One of the oldest parts, the Chowringhee road in Kolkata is a place to visit for its heritage, history and the local vendors who earn their livelihood from this market!
Kolkata is not just the city of joy but also the city of heritage! From monuments and places to people, Kolkata still depicts the scenes of old India when technology had not entered this space. The city has many old lanes and markets that continue to serve the joyful people of Kolkata to date. One amongst those is Chowringhee road, which finds its origin in the 17th century with a jungle! Who could have thought, it would become a local hub for food, shopping, and beholding the ancient culture!
During the 17th century, Chowringhee was nothing but a jungle, and there used to be swamps and rice fields beyond it. However, things started changing after the Battle of Plassey in 1758 and the construction of Fort William when folks living in Kalikata started moving around the present-day Maidan area. It is believed that the allied troops had also used this road to ward off the Japanese during the war years.
As time passed, Britishers also started developing this area by building grand structures alongside the Chowringhee stretch. As per the writing of Reginald Herber, an English bishop who arrived in Bengal in October 1823, there were, “Town Hall, the Government House, and many handsome private dwellings.” According to the historical evidence, it was found out that by 1857, Chowringhee was all lit up with gas lamps, which could be seen from present-day AJC Bose Road to Dharmatala!
Not only this but, it has been found from the records that during World War II, air force planes used to land on the Red Road that lied between Chowringhee and the Maidan. A strange part here is that Chowringhee is not a ‘road’, but an area, and the road is actually the ‘road to Chowringhee.’ But people made it a habit to call it ‘Chowringhee road’, which is still in practice.
The name game
Though it is still unknown as to how the most popular and the oldest places of Kolkata, Chowringhee got its name, according to a belief, the name came from the Cherangi village, which means ‘chera range or ‘cut-up body’. This is related to the Hindu belief that the temple at Kalighat is a Shaktipeeth, which is believed to be one of the places where dismembered parts of the body of the deity Sati fell.
Another text regarding the name can also be found in the issue of the National magazine published in December 1889. The author Sarat Chandra Mitra wrote that the name of the road came “from the Hindustani word ‘Chowringhee’, which means many-coloured, the houses in that locality commanding views of various sorts and colours.”
Nevertheless, Chowringhee had to go through a name change in 1964 to let go of its colonial nomenclature and was changed to ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Road’. However, it was only for one segment of the road from Esplanade to Park Street. The rest of the parts were still called with the original name and to date, the locals like to remember the place with the same!
The present-day road
As one may look at the road today, the flyover is quite visible that has divided the road into two. It has also blocked the view of colonial structures on one side of the street. On the other hand, one can find the pavements full of hawkers selling wares and has a good rush throughout the day. One cannot even think of entering the road during the major festivities like Durga Puja Or New Year.
Once the example of togetherness of local and colonial establishments has the facade of colonial buildings on that stretch covered by jarring plastic and neon signboards. One can easily find a bit of greenery here, which is visible around the Maidan.
Food for the soul
There are a few old eateries that continue to exist while various new places have come up to make people taste the authentic cuisines of Kolkata. You can try New Cathay Restaurant & Bar or One Way Cafe here. You can also visit the old Chinese restaurant there with the name, ‘New Embassy’, along with another old and popular Mughlai restaurant, Anadi Cabin. Zaranj is also an old and fine-dining restaurant that you can try with your family and friends and have a little chit-chat!
It does not end here as the road also has many other tiny food and juice carts along the stretch where you can have some amazing sugarcane and mousambi juice. Don’t forget to have chai from the small chai vendors here!
Shopping is a must
If you are a fan of street shopping, Chowringhee road will fulfill all your requirements! It has many shops near the Park Street metro gate near Indian Museum. You can find here trendy clothes, including ponchos, tees, and fancy jackets. Along with this, you can also spot music merchandise like posters of bands! Amazing, isn’t it?
For all the travellers, here you can get some amazing indigo backpacks. The market also has something for people who are brand-specific as the New market has all such high-end stuff.
We suggest you roam around the whole area to explore what this place has to offer. However, to name a few, one must visit the popular Tipu Sultan Mosque, which was built by Tipu Sultan’s youngest son, Prince Ghulam Mohammed in 1832. Another site can be the Metropolitan Building, which is easily recognizable by its clock-face dome. It was built in 1905, and during British Raj, was known as the Whiteway Laidlaw Department Store. It is now called as ‘neo-Baroque emporium’. The building was used by the Life Insurance Corporation post-independence, and even today, it is used by LIC offices and chain stores like Big Bazaar.
You can take a round of the spectacular Chowringhee Mansions, where many offices function from in the current times. Take a look at the legendary Grand Hotel too, constructed in the late 19th Century. This is for you if you want to enjoy the culture, heritage, and luxury together! You can also head to one of the oldest museums, the Indian Museum that has six sections, with some thirty-five galleries of cultural and scientific artefacts. Do you know the best part? You can see an Egyptian mummy here!
So, all in all, a full-day visit to the Chowringhee road is worth giving a try if you love to explore the remains of the bygone eras!