With two stuffed backpacks and two smaller day backpacks, we set out in the early morning for the long journey: Lyon > Frankfurt > Mumbai > Kolkata.
If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have grown roots instead of feet. -Rachel Wolchin
This story guide gives you helpful tips and places to visit, eat, and stay in Kolkata on a short, 3 day trip. Create your own itinerary based off our guide, or simply read our story to learn more about Kolkata, The City of Joy and capital of West Bengal, India.
Sights We Saw:
- Bazaar outdoor market in Gariahat
- Birla Mandir Temple
- Khalighat Kali Temple
- Howrah Bridge
- Mullick Ghat flower market
- Prinsep Ghat (Riverwalk)
- Victoria Memorial Garden
- Mani square mall
Restaurants & Hotels:
- 6 Balleygung Place (Fish specialties)
- Golden Joy (Chinese)
- Airbnb (Hosts Susan & Finney, and Satabdi)
- Getting a Vodaphone SIM
- Negotiating taxi and tuk-tuk prices (+uber/ola)
- Downloading an offline map
Day 1 in Kolkata
Kolkata’s airport is modern and easy to navigate. With excitement, we step out with our bags into the tropical, warm breeze. We just bought our taxi tickets at the official government taxi stand, located right inside the doors before exiting. With this pre-paid ticket, we were ready to venture into the city.
We hop into our yellow, New York-style cab and drive off. Paul and I are so tired, but so relieved to (almost) be at our destination. We booked an Airbnb in the Brindaban Garden neighborhood, nearly 7 kilometers east of the Victoria Memorial.
We are warmly greeted by our hosts Susan and Finney. Our room’s balcony peers off into the city, offering whirling views of life below and on rooftops. It’s noisy and the air is thick. Welcome to India!
We explore our neighborhood, paying attention to avoid the cars, trucks, bikes whizzing by. Not to mention the slowly roaming holy cows.
Our first bite to eat in India (of all places) is a Chinese restaurant (Golden Joy) recommended by our hosts. It’s the best place to go if you like cold AC and cheap Chinese soul food. The staff was very friendly and attentive and it was nice to just relax a little!
After a much-needed nap back in our room, we took a taxi to the downtown area to see the outdoor market in Gariahat.
Traveler’s Tip: Walk around the Gariahat market to find great deals. There are souvenirs, clothing, henna, bags, saris, and so much more here. It can be quite overwhelming during a busy day, so don’t be shy to push your way through!
Paul and I had some serious shopping to do for our friend’s wedding, so we visited several stores. But we ended up back at the outdoor market in the end and got some great deals!
Day 2 in Kolkata
Fast forward past the amazing 2-day wedding (which you should read about here) and we are now out of the Hyatt hotel and back into an Airbnb, this time with Satabdi. Our tuk-tuk had a hard time finding their place, as it was in a very local neighborhood, away from popular roads or attractions.
That evening they gave us an itinerary we could do on foot.
We split this itinerary into one evening and one full day. I’d recommend you do the same, so you don’t end up doing too much or too little.
Khalighat Kali Temple: Our Experience
First, take a taxi to the popular Khalighat Kali Temple which is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kali. We were super stoked to see this place, maybe even find a quiet corner to reflect and meditate. Oh, how we were wrong!
Khalighat Kali is the perfect place to visit if you love temples, and, chaos. Google reviews mention it being “peaceful and devotional” so we came expecting it to be just that. But, we should have known better.
First, we couldn’t shake off hecklers from the street, who followed us into the temple despite our repetitive “No, thank you” to whatever they were selling. Then, do you take the flowers from those inside the complex as an offering, or is it a bribe? A group of sellers swarmed us and begin to crown us with flowers and splash “holy water” on us, without asking, and instead insisted that it was necessary to even go into the temple. We refused it all because, again, it was too much like a tourist trap.
Also, you will be ushered to take off your shoes and no matter where you put them, someone will expect a tip when you come to collect them.
We waited in line, with the locals. Shouting erupts from inside the temple. We do not have room to enter, but instead, we are pushed by the crowd into a damp, dark, corridor.
People are pushing and shoving, throwing money in the air towards what or who, we couldn’t tell because we got pushed so fast out of the way that we were at the exit of the temple already!
Here is the legend according to Wikipedia:
Kalighat is regarded as one of the 51 Shakti Peethas of India, where the various parts of Sati’s body are said to have fallen, in the course of Shiva’s Rudra Tandava. Kalighat represents the site where the toes of the right foot of Dakshayani or Sati fell.
So everyone was going ballistic over the sight at some toes or flashy relics?
The significance or deep spiritual meaning doesn’t resonate with me as it does, of course, to Hindus, but speaking from a strictly unbiased, external point of view, I’m not sure how anyone could call that experience “peaceful.” Unless getting shoved is a sacrifice you’re willing to pay in order to literally give money to some goddess’ toes.
We walked out of the temple cursing, rather than praying, and I went back to my shoes with black feet, wet with what I expected to be dog piss.
