Being a tourist in my city Kolkata: Destination Victoria Memorial Hall

Victoria Memorial Hall Kolkata

‘How often do you travel in your city like a tourist?’

Can’t remember exactly where I read this but that simple question moved me very much. How it feels being a tourist in my city – I have never thought that! Thanks to an old friend who has never been to Kolkata before, I became a tourist in my city for the first time. 🙂 He called up a couple of days ago to say that he will give a brief visit to Kolkata on Friday, 30th January and asked me to be his guide for the city tour.

There are so many things to see in Kolkata. Although born and brought up in Kolkata I haven’t yet seen all of them. So, I readily accepted the proposal. Fortunately, it was a cool morning yesterday with a partly cloudy sky, ideal for soft snaps. So, what could be better than to start with Victoria Memorial Hall, the most beautiful monument in Kolkata?

Wide-open greenery all around, cool breeze blowing my hair and the unmatched architecture beauty to behold it felt awesome inside the Victoria Memorial ground!

Victoria Memorial Hall, kolkata, heritage building, architecture
Kolkata’s very own Victoria Memorial Hall

Victoria Memorial Hall Museum  

The monument was built in the memory of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Its unique architecture is a wonderful blend of European and Mughal style which is a treat to the eye. The museum inside the building houses an extensive collection of photographs and oil paintings depicting the history of Kolkata in time of British rule including a pictorial chronology of the monument itself. Every evening Light & Sound (Son-et-Lumiere) shows are held in the Victoria Memorial Hall ground.

The museum remains open every day except Mondays from 10 am to 5 pm. Entry fee for Indians is Rs 10 per head and for foreigners it is Rs 150. However, if you are not interested in history and museum you can just buy a garden ticket and sit in the garden as long as you want till 7 pm. Click here for more details.

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15781904754_4dbe29e7e3_hHow to Reach There

The best way to visit Victoria Memorial Hall is to take metro rail to Rabindra Sadan station. From the metro station walk (2-3 min) towards Cathedral Road, named after St. Paul’s Cathedral located midway of the street. You’ll walk past Kolkata’s cultural hub, Nandan complex – Nandan, Sishir Mancha, Rabindra Sadan and take right turn to Cathedral Road. Then walk for another 10 minutes to Queens Way to reach the main entrance of Victoria Memorial ground.

victorial memorial hall, kolkata, victorian architecture

victoria memorial hall, architecture, marble, memorial, kolkata, heritage

P.S: If you want to have the royal feel of British colonial era take a ride on horse drawn carriages lined up right in front of Victoria Memorial gate. However, a royal ride comes with a ‘royal’ price. Last time I heard it was INR 150 for 15 minutes. 🙂

horse drawn carriage, victoria memorial hall, kolkata
enjoy a horse drawn carriage ride at the heart of Kolkata

A Photowalk in Botanical Garden Kolkata

Pathway, Shibpur Botanical Garden, Howrah, Kolkata
Pathway, Shibpur Botanical Garden, Howrah, Kolkata
Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden popularly known as Shibpur Botanical Garden

It was a warm morning in the month of March. I bought my Nikon Coolpix P500 the previous night and thought to go out on a photowalk to test the new camera. It was a bridge camera with powerful zoom (34x) …ideal for shooting birds. Two of my friends also wanted to join me. They suggested we go to the Botanical Garden in Kolkata’s twin city Howrah on the other side of the Ganges. That was also my first visit to Shibpur Botanical Garden which is officially named as Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden. We reached there at around 7:30 am, a little before the ticket counter opened. Looking through the main gate I could see some people were already returning from their everyday morning walk session in the garden.

morning walk in Indian Botanic garden, Shibpur Botanical Garden, Howrah, Kolkata
Morning walkers in the Botanical Garden

Founded in 1787 on the western bank of the River Ganges the Botanical Garden is about 30-40 minutes ride from the heart of Kolkata. Built on an area of 273 acres the garden is home to 12,000 perennial plants and a variety of plant species cultivated for scientific research. The garden has become a popular tourist attraction over the years, especially because of The Great Banyan tree. It is a huge 250 years old Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) forming world’s second largest natural canopy spreading over an area of 14,500 square meters.

the great banyan tree, Botanical Garden, Shibpur
The Great Banyan Tree in the Botanical Garden, Kolkata – Photo: Wikipedia

Apart from banyan and various types of trees there are manicured gardens, lakes and ponds where rare water lilies (such as Victoria Amazonica) bloom and a variety of birds come in search of food and shelter amidst the greenery.

