The world calls it the City of Joy. Some call it the City of Palaces. Kushanava Choudhury calls it the Epic City. A few I know even call it the city of policemen in whites and taxis in yellow. And according to the National Crime Record Bureau, Kolkata is the safest city in India for women—for two successive years now.
Naturally, we set about asking women from all walks of life about their favourite parts of Kolkata. We asked our respondents what their go-to spots in the city are. Why is North Kolkata the favourite of virtually everybody? We asked them to name spots where they like to eat and shop at the most, and what it is about the sights and sounds of the legendary city that women love.
Ex-OT staffer Nayanika Mukherjee sent her vote in right away. “Ahiritola Ghat at sunset. With a cup of chai and friends. Also, Maidan, early morning, during winter,” her text beamed with a telegrammatic urgency. Reclusive guitarist Plabita Das finds the peaceful environs of the Prinsep Ghat “immensely inspiring” and the breeze over the Hooghly refreshing after a tiring workday.
Here are a few of the other responses that we received.
Shramona Poddar, content strategist and lifestyle blogger
Growing up in Bengal for twenty odd summers, I took Kolkata for granted. For me, it was just another city because my city was the only city I knew. Little was I aware that one day I’ll travel far and wide only to come back to a bitter-sweet realisation that the little nuances of my Calcutta are not to be found elsewhere.
There are quite a few personal favourites in the city. However, if I have to choose one, it would be a long walk around the lanes of North Kolkata–Hathibagan, Shobhabazar, Kumortuli. The alleys in the afternoon are usually quiet unless the tinkling bell of a hand-pulled rickshaw or a group of kids playing gully cricket interrupt the tranquility. The houses still have red oxide floors and wrought iron grilled windows and the doors have faded letterboxes stuck to them.
On my walks, I often take a pause to notice the little quirks at the corners of the streets–a group of old men playing a serious game of taash (cards), voices of Uttam and Suchitra floating into my ears from a radio through a window nearby or to have a conversation or two at tea stalls that give me a generous portion of bharer cha (tea in clay cups) at 5 rupees. And maybe if I am hungry, I’ll stop for a quick plate of luchi alurdom or shingara at 10 rupees. And then as I reach the main road, I hop onto a tram and let time pass by me. I look out to see street kiosks filled with people, phuchka stalls, yellow taxis and blue mini buses and then as I look in, I see a Calcutta that gracefully takes me back to history and adamantly refuses to move on with time.
Ishwari Basu, potter/freelance writer
When it comes to memories and moments on the streets of Calcutta, I always find it hard to pin-point to single incidents. But if there’s one thing that keeps coming back to me once in a while, it is the friendship I had with an elderly chaatwala who used to sit right outside my college (Presidency University). It started when I offered him to keep a stall at one of our events inside the college, and he was elated to be a part of it.
Ever since then, till now, whenever I walk past the gates, he always greets me with the warmest smile, makes me try some fresh papdi, even if I’m in a hurry or if I can’t eat, and will always take out some time to talk, as if I were a long-lost friend. The kindness he used to show to a stranger, for someone who didn’t have enough and yet he could share, was something that I can never forget.
Srijita Kar Chowdhury, academic
I love College Street, the area around College Street because it’s the boi para, the university area. The coffee house is there. Every lane has some or the other small stall and you get unusual books at prices as low as Rs 30. The College Street area has that very central essence of Calcutta. How and where these scholars grew up. The trams running by College Square and old establishments, the buildings–everything that reminds you of Calcutta in Kolkata.
Ishani Nath, educator/blogger
It was in 2018 when my husband got transferred to Kolkata and I started making frequent visits to the City of Joy (I couldn’t shift with him as I am working back here in Assam). Most of the times I was on my own making way through the crowded streets of Esplanade or travelling on a metro. One of the safest cities of our country there was not even a single moment I felt insecure.
The city’s heritage has always fascinated and intrigued me, so I have spent a lot of time exploring the lanes of North Kolkata, which bears testimony to the city’s rich colonial past. Along with North Kolkata, I find Park Street to be full of life. Sometimes for a lunch or a quick bite or even just for an evening stroll, I like to hang around a lot in Park Street.
Krithika Saptarishi, photographer
I can answer from a photographer’s perspective. My absolute favourite parts of the city are in North Calcutta where I can lose myself in the narrow alleys and go to one of the river ghats. There is one specifically for women and I’ve often spent many evenings there watching the sunset.
I also absolutely love going to the Victoria Memorial. I’ve been there so many times that I have a picture of how it looks in every season. Park Street is an awesome place as well with bookstores and restaurants catering to all kinds of budgets.
New Market and Gariahat are shopping destinations where you can get literally anything under the sun at cheap rates. I particularly love Gariahat and the adjoining Golpark area because of the innumerable secondhand book stores and the excellent collection of earrings and oxidised jewellery that one can get. I also love College Street. Just the vibe of the whole place and some iconic eateries in the vicinity make it a great place to go to. There is a saying that if you can’t find a book in College Street, it probably doesn’t exist. This place has made my college life way easier.
A lot of my friends also love visiting Dakshinapan in South Calcutta for shopping. They have a wonderful collection of jewellery, handloom sarees and handicrafts too. There is this open space where people can sit and talk. Oh, and it also has one of the best phuchka places in the city.
Trishita Bhattacharya, travel blogger and photographer
In North Calcutta, the quaint, vibrant and narrow alleys of Baghbazar are my favourite. Also places like College Street and Maidan. I also love going to Park Street. So many wonderful places to dine in! I love Kolkata for its street food so I can eat almost everywhere but especially the area around College Street. I shop mostly from Haathi Baagan.
One of my most unforgettable experiences exploring the city was when I was once walking around Babu Ghat with my cousin during a cool winter afternoon, back in 2017. I spotted an area where the light was beautifully falling through the trees. It was a magical sight and it is still so fresh in my mind.
Kolkata is a historical treasure, every road and every building speaking volumes about the rich culture and history. I feel like the residents and travellers should respect and preserve it. Also, I absolutely love trams and would want to see them more frequently. Coming from another metropolitan city, I feel the residents can really make a difference in keeping the city clean and litter free.