Stepping out of the airport, the first thing you’ll notice about Calcutta isn’t the chaos of luggage trolleys rolling this way and that or the crowds of people waiting for passengers to clear customs, it’s the cabs. (And no, it’s not because of that song that goes “Calcuuutttaaa, taxi taxi taxi taxi”). Cabs in Calcutta are a strange species, giant hulking clunkers that look like they rolled right out of the 60s (I assume that’s when this particular model was first released), and they drive like they own the road (no joke, comfort cabbies have nothing on these guys).
You know what else strikes me as odd in Calcutta? The dogs, they aren’t sleepy and listless like the stray dogs you find everywhere else in the world, they’re energetic and sprightly, and they’re always running. Where they are running to, I’m not entirely sure, but I’d grown so accustomed to foreign places with their lethargic canines that seeing these lively ones came as a bit of a surprise. Random observation, I know.
Cal is also a treasure trove when it comes to, as Kennett loved to say, Imperialism Nostalgia (these damn brits and their penchant for harking on the past). Museums, artifacts, places of interest – Cal would have them all as it was the very first spot the EIC (East India Company) set down roots in India. The signs of its imperial past are everywhere – from the imposing Victoria Memorial, to the rickshaws probably imported from China, to the decaying and decrepit old buildings, and the wonderfully preserved Oberoi Grand and it’s very colonial-style Chowringhee bar, complete with mahogany bar, hunting muskets and large brown leather furniture.
In India, everyone moves to a different beat. In the markets it’s hectic and hurried, other times, like when you’re sitting down for a cup of chai with someone, it’s languid, leisurely, you take your time. Being punctual doesn’t seem to be a priority – but then again it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, sometimes it’s important to just sit and enjoy your surroundings and the company you’re with.
And I went there fully expecting to see cows everywhere… I didn’t see a single cow sitting in the middle of the street obstructing traffic, and I somehow feel a little cheated by these stereotypes people seem to love to drum into you.
[Pics courtesy of Drea]