What caught my attention other than the birds of kolkata, was the array of transport systems across the city. The journey into the world of automobile started with the antique ambassador at the airport. The mighty old ambi is very much a survivor in the city as much as everything else. The fresh coat of yellow paint for a minute misleads you into believing that the ride would be comfortable but as you become a part of good old car, you are taken aback on your seat and you can only hope that you reach the destination safely.
As a tourist, the ride in and around is made interesting by the driver who takes you through the heart of city with its narrow roads and bustling life around those who call these roads their home. Almost all the cab drivers refused to go with the meter and chose to take the shortest and maybe the slowest routes to the destinations. But it gave us a chance to experience Kolkata like we never imagined.
The mode of transport that i was most excited to explore was the tram. The tracks along the road and the dangling wires above clue you on that a tram could pass you by any moment. I was looking for something that i could relive the memory of San Francisco. But what i was offered was a slow moving monster on wheels which added to the age of the city .
Though i was keen on experiencing Hoogly on a country boat lazing into the sunset, I set sail on the second best option- the good old rustic boat with a loud motor and no seats. We joined the locals and enjoyed the proximity to Hoogly as we squatted on the floor of the boat. The slow and the noisy boat ride is a wonderful way to pass by the numerous ghats of kolkata and enjoy yet another type of transport.
Kolkata is most famous for its hand pulled rickshaws. This inhuman practice which started during the colonial times seems to prevail in the city. I hope that one day it will be a piece of transport seen only in museums and not on the road. Considering the array of transport the city houses including the century old buses with its arched windows, the rickshaws should be a thing of past.
The bridges across the river and the overhead tracks of the metro add to the landscape of the city. Though we experienced the bridges, we did not get a chance to go on the metro. The laid back city has a laid back metro. We were surprised to know on reaching the station that on weekdays, the metro starts at 7.00am with limited service and on Sunday the service starts at 2.00pm in the afternoon. For a metro city , the timings seem far from the hustle bustle of subway of New York or tube of london.
Two things eluded us during this trip- the local food and its most famous export - rosogolla. Though now i am a big fan of the paneer kati roll from kusums on park street, kachoris from the stalls lining near Dakshineswar and mishti doi from KC Das. But can someone tell me when is a good time to get rosogollas as they were never available.
With the limited time we had we could explore Dakshineswar temple, Belur math, victoria memorial gardens and marble palace. All must visit spots in Kolkata. With this trip, i have now covered all the four metros of India. Looking forward to more such milestones.
Our temporary home in this city was a hotel with a history as old as the city. Fairlawn Hotel is housed in a colonial building built in 1783 close to park street. It is certainly not your every day hotel. But considering that i had the pleasure of experiencing the idiosyncrasies of a similar hotel in Goa-Panjim inn, i felt at home in its colonial charm and the knick knacks all over this hotel. The hotel boasts of a long list of celebrities as its guests. The walls display many of these famous visitors and their stories including Shashi Kapoor's courtship with his would be wife and their honeymoon at this hotel. This family owned green colored piece of art was an experience that can be repeated over and over again.
Location: Kolkata,West Bengal, India
Date of travel: March 2012
Tip: Early bird catches the rosogollas
Must do: Travel like a local
First: The harsh life on the road
The travel connection: The mode of transport