On biking through old tram tracks, eating biriyani at Royal Indian Hotel – and the many kinds of Kolkata chais
Explorer Ifte is a Kolkata ‘lifer’. Born and bought up in Kolkata, he doesn’t see himself moving to any other part of the world. One, because he says he is too lazy and comfortable here. Two, because Kolkata provides all the comforts of a modern metropolis without in the least compromising on its soul or old-world charm. To see Kolkata through his eyes- visit calcuttawalks.com and book a tour today. In the meantime, here are a few of his impressions and reflections of his favourite city in the whole world.
What is the absolutely first memory you have of Kolkata?
The first thing I remember noticing about the place is just how slow-paced and laid back the vibe of the city is. It is still very much a small town in the way you can walk into others’ houses without knocking or planning, and it is interesting how even though it started off as the commercial capital of the country it hasn’t sacrificed any of its’ culture for the call of commerce and development.
Your favourite place in Kolkata to walk around on a rainy afternoon
The East Kolkata Wetlands. Just 15 minutes from Kolkata, the wetlands are verdant- full of interesting flora, wildlife and local communities to explore. They are notable for the ways they recycle Kolkata’s waste back into food, and for the extremely interesting perspective they provide- with swamps on one side, and civilization on the other. The Wetlands are fun to explore on bike, or foot- any which way an explorer fancy. And I often find myself going there, especially when its raining.
Your favourite place in Kolkata to buy books
The original Oxford Book Store
The places you’d recommend to someone who’s stayed in Kolkata all their lives and likely not seen
The interesting thing about Kolkata is that every by-lane has its history and stories, and walking across any road with someone new , or someone who knows the place, affords a new perspective.
Your favourite trail for biking in Kolkata
The best way to explore Kolkata is by biking or even walking along the old tram tracks . They make for an interesting exploration of the old city and are ideal for early morning or midnight walks (Each an entirely different experience). Some of the most fun rides are along the Chitpur and College Road tracks.
Some of your favourite food haunts
Kolkata is full of food heavens. But my must-eat is the biriyani and chaap at the Royal Indian Hotel
Your favourite building in Kolkata
It’ll probably have to be the Park Mansions on Park Street. Not only is it the best restored property in the city but it also houses one of Calcutta Walks’ signature homestays.
Your favourite place to grab a cup of coffee/tea in Kolkata
Like any self respecting Kolkatan, I prefers a cup of tea to a cup of coffee any day (I don’t mind the South Indian Filter Coffee though). Every single adda in Northern Kolkata has a different tea-brewing philosophy and that’s how their cuppa tastes different. A personal favourite is the tea from the Balwant Singh Dhaba under the Gurudwara on Elgin Road. Their steamed chai is a nightly ritual for me.
Your favourite book with Kolkata as a back drop
Krishna Dutta’s Kolkata- A Cultural and Literary History , part of the Cities of Imagination series
The best place in Kolkata to see with a young child/toddler
Not surprisingly, all of Kolkata is child friendly and even child-welcoming. But if there is one place I would recommend to parents of over-active toddlers , its the Botanical Gardens. Devoid of any modern distractions, lights, rides or other noises- the place brings a child close to nature, and she is left to her own devices to explore the birds, the various species of plants, and to create her own adventure with the help of her imagination.
Of all the various Kolkata-based artists/film makers/ writers/ poets who is the one that you love most and in your opinion best captures your kind of Kolkata
I am devoted to Tagore’s work and his philosophies. Among recent works of art, I am a huge fan of Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani and how it deploys Kolkata as a character, and not just the backdrop, to the pulsating story that it tells.