Photograph by DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY, AFP/Getty
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People play games and relax on the Maidan, a park near the Victoria Memorial, a museum in the heart of Kolkata.

Photograph by DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY, AFP/Getty

Take a virtual stroll through India's ‘city of joy’

Scroll through a "walking map" of Kolkata to get a flavor of this vibrant cultural hub.

Writer and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk is a storytelling odyssey across the world in the footseps of our human forebears. He is now in northeastern India walking toward Myanmar.

The Out of Eden Walk project's "Walking Kolkata" interactive map is the continuation of a series of urban maps. Photos, video, and interviews recorded on a storytelling walk through a major city located on (or near) the project's global walking route are loaded into a digital map. And by following our GPS track, readers anywhere in the world can experience the daily textures and dramas that unfold on the streets of great urban centers that today straddle the corridors of our species’ first discovery of the world in the Stone Age.

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Kolkata is a steaming hot alloy of human longing, high and low.

Past city walks have included foot journeys through Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Jerusalem, Israel; Tbilisi, Georgia; and Baku, Azerbaijan. I am joined on this journey through Kolkata by Out of Eden Walk cartographer Jeff Blossom and by journalist Sutirtha Chatterjee.

Our city walks are guided by locals, most of them newly met friends: archeologists, human rights activists, radio talk show hosts, skyscraper window washers, mountaineers. The walks are recorded at a leisurely pace—we pause often to chat with passersby, hydrate with a chai, and explore dead-ends. The distances can be spanned comfortably in a day. (Walking Jerusalem, a particularly complex city, took three days.) This time we ramble through Kolkata, the historic capital of West Bengal, India.

Nicknamed the “city of joy,” Kolkata—or Calcutta as it was formerly known—is the cultural capital of eastern India: a dizzying, steaming hot alloy of human longing, high and low. Much of its gloried architecture dates to the British Raj. It’s where Mother Teresa treated lepers and AIDs sufferers at her missionary hospitals. Men in boats sink lines into its river, the muddy Hooghly—not to pull up fish, which are almost gone, but to yank up old, recyclable metal using magnets. Occasionally, it is said they find gold.

This story was originally published on the National Geographic Society’s website devoted to the Out of Eden Walk project. Explore the site here. Photos, text, and videos by Paul Salopek; story map compilation by Jeff Blossom, GIS service manager, Center for Geographic Analysis, Harvard University; guiding and interpretation by Sutirtha Chatterjee.

Paul Salopek
won two Pulitzer Prizes for his journalism while a foreign correspondent with the Chicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @paulsalopek.