Kolkata, officially known by its British name of Calcutta until 2001, has undergone a dramatic transformation over the last decade. No longer identified with slums, destitution, and the inspiring work of Mother Teresa,
Kolkata has grown into the cultural capital of India. It's a vibrant yet intimate city, full of captivating soul. In addition, Kolkata is only city in India to have a tram car
network, which adds to its old-world charm. Check out this Kolkata guide and city profile for travel information and tips.
After establishing itself in Mumbai
, the British East India Company arrived in Kolkata in 1690 and began creating a base for itself there, starting with the construction of Fort William in 1702. In 1772, Kolkata was declared to be the capital of British India, and remained as such until the British decided to shift the capital to Delhi
in 1911. Kolkata boomed with rapid industrial growth from the 1850s but problems began to occur after the British left. Power shortages and political action damaged the city's infrastructure. Fortunately, government reforms during the 1990s have brought about economic recovery.
Kolkata is located in West Bengal, on the eastern coast of India.
There are just over 15 million people living in Kolkata, making it India's third largest city after Mumbai and Delhi.
Kolkata has a tropical climate
that's extremely hot, wet and humid during the summer, and cool and dry during the winter. The weather in April and May is unbearable, and travel to Kolkata should be avoided during that time. Temperatures can exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and rarely drop below 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) at night. Humidity levels are also uncomfortably high. The best time to visit Kolkata is from November to February, after the monsoon
, when the weather is the coolest and temperatures range from around 25-12 degrees Celsius (77-54 degrees Fahrenheit).
Kolkata Airport Information:
Kolkata's Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport
is very small and handles around 5 million passengers annually. It's an international airport but over 75% of its passengers are domestic travelers. The airport is in Dum Dum, 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the city center, with both the international and domestic terminals in the same building. Travel time to the city center is around 45 minutes. To get there, the best way is to take a prepaid taxi from the Bengal Taxi Association counter, located on the left as you head towards the exit of the international arrivals area.
The easiest way to travel around Kolkata is to take a taxi. The fare is twice the meter reading plus two rupees. Kolkata also has auto-rickshaws, but unlike in other cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, they operate on fixed routes and are shared with other passengers. The Kolkata Metro, India's first underground rail network, is another option for those wanting to travel north or south from one side of the city to the other. For getting around the city center, Kolkata's historic trams are useful. Kolkata's worn local buses are noisy beasts that lurch and spew out pollution, and are only recommended for the adventurous.
Kolkata Top Attractions:
Kolkata offers an eclectic combination of historical, cultural, and spiritual attractions. See the Victoria Memorial
and wander through the Maiden
before heading to the Howrah Bridge
and flower market.
The Kali Temple, Botanical Gardens, Belur Math Shrine, and Indian Museum are fascinating sights. To get a dose of culture, the Nandan and Rabindra Sadan Cultural Center
is a must-visit place. There's no curfew in Kolkata so the nightlife
continues on into the early hours of the morning. As a trading hub of eastern India, Kolkata is a great place for shopping.
Also make it a point to try some delicious Bengali cuisine
Kolkata Health and Safety Information:
Although the people of Kolkata are warm and friendly, a great deal of poverty still remains, making begging and scams a problem. Taxi drivers often get extra money from tourists by tampering with the meters in their cabs and making them run fast. Kolkata is a reasonably safe Indian city though. However, the backpacker area of Sudder Street does attract some undesirable types of people, including drug dealers.
One of the most frustrating things about Kolkata is that being a Communist state, it is subject to frequent political and industrial action that brings the city to a complete standstill. During these bandhs (strikes), it's virtually impossible to get around the city as transport doesn't operate and all shops remain closed.
As always in India, it's important not to drink the water in Kolkata. Instead buy readily available and inexpensive bottled water to stay healthy. In addition, it's a good idea to visit your doctor or travel clinic well in advance of your departure date to ensure that you receive all the necessary immunizations and medications, especially in relation to illnesses such as malaria and hepatitis.