Calcutta gave me a whole lot of stories, colours, sights and sounds. It made me feel a whole lot of different emotions that are difficult to put in words. For a first-timer like me, Calcutta can be quite a bit overwhelming on the senses – it was to me. It can be tough to take in all the chaos, the hustle and bustle, the old and the new, at once.
Because of these different emotions, different feelings, that Calcutta aroused in me, I think the best way to do a travelogue about the city is in the style of vignettes – a few little stories at a time, about something that we saw there, interspersed with the way it made me feel. Would you like that?
Here we go with the first installment of vignettes – about how Calcutta goes about its day-to-day life.
Kulhads are everywhere in Calcutta, from the smallest of tea stalls to the biggest. For someone like me, used to drinking tea in steel glasses or mugs, drinking kulhad chai is a unique experience that needs to be savoured, but for the average Calcutta resident, it is a matter of routine. Most of these kulhads are not very finely made – they are sometimes wonky in shape – because they aren’t supposed to be works of art to be preserved in a showcase. They serve a function – the drinking of tea – and then they are thrown on the ground to shatter into pieces. We saw so many people breaking their kulhads on the roads after their tea, and it was a tad disturbing to see at first. Later, though, we realised it is, indeed, an eco-friendly and wise thing to do.
Old Calcutta is full of tea stalls, selling different quantities of tea at prices ranging from INR 2 to INR 10. These tea stalls are de rigeur – you’d be hard pressed to find a proper eatery selling tea or coffee, unless it is very posh. And you don’t want to get into a posh eatery in the middle of exploring an ancient part of the city, right?
I fell in love with the yellow taxis making the rounds of Calcutta. They add a bright pop of colour to the city, and look just lovely against the backdrop of the dull facades of the ancient buildings.
Photographing these yellow taxis was something I absolutely loved doing all the time we were in Calcutta. Riding in them was an experience I savoured every single time we did it, in spite of being swindled a couple of times. We got some really interesting taxi drivers, who told us the most interesting of stories.
White ivory bangles, red bangles and a single iron bangle – aka the shankh pola – adorned the hands of most married Bengali women we came across in Calcutta. We absolutely had to get a pair for myself and some more for the women in the family back home.
It was so very enchanting for me to hear the rumble, rumble of the trams as they run down the tracks on the road, in select parts of Calcutta. The other traffic then makes way for the tram, as it winds down slowly along the road. It was quite charming to see these trams shuttling by, and I would pause in the middle of shopping or photographing to take a look at these beauties.
Sadly, though, we didn’t get a chance to ride on a tram, all the while we were in Calcutta, due to a combination of a lot of factors. Well, next time!
For a saree lover like me, Calcutta is paradise. Just enter a market (like Gariahat, for example) and you will find rows and rows and rows of stalls and shops selling these beautiful Bengali sarees. Handloom, powerloom, cotton, silk – name the kind of saree and you will find it in these markets.
Tants, Tangails, Garads and Jamdanis are the ones we found the most of. I was desperate to see some Begumpuris and some Kantha work sarees, but we didn’t find any. Maybe, we didn’t know the right places to look for them. All the more reason to go back to the city, I say!
I absolutely love the couple of Tants that I picked up for myself and those we bought to take back home, as souvenirs.
Oh, and these markets are fab places to pick up some gorgeous, gorgeous junk jewellery at very, very reasonable places. I picked up some of those too!
Hand-pulled rickshaws are a very common mode of transport in Calcutta, at least in the old part of the city. The rickshaw wallahs go tinkle, tinkle, tinkle with the beautiful cowbells that they hold in their hands, all the while sitting on their rickshaws. These rickshaws transport everything from luggage to people for short distances through the city, the owner pulling the rickshaw manually.
It was heartbreaking for me to see this, but no one else seemed to have any qualms in using this particular mode of transport.
Durga Maa is everywhere in Calcutta. Everywhere. All around.
We found some really beautiful Durga Maa showpieces in the markets of Calcutta. Many of these showpieces were in the shape of winnows, which hold special significance for Bengalis on festive occasions.
Madame Mamata Bannerjee is everywhere in Calcutta, too. She seems to hold a special place in the hearts of the city’s residents, we could feel.
Food being prepared and sold right on the streets is something we often saw in Calcutta. A huge part of Calcutta eats on the go, straight off the street-side stalls.
From rolls and tikkas to chaats and chowmein, you get everything at these road-side food stalls. I can’t say we sampled everything the street-side carts had to offer, but we did try out a lot of the food stuff on sale. Most of it was good, I would say.
That’s about it for today, folks! I hope you enjoyed this little tour through Calcutta with me!