After a good breakfast at Taj Bengal we were on our way to see Kolkata. And boy, I was excited!.
We were accompanied by an ace Tourist guide Mr.Suvendu, who was certified by Government of India Tourism department. Being a native of Bengal, Mr.Suvendu knew Kolkata’s nook and corner to great detail.
Our first stop of the day was the Mother House, which is the head office of Missionaries of Charity and the final resting place of Mother Teresa. The unassuming grey building was inside a by-lane of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Road. As you approach the building you see a sign in the entrance that says Mother Teresa, M.C. – IN. Turning right after you enter the door you see a life-size statue of the noble soul who dedicated her entire life to the cause of the poor and sick. We handed over a bag of clothes that a friend of ours in Chennai had asked us to deliver along with our small donation to the organization and looked around.
In the room where Mother Teresa has been buried, we spotted few East Asians and Americans who were offering their prayers. Having studied all my schooling in a Catholic-inspired school I followed suit with kneeling down and what I knew of crossing yourself and offering prayer. The legacy of Mother and the serenity of the place was unmistakable.
Next to this room in Ground Floor was a small museum which had few memorabilia, photos and stories from the life of Mother Teresa. Opposite to this was a staircase leading to a simple looking room which was used by Mother all the years she lived here, it was kept in the exact state she left it in 1997. No Photographs were allowed in these places.
Then we drove through Strand Road to see Eden Gardens from outside, then to Howrah City through Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu), to Howrah Railway Station (one of the oldest in India and largest) which was a huge complex, returning then to Kolkata city through Vidyasagar Setu. As it was not crowded I wanted to take pictures of Howrah bridge while stopping midway through it, but our guide advised me against it – it would be illegal to stop vehicles in the bridge. Enroute we saw few Bathing ghats like the one below.
Since it was a holiday we didn’t have any traffic jams, the traffic was thin and we could go around quickly. We saw on the way Writers Building, the former headquarters of West Bengal Chief Minister. Now the Chief Minister is in a new building (Nabanna) in Howrah City which can be seen while driving through Vidyasagar Setu.
Our next stop was near the Esplanade. We walked around to see the Calcutta Town Hall (from outside), which was a social centre during the British Raj. Our guide told us that the conversation among East India company officers then would have likely been “How many rainy seasons you have been in India?“. The question implying that it takes at least two years for many Europeans to get the immunity against local infections and some would even die after the first season.
We then walked past West Bengal Secretariat and then the High Court.
After High Court, we went to the famous Kali Temple at Kalighat. Being a holiday, the temple was crowded with serpentine queues around the temple stretching for miles. There were touts everywhere promising you a quick darshan. Our guide warned us against them and the need to take care of our belongings. Those we did faithfully (!), even more than the prayers we wanted to offer to the Goddess (who I am sure will forgive us, after all we are her children). Instead of standing in the queue spending hours, we decided to go around the temple and we tried to catch a glimpse of the Goddess unsuccessfully. We later came to know that its difficult to see the Goddess from the distance as the idol is in a level lower than the ground level.
After Kali Temple we stopped for lunch at an authentic Bengal eatery at Kewpie’s Kitchen off. Heysham Road. The restaurant was occupied full, instead of waiting there we booked a table for the next hour and walked to the front of the road to Netaji Bhavan in Elgin Road.
Netaji Bhavan is the house where Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had lived for many years, which has now been converted to a museum. His living rooms were preserved as it would have been on the day in 1940 when he escaped (house arrest) out of India from this very house. Seeing the man who founded Indian National Army (INA) in his military attire, hear his recorded speeches was mesmerizing, no doubt the man could inspire a nation during his days. As in many places in India, Photographs were not allowed inside the museum (a policy I don’t understand) but their website has Virtual tour of the place. Every Indian should visit this place to know more about our past.
After the visit to Netaji Bhavan we returned to Kewpie around 3 PM and were served a tasty Bengali Vegetarian (!) Thala (meals) – I think it was called Mithu’s Niramish Thala. Many of the items in the plate were confirmed to be vegetarian by our guide before I ate them, with few of them looking suspicious for my comfort. For example, in the picture below look in the centre for a local vegetable which looked more like a fish to my wife.
Once we came out of the restaurant the clouds above had turned dark and heavy rains were imminent.
We said let us try our luck and went for Belur Math (Howrah), the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mutt founded by Sri Ramakrishna and developed by Swami Vivekananda. The mutt has temples dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, which was designed by Swami Vivekananda and other shrines. Visiting the shrines and just the place being on the shores of Hooghly River (distributary of Ganges River) should have been a meditative experience, but the campus was crowded with people on every available inch, the whole place had been turned into a picnic spot (!).
By then the rain started coming down, we rushed to our car, went north and travelled back to Kolkata via the third bridge across Hooghly River, the Nivedita Bridge.
In the next and final part I will write about our Day 2 in Kolkata.