Water lilies in Shibpur Botanical Garden #Kolkata #BotanicGarden #2

As we explored deeper in the garden, it became obvious that I did not have the patience to shoot birds neither the eye for it and ended up shooting trees, flowers and ponds in the garden. 🙂 While my friends were busy in clicking birds I took a few shots of the surrounding.

birding, Shibpur Botanical Garden, Indian Botanic Garden
My friends busy in photographing birds.

Whether you are a photographer, or a fitness freak, or just a visitor you’ll love the place full of greenery and quietness away from the din of city life as you breathe in fresh air which immediately relaxes your mind. So, don’t forget to include the Botanical Garden in your must-see list of Kolkata Tour.

Here are a few glimpses of the Indian Botanic Garden through my lenses.

We walked down the nature trails

country road, #naturetrail - Shibpur Botanical Garden

Went past the bamboo groves

Bamboo Orchards - Shibpur Botanical Garden #kolkata

Along the canals flowing across the garden

Landscape - Shibpur Botanical Garden #kolkata

To reach a pond where trees contemplate upon their reflections

The trees look into the reflction in pond - Shibpur Botanical Garden

Where red water lilies bloom all around

Red waterlilies - Shibpur Botanical Garden #Kolkata

Where dead trees were lying beside the track

dread tree trunks - Shibpur Botanical Garden, #Kolkata

But the green foliages of spring shone bright in the morning sun

Green foliages of early summer - Shibpur Botanical Garden

I looked through the leafy frame

a leafy frame - Shibpur Botanical Garden #kolkata

To find this Bronze-winged Jacana wading through the water 

Birding at Shibpur Botanical Garden

Suddenly my eyes fell on this dragon fly resting on the branch of a tree

Dragonfly on Krishna Chura (Royal Poinciana or Flamboyant) - Shibpur Botanical Garden #Kolkata

We sat down under the tree to relax in its cool shade

The tree by the pond - Botanical Garden, #Kolkata #BotanicalGarden #nature

And watched bright cosmoses flooded the garden yonder

cosmos - Shibpur Botanical Garden #Kolkata

And red poppies swaying their heads in breeze

red poppies in Botanical Garden #Kolkata

To welcome the little bee that sucked nectar until its stomach was full

bee on red poppy in the garden - Shibpur Botanical Garden #Kolkata

Durga Puja 2010: Kolkata Dazzled in the Light of Festivity

durga puja 2010

It was almost a decade that I had kept myself away from the light of festivities during the Puja. I rather enjoyed spending the four days of the festival with my family and extended family at the quiet of home. But Durga Puja in 2010 has been different, perhaps 20 and 10 both are my favorite numbers and lucky for me too! 🙂

durga puja 2010
Amader parar thakur (Durga idol in our neighborhood)

This year I decided to get out and explore the Puja pandals, as many as possible. And what I found out is a dazzling Kolkata, all the more beautiful during the Puja days. The atmosphere has changed a lot. People are more mannered, crowd is more manageable, music is somber and tasteful and the designs and décor of puja pandals bear the mark of artistry and excellence with theme–based Pujas, far from the conventional decoration and mikes and sounds systems here and there blaring out cheap peppy songs all through the day in our childhood.

durga puja 2010

However, ‘puja’ today is not limited to its literal meaning, ‘worship’. It has expanded to include the idol of the goddess, the design and decoration of the pandals and the ambiance to win an award. Some Puja committees dedicated their pujas in the memory of Tagore, the great poet, whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated across the state this year.

durga puja 2010

I have perceived the prevalence of glitz and glamour in every nook and corner with the complete commercialization of one of the biggest festivals of India and the most coveted one in Bengal.

durga puja 2010 lighting

From sponsored hoarding displaying puja greetings to contests for the best dressed or beauty to awards for the best pujas in the city the reflection of commercialization seen everywhere. What I did not like is that ice creams, drinks and bottles of mineral water were being sold at Rs. 2 to Rs. 3 higher than their MRPs at various stalls given by some of the leading brands. Also the over-enthusiasm regarding theme-orientation has played a spoil sport for some the pujas in Kolkata, especially when it comes to making idol of the goddess.

