I had my flight from Port Blair to Calcutta, or perhaps Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal. We did not know what to expect for the visit of Calcutta, which is the third largest city in the country. Calcutta was the capital of British India so much so that one quickly notices the London style by looking at buildings, taxis, tram, clocks and gardens.
Kolkata has no good reputation among tourists. And yet, the reality is quite different. Of course, the slums still exist but as tourists, we discovered a charming city with beautiful colonial buildings, where it is easy to get around in the clean metro and walk around. A day is clearly not enough to visit this huge city.
We arrive in Calcutta on 1 May. Everything is closed probably due to the Labour Day, although we do not know if they're celebrating it here. Generally, when I arrive in a new country or city, I always walk to my hostel because I hate taxis! And what's more, I must say that I love to walk to my hostel because it allows me to discover the city, culture and unusual corners!
It was no exception when I arrived at Calcutta airport! According to my map, I had to walk 11 kilometers between Calcutta airport and my hostel! The first thing that struck me was definitely transport! In the first place, nobody harassed me savagely to take his taxi. Subsequently, taxis are really incredible! And finally, the buses really came out of the hippie years!
At midday we decided to go eat. We have the rice with chicken curry. Then we went to drink coffee next door, but the sound was stupefying! Then we went out of the eastern side of the city to Salt Lake, and we found a corner for us for the weekend. I was barked by dogs for 15 minutes! The locals stared at me! The women wore their wonderful local outfits and I saw people living quietly on the edge of the road in handmade tents!
So I arrived at my wonderful hostel in the New Town area of Calcutta! It was a nice hostel. Lots of dogs bark at me, but it does not matter! I go for a walk to the center and visit the Eco Park! By and large, the Eco Park is a really large natural artificial park with a lake too big for the league and it's really beautiful! Personally, it was my favorite thing to see in Calcutta! In addition, as it is close to New Town, there is no tourist.
In the park, there are a lot of cheap restaurants! It also have wonderful green spaces, beautiful benches overlooking the lake and a fake Eiffel Tower! There are beautiful fountains and lots of other stuff. With the lights the atmosphere is thousand times better!
During this quiet weekend, we eat lots of fruits like mangoes and pears and were rather tasty. We went shopping at Spencer. We found a lot of things there, let's say even more than anywhere else. We pay attention to the price. On the other hand, in this store I have the impression of being constantly flickered. There is a guy who follows me constantly and on the shelves they are two or three to look at everything.
It's really annoying! So I used them to help me find prices on each product I took as it is impossible to find it. It is marked very small, and generally printed so as not to find it, and even they had trouble! The only good thing is that the tax was included in the price. On leaving we went to eat a Chicken Roll in a small alley. The food was a real treat and not too expensive. By the way, I found myself a legendary place to eat in Calcutta!
We also have Egg Roll with local beer. And for dessert, we ate a mini ice cream. We talked until 11:00.
We head to Eden Garden! As it is the tourist area of Calcutta, I took the trouble to visit the neighborhood! To get there, I had to take the bus! Basically I just used Google Maps to know which bus to take and the price! A guy comes to give the ticket! The price is written on it!
The ticket guy showed me where to go! So in the center there is the popular Victoria Memorial! Personally, I hate these things. I see cricket matches going on in the Maidan. An old yellow ambassador with broken seats drops us off at the Howrah Bridge where Mallick Ghat flower market flutters.
The streets are teeming with overflowing activity. The big flower sellers have unloaded their huge package. Jute or plastic bags are filled with tons of yellow and orange flowers, red hibiscus or fragrant jasmine buds for offerings. They are sold by weight, or in long necklaces and exported throughout the country.
Jostled on all sides, we manage to make an appearance in a covered passage whose floor is strewn with dried leaves, withered flowers, soiled papers, mixed with the earth, to lead to a ghat along the river Hooghly, confluence of the Ganges. Men bathe. Further away women are doing laundry. Heaps of green foliage, moistened regularly with buckets of water from the river wait to join the colorful heaps of flowers to make bouquets.
From this ghat, we have an excellent view of the Howrah bridge, which became one of the architectural landmarks of the city in 1943. It is the third largest suspension bridge in the world. Under our feet the bridge vibrates by the intense circulation. It appears that more than a million vehicles and 20 million pedestrians use it every day. One behind the other, the coolies cross it with a quick step to better support the balance load on the head.
On the opposite bank, extends the main station of Calcutta, immense, with its beautiful colonial red facade and its 30 platform. It is the largest train station in Asia! We go somehow to the main avenue, along the buildings of beautiful architecture, witnesses of the British Empire, whose facades sometimes cracked, are eaten away by moisture.
