Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is the third largest city in India with a population of about 14 million. At one time it was the British capital of India. It's now known as the cultural capital of India. According to Lonely Planet, you go to Kolkata for the overall experience, not for specific sights. There are plenty of impressive old buildings, but most of them are quite run down.

We stayed at the Lalit Grand Eastern Hotel, a heritage hotel that has the distinction of having been in continuous operation for 165 years. I chose it more or less at random from the internet, as usual not really knowing what to expect. It turned out to be quite luxurious. That isn't always important, but in a crazy place like this it's nice to have a quiet comfortable retreat. It has a tea lounge, a bakery, a bar lounge, and a nice restaurant.

hotel courtyard at night

This morning, the concierge at the hotel warned us that winter was arriving in Kolkata and there was a cool breeze. Hmmm... I'd hate to be here when it's "hot", the high today was a chilly +32c :-)

It turned out that all the museums and other attractions are closed on Mondays so we just headed out for a walk along river. It's amazing how much street food there is here. There are tea and food stalls of all shapes and sizes everywhere. Many of them (and their customers) block the sidewalk but no one seems to mind. And customers include business men in suits as well as obviously poorer people.

street food

I love the disposable, biodegradable clay tea cups.

disposable clay tea cups

Traffic is, of course, crazy. Crossing the road can be a challenge but it's usually possible to stick close to locals and cross when they do. Vehicles give the impression that they run down a single pedestrian but not a group. Even the pedestrian traffic is a challenge. I love the old Ambassador taxis and cars:

Ambasador taxi

There were surprisingly few beggars or obviously homeless people. We got approached more often on the train and in taxis stopped in traffic. Of course, we weren't in the poorer parts of the city either.


The walkway along the river was almost deserted in comparison to the streets. There were no food stalls and only a few people. It wasn't obvious why this was the case. There were some police around but they didn't seem to be kicking anyone out. Whatever the reason, it was nice to walk in peace. There were several ghats (steps down to the river) along the way where people were washing. Which made us shudder a little considering how dirty the river looked and how much garbage was on the banks and floating.

The next day we headed the opposite direction up the river to the flower market. What an amazing riot of color!

flower market

There were a few birds around, including a brilliant blue white-throated kingfisher.


There were also quite a few butterflies. It's amazing to find them in a huge dirty city.


We also went to the Victoria Monument, built to honor Queen Victoria, the first British Empress of India. A huge impressive building, and quite interesting historical exhibits inside.

Victoria Monument

We fly out tonight for Kuala Lumpur. 48 hours wasn't really long enough to explore Kolkata but it was worth it to get a taste.

See all 44 photos as a slideshow or overview

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