Wednesday, 9 April 2014


In Calcutta, one never ceases to be surprised. What this city, time and again, makes me realize, is that I should never take it for granted.  On one of my photo tours in Kumartuli – the artisans’ colony, where many a beautiful clay idols are created day in and out – I was marveling at the beauty all around. Idols in their various stages of completion - all vying for the attention of the cameras that were making their way through the lanes - were bringing a smile on the faces of my guests and admiration for the artists. One is expecting this – the symphony of straw being tied, of it nearly taking the shape of the sinew of a ferocious lion biting onto Mahishasur’s arm, the dull, damp sound of clay being kneaded just to the right consistency and texture for that perfect finish on Ma Durga’s face. A splash of paint here, an eye being painted there – everything in that place connects me to my soul. Peaceful! And it appeals also to the guests who are walking with me. They are fascinated by what they see around, but are touched more by the rustic ease with which the artisans make them feel as one of their own – nearly half a world away from their home. They offer some chai, a creaky wooden bench, a place in their hearts. I never cease to fall in love with this place – over and over again.

Everything is as it is supposed to be – the idols, the people, and the wonderful, comforting smell of clay – just like on so many tours that I have conducted. Suddenly I hear a sound which seems alien there. It is not a chopper splicing into the bamboo or straw being tied or clay being shaped or anything else that I have heard earlier. It has a strange rhythm – nearly machine like. I peek into one of the windows. The inside is dark and all I see is a frail frame of a man working on some contraption. I smell plastic - hot, molten and suffocating. I can nearly feel my inside revolt to the smell. He goes on what he was doing, oblivious of someone at the window – every movement timed to perfection. As if his life depended on getting it right. Every time! I pause. I have never seen this little house before on this lane – and I have been walking through it for six, maybe more, years now. It measures about 8 square feet – maybe more, maybe less. I really don’t remember. Maybe I didn’t bother to see that. It really didn’t matter maybe. But from the sight of it, all that belonged to him was in that room – but all that mattered to him was the machine he was working at. It was dark and I didn’t really understand what he was doing. But I could smell the vile plastic – the cheap kind. I hate plastic and especially the one that smells like the one I could smell there. I felt I was killing a bit of myself with every breath I was taking. But there he was, working, right there from where the fumes were emanating without any safety – no mask, bare bodied with just a glove over his left hand.

I was very intrigued. I asked him what he was doing. Without even looking up, he replied: “Pordaar ring” – curtain rings. The plastic rings that one uses to hang a curtain on a curtain rod. Every time he was turning the levers with all his might he was magically conjuring up one shiny, black plastic ring which he would lift out of the cast and toss in a sack that was beside the machine. It would surely still be warm I think – because all the while I could smell the plastic – warm and sinister. No protection – that was the first thing that came to my mind. Those fumes could never be safe. What was his name, I asked him. He looked up at me for the first time. Kalipado he said. Maybe no one had ever asked him that. None of the thousands of photographers who have walked the lanes of Kumartuli have stopped by his shack I believe. I asked him if I could take some pictures. He looked at me for the second time. This time the gaze was longer. His eyes seeking an answer to a question he never really asked. He smiled. Yes, he said.

  I struggled. Both because of the smell of plastic and him! This was surely not a way to live. But he didn’t really pause to think about that, ever, I think. He was working like a machine. Every single moment mattered to him. I blurted out something about low light and he promptly asked me if he should switch on a bulb. I checked myself quickly and said it was okay and that I am sorry for bothering him and delaying his work. He smiled back at me, never really stopping his practiced routine of gathering a handful of plastic grains, putting them in the mould, turning all those levers with all his might and tossing a shiny ring in the sack. Repeat! Repeat!! Repeat!!! I took some photos, showed him some, thanked him and moved on to my guests who were shooting a large idol of Krishna as a child – Baal Gopaal – plump, happy with a ladoo in his hand. Just a wall separating a very lean, over-worked, nearly starving Kalipado and the beautiful idol of Gopaal! So like Calcutta. The city – intimidating, noisy, dusty to the traveler skimming through it, but incredible, soulful, welcoming and enigmatic for anyone who wants to connect with her!

I really want to become old doing what I do.

- Manjit Singh Hoonjan, 9th April, 2014

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

An Exclusive Photowalk with Sam Hussein, the Celebrated British Royal Family Photographer in collaboration with Calcutta Photo Tours

Armed with a camera, Calcuttans are all set to walk through the corridors of culture in the city this December along with celebrated photographer Samir Hussein.

