Sunflower Guest House was everything that we had hoped for in a place to stay in Kolkata — comparatively cheap and the rooms were neat and clean. My friend Arvind and I, brimming with optimism about a new day in Kolkata, started our journey from the guest house and entered the Mother Teresa Sarani. It popularly goes by the name Park Street. Park Street houses a number of those iconic restaurants, pubs and eateries that have become legends in their own, right and rightly so. As we lumbered along the street, we happened to pass by Peter Cat (definitely try out the Chelo Kebab and the sizzlers), Flurys Bakery (famous for its freshly baked cakes and confectionaries), Oxford Book Store and the Cha Bar attached to it (books and passion fruit bubble tea – what a lovely combo) and just before we took the right turn onto the Chowringee Road towards Esplanade, was Kusum Rolls. Our jaws dropped and we were drooling at the mere thought of the double egg kati roll and the double chicken roll that we had the previous night
. Indulgence at its best is how one can describe the experience of having these delicious rolls. It’s a must try when you are in Kolkata. Our trek to the Esplanade was largely about wading through a large and busy crowd enjoying their Saturday morning street-side shopping and having the mouth-watering delicacies that these Kolkatan streets have to offer.
Indian Museum, which was established in 1814, stood majestically facing the Chowringee Road. It is a heritage museum which houses displays on archaeology, anthropology and geology. We had now reached Esplanade. It hosted a bus depot, a tram depot and an underground metro station connecting it to other parts of the city. We moved forward through the crowd until we saw what we had only seen in pictures before.
Towards our left, was a tram impatiently honking its way through the busy and narrow streets of Kolkata. We took a ticket for a tram ride from Esplanade to Wellington Crossing (the ticket charges are `6 per person). As I was seated on the tram, memories of stories about the trams of Kolkata that I had heard as a child and seen in movies like Byomkesh Bakshi set in Kolkata rushed into my mind. The tram rode like a king through the SN Banerjee Road. Even the traffic was regulated accordingly so that the trams as well as other vehicles could move without much problems. The yellow cabs waited patiently as the tram moved past them. The constant sounding of the bell and the honking combined with the shake and sounds of the tram car was not annoying. We promptly got down at our stop after the short but eventful ride from Esplanade and started our walk towards Arsalan Restaurant. We had heard about the lip-smacking mutton biryani for which the restaurant was famous. We decided to give it a try.
I was browsing through the internet regarding the place and the places to visit, when the suburban train whistled its way into the Bag Bazaar Railway Station. How could one miss out on the dingy streets that house numerous small shops that make life size Durga idols. We were not disappointed and spotted an array of clay idols of goddess Durga, each one in different stages of making. No less was the old, but interesting Bag Bazaar Ghat immediate to the station. A tired old boat stood docked waiting for passengers to ferry across Hooghly to Howrah. The Ghat was decorated by leftover flowers of a Ganga Aarti, which I assumed was just over.
We slowly navigated through Rabindra Sarani road following the instructions on Google Maps. The road was packed with criss-cross tramlines and the buildings on both sides of the street were old and dilapidated. However, they had millions of stories to narrate, about the change that Kolkata has undergone, about the change that they have been witnessing for decades. The entire street radiated an undefinable aura.
Experiencing the Kolkata we had picturised from the legendary literary works was the most memorable part. It was in complete contrast to the posh quarters like Park Street or Bidhannagar. One sharp turn to the right according to the Google Maps, we found what we had sought for when we set out from Princep Ghat. While the train passed by the Howrah Bridge, our only thought was about the famed Potter Quarters of Kumartuli.
Goddess Durga idols moulded on these streets are transported to various parts of Kolkata for the grand Durgotsava or Durga Puja, the biggest celebration of the beauty and spirit of womanhood in India. The clay idol is a true reflection of the bold and beautiful Bengali woman you meet on the streets of Kolkata. Exquisitely sculpted, the eyes of the idol will hook you to it. Even the failing winter sunlight could not hide the intricate details chiseled onto the goddess idols. Tens of Durga Maa(s) in their nascent stage stood there blessing us with their gorgeous smiles. We were awestruck by the beauty and divinity that will be showered on the homes and streets during the upcoming Lakshmi Puja.
(The author works as Associate Product Manager at Tally Solutions Pvt.Ltd, Bengaluru. His immense passion for traveling and photography persuades him to take time off his busy schedule to travel and experience different cultures)...