Kolkata hasn’t proved too difficult a destination to start the India trip with, the traffic is quite full on and it’s a bit smelly, but besides that a great starting point. I think visiting Vietnam and Bhutan before India was good preparation indeed. A good way of minimising the culture shock.
Kolkata is a good city to visit for a few days, it’s remarkably hassle free and without too many big name sights there aren’t too many foreign visitors to be found. The streets are wide, not too challenging to navigate sure the traffic is abundantly loud with piercing horns in constant use by all road users. The traffic laws seem advisory, making vigilance and attentiveness incredibly important when attempting to cross the road, it can be surprising where the vehicles appear from, especially the taxi drivers in their cool bright yellow Ambassador cars who are particularly reckless and feckless.
As the former capital of British colonial India, Kolkata still has a few remaining vestiges, the impressive ability to queue in an orderly fashion when required is one. By far the most impressive is the Queen Victoria memorial, this marble palace is made in a European style and features a large dome, four wings and an impressively sized garden, complete with reflective pools. Inside the photography ban is vigorously enforced, it is an impressive building, certainly more a palace in size than a memorial, with groups of Indians and the odd European ogling this visual reminder of former power. A very good exhibit in one of the wings traces Kolkata’s history, in particular the historic and modern influence left by colonial interaction.
The Park St cemetery is another vestige of colonial times, it’s quite a nice distraction and break from the hustle of the city, walking around the mausoleum like grave markers was a bit surreal, with the jungle like plants amongst and on the graves. The English texts on the grave markers seem a little out of place, in this warm climate.
Walking around Kolkata I watch the people, while of course they watch me, sometimes the stares are more penetrating than others, but I’m not bothered, I don’t sense any malice behind the gaze. Occasionally I return the gaze with a held glance, angle my head as if I had a hat to tip and offer a smile, more often than not a smile beams back at me. I particularly like to see the small crowds of men standing outside electronic stores, watching the cricket through the window, the Chai Wallahs with their enormous tea pots and the beautiful traditional clothes the women wear.