So, arriving very early in the morning – actually it couldn’t even be considered morning yet to be honest – we touched down in Kolkata in India. The airport was small, with a few cafes, though of course only one was open as such a ludicrous time!
We gave ourselves some time to figure out our plans, as we hadn’t figured out accommodation and we could see the taxi driver touts outside, ready to pounce. So, we settled down a little while with a coffee and stale samosa.
Once we were outside, being pecked to pieces by the aggressive taxi drivers, we realised our vital error of not buying a prepaid taxi ticket back in the airport, and were refused re-entry into the airport.
Feeling stubborn about being ripped off (600 rupees to Backpacker Street, which Lonely Planet told us should have only been 150Rs), we sat on our backpacks outside the airport, behind a protective barrier, until the sun came up. Thankfully, we saw another tourist who also seemed to be in a similar situation to us, and was walking up and down trying to find some alternative. Now, stronger in numbers, we faced the taxi touts and got them to take us for a more reasonable, price and we headed to Backpacker Street. (I forget its real name). Oddly, we didn’t ask the guy his name and we didn’t introduce ourselves either, though I use fatigue as the excuse.
On arrival, now at 6am, the street was expectedly dead. Our new temporary friend had booked accommodation, so we thought we’d see if they had 2 more beds. Through the litter-covered street, and past the intimidating group of dogs barking at us, we came upon a cluster of rundown rusty buildings, entered one and proceeded upstairs. A local guy who came with us, knocked on the door of this “guesthouse”, waking up the owner. He was not impressed shouting “NO ROOM”. Of course, when our temporary friend said he had a booking, he reluctantly woke up, “Booking? You have a booking you say? Hmmm”. And then of course, he did also have two extra beds, but seeing the huge number of large, black bedbugs, as well as what appeared to be blood, all over his own bed in the hallway, we decided we would look elsewhere, but thanks all the same.
Walking around, obviously everybody wanted to “help” us find accommodation, and eventually a small elderly man wearing a lungi, latched onto us, and went into all guesthouses asking about prices and availability for us. Eventually we came upon a street, which looked totally like a chicken farm. Hundreds and hundreds, maybe even thousands, of fairly young, live chicks, just covered the path and the road, held together in bunches with rope tied round their feet. It was truly astonishing. Had I been awake enough I would have taken photos, but sadly I missed the opportunity. We came upon some steps splattered with fresh, bright red blood, and we walked up. Here, we would settle on a basic ensuite room, with hot shower, TV, flushing toilet, and dirty bedsheets. Exhausted, we collapsed, not waking up until that afternoon.
When we finally ventured out, it was really an eye-opener seeing daily living, as we expected it would be. The streets were crowded with people – locals and foreigners. Poverty was completely thrown in our faces: people lying down, malnourished, all over the path; people taking a horse & cart round town, only instead of a horse, it was a man, running, in bare feet; many people coming up to us begging for money. And to make streets even crazier, masses of dogs, many disabled themselves, and COWS! Cows just wandering around, being sacred and holy to everyone, excrement of which was everywhere – and as such, I could not believe how many people were walking in it, in their bare feet!
A task for today was to find a post office so that I could send some of the contents of my bag home, in order to reduce its weight and fullness. We walked for around 40 minutes looking for the one we could see on the map, arrived, and found that the post office workers were in fact, on strike! Fail! Next task was food, and we risked an egg roll off the street… it was delicious and we had no upset stomach! Success!
That evening, we wanted to catch the light & sound show at the park, which happens every night. However, as soon as we got there, it finished. So, after a quick peek at the beautifully lit-up Victoria Memorial Hall, we headed to Blue Café for dinner, which was a popular venue, and with good reason! Feeling a little tired still, we later headed back for a movie and an early night.
Returning to the same café for breakfast, we then ventured back to Victorial Memorial, which was beautiful! We decided not to go inside, but we thoroughly enjoy walking around and then sitting by the lake in the large gardens, enjoying the sunshine. But sadly, we were running out of time. Kolkata was only a quick stopover, as the easiest way of getting to Varanassi. So, we picked up our bags from the guesthouse, said our goodbyes, and from the train station, endured our first 14 hour Indian train ride to Varnassi.
It was busy, noisy, chaotic, uncomfortable, and cold, but thankfully, we both had the top of the 3-tier beds so away from the crowd at the bottom we stayed!
See you at Varnassi!