Traveler’s Tip: Despite my rant, do indeed visit this temple! Our experience doesn’t mean it will be your experience. It’s nonetheless a symbolic and important part of Kolkata and a popular sight to see. 🙂
From Khalighat, you can walk towards the main road. We tried to walk to a restaurant but it was too far, so we ended up walking, taking a tuk-tuk, and then getting distracted by the Birla Mandir Temple!
Birla Mandir Temple
The Birla Mandir Temple is very unique, and compared to Khalighat, is indeed peaceful and devotional!
We were surprised because we hadn’t planned to come here, but we’re glad we did. We came at night and it was lit up on the street, how could we not scale its beautiful ivory steps to find out more?
The guards will ask you to remove any shoes or bags, which you can place in a locker around the corner. Also, no pictures so they will ask you to turn off cameras and phones.
This temple is spacious, both on the inside and out, and invites all to come in and reflect on life, on humanitarian values, on religion, on the universe which connects us all. We very much enjoyed the Birla Mandir Temple in Kolkata and think you will too! Going at night was nice because there was less heat and of course, fewer people!
Then, per a recommendation of our host, we took another tuk-tuk to the 6 Balleygung Place restaurant to dine on local fish specialties. Order the coconut shrimp! It’s a local favorite and it comes tender and melty in a coconut, so the coconut meat is in the curry. Mmm, my mouth is watering now! This restaurant, although delicious and frosty with AC, is a little upscale (at least for our budget). It’s not your average Indian roadside stall!
Day 3 in Kolkata
Our last full day in Kolkata was reserved for the following sights: Howrah Bridge, the flower market, Prinsep Ghat (riverwalk) and the Victoria Memorial. We ended up having no time or energy to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Howrah Bridge is one of Kolkata’s iconic sights. It’s an impressive structure and can be easily seen from the road. Paul and I took a tuk-tuk near the area, and then we walked up on the bridge to the other side of the Hooghly River.
The bridge is not the place to take a leisurely stroll. Polluting trucks and cars and noisy motorbikes cruise by while pedestrians hurriedly make their way to make errands. Cinderella-like horse carriages are galloping alongside trucks, and barefoot men and women are carrying several mattresses atop their heads with the help of a strap.
The view off in the distance is gray and hazy. Down below on the muddy shores are bathers rinsing off in what they believe to be holy water. The other side of Howrah Bridge isn’t where travelers like us normally roam, we supposed, as it felt like we stood out like sore thumbs.
Traveler’s Tip: You can cross the river to the other side of Howrah Bridge by boat. We didn’t have the time, but it was recommended by a friend!
Mullick Ghat Flower Market
We tiredly make our way back across the bridge and find the Mullick Ghat flower market. We were told it was one of the largest flower markets, either in India or in Asia I don’t remember, so we had high expectations. But again, the reality of it was like that of Khalighat. We ended up leaving after five minutes.
Unless you really need to buy flowers and garlands in bulk, we didn’t feel very comfortable just strolling through, as we were constantly refusing offers from the shopkeepers. There’s lots of trash, including rotting flowers, thrown to the side, adding to the heaps of garbage.
Prinsep Ghat Riverwalk
Paul and I left the flower market and just walked and walked. Little did we know where we were headed, but all of a sudden we came up on a sort of riverwalk. This place actually was peaceful and calm; not to mention shady and secluded (on the other side of the rail tracks).
The riverwalk offers quite a different experience than in the streets. You can walk and not feel rushed or harassed by sellers. How lovely! There are young in love, modern couples sitting on the large tree roots, families enjoying bhelpuri snacks, and tired homeless folks sleeping quietly on the benches. It definitely has a different vibe than everywhere else in Kolkata.
Here, you can take a leisurely stroll! 🙂
Paul and I enjoyed the river views and the small shrines in the roots and trees along the riverwalk. Definitely make your way here to enjoy the views of the Hooghly River and the wooden river boats!
Victoria Memorial Garden
The Victoria Memorial is another Kolkata classic. It is a favorite among both the locals and traveler’s and for good reason! Entrance to the Victoria Memorial Garden cost like 20 Rs. I accidentally walked through without a ticket, but Paul was stopped! Hahah.
The gardens are nice and well-kept. The lawn actually makes the perfect napping grounds for weary travelers! 😉
The gardens are beautiful to walk around, but white travelers beware: people will ask to take tons of selfies with you. There was even a family who gave me their baby, that was screaming, just for a photo! How awkward I felt!
Once you agree to one photo, then you have to agree to all of them. People even lined up to take a photo with the “foreign white couple” sitting on the grass!
That was when we had to get up and walk around. But we were leaving soon anyway to head to Mani Square Mall to meet friends.
Traveler’s Tip: You will pay a higher taxi/tuk-tuk price if you want to go/be picked up from somewhere popular, like the Victoria Memorial. Uber is usually best in this case, but more on that below!
