From the city formerly known as Calcutta
Reached Kolkata late Monday night. The flight from Bangalore actually stopped in Bhubaneswar (capital of Orissa) on the way. We flew Air Deccan, the super-budget, no-frills airline. Our departure was only delayed by 30 minutes, not bad for Bangalore.
From what I've seen of it. Kolkata is a prettying interesting city, very atmospheric. It's full of crumbling Raj era buildings, but there's a fair amount of posh new stuff as well. Unlike most Indian cities, which are clogged with scooters and auto-rickshaws, Kolkata streets are packed with big, bubbly yellow Ambassador taxis and bicycle- and man-pulled rickshaws. Some time back the city tried to get rid of the man-pulled rickshaws, but was met with massive resistance. There's also an efficient Metro, constructed in 1984 by the Russians. Just outside of town, on the way to the airport, they're building a whole New City. Our taxi driver proudly drove us through this area full of road work and ultra-modern construction.
My hotel is located on an alley off Sudder Street in the heart of the backpacker ghetto. While I can't really compare it to Delhi's equivalent, Pahar Ganj, it is nonetheless a crowded, dirty mess of a place. And where I found PG's masses of wandering cows (and accompanying cow shit) disturbing (the bulk of their diet seemed to be plastic bags from the rubbish heaps,) here it is the human factor that is most disturbing. Come evening, the sidewalks are covered with sleeping bodies. And this a 5-10 minute walk from Park Street, with its posh shops, restaurants and pubs.
Wednesday V and I walked down to the old Park Cemetery. This 18-19 Century British graveyard is full of massive, moss-covered stone monuments to those who died far from home. Many of the inscriptions tell of lives barely begun. The oldest person I noticed was all of 52 years old when he died. Life in the tropics was clearly not easy for these folks.
After the cemetery we took a cab to the Victoria Monument, located on the Southern end of the Maidan, Kolkata's massive city park. Actually, we just walked around outside the grounds and admired the massive building, set among a lovely garden, from afar. By that time the heat was becoming unbearable, so we again caught a cab and took it to the Inox Forum, an upscale A/C shopping mall and multiplex. After refueling with cappuccino and a huge cookie, finding no films we were interested in seeing, we hopped into another Ambassador and asked the driver to take us to the Howrah Bridge. It was just after 4 PM by this time, and already the afternoon rush had begun in earnest. Less than a kilometer from the bridge, parked in the tangle of cars, buses and rickshaws, the driver suggested we get out and walk. You can imagine the state of affairs when a cab driver wants to let you out early.
One of three bridges spanning the Hooghly River, "apart from bearing of many stormy weather of the Bay of Bengal region, it (the Howrah Bridge) successfully bears the weight of a daily traffic of approx 150,000 vehicles and 4,000,000 pedestrians." (Wikipedia.) V and I took our place among the FOUR MILLION and walked across the South side.