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Calcutta: 7½ Hours by Foot, Ferry, and Car

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This tour of North Calcutta is always an unexpected favorite, though it can get a bit complicated, so secure a good guide and start by 8:30 a.m. to benefit from the morning quiet. Walk by the governor’s residence, Raj Bhavan, and law courts, then take a public ferry from the nearby Babu Ghat, crossing the Hugli River to the magnificent Howrah train station, one of India’s largest and liveliest. Another ferry brings travelers upriver, under the great Howrah Bridge to Kumartuli Ghat. From there walk north along the riverside street to the Kumartuli area, passing splendidly decaying classical mansions, banyan roots twisting around their Doric columns. In this area’s tiny workshops craftsmen create the painted straw-and-clay deities worshipped during fall’s Durga Puja festival (September 30–October 9 this year). Take a rickshaw to Sovabazar Rajbari, the dilapidated mansion where in 1757 British soldier-hero Robert Clive supposedly handed Bengal over to Mir Jafar, the first of several local puppet rulers. Have a car and driver meet you there and return south. On the way, stop at the Armenian church in the busy Barabazar area or one of the city’s two surviving synagogues (arrange your visit at Nahoum’s bakery in New Market, or make the expected donation there after). To end, visit the Rabindra Bharati Museum, tracing the story of the gifted Tagore family—the revered poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote India’s national anthem—or the ornate Marble Palace, built in 1835 by the wealthy Mullick family. From there it’s a 15-minute drive to the Oberoi Grand, just the place to refresh after a busy day.

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