Some top tips on how to go local in Cosmopolitan Calcutta.
From the outside, India’s loud, bustling, somewhat chaotic cities are daunting, we can’t deny. But after you peel back their hard shell, you soon realise they are soft and friendly. When we visited Calcutta, we embraced what the locals do. Once we uncovered a few familiar traits, we soon found ourselves enjoying a whole new side to India.
We spent the majority of our time in the area of Ballygunge and Lake Gardens and felt very much at home.
Here are five top tips on how to become a local in Calcutta.
Stay in an AirBnB
Staying in an AirBnB gives you the opportunity to live in a room or apartment in a residential area surrounded by local people. As soon as you familiarise yourself with the area, visited the corner shop a few times and recognise the fruit seller… boom, you’re as good as local.
Indians are very hospitable, they have a saying ‘Guests are God’. It’s their duty to look after their guests so they make very good Airbnb hosts welcoming people from all around the world into their home. There are many Airbnb hosts in Ballygunge ranging in price from £9-39.
We have stayed with two excellent Superhosts in the city:
- Rajasree has two beautiful rooms situated in an apartment block in a very quiet street in a quintessentially Bengali part of the city. We stayed in the larger of the two rooms with ensuite and kitchenette. Breakfast to the room is available every morning as well as access to a roof terrace. Rajasree is very helpful and generous to make your stay as comfortable as possible. This definitely felt like a home away from home for us.
- Jojo has two rooms. We stayed in one of his amenable rooms complete with HD TV. The toilet and shower are outside, separate from the room but this is no great inconvenience. The rooms is very cheap working out at $10 a night.
Both of these Airbnb’s are very close to Gariahat market and Lake Gardens.
Use Uber/Ola but walk around too.
Just like Europe, it is cheap and convenient compared to other forms of transport in the city.
PRICE: 150 rupees for a journey from Howrah or Sealdah train stations to Ballygunge in an Uber/Ola.
Auto-rickshaws work on specific zones so they can only take you so far. The classic yellow cabs which we would recommend using for at least one trip is double the price of an Uber. Trams, buses and the metro work on specific routes and could take double the time to get you to where you need to be, so if you are not in a rush and want to enjoy Kolkata at a local pace then give it a go.
Saying all of that, you can easily walk around in Ballygunge area so no need to rely on public transport. The main highways are busy but when you turn off into the side streets you can be sure to feel safe and not suffocated by people or transport.
NOTE – You will need an Indian SIM card to be able to use Uber/Ola as they require a local number to contact you on, however this is easy to obtain in any city.
Eat an egg roll
The Bengalis are self-confessed foodies. The Katha Roll is the most famous in Calcutta. The roll is freshly fried paratha rolled with a filling of shredded veg or chicken. You stand and watch them prepare it right in front of you.
With stalls brimming with people wanting an egg roll, you will feel just like a local. Choose to sit on stools on the roadside or wander the streets at night munching into this delicious and authentic Indian dish. It’s the perfect evening snack or meal depending on how many you can eat!
PRICE: 50 rupees
We would recommend visiting the most famous vendors at Mitra Cafe who have been serving food for over 100 years. They are based in Ballygunge at 23/37 Gariahat Road, Golpark.
Mitra Cafe in Ballygunge
Watch a cricket game in Lake Gardens
Indians love cricket and the people of Calcutta love Lake Gardens. A newly transformed park is a great place escape the madness of the city traffic and congestion. It reminded us of Hyde Park, it’s huge and set around a beautiful lake. Grab a coffee and soak up the tranquility. What’s nice about the park is seeing the variety of people. There are rowers practicing on the lake, runners, friends socialising, lovers whispering and of course, a lot of cricket! You may not be a fan, but cricket is a big deal in this city. Take some time to watch it, you’ll see many locals who just stop and watch the action as they pass by. Whether you are in Lake Gardens or not, you are never too far from a cricket game so keep your eyes peeled!
Explore Gariahat market
If you sleep, eat and travel like a local, you also have to shop like one. Whether you need to pick something up or just fancy a nosey, head to Gariahat market. This path-side shopping mall is a popular place for locals to do their shopping, especially at night. Amongst all the hustle and bustle, you will be able to buy anything you want from fresh fruit and phone covers to clothes and shoes. You can even walk away with your arms covered in beautiful henna tattoos. Definitely worth a visit.
Places to eat:
The most famous cafe in the whole of Kolkata selling delicious cakes, pastries and breakfasts since 1927. It is famous for serving up Full English Breakfasts, Beans on Toast and classic triangular sandwiches since its doors first opened. Its flagship store is set in an elegant building on Park Street complete with chandeliers. For all its beauty and tasty food, you can expect haphazard service from the staff. A reminder that although you are transported to a European setting you are very much still in India. There are other Flury’s branches around the city where you can enjoy the same food at a much cheaper price.
French Toast with Maple Syrup and Fresh Fruit
A very pink, kitsch and popular cafe very close to Lake Gardens, Mrs Magpie is a trendy cafe to visit. Open for breakfast early doors and serving dinner until late. You can expect to find classic western dishes including Full English, omelettes, tortilla pizzas and sandwiches. An ever-changing seasonal menu keeps customers always wanting more as well as wide range of cupcakes, loaf cakes and brownies are also well worth a try. We found that the quantity of food wasn’t as much as you’d expect considering the price. Nevertheless, it’s a cozy, welcoming place where you are served with a smile. This rates highly in our book.
A relaxed vibe in a local restaurant. Serving non-veg dishes and a range of alcohol including cocktails. This place is a popular hang-out for the middle classes of Ballygunge. We had to wait about 5 minutes before we could get a table so don’t be put off if you have to wait. It’s a good sized restaurant so tables are always becoming available. It’s a big menu, so we would recommend getting the mutton biryani. Soft, succulent meat on the bone can be difficult to find in India. Prices are mid-range so if you are travelling on a budget make sure you head here if you are having a ‘treat’ night!
Attractions to visit:
Visit the home and tomb of one of the most famous humanitarians in the world. Still the home of the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, you can expect to see nuns walking around in white robes with blue detailing. A small museum has been created to display her belongings and her room has been preserved to look just as she lived in it.
Opening hours: 8am – 12noon; 3pm – 6pm everyday except Thursdays
Now a museum, this large marble building was built between 1906 and 1921 in dedication to the memory of Queen Victoria. Foreigners pay 200 rupees to enter the museum or 20 rupees to visit the Gardens. The museum has 25 galleries of beautiful architecture.
This will always be memorable for us as it was the final bridge on our Ganges expedition. This bridge is a marvel to look at over the Hooghly River. At 705m in length said to carry a daily traffic of 100,000 vehicles and around 150,000 pedestrians. This bridge is up there with one of the busiest bridges in the world, so head over to see it. Whilst you are there you can marvel at the traffic on the Hooghly River too, watch the boats cross as well as the people bathing and washing themselves.
Cinemas are all over in Kolkata. You can usually find them at the top of a mall, for example Cinepolis inside the Lake Mall in Kalighat. You can also find an INOX in most Indian cities for the biggest and best Bollywood or Tollywood movies out.
Read our blog about why you should go to the Cinema in India.