City Guide

Four hours in Kolkata 2011

27 Oct 2011 by Jenny Southan

1 - Mother House

54, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road, Maula Ali, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

The former capital of the British Raj, post-colonial Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) continues to be associated with Roman Catholic nun Mother Teresa and her work with the poverty-stricken and dying. Born in Uskub (now Skopje, the capital of Macedonia), she went to India in 1929 with the Sisters of Loreto and even though she was penniless, spent her days walking the streets and helping to ease the suffering of those she came across. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity. It has since expanded to more than 600 missions, and in recognition of her work, Pope John Paul II beatified her after her death in 1997.

To see where Mother Teresa lived and is buried, start your tour at Mother House, at 54 Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road (south of Sealdah railway station). Just off the small interior courtyard, where nuns in white and blue habits can be seen going about their daily duties, is a small museum with photos and relics from Mother Teresa’s life, including her sandals and a phial of blood. Adjacent is her tomb, and up a flight of steps opposite is the spartan room in which she used to eat, sleep and pray. Open daily at 8am-12.30pm, 3pm-6pm; entry is free.

2 - Nirmala Shishu Bhavan

78, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road, Maula Ali, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

A few minutes’ walk away, at number 78, is Nirmala Shishu Bhavan children’s home. Established by Mother Teresa in 1955, anyone can turn up to volunteer, so it’s common to see Western women working alongside the nuns. It’s a well-run operation but one that relies entirely on charity – be it monetary or practical aid in the form of food, clothing and toys – so although it’s free to visit, have some rupees to hand for a donation.

There are more than 170 orphans here, from newborn infants to young teenagers. An adoption scheme is in place, so you are also likely to come across couples observing the children as they play or take part in lessons. It’s a humbling yet heartwarming experience – the kindness of the nuns is palpable, but stepping back out on to the streets, you realise that the children here are probably some of the luckier ones. Visiting hours are 9am-12pm and 3pm-5.30pm daily. Visit motherteresa.org

3 - Indian Coffee House

15, Bankim Chatterjee Street, College Square, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Take a taxi or auto rickshaw from the orphanage to the University of Calcutta on College Street, about 3.5km away. Founded by the British government in 1857, it is one of the oldest multidisciplinary institutions in South Asia, with eight faculties including commerce, fine arts, law and science, and engineering and technology. The main campus is on College Street, and with its street-side stalls packed high with colourful textbooks, test papers and maps, it is a lively place to have a wander.

Opposite Presidency College, at 15 Bankim Chatterjee Street, is a well-known branch of the Indian Coffee House chain. In the early 1940s, Albert Hall (as it is also known) became known as a place for writers, academics and revolutionaries to discuss ideas over coffee, and to this day it is a popular hangout for students, journalists, publishers and professors. Run by a co-operative, it serves cheap snacks and drinks in a large, shabby room on the first floor. Climb the rickety stairs – pausing to observe a smouldering length of rope pinned to the wall, used to light cigarettes – and order a drink from one of the turbaned waiters. Open 9am-9pm Mon-Sat, 9am-12.30pm and 5-9pm Sun.

4 - Esplanade

Esplanade, Chowringhee North, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

TRAM RIDE TO ESPLANADE

Back on frenetic College Street, where it’s common to spot goats sleeping on the pavements or watching the cars go by, wait for one of the characterful trams that runs from Shyambazar to Esplanade, at the end of the line. Before the 1900s, Kolkata’s trams were drawn by horses, but the government has now started replacing the dilapidated carriages with new ones.

The old trams have first- and second-class cars – the former distinguished by a fan and consequently costing one rupee more (tickets normally cost about Rs 4/5p), while the new ones are single-class. There are also sections for women only.

Route five, which runs via College Street, opened in 1904 and is a great way to get a sense of the local way of life as you pass jaunty yellow auto-rickshaws and open shop fronts.

Disembark at Esplanade, by Curzon Park, and walk down Jawaharlal Nehru Road for your final stop.

5 - New Market

New Market, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Resisting the tranquil allure of the Oberoi Grand hotel (oberoihotels.com), which hides a palm-fringed swimming pool beyond its walls, continue one block further until you get to Lindsay Street on the left. By now you will have passed plenty of stalls selling T-shirts and second-hand bags, but to really experience raucous New Market, you need to plunge into the crowds. Take in the steaming vats of yellow dahl and stacks of crispy dahi kachori en route, and make your way to the covered indoor complex.

Built by the British in 1874, the red-painted building has plenty of areas to explore, with everything from stacks of patterned textiles and tables cluttered with jars of spices to exotic fruits and vegetables on display. It’s less for tourists than for locals, but there are some intriguing antique and souvenir shops dotted throughout the maze-like alleyways if you are looking to pick up a lacquered box or hand-carved wooden elephant to take home. Be prepared to haggle. Open 10am-8pm Mon-Fri (until 2.30pm Sat). Closed Sun. Visit westbengaltourism.gov.in

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