I always associated Kolkata (named Calcutta before) with nun and missionary Mother Teresa, known in the Catholic church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Born of Albanian parents in Skopje in 1910 as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, she moved to India to devote her entire life to caring for the sick and poor. And when I say poor, I really mean the poorest people in India you can imagine: orphans, handicapped and homeless, and people literally dying from HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis. No wonder that in 2016, nineteen years after her death, Mother Teresa was canonized by Pope Francis during a special mass in St. Peter's Square. Kolkota, or the City of Joy, is easily the best place for your first contact with Indian culture. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still India. Mayhem, crowds, dirty streets, traffic and sensory overload. But it’s not as bad, downright chaotic and life threatening as Mumbai. Kolkata is the capital of the Bengal region, the one with Bengal tigers which are now an endangered species. People here love to point out certain things. Things such as their largest and oldest metro system. Oldest zoo. Oldest port. Oldest polo club. Oldest cricket stadium. India’s very first floating market. Stuff like that. The truth behind it all is that it’s all a bit rundown, some would even say “haunted”. I don’t think I’ve come across a city where almost every landmark is supposedly a beacon for the paranormal. Kolkata can be super creepy, even in daylight. After dusk it becomes a horror theme park.
The Doll House has got to be one of the most terrifying places on earth. Not only because of its looks but mainly because of the story behind it. A wealthy merchant built the Doll House during the years of British colonialism. At first it was just a regular warehouse, but in time it got filled with thousands of dolls; his daughters’ favorite playthings. The lore isn’t clear about how it went from toys to her father abusing and killing young girls on the premises. Some say the daughter died tragically, others say she was witness to the horror her father partook in. The Doll House is abandoned and locals avoid it at all cost. There were reports of strange figures and eerie voices coming from upper floors. You can even get a badge for reaching the top floor after dark.
Then there’s the Racecourse where people say a white mare roams during foggy nights. People claim it’s a ghost of a famous horse that won its owner a hefty sum of money over the years. As time passed it got older and stopped being that profitable. And instead of living its final years in well-deserved comfort the horse was brutally killed by the ungrateful owner. There’s also the South Park Cemetery, don’t let the name fool you. It’s got nothing to do with Kenny and his merry bunch of friends. It was established as in late 1700s around the time when East India Company made themselves at home in the Bengal region. A LOT of young people died back then because of incurable tropical diseases. It’s been 200 years since the last person was buried here. Is it haunted? Doubt it, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Even if just to witness how the largest Christian cemetery in Asia looks like. Spoiler alert: it looks like the one in New Orleans.
Enough of this Halloween Special? Then let’s get to the regular stuff. There are things you can see during the day and not shit yourself. Not many but those places exist. The Victoria Memorial is one of them. I wouldn’t call it a “memorial”, rather a “huge palace with gardens”. I’m sure it’s one of those situations where older generations hate it, while the younger ones don’t really mind it. Victoria Memorial is the Taj Mahal of Kolkata. Symbol of a city, a true landmark commissioned by George Curzon, the viceroy of India. It’s dedicated to Queen Victoria, that’s why I think the older folk aren’t very fond of it. The palace is surrounded by lakes and beautiful gardens, everything looks great, especially when it’s illuminated. The problem is that it just doesn’t fit this city. It stands out like hell.Same thing applies to all the churches foreigners built in Kolkata. There’s a Portuguese Church built in 1500s, way before the British came to Bengal. The architecture is rather simple, it doesn’t try too hard. I don’t mean it in a bad way. It’s not ugly, not too big, not too ornamental, just the way it should be. The Armenians also have their own church in Kolkata. That one looks a bit like a mosque, I couldn’t tell it’s a Christian place of worship at first. But then I noticed all the tombstones molded into the pavement surrounding the church. That’s because it stands on Armenian burial grounds, and the first Armenians that settled in Kolkata were Christians. In fact, the oldest Christian grave in Kolkata belongs to Rezabeebeh Sookia – an Armenian – and dates back to 1630. That’s proof that the Armenians came to Kolkata 60 years before the British did.