Kolkata is a cacophony of horns, an endless beeping from luxury motor coaches, humble buses with or without glass windows, bicycles and motorbikes, man- and bicycle- and gas-powered rickshaws, and a few private vehicles. And taxis! Dozens and hundreds and thousands of little yellow taxis that look a lot like gangster cars from the 1940s. The beeping is constant, continual, unending, and it will drive you quite bonkers.
Pedestrians are close enough to touch from my seat on the coach if I opened the window, which I won’t because I am rather attached to my arm. Dogs are everywhere, sometimes sleeping in the road, and I am astonished that we do not bump over frequently. The cows are another matter. No one hurts a sacred cow.
|The cabs of Kolkata. The light trails in the photo will give you an idea of the roads in Kolkata.|
Indians drive on the left side of the street, so sitting on the left side of the motor coach meant I was privy to the lives playing out few feet from my seat. I mean that literally.
|Washing dishes in a water basin on the3 sidewalk.|
|Note the eyes painted on the front of the bus.|
The flight from New Delhi to Kolkata (Calcutta) was delayed an hour and Air India, by way of apology, invited us to a food court where we were served a large brownie, a small carton of mixed juice, and a bottle of water. All gratis. I asked if Vantage Travel had arranged this and was told it was compliments of Air India.
Once we were in the air, I was astonished that we were served a full dinner. It’s only a two-hour flight from Delhi to Kolkata, but there was a tray before me with paneer tikka (squares of dense barbequed cottage cheese more like tofu), a vegetable cutlet, a puff pastry, a vegetable sandwich (coleslaw on bread), mint chutney, and sweet rasgulla for dessert.
I thank the Indian woman sitting beside me for telling me what I was eating. She thoughtfully wrote the menu of a piece of notebook paper, which I am sure was much easier for her than spelling it out for me to write down.
Vantage guides collected us at the Kolkata airport and divided us into three groups. The groups were named Siva, Dolphins, and Ganesha. I was in the last group with Asif as the guide.
|This was made of flower petals, leaves. and grain and was on the floor of the Kolkata air terminal.|
|I kept seeing this guy. He fascinated me.|
Then a motor coach, only slightly narrower than the ones you see in the USA, took me on the most harrowing ride I have ever experienced in my world-wide travels. It would be almost a two-hour ride through narrow streets teeming with people and dogs and all manner of conveyances.
|One of many sleeping on sidewalks, in gutters, or on the street itself.|
|I took some of these photos the next day in daylight. Night photos while on a shaking, bounding, jerking, bumping bus don't turn out very good|
|Hauling long pieces of rebar (reinforcing steel rod for concrete) on a bicycle rickshaw. If they can figure out how to fasten it to a bike or a bike/cart, they'll haul it.|
After four and a half days of travel, my brain was fried and my senses thankfully dulled. I have no idea how we managed not to maim or kill pedestrians or bike and motorcycle riders. By this time, it was after 9 P.M., but the streets were jammed. Vendors in small hovels lined the sidewalks, selling everything imaginable, but mostly food.
|Potatoes and peanuts.|
People washed dishes under a faucet on the sidewalk. According to Asif, water is supplied to every building and home that pays taxes. For those without, these sidewalk faucets or hand pumps supply water. The vendors in the tiny make-shift shacks don’t pay taxes to the government, yet they are allowed to thrive because they pay taxes elsewhere—to the police.
|A herd of goats being driven up the street..|
|The ubiquitous yellow cabs.|
|Cow in alleyway.|
|Cow looking for food in trash.|
|Another cow in the trash.|
Finally, thankfully, my tired body was delivered to a pier and I dragged it onboard the RV Ganges Voyager, a brand-new riverboat set to sail on its maiden voyage.
This, I thought, should be interesting.
Some more scenes from Kolkata.
|Doesn't that look like comfortable bike seat?|
|Doing the laundry and smiling at the waving tourists. Parents encourage their children to wave at us.|