Hood Guide: What To See, Where To Eat And Shop On Kolkata's Iconic Chowringhee Road

Upasana posted on 23 September

Ten-Second Takeaway

Kolkata’s legendary Chowringhee Road has been a witness to the city’s history. It’s kinda been there and seen it all, and continues to be the most feted road in Kolkata {with books and films named after it}.

Tigers, Soldiers And Grand Hotels

Chowringhee was just a jungle filled with tigers in the 17th century, beyond which there were swamps and rice fields. It was in 1758, after the Battle of Plassey and the construction of Fort William, that several people living in Kalikata moved to and around the present Maidan area. It was the centre of European Calcutta once with gas lamps and a string of magnificent stores and hotels. Then came the war years when Allied troops marched down its stretch to ward off the Japanese.

In the mid-18th century the English began to build grand structures along the stretch, soon earning Kolkata the title of City of Palaces. By 1857, Chowringhee was lit up with gas lamps stretching from present day AJC Bose Road to Dharmatala. Historically however, Chowringhee is not a ‘road’, but a locality and what we call Chowringhee Road, is actually what was marked as the ‘Road to Chowringhee.’

Check out some lovely old pictures of the road here and here.

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Chowringhee Road, Taltala, Kolkata

    It's Played A Starring Role In Books & Big Screen

    You will find many references to this legendary road in books – War and Politics by Other Means: A Journalist’s Memoir by former Associated Press Shelby Scates mentions how he and his pals would escape to the Princess cabaret in the Grand Hotel on Chowringhee Road mingling with ex-RAF fighter pilots, American seamen and “Eurasian” women.

    In fact during World War II, air force planes routinely landed on the Red Road {between Chowringhee and the Maidan} which transformed into an informal air strip. “It was not an easy strip to operate from due to the camber of the road surface and the ornamental balustrades that flanked the road on both sides, and there were occasional mishaps, but the pilots enjoyed using the restaurants lining Chowringhee as their Ready Room, and the sight of fighters operating from the heart of the city did much to improve the morale of the citizenry,” says an article on the website Bharat Rakshak. You can watch videos of the planes here.

    It has been an integral part of the city since its inception, almost like a character in itself. Chowringhee has featured in literature and film – Aparna Sen’s famous film, 36 Chowringhee Lane {which showed the city from the eyes of an ageing Anglo Indian school teacher}; writer Sankar’s iconic book Chowringhee and the film that was based on it.

    Where To Eat

    Chowringhee has an assortment of old and new eateries, bringing you access to all the latest food trends and a piece of old Kolkata cuisine. Esplanade’s New Cathay Restaurant & Bar is located inside a beautiful old building with high ceilings and beautiful checked tiles.

    If you’re looking for a small snack and place to chat with friends, try One Way Café which makes up for its lack of an ambience with really good food. For nostalgia, you can also head to New Embassy – a small Chinese joint decorated with lanterns. If you get the time check out places the oldest cabin in the city, Anadi Cabin, which has been operating for the last 80 year and is famous for its Moglai parathas and mutton kasha.

    Zaranj is perfect for fine dining and serves delectable North Indian cuisine. Old restaurants like Zaranj and Amber have been part of Kolkata for a long time, dating back to the era when our parents were young.

    There are also numerous tiny food, juice and chai carts along the pavements where you can pick up some of the best cha in the city or some amazing sugarcane and mousambi juice.

    Bars

    17/1, Grand Hotel Arcade, Chowringhee Road, New Market Area, Kolkata

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    Where To Shop

    When it comes to shopping, Chowringhee never disappoints. If you’re looking for a thrift shop sort of a set up, Chowringhee has a line of shops near the Park Street metro gate near Indian Museum. Here you can pick up some seriously trendy clothes for as cheap as INR 100. You can spot ponchos, trendy tees {with everything from skateboarders to Che Guevara} and sometimes even fancy leather jackets for a tenth of the price {these come up around winter}.

    Right next to this, you can also find some really nice music merchandise like posters of your favourite bands for your room. Further along, near the Grand, the New Market area too is bustling with shops like this. We’ve even spotted some really trendy indigo bag packs for as cheap as INR 300!

    For those of you looking to buy some high end stuff, you can start off with BOBO, a designer store known for its trendy, left of center clothes. All the clothes have digital prints of the designer’s paintings which can be described as Indian ‘cubist’ wear at its best! Near New Market you also have showrooms for brands like Raymond where you can pick up some nice suits or fabric.

    Museums

    27, Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Colootola, New Market Area, Dharmatala, Taltala, Kolkata

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    What To See

    Chowringhee became the playground for English architects in the mid 18th century who built a series of large colonial style buildings architecture. Over the years Chowringhee has become an amalgamation of local and colonial architecture.

    In 1832, Tipu Sultan’s youngest son, Prince Gulam Mohammed built the Tipu Sultan mosque. Located at the heart of the city, right on the main road, this is hard to miss. The Metropolitan Building, previously known as the Whiteway Ladlaw Department Store is a ‘neo Baroque emporium’. Easily recognisable by its clock-face dome, it is synonymous with Esplanade itself. The building was built in 1905 and post Independence, it was used by the Life Insurance Corporation. Today it continues to be used by LIC offices and chain stores like Big Bazaar {big downer}.

    If you love the stories of civilisations past, head to the magnificent Indian Museum.  Stroll along the hallowed corridors of the largest and oldest museum in India where among other things, you can see an Egyptian mummy. It has six sections, with some thirty five galleries of cultural and scientific artifacts.

    Perhaps one of the most spectacular mansions in Kolkata, Chowringhee Mansions is done up in bright red which makes it easily discernible while viewing the Kolkata skyline. Many offices function out of this building.
    You must also check out the legendary Grand Hotel. Constructed sometime in the late 19th Century, this is the place where people would go to enjoy culture, heritage and luxury. You can drop in here any time to grab a snack or have amazing food at their restaurants.

    Religious Establishments

    185, Lenin Sarani Road, Chandni Chowk, Bowbazar, Kolkata

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    So, We're Saying...

    Even while we are left in awe of the landscape from yesteryears, the Chowringhee skyline is changing very quickly, with some of the most suave corporate buildings; currently India’s tallest building, the 42 which will be a 62 floor tall residential building, is under construction.