When I was a suburban, stodgy kid, I used to wait for our trips to Calcutta for the occasional tram rides. The joyrides used to be sparse though, since we’d be pressed for time to return to our suburban abode, or we might have been visiting some part of the city not connected by trams. The scenario improved when we moved to Calcutta in 1998. It was by sheer luck that we rented a house around 300 metres from the Ballygunge Tram Depot. I would have loved to take the tram every day enroute to my school in Kidderpore, but time was a constraint to romanticism. I had to give in to the mundane daily drill of the school bus and its irritating co-passengers. As a countermeasure, I began to commute to the private tuitions via tram, whenever possible. Sometimes, the route would be from Ballygunge to Tollygunge, where I would alight at Rashbehari to walk the rest of the part. Since this is one of the busiest junctions in the city, the journey would consume quite some time and I loved sitting idly at one of the windows, watching the rest of the world rushing by the street. The gong of the tram would alert few crossing pedestrians, would scare a few and be a fair bit of warning for private buses and vehicles. That window seat meant a different world to me, sitting in a comfort zone, separated from the chaos outside. Recollecting about the other routes – I have hopped trams too, taking one from College Street in the North, dropping off in Park Circus and taking another till Ballygunge. That one used to be a long ride but quite enjoyable through the busy criss-crossing roads in the North, widening up as we approach the Central towards South Calcutta. It would be unfair if I miss mentioning the Maidan tram depot, one of the picturesque ones in the city, within the greens. It’s a delight to watch the trams slowly emerging at a snail’s pace from their depot at Maidan, much like a caterpillar. I spotted one recently, on one of my trips to the Government offices in Esplanade. Didn’t have the time to hop onto one though. Sadly, I still haven’t clicked a single decent photo of trams in Calcutta.
Did you know? The Tram system in Calcutta is the only existing one in India and the oldest operating network in Asia. It goes back to 1873 starting with horse-drawn trams and moved on to electric trams in 1902.
I was obviously delighted when we moved to Brussels as it has an extensive tram network. Although we use the metro rail more than the tram within the city for convenience, I like the trams in Belgium. They’re a bit too modernised in the interior, thus missing the old world charm emanated by the trams in Calcutta. We have been fortunate enough to visit other cities in Europe that have an operating tramway. From the glamorous red trams in Den Haag to the dazzling yellow in Budapest, from pristine serious trams in Amsterdam to cute ones in Prague and red-white beauties in Vienna – we have seen, ridden and loved them all. I’d like to explore more of them, in other cities that we haven’t visited and collect a lifetime of memories in trams.
Do you like trams? Have you been on a ride ever? Share your experiences in comments. I’d love to know.
Europe is a treasure trove of a unique blend of history and art, which might be bizarre at times, but nonetheless interesting. There are hidden gems that haven’t yet received the attention that they deserve from the rest of the world. Few are easily found on the internet, if you’re looking at the right place, and others might appear in books. It’s true that fiction has a very important role in bringing out artworks and places of importance to the eyes of readers worldwide. A few years ago, we chanced upon a book called The Devil’s Prayer by an Indian writer, Luke Gracias. He had travelled widely across Europe and set unusual backdrops for his story. One of them was Sedlec Ossuary or The Bone Church, near to Prague. It made a special position in our wish list of unique things to see and finally we ticked it off in our trip to the Czech Republic.
In a nutshell
Sedlec Ossuary is one of a kind, a chapel decorated entirely with human bones and skulls. There are bones of an estimated 40000-60000 humans. To all those who have begun to cringe by now at this information – it is neither gruesome nor scary. People weren’t killed so that their bones would be used to decorate this church. When you actually visit the place, it is a calm and serene one, devoid of any horrors or macabre vibes. The sole reason being – this chapel is a memorial of lives lost, it does not celebrate their deaths. There is an enormous chandelier of bones, which is a must see.
Located in Kutna Hora, a suburb about 1 hour by train from Prague, the Sedlec Ossuary receives about 200,000 visitors per year.
Growing up in India, statues or sculptures always meant commemorating historical stalwarts and landmarks that we can add later to our postal addresses. In all seriousness, I had never heard of modern art/installations in public places in India while I was young. For us Calcuttans, the biggest statue is the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose one at a five point crossing in Shyambazar. I even doubt if it was installed for the sole purpose of creating a landmark for the important crossing of five roads. Much later while I lived in Pune, I’ve often heard people doling out directions like – “Turn left at the Shivaji ka putla.” It took me a while to figure out that the mentioned ‘putla’ is a bronze statue, installed at the corner of a bridge, while wondering if it was a shop selling Shivaji inspired figurines.
Europe, on the other hand, has been much experimental with statues/sculptures/fountains and I have been fortunate enough to be able to visit and admire a few of them in awe. Surprisingly, Prague turned out to be a haven of sculptures, even while it is called the city of a thousand spires. The main reason behind this revolution is sculptor David Cerny. Frankly, I learned about him only recently, after having seen photos and videos from people visiting Prague. There is no disagreement on the fact that Indian visitors to Europe were sparse before the EU and Schengen visa for 28 countries happened. And now there’s a boom! So, here we go, my pick of the five must-see statues in Prague.