Calcutta (or Kolkata) was our first destination in India, we planned to use these days mostly to adjust and I never intended to write about it but we leave tomorrow and I felt like I needed to share our experience.
We’d been told that when we arrived in India we would be overwhelmed by every aspect of the place. So, we tried to prepare ourselves. But I can honestly say there is nothing you can do to prepare for such an attack on the senses. It’s honestly exhausting. It’s just such a contrast from anything else we’ve ever experienced. The smells of food stalls combined with poor sanitation and food waste , mixed with the stench of oil from the constant streams of traffic. The sights of bold colour, extreme poverty right next to wealth, the rubbish waste problem and crumbling infrastructure. Then there is the sound! So much beeping, it’s crazy!! Our wonderful hosts told us that the Bengali region in general is far more liberal with their honking than other parts of India. We will certainly be looking for that change as we continue on our journey.
We have come across a few issues which have made me thankful for this transition period!
- It took us a little while to get some sim cards for our phone which made life difficult since we needed internet in order to get a taxi (using either Ola or Uber as these are prepaid). We did manage to sort these out eventually though, after a lot of walking! We have definitely noticed that an Indian ’10 minutes walk’ is a lot different from a UK one. I’d say the deal for our phone was pretty good though at 550 rupee (about £6) for a 90 day sim with 1.4 gb/day and free calls within India.
- We have also really struggled with, not only the heat, but the humidity over here. It’s been about 32 degrees everyday but the humidity ensures your sweat never dries out and we’ve been walking around looking like melting ice sculptures. This has made it very difficult to stay hydrated – especially since we’re filtering all of our water using our lifesaver bottle. Diet Coke isn’t available either over here so we’ve been enjoying a full fat coke once a day so far which is glorious in the heat. Plus we have heard it’s pretty good for killing off stomach bacteria!
- Another thing we had been unsure of is tipping. We had assumed that tipping was expected of us in most instances but the reality is very different. The yellow cab (which I would suggest not using) from the airport took around an hour to get us to our homestay and cost us around 420 rupees, we then gave a tip. A few days later and we’ve realised we paid potentially double what we should have for that journey. Plus our hosts Lopa and Aamer informed us tipping taxis is never expected, this is the same with restaurants. In fact, Aamer told us he’s practically stopped tipping altogether which gave us some confidence moving forward.
We only really did one ‘sightseeing’ activity in Kolkata, other than wandering around the streets and by the River Ganges. Victoria Memorial is pretty much some gardens and a museum dedicated to Queen Victoria the first Empress of India.
The entry for foreigners is 500 rupees (only 30 for Indians). The gardens are a nice break from the city but even here litter is an issue and honestly, it has nothing on Hyde Park. It was a haven for young Indian couples but oddly enough we seemed to be more of an attraction than the gardens. That day we definitely had more photos taken of us than we took, it is fun to start with but the novelty soon wears off and it was quite a nuisance (celebs we feel you).
After a short time I felt a drop of rain, followed by a huge clap of thunder and less than 30 seconds later the heavens opened. We have never seen rain like it but to be stuck outside in it was a whole other experience! We took shelter under a tree initially but the black monsoon clouds had taken over the whole sky, so we legged it to the museum. Drenched to the bone we stayed inside the museum for about an hour with a host of Indian locals. Eventually the guards shouted to say the rain has stopped so we could leave. We then remained wet for the whole day.
Overall I would recommend Victoria Memorial but mostly for the gardens, inside wasn’t that interesting and mostly full of paintings and old photos from the British reign.
I am struggling with local cuisine at the moment so we haven’t strayed too far from our comfort zone. We have had a McDonald’s, which I didn’t enjoy but Brad loved his McSpicy Paneer sandwich.
However, on our second day we found a place called Flury’s on Park Street which is an old British Bakery. We ate brunch there which consisted of mushroom soup (probably the best I’ve ever had), bruschetta and cheese topped fries. Not Indian in the slightest but so good.
For our final evening Lopa took us out for a meal to Radjthani, just down the road from Flury’s. This was a traditional all you can eat thali style restaurant serving purely vegetarian food. It was amazing! It was so different than anything we’ve ever had before and for 450 rupees they serve you all different dhals, breads, sweets and drinks. You have to almost argue for them to stop topping your plate up! Then you finish the meal with a paat – this is a mix of spices in a beetle leaf which is used to cleanse the palette and it literally tastes like mouthwash, so bizarre.
Whilst in Kolkata we stayed in a homestay booked through Agoda called Vagabong Diaries Homestay, which is in Ballygunge. We chose this as at £24 for 3 nights it’s under budget and close to the main tourist attractions.
Our stay here has honestly been wonderful, we have the spare room in our hosts (Lopa and Aamer) home which means we really do feel taken care of. Their hospitality has been amazing and every night we have stayed awake speaking to them about all sorts! Tonight Lopa even treated us to dinner (we reciprocated with drinks at Some Other Place).
Their home is comfortable, in a safe and friendly area and we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. We would recommend anyone coming to Kolkata to stay here, especially if they want to socialize with the local people and get to know the city on a more personal level.
I think we’re glad to be leaving the noise of Kolkata for a few days, to get back to nature. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride start but full of new and good experiences. I wonder what the next leg of our trip will be like…