7-8 March 2024

We fly from a pleasantly mild Delhi via Air India into a warmer Kolkata, capital of West Bengal. I need my t-shirts for a couple more days. Neither my niece nor I enjoy hot or humid temperatures so weather complaints may arise. It is hard to pack for two seasons. What to do with sweaters and coats in Delhi or Kolkata? 

Our driver meets us upon arrival and transports us to our hotel in the heart of the city. Traffic is a nightmare. Prime Minister Modi has been in town and detours take us and hundreds of other vehicles into the center of old town with narrow streets and markets.

I turn myself over to the tour guide and gladly head to the lounge for a cool drink and relaxation. No more worrying about transport or dinners; I let them do the talking. I just set my phone alarm and meet-up where and when told. 

Supposedly, Kolkata represents the cultural capital of India, blending tradition and modernity. Originally founded as an East India Company trading post, it became the British Raj’s capital between 1773 and 1911. Situated along the banks of the Hooghly River, this bustling metropolis of 15 million people is known for its colonial architecture, art galleries, festivals, markets, and Mother Teresa.

Kolkata streets are chaotic and its traffic horrendous. Walking along the crowded streets probably is faster than a car, but then one is more apt to get run over if on foot. Sidewalk kiosks and sellers fill every space. Buses, rickshaws swarms of motorbikes and pedestrians clog the roads. Somehow Kolkata works. But, that is not to say it is an easy city to love. Every inch is a challenge.

Kalighat Kali Mandir

Flowers for Kali

Kalighat Kali Temple survives as a 200-year-old Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Kali, who resides inside. Kalighat is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas in eastern India. As with all things Hindu, there are legends and beliefs connected. 

The legend tells that goddess Sati self-immolated because her father humiliated her and her husband Shiva. (Sati continued to refer to women who self-immolated after the death of their husbands, much to the horror of the British after their arrival.) Lord Shiva was angry and to prevent him from destroying the world, Lord Vishnu cut the corpse of Sati into 51 pieces to fall about the Indian subcontinent. Kalighat is where the toes of the right foot fell.

The narrow, cramped interior includes the main sanctum and a tiny hall where the faithful offer prayers and offerings/puja consisting of anything from flowers to food. Marigolds are a favorite. There is a bust of Kali with her tongue of gold, usually blocked from view by the crowds. The image of the deity appears incomplete. Evidently, the goddess’ face was created first, then a tongue and hands made of gold and silver were added later. Several smaller temples dot the complex. No special dress codes exist but photos are not permitted.  

Repairs on the temple executed with hatchets and awls.

Swastika and Sacrifices

And yes, those are swastikas one sees on the gates. The swastika is an important Hindu symbol. This Sanskrit symbol is commonly used before entrances or on doorways of homes or temples, and constructed for rituals such as weddings or welcoming a newborn. Many indigenous peoples have used the symbol for centuries. 

Just outside, there is an open hall where several times a day, worshippers sacrifice a goat. “How many do they sacrifice?” We are told a few dozen a day, over 100 on holidays. The meat does not go to waste. At least human sacrifices are no longer offered, I don’t think.

Also not wasting food is the Oasis Restaurant. We had an excellent lunch. The owner makes up 300 packages of food each day and distributes to those who show up at his door. While most in line are poor and in need of a hot meal, anyone from the neighborhood is welcome to a meal.

Victoria Memorial Hall

This gigantic, ornate marble “birthday cake” is dedicated to, you guessed it, Queen Victoria, the Empress of India from 1876-1901. Vicky’s reign in the United Kingdom lasted even longer, beginning in 1837. Supposedly, this is the world’s largest monument to a monarch. It was established in 1921, after her death and after India’s capital had moved to Delhi.

The massive building is located in a large garden and is now a huge museum. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, had been planning a history museum and after Victoria’s death, he saw his chance. He noted the “importance of Victoria’s matriarchy to promoting loyalist feeling” and proposed the construction of a grand building with a museum and gardens.

However, in spite of the numerous interesting exhibitions, it is the architecture and surrounding green gardens which are memorable. Curzon intended the central hall to be larger than the Taj Mahal. The dome, portals, and corner towers are impressive. Despite that it was built to honor the British Raj, it is one of the most popular attractions in Kolkata. As Lord Curzon said:

“Let us, therefore, have a building, stately, spacious, monumental and grand, to which every newcomer in Calcutta will turn, to which all the resident population, European and Native, will flock, where all classes will learn the lessons of history…the marvels of the past… ‘This Statue and this great Hall were erected in memory of the greatest and best Sovereign whom India has ever known. This is her monument.”

Today, the museum’s 25 galleries house several art and sculpture rooms, an armory, and a large collection of rare books and illustrated works including those from Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam. The Victoria Gallery displays everything Victoria.

Indian Museum

This large museum opened in 1814 and advertised as the first and largest museum not only in the Indian Subcontinent but the entire Asia-Pacific region. It continues to be one of the most significant. Its galleries exhibit everything from botany and birds to bronzes, stuffed mammals to masks, some not dusted since the British left. Many of the exhibits are what one would expect of the colonial collections of everything they could gather and encase in glass.

The red sandstone Bharhut Stupa is beautifully preserved as are the surrounding displays of wood carvings, many dating as early as the 1c. BCE. Statues and masks were excellent.

Book Street or Almost Any Street

Book Street represents just that: B.O.O.K.S. Seller after seller has stacks of books with some sold by the pound. Someone will sell about anything ever put into print. Merchants may even have a library-like atmosphere. If you desire reading material, these are the streets to roam. Looking for gold, jewelry, cook pots, electronics, perfume, or (right) wedding cards? There is a section of streets just for you. Just ask a local to point in the right direction.

Mother Teresa’s Tomb

Perhaps the main attraction to Kolkata is the presence of Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa, officially known as Saint Teresa of Kolkata, was a Catholic nun and missionary who dedicated her life to helping the poor and sick. She founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1950, a Roman Catholic religious congregation. The primary mission of the order is to care for those who are dying, destitute, and suffering from various diseases. In Kolkata, Mother Teresa established homes for the dying, orphanages, and leper colonies. The city was a focal point for her humanitarian efforts.

Missionary of Charity

Deservedly, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 by Pope Francis. She earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan in 1985 at the White House. She continues to be ranked high among voters as the Greatest Indian, though she came from Skopje, North Macedonia. 

Mother Teresa was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 2016. Her canonization ceremony took place at the Vatican, recognizing her exemplary life of service and dedication to the less fortunate. She has become a global symbol of humanitarianism and selfless service. Her simple lifestyle and profound commitment to alleviating human suffering left a lasting impact on people around the world. 

In 1997, when Mother Teresa died at the age of 87, she was laid to rest within the premises of the Mother House immediately after her state funeral. Her tomb is located on the ground floor of the main building of the Mother House, headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity.

Also within the house, which continues to function as a convent, one finds a small preserved room where Mother Teresa worked and rested and died, and a museum with exhibits about her life and work. Photos forbidden of Mother’s Room but there are plenty posted online. 

Forbidden Criticisms

Criticisms remain forbidden though many have arisen. Mother Teresa’s clinics received millions of dollars in donations but lacked medical or palliative care or necessary nutrition. “She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction…She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, ‘I’m not a social worker. I don’t do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.’”

In defense, Mother Teresa never intended to build hospitals, but to provide a place where those refused admittance “could at least die being comforted and with some dignity.”

Always, there are so many sides to history and the story of humans.

If all possible, cross the street with a nun.


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


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