It is hard to imagine that Calcutta was a mere fishing village a couple of centuries ago. The city (nowadays called Kolkata) thrived during the British Raj, becoming a leading centre of commerce and trade, and a vital port of call for east-bound ships. Although the East India Company are now long gone, hallmarks of the colonial era still pervade with golf-courses, gentleman's clubs, and a famous racetrack still going strong. Above all else Calcutta is the capital of Bengali culture, and even today reveals the rich diversity of the Bengali heritage. It is rightly recognised across the Subcontinent as a social, artistic, and educational hub - a centre of discussion, irreverence, and fiery politics. In the past the city was known as the Gateway to the Orient, but now you are likely to find it as the jumping off point for any journey into east and north-east India. First impressions of Calcutta are sometimes not very flattering: this one of India's true 'megacities', packed to gills and humming with life. The hustle and bustle here can be overwhelming, but Calcutta is undoubtedly a city with soul: the ‘City of Joy’, as immortalised by Dominique Lapierre, is bound to grow on you.

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