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Kolkata (also known as Calcutta) is currently the third-most populous metropolitan city in India after Delhi and Mumbai.
During the British colonial era from 1700 to 1912 Kolkata was the capital of British India. Kolkata witnessed a spate of frenzied construction activity in the early 1850s by several British companies. The construction was largely influenced by the conscious intermingling of Neo-Gothic, Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Oriental designs. Unlike many north Indian cities, whose construction stresses minimalism, much of the layout of the architectural variety in Kolkata owes its origins from European styles and tastes imported mainly by the British, and lesser extent of the Portuguese and French.
Today, many of these structures are in various stages of decay. Some of the major buildings of this period are well maintained and several buildings have been declared as heritage structures. Conservation efforts are patchy and are often affected by problems of litigation, tenant troubles, ownership disputes, old tenancy laws and a lack of funds.
Victoria Memorial was built in the heart of the City of Joy, Kolkata to commemorate the Empress of India and Queen of the United Kingdom, Queen Victoria after her death in 1901. The Victoria Memorial was modelled on the Taj Mahal and was commissioned in 1906 by Lord Curzon's brainchild. Opened to the public in 1921, it was designed by the architects William Emerson and his protege Vincent Esch at the extraordinary cost of Rupees 10.5 million ($262,500), all of which was collected as voluntary donations, mostly from the British and Indian nobility. The memorial holds numerous paintings of the British royal family, miniature paintings of the Mughal School, oil paintings of the Company School (notably the uncle - nephew pair of Thomas Daniell and William Daniell), historical artefacts like the throne of the Nawab of Bengal, many lithographs and documents of historical interest, and various post-Raj artefacts significant in the history of Kolkata (added to the collection after independence). The memorial is set in extensive and beautiful lawns, and is lit up at night. A laser audio-visual show is held on the lawns every evening. 'Nike', the Greek Goddess of victory, on the top of the museum is said to be haunted, and has been prominently featured in many Kolkata stories and novels. It is regarded with pride and joy in Kolkata and colloquially referred to as the "Victoria".
Nehru Children's Museum is named after Jawaharlal Nehru, whose love for children was well known. In order to pay homage to Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, National Cultural Association established the Museum in 1972 on Panditji's name on his birthday. The museum has a collection of dolls and toys from across the globe, and has a doll - based retelling of the Indian epicsRamayana and Mahabharata. Established in 1972 close to the Victoria Memorial, and commonly referred to as "Nehru Children's Museum"; this museum is aging awkwardly fast. There are dolls which are not only bounded to India, but also of different states, countries, religious like the dolls of Bangladesh, Japan, China, Rhodesia, Korea, Indonesia. Other than these there are dolls which are dressed according to the places like Delhi, Assam, West Bengal, Chennai, Maharashtra, Andaman, Mexico, Portuguese and many more. There is even a separate cabin displaying various forms and styles of Ganesh.
Sabarna Sangrahashala located at Baro Bari, Barisha, is the only family museum of Kolkata which is open to public. It was established in 2005 by the Sabarna Roy Choudhury Paribar Parishad and is a tourist destination specially for those who want to know more about the history of Kolkata. It is also a research institute in the making. The museum possesses some of the rarest Kabulatipatras, documents and articles of historical importance besides several artifacts dating back to the 17th century. The museum is dedicated to students for creating an awareness of history, heritage, and culture of the land. Every year in the month of February, the museum organizes the International History and Heritage Exhibition which is only of its kind in Eastern India.
National Library of India located in Alipore is India's leading public library. It was inaugurated in 1836 by the Governor General Lord Metcalfe by transferring 4675 books from the College of Fort William. Public donations were the main source of books for the library, and by donations of Rupees 300 from proprietors. Dwarakanath Tagore was the first proprietor of the library. The library was initially only partially public, as poor students could use the library for a limited period of time. The Imperial Library was founded in 1891 by merging several libraries like those of the East India College and East India Board. Governor General Lord Curzon initiated the merger of these two libraries into a single Imperial Library in 1903 at the Metcalfe Hall. The goals of the library were to collect every book written about India at any time. The Assistant Librarian of the British Museum John Macfarlane was the first librarian and was succeeded by the first Indian librarian Harinath De. The library was moved to its present quarters in Belvedere Estate, Alipore and renamed the National Library. It is a fully public library which co-ordinates the activities of all other Indian public libraries. True to its goal, any book published in India today has to send one copy to the National library in the spirit of the Library of Congress, United States.
Kolkata also has some other small museums like the National Maritime Museum, and the Police Museum.
