Kolkata lies at the confluence of a variety of influences. Many cities do, but the interesting thing about Kolkata is that a visitor can see many of these influences while walking around. British colonial architectural influences are foregrounded by street-side homegrown Chinese food, Hindi speaking taxi drivers ferry all, the north Indian kebab is adapted, spiced, and served up in the delicious ‘roll’.
Because the palimpsest of Kolkata is open to the view of the visitor, it is wise to remember that the city is about both the journey and the destination. So go and see St Paul’s Cathedral and the Victoria Memorial, but don’t forget to walk around Park Street and Free School Street. Browse the bookshops on College Street, see the figured wrought iron and green shuttered windows of North Kolkata, sample Bengali confectionary. The city, you will see, looks both forward and back with equal ease.
This is the place from which the British ruled a large part of South-East Asia for close to two centuries, and the seat of a cultural influence that has been significant in the making of modern India. This new India is visible in the streets, shops and cafes, but surrounded by an old world charm that makes most visitors to feel that almost any length of time is too short for an adequate exploration of the city.
Don’t worry about walking around, people on the street are friendly, and some knowledge of Bengali, although useful, is not essential. Many locals understand English, and Hindi also forms part of the popular linguistic repertoire. In keeping with the local ethos, getting directions, or what-to-see-next type of advice from strangers on the street is never a problem -- so do visit Kolkata, it’s an unique experience—a big city with the heart of an old world town.