February 11, 2015

Kolkata, India | Part One.

India has always been in my bucket list. So when I had the opportunity to go (read: scored a very cheap plane ticket), I packed my bags without much plan. The only plan Marky (a fellow travel blogger) and I made was choose the cities we were going to. We also agreed we will travel around India for 25 days. We didn't have hotel reservation whatsoever. We just went.

We left in March 2014. I actually had a little hesitation about leaving because it was just about 4 months since we lost our home during the earthquake that hit Cebu and Bohol. Although everyone in my family survived the earthquake, I was still mourning the loss of our home. But then, I also realized that if I didn't push through with this trip, I might not get another chance. My family was already settled into our new home by then, so I thought that it was okay for me to leave. So I did.

Yolanda and the earthquake brought too much heartache, I felt I needed a little break and inspiration. I wanted to go to a place that could jolt my senses. And India did just that.

Our first stop was Kolkata. We got our visas upon arrival. These cities allow Visa on arrival -- Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata. Effective 15th August 2013, this facility has also been extended at Trivandrum, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Kochi. But if you want to be sure, get your visa from the Embassy of India before leaving the country.

We arrived at dawn so Marky and I decided to stay at the airport until sunrise. The airport looked new, modern, and big. We found a spot to rest but I wasn't able to sleep. Too many mosquitoes. Haha. So if you ever visit Kolkata and find yourself staying at the airport for a few hours, make sure you bring mosquito repellent spray or lotion.

Stepping out of the airport and into the streets of Kolkata felt like I was transported into another time -- old cabs, old busses, old buildings. Everything looked beautiful and interesting. Marky and I got into one of these yellow cabs to Sudder Street where we looked for a place to stay.

Sudder Street is chaotic but charming. My OC self panicked but my adventurous self got excited. It is famous with tourists for its cheap accommodation. When we got there, we were met by residents recommending hostels in the neighborhood. After checking out a few and already quite tired, Marky and I picked a hostel and rested.

THE VICTORIA MEMORIAL HALL 
After resting the whole morning on our first day, we walked to the Victoria Memorial Hall. It was a long walk from Sudder Street. If you aren't fond of walking, take a cab. That long walk was a sign of things to come. We did a lot of walking in India! Good thing, we went towards the end of spring, so the weather was beautiful. The walk was pleasant and from afar, we could see the magnificent structure.

Up close, the Victoria Memorial was very impressive. I was in awe. The entire compound has well-tended gardens. Everything just looked like it came from the pages of a fairytale book.

Sadly, we went on a Monday. The Hall and the museum are closed on Mondays and weekends. So we just marveled at this beautiful structure and the gardens all afternoon.

On the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901, Lord Curzon, who was then Viceroy of India, placed before the public the question of setting up a fitting memorial to the Queen. He suggested that the most suitable memorial would be a "stately", spacious, monumental and grand building surrounded by an exquisite garden.

The princes and people of India responded generously to his appeal for funds and the total cost of construction of this monument amounting to one crore, five lakhs of rupees, was entirely derived from their voluntary subscriptions.

King George V, then the Prince of Wales, laid the foundation stone on January 4, 1906 and it was formally opened to the public in 1921.

Business Hours : 10am - 5pm | Weekdays except Mondays and Holidays (Republic Day, Holi, Independence Day, Eid-al-Fitr, Ghandi's Birthday, Dusserah, Eid-al-Adha, Christmas Day).

Fees : INR 10 (for locals) | INR 150 (foreigners)

(grabbed from official website of Victoria Memorial Hall)
Victoria Memorial
1, Queen's Way,
Kolkata, 700071
. . . . .

ST. PAUL'S CATHEDRAL
St. Paul's Cathedral was a short walk from the Victoria Memorial Hall. This Gothic Revival style structure is also quite impressive. It is considered as the first Episcopal Church of the Eastern World. The interior is one big basilican hall with beautiful stained-glass windows. Taking pictures inside was not allowed, I've no picture to show how simple but beautiful it was.

I usually visit a Church when I go to a new place, so I was totally happy that we dropped by St. Paul's.

I will share more stories about Kolkata in the coming days. In the meantime, you might want to visit my Facebook Page for more pictures!

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How to apply for tourist visa to India, click HERE.

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Kolkata, India | Part Two.

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