Mani Square Mall
The Mani Square Mall is like any other upscale mall you will find, but it is an especially nice way to escape the heat and busy streets of Kolkata. Shopping, dining, entertainment, and more is available here. It’s definitely a different life than that in the streets of India, and you no doubt will pay normal Western prices for food or clothes.
We ate here with our newlywed friends and other friends we met at university 6 years ago. How crazy to have a reunion in Kolkata, India!
This was our last night in Kolkata. In the morning, we flew to New Delhi, where we would begin our 2-week trip visiting Agra (Taj Mahal) and the colorful cities of Rajasthan.
When in Kolkata, or whenever you’re traveling in India, it might be helpful to know some of these tips.
- Using Uber or Ola VS local transport
- Getting a phone SIM card
- Downloading an offline map
1. Using Uber/Ola VS Taxis & Tuk-Tuks
India is pretty safe, so using the local transport system is doable. However, if you choose to do so, keep in mind it can be frustrating to have to negotiate for a fair price.
If you are a foreigner, expect an elevated price (sometimes 3, 4 or 5 times the local price!).
Using taxis and local tuk-tuks can be cheaper, especially if the driver gives you an honest price, or if you can negotiate well. These experiences are unforgettable. You will drive madly through traffic, horns blaring in all directions, and you will likely giggle out of uncertainty. And not to mention you will probably chat a little with your driver too if she or he speaks a little English, or meet some fellow riders in your tuk-tuk.
On the other hand, taxis and tuk-tuks can be unreliable. Scams happen, so just be smart and know your whereabouts. You also want to arrive at your destination in one piece (they tend to drive crazy!). The convenience is that there’s literally a tuk-tuk or taxi everywhere you go, so you don’t have to wait around, unlike for an Uber.
Uber and Ola are also used by the locals, especially the mid-upper class. Not only do you have a GPS, a map showing your trip’s progress, a guaranteed rate, but you also enjoy AC and maybe a little music. These experiences are much different than the local experience, but some people simply prefer to ride in comfort and style and that’s perfectly okay.
The downside of using Uber or Ola services is that sometimes the price quickly rises depending on traffic jams or popular locations. Also, if you don’t have Wi-Fi or data, then using this service is not possible. Lastly, you might be waiting for a while for your Uber/Ola car to show up due to traffic, which can get pretty congested.
To sum it up, here are the pros and cons of each.
Pros of using local taxis and tuk-tuks
- You get the local experience
- Sometimes way cheaper (if honest)
- Tuk-tuks often can be faster in small streets
- Convenient (many are always around)
- It’s part of the fun!
Cons of using local taxis and tuk-tuks
- Sometimes scary and dangerous due to driving (but also fun)
- Sometimes more expensive if overcharged
- Chosen route is unknown (you’re very dependant on the driver’s knowledge)
and now for the Uber and Ola services:
Pros of using Uber or Ola:
- Mostly reliable
- You can see your trip’s progress and arrival time
- Oftentimes a good, fair rate (especially if you share the ride)
- More comfortable (air conditioner, etc.)
Cons of using Uber or Ola:
- Sometimes overpriced
- Often long wait times due to traffic
- Less personable
- Can only use if you have reliable Wi-Fi or data
Now, what if you need to buy a mobile SIM card for traveling in India?
2. Getting a Vodaphone SIM Card in India
Getting a SIM card in India is crucial, especially if you plan to stay for more than one week.
Here’s how to get a SIM card in India:
First, you need a referral. Our referral was our Airbnb host, Satabdi.
Second, you need your passport, current address, a copy of your passport/visa and a small passport-sized photo.
Third, go into a real Vodaphone store with your referral/friend.
Fourth, the staff member will ask for your documents. Your friend will need to give them their phone number so that they can receive the confirmation on their telephone, which they will pass on to you. This might take 24 hours.
Fifth, after you receive verification (via your referral), you can insert your new SIM and activate it.
And that’s it! The price for 3 weeks of data cost us more or less 250-350 Rs.
3. Downloading an offline map
If like us, you are starting your trip without phone data, then it’s a good idea to download an offline map via Google maps ahead of time. This saved our butts many a time, even after we got the SIM card (because believe it or not, sometimes our data didn’t work!).
In your Google Maps app, type in Kolkata, India, or any other destination.
When it pops up, instead of pushing “Get directions,” tap on the name that pops up instead. This will bring up a new page displaying the city preview. You’ll see options for “directions,” “save,” “share place,” and on the far right, “download.”
Click “download”. Now you will need to select the area you wish to download. Depending on your available phone memory, zoom in or out to select the area you wish to download. Keep in mind to cover all the areas you wish to visit while on your travels!
3 Days in the City of Joy: Story Guide to Kolkata, India
Now that I’m at 3,000 words, I guess it’s time to wrap it up and say see you next time! I hope you guys enjoyed this story guide to Kolkata, India. If you have any questions about the places we visited, feel free to drop me a comment below!