Sharma's Dhaba may not sound like it but is quite a popular eatery for the late night crowd. When they say dhaba, they mean it. There's no AC, no fancy decor but they serve food till about two in the morning. Although officially they close at midnight, the locals know that the shutters are half open till later and the police don't seem to grudge a few free spirited people their late night snack.
Much like some late night Delhi joints, they also bring your order to your car. Most popular are the huge mutton seekh kebab rolls and the chicken malai kebab rolls, which you must try even if you are not a nightcrawler. Located on Ballygunge Circular Road, near St Lawrence School
The auctioneers on Park Street
There are a good number of old auction houses on Park Street that sell old furniture but even if one is not looking to buy furniture it's a great place to pick up vintage curios. They have old vases, statues, mirrors, even books and cake decoration manuals from some old English bakery! This is the place you can spend hours, if you are a ****er for old world charm. While on Park Street, you can stop to eat at the famous Flury's cafe; flurysindia.com
Saris at Bhojraj
Bhojraj is this tiny shop amongst the many sari shops that line Rashbehari Avenue. Here, you can find everything from a simple pure white handloom sari to the quintessential red Banarasi. A popular store for wedding shoppers, Bhojraj has been around for quite a while and continues to be one of the most favoured sari destinations of the locals.
This one is not for those looking for the traditional Bengal cotton, though. If you find a woman in a gorgeous south cotton sari, chances are that she has picked it from Bhojraj. Rashbehari Avenue
Play a game or two of chess right by the roadside, with a complete stranger!
It's a little difficult to believe but after sunset, hundreds of chess enthusiasts gather under the Gariahat flyover to play a round of chess on the way home from work. While traffic is at its peak and the Gariahat crossing is thronged with people and cars, you'll find a good number of chess players perched on the railings under the bridge, concentrating hard on their next move. It's an amazing sight, and experience. Anyone is welcome to join, just wait your turn.Just walk to a game and ask if you could join in, or simply watch this amazing spectacle
Good Companions is a name that truly befits this store, seeing how long it has been around. Many Calcutta women in their 30s and 40s have grown up on frocks from this lovely, quiet store on Russell Street. And not just frocks, you will also find bed linen, tablecloth, cushion covers, kimonos, tea cosies, napkins, Auroville products and whatnots.
This is a wonderful place. Elderly women at the counter are more than happy to walk you through the store and are quick to compliment if they feel a certain colour or design looks good on you. As you walk out after giving Good Companions some business, stop for a quick bite at any of the Park Street restaurants nearby. 13 C Russell Street
Biryani from Arsalan
For a long time, it was Shiraz, Aliah and Chitpur's Royal that dominated the Mughlai food scene in Kolkata. In the last three years, Arsalan, located at the five point crossing on Park Circus, has made its presence felt. The orthodox may announce that the Arsalan Biryani is not what you would call the Calcutta Biryani--it comes with a hint of gravy and without a boiled egg.
Most Calcuttans prefer to take away or order in, although if you can, take a table at the air-conditioned restaurant. The ambience is simple and fuss free, order, eat and out! Although they have the usual suspects on the menu like kebabs and tandoori rotis, your best bet is the Arsalan Special Biryani. However, during Eid, they also make a mean haleem. 28, Circus Avenue, Kolkata;
It is not among the oldest restaurants in Kolkata's Chinatown and it may not be the best named but that doesn't take away anything from Golden Joy. Cheap plateloads is the mantra here, as pretty much anywhere else in Tangra. Patrons love dishes like chilli-garlic red pepper steamed fish, and chicken with cashew nuts. The first is a mix of Indian and authentic Chinese, while chicken with cashew nuts is a stir-fry preparation, served as either a starter or a main course. The restaurant doesn't score on ambience but is spacious, clean, has good service and a bar. What else do you need? Matheshwartala Road, Tangra;
Best known for Phulkopir Singara and Koraishutir Kochuri in the winter and Rossomundir Payesh, this is a quaint little corner shop situated at the Lansdowne-Maddox Square crossing. If you happen to pass by during early evening, you cannot miss the heavenly smell of heeng and ghee wafting through the air. Recognise the place by the small crowd outside the shop that gathers daily to pick up their evening snack. On Padma Pukur Road
Arts and crafts at Artisana
Run by the West Bengal Crafts Council, one of the first NGOs in Calcutta that has been working in the field of traditional art forms for over four decades, Artisana showcases products developed by their craftsmen from Bengal. Located on the first floor of a nondescript building, there is nothing fancy about its architecture but the items on display far outweigh the store design.
