Having had a terrible night in transit here prior to heading to China we were kinda dreading coming back to Kolkata. The hotel near the airport was 100% uninhabitable (this was the ring of urine around the base of the toilet as some were not convinced). Landing at midnight and being unable to check into our hotel until after noon we decided to stay at the airport for another 7 hours yet again. The sun came up and we hopped a cab to the accommodation a little concerned after our first effort.
The journey there took us past some of the filthiest most atrocious slums and poverty I have ever seen. Needless to say we tend not to take photos of such things. We arrived at our very nice guest house and the staff let us into an absolutely great room…early. A sleep got us good again and off we went. Kolkata is simultaneously one of the richest and poorest cities in all of India. The divide between the two is palpable and depending upon which suburb you are in the poverty and filth is entirely in your face or the lavishness of colonial times reign supreme.
We walked through a slum area to find that they were using a bulldozer to clear the trash so that new construction could happen. This resulted in about 500 crows and 20 or so dogs picking through the freshly moved trash for any food morsels that may exist. Added to this there were about 25 Kites (birds of prey) circling and swooping on the dislodged and displaced rats as the bulldozer did its work. Fascinating to watch until we got set upon by beggars and had to move on.
The British sectors of Calcutta are magnificent. The shops, restaurants and market stalls are good too. There are segments of the city where the is an active effort to keep things clean and tidy which is really encouraging to see. The rest of the place is filthy and dirty and the rubbish bin and toilet for all Indians. We hit the museum, the Victoria memorial, St Paul’s cathedral, the clock tower, South Park cemetery, Eden gardens cricket ground and a bunch of mosques and old buildings etc…
The metro is efficient and cheap, we came across our first western style shopping mall that would put most westfields to shame as it was so nice. The most fun bit is watching some of the Indians trying to traverse an escalator for what, I had to guess, was for their first time. The modern guys were normal but the old, young and the less educated caused massive backlogs as they freaked getting on…and did not clear the other end causing pile ups and all sorts of dramas.
The introduction of trams and the man pulled tana rickshaws into the normal traffic chaos added a whole new element of complexity which I am sure Jill will elaborate on in her planes trains section.