The vegetation uses the slightest crack and the roots of large trees give themselves to their heart's content. The bundles of electrical wires that hang from everywhere are part of the urban landscape. Grids are used for drying clothes. The anarchic traffic is in full swing with horns. We go further north in the metro to Kumartuli, a charming village-like sculptor district. We come out to Shyambazar.
Another atmosphere reigns in its narrow streets, far from the bustle. Finally we have silence. The laundry dries in height, hanging from the wires tied across the street. Women have the technique to extend it using a bamboo stick. The workshops follow each other where the artisans model statues of deities of all sizes, from straw covered with several layers of clay.
Once dried, they will be painted and dressed with ostentation and will serve as offerings at the Durga Puja and Kali Puja. This grandiose festival attracts every year, in September and October, a crowd of people who, in the streets, follow their painted idols to the river. We will end the day with a visit to the Jain Temple of Sital Nathji, the most beautiful of Bengal.
In a large well-kept garden where the statues are painted silver color. The interior of the temple is very full of rich ornaments. As the day went by at a crazy speed, we decided to go to Howrah bridge at dusk, naively thinking that everything was set up to watch from the banks. Alas it is not the case. We discover by chance the fruit market of Mechua.
A wholesale market where trucks arrive to unload their cargo of fruit that will be auctioned during the day. On the stalls of the pyramids colored pomegranates and oranges rest on cushions of paper passed to the grinder. After crossing a huge market from the Mahatma Gandhi Road station, we find ourselves in a road junction at the foot of the bridge.
We have the privilege of the boat ride on the Ganges to admire the bridge from afar.
We travel by bus to the beautiful BBD Bagh district, and we take the opportunity to buy stamps at the GPO and admire the elegant Victorian dome. The restored commercial and administrative buildings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are like so many survivors of the British Raj and cut with neighborhoods around and near the river.
This is the real heart of Kolkata and the location of the ancient village of Kolikata, which gave birth to the city. A few meters away is the University of Calcutta in College Street. The second-hand bookstore district is overloaded with all kinds of books for students.
If Calcutta is the capital of intellectuals, the Indian Coffee House, close to the university, is the holy grail. Students and teachers, filmmakers and artists meet to make and break the world, under the giant portrait of Tagore. We adore the waiters. In the head they wear a kind of white turban surmounted by a scholar pleat, and we have lunch under the blades of the fans.
In the neighborhood of auto parts, workshops follow one another in the dark alleys in smells of grease, oil, and the sound of tools. The workers are wondering what we have done here! We head to the greenery of South Park Street Cemetery in the heart of the city. Until the 19th century it was the European cemetery of Calcutta.
We wander among the old mausoleums battered by the roots of the trees. Several great English names are buried here who lived the great life in Calcutta at the time. Many people are now returning to the cemetery to find traces of some ancestors. Now it's time to enjoy the charm of the tram ride. It is a timeless journey and we love it. Two rattling cars take us south of the city.
In Calcutta, the trams are endangered. Today, there is only one tramway that stretches the three kilometers between Kalighat and Tollygunge in the south of the city. This tram ran on rails embedded in large grassy spaces that were reserved for it. But, these spaces were removed to make room for cars and buses. Now, trams run in the middle of the road and passengers have to make their way at their own risk to catch one.
We arrive at the Birla temple, the best known temple in Calcutta, if not in East India other than Kalighat. It was built by the famous Birla family. This 49 meter high temple is new! It is dedicated to Radha and Krishna. The exterior of the temple is sandstone while the interior is marble. Sculptors from all over India took part in its construction, particularly for the delicate carving of walls and roofs.
We take a tram to the north to the old Chinatown neighborhood of Tiretta Bazaar. Of the 20,000 Chinese originally, only 2,000 remain, but it seems they live in the new Chinatown further east in Tangra. There are two or three doors and a chapel where some red sinograms appear. Muslims are now in the majority. The surrounding neighborhoods are the liveliest we've seen. It feels like the beating heart of the city.
Wherever the gaze arises, buildings are blackened by pollution, or are dilapidated. But it's not dirt or decay that's important. It's the teeming life that makes Calcutta so moving, so endearing. We still want to get lost in the streets and feel the life around us. We want more and it's inexplicable. But here we have to go to other beautiful and different destinations.
The night train tonight will take us to Bodh Gaya, an Indian city located in the state of Bihar, famous for being the place where Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and Buddhahood. As such, the site is considered one of the four holy places of Buddhism.