Kolkata, often called the City of Joy, was the first capital of British India and was one of the first parts of India to fall under the British rule as well. Though, the city is not old enough with 1690 to be the official birth year, it has compensated it in full by being one of the most culturally advanced and intellectual cities of India. Why, Presidency College was called the Oxford of the East! If it is your first time in Kolkata, let me tell you a few things.
Season to Explore: Go to any travel site, and it will tell you that the best time to visit Kolkata would be October onwards. As an insider, I would request you to make it October itself. The reasons are simple, while October to March, the weather in Kolkata is great (which means less heat and much less humidity), October is the festive month for Bengalis. You should not miss Durga Puja, the 5-6 day long celebrations of Bengalis which are back to back followed by Kali Puja, Laxmi Puja and other smaller deities. This is when you find the Bengalis, one of the most amicable and welcoming people of India at their best. The celebrations are huge and the pandal is hopping would be a lifelong experience.
Skip Continental/Chinese: Why would you even touch those when Kolkata offers the best Biriyani in India (along with Hyderabad) and the famous Bengali cuisines. You must try the local foods as a wise man once said, “Nothing teaches you more about the culture of a place than the foods”. In Kolkata, food is very, very affordable and you simply cannot forget the taste of rice, fish fry (skip if vegetarian), luchi, alur dam and to finish on a sweet note, rosogolla (Bengalis invented it. Really! Even Bengali Polao (pulao) is a thing to lick your fingers.
Hotels in Kolkata: You might get tempted to book with any of the hotels near Kolkata airport or Howrah rail station. While the airport hotels are really good as they cater to international tourists frequently, the budget hotels of Kolkata are mostly on Marquis Street. This is where you will find loads of foreigner backpackers, haggling over the room rent (yes, every cost/price is negotiable in Kolkata) and drinking tea at roadside vendors as well. Make use of online travel websites like Yatra to book a hotel in Kolkata and save both your time and money.
No fancy clothes: Why do Bengalis always wear cotton shirts? Come to Kolkata and you will realise that every inch of your body is Gangotri (the origination of Ganga, you knew that, right?) and only Cotton shirts with undergarment can keep you somewhat comfortable in this extremely humid condition. Go for comfort over looks.
Shopping only at New Market: If you want a centralised shopping experience, skip the malls. You might have heard of New Market from your ‘bong’ friends and that is where you should go. Like we Indians say, “from pin to elephant” or like the Bengalis say, “even tiger’s milk” is available in this rather maze of a market. You can find every modern clothes and accessory and also turkey meats, all at one place. The outer circumference of New Market offers extremely good shopping experience as well. However, haggle, haggle and haggle. For a starter, whatever the shopkeeper says, start with half of that, even if it’s a big shop and written “NO bargaining”. Here’s how to bargain in India.
I could go on to a novel’s length but let me get some breath back as this wonderful city always excites me. Kolkata is a very welcoming city and people are hearty. You can speak Hindi and English and most of the time you will have no problem in interacting with them. Here’s Hindi words and phrases for your travels in India.