Kolkata Travel Guide for the First Time Visitors
Kolkata, India’s second biggest city. It is a chaotic city. Not as big as Mumbai or Delhi, the city thrives on its people, culture and past. Calcutta, as it was known earlier, was the first British capital before it was shifted to Delhi. The city is almost 300 years old and is an eclectic mix of the splendid decaying past and the promising new future. The British had built some amazing buildings during their heydays and today Kolkata flaunts the colonial-era architecture with pride. Kolkata or Calcutta is known as the cultural hub of the country. The vibrant city has produced some of the Kolkata best writers, poets, performing artists and works of literature. Even today, there is no doubt that Calcutta is the hub of all the cultural activity of the country.
Kolkata is also a foodie’s paradise. The Bengalis (people of Bengal) love their food and love to treat their guests with sumptuous dishes. And those who told you that Kolkata food is only about Maach-Bhaat (fish and rice), then they are wrong. We can go on and on about the place that is so dear to us. But let me just stop here and write about the places to Kolkata visit, places to eat and other interesting facts about the city. For foreign nationals visiting places in Kolkata for the first time, the city can give you quite a shock. Calcutta can be quite overwhelming for the first-timers, for that matter, you can say this for any Indian city. But Kolkata will gradually grow on you. For no reason, Calcutta is known as the city with a heart! You need to stay here to believe that.
Interesting facts about Kolkata
1. Howrah Bridge- the entrance to the city as well as its identity is the largest cantilever bridge in India. It is also one of the world’s largest.
2. Kolkata is one of the fewest cities to have trams.
3. The Botanical garden has the world’s largest tree- a Banyan tree whose circumference is more than 330 metres.
4. Kolkata Book fair is the world’s third largest book fair. It is perhaps the world’s largest book fair by attendance.
5. The Royal Kolkata Golf Club, established in 1829, is the first golf club in India and the first club outside of the United Kingdom.
How to reach Kolkata?
Kolkata is in West Bengal in the eastern part of India. Kolkata has an international airport (Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport). The distance of Kolkata airport from Esplanade (considered to be almost in the heart of the city) is about 16 km. Otherwise, flights between Calcutta and other Indian cities operate frequently throughout the day.
India has an extensive railway network and one can travel anywhere in India by train. Calcutta has 3 important railway stations – Howrah, Sealdah and Kolkata Terminus, Howrah Station being the busiest of all. Trains run frequently between all three stations from virtually every region of India.
I would not suggest travelling by bus, if the distance is more than 200 km. Nevertheless, buses are available to Kolkata from the neighbouring towns. Visit kolkata famous place and explore the beauty of kolkata.
Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport (CCU)
Howrah, Sealdah and Kolkata Terminus
How to get around Kolkata?
Getting around Calcutta is not very difficult. There are plenty of options to move around the city.
Metro is the best mode of transport, but the problem in Kolkata is that the metro line is not yet extensive. It runs only through an area, and though it has been extended, it is not enough to cover the entire city. Trains run frequently between all three stations from virtually every region of the city. Metros are a clean, fast and cheaper mode of transport in Calcutta. Ticket price starts from Rs 10 to Rs.25.
Local buses in Calcutta are a bit of a challenge. Not that you will have a problem communicating, but getting on and off the local buses is a bit tough. However, the government-run AC buses are better in this respect. Local buses are quite a cheap form of transport.
Yellow Taxis, Ola & Uber:
Calcutta is also known for its iconic yellow Ambassador taxis. Once they used to be the main form of cab services in the city. And it was always a great deal of excitement for us as children to hop on a yellow taxi and drive around the city. But the yellow taxis do have a bad reputation. If the taxi drivers understand that you are not a local, he will try to extort the maximum fare from you. And this especially happens with foreigners. Be aware that all these taxis have a metre and you have to pay according to the metre reading.
There are pre-paid taxi counters at Howrah Station, Sealdah Station and Airport from where you can get taxis to anywhere in Kolkata at a prescribed rate. This is a good form of travel to kolkata, as you do not have to bargain with the taxi driver here.
Finally, there is Uber and Ola that will take you anywhere in Calcutta.
For short distances, there are rickshaws that will take you around. Kolkata is the only city that still has hand-pulled rickshaws. But the rickshaw pullers do it voluntarily and it is the sole decision of the rider whether they want to sit on a hand-pulled rickshaw. As a child, I would enjoy these rickshaw rides, but now, hand-pulled rickshaws are a strict no for me.
Kolkata has a local train network that is far more extensive than the metro. They are a cheaper mode of travel and you can travel to almost any part of the city. But a word of caution, the train becomes really crowded during the morning between 9-11 AM and in the evening between 6-9PM. This is the time when mostly office goers commute.
Trams in Kolkata:
The Kolkata tram is the oldest operating electric train system in Asia. Once, the trams used to connect every part of the city. But with modern time and faster transport options, trams have almost become redundant. Yet, some tram routes are still working in Calcutta, mainly because it is a part of our heritage. A tram ride in Calcutta is a pleasant experience and you can take a tram ride only to get a feeling of it. I think it is no longer a practical mode of transport.
What is the best time to visit Kolkata?
Calcutta has a tropical climate with warm weather almost all through the year. The city mainly has three types of seasons – summer, monsoon and winter with very small autumn and spring. Summers are quite hot and humid. Monsoons are going to be wet and humid. Winters are cold with clear skies. The best time to visit in Kolkata is between the months of October to March.
October and November:
This is the autumn season with clear blue skies and warm weather. Humidity is still there though. This is one of the best times to visit Kolkata as Durga Puja, the largest and craziest festival of the Bengalis, is celebrated in October (sometimes it is late September as well).
December to March:
December to mid-February is the winter season when the weather remains cold and less humid. This is the best time to visit Calcutta. This is the time when various fairs and festivals are held in Beautiful Kolkata. Calcutta Book Fair, one of the largest book fairs, is held in the month of January.
April to May:
These are the summer months and Calcutta is quite hot and humid during this time. Perspiration is the most common difficulty you will face and exploring the city during the day time can be quite taxing.
June to September:
Usually the monsoon months, but for the last 2 years, the monsoon has been pushed to mid-July. Weather is hot and humid again and rain can play spoilsport in your outdoor plans. But nowadays travelers brave the rain and go out all right. So carry rainwear or an umbrella if you are visiting during this time.
A few things you should be aware of while visiting Kolkata!
- Please be wary of over-friendly taxi drivers on your arrival, be at the airport or railway station. I am not saying that they are bad people, but they will usually try to extort a larger amount for taxi fare, more so if you are a foreign tourist. I would suggest you go to the prepaid counter at the airport or railway station and take a taxi to your hotel or accommodation. At other times, ask the yellow taxi drivers to go by the metre. Also, there are various places to explore in Kolkata.
- Be easy about the street food you eat. You might get a stomach problem if you are not careful. There are several things to do in Kolkata. Also, there are the top places to visit in kolkata.
- Also, watch out for the water you drink. Don’t just drink water from anywhere, especially tap waters.