durga puja 2010 idols

Well… this is my personal opinion after visiting some of the well-known pujas across the city. There was also that perpetual, tiring and irritating traffic jam due to pandal constructions along the roadside.

dhak, durga puja 2010

Still, with all the negativities and flaws Durga Puja in Kolkata rocked again. Even heavy rain in the afternoons of Maha Saptami and Maha Ashtami couldn’t dampen the spirit of the metropolis, for we have waited for it one l-o-n-g year! Tonight is the last of the Durga Puja – the idol has been carried out of the pandal and ready to be taken to the Ganges for immersion.  Bijoya greetings have already started flowing into my message inbox, reminding me that festivity never ends, it just keeps us waiting for another year ahead. Shubho Bijoya!

A Day out in the Alley of Potters called Kumartuli

Idol making in Kumartuli, Kolkata

Narrow lanes, hand-pulled rickshaws, tram lines and red-brick houses with louvre windows – yes … I am talking about a typical North Kolkata neighborhood.

kolkata, north kolkata streets
North Kolkata Streets

It’s that time of the year again, with Durga puja round the corner, we (Deblina and I) planned to explore Kumartuli, one of the cultural precincts of Kolkata. It was a Friday morning that we headed towards Kumartuli. From Shobhabazar-Sutanati metro station we took a rickshaw to Kumartuli, where clay sculptors were busy in making idols. Bright sunshine on my shoulders and the deep blue sky above were telling that autumn is on the threshold and with only one month left for the Pujas idol making would be in full swing.

Autumn sky
Sunshine in my eyes…

It was my long cherished desire to visit Kumartuli, the alley of the potters, where gods and goddesses are born (read created) in the skilled hands of mud sculptors who are in the profession of clay idol making for several generations.

Idol making in Kumartuli, Kolkata
Idol making is in full swing.

Well, coming back to where we started our journey. We had to take a hand-pulled rickshaw. As soon as I boarded the rickshaw childhood memories thronged my mind. Such rickshaws were aplenty on the roads of Kolkata those days.  We used to ride rickshaws often, especially in the evenings while returning home after a shopping or a visit to some relative’s place. The rickshaw puller is almost running pulling the rickshaw, and the sound of the bells hanging in his hand … ting ling ting ling (this bell worked like horns) and a small lantern hanging at the back of the rickshaw, just like the rear light of a car – the images are still so vivid in my mind!

Hand-pulled rickshaw in Kolkata
Hand-pulled rickshaw in North Kolkata

However, with the comfort and ease I am trying to sketch the picture of hand-pulled rickshaws, right now, it was no that easy during the ride. I sat stiff and terrified, thinking all the time, what if the rickshaw puller loosens his grip and we’ll land up up-side down (LOL!). Finally, we reached our destination and I was relieved to get down from the rickshaw. 🙂

As we moved on down the lanes the brick walls and structures were like closing in on us. I have never seen such narrow lanes and by-lanes in my life. Much to my astonishment, artisans live in there, with their families and have set up their studios for pottery and idol making! Well… studio, not in its literal sense.

Studios at Kumartuli
Studios at Kumartuli

Their studios are far from what we think or have seen… with scarcity of space, no AC, no fans and small windows refusing the daylight to enter, artisans keep working all day and night during this season. As for equipment and materials, they have clay, straw, ropes (made from coconut fiber), bamboo sticks and two hands – two skillful hands that can transform the shapeless mound of clay into a beautiful and awe inspiring idol of goddess Durga.

clay sculpture
Transformation from mounds of clay to beautiful idol.
goddess Durga
Goddess Durga

Hats off to those artists whose talent will never be recognized… who will never get the chance to bathe in the light of success and recognition.

As we made our way down the alley I was amazed to see half-done idols with a variety of size and features … large, small, medium; with traditional wide-eyed face revealing anger, or with a soft compassionate look more like a simple, native Bengali beauty; posing like warrior against the demons or blessing like mother.

idols of goddess Durga
idols of goddess Durga

We had only a few hours in hand with so much to see. We could only explore a part of the entire area in one hour. Since it was a working day we had pending jobs to do at the office. We set out from Kumartuli, reluctantly. Just as we were walking along the street we saw a tram approaching, much to our delight and we instantly got on it. Sitting inside the tram I felt nostalgic. It has been a long time since I last enjoyed a tram ride.

tram
enjoying tram ride

Trams are rare to see on the roads of Kolkata nowadays. The thought that Kolkata will be losing its heritage one day pains a lot. The metro has transformed a lot with a number of lavish shopping plazas, bustling multiplexes, flyovers and BMW, Skoda and Chevrolet plying the city roads.

