Kolkata is one of India’s largest city and with landmarks like the Victoria Memorial, the Maidan and Fort William, Octorlony Monument, the Indian Museum, the Eden Gardens, the elegant Cathedrals and Churches, the Howrah Bridge, pilgrim spots like Kalighat, Dakshineswar and Belur Math as well as Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity etc…has been exerting its mesmerizing charm to the discerning international tourists.
To many discerning tourists Kolkata is often ugly and desperate place that to many people sums up the worst of India. Yet, it’s also one of the most fascinating city in India and has scenes of rare beauty. The city was the capital of British India but, unlike Delhi, Kolkata is not an ancient city with a long history. In fact, the city is really a British invention dating only 300 plus years.
The Raj Era
In 1686 the British abandoned Hooghly, their trading post 38 Kms. Up the Hooghly river from present day Kolkata, and moved down the river to three small villages – Sutanati, Govindpur and Kalikata. The name Kolkata originated from the last of those three settlements. Job Charnock, an English merchant was the pioneer of the British merchants who made this move.
The first British post was not a great success and was abandoned on a number of occasions but in 1696 a fort was laid out near present day BBD Bag (Dalhousie Square) and in 1698, Aurangzeb’s grandson gave the British official permission to occupy the villages.
Kolkata then grew steadily until 1756 when Siraj-Ud-Daula, the Nawab of Murshidabad, attacked the town. Most of the British inhabitants escaped but those captured were packed into an underground cellar where, during the night most of them suffocated in what was referred to as the infamous – “Black Hole of Kolkata”. In the year 1757, the British under Robert Clive recaptured Kolkata and made peace with the indomitable Nawab. However, the Nawab sided with the French and in the Battle of Plassey, which was a turning point in British India’s history, was killed. Later on an impregnable fort was was built in Kolkata and the town became the capital of British India.
Much of Kolkata’s most enduring developments took place between 1780 and 1820. In the 19th century, however, Bengal became a spark point in the struggle for India’s Independence and this was one of the major reasons for the transfer of the capital of British India to Delhi in 1911. However, the city continued to flourish until World War II.
Partition and Beyond
Partition (1947) affected Kolkata more than any other Indian city and had to contend with the horrifying exodus of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing from East Bengal (present day Bangladesh). The massive influx of refugees, combined with India’s own post war population explosion led to Kolkata becoming an international urban horror story. In 1971, the India-Pakistan conflict led to another round of refugee influx in Kolkata , which further deteriorated the city’s crumbling infrastructure. During this time, the pioneering work of Nobel Laureate Mother Teresa’s “Kolkata Mission” focused worldwide attention on Kolkata’s festering problems.
The Marxist Era
Kolkata and the state of West Bengal has come in for much criticism for much of the chaos which exists even today and furthermore the chronic labor unrest, militant trade unionism and the “Bandh-culture” meant that most top ranked industries shut down their plants resulting in a steep decline in productivity. The mere word Kolkata was enough to conjure up visions of squalor, starvation, disease and death.
City Orientation and Raj-era Edifices
Kolkata sprawls north-south along the Hooghly River which divides the city from Howrah on the west bank. Like many Indian cities, getting around Kolkata is slightly confusing and the discerning tourist will come across Raj era connotations with street names like Buckland Road, Harrington Street, Middleton Street, Harrison Road, Theatre Road, Wellington Street etc…
When Kolkata was the capital of British India, the Dalhosie Square, popularly referred to as BBD Bagh was the centre of power. On the north side is the huge “Writer’s Building”, the seat of government, which dates back to 1880. Also on Dalhousie Square is a rather more useful place – the Kolkata GPO. A little south of Dalhousie Square is the church of St. John, which dates back to 1787. The graveyard here has a number of interesting monuments including the octagonal mausoleum of Job Charnock, founder of Kolkata who died in 1692.
Other British Edifices
The Victoria Memorial is one of the most enduring landmarks of Kolkata and also one of the imposing reminder of the British presence in Kolkata. However, the city’s commercial wealth resulted in quite a few other interesting edifices. The Raj Bhawan for instance, the old British Government House, is now occupied by the Governor of West Bengal. This magnificent Raj era edifice was built by Marquess Wellesley between 1799 and 1805 and it is modeled on Lord Curzon’s home – Kendleston Hall in Derbyshire, UK.
Next to it is the Doric style Town Hall and the elegantly designed High Court, which was built in 1872. Just south of the zoo in Alipur is the National Library, the biggest of its kind in India, which is housed in the former residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal – Belvedere House. St.Paul’s Cathedral, which stands to the east of Victoria Memorial at the southern end of the Maidan is one of the most important churches in India and was built between 1839 and 1847.
Rajarhat New Town – Kolkata’s Futuristic City
Rajarhat or New Town as it is popularly referred to is literally an extension of Kolkata. This spanking new township is all of 28 sq.Kms and is located in the North 24 Parganas. Already this new township has gradually emerged as the IT hub of Eastern India and the residential hub that is coming up on the north-eastern edge of the township has been much appreciated by the affluent NRIs.