Bright-hued jute bags and table mats hang on rods next to equally colourful terracotta sculptures. Fabrics abound, from hand-embroidered kantha saris and bedsheets to silk stoles and linen scarves. There are also dokra figurines, silver filigree work, patachitra, decorative artefacts and wooden masks. Great place to browse and pick up gifts. 13 Chowringhee Terrace;
Ardent music lovers and collectors of LPs may already know this but not many people outside of Kolkata are aware of the rare treasure. Found along Free School Street are a line of little shops selling old secondhand LPs. Not all of them will work but it's worth a try since they are dirt cheap and you might just find a beautifully done original LP cover.
They have everything from Classical music to Rock albums and even some operas in French! You might have to bargain a bit and you'll get a better deal if you're buying a bunch of them. It also gives you a chance to interact with fellow music lovers who come here to add to their collections. Free School Street is near Park Street and New Market.
Kolkata: Shohini Gupta
Accessories designer Shohini works out of her studio in Kolkata. She's also the founder of Kulungi, an NGO devoted to community art practices. When not engrossed in her work, she roams the alleys of her city--in search of inspiration; and befriending streetdogs.
Outside Kolkata: GarhpanchkotNo souvenir shops, multi-cuisine restaurants or a sleek five star to pamper you here but if you are game for a simple weekend without luxuries, then head to Garhpanchkot--a quiet spot where history, heritage, nature and wildlife come together. (Be a little careful and chart the course of your drive--it is easy to lose your way.) Total solitude, that's what Garhpanchkot Prakriti Bhraman Kendra resort is all about.
The cottages are built in the middle of a thick jungle where the only sounds you hear are those of animals. The ruins of Garhpanchkot can be truly tranquil and make you feel one with nature. But it is not as if there is nothing to do. A walk into the forest can be relaxing. The resort can also organise an evening of colourful tribal dance by local tribes who stay in villages that are close by.
Garhpanchkot is also called Panchet because of the Panchet dam that separates West Bengal and Jharkhand. At a little distance stands a small village with ruins of an abandoned fort which you can head for if you are in the mood to take a long walk. Don't be surprised if you don't come across anyone along the way as this place is not where people would think of going to. Besides the fort, you can explore the temples around it and then head to Dhara, a perennial spring for a little picnic. The arches and pillars of the main temple called Panchatantra reflect traditional Bengali terracotta architecture. Climb a little further and you'll reach Dhara.
Drive across Panchet Hill to a spot where you can get spectacular views of both the forest and the dam. It is one of the prettiest sights in the region. The Sal forest of this area is densely green and is famous for its rich medicinal plants and herbs. The best way to round off your weekend trip is by visiting the Panchet dam on the Damodar River. Four hours by road from Kolkata
Must do: West Bengal
Stay: Glenburn tea estate
The path to this tea estate might challenge a mountain goat, but no one's complaining. Glenburn is one of the few tea gardens in Darjeeling to take in guests. The rooms are named and themed to match--the Rose has sheets and pillowcases embroidered with roses, for example--and have splendid mountain views and cane furniture. Traipse through the garden, go fishing or boating in the river, and take along a picnic basket. But remember to slip in the hotel's scrumptious brownies for a treat. Log on to glenburnteaestate.com
Eat: Bhojohori manna
With a name derived from a character in a famous Manna De song, this chain of restaurants and take-away outlets has redefined Bengali cuisine by doing wonderful things with fish. Try the Aar Dakbangla (fish in a spicy gravy), the ever-popular Bhaapa Chingri (prawns steamed with coconut paste) and the Ilish Paturi (hilsa wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with mustard). Ekdalia Road; Tel: 2440 1933
Shop: Shola products
A Bengali groom invariably wears a shola crown on his wedding day, and every Bengali household has a shola curio of some sort. The products are made of a kind of paper-thin thermocol and are easily breakable. You'll find them all over the state. Try at Murshidabad, 211 km from Kolkata
This little village lies 7,000 ft above sea level and offers stunning views of the snow-covered peaks. The name literally means 'three stoves'--locals say that it came from a flash of poetic inspiration when one of them saw the Khangchendzonga catch fire in the rays of the morning sun, glowing orange like coals in a choolah. Stay at the Gurung Guesthouse.
Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.
- Oscar Wilde