All international and domestic flights arrive at Netaji Subhas Bose International Airport located to the northeast of the city. Calcutta was India’s premier airport for international airports about 30 years ago but the number of international flights dwindled significantly after that, due by labor unrest and arcane government policies. However, there are still a number of useful international flight connections and the number is steadily increasing. The most useful international connections are to Paro, Bhutan and Rangoon, Burma (this connection is the only way to travel between Burma and India). Domestic flight connections are far more frequent and there is a whole set of destinations that are linked only to Calcutta by air.
Calcutta is the arguably the busiest railway junction in the world. Most places in India are directly connected by at least one train a day to Calcutta. There are two major railway stations in the Calcutta metropolitan area. Howrah, across the river from the city is the more important one for long-distance trains. All trains coming from the south and the west, most trains from the north and a good number of trains from the east terminate in Howrah. Sealdah station, located in the city, is the terminal for most trains from the east and some from the north. You can also take a train from Raxaul, on the Indo-Nepal border to Howrah, or take a train from several points in Bangladesh to Sealdah. Since the number of trains operating to and from Calcutta is very large and subject to change, it is best to access the Indian Railways website to obtain the latest timetable and other information.
Both Howrah and Sealdah stations are chaotic, simply due to the massive flow of people that they handle at any given time. Both stations have good bus connections as well as taxi ranks outside (there is almost invariably a queue for a taxi that seems to not move, but it does and you do get a taxi after a while). If you are able to carry your luggage by yourself, Howrah station has an excellent ferry connection while Sealdah has its trams, which can be used to make a quick exit from the station. Both stations have refreshments, banks, post offices and ATMs available onsite.
Road was not the preferred mode of transportation for long-distance traveling in India until very recently, thanks to the excellent railway and the abysmal road network in India. However, the National Highway Development Project undertaken by the central government has created the possibility of cross-country driving along state-of-the-art expressways. Two of the six highway projects link Calcutta to Delhi and Madras respectively. Work is still in progress with the expressway to Delhi slated to be completed by 2005 (the expressway will link Dhanbad by the end of 2003 and Allahabad by the end of 2004) and the one to Madras to be completed by 2004. With average speeds of about 100 kilometers per hour (65 miles per hour), this would allow one to drive from Delhi to Calcutta in 14 hours and from Madras to Calcutta in 13 hours, much better time than it takes by train. Also, a separate endeavor is on by the state government to build a 500-kilometer expressway linking Calcutta to Siliguri (the gateway to the Darjeeling hills) in the north and Haldia in the south. Once completed, this is likely to make a quick trip to the hills about as difficult as it is for residents of San Francisco to head to Lake Tahoe. Before you take to the wheel on your way to Calcutta, please check the latest progress update on the National Highway Authority of India website.
Driving to Calcutta aside, a number of useful and not-too-uncomfortable bus services link Calcutta to cities in the region. Most of these buses arrive at and leave from the bus terminus at Esplanade (next to the Esplanade Metro Station) or from Ultadanga (next to the Bidhannagar Road & Ultadanga Road commuter train stations). International connections are available from Dhaka, Bangladesh and Phuntsholing, Bhutan. Also, buses run from all nearby Indian towns and cities. However, these may not be as convenient or comfortable as a train.
The days of arriving in Calcutta aboard a British India Steamship are long gone, as in most other cities in the world. The only way you could take a ship to Calcutta is if you took the ship from Port Blair in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The ship arrives at the Sandheads and is then escorted by the Bengal Pilot Service upriver through the treacherous shoals and shifting sandbars to the Kidderpore Docks. Taxis are available at the pier to bring you into the city, if this is the unorthodox method that you choose to arrive in Calcutta.
© Focus Calcutta Initiative, Inc. Contents may be used for non-commercial purposes without malicious intent. Last modified December 10, 2003