Slowly the tram reached the terminal at Bagbazar. From there we caught the bus to Kalikapur, where our office is located. As the bus was passing through Shyambazar crossing I caught a glimpse of the statue of ‘Netaji’,

Kolkata
Kolkata has transformed but the spirit remains the same

basking in the sun, amidst a number of enormous hoardings and signboards trying to cover up the skyline, the bamboo structures for pandals on the roadside, posters of political rallies and the same zeal and enthusiasm for the Pujas reminded me, ‘Kolkata ache Kolkatatei” (The spirit of Kolkata still remains the same)!

Tree Felling Spree in Kolkata Needs to be Stopped

Tree trunks lying beside VIP Road , kolkata, west bengal, tree felling

Everyday on my way to office I watch them.  They are lying dead.  It’s truly sad. They didn’t harm anyone neither they did cause any problem to anybody. If they were alive they could give us pure air to fill our lungs. They could give us cool shelter to rest in the scorching sun.  Yes… I am talking about those trees which are trees no more … just logs … lying here and there by the VIP Road – Kolkata’s once pride. I don’t know who to ‘thank’ for this – PWD (Roads) West Bengal or the Kolkata Municipal Corporation!

green kolkata, tree cutting
Tree trunks lying beside VIP Road Photo: Moon Roy

The flyover construction works by PWD end much before Shreebhumi-Golaghata area. So there was apparently no need to cut those trees that once graced the VIP Road (between Laketown and Golaghata, the stoppage right next to Ultadanga while you are heading towards Laketown). Just don’t understand how far this ‘tree felling spree’ in Kolkata will continue! And I wonder how the Forest Department can give nod to such irrational tree-cutting exercises!

Recently learnt from an online news portal about the “tree-felling drive” that is going on in Kolkata’s IT hub, Salt Lake Sector V (near Wipro).  What is astonishing is that the government is busy in implementing High Court’s order for replacing old 2-stroke autos with 4-stroke LPG autos and banning vehicles that are more than 15 year old. On the other hand, the same government is utterly indifferent when it comes to protecting the greeneries in the city! Why this duplicity?

So far I have not seen any tree-planting project taken up by the local administration or any authority to compensate the loss of green once such construction works are over (check out the entire Dum Dum area and you’ll see). VIP Road is the biggest example. Take VIP-Laketown junction for instance. There were big trees in the triangular divider one of which felled in the storm Ayla and the Municipality did not bother to plant a single sapling there. They are busy in concreting the place and widening the road rather!

Green Kolkata
Tree trunks lying beside VIP Road Photo: Moon Roy

Cutting down trees in the name of development and no planting of trees afterwards can only put the city life at stake. Flyovers and skyscrapers are much needed things in a booming metro like Kolkata. But what’s the point in living in a place where our children will were specs from their early childhood; will suffer from respiratory trouble and various skin problems; grow weak and unfit with ischemic heart in a polluted concrete jungle? Side-effects of environmental pollution and global warming are many.  It’s a different issue that we read about them in the news papers and magazines and then forget about it.

If the government and corporation act like deaf it’s time for us to wake up …to do something to bring back the greenery … to give our children a less polluted environment to live in. After all Kolkata is our city too. And we do have some responsibility towards it.

Kolkata Twitter Festival: Missed It This Time :(

kolkata twestival
Kolkata Twestival Poster Image courtesy: @Shilps31

Twestival… Twitter Festival … TwestivalKol (abbreviation for Kolkata Twestival) were the topics I was tweeting about (retweeted more…) for the last one week since I met some of the Kolkata Tweeps  who volunteered the entire event and who do tweet for a greater cause – @shilps31 (Shilpa Srivastava), @doubts (Kamanasish Roy), @saikatblogger (Saikat Sengupta), @subhojit_g (Subhojit Goswami), @shimulseo (Shimul Aich), @_samiran (Samiran Ghosh), @_anamus (Sumana Chakraborty), the cute and intelligent @princessmithai (Rajrupa Das) and @Shrabasti (Shrabasti Ghatak) and @DaMoViEmAnIaC (the movie maniac) in its true sense Aniruddha Chatterjee… :). Some of them I know personally and I felt honored when they asked me to join them in a pre-Twestival meeting and discussion (even though I was good for nothing… :)) on March 19, 2010.

