Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | March 16, 2013

Calcutta Walks

Kolkata, India

One of the best ways to really get to know people is by walking slowly among them. And, that’s also the best way to learn about the places where they live. I had a unique opportunity to do just that this morning on a Calcutta Walks Tour — something we will include as a part of this summer’s student trip to Kolkata. I wanted to meet the tour guide and to experience one of their many walks for myself. It was time and money well spent.

Our tour took us through quiet back streets away from Kolkata's main roads.

We walked the historic streets of Sovabazar, away from Kolkata’s bustling traffic.

My friends and I met Calcutta Walks founder Iftekhar “Ifte” Ahsan for a walking tour of Sovabazar, the hub of traditional Bengali culture in Kolkata. Within minutes of meeting him, Ifte guided us off the beaten path and down narrow lanes into a fascinating world shaped by a variety of cultures, each of which left their indelible marks on this area and its inhabitants. As Ifte unfolded the history of this historical part of the city, things about Kolkata and its rich culture came into sharper focus for me. I wish I had done this tour years ago.

Life moves at a slower pace in Sovabazar.

Life moves at a slower pace in Sovabazar.

In some ways, Sovabazar is slightly frozen in time. Life here moves at a different pace, perhaps a bit slower. And things here seem to be done with greater care than in the more hectic world beyond the quiet lanes watched over by the age-worn buildings built by the British and others who once laid claim to this region. I was especially reminded of this when we met an older man who carried his livelihood in a wooden box worn smooth by years of use. He was a maker of keys.

Making keys the old-fashioned way.

Making keys the old-fashioned way.

Because the old wooden doors on the buildings in Sovabazar have their own unique lock or locks that are opened by unusual keys, the old key maker’s services are still needed. He was a kind old man with a winsome smile as broad as his graying mustache. At least until the day the old doors are replaced by more modern ones that can be opened by mass-produced keys, the old man has job security in this little slice of geography known as Sovabazar.

Ifte, our Calcutta Walks guide, unlocks doors of understanding.

Ifte, our Calcutta Walks guide, unlocks doors of understanding.

In some ways, Ifte is also a key maker. His tours and talks are opening doors of understanding. He has found a way to make history interesting by teaching others the story of Kolkata on-site, using locations and lives as his object lessons. His talks are engaging. By looking back and connecting the dots, Ifte is unlocking doors that lead guests to Kolkata to make fascinating discoveries.

Mark Twain once said that travel is fatal to prejudice. I totally agree. However, I would add that educated travel will keep prejudice from resurrecting itself. I am looking forward to introducing our students to Ifte this summer at the start of our time in Kolkata. I believe it will be worth taking a three-hour walk to give our students a better understanding of Kolkata. Afterwards we will go to College Street to engage with young college students interested in practicing their English. This will be a great way to start unlocking doors of understanding as we begin our time of ministry in Kolkata in the month of July.


  1. I couldn’t have helped myself……..I would have cropped out the car behind the “rickshaw” cabs.
    Nice shot, thanks for sharing;

    • I agree. Posted on the fly while in transit in Dubai. Loved the walk. It is a photographer’s dream.

  2. How awesome–your blogs are making me miss this place with a deep longing. Glad you are there!

    • Thanks, Kristin. I hope you can return to Kolkata on a future trip.

  3. Thanks for sharing about seeing the real Kolkata. To see only the monuments and tourist sights leaves out the very heart of Kolkata. To see and talk with the Bengali people is truly amazing as they have charm wit and a warmth hard to find any where else. Many of the people I am still in contact with are Bengalis. Like Dev. who runs a school for the poor in South Kolkata.
    Bless you as you prepare for this summer to lead students to understanding of the father Heart of God for the saving of Bengali people and sharing with the poorest of the poor.

    • Thanks, Paul and Sarah. I totally agree that it is the people who make Kolkata a fascinating place. Looking forward to taking our students on a Calcutta Walk this summer. Thanks for following my journey.

  4. Hi Omar,
    It wss nice to read your piece on Calcutta. I think a walking tour is a great idea for students to make friends with a new place. And i think College street is definitely something not to miss at any cost.
    Hope you enjoy the next visit as well.
    A Calcuttan

    • Thanks so much, Shaikh. Kolkata is one of my favorite cities. I always enjoy visiting and serving at Mother Teresa’s homes. I am looking forward to returning again in July.

  5. Hi O!
    This must’ve been a different walk than we did but Ifte was our guide. We learned so much from him about the different religions that make Kolkata such an amazing melting pot. Aahhhh….the sights and smells of Kolkata…it’s almost like I’m there! Thanks for the update!
    I’m sure the students will enjoy the tour.

    • Loved the tour, Brenda. Ifte offers several different walks. Will probably take our students on the walk that you and the team enjoyed in January.

  6. […] started our day with Ifte, a tour guide with Calcutta Walks. We did a three-hour walking tour to learn more about the wonderful city where we are serving. We […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: