What started as an effort by the Lottery Committee in the early 1820s to develop the banks of River Hooghly went on to become Strand Road — one of the most exemplary roads in the city and one of the best south-north thoroughfares. It runs along the Hooghly bund, from Hastings all the way north past Nimtala Ghat.
Brian Paul Bach in his book Calcutta's Edifice states, "Along some of its west central core route, street-side Calcutta is shown at its best. The vividness of the scenes, the business-like nature of the bustle, the river and massive godowns that line one side, serve to remind us that this is Calcutta's first and official waterfront. Everything that is original about the city is here: international trade, river transport, coolies, a fort, temples, bathing and burning ghats. Strand Road is the instrument which ties them all together."
Strand Road has a distinct character of its own. It is rich in history and takes pride in being the home to several interesting and unique monuments. A few of the “must-sees” on your visit to Strand Road are the Prinsep Ghat, Gwalior Monument, Metcalfe Hall, State Bank of India's building, Millennium Park and Floatel. During our visit to Strand Road we rediscovered quite a few of them.
By far, Prinsep Ghat is one of Kolkata's oldest recreation spots which is a marvellous place for tourists to watch Kolkata life pass by gently. On the distant horizon, the magnificent Howrah Bridge and the Vidyasagar Setu makes for a kaleidoscopic vignette. The Prinsep Ghat was built in the everlasting memory of James Prinsep who was an extraordinarily brilliant researcher and, at one point of time, served as the honorable secretary of the Asiatic Society.
The Gwalior Monument is an octagonal cenotaph about 60 feet high, crowned with a bronze dome cast from guns captured from the enemy. It was erected in 1847 by Lord Ellenborough, Governor-General of India, in memory of officers and men who fell during the Gwalior Campaign in 1843.
A few steps up north from the Gwalior Monument would bring you to the Sea Explorers' Institute. This has for long been the centre for maritime training, research and exploration offering courses in seamanship, marine awareness and kayaking.
As you continue on your journey northwards, you will find the State Bank of India building to your right. This grand structure boasts of outstanding architecture especially where the central part of the frontage thrusts forward, forming an unexpected, built-in porte cochere. Parts of the building extend back to 1806. Its present elevation dates from the Curzon years and is consummately Curzonian as well as Edwardian in its demeanour.
The concept of boarding houses first started in Theatre Road. Between 1900 and 1947, several boarding houses belonging to Mrs. Annie Monk, Mrs. McDonell, Mrs. Box, Mrs. Curtis, Mrs. Walters were situated on Theatre Road. Today's Kenilworth was formerly Mrs. Walter's Boarding House. Astor is the only hotel that has got an address in Theatre Road today. Astor Guest House is situated on the opposite side of the hotel. Metropolitan (18The Calcutta Swimming Club is another important landmark on Strand Road. The club was founded in the year 1887 by the Late Walter Davis, a partner of Hamilton & Company. This is one of the elite clubs of Kolkata.
The Millennium Park is another great place to visit on Strand Road. It is situated on the bank of the Hooghly. Formerly a riverside park was present along the Strand Road. On December 26, 1999, a stretch of landscaped gardens along the river was presented to the city. Christened the Millennium Park, it has come up at the site of the old abandoned Calcutta Port Trust warehouses.
One of the true gems of Strand Road is the Metcalfe Hall. It is a heritage building situated at the junction of Strand Road and Hare Street in the heart of the city's business district. It is reflective of the British imperial architecture at the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was built between 1840-1844 based on the design of the city magistrate, C.K. Robinson and named after Sir Charles T. Metcalfe, the Governor-General of India, in honour of his efforts towards a free press.
During your visit to the Strand Road you can dine at The Floatel. This is India's only floating hotel upon barges which has been conceived, designed, constructed and built in Kolkata.
The warehouses situated at intervals throughout the stretch of Strand Road are also worth a notice. Their design and architecture are essentially British and are reminiscent of some of the early British masonry works.
And while we are talking about Strand Road, how can we not mention the Babu Ghat? It is a truly unique place in its own right. It has so much character. It truly encompasses the spirit of the city. On a Sunday morning one can see hundreds of people gathering here to take a dip in the holy river. Babu Ghat is also a destination for those who come here to perform the last rites of their near and dear ones. And we are sure you are aware of the ‘power massage sessions’ which, for decades, have been one of the specialties of this ghat. One really has to experience it to understand what it is!
You must also drop by the Jagannath Ghat flower market. This market holds the distinction of being the largest flower market in eastern India. Some varieties of flowers are also exported offshore.
A visit to Strand Road during dusk is a must! The sun set has never looked more beautiful than it does at Strand Road when the retiring sun bids adieu for the day and sets against the backdrop of the flowing river. When the golden rays of the sun touch the surface of the water, it seems as though it is looking for shelter in the heart of the river for the night, only to rise again from its depths the following morning. One more “lifetime experience”!
The meandering Hooghly River which flows perennially through the heart of Kolkata has not only facilitated an efficient water transport system, but the embankments or ghats that have been built at strategic locations along the river which has provided the people of Kolkata with vantage points to appreciate the beauty of this holy river. Hundreds of Kolkatans visit Strand Road everyday either for work or pleasure. Numerous couples are often found occupying the benches by the ghats. During the evenings, elderly people are seen exchanging anecdotes. Some busy denizens are seen walking by in haste on their way to work pausing momentarily as if to pay homage to the beauty that lies all around Strand Road.
Our last stop during our ‘trip’ to Strand Road was “Scoop” which most Kolkata on the other side of 30 and beyond knew as “Gay Restaurant”. This was one of the most chilled out zones long before the concept of coffee shops and the lounge bars came up in the city. Today, despite a name change, the place is as popular as ever. Imagine biting into a yummy As You Like It or a Pink Affair and watching the sun go down. This place has also serves piping hot French fries and pizzas by the river side long before the foreign fast food chains showed up in this city.
We had an awesome experience re-visiting Strand Road and re-discovering a heritage that we have otherwise always taken for granted.