I arrived in Kolkata Thursday evening without a hitch. Flight was on time, customs & immigration was easy peasy, the taxi to the hotel was a joyful ride, the hotel is basic but clean and I got a newly reno’d room with ensuite and AC – what more could one ask for?! Friday I spent exploring the area I am staying in – Sudder Street, New Market, Park Street and took in the sight, sounds and smells of Kolkata.
Kolkata has 15 million inhabitants also, same as Dhaka but it feels a little less crowded somehow. Mother Theresa’s Home is closeby to where I am staying, I have not gone there yet but plan to. Predominantly Hindu, Kolkata has a sizeable Muslim community so I was not surprised to hear the call to prayer a number of times a day from my hotel, just in case I was feeling homesick for Dhaka. Many locals live in the area I am staying in evidenced by the everyday living type stores in the area. There are very few tourists but maybe it is just the time of year – not many tourists visit Kolkata during monsoon – only the daft Irish ones I suppose.
My first morning the guy at the front desk told me where to go for breakfast – a little hole in the wall where local families go daily it seems – it’s a regular neighbourhood place where everyone knows everyone else. I got rotis, eggs and black tea for 40 rupees (less than $1), I’ll have to try the pullao one of these mornings – it looked delish on the plate of a guy I was sharing a table with. People eat quickly and run, no lolling around and enjoying some chat during the meal! I am already noticing some differences between Dhaka and Kolkata:
- I have much more freedom to walk the streets of Kolkata than I ever did in Dhaka.
- No open sewers by the road side.
- There are street lights. The sidewalks are mostly paved and there is never a danger of falling into a hole when walking.
- Traffic is less chaotic (I didn’t say ordered, just less chaotic than in Dhaka)
- The old Ambassador cars make lovely taxis. I have only been in one from the airport but I felt like Driving Miss Daisy.
- There is less begging in Kolkata than Dhaka (at least in my experience).
- Everyone speaks English.
- Alcohol is for sale! Although I have not imbibed as yet …. but still, the fact that I can if I want!
Kolkata is a happening place, there is a great vibe to it, the people exude an air of confidence embracing both Indian and western culture simultaneously. I am told people from Kolkata accept all religions and live without conflict together – I heard that over and over and it is something they are proud of (so they should be). It seems an intellectual place, there are bookstalls all over the place where bookstall owners will engage you in all sorts of philosophical discussions at the drop of a hat. The man on the street is tuned into world politics and has opinions on the disorder many countries are facing in current times. I have not yet met anyone who is not pro-Modi – they all feel he will protect them from terrorism – a consistent theme for many I have spoken to. I could happily live in Kolkata! PS This took me forever to post given the wifi connection is so slow here, so there may not be as many posts as I would hope from here.