India: The Tramways of Kolkata

by Piotr B August. 07, 2020 655 views

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.

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There are 13 comments , add yours!
Krystyna Knypl 3 months, 1 week ago

Pojazdy interesujące i fotogeniczne! Z powodu koloru przypomniały mi Lizbonę. Pozdrawiam serdecznie :)

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Piotr B Replied to Krystyna Knypl 3 months ago

Serdecznie dziękuję. O, tak, właśnie zauważyłem, że te najbardziej fotogeniczne tramwaje są żółte, jak w Lizbonie.

Jako dzieciak, bardzo chciałem być motorniczym, najchętniej „szóstki”, bo przejeżdżała przez Plac Inwalidów i Most Gdański w stronę zoo. Uwielbiam tramwaje, i te stare, i te nowe.

3 months ago Edited
Jovana Lakic 3 months, 2 weeks ago

Hi Piotr, I love your story, in a combination with the fabulous pictures. I wish I had explored India more, I was in Bombay (Mumbai) and Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on the recruitment campaigns for air crew. The vivid memories I have are the beautiful colours of saris and Buddhist clothes at the airport, unforgettable ride on the crowded bus between the two airport terminals of the New Delhi airport, the flight with air Sahara, in a stormy night between Lucknow and New Delhi on the way back. And of course, the the local food that is spicy only for two days, and then you start tolerating and eventually, liking the spice. Many more good memories.

Thanks for sharing!

3 months, 2 weeks ago Edited
Piotr B Replied to Jovana Lakic 3 months ago

Hi Jovana, 

Cool! I have never been to Lucknow. One day... for another air crew recruitment session. Maybe you need chemical engineers on board 😀.

Although I try to make the most of corona crisis, home office and getting to know Europe by bicycle, I cannot wait any longer for the rest of world to open.

3 months ago Edited
Varsha Arun 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Thanks for the informative & enjoyable read..I have never been in a tram, but you make it sound like fun! Had been there for a day few years ago, regret never having been able to tour the city fully. Hope to make a trip down there and soak up the vibes some dayblush

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr B Replied to Varsha Arun 3 months ago

Hi Varsha, Calcutta was amazing. I could easily spend more time than a week there. And riding trams was such an exhilarating experience, even for a European. Rail transportation is our staple diet here.

3 months ago Edited
Heike 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Very interesting post! Really enjoyed the photos and the story!

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr B Replied to Heike 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hallo Heike, 

Thank you very much. I try to visit regularly but was quite busy recently. All fixed and I can start posting again.

I do miss India, I do miss hopping on a plane and flying far away. On the other hand, covid pandemic has its advantages: home office (read: time for fitness during boring meetings smile) and, finally, time to see wonderful places next to home. I have just come back from a nice cycling trip through Eifel to Trier and Saarlouis. Hope to cycle more in October if it is not too rainy.

Cheers, Piotr.

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Benny Law 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Great post as always. I love old trams.

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr B Replied to Benny Law 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hi Benny,

Thanks. I like all sort of rail transportation, old or new. One of my dreams is to to The USA by Amtrak. Need to wait for covid vaccination. though...

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Camellia Staab 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Thoroughly enjoyed reading as well as viewing your captures. Very nice series and information smile

3 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Piotr B Replied to Camellia Staab 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Hi Camellia,

I am sorry I neglected your posts so disgracefully. Pretending to be busy makes me waste even more time.

No India, no Africa at the moment. I got a new bicycle and enjoy discovering fascinating places I would never think of visiting. Well, covid pandemic has its advantages but I am looking forward to having the freedom of hopping on a plane and fly far far away.

Cheers, Piotr.

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited
Camellia Staab Replied to Piotr B 2 months, 3 weeks ago

😃😃 No disgrace here at all and thank you for responding. Oh yes to fly away!!! Right not it seems just  a dream especially when airlines tempt you with their outrageously cheap flights. But we will hang onthese dreams in hopes that some day real soon they become a reality smile

2 months, 3 weeks ago Edited