed that day, as it was Republic day.
On reaching the Birla Planetarium, we found huge lines to the ticket counter. We decided to go for a Tram ride instead. I was surprised to find out that my friends hadn’t themselves been on a tram for years together. Tram ride was fun to say the least. The conductor ringing a bell strung to a rope to signal the driver to Stop/Go, makes you experience the old world charm of these Trams that have been around since 1902.
We also stopped at KC Das to try a few sweets that included yummy Strawberry flavored Rosogollas. Our food-tasting quest did not stop there.
We reached College Street where my friends enlightened me about the umpteen numbers of great leaders the Presidency College and University of Calcutta had produced. After a brief walk, we headed to the College Street Indian Coffee House, a place where eminent personalities, revolutionaries and intellectuals were regular visitors. This place is a heritage building that has stood the test of time since 1942.
We could not have found a better place for catching up with friends over Coffee. We tasted mutton omelet.
We then started to walk towards Sealdah railway station to catch a train to Berhampore (Abhra’s native place). The street food was so tempting that we had to make a stop to down a dozen puchkas (a.k.a Pani Puri) on the way. Do I need to say more to prove that Kolkata is a foodie’s paradise? Meanwhile, Arjit was giving me an insight into how the streets we were passing by had once been hotbeds for misguided violence. Given my interest for history, I listened like a child.
We reached Sealdah to board the Bhagirathi express to Berhampore. Kabir and Abhra started their high-level negotiations with co-passengers so that all six of us could sit together. Though the negotiations partially succeeded, they concluded after an hour when people were kind enough to swap for us all to sit together. The 6-hour train journey was over before we knew it. Abhra had booked one of the best hotels in Berhampore for us and we had no reason to complain. We freshened up and partied hard. Roti and Chicken that Abhra brought coupled with some delicious food from the hotel’s night kitchen made it even more delightful.
The next morning, we got up late and Abhra came to pick us up in his dad’s Ambassador. It was a pleasure to watch Abhra negotiating crazy turns and gully chaos with no power steering. That is when I understood how we take technology for granted. Abhra’s mom treated us to a appetizing breakfast – Dal-Puri, Gurer-Sondesh, Dudh-Puli, Kalajamun and Nolengurer Rosogolla. I must have gained a kilo of weight right there!
We started towards Hazarduari, a British time palace embellished with a thousand ornamental gateways. We spent time exploring the museum that had a collection of priceless antiques. The Durbar hall of this palace houses the second largest chandelier in the world, after one in Buckingham Palace.
After a history lesson from Abhra, we had a sumptuous meal – a Bengali Thali. We later visited the Kathgola palace. The guide we hired there gave us a grand tour of the property and its significance.
We enjoyed the evening with some Laal cha (Tea), visited Moti Jheel where we took a long walk and went back to the hotel. On reaching the hotel, we spent some quality time. Deya and Kabir sang some Rabindra Sangeet and that got the party started. A lovely meal and a proper conversation translated into an amazing night. We got to know each other a lot better i guess.
The next morning, we boarded a Local Train back to Kolkata after a Dal Puri and Rosogolla breakfast at the railway station. Abhra stayed back in Berhampore. Thanks to the rush of passengers, we stood all the way but our chatty conversations kept us from keeping track of time and before we knew it, we were back in Kolkata. It was 4 PM and I was starving! I could not wait to taste the Kolkata Biryani. We hired a taxi straight to Arsalan. The Biryani was delicious & Firni was mouthwatering.
So now the question – Hyderabadi Biryani or Kolkata Biryani? I am going to stick with Hyderabadi Biryani. Though delicious, Kolkata Biryani tastes a bit bland and sweet (aloo) compared to the masala rich Hyderabadi delicacy. I always have been a double-masala man if you know what I mean!
Sohom had to leave after that and the rest of us went to Princep Ghat. We took a 1 hour Boat Ride in the Hooghly River, which was an amazingly peaceful experience. The view of the illuminated new Howrah Bridge coupled with gentle wind, starry sky and a mighty river was mesmerizing.
We then took a taxi to park street and decided to party at Oly Pub to finish out trip. We all had a great time there and I tried the legendary Beef Steak. It was closing time and we took a taxi to drop off Arjit and Deya on the way to Abhra’s house in Kolkata where Kabir and I crashed for the night. The taxi took us on a short tour of Kolkata’s IT hub – Salt Lake. The lighting on the streets was nothing short of a celebration.
The next morning it was time to say goodbye. Kabir and I had Dal puri with Jalebi on the way back to the airport. It was indeed a great pleasure to have spent 3 days in such wonderful company – Truly a trip to Remember.