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36 hours in Kolkata

21st March 2016

When I heard last month that Lagori was scheduled to play in Kolkata on the 19th of March, I pulled out my phone to check the calendar. This was an excellent opportunity for me to tag along and try and explore a city I’d heard so much about. Luckily, the gig fell on a Saturday which meant we could stay on a day after to see as much as we could within that short time.

In the days leading up to my trip, my wonderful colleagues at work (R & B) excitedly gave me a list of places to visit and dishes to try. While the list was never ending, I did manage to pack in quite a few things!

“Ma’am, you’ve been upgraded to business class”

Who doesn’t love hearing that at 7 am, with a two hour flight ahead of you? I left Bangalore on Saturday morning with a big smile on my face, seat fully reclined and a blanket to keep me warm as I curled up with Jerry Pinto’s Em and The Big Hoom.

We reached Kolkata at around 9:30 am, and were greeted by heavy and ominously dark clouds. From inside the airport, I began to fret about not carrying a sweater or jacket. Rain = cold, right?

Wrong. I stepped out, only to be enveloped by the humidity even as I watched the rain come down. Strangely, we seemed to be the only ones worried about the India-Pakistan match that was to be played at Eden Gardens that evening. Everybody around us was unfazed! So maybe the rain wasn’t going to be such an issue after all (it wasn’t – the match started after a minor delay and India won!)

Anyway, I’d heard so much about the city’s iconic yellow cabs, and there they were lined up outside the arrival terminal.  I vowed to take a ride in one later on.

Big yellow taxi

The show at Jadavpur University

Lagori’s gig was scheduled to start at 8pm at Jadavpur University. We got to the campus at around 12pm, so that the band could do their sound check. This is when I really began to feel the heat – I retreated to the green room and parked myself under a fan and didn’t move for the next hour or so.

The university campus itself is really large, so I obviously couldn’t see much. But I loved the atmosphere. The college has been in the news for various reasons, but it really is great to see such an empowered student body. The organizers of the fest were competent and responsible, and it was a great show overall.

Lagori’s show at Jadavpur University

Lunch at Aminia 

After sound check, we headed to Aminia for lunch. I think the one in Ballygunge, but I’m not sure.  This restaurant came highly recommended by some of the students we talked to, and also our friend J who lives in Kolkata. We ordered some very delicious starters including tangdi kebab and galouti kebab. Trust me when I say these melted in my mouth. For main course, we ordered some curries, rotis and a mutton biryani. I am quite fond of the Bengali-style biryani with the aloo and minimal masala, but the rest of my companions seem to prefer the spicy Andhra version that we get in Bangalore instead!

The pretty interiors at Aminia

Breakfast at Flurys 

Flurys is an institution, and it was on top of my ‘to-visit’ list. Every single person who was aware of my travel plans said I had to go there. So yesterday, I forced the guys to wake up early (early for a Sunday, mind you, so that’s 10 am) and dragged them all to Flurys on Park Street. It was full, so we waited outside for a little while until a table cleared up. I spent that time gazing at the book seller’s wares on the pavement – Park Street seems to be full of these little book gardens.

Approaching Flurys

There was a wide variety of dishes to choose from for breakfast, but I decided to go with the Jogger’s Breakfast. Chicken sausages, egg white omelette, bacon, mushrooms and hashbrowns. The guys had ham omelettes and Flurys’ famous baked beans on toast. We all decided to choose the fresh watermelon juice as well.

Jogger’s Breakfast at Flurys

I might get massacred for saying this, but perhaps after all the hype, I didn’t come away overly impressed. The Rum Ball (another must-have) was quite nice, but the breakfast itself was quite ordinary (except the chicken sausages, which were nice). Maybe I just didn’t order the right thing. The ambiance, however, its probably what the fuss is all about. Kolkata definitely loves this place!

The famous Rum Ball

A visit to an auction house 

Ask G, and he will probably say this was the highlight of the trip for him 🙂 We walked down Park Street and turned the corner onto Russel Street. A little way down, we came across the Russel Exchange – an auction house and a place to buy antiques. Luckily for us, there was an auction taking place at that very moment! We all trooped in to take in the proceedings, and watched as people bid for a lady’s handbag, AC grills and vents and pumps(!).

