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Calcutta: Market to Market

An April fire destroyed almost all of the 260-plus stalls in the city’s main flower market—one of the largest in Asia—but blossom sellers are back in business at a temporary site near the original, right by North Calcutta’s Howrah Bridge and Strand Road. As ever, vendors arrive by dawn, creating bursts of color with orange and yellow marigold garlands and piles of pink lotus, lilies, carnations, tuberose, jasmine buds, and other blooms.

Calcutta’s century-old New Market, meanwhile, sits in the city center on Lindsay Street, behind the Oberoi Grand Hotel. This vast covered bazaar can intimidate, but local artist Sunita Kumar helped us get started. Her favorite stops include Henry’s for shoes, Shanker Trading for quality luggage, and Chamba Lamba for Tibetan jewelry and beads. Another stalwart is the Jewish bakery Nahoum’s, which has been making divine pastries and ornate cakes since 1902, when the city had a thriving Jewish population.

But the true joy is in the wandering. Arrive around 10 a.m., when the market opens. Artistic displays of fruits and vegetables sit beside aromatic spices, and egg stalls look mysterious in the half-light; unfamiliar sweets tempt but may wreak havoc with fillings. From food, move on to vendors selling quality fabric, saris, and more. The porters who hover around the entrances will carry packages, load the car or rickshaw, and even give directions to the best shops, all for a few rupees. But if the thought of going it alone still daunts, bring a guide. Santimoy Bhattacharya ($24 for a four-hour tour or $35 for eight hours; 91-98/3024-2803), a lifelong Calcuttan, does an excellent job escorting visitors and promises minimum hassle. New Market is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. and Saturdays from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M.