During British Raj Calcutta was divided into three parts – white town where the British established their offices and residence, black town or north Calcutta where Indians were forced to move to and grey town where Cantonese, Portuguese and Jews lived. As racist as the whole setup sounds, this sadly was the reality of the then India. While the divide doesn’t exist anymore, you can see a difference of culture, lifestyle and architecture. A walk through various faiths and cultures of Calcutta was my second heritage walk with Navpreet (FunOnStreets) during my trip last month.
We met early morning near Bow Barrack and started our walk with a visit to city’s first Buddhist temple. Bow Barracks were built during World War II to house the army. These barracks were later given to the Chinese and the Anglo Indians who still live here. The area still has no water connection and they have to rely on water guys or bhishtis to wash the roads. We spotted a bhishti with a traditional leather water bag on his back. Navpreet also told me that Christmas is massive in these areas and the whole street turns into a dance floor and party hub.
Next stop was Tiretti – the region populated by Cantonese who came to Calcutta in the 18th Century when Tong Achew came to India to start a sugar factory. It’s said that the concept of refined sugar came to India with the Chinese and hence called cheeni, owing to the people who brought it. The are originally had plenty of Chinese temples out of which only one remains. The Sea Ip Church was established in 1905 where Goddess Kwan Yin (Chinese deity of peace) is worshiped along with the god of war. Tiretti bazaar was once known for early morning Chinese breakfast where the locals would set up stalls selling dimsum, soup, sticky buns etc. There’s not much left of the market now.
Calcutta once had a large Jewish community and while most of them have moved out of India, there Synagogues still stand tall. The Beth El and Magen David Synagogues are under construction as of now and slated to open for public in 2017-18. However, during the walk Navpreet took me to the first Synagogue which was built inside a house.
The Holy Rosary Cathedral, also known as Portuguese Church was founded in 1797. The then chapel was later replaced by a church in 1799 which is now used as a cathedral.
The Armenian Church is also the oldest church in Calcutta and was built in 1724 after the original wooden structure was burnt down (that was built in 1707)
We wrapped up our walk with a visit to Calcutta’s famous flower market and a spectacular view of the iconic Howrah Bridge.