British Raj churches litter the lanes and streets of Kolkata, ancient cemeteries house gigantic mausoleums, and the fabulous crumbling mansions of the old empire's mandarins dot the city. In various stages of disrepair, these nostalgic reminders of an earlier time are squeezed between twentieth century concrete and glass houses, offices and shops. Overlooking the BBD Bagh, the ornate Writers Building, home to the Secretariat of West Bengal Government, is one of the city's best. It was built in 1790 to house the clerks of the ubiquitous East India Company; now its heroic red and cream façade dominates the area, and is the office of current day paper pushers.
Biplabi Trailakya Sarani, BBD Bagh, Kolkata
Google map: bit.ly/TaF5at
Conceived by Lord Curzon, and built long after the British had already moved their capital to Delhi, the Victoria Memorial was opened in 1921. Some describe it as India's modern day rival to the Taj Mahal. The interior is bland (if you want to see inside, avoid Mondays) but for two rupees you can walk round the formal grounds in which it stands. It's an imposing piece of late Victoriana in white marble, extremely well tended – not a crisp packet or plastic bottle in sight – and cleverly showcased among the gardens and lakes. Although impressive, its voluptuous curves don't quite match the splendour of the Taj Mahal.
Escape the madness of the city to a strange place, like an ancient lost city, damp and shaded, hidden on South Park Street in Kolkata. The gatekeeper to the British Cemetery will open the huge metal gates for a small donation and let you into a different world, a quiet tree filled oasis, where the huge graves themselves will tell the story of the Raj and The East India Company.
Here you will find Anglicised versions of Cenotaphs dating back to the 17th century. More than 800 old tombs remain of the original 2000, which will take your breath away. Wander through this eerie place and think about the many British who eventually succumbed to accidents, illness and disease, often at a very young age while the early Imperial outposts were being established.
Take time to ponder about how difficult their lives must have been before emerging back into the chaos of Kolkata.
65 Park Street, Park Street, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal 700016, India
+91 33 2217 2861
Google map: bit.ly/SDsIRn
On our final night in Kolkata we went to Kewpies for dinner. Tucked away down a narrow lane off busy Elgin Road, it is the kind of place you have to know about to find. Thanks to Lonely Planet and other assorted sources - and the fact that it was within striking distance of our hotel, www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/tips/33343 - we decided to give it a try.
Kewpies couldn't have been more different. They've knocked a couple of ancient buildings together with interconnecting doors, to form a warren of dining areas. An odd assortment of Victorian and Indian furniture clutters up the place. It has charm and originality in spades. The menu is simple, just a list of set meals ranging from a basic thali and rice to a full-on banquet. Jamie wanted the banquet, I wanted the basic meal. We settled for something nearer my end of the spectrum.
A few individual dishes, all vegetarian, were placed on the table in the ubiquitous brick-coloured un-fired pots you see everywhere in Kolkata. The rice came separately. It didn't look like much, and we hoped the dishes would be re-filled. The food was fresh, spicy, delicious and surprisingly filling, for me. Jamie clung to the hope that the bowls would be re-filled. They were whisked away, and we were left wondering if that was it.
Next came a pile of pappads and a selection of pickles. We tucked in. The pappads were light and crispy, and the pickles and chutneys homemade and tasty. Once every crumb and smear had been devoured we were presented with two blocks of white sweetened cheese. Our waiter told us it was 'like ricotta'. When we asked him if he'd ever tried ricotta he blushed, but told us that other people had assured him of this fact.
He was right.
Next we were given bowls of brown curd. Jamie doesn't like yogurt at the best of times. Although it didn't look particularly appetising, we discovered the colour came from the carob used to flavour this delicious, creamy pudding.
We thought we'd finished, but just as we were getting ready to leave, we were presented with the restaurant's own variety of paan. Zingy flavours sparkled in our mouths as we bit into the leaves. Heavenly.
2, Elgin Lane, Lala Rajpat Rai Sarani Kolkata, West Bengal 700020, India
Hours: 12.30-3pm & 7.30-11pm Tue-Sun
Google map: bit.ly/xjcD6Y
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