Calcutta Photo Tours, a travel company that has been formed with the spirit of celebrating the variegated flavours of good old Calcutta, is organising an exclusive photo tour in aid of Hope Kolkata Foundation on Friday, December 13, 2013.

The tour will provide a glimpse of the cultural kaleidoscope of the City of Joy.

A tour conceived by Calcutta Photo Tours it aims to introduce the participants to various communities like the Chinese who made the city their home and gave it its amazing Chinese food to the oldest surviving Christian tomb, the tour promises to be a photographer’s delight.

The cultural potpourri will also provide a chance to know amazing facts about various other communities who made Calcutta home and who now form an integral part of Calcutta and taste the local food.
The proceeds of the photo tour will go to Hope Kolkata Foundation, an NGO working with street and slum children of Calcutta.

About Samir Hussein
Samir Hussein is one of the UK's leading Royal and Entertainment photographers. Spending much of his time as an official photographer capturing the British Royal Family, he also documents film festivals such as Cannes, London and Paris Fashion seeks, Europe's biggest music festivals as well as the top VIP parties and red carpet events.

His work finds place in world-renowned publications such as The New York Times, Hello!, The Guardian, Life, Paris Match, Rolling Stone Magazine, The Times and Stern, and his imagery has also graced Royal stamps, coins and big-scale advertising and marketing campaigns.

His portfolio includes standout images of the likes of Angelina Jolie, Rihanna, The Rolling Stones and Madonna.

About Manjit Singh Hoonjan
Manjit Singh Hoonjan is a photographer, living and creating in Calcutta, India. The origin of his passion for photography is the deep love and connection that he feels for the city: its unique architecture, vibrant markets, colourful urban landscapes and magical ambiance which turn Calcutta into a living and breathing photographers' heaven.

He believes that the cultural richness, heritage and the urban narrative of Calcutta in general could not be the same without the people living here. That is why a major part of his photography is focused on inhabitants of Calcutta and is dedicated to them.

Start time: 6:30 a.m.
Duration of tour: Approximately 3 hours.
Meeting point: Indian Airlines city office, Central Avenue.
Tariff: Tour will cost INR 1,500/person
Itinerary: Some of the neighbourhoods and places that will be covered on this tour include Bow Barracks, Zoroastrian Fire Temple, Old Chinatown, Old Jewish neighbourhoods, Jain Temple, Portuguese Church, Armenian Church and the Chitpur neighbourhood.

Registration Closes on: 12.12.13 at 1 pm

For Registration Contact:
Manjit at +919831163482
Alokeparna at +919830212109
Debayani at +919836010988

More details here :

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Godrej Coffer at the Armenian Church, Calcutta (Kolkata)

The Godrej coffer at the Armenian Church in Calcutta

On our Culture Kaleidoscope Tour ( that takes one through the various communities that made Calcutta home one of the stops in the Armenian Church on Armenian Street in Calcutta. There, stuck into the wall just at the entrance to the church one sees this "Collection Box For The Poor". The inscription on it tells that it is from 1929 and was presented to The Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth by Cecil Gregory Apcar in the loving memory of his mother Hossanah Aram Apcar who departed this life in Calcutta on the 25th March 1929.

It was truly amazing when this picture which was uploaded to Facebook prompted a friend of mine Chirodeep Chaudhuri an established photographer who has recently launched a splendid book titled "A Village in Bengal" to share this picture with Vrunda Pathare who works at Godrej and is in charge of a wonderful initiative at Godrej - Godrej Archives (more about it on there Facebook page:

Vrunda shared that they had picked up a similar safe at Chor Bazaar and they were quite surprised that another of those existed and that too in a public place like this.

The caretakers of the Church say that though they have the key to the coffer, the coffer itself cannot be opened since the lock does not work anymore. It does have some layers of paint and opening it might need some efforts. It would be awesome to see it open and functioning again! Maybe something Godrej can help with?

The following are some pictures and information about these coffers courtesy Godrej Archives.

Godrej Coffers and Cash-boxes from a catalogue of Godrej Security Products, 1940s
Priced at Rs.55 and Rs.65, the Godrej Coffer was used to store business papers or valuables when a safe was considered too expensive. The coffers were small enough to be fixed in cupboards or to counters and could even be built into a wall as in the case of the Armenian church, at an additional cost (of Rs. 3) of course

Burglar-resisting Coffers
This truly was an awesome find! Stay tuned for more of such gems hidden in the lanes and alleys of Calcutta.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Telegraph, Calcutta (Kolkata) features us!

