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Kolkata Travel Guide
Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is a city of contrasts and contradictions, and one which has a lasting impact on its visitors. It is India's third-largest city, and home to some of its holiest temples and finest colonial structures.
As the 'Cultural Capital of India', Kolkata has the biggest concentration of artists, writers and publishers in the country. And although it is the centre of Bengali culture, Kolkata is also a diverse city, with a polyglot mixture of languages spoken amongst its 14 million inhabitants.
Kolkata was home to two Nobel Laureates - Mother Teresa, whose humble home can still be visited, and writer Rabindranath Tagore. The city also accommodates sports fans, with Eden Gardens, the city's temple to cricket and the second-largest cricket stadium in the world; and Saltlake Stadium, one of the world's largest football venues, with an unbelievable capacity of 120,000.
From 1772 to 1912 Kolkata was the capital of the British Raj - a legacy evident in its superb colonial architecture (highlighted by the enormous Victoria Memorial), and well-planned infrastructure. The latter half of the 20th century, however, saw Kolkata enter a period of decline, with rampant poverty and economic stagnation. It was only in the 1980s, under India's first democratically-elected Marxist administration, that the city turned the corner.
Today, visitors making the journey to this eastern corner of the country will find a city that has rediscovered its pride and cultural identity, offering a Bengali welcome warm enough to seduce even the most jaded traveller.
Kolkata has one of the best transport networks in the country. The metro - India's oldest underground - runs the length of the city, while trams and buses provide wide coverage as well. The ubiquitous yellow Ambassador taxis are good value (and a thrilling means of getting around, too). Hand-pulled rickshaws are a fun way to travel short distances - though this practice is being discouraged by policy-makers, who deem it ignoble. Car hire is available, with drivers included - unless you are a professional stunt driver on vacation, do not even attempt to drive around Kolkata yourself; it is simply too congested and chaotic and will be overly stressful for the uninitiated. As in all Indian cities, traffic congestion is a problem that results in frequent, noisy gridlock. Walking from one attraction to the other is, therefore, often the quickest way of getting around. Some of the attractions are conveniently close together - especially in some of the old, colonial neighbourhoods - but it is a huge city so some transport other than feet will be required. Note that the 11-mile (17km) journey to and from the airport usually takes over an hour.
Indian Tourist Office, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2332 0005 or
Indian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 7000.
Indian High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7836 8484.
Indian High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 744 3751/52/53
Indian High Commission, Canberra, Australia: + 61 (0)2 6273 3999.
Indian High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 5392.
Indian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 496 6792.
Indian High Commission, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 473 6390/1.
United States Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2419 8000.
British High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2419 2100.
Canadian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4178 2000.
Australian High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 4139 9900.
South African High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2614 9411.
Irish Embassy, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2462 6733.
New Zealand High Commission, New Delhi: +91 (0)11 2688 3170.
Emergencies: 100 (Police); 102/104 (Ambulance).
India is a tolerant society, but visitors should educate themselves about its religious and social customs so as not to cause offence: for example, smoking in public was banned in 2008. When visiting temples visitors will probably be required to remove their footwear and cover their heads. Generally, women should dress more conservatively than (perhaps) they are used to doing at home, both to respect local sensibilities and to avoid unwanted attention. Topless bathing is illegal. Indians do not like to disappoint, and often instead of saying 'no', will come up with something that sounds positive, even if incorrect. Social order and status are very important in Indian culture - remain respectful and obliging with elders. Avoid using your left hand, particularly when eating.
Visa extensions are not possible for tourist visas. Other visas may be eligible for extensions, which are applied for through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Holders of multiple-entry Tourist Visas (visa type code "T"), with a validity ranging from above three months and up to 10 years, are no longer required to leave a gap of at least two months between visits unless they are nationals from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and Bangladesh.
Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, if arriving in India within six days of leaving or transiting through heavily infected areas. Also note that the following areas of India are restricted, and require that visitors obtain a permit BEFORE entering them: (Protected Areas) parts of the state of Manipur, parts of the state of Mizoram, parts of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, the whole state of Nagaland, the whole State of Sikkim, parts of the state of Uttaranchal, parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, parts of the state of Rajasthan, parts of the state of Himachal Pradesh; (Restricted Areas) the whole of the union territory of Andaman & Nicobar Islands, part of the state of Sikkim. If surface travel is involved, and nationals travel via restricted areas, they require a "pass" issued by either the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (located in each major Indian city), or the Superintendent of Police (located in each Indian district), or the diplomatic representation of India in Bhutan or Nepal.
NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.