I have first seen Kolkata’s images from the film, “Born Into Brothels”, 2004 American documentary film about the children of prostitutes in Kolkata’s red light district. To be honest, watching this film gave me a conclusion to not visit Kolkata, it gave me an image of a very filthy city and dangerous India. Previously, we were in Darjeeling and in the Sikkim state, and being there never got us so far away from the Nepali vibe. I’ve mixed emotions about coming to such a crowded city. Half of me wants to see it, the other half, just wants to go back to Kathmandu and enjoy steam fried momos in the cold Nepali weather.
Our very first Indian train adventure starts from New Jaipalguri to Kolkata. 10 hours on a sleeper train. I was expecting the worst, maybe it’s crowded, maybe we’ll be sleeping on the floor or on top of one another. But I’m ready for a transition. Here’s another adventure, I said. I’ll just go with the flow.
Coming from Darjeeling, almost 3 hours winding road ride on a tiny jeep (meant only for 8-9 passengers, we managed to fit around 13!) to New Jaipalguri we reached the train station just in time.
Non-ac sleeper trains aren’t that bad. It is well-ventilated, the toilets are okay but not for the faint-hearted (Imagine a hole on the floor and you can see the train tracks. Yes, you peepee on the tracks! You’ve gotta be good at aiming though.), the beds are okay and it’s not crowded! Good thing about it is when you were not ready to sleep yet, you can share seats with the other passengers on the lower berths, mostly families – with little kids we can play with to pass the time, curious locals who sometimes play the staring game – but most of the time, ended up chatting with you.
There are vendors selling chai, chats and samosas, chips, toys, bag chains and what-nots. Me and Valerio decided to sleep in the same bed during the whole duration of the trip (talk about pretending to be tiny), good thing I bought a yak wool blanket before we left, for it gets very cold during the night.
Reached Kolkata around 7 in the morning, we met another traveler in the train and we all decided to get a taxi to go to the Sudder St., a backpacker ghetto, to find a place to stay. The three of us got there and started to look for a guesthouse. The moment we got out of the cab, touts just popped out of nowhere, following us around, offering to take us to their “friend’s” hotel – which obviously, us travelers has to pay a lot so the hotelier could give them commissions. That day we didn’t find any luck. Everywhere is just full and if there is a room available, it’s very expensive.
After a few more hours of looking for a place to stay, we found a dungeon. For a price of 700Rp (13USD), we just checked ourselves into a “prison cell”. We didn’t have a choice, we were so tired and the last thing we would want to do is lay down on a big bed and snooze, and we just said yes to the last hotel we find. The room was very small and there are no windows, so it smells like Toad has slept there for years. It smells like mushroom and wet clothes that was kept in a closet for ages.
I do not have high expectations about our trip to India. I do not come here to be a prima donna – I come here to explore and satisfy my wanderlust. So, whatever and where ever India will take us, we will openheartedly accept the consequences and face them with our street-smart intelligence. So, get off our asses, you touts! 🙂
I have experienced the incredible extremes in Kolkata. Extreme poverty and incredible examples of cultural vibrancy are on display. Feels like there is a daily festival of human existence. Being India’s second largest city, Kolkata is indeed a filthy city, crowded and at the same time, fascinating.
Photography and text by Author unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved.