01.05.2010 - 01.05.2010 40 °C
Made infamous by mother Teresa, Kolkata is India's second largest city and was the capital of British India. Like so much of India, Kolkata is a city of extremes - whilst the grand colonial architecture such as Victoria Memorial and leafy parks are quite beautiful, the poverty and in particular the human rickshaws left me feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
Even though I had been prewarned about human rickshaws, it feels inhumane to watch men carting around the rich and fat in their bare feet. I'm not so naive that I don't realise far worse happens behind closed doors in India, and to be honest you can't help but become anaesthetised to the poverty after a few weeks but what keeps coming back to hit me in the face is the benign acceptance of it all, even amongst tourists -the attitude of "we're helping them by taking a ride as they want to make money and they can't afford a bicycle" or "I wasn't that shocked, once they get some momentum, it looks quite easy" - It just didn't quite wash with me. And then when a begging child of barely 4 years old who was shooed harshly away by the westerner next to me asked me for my empty plastic bottle, only to fill it with water from the gutter and drink it, I flat out welled up. Perhaps I'm soft, perhaps I have no right to stick my privelaged western nose into India's no doubt complex social problems but I've never been so grateful of the welfare state in my life.
Human rickshaws and begging kids aside, Kolkata is a buzzing city with a rich cultural heritage and the western Bengalis are the friendliest people we encountered in India. The cuisine is delicious, with the catch of the day lining the street markets alongside fresh fruit and veg. We're on the coast here so it's coconut seafood curries in banana leaves all the way. Maybe good food really does happy people make!
Where we stayed:
Ashreen Guest House - 450rs/night. Centrally located, clean, decent sized rooms and friendly staff. A great budget option.
Where we ate:
Blue Sky Cafe - nice little travellers cafe with great juices, lassis. Perfect for a cheap eat
For authentic Bengali cuisine, try Bhojohari Manna - we never made it but it's supposed to be great
What to do:
Built in honour of Queen Victoria's 1901 Diamond Jubilee the impressive Victoria Memorial is a photogenic white marble domed building, in an Italian Renaissance style. It houses a fascinating museum which amongst other things documents Kolkata's history and the positive and negative effects of British colonialisation on the city - really interesting stuff!
Get immersed in Indian art and history at the Indian Museum
Pay homage to Mother Teresa at Mother Teresa's Mission
Get lost in Kolkata's maze of streets and discover fresh seafood markets and delicious Bengali sweet shops - and then eat what you've seen!