The auction in progress

In front of the auctioneer was a long table filled with items ranging from a beautiful brass flask to framed black-and-white photographs of who I swear was Elvis Presley in a flying uniform. There were also piles of old PG Wodehouse books and more.

A spiffy gramophone

Walking around the place, I discovered what has to be the most gorgeous wooden dressing table in mint condition. I wish I could have bought it and shipped it to Bangalore – who knows, maybe I still will.

Book shopping at Oxford Book Store 

G was enjoying himself far too much, so I took the opportunity to walk quickly down to Park Street and pay a visit to the Oxford Book Store. This AC’d haven has the most impressive collection of books I have ever seen – Bangalore bookshops (they’re all disappearing anyway) pale in comparison. I lost track of how much time I spent in here, and G had to eventually drag me out – but not before I’d bought a copy of Tagore’s Gitanjali and Ghare Bhaire. The former for more sentimental reasons – I was named after this book. My father’s favourite poem was “Where the mind is without fear”.  I thought it would be apt to pick this up in Kolkata.

The Oxford Book Store on Park Street

 

My book haul

Lunch at the Tolly Club


We were lucky enough to have lunch at Kolkata’s famous Tolly Club. The golf course is a lush green, and the club itself is beautiful. The tandoor items on the menu at the Shamiana are quite delicious, and there’s nothing better than sipping a cold drink on a hot day over here.

The golf course at Tolly Club

A visit to Victoria Memorial

The one ‘sight-seeing’ thing we did was to visit Victoria Memorial. We got here just before the museum was set to close, we we rushed (as far as we could ‘rush’ across the pebbled pathways) into the main building and hurried through the halls. The marble is overwhelming and awe-inducing at the same time. The items on display are quite interesting, especially the weapons collection. I didn’t get a chance to go close to the lake, but it did look quite beautiful. Word of advice: avoid visiting public places of interest on a weekend, you’re not going to be able to pay attention to anything without getting pushed, shoved and jostled.

The impressive Victoria Memorial

A 10 minute tram journey 

The highlight of my trip, I think, is the brief tram ride. This was something I insisted on doing – poor G, J and the cab driver very nicely made it happen. The trams are slowly dying out in Kolkata. We literally drove around the Ballygunge tram depot hoping to spot one. Just as we were about to give up, we saw not one but two waiting at the traffic signal. Much to the amusement of the cab driver and the tram operator, we scooted out of the car and across the street and climbed into the second compartment of one – I have now been told that this is the ‘second class’ compartment. We chugged along with the rest of Kolkata traffic as our cab followed us.

In the ‘traaam’

I don’t know why I wanted to experience this so badly, but I did. Maybe its because of the thought that these won’t be around pretty soon.

Roadside puchka and aloo chaat 

One of the last things we did before we left for the airport was to eat puchka and aloo chaat just outside Peter Cat (which was full). We’d eaten so much through the day, so none of us were particularly hungry enough to eat a complete meal. And I’d also been told to try the chaat in Kolkata, so I did.

Here’s another funny story. Just as I was about to pop a puri into my mouth, the puchka man looked at me and asked “Aap Bangalore se hain?” I asked him how he knew, and he smiled (the guys were talking in Kannada, that must be how he knew). Then Rajesh (that’s his name) told me that he travels often to Bangalore because he has not one but two puchka stalls here! One in Jayanagar and one in RT Nagar. What are the odds of finding a puchka man in Kolkata with a connection to Bangalore? He also explained the differences in quantity in the two cities: in Kolkata, 1 plate is 4 puris; in Bangalore its 6 puris. He explained this very patiently to me after noticing my puzzled expression when he said ‘ek plate ho gaya’ after 4 puris!

So that’s a summary of my don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss it trip to Kolkata over the weekend. I fully intend to go back sometime soon and explore the city some more! 

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