Category Archives: Kolkata Tourism

In Pictures: Calcutta’s Fading Trams

Kushal Sakunia profiles the fading Tram services of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in this memoir

Pic 1

Kolkata is the only city in India that still has trams. This year, the city’s tram service is celebrating its 150th Anniversary. However, over the last two decades, lack of investment,
inadequate maintenance & a sharp fall in passengers have led to a decline in their status.
Pic 2
The first tramway service in Kolkata was run between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat Street on 24 February 1873. The service was discontinued on 20 Nov. Again Metre-gauge horse-drawn tram tracks were laid from Sealdah to Armenian Ghat. The route was inaugurated by the Viceroy, Lord Ripon, on 1 November 1880.
Pic 3
By the end of the nineteenth century the company owned 166 tram cars, 1000 horses, seven steam locomotives and 19 miles of tram tracks.
Pic 4
Electrification of the tramway was done in 1900. Calcutta Tram is the oldest operating electric tram in Asia. By 1943, it had a total track length of 42 miles.
Pic 5
There are seven tram depots and nine terminals and one workshop. Today, the fleet has a more than 300 trams, but rolls out around 125 trams a day because of low passenger traffic & lack of funds for maintenance.
Pic 6
According to the state transport department, though CTC earns about Rs 50 crore a year from its tram and bus services, it spends a lot more on salaries to its workforce of about 6,500.  There is a yawning gap between earning and expenditure. According to reports, it sometimes finds it difficult to pay its employees on time.
Pic 7
Over the years, a number of services have been shut down. With the CTC finding it difficult to find funds for the daily maintenance of an old fleet, more and more tram cars are being taken off the road.
Pic 8
The trams in the city carries around 16,000 passengers a day, but the traffic continues to fall.
Pic 9
The image of the good old tram trundling along rickety roads and a rain drenched Maidan may vanish forever under the horrific image of a tram full of the stench and stink of fish and vegetables. The CTC would soon be using the second-class compartments of some trams as goods carriage to ferry goods.
Pic 10
In a bid to rescue and revive its old glory, the CTC has recently rolled out air conditioned trams. It has to be seen if this struggle for survival yields any result.
Hoping this make you relive the charm if you had been a user ever 🙂
Advertisements

Kolkata Biryani

Sampurna Majumder writes about Biryani with aloo!

Kolkata Biryani

Culinary delights of India leaves its own imprint on history. Annexed by various invaders across borders and boundaries, Indian cuisine has over the centuries have become somewhat a melting pot.

The culture of feast in India was largely introduced by the Muslim invaders like the Arabs, Persians and Afghans. Developed during the 15th to the 18th century, Mughlai cuisine continues to enthral gourmets as well as laymen across the Indian subcontinent. Once accepted in India in its full form the, the biryani underwent several variations depending upon the region such as Awadhi Biryani, Hyderabadi Biryani, Kolkata Biryani and so on. Needless to say, my focus lays on Kolkata Biryani in this particular note.

My last trip back home cajoled me to pen down this sumptuous note on the famous Kolkata Biryani. This time I took a stroll across landmarks such as Park Circus and the New Market area with my cousin T. T also cultivates a good taste for food just like I do. From Park Circus we went to New Market and initially wanted to try some chicken pasta. However, once we arrived near the famous Elite cinema T started cribbing about having something else and then our eyes fell on the famous Mughlai joint Aminnia. Biryani!!! Aha! Without any second thoughts we both stepped into Aminia and made ourselves comfortable at cosy corner. We placed an order for the royal biryani and some haleem (a gravy dish made out of lentils and meat).

As the royal delicacy arrived we could not resist ourselves from gulping it down. However, we savoured it at the same time. The boiled potatoes are unique only to the Kolkata biryani. It is said that the biryani was brought to Calcutta by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in the mid 1850s. However, abject poverty in the then Bengal forced the commoners to replace meat with potatoes. Thus continues the legend of Kolkata biryani. Almost two centuries now, the tradition continues till date. Some of the best places to have biryani in Kolkata are Zeeshan, Arsalan, Aminia and Shiraz.

Calcutta Chromosomes – III

This is the third part of the series – by Sampurna Majumder 

calcutta-coffee-house

Days passed by. Our bonding became stronger with each passing day. It was K, S and I. Three of us became almost inseparable. Be it bunking classes, or bitching about classmates, or cursing the political system, complaining how back-dated the university is and possibly doing nothing about it…. All this and much more.

Communism has been ruling Bengal for more than three decades. The air around was stiff. We did not even spare that. Cursing the communist rule which possibly ‘ruined’ the state. I could feel the typical ‘Bangaliana’ seeping in to me. I was enjoying every bit of it.

K and S had a fairly good understanding of  the typical Bengali adda. Every time we met it was definitely a treat for me as well as a learning procedure. I learnt that the young Kolkatans had the habit of addressing their seniors as dadas and didis, instead of addressing them by just their first names. I seemed quite funny to me. The idea seemed funnier when they revealed that junior girl students from the departments even dated their so called dadas. I wondered if any of the bhais ever dated their didis or not?

