Exploring Kolkata on foot, empowered by Google Maps
A week in Kolkata is more than enough to cover all the major tourist attractions. But unlike an average tourist, the author did not want to keep his experiences limited to seeing only, he wanted to equally satisfy his other senses as he walked through the city
In spite of being called a realistic and rational person by my friends and family, I nurture a Himu deep inside me. That Himu loves to walk, explore new cities, and wander through new neighbourhoods. The only difference: he likes doing it mostly under broad daylight, unlike the real Himu who was a night owl.
It feels like only yesterday when I was 16, a student of class 11. I had just come to Dhaka from a small town named Bagerhat.
My college premises as well as the hostel were located in Malibagh, and on the very first morning of my stay, I walked all the way from Malibagh to Dhaka University campus by taking directions from anyone and everyone going past me, for I wanted to make sure I became accustomed to the route to my dream, which indeed came true in slightly over two years from thereon.
And then, one by one, I explored the rest of Dhaka City. Be it Old Dhaka, Mirpur, Gulshan, Banani, or Uttara – you name it, and every single place has turned out to be within my walking distance.
On my first ever trip to Kolkata, the city of joy, I was determined to replicate the same feat. I did not want to feel like a foreigner in a city which is quite close to my heart, for I downright knew the entirety of the city from the brick-sized novels of Sunil, Samaresh and Shirshendu that I had been reading since my first grade.
I, in my fantasy, had been solving many mysterious cases in the city with Feluda, Byomkesh, Kakababu, Shabar and Mitin Mashi. So, Kolkata was not an unfamiliar territory for me. It is just that I had never been there in person until 24 December 2022.
I finally set foot in Kolkata on Christmas eve, boarding the Maitree Express. From the Kolkata Railway Station in Chitpur, I reached Sealdah, the location where I had booked my hotel, with an Uber ride. But that was just about it.
Since then on, the rest of my Kolkata days were simply about walking, walking and walking. All I carried with me was a mobile phone with good internet connection so I could make full use of Google Maps.
It was one of the most satisfying solo trips one could ever ask for. The famous Tagore song 'Kothao Amar Hariye Jaoyar Nei Mana' indeed came to life with the blessings of Google Maps.
Not only will the map show your live location and what is before and after you, but it will also come up with the fastest possible route to any of your desired destinations.
Here I was, enjoying and making the best use of Google Maps as it first accompanied me to College Street, a paradise for book lovers. Unfortunately, my first adventure into the street coincided with Christmas holidays, so I did not get to see many booksellers there.
Nonetheless, the Coffee House was open and running with all its glory to welcome me to another heaven. From there I headed for Park Street, getting across Esplanade in the process. I was completely taken aback by the beauty of this flamboyant street bathed in colourful lights.
The Park Street Cemetery also provided me with the 'Gorosthane Shabdhan' feelings I had been craving for ever since I read the Satyajit Ray story back in my fourth grade. The elation is otherworldly when you finally arrive in a place where you have been in your imagination million times before.
And it was just the beginning. In the following days, I walked from Salt Lake to Howrah, Dum Dum to Eden Gardens, Ballygunge to Kankurgachi, and many more.
Sometimes I walked quickly, and sometimes slower than a sloth, closely observing all the affairs around me. It might have been a very time-consuming experience, but it hardly mattered to me. Every now and then I would remind myself of the lines penned down by Jibanananda Das: 'I don't want to reach anywhere so fast…'
True indeed. I had all the time in the world. And sightseeing was never my prime focus. I saw many things for sure, because a week in a city like Kolkata is more than enough to cover all the major tourist attractions. But unlike an average tourist, I did not want to keep my experiences limited to seeing only. I wanted to equally satisfy my other senses too.
So, apart from walking around and going to movies, theatres, museums, art exhibitions, concerts, and book fairs among others, I tried to hear the chaos and noises of the city. I tried to taste as much food as humanly possible (given they are within my budget, available roadside and not against my natural food habit).
I tried to smell the fragrance and stench of the city to the greatest extent. And I also tried to touch and come in close proximity with everything Kolkata as much as possible. Altogether, I wanted to make sense of the purest essence of the city with my sixth sense.
Had I rode on a vehicle, it could have definitely saved me a lot of time, given me pace and brought me to many more places. But just like the information galore is bad for the mind, too many sights to behold is also futile. They can only extend the length of your checklist, but are far from capable of making you truly acquainted with a city, its components and its citizens.
On the other hand, the slow and speedy walks that you take through the allies give you a complete picture of a locality that will remain with you forever.
So, my advice to whoever reading this piece would be: don't just visit a city if you really look forward to telling everyone, or just yourself, that you know the city. Try to really explore as well as breathe, feel, endure and perceive the city on foot. And remember, in the current age of information technology, nothing can be more empowering than Google Maps for travellers to navigate properly.