Week 4, Kolkata
After a few days at the seaside it was time for another flight and a complete change of pace. Like Chennai, Hyderabad and Vizag, Bhubaneswar had a modern airport with cheap flights everywhere, so I booked on another Indigo flight, this time to Kolkata. 1500Rs for an hour flight was pretty good I thought. I wasn't sure about Kolkata. I had visions of poverty, pollution, traffic congestion and all that goes with a huge Indian city of 14 million people. However, I had also heard some good things about the place and I like nothing better than mooching in markets, eating street food, checking out the local architecture and history and observing people going about their business.
The flight and airports at both ends were as efficient as I had come to expect and soon I had my prepaid taxi ticket in hand and heading for the taxi stand. Taxis in Chennai and Hyderabad had been fairly modern but it was reassuring to see a fleet of bright yellow, ancient ambassadors waiting for me. I had arrived at night but the city never sleeps and although the traffic wasn't that bad it took me over an hour to get to my hotel. First impressions were good. It reminded me a little of old Hanoi, with crumbling colonial architecture and full-on street life.
One thing I had expected was that accommodation in Kolkata is expensive. I booked into a fairly decent hotel (the Corporate) which at 4000Rs a night was a lot more expensive than the vastly superior Royalton in Hyderabad but it was right where I wanted to be, fairly central.
The next day I headed out and I have to say within a short while I was completely sold on the place. It was full on and in your face but I absolutely loved it. Every inch of pavement was occupied with small stalls selling everything from ballpoint pens and baseball caps to all sorts of food items, the sticky little sweet fancies for which Kolkata is famous to curry lunches. The architecture was fantastic - lots of crumbling old Victorian buildings including the markets which were all hives of activity selling meat, veggies and spices of all kinds. There were brightly coloured buses, ancient, decrepit trams, the yellow ambassador taxis and rickshaws - not just the usual auto-rickshaws but also cycle rickshaws and amazingly, hand pulled rickshaws. There was also some poverty, some people were obviously living on the streets and there were a few beggars but I didn't think it was so bad and they certainly didn't hassle me. I had also decided before arriving in India that on this trip I would regularly give money to beggars so I always made sure I had change in my pocket but they were actually quite few and far between.
In the end I spent 6 nights there and I didn't do half the things I intended. Below are some photos, mainly of street life. There were quite a few "proper sights" as well, museums etc but India has this annoying habit of not allowing photography in many places. For temples that is absolutely fine, such as the amazing Kalighat temple which is a must-see place but also inside the Victoria monument which has a great little museum. One of the things I didn't go to at all was the Indian museum. I'm not a big museum fan but I often go anyway but they had recently put the price up to 500Rs for foreigners, which now I'm back in Europe, doesn't seem much but in the context of India, it is ridiculously expensive (unless it really was several notches above every other museum I had been to) and anyway, I was having way too much fun just wandering the streets.