One of the city’s most iconic locations, Victoria Memorial is so much more than just a pretty monument. Here’s what you should do there.
New To Kolkata? Here's Everything You Can Do At Victoria Memorial
Before You Go In
The first place every tourist to the city heads to, the sparkling white marble structure of the Victoria Memorial is absolutely marvellous. Commissioned by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India, the white beauty gets its name since it was designed to commemorate the demise of Queen Victoria back in 1901 (although it wasn’t completed until 20 years after her death). You’ll find this beauty on every Kolkata Instagram page, postcard, travelogue — everywhere! Besides its architectural beauty, there’s a lot to do here.
Before you go in, you’ll notice the area around the VM (as it’s popularly known) has an aura of festivity and relaxation with a mix of tourists and locals all gathering in one of the greenest spots of the city. There are rows of vendors selling everything from ice cream to pav bhaji and phuchkas on both the primary entrances.
Sorry to play spoilsport, but it’s not the best idea to get a buggy ride. The horses pulling the carriages are often underfed, overworked and are subject to really harsh conditions. It might seem like a lot of fun to hop on a carriage, but spare a thought for the poor ponies.
Lovers All Around
The place is infamous for being a rendezvous spot for many of Kolkata’s hopeless romantics. They won’t bother you unless you bother them. More entertaining than the lovers are the people who stop to stare at the romancers (and there are more of these aimless people than you think). If you want a good laugh, stop and watch the lonesome singles trying to peep through the bushes to get a good angle to stare at the lovers.
If you ignore the general romance in the air and take a moment to focus on the VM, you’ll be astounded at its majestic proportionate beauty. There’s more than one angle (besides of course the iconic panoramic shot from the main entrance) to photograph this beauty. The inside lawns are full of pretty paths, channels of water and bountiful greenery which make for interesting backgrounds for this gorgeous structure. The reflection of the monument in the water is another great capture.
A Walk Down History
It’s said that the VM was built to rival the Taj Mahal. There are a lot of similarities — like the Taj, it is built of white Makrana marble and is a memorial to an empress. The domes, the four subsidiaries, and octagonal-domed chattris are similar in design to the Taj Mahal too.
Inside, there’s more to see than you would think. The main attraction is the soaring central chamber. The Calcutta Gallery is an excellent exhibition tracing the city’s colonial-era history. The museum also houses a number of Queen Victoria’s personal items. If you want a snapshot of India’s past particularly during the British era, this is where you need to go.
The VM has over 20 galleries inside — the royal gallery, the national leaders gallery, the portrait gallery, central hall, the sculpture gallery, the arms and armoury gallery and more. It houses a large collection of the works of English landscape painter Thomas Daniell and his nephew, William Daniell. They have some rare and antiquarian books such as the illustrated works of William Shakespeare, the Arabian Nights, the Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam.
The VM is ideal to visit in the winter months - right from November, the crowds start coming in all the way to the end of February. In winter, there’s also a sound and light show, much like the one at the Red Fort in Old Delhi. It’s an open-air show that gives you a quick glance into Kolkata’s history. Covering four centuries in a matter of minutes, the newly-improved show is now a digital show with 3D projection on the building. There are usually no shows from July to September (the monsoon makes the outdoor show impossible to conduct). If you’re not a big fan of history, the colourful fountain show is also popular.
Weekday afternoons are the best time to visit if you want to ge an uninterrupted look around (unless you chance upon a party of children on a school trip which is not as rare as you would think!). Weekends tend to be really crowded with tourists and locals alike and it’s best to avoid it if you can.
There’s an entry fee — for the gardens it’s just INR 10. The fee to enter the main building is INR 30. Tourists have to pay around INR 500. Check out their website - it has a link to BookMyShow for booking tickets online.