Information & Facts
Kolkata experiences a tropical climate, with wet and dry
seasons. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures soaring as
high as 104ºF (40ºC) during the months of May and June. The summer
months are often punctuated with dusty squalls, followed by hail or
thunderstorms, bringing slight relief from the humidity and heat.
Winters are short, lasting only about two to three months, with
temperatures dropping to 54F (9C) during the day between December
and January. The best time to visit Kolkata is between November and
Kolkata has one of the best transport networks in the country.
The metro - India's oldest underground - runs the length of the
city, while trams and buses provide wide coverage as well. The
ubiquitous yellow Ambassador taxis are good value (and a thrilling
means of getting around, too). Hand-pulled rickshaws are a fun way
to travel short distances - though this practice is being
discouraged by policy-makers, who deem it ignoble. Car hire is
available, with drivers included - unless you are a professional
stunt driver on vacation, do not even attempt to drive around
Kolkata yourself. As in all Indian cities, traffic congestion is a
problem that results in frequent, noisy gridlock. Walking from one
attraction to the other is, therefore, often the quickest way of
getting around. Note that the 11-mile (17km) journey to and from
the airport usually takes over an hour.
Although English is generally used for official and
business purposes, Hindi is the official language and is spoken by
about 40 percent of the population. Urdu is the language common
with the Muslim demographic. India has a total of 22 official
The currency is the Indian Rupee (INR), which is divided into
100 paise (singular paisa). Major currencies can be changed at
banks, and authorised bureaux de changes. It is impossible to
obtain rupees outside India, but no matter what time you arrive in
India there will be an exchange office open at the airport. It is
illegal to exchange money through the black market and it is
advisable to refuse torn notes, as no one will accept them apart
from the National Bank. It is best to change money into small
denominations. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely
accepted, particularly in tourist orientated establishments. ATMs
are not generally available.
From a zero-base in the 1990s, Calcutta has developed a
flourishing nightlife - with much of it centred round the big
hotels, where good-quality nightclubs attract well-heeled locals
and tourists, and 24-hour coffee bars do a brisk trade with chaste
young couples. The traditional nocturnal activity of eating out is
still universally popular, from top-class restaurants down to
roadside eateries. For theatre, cinema and nightclub event
listings, see the publications 'Calcutta This Fortnight' and
'CalCalling'. Note that Thursday is a dry day in the city, with no
alcohol being sold except in the major hotels, and that Kolkata has
a 2am curfew imposed throughout the city.
The Tantra (located in the Park Hotel on Park Street), as well
as Underground and Shisha, remain the most popular haunts for
late-night revellers in Kolkata.
Shoppers wanting it 'all in one place' should head for New
Market on Lindsay Street, which has an astounding range of goods
for sale in a chaotic, vibrant atmosphere. Look out for jewellery,
clothing and fabric. Bargaining is expected. Dakshinapan Shopping
Centre is a government-controlled centre, selling cottage industry
goods at set prices deemed fair to buyer and seller, while Central
Cottage Industries Emporium employs a similar concept. Shops tend
to close after lunch on Saturdays and all day on Sunday. Best buys
include pith and conch-shell handicrafts, clay plagues of the
goddess Kali, silk in the form of saris and shawls, leather bags,
and wool garments from Darjeeling. Indian musical instruments can
be bought from Mondal and Sons on Rabindra Sarani Road.
A selection of Kolkata's best shopping venues are:
New Market, also known as Hogg's Market, is a popular market in
Kolkata. With a dizzying amount of over 2,000 stalls, shoppers
should expect crowds. New Market is great for saris, inexpensive
jewellery and beautiful bags. Just remember to bargain hard.
Dakshinapan Shopping Centre, an open-air market where you can
buy handicrafts, artefacts, cheap Indian clothing and a selection
of Indian teas and tea-drinking paraphernalia. It is a wonderful
place to shop for gifts and trinkets.
Known as Kolkata's first shopping mall, Forum Mall is a
six-floor building that hosts a range of up-market shops. Expect
higher prices, but a great selection of accessories, shoes and
beautiful clothes. The mall also has a cinema and some great
Chowringhee Road is home to a large amount of street vendors.
While a fair amount of the goods on sale are useless, those in the
mood to trawl through what's on offer may easily come away with a
bargain. A number of Kolkata's speciality terracotta products can
be found by those prepared to hunt.