A casual day out in the city and you are met with a pulsating cacophony that is Kolkata. For a Kolkatan, the city remains confined within a typical symphony of horns meeting the holler of roadside vendors in the busy streets of Dalhousie and Esplanade, a saunter down the ghats of Ganga or the Maidan, a taste glamour at the posh Park Street night clubs or sometimes an occasional reminder of trips undertaken to heritage buildings as a part of an almost insignificant study tour. But not for explorer Iftekar Ahsan, Founder – Calcutta Walks, who perceives the city as it continues to evolve, gathering new layers, straddling between two worlds, the old and the new with an innate peculiar resilience. “Sadly, while the ‘old’ calls for immediate attention and conservation, the newer avenues need to be explored”, quips Ahsan.
For Iftekar Ahsan, or more popularly explorer Ifte, founder, Calcutta Walks it was an urge to overcome a sense of ennui coupled with his desire to offer the city’s true flavours to tourists and Kolkatans alike that led to the groundwork for this one of a kind walking tour company in 2008. An early morning cuppa with the residents at Bow Barracks, a walk down the forgotten by-lanes of Baghbazar and Girish Park, a book lovers walk down ‘boi-para’ and through Kolkata’s famed food joints exploring the confluence of cultures with the taste of every cuisine are among the many delights Calcutta Walks promises to walkers on-board.
What’s fascinating about this organisation is its inimitable approach towards showcasing the city’s legacy in its pure, untamed form. Says Ahsan, “Explorers from all avenues of life participate in these walks. We are by no means historians except that we are passionate perpetual students who thrive on the concept of shared discovery.” So, while a walk down Kolkata’s food hubs and markets with a food enthusiast or explorer would mean familiarising yourself with the ingredients that go into dishing up some authentic Bengali cuisines, you could even opt for a live cooking demonstration class by the explorer, a city resident or the chefs of the city’s finest eating joints.
Beginning from the centuries old Great Eastern Hotel to the frenzied economic activity around the famous Grand Hotel’s periphery, the walks comprise exploring the Victorian architectures of Sovabazar Rajbaari, the confluence of cultures around Central Avenue, savouring a slice of Park Street’s glory days in the form of the Flury’s confectionary and its age old bars, cafes and pubs, a regal feel inside the premises of Victoria Memorial, a trip down the artisan’s hub, Kumurtuli and the regal houses of the Bengali gentry in the locality.
Among others,cruises have become popular in the recent times, says explorer Ifte. Basking in the glory of the setting sun as you sail past Belur Math, Ramkrishna Mission and Kolkata’s famous Kali temple, Dakshineswar while the Little Europe Cruise acquaints you to the different existing European colonies beginning from Barrackpore, home to the earliest Portuguese settlement, Serampore for the Danes, Chinsurah for the Dutch and Chandannagar for the French. Besides the regular, Calcutta Walks also conducts customized or themed walks consisting of College Street Book Lover’s Walk, East Kolkata Wetland’s Walk, Birdwatcher’s Walk and Photographer’s Walk to name a few providing a bird’s eye view of life in the streets of the city.
Thus far, Calcutta Walks has catered to foreign tourists both world and India-wide and on occasions have even walked school students down Kolkata’s memory lane. On one such occasion, as explorer Ifte fondly recollects, “Post walk a student walked up to me saying Calcutta Walks has opened the pages of history which otherwise would have remained unturned by our generation. Today I’ll go back home taking history with me.” Although short staffed at present, explorers at Calcutta Walks continue exploring and excavating Calcutta’s tour de force lost in the ruins of history for as explorer Ifte says, the city, like an onion is layered, with every walk you wake up to a whole new repertoire of history. The city never fails to fascinate each time we take to the road, revealing yet another facet, another lane and another anecdote as we explore.