The entire township primarily consisted of acres of cultivable land and wetland areas, which has been acquired by the state government and is being developed in a planned manner. Rajarhat New Town is three times the size of the neighbouring Salt Lake City and this one-of-its-kind satellite town has already been designated as a Solar City by the government at the Centre and initiatives have already been taken to declare this city as “Smart Green City”.
The township has of late been enabled with an exclusive 10.5 kms. of Wi-Fi Zone which literally connects the Rajarhat Main Arterial Road all the way to the airport and Sector V, thereby conferring this township with India's first Wi-Fi road connectivity. This exclusive area has already been declared as a green corridor.
Rajarhat Metropolitan Landscape
Rajarhat New Town has three exclusive Areas, Action Area – I consists of Shopping Malls and high end commercial plots; Action Area - II is quintessentially the Central Business District consisting of institutional plots and dedicated IT Parks with the big names like DLF and Unitech making their presence felt, as well as plots for state-of-the-art apartment complexes.
On successful completion of the project, Action Area – II will be home to the Kolkata Museum of Modern Art, an exclusive Maidan (Green Belt) with an Eco-park built around a large waterbody. In Action Area IIC there are many exclusive residential housing projects and the big names of India’s real estate like Akankha, Sunrise Point, Hiland Woods, Starlit, Moonbeam housing etc.have made their presence felt.
Action Area - III will primarily consist of high rise apartments and sub-townships like Sukhobristi and Uniworld City too have been meticulously planned. Exclusive residential complexes like DLF Newtown Heights, Unitech's Uniworld City, Shrachi's Rosedale, Tata's Eden Court and Keppel's Elita Vista promises to make this part of Rajarhat New Town one of the most valued real estate areas of Eastern India. Through the untiring efforts of the state government some of the country’s most prestigious educational institutes like IIT Kharagpur, St Xaviers College and IT biggies like Wipro and Infosys are likely to set up their campuses here. For the art connoisseurs, an elegantly designed Arts institute has already come up in Action Area - III.
Rajarhat New Town has already evolved as Kolkata’s second IT Hub with several IT companies like TCS and Wipro having been allotted exclusive space. Real estate companies like DLF, the Unitech group, Shapoorji Pallonji, Tata, the Singapore based Keppel Land, Bengal Peerless, Ambuja Realty etc. are all engaged in developing state-of-the-art commercial and residential projects, some of which have already begun operations.
Once complete, the Rajarhat New Town area is going to be the hub of elite segments of the society, the upper-middle class as well as the middle-classes. The enthusiasm of the Non Resident Indians (NRIs) for acquiring residential and commercial spaces augurs well for the future and this area can look forward to a rather effervescent cosmopolitan mix of populace.
Kolkata – Window to the East
The winds of change is blowing in the air of Bengal. With an economy that is beginning to show signs of revival and a slew of developmental projects, Kolkata is one Indian city that is fast catching up with its counterparts in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore in terms of business development.
Whoever said that Kolkata is a dying city with its pot holed roads, closed down industries, trade unionism, poverty and squalor should have a second look at the resurgent Kolkata of 2014 and one great way to know the pulse of this incredible city is by actually paying a visit to this landmark city of India that reveals its captivating charm like a veil slipping out from the face of a beautiful woman.
According to Cushman & Wakefield the real estate scenario of Kolkata in particular is expected to remain stable. A feature of the city’s real estate landscape is its conservative nature, which has sheltered it from crashing downhill abruptly. A whole new township has sprung up – Rajarhat or New Town, with the state government bent on infusing considerable amount of funding in the planned development of this rather state-of-the-art township.
Over the years, the Kolkata International airport (NSCBIA) has evolved as the aviation hub of Eastern India with regular flights being operated by renowned international airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, Royal Brunei, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air, Singapore Airlines etc…which in a way has made Kolkata very accessible to international tourists. Ideally Kolkata with its varied charms is an ideal base from where to embark on a journey of discovery, particularly to the virgin and unexplored North East.
Vibrant Culture and Pulsating Night Life
Kolkata is renowned for its culture – films, poetry, art and dance all have their devotees here. It is a city with a soul. The stark contrast between the Mumbai and the Kolkata movie industries more or less sums it up. While Mumbai – the Hollywood of India churns out movies of amazing tinsel banality, the smaller number of movie producers in Kolkata make non-commercial gems that stand up to anything produced for sophisticated western movie-goers.
In terms of nightlife, Park Street is the most happening place in Kolkata. It has a pulsating night life where you can rock in the discos or just indulge in the gastronomic delights in the fashionable eateries that serve anything from Japanese to Lebanese and Swedish to Samoan. If you happen to be a film buff, a visit to Nandan is just what the doctor ordered. It has a fine collection of movies ranging from Satyajit Ray to Kurosawa. Theatre or “Jatra” is still alive and kicking in Kolkata despite the onslaught of modernity and many of them present revolutionary themes.
The City of Joy is ready to welcome the world, with Rossogollas of course!