The city formerly known as Calcutta is the home of celebrated Indian film maker Satyajit Ray as well as award-winning novelist Vikram Seth. In fact, Kolkata is known correctly as the ‘Cultural Capital of India'.
The Calcutta Cricket Club is the second oldest in the world and Kolkata's film industry (called Tollywood) rivals that of Mumbai, though its output is not as large, and the stately halls of the University of Calcutta represent the pinnacle of the esteemed educational life of a city housing 12 major universities.
Like all India cities, however, polar extremities are juxtaposed here and while poverty, poor sanitation and over crowding may not be all there is to Kolkata, the city's urban stresses are chronic and immense. Perhaps it's this schism of elegance and chaos that gives Kolkata its unique verve and charm.
This is the deluxe part of town, and most of Kolkata's five-star hotels are located in a stately district that includes the blue ribbon suburbs of Ballygunge, Alipore, Tollygunge and Rash Behari. Beyond these suburbs are the southern fringes of Kolkata, where major residential and retail expansion continues at a pace.
The heart of the city is the former colonial district which contains today's downtown businesses and high rises. The Stock Exchange is here along with the major commercial thoroughfares such as Park Street, Sudder Street and the lively alleys of the Barra Bazaar.
The enormous park in the center of Kolkata provides some much needed fresh oxygen and business workers and tourists gather here on sunny days for picnic lunches. Strand Road and Fort William are two of Maidan's main neighborhoods, which are all anchored, geographically speaking, to the park.
Just north of the Marble Palace is the largest red-light district in India. The ten thousand (mostly illegal) sex workers have been the subject of several documentaries and the problems of health and crime are absolutely severe. Nevertheless, the Sonagachi region is one of Kolkata's most vibrant areas.
North Kolkata is home to the crumbling vestiges of the British Raj with crooked laneways and turn-of-the-century buildings orbiting Sealdah train station, which is the main rail hub of eastern India. Dum Dum region contains the city's international airport while the sprawling Shyam and Shoba Bazaars seem bigger than small European nations.
East Kolkata is modern Kolkata with several theme parks, air conditioned shopping malls and brand new housing and technology parks. Development here is fast and daunting with cranes and construction going on around the clock.