Back in the nineties, I came across an old issue of the National Geographic magazine with a picture of an incredibly crowded tram. The picture was taken in Calcutta (the old name of Kolkata) and the vehicle itself must have remembered the times of Queen Victoria. The picture ignited my imagination: "I will go to Calcutta to see such tram no matter what." I did it a good couple of years later.
From the airport, I took a taxi to the city to see "The Tram". I would then go back quickly and fly to the Andaman Islands. Spending holidays under the scorching sun in the middle of an Asian megacity was not an option for me, or so I thought.
I saw the tram, the second tram and the third one. I spent a week in Kolkata, the cultural capital of India, spellbound by its charm, elegant buildings and tranquil parks. I enjoyed dozens of unrushed chats and cups of tea with friendly Bengalis.
Join me for a tram ride around the city.
"Let us, therefore, have a building, stately, spacious, monumental and grand, to which every newcomer in Calcutta will turn, to which all the resident population, European and Native, will flock, where all classes will learn the lessons of history, and see revived before their eyes the marvels of the past." - Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India.
The marble Victoria Memorial (no prizes for guessing who it is named after) was opened in 1921. It is one of the most notable landmarks of the city. It houses a fascinating museum under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture.
With more than 14 million inhabitants, Kolkata is the third most populous metropolitan area in India. Yet, with all disadvantages of a mega city, one can enjoy wide leafy avenues and relatively unrushed pace of life here.
Horse-drawn trams were introduced in Kolkata in 1873. The first electric tram was put into operation in 1902. Trams were used in various cities in India but they were phased out by 1970s. Kolkata is the only place were they ply on the roads until today.
Apart from peak hours, trams in Kolkata are not crowded. One can enjoy hours of unhurried sightseeing from the comfort of a seat, either in a breezy open carriage with ceiling fans or (since 2019) in an air-conditioned one.
Although their fleet has been modernized over the last couple of years, trams in Kolkata are not marvels of space technology (and subject to zillion-euro subsidies as they would be in the European Union). However, they provide a cost effective alternative to hours-long walks. You are also less likely to get stuck in a traffic jam.
At the end of the day, Kolkata trams go to one of their depots. They have a well deserved rest there, get maintained and cleaned so as to be ready for the next busy day. Regrettably, I was not allowed to take pictures there.
The future of tramways in Kolkata is uncertain. Some were closed due to ongoing technical problems. They cannot compete with the new metro system and trams are said to be too slow and take too much space in busy streets. Hopefully, at least some of them remain and add even more charm to this amazing city.
Thank you for reading my post. For more of my Indian Adventure, please click here. Last but not least, check out the map and scans of Kolkata tram tickets below.