Maidan – The word literally means ‘ground’.
I from experience can assure you that the Maidan isn’t just a ground, it is a ground that Calcutta has its roots in.
Formally named as Groer Math, the creation of the Maidan dates to the 1750s. This land was cleared to make space after the setting up of Fort William by the British. The connection between the military and this 1000-acre lush space is strong even today. The Indian Army maintains the ground as it is a part of the Fort William Army Base. In fact, the name Groer comes from the Bengali word ‘Gawr-er’ which translates to “fort’s “. Thus, the name. The ground which was originally a forest cleared for wood and pasture, today serves as the lungs of the metropolis around it.
I was greeted by a pair of grazing horses as I entered the Maidan on a nice Sunday morning. Horses are an integral part of the Maidan ecosystem. They can be found here on most days just grazing lazing around. During the evenings, however, they go to work as they pull the famous buggies in front of Victoria. Some of the horses you will find here are also the ones who take part in races and are out for an occasional stroll from the nearby Racecourse. Watching these magnificent animals run around the Maidan during the light monsoon showers is truly a sight to behold.
After multiple attempts to capture a picture of the stallions, I proceeded deeper int to the Maidan – where the ground came to life. Situated just across the road from the world-famous Eden Gardens cricket stadium, the Maidan gives everyone the chance be the cricketer they’ve always wanted to be. I myself encountered a group of kids who were indulged in a game. They were elated to have me bowl them a few balls and click their photos. Unlike the tense game that takes place in a stadium, the ones that happen here are treasure troves of fun and joy. Emotions that paired with adrenaline give rise to some amazing moments that the ground is a gallery of.
The makeshift crease and brick wickets and the surreal happiness, all these are the factors that make cricket in Maidan a spectacle to witness. Be it the warm sunny mornings or the rains of June and July…the game in the Maidan remains a constant.
Cricket isn’t the only sport tat the Maidan hosts. Football and Hockey too are a common sight here. The matches here range all the way from street’s style to professional club practices and an age group spanning from 6-7-year olds to those in their sixties. Several poles and goal posts have been set up for the same. Since I was visiting on a Sunday, I managed to catch a glimpse of the practice sessions in their full glory and a number of many people playing their own matches. Photographing the football games in here poses a unique challenge. Due to large amount of people playing in small groups in very close proximity, it is very easy to look in the viewfinder and get hit by a stray penalty shoot. It’s like watching football while playing dodgeball.
Hockey also has a very special connection with the area. The prestigious Beighton Cup was born in the Maidan in 1895. The tournament which is one of the oldest in existence has seen the likes of Dhyan Chand and many others. In all the ground is a hunting ground for coaches looking for new talent……talent that often reaches the state and national levels.
There are some non-competitive activities too that are quite visible in the morning. Yoga is one fine example. Many of the tree-covered regions in the ground are often filled with the sound of laughter, breathing, and counting as they are used by people to practice their daily morning exercises. A few minutes of guided breathing after a grueling football match is all that the body needs. Jogging and walking rounds around the Maidan is also something that you will find to be a very common activity. Traveling the perimeter of the Maidan is a very special and unique activity indeed. It is like a heritage walk owing to the fact that the Maidan is surrounded by many iconic landmarks.
My journey started right opposite the Victoria memorial. This probably the most iconic landmark that Kolkata boasts of. The building which turns 100 in 2021 is now a museum and a major tourist spot. Right next to the Victoria are the St. Pauls Cathedral and the Birla Planetarium. The former is the largest church in Calcutta and just too beautiful too not be seen. The M.P.Birla planetarium is a stupa like structure that is the place to be for any astronomy lover.
After these three places filled with history and science, some peace of mind at the Sri Aurobindo Bhavan is well deserved. Situated right on the Shakespeare Sarani, the Bhavan is a 10-minute walk from the Maidan entrance of the Victoria memorial. The Bhavan is basically a shrine that houses the photographs and relics of Shri Aurobindo, a famous philosopher. It is a must-visit for anyone interested in philosophy.
