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Kolkata (Calcutta) History

Mushrooming from a cluster of villages into the thriving capital of British India and later a sprawling 21st-century mega city, life in Kolkata has rarely been quiet.

It is believed the city was founded over 300 years ago on the banks of the Hooghly River by Job Charnock, an administrator in the British East India Company.

With his base threatened by the Mughal viceroy in Bengal, he moved his operations here in 1690, eventually uniting the villages of Sutanti, Gobindapur and Kalikata to form the city of Calcutta.

This trading port emerged as a significant commercial centre of the British Raj.

In 1756, the Nawab of Bengal attacked and drove away the British. Some British civilians were captured, imprisoned and died in the suffocating ‘Black Hole of Calcutta’ dungeon.

The following year, Robert Clive defeated the Nawab at Plassey and re-established British rule. Calcutta became the capital of British India from 1772.

In 1858, the responsibility of ruling India fell to the Crown. During this period, the University of Calcutta was established, The GPO (General Post Office) was built and the first tram was launched.

At the turn of the century, Bengal became a hotbed for Indian nationalism. In 1905, Lord Curzon tried to partition Bengal on religious grounds but it failed.

Mahatma Ghandi launched the Quit India movement in 1942, leading in 1947 to India being granted independence, and the creation of Pakistan.

Calcutta became the capital of the state of West Bengal. Millions of Hindus from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) flooded the city, crowding its slums.

In 2001, the city renamed itself Kolkata. One of the world’s most densely populated cities, Kolkata faces abject poverty, large slums, pollution and congestion.

But it also remains one of India’s most prominent cities, with a rich artistic, literary and scholarly tradition.

Did you know?
• Kolkata has been known as the ‘city of joy’, the ‘city of palaces’ and the ‘cultural capital of India’.
• Established in 1862, Calcutta Polo Club is the oldest polo club in the world.
• India’s first major newspaper, The Bengal Gazette, started in Kolkata in 1780.

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Featured Hotels


Hotel Lindsay

The Lindsay offers a degree of comfort that belies the price. A nice feature is the rooftop restaurant, which affords good views of the teeming city below. It also has Wi-Fi in the rooms, and all the usual 'mod cons' expected from a modern hotel.

ITC Sonar

Spreading over 6.5 hectares (16 acres), this deluxe hotel has a gloriously tranquil ambience. Its top-class rooms surround a huge pool and are tastefully minimalist, with contemporary designs and fresh tones. Each room comes with Internet access, personalised vaults and 24-hour butler service. Guests can enjoy the health spa and beauty salon, with a variety of massage treatments, gym and collection of fine restaurants including delicious Dum Pukht.

Lytton Hotel

A comfortable, friendly, hotel in the heart of busy Sudder Street, the Lytton has pleasing rooms, all with air conditioning, fridge, Wi-Fi access, television and writing desk, making it a good value (for Kolkata) hotel for business travellers and tourists alike. It has a business centre, a good restaurant and a cosy bar – and it's just around the corner from the Indian Museum.

The Oberoi Grand

Set back from the chaos of Chowringee, this elegant Victorian structure has long been one of Kolkata's (and the subcontinent's) finest, and indeed most historic, hotels. Its courtyard is filled with columns and plants; the exquisitely restored hotel has beautifully decorated rooms (including sumptuous suites with grand four-poster beds and teak wood floors) in addition to a handful of superb restaurants, a tea lounge, spa, fitness centre and pool.

The Park

A great location in the heart of Park Street, this upmarket property is a member of the Design Hotels of the World. Standard doubles are very comfortable with soothing warm tones and there are also more opulent suites and larger 'Luxury rooms'. It's stylish, well run and home to the trendy Tantra nightclub as well as some commendable restaurants. Other treats include an inviting swimming pool, gym and spa (which offers traditional Ayurvedic treatments and heavenly body scrubs).

Fairlawn Hotel

A living part of the city's history, this small-scale property harks back to the late 18th century and has retained a creaky charm, and the charming, eccentric octogenarian owner is proud to talk about the interesting photos lining the walls. Extensively renovated in 2010, the hotel is crammed with bric-a-brac, old wicker furniture and Raj-era memorabilia. Rooms aren't flash but are comfortable enough, with some bathrooms featuring great old free-standing bath tubs.