Kolkata Travelogue

Kolkata Part 8 – The market

Deb took us through the side lanes in Esplanade, a classic market area you’d find in metro cities in India. And over here, we saw the New Empire Cinema – one of the early theatres in Kolkata, functioning even today. He led us to a shopping complex which was like an ancient mall – the Sir Stuart Hogg Market, also called the New Market. Seeing the red bricks and the name, you’d know that the place was built by the English – and this was constructed in the 1870s. There are literally thousands of shops in the complex – none of the glitz and glamour of regular shopping malls but a place where you could get good quality items at reasonable prices; there were a range of shops from bakery items to textiles. It was heartening to hear that people still came to this place for shopping. We had a pastry from a bakery before leaving the market. Just beside the Hogg market is an underground shopping mall, but we didn’t want to check out the usual shopping malls.

It was 12:45 pm when we decided to go to our next area in Kolkatta. Our hotel receptionist had said that the metro would run all day, but in the Esplanade metro station, a notice said the metro service starts only at 1 pm. Since there was still some time, Deb took us to KC Das, a famous sweet outlet. Loved the strawberry rosgollas here; the place, as expected, was crowded. In fact, all the market areas in Esplanade were crowded even though it was midday and drizzling as well. We did spot a tram, but since it was drizzling, we didn’t run to hop into it.

The metro station had an electronic display that said when the train would arrive; but repeatedly the time kept getting refreshed to a later time! Finally, the metro did come, and that’s when I remembered why Kshitij was surprised at how we managed the metro yesterday night. Yesterday night, the metro was full, but we could comfortably stand inside – today, this train was packed 3 or 4 times over. You could barely even put a foot on the train – people were literally overflowing. When the metro stops, people get out, and people get in – but here the train stopped, the doors opened, and it was like people exploding out onto the platform, and while that was happening, there was a surge of people storming into the train. If you were lucky, like Aaron was, you’d get sucked in with the storm into the train. If you weren’t, you’d get caught like me with most of your body inside the train while your backpack was still outside! I could have tried to muscle through a bit, but it was pretty suffocating – so Deb and I pulled out. But Aaron, who was sucked in by the storm, couldn’t get out! We signalled to him to stay put.

The crowd in the metro station had also swelled by then, and we decided it was pointless to try the metro. We took an Uber to Sovabazaar, which is in North Kolkata – cab fare was quite reasonable; for Rs. 120, we could have just done the Uber instead of attempting the metro – but then, it was quite an experience, so no regrets!

The place where we got off was filled with pedestrians – the police had barricaded the side of roads to ensure traffic could flow without pedestrian hindrance.
“Let’s do lunch and then check out the pandals,” Deb suggested.
He led us towards the Arsalan restaurant – they are famous for their non-veg dishes; especially the biryani and their reshmi kebab. The place was packed, and a long queue was waiting to get inside. On the way, we noticed that even lesser-known restaurants in the area were packed – so this wasn’t a surprise. We bought their chicken biryani from the takeaway counter and found space outside to stand and eat. Deb said, “This is not their best. During festival times, since there is so much demand, the standard won’t be as good as normal times.” But I did find that this also was quite tasty.

The pandal we wanted to visit was Kumartuli – a top performer in the pandal competitions in the past. As we headed towards the place, the crowds increased. We had been warned about crowds in pandals – this was indeed our first one. What we witnessed at midnight was nothing compared to this deluge. A sea of people flanked both sides of the pandal, and the pathway to the pandal also was packed. And this even though there was a mild drizzle – people didn’t seem to mind the rain either. It would take at least an hour or two by the looks of it since the crowd wasn’t moving quickly – didn’t seem worth the wait when you are on a short trip.

Click on the image and zoom in to see if you can spot the end of the line!

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