Birla Planetarium in Kolkata runs many shows on educational and entertainment purposes about astronomy, astrophysics, space science, history of astronomy and mythology regarding stars and planets. It is situated on Jawaharlal Nehru road near several notable places like Indian Museum, Victoria Memorial, Maidan, and St. Paul's Cathedral. It was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru on 2 July 1963. Projection on spherical ceiling accompanied by live audio (Bengali, English, and Hindi) is the major attraction of the Birla Planetarium. It also has an electronics laboratory, astronomy gallery, and an astronomical observatory equipped with a Celestron C-14 Telescope.
The other popular Kolkata libraries include the General Library of Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture located at Gol Park, maintained by the Ramakrishna Mission, Kolkata. The collection of this library was initially confined to a few books and journals, stacked in one or two book-cases. Dr. Barid Baran Mukherjee gifted over 33,000 volumes to the library in 1941.
A panoramic view of Writer's Building in Central Kolkata
The General Post Office (GPO) in Kolkata
Calcutta High Court - It is the oldest High Court in India. It was established as the High Court of Judicature at Fort William on 1 July 1862 under the High Courts Act, 1861. It has jurisdiction over the state of West Bengal and the Union Territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The High Court building is an exact replica of the Stand Haus in Ypres, Belgium. It is recorded that when the original Stand Haus burnt down, a blueprint of Granville's Calcutta High Court had to be consulted before rebuilding it. The court has a sanctioned judge strength of 63. Despite, the name of the city was officially changed from Calcutta to Kolkata in 2001, the old name is retained by the court as it is an institution.
Raj Bhavan (Government House) - It was built in the early 19th century, is modeled on Kedleston Hall. The house was once the seat of the viceroys of India; later, when the government moved to New Delhi, it became the residence of the Governor of Bengal, a function that it fulfills to this day. While the basic features of Kedleston have been faithfully copied (the Palladian Front, the Dome etc.), Government House is a much larger, three-storeyed structure. Also, the Government of India evidently did not have the funding constraints that forced the Curzons to leave their house incomplete: Government House has all four wings originally conceived for Kedleston. So today, a 'complete', brick built Kedleston, on a much grander scale, is located in its acres of gardens at the heart of the Kolkata business district.
Town Hall - In Roman-Doric style, this building was built by the architect Col. John Garstin in 1813 with a fund of Rupees seven lakhs raised from lottery to provide the Europeans with a place for social gatherings. At first, the hall was placed under a committee, which allowed the public to use the hall under such terms and conditions as were fixed by the Government. The public could visit the ground floor hall to see statues and large size portrait paintings but they were not allowed indiscriminate access to the upper storey. Applications for the use of the upper storey were to be made to the committee. In 1867 Town Hall came under the custody of the Calcutta Municipality (later on Kolkata Municipal Corporation). In the year of 1897 the Town Hall had been partly renovated. After political independence in 1947, indiscriminate interference with the structure inevitably took its toll. That, at last, has been prevented in 1998 by timely intervention. The town hall was featured on the 6th leg of The Amazing Race 18, when the teams had to compete in a tea-drinking roadblock.
Writers' Building - It is the secretariat building of the StateGovernment of West Bengal in India. The Writers' Building originally served as the office for writers of the British East India Company, hence the name. Designed by Thomas Lyon in 1777 the Writers' building has gone through several extensions over the years. In 1821 A 128 ft-long verandah with ionic style columns, each 32 ft high, were added on the first and second floors. From 1889 to 1906 two new blocks were added. It acquired its Greco-Roman look, complete with the portico in the central bay and the red surface of the exposed brick. The parapet was put in place and the statues sculpted by William Fredric Woodington in 1883, that line the terrace, were installed. The giant pediment at the centre is crowned with the statue of Minerva. The terrace also contains several other statues and notable among them are four clusters of statues, christened 'Justice', 'Commerce', 'Science' and 'Agriculture', with the Greek Gods and Goddesses of these four streams (Zeus, Hermes, Athena and Demeter respectively) flanked by a European and an Indian practitioner of these vocations, adorn the building. The 150 meter long Writers' Building covers the entire northern stretch of the a water body locally called Lal Dighi in B.B.D. Bagh area. Various departments of the West Bengal government are housed in this building. It is an edifice of great political significance and memories of the Indian Independence Movement. Writer's building was used as Chief Minister's Office and secretariat. However, from October 2013 certain departments and the office of Chief Minister moved to Nabanna, in Howrah to facilitate restoration of Writers Building.
General Post Office - It is the central post office of the city of Kolkata, India and the chief post office of West Bengal. The post-office handles most of the city's inbound and outbound mail and parcels. Situated in the B.B.D. Bagh area, the imposing structure of the GPO is one of the landmarks in the city.
