Skip to content

Michael Portillo: BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys – Lucknow to Kolkata – #4/4


On a rail journey from Lucknow to Kolkata, Michael Portillo charts a course through India’s history from The East India Company to the dawn of independence.

On an epic railway journey from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh to Kolkata in West Bengal, Michael Portillo uses his Bradshaw’s 1913 Handbook of Indian, Foreign and Colonial Travel, published when the British Raj was 55 years old, to chart a course through India’s history from the days of The East India Company to the dawn of independence.

In Lucknow, Michael tastes the famous local kebabs before seeking the truth about 1857 Siege of Lucknow, a key moment in the rebellion which precipitated the end of The East India Company’s grip on India and the start of direct British rule. After a classical kathak dance class, Michael boards the sleeper train towards Ghazipur, on the banks of the Ganges. Taking to the sacred waters by boat, he hears the murky story of The East India Company’s opium monopoly, then visits a modern-day opium factory making pharmaceuticals.

Following the 1907-built Grand Chord Railway, Portillo stops off at Bodh Gaya, where he meditates on its Buddhist heritage. Further up the line is Chitteranjan locomotive works, and an extraordinary 980-metre-long locomotive workshop. In Kolkata, established as the capital of British India in the days of The East India Company, Michael battles the crowds at India’s busiest station and glimpses colonial Calcutta in the grand Great Eastern Hotel. A Kolkata tram carries him to the former home of pro-independence poet Rabindranath Tagore, the ‘Bard of Bengal’ and the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. Finally, Michael takes up the thread of India’s long journey towards nationhood at a traditional textile workshop. He hears how a boycott of British cloth inspired Mahatma Gandhi and joins a fashion shoot to see how India’s home-grown textiles are celebrated today.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: