INDIA has long been celebrated for its rich ancient arts and culture as well as its stunning mountain ranges, beautiful beaches and historical cities.
To experience the best sights and sounds of India, you just need to head to two of its cities – Kochi and Kolkata.
KOLKATA: CITY OF JOY
The second largest city in India and the capital of West Bengal state located on the country’s eastern coast, Kolkata is also famously known as the City of Joy.
It’s a busy, chaotic metropolis brimming with history, stunning architecture and amazing street food. Here are just a few of its most enchanting places of interest.
1. Victoria Memorial Palace
This breathtaking palace was commissioned by then viceroy of India Lord Curzon to commemorate Queen Victoria’s passing in 1901.
It has a white marble exterior and design that resembles a cross between the US Capitol Building and India’s Taj Mahal, with scenic grounds and ponds making it an Instagram-worthy spot.
2. Mud statues of Kumortuli
Intricate clay statues of gods and goddesses for Indian festivals are made by artists in Kumortuli using mud from the sacred Ganges River.
But, to make a statue of the goddess Durga, a priest must collect the soil outside a prostitute’s home to be mixed with Ganges mud, cow dung and cow urine. This stems from the belief that men leave their virtue outside a prostitute’s home.
3. A feast of street food
Kolkata street food ranges from the popular ghugni chaat made from yellow peas to the pani puri which looks like a crispy, deep-fried ball.
For drinks, you must try its ubiquitous chai (tea) or mango lassi.
4. Belur Math Temple
Situated on the banks of the Hooghly River, this temple is the heart of the Ramakrishna religious movement.
Unlike most temples, Belur Math is peaceful and clean. As you stroll around the temple grounds, you’ll realise the unique look of the building stems from architectural designs inspired by the three main religions in India – Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
5. Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Opposite the Hooghly River is another stunning temple – the Dakshineswar Kali Temple.
The 12-spired riverside temple with its bright colours makes you feel as though you have stepped into a painting, a fitting abode for the goddess Kali.
There are stalls on the temple grounds where visitors can find street food and souvenirs.
A three-hour flight from Kolkata takes you to the shores of another beautiful city – Kochi, also known as Cochin.
This major port city which faces the Arabian Sea, offers a beauty that must be seen to be appreciated.
1. Cheenvala at Vasco da Gama Square
Cheenvala, as the locals call them, are giant Chinese fishing nets brought from the court of Mongol ruler and first Yuan emperor of China Kublai Khan, and introduced to local fishermen by Chinese explorer Zheng He in the 14th century.
The best spot to view these giant structures is at the Vasco da Gama Square in the Fort Kochi area.
For a fee, local fishermen will even show you how to use these nets.
2. Elephant Training Centre
Stranded elephants are rescued and rehabilitated at the Elephant Training Centre in Kodanad, some 40km east of Kochi. At the sanctuary, visitors get to bathe and play with the rescued baby and adult elephants in the river.
3. Kathakali performance
Known for its colourful and elaborate costumes as well as the performers’ makeup that is like works of art, Kathakali is one of the nine classical dances of India that has its roots in Kerala.
The classical performance derive inspiration from Hindu epics such as Ramayana and Mahabrata, and folk stories.
4. Teak wood houseboat river ride
Explore the backwaters of Kerala on the famous uru, or teak wood houseboat while you kick back and enjoy a lovely lunch abroad.
5. Ayurvedic spa treatment
You cannot leave India without trying out one of India’s famous Ayurvedic spas. Pamper your mind and body with a choice of rejuvenating massages that utilise oils and balms made from herbal ingredients that have been passed down for centuries.