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Heritage Tram Tours of Kolkata

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Trams have been Calcutta's age-old tradition. The first tram rolled out on the tracks way back in February 28, 1873. A horse tram system opened in January 1881, after a premature experiment in 1873, and a steam tramway line in 1882. Electric trams began running on March 27,1902 and by 1921 there were 56 km of track and 512 cars in service.


Kolkata tram had come a long way and its wheels still continue to pave its way. Having nurtured the rich heritage of this city, Kolkata Tramway has itself turned into a unique heritage of its own. Kolkata is the only Indian city where trams still ply. It is a comfortable way of travelling. It is a leisurely way of seeing certain historic parts of the city, particularly Kolkata and Sutanuti, two of the earliest three villages viz. Kolkata (presently the BBD Bagh or Dalhousie Square), Sutanuti (the native quarters of the city in North Calcutta) and Govindapur (South Calcutta).
The Route Heritage Tour on Tram starts from Esplanade Tram terminus. It turns towards BBD Bagh or Dalhousie Square where grandiose old buildings of Georgian, Victorian and late Gothic architecture still stand. Here, one passes by Writers' Building, the General Post Office, the Tank Square and the St. Andrews Church. It moves towards north and enters the Chitpore Road (one of the earliest roads called the Pilgrim Road connecting Black Pagoda in the North to Kalighat Temple in the South) and passes through tradi tional neighbourhoods and communities. It goes past the Nakhoda Mosque, the House of Rabindranath, the Kumartuli area (the idol makers), the Jain temple and many more, to reach the Belgachia tram depot. The tram retraces from here and connects to Bidhan Sarani. On the way back, it passes by the Star Theater (where the Bengal Theater movement flourished), the Arya Samaj Temple, the Presidency College (former Hindoo College) and coffee House on College Street. It moves further south and takes Lenin Sarani and passes by the Carey's church, and finally rattles its way back to Esplanade. Following are some of the significant traditional streets and heritage buildings one would experience along the journey of Heritage Tour on Tram.
1. Significant heritage buildings in Dalhousie Square (BBD Bag), Calcutta The government house was the former dense of the Governor General of India and is now the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal. It was built between 1779-1805 by Wesley, the then Governor General and was designed by Wight who based his design on Keddleston Hall, the magnificent new home of Lord Cursor in Derbyshire. The Government House is adorned with Georgian pediments and porticos with sweeping steps leading up to the main entrance. The whole palace like structure is adorned with a majestic dome. Lord Cursor described it as "without doubt the finest government house occupied by the representative of any sovereign or government in the world. "
On the West side of Dollhouse Square is the General Post Office built on the site of the Old Fort William. It was opened to the public in 1868 and designed by Walter Granule. Architecturally, the stately structure consists of two lofty stories dominated by a corner dome and Corinthian colonnade. There is a large clock with three illuminated dials and the building is approached by a handsome flight of steps.
On the Northern side of Dollhouse Square is Writers' Building, so called for having been in the first instance erected for the residence writers or Junior civil servants of the East India Company. This building was constructed in 1776. The architect was Thomas Lyon who also assisted in the construction of the new fort. From the illustrations of Danielle's paintings of 1797, this building was in austere Paladin style. In 1821, it was ornamented with three pediments in front, supported on colonnades for the Fort William College. In 1880 Bengal Secretariat moved to the Writers' Building. During 1882-1883, Writers' Building acquired the present facade when the Octagon attained the status as the seat of British Government by the Lieutenant Governor, Ashley Eden. The luxury portico above the central entrance was supported by a row of handsome Corinthian pillars surmounted by National Coat of Arms and a statue of Britannic. This magnificent example of Victorian Architecture is approximately 225 meters long and its superb facade contains allegorical sculptured figures of Science, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice by the Sculptor Frederick Woodington. Today Writers' ers' Building continues to serve much the 5a"'° purpose as the Administrative office of tile West Bengal Secretariat.
Within the present Tram Terminus, the large tank of BBD Bag was the principal source of drinking water both for the Englishmen and natives throughout the 18th Century. There was also a beautiful garden by the side of this tank. Since the old fort was situated close to this garden, it was called "Green before the Fort". Interestingly enough, there were some orange trees within this garden. The British East India Company spent Rs. 10.00 per month for the up keep of this Garden during the early years of the 18th Century.
St Andrew's Church towards Dollhouse Square East is a Presbyterian Church of the Church of England, opened to the public on 8 March, 1818. It occupies the site of the old Mayor's Court and Supreme Court of Calcutta Marquest of Hastings. The Church stands symmetrically on the axis of the Old Court House Street and acts as a focus in the streetscape. The church stands white and dignified and on its north and south sides are porticoes with Doric pillars and triglyph friezes. Although these are similar to St John's Church, the steeple is more successful adoption of Gibe's original prototype. The original balustrade roof line above the frieze is now replaced by a plane wall. The interior comprises composite columns in gleaming white, the central cupola picked up in pastel blue, a fine marble floor, a black pulpit and a altar table, elegant black chairs with cane backs and seats.
West Bengal Cabinet on November 8, 1969 decided to rename Dollhouse Square as Bunny Banal Dines Bath (BBD Bath) after the name of three valiant freedom fighters who raided the Writers' Building on December 8,1930. It was celebrated by a colourful ceremony attended by thousands of people and presided over by the Chief Minister Mr Joy Kaman Mukherjee.
2. Significant heritage buildings and places along Chipper Road (presently Rabindra Sarani) It was the oldest road in Calcutta, used for visiting Caliphate temple since the days of the Mughal rule in Bengal. It derived its name from the temple of the Hindu Goddess Chitreswari, re-built by the first Black Zamindar, Govindaram, in the 18th Century.
Chitpore Road was a pilgrim street connecting Black Pagoda in the North to the Kalighat Temple at Govindapur in the South.
On Chitpore Road stands the beautiful and stately Nakhoda Mosque, a prayer-house of distinctive oriental character and design. Solemn and dignified in its construction, this sacred edifice is modelled on Akbar's tomb at Sikandra near Agar. The foundation stone was laid on the September 11, 1926. The Mosque, with its large Prayer Hall capable of accommodating 10,000 worshipers, its majestic dome, its two lofty minarets, surmounted by cupolas, is a great attraction. The entrance is through the lofty arches of two imposing gateways of red sandstone from Dholpur, designed after the famous Buland Gate of Fatehpur-Sikri. Rich ornamental marble, with design similar to those of the Taj Mahal and other celebrated Muslim edifices in the East, have been lavishly used in the interior.

The traditional Muslim market that flourishes all round the mosque sells religious items along with clothes, dried fruit and sweets such as firni, made of rice. Down the road is Calcutta's most renowned Muslim restaurant, the Royal. North along Rabindra Saran, musical instrument makers specialize in sitars, harmoniums and tanpuras.

North of M G Road, on the tiny Muktaram Baby Street off Chittaranjan Avenue, the extraordinary Marble Palace (Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday - Sunday free; no photography) preserves its lavish, sensuous treasures in some what cramped conditions making for an overwhelming spectacle for the eyes.
On Dwarkanath Tabor Lane, just off Chitpore Road, is the campus of Rabindranath Stager's liberal arts university, Rabindra Bahraini, housed in the ancestral house of Rabindranath where he was born and died. Now the Rabindra Bahraini Museum holds a large collection of his paintings.
Jorasanko and Pathuriaghata along Chipper Road used to be a major center for Bengali arts and culture in the nineteenth century. This is the place where the older and established traditional Bengali families (were into trade in gold, silk, salt, cotton, money lending, shipping and transport by the middle of 17th century) like the Mulcts, Ghosts. Dens, Tigress and Sils, who amongst others formed the Bengali gentry in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, had - or still have - their residence here. With the coming of the English into Calcutta in a big way after the mid 1750s, they prospered. Some of them entered the service of the British, either as munshi or teachers of Persian, Sanskrit and Bengali or functioned as Banians or financiers of trade with the local people by which they amassed wealth that allowed them to compete with their colonial masters in pomp and show.
