sulabh swatchh bharat

Saturday, 25-May-2019


On the ride from Shahid Minar to Kidderpore, patrons can take in the sights while enjoying Bengali cuisine

For those who might have sighed a lot for missing one of the enchanting heritage of old Calcutta, here is heart-throbbing news for them. 
Yes, you’ve got it right; their sighs have been billowing out for the tramcars, the little demons that used to meander slothly through the myriad and clogged streets of the city. The fast pace of the metropolis, they are afraid, might have signalled that the trams could well be rolling into the sunset.
In a historic move, the West Bengal transport department has rolled out a refurbished tram-on-wheels, designed as a fine-dining 28-seater restaurant; coinciding with the Pujas, the tram christened as Victoria-on-Wheels has trundled out on October 13 and so far, has been a grand success.
The ride comes with a wide variety of culinary choices for those who want to bathe in nostalgia. Planned to travel through a hassle-free stretch - from Shahid Minar to Kidderpore – the discerning gourmet will get drenched in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals as the decorated air-conditioned ‘demon’ rolls through some sightseeing stretches as well.
As this correspondent hopped on to one of the rides on a bright sunny day during the puajs, it turned out to be an exciting affair. A group of foreigners comprising students and professionals who gathered in front of KC Das (a famous shop of branded sweets), impatient for the ride, could hardly hide their glee at the prospect of stealing a glimpse of old Calcutta. For, the authorities had organised a special ride, thanks to the Durga Pujas.
The first thing that Frank and Molly, who came with their seven-month-old boy Wilson from California, wanted to do in Kolkata, experienced a tram ride. “It is our first visit to the city, we heard about the tram from a friend and didn’t want to miss a ride,” said Frank as the tram chugged through the crowded street through Wellington towards College Street.
Alessa, a student of Economics from Italy, found a resemblance between old trams of Milan and Kolkata. “Now, though, the trams back home are modernised,” said Alessa who takes a tram regularly from her university to home. “There isn’t much difference between the rides,” she added. Her friend Laura pointed out that this tram ride was a ‘must-do’ on her list as she missed it last time when she visited the city in 2012.
When the tram halted in front of Presidency College, Shania, a New Yorker, burst into joy, saying there was such a beautiful similarity about the way a tram crawls past the maddening crowd of the city.
Microphones blaring and streets clogged with festive crowd notwithstanding, the travellers aboard Victoria would hardly mind the prolonged halts as they sipped tea and snacks, enjoying the brightly attired motley crowd.  
Aimed at generating revenue for the loss-making Calcutta Tramways Company (CTC), the restaurant on wheels has been decked up with artwork depicting various famous tourist spots in the city. One may tempt to say that there is a discreet attempt to copy India’s now famous Palace-on-wheels; but admittedly, it would be unfair to draw a comparison as the comfort level and other hi-tech facilities available in the train, are absent in the tram. 
The air-conditioning apart, a music system and bio-toilets are there that would definitely be wooing tourists who seek the unique experience of dining in a moving tramcar.
The Victoria, a catering chain, which has bagged the contract for 10 years through a tender, will cough up Rs 1.6 lakh per month to the ailing CTC.
“We are adopting various innovative approaches to generate revenue for the tram company,” explained a senior CTC official. The reasons are obvious; first, tram routes have been abolished across various heavily congested stretches of the city to facilitate smooth movement of traffic. Its routes have been slashed to less than 25 from more than 50 earlier.
Trams moving at snail’s pace would obviously be slowing the pace of traffic. As a result, this has impacted the fare collection which has otherwise gone down over the years, the CTC official said. The state government, facing a funds crunch, had long back introduced bus services under CTC to tide over the mounting loss. Once upon a time though, the tram service was the main mode of transport in the city, but not anymore - even though the tram fare is still the lowest at Rs 6 and Rs 7.
Patronage of the tram service, considered one of the oldest modes of public transport, has fallen drastically because of the onslaught of taxis, private buses and India’s first Metro service.
Hence, it’s no wonder that from a mode of transport, trams have now become a ‘mode of experiment’, said JP Mishra, one of the CTC employees. Tirtha Das, another employee, said though various factors have led to the tram service being truncated, attempts are being made to continue its operation by realignment of tracks on the one side of the road.
Presently, two trams have been refurbished to cater to travelling-cum-catering services. Plans are on board to expand the services to other areas, depending on the response. Plus, plans are on the anvil to introduce exclusive tram rides on popular routes during the festive occasions at special rates, explained the CTC official. 
As of now, Victoria-on-Wheels will make two rides each covering the lunch and dinner hours, and during the Durga Pujas there will be three rides in the evening.
The package offer is Rs 999 for a non-vegetarian meal and Rs 799 for vegetarian food, including a welcome drink, starters, main course and dessert during a 90-minute ride from Shahid Minar to Kidderpore and back. But the special rides during the Pujas or other festive occasions will offer a different bundle and that was what was liked by Alessa, Frank and Molly.