The Great Eastern Hotel (officially Lalit Great Eastern Hotel) was founded as the Auckland Hotel in 1841, at the crossroads of the Old Courthouse Street and British India Street, founded by confectioner David Wilson and named after the then Governor General Lord Auckland. It grew from strength to strength over the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Locally known as "Wilson's Hotel", it was also known as "Auckland Hotel and the "Hall of Nations" in the 19th century, and was referred to as the "Japani Hotel" (Japanese Hotel) colloquially in the 20th century, due to a large number of Japanese tourists there. The hotel was extremely elite, referred to as the "Jewel of the East" and "the best hotel East of the Suez" by Mark Twain on his voyage along the Equator, and described by Rudyard Kipling in "The City of Dreadful Night". It had notable board members like the author Parry Chand Mitter and stockholders like W. C. Bonnerjee - president of the Indian National Congress. The hotel was famous for its new year parties thrown by Maharajahs (like the Maharajah of Cooch Behar) until the 1950s. It has been host to such notables as Elizabeth II on her India visit, Nikita Khrushchev's delegation in the 1950s, and visiting international cricket teams. The hotel kitchens, manned by the legendary Baruahs of Chittagong (now in Bangladesh), was the talk of Kolkata. It steadily progressed downhill since the 1970s, and was taken over by the Government of West Bengal in 1975 on grounds of insolvency. Labour union problems caused the hotel to worsen until a sensationalist news campaign by The Telegraph exposed the sorry state of the hotel in the 1990s. The hotel was privatized in November 2005 with the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers and has been re-christened The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata. After an extensive restoration, a part of the property was reopened in November 2013. The Lalit Great Eastern offers 244 rooms and suites along with four restaurants and bars, the largest conference and banqueting facility in Kolkata, besides all other five-star deluxe facilities and services.
The Grand Hotel had humble beginnings. In the 1870s Mrs. Annie Monk opened her boarding house at numbers 13, 14 and 15 Chowringhee. In the meantime, Arathoon Stephen, Armenian from Isfahan had arrived in Calcutta and proceeded to make his fortune in the jewellery business. By the early 20th century he had put together a sizeable fortune and had purchased numbers 16 and 17 Chowringhee. Soon he purchased Mrs. Monk's boarding house and number 18 Chowringhee as well, and proceeded to develop all the properties together into the hotel that came to be known as the Grand Hotel.
The Grand Hotel had humble beginnings as Mrs. Monte's Boarding House at 13, Chowringhee Street. Acquired by the real-estate baron Arrathoon Stephen, it turned into a 3-story 500-room hotel. Acquired by hotelier Mohan Singh Oberoi in 1938, it became the Oberoi Grand. The hotel got a major lift during World War II when about 4000 soldiers were billeted there, and would party regularly. Events like the U.S. Marines' Ball at the hotel remind visitors of such times.
Lush green grass along the lake at New Town Eco Park
The Salt LakeCentral Park is a large urban park in the centre of the Bidhan Nagar township, with a lake in the middle and information technology and government offices along its fringes. New Town Eco Park (officially Prakriti Tirtha), located in New Town, is situated on a 480 acres (190 ha) plot and is surrounded by a 104 acres (42 ha) waterbody with an island called Ekanto in the middle. The park has been divided into three broad parts; (1) ecological zones like wetlands, grasslands, and urban forest, (2) theme gardens and open spaces, and (3) urban recreational spaces. The Eco Park is further divided into different sub-parts according to the different types of fauna planted. Recently in the month of November 2017, it also opened up another section which displays the replica of "The seven wonders of the World". Toy trains and chair cars are available for the tourists on rent for making round around the park. There are four Gates for entry and exit purpose.
Situated at Prinsep Ghat, is a Palladian porch in the memory of the eminent Anglo-Indian scholar and antiquaryJames Prinsep was designed by W. Fitzgerald and constructed in 1843 .Located between the Water Gate and the St George's Gate of the Fort William, the monument to Prinsep is rich in Greek and Gothic inlays. It was restored by the state's public works department in November 2001 and has since been well-maintained. In its initial years, all royal British entourages used the Prinsep Ghat jetty for embarkation and disembarkation.
Other memorials in Kolkata include the Panioty fountain, Police Memorial and the William Jonesobelisk at the South Park Street Cemetery. Lascar War Memorial located on the Napier Road in the Hastings area, is a memorial dedicated to the memory of 896 Lascars (sailor or militiaman from Indian subcontinent), who died fighting for the British Navy during the World War I. Gwalior Monument, also known as Ellenborough's Folly is an octagonal cenotaph about 60 feet high, crowned with a bronze dome cast from guns captured from the Marathas. It was erected in 1847 by Lord Ellenborough, the Governor-General of India, as a memorial to the officers and men who fell during the Gwalior War in 1843.