Once we decided to the renowned age old Coffee House. I was quite excited about my maiden voyage to this famous eatery. We walked towards the connector of Bankim Chatterjee Street, where the Coffee House was located. The entry of this grand joint deserves mention. The walls on either side of the staircase seemed to resonate history. History was vibrating form every corner of this building. As we went inside, a completely new world welcomed me. Totally mismanaged  tables and chairs. No one ever seemed to fix them. The place was booming with life. People from all ages and walks of life were to be spotted. K and S told most of the Kolkata aantels, ( a term used to describe the Bengali intellectual) both the ripe ones and the ones in making were to be spotted here.

coffee_houseWe bagged a table and fitted ourselves comfortably. I ordered for a fish kobiraji and not to mention a cup of coffee. I was told that the kobiraji is a must try here. Suddenly I felt a little lost. Despite spending the formative years of my life in this city, somehow these little things were absolutely alien to me. Random thoughts passed through my mind when all of a sudden S pointed towards another table positioned diagonally opposite to us. Five Bengali aantels were engrossed in a serious argument about who is a better romantic poet, Keats or Wordsworth. One argued about Keats’ idea of ‘beauty is truth, truth beauty’ while another supported Wordsworth’s views on Pantheism. The third guy emphasized the importance of Keats’ theory of Negative Capability while Wordsworth’s idea of a poem being ‘emotions recollected in tranquility’ scored with the fourth one. K and S turned to smile at me. I was thoroughly enjoying it.

The fish kobiraji had arrived along with the cups of coffee. We three lifted the cups to make a goodwill gesture just as one does before sipping on a drink. It’s never too late to begin. I was on a high with the idiosyncratic Kolkata Kulture.

“Cheers to coffee!”

Calcutta Chromosomes – II

Sampurna Majumder continues with the series about her stay in Kolkata.

college-street-calcutta

Since the Boi Para or College Para was a new addition in my daily routine, I used to look forward to it, every evening. Reaching the university campus was an adventure in itself for me. For I somehow, always felt the ride to be bumpy all along. Though I boarded the same bus everyday, and got down at the stop nearby, I invariably lost the way, criss-crossing through the by lanes of the famous Kolkata locale.

After much ‘tribulations’ and walking through almost all the by lanes I would finally reach Ashutosh Building. Our classroom was in the first floor. Walking down the long, dark corridor was enough to take me down the stairs of nostalgia. As I entered the classroom and occupied a seat for myself, I found myself sitting amidst unfamiliar faces. Minutes later I saw K and S making their entry. My eyes greeted them and vice versa.

presidency-collegeI always found sitting in the class to be quite boring. Specially the lectures on printing. Though this was a completely new arena for me, I could not help but to doze off in between lectures. I yearned for the break very much so that I could rush down to grab a cup of tea. K and S would invariably join me. Me and S shared a common interest, tea. We both just could not stop having enough of this beverage.

Somehow the tea stall down the road just below the university building, had its own charm. Sipping tea from a kulhar (small mud pot) on a busy evening had its own magnetic appeal. Me and S would sometimes bunk classes only to catch a sip of the heavenly tea, or at least it seemed so to us. We would spent hours chatting over numerous cups of tea. We loved each other’s company.

Sometimes we would walk down to footpath lined with bookshops to indulge in shopping which would simply touch our intellect just like a tangent. We would spend hours with the bookseller to reduce the price of a second hand or probably a third hand John Grisham thriller to almost seventy-five percent. Nonetheless we loved it. I was finally experiencing what I possibly missed out as a college going Kolkatan would indulge into.

The hours after class was a welcome change for all of us. We would sit at the staircase of the central library and go on chatting for hours together. We actually indulged into what the Bengalis fondly call an adda session. Finally I was blessed enough to taste the Kolkata College Life or more precisely life at the famous College Para. I was living my young adolescence and of course loving it.

Calcutta Chromosomes – I

Sampurna Majumder narrates her sojourn to the City of Joy for a year. Although born and brought up in Kolkata, her perspective of the city changed when she returned to Kolkata after a Sabbatical of five years.

howrah_bridge

Kolkata, popularly known as the City of Joy, is considered to be the cultural and intellectual capital of the country. Locales, such as the College Street Boi Para and the Coffee House will stand witness to this statement. These are the hubs within the city that beam with intellectuals and budding artists. This the city’s nucleus where one will find some of the best minds flocking.

mile-long book stalls on college st in calcuttaBookshops or rather kiosks strategically positioned all along the footpath is an unique attribute of the street. Apart from these, the street definitely boasts of an array of premier institutions, right from the University of Calcutta to Presidency College. This is where the youth of Kolkata comes to life. Comes to live life.

However, I belong to the category of the not-so-lucky ones to have lived the experience. Though this city happens to be my birth place, I never really got to experience or live my youth in this city, because as a young adult, I moved to a different city, probably in pursuit of something ‘bigger and better’. Nonetheless, my destiny took a different turn when I returned to the city after a hiatus of six years.

30-calcutta-universityMy hands were empty just as my mind was. I had completely lost control of myself. Could not figure out what to do with my ‘doomed’ future, as my Mom said. After sitting idle at home for five months I enrolled for a Diploma at the prestigious Calcutta University. I thought probably this would give some meaning to my meaningless life, a direction to follow in my seemingly directionless life.

Classes were held in the evening from 4pm to 7pm. Thus began my year long association with the age old renowned university and more importantly the College Street.

I still remember my first day at the university. Despite my mother’s explaining the bus route and the stop, I lost my way to the university the very first day. Nonetheless, I managed to reach the esteemed institution after a long walk from MG Road. While walking down the street I could not help but stare at the kiosks and the booksellers in awe.  The amount of knowledge these people had regarding books! Books from almost every field from literature to science to engineering, law, competitive exams. The list moves on.

CU 3A week into classes, I had made a few friends with whom I started hanging around after classes. It was then that I began my tryst with the intellectual hub of this age old city. I shared a good rapport with K and S. However, what was interesting was, the variation in the age group of the students. Since the course specified that there is no age limit, the eldest student was a retired college principal of sixty-five and the youngest being a fresh graduate of twenty-one. This distinction made it unique and all the more interesting to know and associate with people with myriad personalities. Somehow, I could feel a certain flamboyancy raging through, whenever I interacted with the group.

We first met at the College Street campus of Calcutta University. Little did I know that the year long association would leave behind such indelible impressions, which would force me to pen down a memoir, after much time has lapsed and I have again moved away from Kolkata, probably in pursuit of my dreams.

Chinese Breakfast @ China Town!

Continuing her series on China Town, Sampurna Majumder writes about the uniqueness of the locality.

Tiretta Bazaar

The variedness of Kolkata never seems to satiate me. From lip-smacking delicacies to some of the best known cultural events – Kolkata has loads to offer.

In my last article I focussed on the existing China Town of Kolkata. This time, I decided to take a step ahead and find out something unique about the locality.

It is a Saturday early morning around 5.30 am. The Tiretta Bazaar in Old China Town is already bustling with life. You can choose from some of the best Chinese delicacies that are served here. From yummy chicken soups to pork suimai – you name it and its there. On weekends, the breakfast platters are over by 8 am. Call centre employees and night-club hoppers comprise the main crowd.

Coconut Curry Chicken Soup

If you want to try something new and adventurous you can always end up at the shops selling Chinese sauces and other ingredients that are required for cooking. There’s one shop named Sing Cheung Sauce Factory that sells all kinds of Chinese sauces.

The spicy pork sausages taste like slimy scrambled eggs. You can also try having the spicier broths with a dash of Sichuan chillies and pickled garlic. The fish-ball soup that is found at every nook and corner of Tiretta Bazaar is a must have. The best part about the breakfast is you will not find the regular Chinese stuff – like noodles or rice, but an assortment of other delicacies with broths and soups taking away the credits.

Shrimp Sui Mai

Tiretta Bazaar is one of the remaining cosmopolitan food hubs in the city that has already started becoming somewhat conservative in nature. Whatever, be it, if you are in Kolkata do miss the chance of a sumptuous Chinese Breakfast in the heart of the city.

Posto: A Rare Vegan Diet for a Quintessential Bengali

Sampurna Majumder shares her stint with a rare vegetarian dish – posto (khus khus or poppy seeds)

posto 3

Bhaat e Macch e Bangali (Rice and Fish make a true Bengali), so goes an adage. True. Food has always been a weakness for Bengalis. The quintessential Bangali Babu’s meal would be incomplete without these ingredients – bhaat, machher jhol and a bhaja (any vegetable fried, brinjal or bitter gourd/uchhe bhaja). However, Bengali cuisine offers a whole range of vegan delicacies as well.

Posto (poppy seeds or khus khus) is an integral part of Bengali cuisine. The use of posto in Bengali cuisine dates back to almost two centuries. Posto finds its place in Bengali literature as well. Bankim Chnadra Chattopadhyaya’s Kamalanter Daptar (From the Desk of Kamalakanta) is one such example. Written on the lines of De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Bankim’s protagonist remains inebriated most of the time as an aftereffect of consuming too much opium (drug obtained from poppy seeds). Opium dens are known to exist in Kolkata’s China Town as during the 1940s.

posto

The sole purpose of penning this note is nothing but nostalgia buffs. Few days back, the quintessential Bengali in me was craving for some kaancha posto (raw khus khus). I remember way back in the 90s when I was barely a decade old, my granny would pretty often make kaancha posto. She would grind them mixed with water and some salt; then add some chopped onions, green chilies and a zing of strong-smelling mustard oil.

kancha posto

As a kid, my share of the yummy kaancha posto would be devoid of the green chilies. However, as I grew up green chilies made their way to my kaancha posto and thus began my never-ending love affair with this sumptuous vegan Bengali dish. Pretty often I have eaten all my rice with kaancha posto! Yes and it gives me a high till date whenever which is followed by the afternoon siesta which comes as a booty along with it.