The next stop is a stroll by Chowringhee Road. The road is laden with many iconic buildings. The latest addition to the long list of landmarks is the 42, the largest residential building in Kolkata. Apart from this rather new construction, some famous addresses are the Virginia House, Tata center, Metro Plaza to name a few. As you proceed further, just after the Park Street flyover is The Indian Museum. The 200-year-old museum has one of the largest and most prestigious collections of artifacts. This ranges all the way from prehistoric fossils to Egyptian mummies and from relics to modern era taxonomy figures. Popularly known as the Jadoo Ghar, it is a must-visit because it has something for everyone.
The road leads to the its intersection with Rashmoni Av. The Shaheed Minar is visible from that point. Originally built in the 19th century by the British to celebrate the victories, the Minar now is major landmark and an integral part of the Maidan.
Following onto Rashmoni Av., one reaches a circle. One road leads to Netaji Subhash Road. This houses a number old of old offices now used by the Various wings of the Government in addition to the Calcutta High Court and the Raj Bhava, the governor’s house, which is visible from the circle. A walk down this road is a walk into Calcutta and not Kolkata. A reminder of the pre independence era, It is a really beautiful and loved place by photo walkers.
I however chose the other path as I strolled towards the Eden Gardens. The Eden Gardens is the Eden of Indian cricketing history. The match has seen innumerable iconic innings and the prime forms of all generations of cricketers in its 150-year history. Right from 268 knock by Rohit Sharma which remains the highest individual score in ODI to the infamous 1996 world cup semi-final which was declared due to an unprecedented crowd disturbance. The iconic stadium is a piece of history and every cricketer’s heart.
Right opposite the Eden lies the statue of Goshto Pal and the Mohun Bagan ground. The ground that is home of one of the best know football clubs in the nation. Goshto Pal is a legend when it comes to Indian Football. Playing club football from the age of 11 to captaining the national team…..The popularity of his statue is just a small fraction of the man’s actual fan following.
As I kept walking, I realized that I was on the riverfront. The river Hooghly is the lifeline of both, Kolkata and Howrah. The walk along the Fort William’s boundary and the river leads one straight to the Racecourse. The place that has lifted many from rags to riches and brought many more down that very ladder. The place is also famous for being supposedly haunted by the ghost of a white horse. Crossing the racecourse will lead you back to Maidan.
The whole 1-and-a-half-hour walk got me hungry. So well, it was time for the best part of any trip – Eating.
Just before entering the Maidan, I had a rather fulfilling breakfast at the Balwant Singh Eating House which is about 1 kilometer outside of Victoria. It is the go-to spot for night owls and early risers. The establishment is famous for its 3 am tea and vegetarian snacks. My breakfast plate comprised of tea and samosa – The traveling Indian’s trademark breakfast. The tea, if I should describe it in a word, was the BEST. The combination of spices and milk ratio was just spot on. The eatery is a must-visit for anyone in the area.
So, after the walk around the Maidan, I dropped by at Russel Street where I had another glass of Tea and idlis. The tea was at Russel Punjabi Dhaba and the idli just opposite it. It is surprising that some of the finest Idli I’ve had area in Kolkata. More than the idli, it was the mildly spicy coconut chutney that did the magic. The credit for finding that vendor goes to my Father eho had his college, St. Xaviers, in the area.
For those of you who are looking for some authentic Kolkata style street food, you might have to want until its evening. Maidan attains a new life once the sunsets. The footpath from across the Victoria becomes host to Jhaal mudi vendors, aloo chop sellers, a variety of games, and who can forget the famous buggies that adorn the road around the area. From my experience, the best things to have in the are papri chat and puchka. The feeling of having a Tram ride in the Kolkata rains with a cone of Jhaal Mudi is the emotion that is just heavenly.
So in all, Maidan is that part of Kolkata that has been there since city has been there. And it will continue to be. Right from the morning to the evening, The place shows multiple shades that is reflection of the City of the Joy
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