Kolkata has many statues celebrating British heritage and the Indian Renaissance and freedom movement. The Maidan is a particularly good place for statue-hunting. A few of the more notable landmarks are as follows:
Bengali War Memorial, located at College Square, is a war memorial dedicated to the fallen soldiers of 49th Bengali Regiment, the only British Indian Army regiment to consist entirely of ethnic Bengalis, who served in World War I.
The Royal Calcutta Turf Club is the oldest turf club in India, and one of the most beautiful and largest in the world. Encompassing a significant area of the Maidan, it was founded in 1847, and is distinguished for its "Monsoon Track" - one of the fastest draining tracks in the world. It was conferred the epithet "Royal" by George V in 1912.
Kolkata is home to the world's oldest active polo club, the Calcutta Polo Club. Situated on the Maidan, the club was founded in 1862 and is the second oldest polo club in the world. Kolkata has yet another polo club in the Fort William Polo Club. The CPC polo grounds are located in the maidan and maintained jointly with the RCTC.
Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, located in the Maidan area of Kolkata, is one of the oldest sporting institutions in the country. It was founded on 15 August 1889 and is one of India's top football clubs. The club is also known for its exploits in cricket, hockey, tennis, and athletics. Mohun Bagan club was also associated with India's freedom struggle.
Kolkata is also home to one of the oldest squash and rackets clubs in the world - the Calcutta Racket Club, founded in 1793.
South Club, established in 1920, has beautiful tennis courts and has been the venue for Davis Cup matches.
New Market is Kolkata's historic shopping district. Opened in 1874, it was named Hogg Market after the commissioner Sir Stuart Hogg. The beautiful fountain and benches at the market no longer exist, but the popularity of the market has not waned, and the beautiful gothic clock tower recalls the British heritage of the market. It was renamed New Market after Independence. New Market led the way for Christmas and New Year festivities with confectionery shops like Nahoum's putting up a special spread. The market is organized on the basis of merchandise. It burnt down partially in 1985 but has been restored and expanded with a new building which houses very famous Kashmir Handicraft store-Pumposh.
Kolkata has seen a spurt of shopping malls with the rise of the buying power of the Kolkata populace. Shopping arcades like Forum Mall and Emami Shoppers' City in Central Calcutta have brought international brands from Swarovski to Godiva to the city, breaking the city's dependence on the older market complexes like A.C. Market, Dakshinapan shopping center and Vardaan Market, which were mainly Chinese import dependent.
Most of the new malls in Kolkata are located in the newer developed areas like Salt Lake, Rajarhat and along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. Some of the popular malls in Kolkata are City Centre (Salt Lake and Rajarhat), South City (the biggest mall in Eastern India) (Jadavpur), Acropolis Mall (East Kolkata Township), Metropolis (Hiland Park), Mani Square Mall ( Kankurgachi), Home Town and Axis Mall (New Town). Swabhumi has been modeled as an ethnic shopping arcade near the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass. A new luxury shopping mall, Quest Mall has been opened in Kolkata near Park Circus by the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, which has brought many foreign brands like Breitling, Burberry and Gucci for the first time to Kolkata.
Second Hoogly bridge shot at night from Prinsep Ghat.
Mentioned below are some of the few famous bridges in the city of Kolkata. There are more bridges. The few famous bridges are as follows:
Rabindra Setu (Howrah Bridge): The Howrah Bridge is a suspension type balanced cantilever bridge commissioned in 1943 and is a famous symbol of Kolkata and West Bengal.
Vidyasagar Setu (Second Hooghly Bridge): Commissioned in 1992, it is the longest cable-stayed bridge in India and one of the longest in Asia connecting Kolkata with Howrah.
Vivekananda Setu (Bally Bridge): Built in December 1932, it is a multi-span steel bridge and was built to provide road cum rail link between the Calcutta Port and its hinterland.
Nivedita Setu (Second Bally Bridge): The bridge is the India's first multi-span, single-plane cable supported extra-dosed bridge and runs parallel to the Vivekananda Setu.
In Calcutta, the word "club" stills means a watering hole and not a discothèque. Calcutta has a number of clubs that hark back to the Raj days but have modernised over time without sacrificing its traditions. Most clubs have bakeries, dining facilities and accommodation at reasonable prices. They also have reciprocal arrangements with clubs in different countries. The most noted clubs are: