A tryst with Kolkata's heritage: Exploring Victoria memorial, Indian museum and Belur math.
We visited Kolkata, the city of joy and often regarded as India's artistic and cultural capital, from the 14ᵗʰ to the 16ᵗʰ of December 2019. This was our first trip to Kolkata, and we were thrilled to explore this wonderful city. We had our flight to Paro, Bhutan, on 16ᵗʰ December 2019 from Kolkata, hence decided to go to Kolkata early.
However, the journey did not begin smoothly as protests were going on due to Citizenship Amendment Bill. Our early morning flight to Kolkata from Mumbai was canceled just a few hours before departure. Fortunately, we had MakeMyTrip black subscription, and the customer care agent made alternate arrangements for us.
After arriving in Kolkata, we checked into the ITC Sonar, one of the most premium hotels in the city. During the day, we decided to relax in the hotel as we were tired from the flight cancellation and rebooking and ordered the food in the room.
However, in the evening, we discovered a plant-based cafe in Kolkata called Ubuntu Eat, and we couldn't resist trying out their delicious dishes. Finding a plant-based/vegan restaurant in Kolkata, known for its meat and fish delicacies, was a delightful surprise. Located in a residential locality, the community cafe has a unique ambiance. They have made a lot of efforts to make it eco-friendly and reduce waste.
The cafe had traditional Bengali items like Kosha Mangsho and Payesh, apart from typical plant-based pizzas, pasta, and burgers. We both were too hungry, and we ended up ordering and finishing Kosha Mangsho, Chycken Sandwich, Neat Burger, Payesh, Icecream, Fysh Fry, Cheese Veggie Pizza, and Sahi Vada.
Later that evening, we enjoyed a live band performance in the hotel, a great way to unwind and relax after a long day.
On the second day, we went on a local sightseeing tour, starting with the Victoria Memorial. Victoria Memorial is a grand and iconic structure located in the heart of Kolkata. It was built in memory of Queen Victoria and was completed in 1921.
The memorial is surrounded by lush gardens and water bodies, making it a perfect place for a leisurely stroll. Inside the monument, various galleries showcase a vast collection of artifacts, paintings, and sculptures depicting India's rich cultural heritage. The complex is very huge, and we couldn't explore everything. We spent a couple of hours exploring the museum and admiring the beautiful architecture of the building. Visiting the monument and seeing old photographs and manuscripts transported us to India's pre-independence days.
Some of the manuscripts and photographs that caught my attention. (There were many important photographs, but I didn't click pictures of all. Every photograph had significant importance.)
Vijay Diwas is celebrated on 16ᵗʰ December to honor the victory of the Indian Armed Forces over Pakistan in the 1971 war. Luckily, we saw the army celebrations on the 15ᵗʰ afternoon at the Victoria Memorial ground.
For more information about Victoria Memorial, please visit https://www.victoriamemorial-cal.org/.
Later we headed to the Indian Museum, Calcutta. Established in 1814 by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, it is the earliest and the largest multipurpose museum not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in the Asia-Pacific region. Spread across three floors, the museum has 25 galleries dedicated to Geology, Botany, Zoology, Anthropology, Archaeology, and Art. Unlike some of the other museums, photography is allowed in this museum.
The museum houses a vast collection of rare artifacts, including antiques, fossils, paintings, and sculptures from different parts of India and the world. The museum also has a dedicated section for natural history that displays an extensive collection of animal specimens, including dinosaur skeletons.
We were especially blown away by a 250 million-year-old fossil tree trunk on display.
Again, this museum is so large, that exploring all sections takes an entire day.
It's a must-visit destination in Kolkata. For more information about the Indian Museum, Calcutta, please visit https://indianmuseumkolkata.org/.
After Museum, we decided to visit Belur Math. On the way, we saw the iconic Eden Gardens and crossed the famous Howrah Bridge. Located on the west bank of the Hooghly River, Belur Math is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, founded by Swami Vivekananda, the chief disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. The 40-acre campus includes temples dedicated to Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda. As we reached there in the evening, it was extremely crowded, and we couldn't explore all the sections. But we were lucky to witness the evening aarti.
For more information about Belur Math, please visit https://belurmath.org/.
On the way back to our hotel, we planned to pay a visit to Dakshineswar Kali Temple. The temple's presiding deity is Bhavatarini, a form of Parashakti Adya Kali, otherwise known as Adishakti Kalika. Built in 1855 by Rani Roshmoni, it is one of the most famous temples in Kolkata. Unfortunately, we were stuck in traffic for almost half an hour due to the Citizenship Amendment Bill protests. When we arrived at the temple, it was extremely crowded, and our driver told us it would take an hour for a proper darshan. We opted to pray from outside and then make our way back to our hotel, as we had an early morning flight to Paro. Our anticipation for our Bhutan trip was brimming with excitement.
All in all, Kolkata proved to be a city of delightful surprises, leaving us thoroughly impressed with its diverse range of experiences. Our exploration of the city, from savoring the delectable food to marveling at the grand monuments and museums, was immensely enjoyable. Kolkata has so much to offer, and we still lament that we only had a single day to explore it.
There is an abundance of places to visit in Kolkata, and to truly do justice to its splendors, one should plan to stay for at least 4-5 days. We were well aware that our brief visit would only scratch the surface of all that this city has to offer. Although we missed out on visiting many historical sites, I personally felt a pang of regret for not having the opportunity to experience a tram ride.