Kolkata - Attractions
Calcutta's administrative centre is BBD Bagh (Binoy Badal Dinesh). Formerly Dalhousie Square, it holds both the whimsical and the brutal: to the north side is the Writers' Building where 'writers' (a quaint euphimism for clerks) beaver away in the Kafkaesque labyrinthine corridors and vast chambers while quintuplicate forms and carbon copies pile up along the walls; on the western side is the GPO where the original Fort William stood and extended right to the Hooghly river. A tiny guardroom within the fort was the site of the notorious 'black hole of Calcutta'. Although the numbers are disputed, it is said that, on an uncomfortably humid night in 1756, over 140 British inhabitants were forced into the room, causing many to die overnight of suffocation. Indications as to its exact position were removed after Independence in 1947. Further west of BBD Bagh, with a superb position on the Hooghly River taking in the magnificent expanse of the Howrah Bridge, is Millenium Park - a glorious place to enjoy a sunset, kick back and absorb life on the river ghats.
Also known as Kalighat, the Kali Temple was rebuilt in 1809 on the site of the actual temple from which Kalikata (anglicised to Calcutta) took its name. Kali represents the destructive side of Lord Shiva: legend has it that when the corpse of his wife was cut up, one of her fingers fell here. It has since been an important pilgrimage site, but is not popular with the goats who are slaughtered here each morning to satisfy the godess' blood lust. On a less grizzly note, next door is Mother Teresa's Hospital for the Dying Destitute, where the Missionaries' important work can be observed first-hand. The temple and hospital are 2km (1.2mi) southeast of the zoo.
MP Birla Planetarium
Located on the eastern side of the Maidan in the Chowringhee area of Kolkata, this planetarium is one of the largest in the world. Within walking distance from the budget travellers' section of the city, the planetarium provides a welcome respite from the din of traffic. Sit back, look up and take in a spectacular view of the stars which the polluted sky of Kolkata could never otherwise provide.
Epitomising the cultural spirit of Kolkata was the brilliant poet, novelist, playwright and artist Rabindranath Tagore, who took India to the world. India's greatest modern poet and a passionate nationalist, he penned what would become the lyrics for India's national anthem, Jana Gana Maya, and became Asia's first Nobel prizewinner for literature. The rambling complex of Tagore House is now a centre for Indian dance, drama and music. North of BBD Bagh, it houses an impressive museum and university for fine arts.
Often referred to as the 'lungs' of Kolkata, the Maidan is a huge green expanse of India's most scarce commodity - open space. Its most imposing feature is Fort William, which was rebuilt there in 1758 after the original fort was destroyed. Costing a fortune, it wasn't completed until 20 years later, the surrounding area having been cleared of jungle, creating the Maidan that so many enjoy today. The fort is still in official use and is off-limits to visitors.
In the northeastern section is Eden Gardens, which houses the famous Calcutta Cricket Ground (Ranji Stadium) - the atmosphere during international matches held here often reach hysterical proportions. In a recent match, following a famous Indian victory, the crowd seemed set to simulataneously combust as fans began lighting newspapers and waving them overhead. Less zealous are the grazing cows, musical fountains and early-morning yoga/meditation sessions also at home in the gardens. Just west of the gardens is a pleasant spot for walking or cruising along the Hooghly River. South of the Maidan is the well-established zoo and beyond that the peaceful Horticultural Gardens.
At the southern end of the Maidan, the Victoria Memorial is possibly the most awesome reminder of the Raj to be found in India. This huge white-marble museum is filled with a vast collection of remnants from the period of British empire rule, including a piano that was played by Queen Victoria as a young girl. It also includes the Calcutta Gallery and National Leaders Gallery, with exhibits on the history of Kolkata, the Raj and its various political and social leaders.