The Black Pagoda, a temple complex built by the first zamindar Govindram Mitter was a landmark site in the early eighteenth century Calcutta. The Daniel's painting of Chitpore Road depicts this landmark temple complex as having two do Chala temple with a big Navaratna temple, flanked by another smaller navratna temple in the front, which makes it a unique complex, Govindaram Mitten had built his 'Black Pagoda in 1725. Govindaram Mitre came over to Calcutta from Barrackpore in the year 1710 and worked in the East India Company as Deputy to the Collector and Magistrate till the year 1720.
The Jain Temple in Belgachia next , to the bridge is a simple red sand stone structure set in manicured lawns, dedicated to the Digambara sect. Neoclassical marble and alabaster statues grace the grounds while the main temple, another architectural hybrid is crowned by an ornate cupola. Inside the chamber the image of Shitalnath is surrounded by glitzy marble work studded chandeliers which are offset by the surrounding glass and mirrors. Along with an information centre, the temple area has several Jail shrines and boarding houses.
On Bidhan Sarani stand Bethany College School. The school was established in 1850 for the spread of women's education in Bengal.
3. Significant heritage buildings along College Street Close to College Square, stands Calcutta Medical College. It's foundation was laid by Lord Dollhouse in 1848. It was opened for the treat meet of the sick in 1852.
College Street is paved with books. Old book stalls displaying books almost on all subjects - Marxist tracts, literature, classical philosophy, or the post modem thinkers - lines the footpath Here the buyers and sellers share an easy intimacy. There are early editions of the Romantics and Penguins in their slightly battered covers. No other city in India seems to flourish on the printed word in such a big way. These books are found along the pavement framing Presidency College which holds together College Street.
Established as Hinds College by David Hare in1817 (a native of Scotland who adopted for his own the country of his sojourn and cheerfully devoted his life with unwearying zeal for education and moral improvement of the natives of Bengal) it was renamed as Presidency College in 1855. Bunkum Chancre Chatters, whose Bandy Matram spirited nationalist movement; Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, eminent physicist whose work led him to major discoveries in botany: Amaritya San, the noble laureate in Economics and practically every name of any consequence during the nineteenth century, especially in the field of arts and science, can be found on its registers. It stands, right there on College Street with its 175 plus years of academic brilliance.
Facing Presidency College inside the same premises is the David Hare School - an austere three storied building. A statue of David Hare stands inside, the inscription upon which runs as follows:
Adjacent to Hare School is the Calcutta University, the first to be founded in India in 1857 as an examination and degree conferring body. Learned Bengali personages like Ramkamal See and Radhakanta Deb also made special efforts for higher education, after the success of the Hindu College set up in 1817 and the Sanskrit College which carne up in 1824. The University is presently housed in Darbhanga building to wards which the Maharaja of Darbhanga contributed for its construction imined0tely after 1872, the year of construction of the Senate, Hall twentieth century Calcutta saw the pointless destruction of the imposing porch of the Senate Hall with ionic pillars and triangular pediment in the name of 'development and expansion'. The Ashutosh Museum has the distinction of being the first University museum in India containing specimens of sculpture, paintings and folk arts from various parts of Eastern India. IISWBM, the first Institute of Business Management in the country is located behind Calcutta University.
Opposite to Calcutta University, we see, Hindu School & Sanskrit College, College Square. Land of both the institution was donated by David Hare College Square is adorned with the statues of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, memorial to David Hare, and the Bengali War Memorial. The square has a large swimming pool, a venue for frequent swimming champion-ships. Sanskrit College built in 1824 stands with its tall column, imposing triangular pediment and wide steps since then. It was here that the great educationalist and refiner, Issuer Chancre Vidyasagar, served as the principal for a long time. In the 1840's he not only built up the college as an academic institution, but played a pioneering ' role in social reform, especially regarding remarriage of widows. On the ground floor is the Vidyasagar Museum with exhibits of palm-leaf manuscripts, statuary etc. People come to College Street for thing., other than books. For infusion or black coffee, cigarettes and adds on a wide array of topics from cinema to physics, from poetry to philosophy at the Coffee House. But books add to the flavour.
Towards the end of Lenin Saran, near Esplanade Tram Terminus and Central, stands the famous Tipu Sultan Mosque, erected during the period of lord Auckland, by Prince Gholam Mohammed, son of Tipu Sultan of Mysore, in gratitude to God and in commemoration of Hon'ble Court of Directors granting him arrears of his stipend in the year 1840.
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