Kolkata Travel Guide
In a nutshell
A trip to India would be incomplete if you do not spend at least a few days in the City of Joy – Kolkata. A unique cosmopolitan city, Kolkata is not as fast-paced as New Delhi but the myriads of flavours and hues give the old British capital a distinct feel.
Why go to kolkata
Kolkata is considered to be the cultural hub of the country. The Bengalis are immensely proud of the rich cultural heritage that engulfs all walks of life – cinema, literature and music.
The city is the birthplace of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and other eminent personalities like Mother Teresa, Subhas Chandra Bose, C.V.Raman et al. The Mother House is a must-visit and every sportsperson or celebrity who comes to Kolkata makes it a point to visit the Mother House.
When it comes to ethnic shopping, the city does not lag far behind. Here we came across really beautiful terracotta products, the traditional red border saris, wall hangings and jute craft items.
The delicious cuisine is a favourite attraction among the visitors of the city and many enrol to cooking classes to have a chance to learn how to cook some of the most famous local dishes. We loved the heavenly taste of the mishti doi (sweet curd), the delectable kathi rolls and, of course, the ever popular biryani. Now not many people know that there is a healthy competition between Kolkata and Hyderabadi biryani (very popular in southern states of India) but we reckon Kolkata wins it hands down thanks to the lovely taste and the succulent potato that is served with the meat and saffron colored rice.
When to go to Kolkata
The weather in Kolkata is determined by 3 main seasons – winter, summer and monsoon.
It is highly advisable to avoid coming to the city during summer as it gets unbearably hot and temperature can be as high as 40C. The months of April & May are typically hot and humid – be ready to sweat, sweat and then sweat some more whenever you go out. There are occasional thunderstorms in the evening but they fail to bring down the temperature much.
The monsoon season roughly lasts from June to September. It will get you wet all through and you’ll have to negotiate a lot of puddles and mud.
October to March is the best time to come down here as temperature tends to hover between 11 and 19C.
Where to stay in Kolkata
Finding your accommodation in Kolkata is not a tiring task as there is a plethora of options – from super luxury hotels to modestly looking guesthouses that normally charge around INR 800 – 900 for a double room.
Most of the hotels, resorts and guesthouses offer free WiFi and private bathrooms but the backpacker areas do have some hotels which offer only basic rooms with no special facilities.
The luxury and mid-range hotels have bed & breakfast options though some of the five-star hotels follow a room-only basis.
Homestays are yet not very popular in the city and unmarried couples are not harassed unnecessarily when checking into reasonably good hotels. However, one may book hotels through websites like Stayuncle which has become very popular for giving out rooms to unmarried couples.
To get the best value, it is advisable to stay near the heart of Kolkata and – the budget permitting! – choose hotels like Oberoi, The Park or Peerless Inn which are ever great choices for their central location and outstanding service.
Where to eat in Kolkata
It is very difficult to get hungry in Kolkata. The roadside stalls and shabby looking places serve delicious and cheap street food; though be cautions – India is notorious for food poisoning. If you do not feel confident eating in the street – well, the city offers plenty of dining options to cater to every kind of traveller. However, trying a couple of phuchkas from the famous street stalls near Victoria Memorial / Vivekananda Park is an absolute must-do.
Kati rolls and jhal muri are the other two specialties of the city. For the main meal opt for the famed _hilsa or baked bekti with butter rice. That is not all! Kolkata even has its own brand of delicious ice cream – Kulfi. In a nutshell, no one can go wrong in Kolkata when it comes to food.
Anyone visiting the city during the annual festival of Durga Puja will be in for a gastronomic delight as innumerable food stalls are set up in different parts of the city churning out delicious food, cold juices and coffee.
How to get around Kolkata
When in Kolkata one cannot miss the sight of the many yellow-coloured taxis plying the roads. They are very cheap (meter starts from INR 25) but the driver may ask for extra INR 50 – 100 during night-time. Unlike Mumbai or New Delhi there is no surcharge for hiring a taxi after 10 pm. Nowadays app cabs have become very popular as their cars are air-conditioned and overall condition of the car is much better.
Metro Railway is another good option to get around as it is efficient, clean and always on time. Trains come and go every 10 min and fares start from INR 10.
Those who prefer non-polluting modes of transport can use the tram service but they run on very limited routes. It is very cheap at only INR 1 for a 2 km ride.
The other modes of transport include buses, minibuses and auto-rickshaws with fares starting from INR 7 or 8, but you will have to figure out which one to take – hard job without a map!
How to get to and from Kolkata
The only airport in Kolkata is NSC Bose International Airport that is well connected with other parts of the country and mainly with other countries of SE Asia and Middle East.
There are still no direct flights to and from Europe which is a great dampener. The new terminal is located around 20 km from the city.
Flying in from Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur will make you shell out a minimum of INR 3500 – 4500 for a one-way ticket. Coming from UAE or Qatar, expect to pay around INR 8000 – 9000 with any of the low cost airlines. Within the country the NSC Bose Intl Airport connects Kolkata with all major cities like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad et al.
The Indian Railways is said to be the largest rail network in the world and it proudly connects every nook and corner of the country through its express train services. Kolkata railway station is actually located in a neighbouring town of Howrah. To get there, board a ferry (INR 4) or take a cab and cross the iconic Howrah Bridge.
Kolkata has its own station called ‘Kolkata Station’ but it services very few trains.
Just to give the visitors a clear idea about the fares, a 7-hour journey in an AC seat (meals included) to the neighbouring state of Orissa would coat INR 1000 pp. There used to be many complaints about the quality of food served on trains but the general opinion is that there has been a marked improvement in overall services and the food quality is getting better in luxury and semi-luxury trains.
If you are already in Kolkata, you can purchase train tickets at the Foreign Ticket Office which is located on Fairlie Place. The people there are very helpful, nice and offer an efficient service.
Road trips are a popular way to move around the country and there are many car rental agencies in Kolkata that rent out self-driven cars at around INR 250 per hour. The cars can be booked on a daily or weekly basis too at much lower rates.
Interstate buses cannot boast 5-star service but remain an incredibly cheap way to travel. The majority of buses are rickety and nowhere close to be luxurious. A seat in an AC bus cost only INR 300 for a 7 to 8 hour journey. So getting to and from Kolkata is hardly a problem for seasoned travellers as well as first-timers.