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Travel with Henry > All adventures > #1 – Kolkata

The flight from Yangon to Kolkata (the former Calcutta) in India was completely relaxed. On the airbus of Air India were certainly more than 200 seats available, but there were no more than a fistful, maybe 20 seats occupied. It was possible to choose your seat freely, the stewardesses were friendly, all in all it was feeling like a 1st class flight. This should be mandatory for every flight to India, because once you are landing, you are trappend in this unique hectic of this great country. Just we had to be prepared, we were shaken by a thunderstorm shortly before touch-down. In spite of the heavy rainfall, the landing itself was easy. More difficult was it afterwards, to find a taxi outside the airport. I know the city from previous trips and had booked a hotel shortly before departure from Myanmar. Hardly passed the last security gate, I was surrounded by half a dozen taxi drivers who called „taxi, taxi, sir“. Some of them pulled at my backpack to tear it from my back and put it into the trunk of their yellow ambassador. According to the motto – if the luggage is in the car, the passenger follows automatically. Such a mixture of hands and voices is overloading, causes stress and if you surrender, you can take for granted that you will be bamboozled mercilessly as foreigner. The cardinal mistake would be to hand out the baggage and simply go ahead before negotiating a suitable ticket. You would inevitably be ripped off. I am not sure if this affliction is being deliberately organized to confuse the victims and lead to thoughtless actions. In Asia, and especially in India, I can not say whether this chaos is intentionally organized or if it is just nothing else than an expression of cultural behavior patterns deeply embedded in their genetic code. From travelling in South America I know this behavior well, it is there a widespread tactic, for ripping of people. I was already fooled by that.

Two times shouted loudly, three of these guys with wide-spreading arm movements pushed out of the way and on the outset ignoring each offer – that was my answer to this hustle and bustle. Fortunately, I do not understand Bengali, because the muttering that was thrown at me was certainly not friendly. After the crowd had moved away, it was time to pick a taxi and start the negotiations. The first offer from the taxi driver was 900 Rupees (INR) – about 12 Euros – for a half-hour trip. My last stay in Kolkata has been a few years ago, so I had no idea about a fair price. According to my experiences I know, that taxi – or Tuktuk drivers, street traders, shops in tourist areas – recapped, everybody who has unsolicited offers in India – are submitting an offer always 3 to 4 times higher than the real local price would be. So my first counter-bid was at 200 INR. After reaching at 500 INR, it was time for me to send the taxi driver away and asking the next one for a dance. Also this one didn’t offer less than 400 INR. Not falling below this limit was probably caused by some facts like – it was already after 10 pm, it rained heavily and my fatigue was obviously written in the face and last but not least – I am a foreigner, it means a rich ignorant walking ATM. From my last taxi ride in Delhi 4 years ago I still knew, that I had to pay for an 8-hour city tour in an air-conditioned taxi around 1200 INR . Even there has taken place some price increases in India – this price was still not okay. A resident local who noticed our intense negotiations, mentioned that there is a ticket office of the taxi trade union inside the airport building. I didn’t see it before, after canceling further negotiating sessions it took 2 minutes to get there. In Ticket offices like this you pay for your journey a fixed price in advance. You only have to hand over the driver the ticket and he will take you to your destination. My ticket price was exactly 200 INR.

The first walk through Kolkata early next morning. The streets are almost deserted – before 11 am.

Many of the street traders and taxi or rickshaw drivers are sleeping daily in their vehicles or even on the road. Daily morning hygiene and laundry is carried out at public water places. Masala Dudh Cay (milk tea with spices) and a typical breakfast – aloo paratha with chana masala (potatoes stuffed flatbread and chick-pea curry) or samosa (deep-fried dumplings stuffed with potato) is available at every street corner in one of the countless street kitchens.

Whole families including their children are living on the streets – they are setting up their cooking places directly at the sidewalk and are leading a hand-to-mouth existence. Family members are earning with their works like collecting garbage or cleaning shoes just so much, that they are able to somehow muddling through.

Built in 1921 to honor Queen Victoria, the Victoria Memorial is considered as one of the tourist attractions in Kolkatta. The building is built of white marble and houses a historical museum. Despite more than 30,000 exhibits the overall offer is rather modest.

My hotel was close to New Market, the busy center of the city. Although Kolkata is a city of millions, some of the sights are within easy walking distance. For example, the Mother House, the religious house of the recently deceased Mother Theresa, in which her sarcophagus is also located. Their name is inextricably linked to the poor and sick in Calcutta, their care facilities are spread throughout the city.

In close proximity, on Park Street is the South Park Street Cemetery, a cemetery from 1767 which was at that time the largest Christian cemetery outside Europe or America. The particularity of this graveyard is the mixture of the tombstones in Gothic and Indo-Saracen style. Although the cemetery has been closed since 1790, this place of tranquility is still used today as a retreat to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Calcutta is unique, is a reflection of the pure India. The Hindu faith is deeply rooted in the population, is an integral part of the day’s daily routine. There are temples or even sacred figures on every street corner.

As well as some large, sacred temples are located in the city – for example, The Dakshineswar Kali Temple. But these temples are far out of the city center – it is hardly possible to get there by walking. I got there already on my motorcycle.

Or the Kalighat Kali temple – taking photos inside the temples is prohibited. At the entrancesthe bags are strictly controlled, it is not possible to take a camera in.

Along the tributaries of the Ganges and canals are slums located – small illegal huts covered only with plastic films. Without fresh water, no electricity and not connected to the public sewage system – the most people are earning their money with collecting rubbish. Even the people in the slums build their own shrines with Hindu deities under trees.

The Howrah Bridge and the Howrah Railway Station in the center of the city should not be missed …

Cu Henry

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