KOLKATA : London of the East

Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta, is the capital West Bengal, India. It was once the capital of  the British Indian Empire – and much of the architecture reveals that history.   In this photo essay I want to show something of this side of Kolkata, its majestic and wealthy heritage which was so greatly influenced by the traditions of European architecture. Watch it on YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ddxdXsns6M

Many momentous events, as well as neglect, has taken a huge toll on the beautiful buildings of this city.  Deterioating render reveals the brick structure below, paint is peeling, pollution and water have deeply stained the facades, and trees have grown through cracks to establish themselves firmly in the masonry – gradually causing immense damage.  The buildings have been adapted to a life in India; markets, animals, street life all impose themselves onto the original design and purpose.   At street level, Kolkata looks like many other Indian cities – but look up and see this wonderful legacy of its former glory.

Much has changed since our last visit to Kolkata in 2006.  Then it was a city entombed in a pall of smog; trucks, taxis, cars and generators spewed black clouds of diesel and petrol fumes into the air, road side fires took care of plastic waste and goodness knows what other contributions were being made towards this most unpleasant and toxic environment.   A change of government in the state brought new energy into the city, the pollution has been reduced and very attractive street lighting has totally transformed its ambience.  Now the beauty of the boulevards, the buildings, the small quartiers so reminiscent of Paris are more noticeable, as are the street trees that soften the built environment as well as providing shade and places for temples.  Although vast numbers of buildings are so dilapidated they can only hint at their former beauty, there is much potential for Kolkata to again be one of the most beautiful Asian cities.  The buildings that have been restored  look stunning.

A wander around the city will take you past doorways that open onto private courtyards, along  lane ways which meander through all sorts of quartiers to reveal the activities and life of an area, and past buildings that are only ever seen in cities of immense wealth.   The style and quality of the architecture of Kolkata can be a very surprising discovery.

Hope you enjoy the visit!    Anne

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