My first memories of staying in Calcutta are of Nani’s home (My best friend’s grandmother). Dadu bhai is a theatre artist, so their ground floor doubles as a drama school. It was home far away from home—so much life and vibrance. Kolkata always reminds me of their warm hospitality and love. Later when Nivi shifted to Kolkata, I frequented the city of joy more to visit her. I had the privilege of always staying with them and getting spoilt with good food, many stories, and warmth.
But every now and then, I also take out time to know the city more. Old cities are intriguing and full of history.
In this quest, I stumbled upon two exceptional and unique places to stay in Kolkata, which I’m penning down today.
The Calcutta Bungalow:
It was here I learned that Kolkata had been home to several secret societies and organizations, each with their own hidden agendas and unique rituals – a fascinating history steeped in mystery and intrigue.
The societies included smaller fun groups to large cult groups. Illuminati was one of the most famous societies, a Europe-originated society with a chapter in Kolkata. The Illuminati were known for their revolutionary ideas and belief in knowledge’s power to bring about social and political change.
Kolkata was also home to several smaller, lesser-known groups. These included the Hatha Jodi cult, known for using the root of a certain plant to create magical charms and talismans, and the Bauls, a group of wandering minstrels who were known for their mystical poetry and songs.
Shakspeare Society of Eastern India, Calcutta book society, Calcutta tram users association, Sherlock holmes society of India, Calcutta mathematical society, Calcutta rangers club, Bengal freemason society were some of the societies whose name plates are preserved in the Calcutta Bungalow.
While many of these secret societies have since been disbanded, their legacy remains in Kolkata today. Their stories and legends continue to capture the imagination of visitors to the city, and their influence can be seen in the region’s art, music, and literature.
In many ways, the secret societies of Kolkata represent a hidden side of the city’s rich cultural heritage. They remind us that there is often more to a place than meets the eye.
Calcutta Bungalow is a charming and unique property that offers guests a one-of-a-kind experience in the heart of Kolkata. The building is a 1920s restored townhouse in the Radha Kanta Jew Street in Fariapukur, Shyam Bazar, one of the oldest neighborhoods with the most interesting fusion of European and Bengali architecture.
It’s inspiring to see what restoration architecture can do to an old house in shambles. The bungalow has been beautifully renovated, preserving its original architectural features while adding modern amenities to provide guests with a comfortable and luxurious stay. The bakelite switches, exposed brick walls, wooden beams, stained glass windows, stone floors, working typewriters, and antique lights transport us to a different time.
While staying there, I wandered the old streets of Shyam Bazar, where I found something interesting every two steps. I watched a football match in the nearby maidan, took tram rides to college street to buy old books, and ate greasy Chinese street food. The location is also within easy reach of many of Kolkata’s top attractions, including the Victoria Memorial, Park Street, and the Indian Museum.
Calcutta Bungalow is easily one of my favorite and unique stays in Kolkata. You can book it directly from their website!
Lal Bari translates to the red brick house. It is another unique stay in Kolkata for more than one reason.
The house’s facade is something you won’t miss when passing by the street. It’s located in the city’s heart near Kali Ghat on Hazra Road.
It’s a beautiful old Kolkata-style Bungalow built during the colonial era and is characterized by its unique blend of European and Indian architectural styles.
Lal Bari is where the past meets the present, where every corner is a timeless treasure and offers a story to tell. It will take all my life just to read a quarter of the books the house has, a collection of books owned by 3-4 generations.
The spacious verandas, high ceilings, and ornate balconies are where we spent our time more than in our room.
The house belongs to the family of Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who was a prominent figure in Indian politics and society and made significant contributions to the country’s development. He was not only the ex-chief minister but also a visionary leader, skilled lawyer, champion of democracy and human rights, and respected diplomat who is remembered for his legacy.
My fondest memory at the Lal Bari was a Saturday evening with our host Ilina and my friend Nivi. A heart-to-heart conversation between three working women siping away the best wine, talking about the challenges faced by the best of us, and ranting away all the worries!
You can find Lal Bari on Airbnb. Link here!
Preserving old properties and houses is essential for a variety of reasons. These structures are a reflection of rich cultural and architectural heritage. They are a tangible link to its past and a testament to the city’s diversity and eclectic mix of cultures.
They also add to the aesthetic appeal of the cityscape and create a sense of nostalgia and familiarity for both locals and visitors. These structures are often landmarks and are important cultural touchstones for the community.
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