I enjoyed watching them talking, joking, pulling each other’s leg while planning for the event at the same time. It’s truly inspiring how they managed time from their busy life to stand for what they believe… that is, “education for every child” … and they really worked hard to make Twestival Kolkata happen.

Twestival, since its birth in 2008 when a few London tweeple (people using Twitter) came up with an intention to “leverage the power of online networking” for social cause, has gone global with a total of 175 cities worldwide celebrating it simultaneously this year on March 25.

Twestival supports Concern Worldwide, an international charitable organization working to improve the living standard of people in some of world’s poorest nations. Some other cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi are already acquainted with Twestival in India. But it was relatively new to Kolkata as the city has its Twestival for the first time to bring twitter users living in this part of the world together for the cause of raising fund and supporting the education of under privileged children across the globe.

The mantra was “Tweet. Meet. Give”.

Tweet for a noble cause.

Meet offline to strengthen the support.

Give donation in the aid of world’s poorest.

kolkata twestival
Kolkata Twestival Collage Image courtsey @shilps31 & @sahaanirban

Therefore, in every reason I wanted to be there at Natya Bhavan, Salt Lake where the Kolkata Twestival was being held on 25th March. But alas!…the same old story again… I planned for Twestival and Destiny had planned something else for me. I was assigned an urgent work lately in the afternoon and had to complete it by that evening. So, when I got out from my office it was already 7:15. By the time I could reach the venue (from Kalikapur near Ruby Hospital) the program would be over. I rushed towards home hoping to catch up with some live tweets on the event and of course the snaps that people uploaded on @twitsnaps.

It was an enjoyable evening for everyone present there. Kolkata Twitter Festival was an assortment of painting exhibition by destitute children from SOS Village, a video show on the sufferings of the under privileged and deprived children; a musical performance by a local band and most interestingly a candid speech by the chief guest @greatbong aka Arnab Ray, the renowned blogger and writer whose blog I just love reading… and so much I wished to meet him in person and hear his speech. I also had one question for him – ‘why does he follow MrTweet only’? Doesn’t he find anyone else worthy of following (on Twitter of course …:P )!

A friend who attended the event told me that @greatbong talked about how to use twitter effectively for business promotion while sharing his views on blogging which I think I did miss greatly.

To end, I must mention that a sum of Rs. 17000, raised from Kolkata Twestival will go to the charity Concern. But I personally feel that had Twestival t-shirts (quite attractive!) been available at the venue (profits earned from the sale will be sent to charity), the amount could be higher. Well…. 17000 is not  bad at all for a debut performance! Hoping for more funds, more fun and stronger fraternity next year – a bigger Kolkata Twestival in every way …!

Autumn in Kolkata: One Evening by the Lake

Rabindra sarobar, Kolkata lake, autumn, kolkata

Hi friends…this is my very first post and I thought I should begin with Kolkata. What could be better than a multifarious theme like Kolkata? It is the place where I was born and brought up; lived happily and experienced some of the best moments of my life! But Kolkata has changed a lot with the passage of time.

I think you all will agree with me that the City of Joy is not the same any more that it was in our childhood. Still one thing I feel the same way. It’s the arrival of autumn. Though it’s officially the time of monsoon I saw the glimpse of autumn in the blue sky and in the stretches of thin white clouds. It reminded me that the Durga Puja is only one and half months from now (and I should start shopping… 😛 🙂 ).

It was one bright afternoon… recently… I was passing by the lake (Rabindra Sarobar of course!) with a friend of mine (Deblina). Though we were in hurry yet could not evade the smell of fresh calm waters and beckoning of deep blue sky. We spent some quiet moments by the lake. I was spellbound. It felt like those moments were eternal… permeating my senses and touching my soul! The view was awesome. I tried to capture it with my mobile cam and could not restrain myself from sharing it with you. Hope you like it too! 🙂

Rabindra sarobar, Kolkata lake, autumn, kolkata

Rabindra sarobar, Kolkata lake, autumn, kolkata