Solo female travelers have always been a rarity in India, and after the hellish gang-rape that dominated headlines in 2013, it seemed like there would a permanent dip in females traveling to India. Going there definitely requires a lot of research and plenty of modest clothing. That being said, however you decide to travel to India, no trip is complete without a few days in Kolkata. The city is most famously home to the Durga Puja festival, and although it’s not nearly as renowned as Carnaval, it’s just as memorable and even more picturesque. Here are three great reasons to visit the City of Joy.
The architecture. I don’t know anything specific about architecture, but I am a sucker for slowly crumbling grandeur, and Kolkata has plenty of that. The city’s a good mix of modern and ancient, and plenty of the old stuff is still in good shape. Victoria Memorial is one of the most famous sites although it’s relatively young. Dating from 1921, it sits on almost 65 gorgeous acres. The inside’s pretty nice, too – it’s a great art museum that also showcases some of India’s greatest children. Another site from the same era is Eden Gardens, a giant cricket stadium that’s been thoroughly modernized but still retains its original charm. Other must-sees are Fort William, Marble Palace and the surprising amount of botanical gardens and animal sanctuaries.
The food. You’d be hard-pressed to go hungry here. Eating from the ubiquitous street vendors might not be the best idea for some Western travelers, but there are still plenty of options. If you’re braving street carts, go for phuchka, a single bite of spicy potatoes inside deep-fried dough and topped off with tamarind water. Kati rolls are another Kolkata specialty: fried dough topped with an egg, kebab meat, onion, chilis and hot sauce and eaten like a burrito. For dinner, go for local hilsa river fish and eggplant and yogurt. And if it’s hot, go for kulfi, the city’s own brand of ice cream. It’s hard to go wrong!
Durga Puja festival. Here we are, the main reason to visit. Everything during this festival, which celebrates Durga, the goddess of power, and her victory over a demon named Mahishasura, is brighter, bigger, better and somehow even more delicious. One cool thing about the festival is that it’s never quite the same: each year, thousands of pandals, or religious structures, are decorated according to that year’s theme, competing for the award of best pandal. You can also see women put sindoor, a reddish powder on each other or catch the idols being immersed in water. And with that, it’s easy to see why Kolkata is called the city of joy!
What do you like to do in Kolkata?