Calcutta's First Photo Tour company gets featured in today's "The Telegraph". A very heartfelt Thank You to all the well-wishers! Would not have been possible without your best wishes!

The photographs in this article are from the World Photography Day tour and the Scott Kelby Worldwide Walk.

To read the article online please click here :

For more details look up here:
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Saturday, 18 August 2012

Kites, Friends & Independence Day!

It was Independence Day! 15th August 2012. The country had been Independent for 65 years! It meant different things to different people.

Since my childhood, Independence Day was special in it's own ways. My earliest memories of the day meant getting a chance to hoist my very own hand-made paper flag, which used to be pasted around a stick with fevicol. Of course the process would not been complete without the preparation that went into the making of that flag the day before. It was like my little being was paying homage to something that was so important. Independence Day!

With time, the paper flag turned into a cloth one... and a little bit of more money turned into the fine silky one! THAT was special! With time I lost the motivation to hoist one on my roof... lost respect for the day? No! Not really! Lost innocence, perhaps!

There was another tradition that really went hand in had with Independence Day celebrations - yeah besides the "holiday", the patriotic songs on radio and television and a loudspeaker in nearly every neighborhood. Something more than Sir Richard Attenborough's Gandhi which had Ben Kingsley playing the Father of the Nation - Kite Flying!

The sky on the 15th of August would be dotted with kites. The energy and excitement palpable from every terrace, every landing that was good to fly one! It was a ritual... it was something you had to do!

Here I must confess that I never ever managed to take one off the ground... but I would still go and buy a few, some colored, toughed (with glass powder, adhesives and what not) thread and a fancy looking spindle - latai in Bengali, charkhi in Hindi!

This year, a few of my school friends decided to play out the tradition that had maybe got lost in the vagaries of life and growing up! So all of us from all around the city landed up at one of our friend's place!

One of us had actually pinned the Tri-colour on his chest. Which at first seemed a little strange... but now that I sit and write this I feel it was really a wonderful gesture.

Everyone was prepared... with their arsenal! Latai's stocked with various varieties of "manjha" and another one for "kachha" the one that would form the later part of the thread since when you going to bring down the opponents kite the frantic pulling and tugging would make you cut your fingers. So sharp was the "manjha".

Honestly I never knew so many varieties of kites existed. In fact a day before one of the gang actually sent a message on our group's whatsapp saying he had got "about 1 dozen soyakatin... 2 dozen ektel... ordinary... 1 dozen kurimaar & 6 addha..." The last variety was specially for the two of them who were pros!! BEAT THAT! :-)

Here they are getting ready for the day!

And then when the conditions were just perfect, they started... and how... Krishnendu, Siddharth and Rajiv... and all the while they made fun of me and my camera! Yeah, I was the only one who had no idea how on earth could these things get off the ground!

Necessity is the mother of invention they say.. and this is never more obvious in these little innovations that the "pros" think up to take care of their needs... So what do you do when you need both your hands for the attack on the opponents kite? Where do you keep the spindle so that it is close and yet keeps on supplying uninterrupted thread?


All this frantic activity went on for sometime... little did these boys realize that they were not as young and pro at things like flying kites like they were maybe a decade ago. Rajiv was the saviour here... he got just what was required on a hot, sweltering afternoon... Nice, cold thick coffee!

And then the moment happened... the first of that afternoon... when all that the boys were hoping for came true... 




Bho Katta... - as my friend Krishnendu insists it should be spelled... (at that's Rs. 1000/- for the word - the spelling comes free he says :-) ) - is what the war cry you scream when you get the opponent's kite down!

And this was not the first... there were many more such war cries that afternoon!

We lost some... we gained some, but what were took back that evening was a time well spent with friends and a little brush with our pasts'... it was truly an Independence Day to remember!

Thank you guys! It was worth it... every bit!

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Saturday, 11 August 2012

Kumartuli Beckons...

It is that time of the year when Kumartuli is in a phase of heightened activity... Everything seems to be moving faster... Work is on full swing for the Pujos which are fast approaching. The straw work is mostly over, the basic structure is ready, and the models of clay and mud are finally getting an identity... a face!

The hands which are moulding these faces perform nearly an act of worship... one is creating God. Measured moves - a result of years of doing the same thing each year... What a feeling just to be in the presence of these artisans! Wow!

It is really an amazing time for one to go photographing here. Just so much to shoot.

And then there are times when one notices something funny... something that was not in the scheme of things.

Like this artisan wearing an "Enter The Dragon" tee with the "Demon" drying itself out in the sun.

Come, lets explore this wonderful little world of Kumartuli.

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