A city left behind by modern India, Communist led Kolkata (Calcutta) is a metropolis like no other.
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The 8th biggest city in the world in terms of population, Kolkata is the capital of West Bengal which is largely led by the Communist Party of India, and as such it has been left behind in many ways when you think of modern India.
The Communist party has shunned foreign investment and this means you can see an Indian metropolis like no other. You won’t find big department stores or Starbucks anywhere; rumor has it there is one McDonalds, but good luck trying to find it!
The Oberoi Grand, simply the best hotel I have ever stayed in. The hotel oozes Victorian charm and the luxurious surroundings and helpful staff are second to none. A real step back in time to the Raj, The Oberoi is an oasis of calm and tranquility in this bustling city.
Be careful where you eat and be prepared for a bout of Delhi Belly (or Kolkata Craps as I called them). Try one of the up market Chinese restaurants such as the Chinese Pavilion, but there are several. (When I say up market, don’t expect to pay more than $5 a per head!).
For great Indian food you can’t beat Zaranj or the Thai next door – Jongs. Eating out is incredibly cheap, as with most things in Kolkata. For a relaxed drink you can’t beat a Kolkata Cooler or a Vodka Martini in the Chowringhee bar at the Oberoi – the food is also excellent here although you can expect to pay slightly more. If you are out and about in the heat of the day, pop into The Street (run by The Park Hotel) for a quick beer; there are very few bars in Kolkata so take advantage when you pass one.
The flower market starts 6am and goes on for about 3 hours, it’s on the banks of the river Hooghly (a tributary of the mighty Ganges) it’s a very lively, dirty, noisy, smelly and atmospheric market, the colors are amazing – a real slice of Kolkata life.
Also walking the streets around New Market in the evening when the city starts to get very busy, the poverty is upsetting and the begging persistent, however it is an unforgettable experience. The Victoria Memorial and Maidan Park are an oasis in a city that is manic.
For those who like something a little different, try the Kolkata observatory, half an hour of star gazing in an air conditioned room is a good break and educational! The modern art gallery next door is also worth a look. Kolkata is one of the main Indian centres for the arts and the gallery doesn’t disappoint.
The traffic jams – avoid travelling in taxis during rush hour – the city stops and the pollution is choking. If you are squeamish avoid the food areas of New Market, here there are abattoirs, butchers, livestock sellers, rats, cats, dog, and bad smells, all in 40 to 50 degree heat and high humidity.
Be assertive all the time and remember everything is negotiable. If you decide to give money to a beggar be careful, they often work in gangs and are forced by gang masters to beg. Donate to one and you may be swamped by many. Only buy water that is properly sealed and not being sold by dodgy looking characters – the water can kill. Taxis are cheap, you can hire a cab and driver for a day for about $15.
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