( General Info
Densely populated and polluted, Kolkata is often an ugly
and desperate place that to many people sums up the worst of India.
Yet it's also one of the country's more fascinating centres and
has some scenes of rare beauty. Certainly the people are a friendly
bunch and Bengali humour is renowned throughout India.
During the British Raj Kolkata was known as the Jewel of the East
and was the capital of the country till 1911. It still bears the
Victorian imprint on its streets and structures. Today, it is still
the most important city in the east, the nerve center of trade and
industry of the State.
Economically, Kolkata is suffering: the port has been silting up,
making navigation from Kolkata down to the sea steadily more difficult
and limiting the size of ships that can use the port. Electrical
power in Kolkata is so on-again off-again that virtually every hotel,
shop or small business has to have some sort of standby power generator
or battery lighting system.
Despite all these problems Kolkata is a city with a soul, and one
which many residents are inordinately fond of. The Bengalis, so
ready to raise arms against the British in the struggle for independence,
are also the poets and artists of India.
Amongst the squalor and confusion Kolkata has place of sheer magic:
flower sellers beside the misty, ethereal Hooghly River; the majestic
sweep of the Maidan; the arrogant bulk of the Victoria Memorial;
the superb collection of archaeological treasures exhibited in the
Indian Museum. They are all part of this amazing city, as are massive
Marxist and trade union rallies which can block traffic in the city
centre for hours at a time.
Kolkata is not an ancient city like Delhi, with its impressive
relics of the past. In fact, it's largely a British creation which
dates back only some 300 years and was the capital of British India
until the beginning of this century.
In 1686, the British abandoned Hooghly, their trading post 38km
up the Hooghly River from present-day Kolkata, and moved downriver
to there small villages - Sutanati, Govindpur and Kailkata. Kolkata
takes its name from the last of those three tiny settlements.
Much of the Kolkata's most enduring development took place between
1780 and 1820. Latter in the 19th century, Bengal became an important
centre in the struggle for Indian independence, and this was a major
reason for the decision to transfer the capital to Delhi in 1911.
Loss of political power did not alter Kolkata's economic control,
and the city continued to prosper until after WW11.
Kolkata sprawls north-south along the eastern bank of the
Hooghly River, which divides it from Howrah on the western bank.
If you arrive from anywhere west of Kolkata by rail, you'll come
into the immense Howrah Station and have to cross the Howrah Bridge
into Kolkata proper.
The more relevant parts of Kolkata are south of the bridge in the
areas around BBD Bagh and Chowringhee.
Population: 113 Lakh
Altitude: 6m. (20 ft.)
: The weather is very Indian, slightly on the humid side.
Summers are hot, the temperatures fluctuating between max. 30c -
35c and a min. 14c - 25c. The rainy season begins in the month of
June and lasts up to October bringing in moderately severe rains.
The temperature is also moderate.
Location: Near the eastern coast of India, in the state of West Bengal.
Languages: Bengali, English, Hindi.
Summer - Light cottons
Winter - Light woolens