Kolkata. What a welcome this city gave me! Due to some unfortunate circumstances, I ended up spending my first night at the Howrah station. But I have to admit, it did allow me to have an experience like no other. I was helped by a taxi driver and a juice center shopkeeper in the middle of the night. And to follow it up, I was able to witness the early morning local trains, the first few flower and paper vendors, the hectic set of activities which were a preamble to the dawn of a city known for its laid back attitude.
Kolkata is also known as the city of joy. I stayed at a beautiful hostel named the Vagabong diaries. The place is completely curated by its owner and the place gives you a sense of warmth. The first day of mine was spent mostly exploring the nearby places - just walking into the lanes and the bylanes, watching the local vendors selling their wares, listening to the incessant honking and the rhythmic Bengali accent.
Kolkata has a charm. I realised it during the next couple of days when a friend of mine, Debosmita, decided to show me around. From the hustle bustle of the New Market to the more “refined” places like the Park Street. From the wide expanses of the Moidan to the narrow art filled lanes of the Kumartuli. From the book filled streets of the College Street to the mind boggling history at the Indian museum. From the nostalgic atmosphere at the Indian Coffee House to the warm feeling of the Ghats. Of course not to forget, the hugely political feel - a traders union’s morcha, a students’ union poster calling out the others, the demand for justice posters...
I found Kolkata to have a character of its own that wasn’t there in any other place that I had visited. Kolkata left me with a sense of awe. I realised that the “old” Kolkata, which is the north of the city could coexist with the “new” one, the south. I realised that a city need not become unbearably costly just because it has grown big (the tea still sells at Rs 6 and the metro ride cost me Rs 5). I realised that there’s always chaos but then there is a character that could make a city stand on its own. I realised how different Kolkata is from the other metros I’ve been to. I realised that Kolkata has preserved its heart.
Leaving Kolkata wasn’t easy. I did feel like I was venturing out into the unknown. Somehow the city had made me feel comfortable. But as they say, to stay is to stop growing. The next hop was Darjeeling. And boy what a change it was from the sweltering heat of Kolkata! More about Darjeeling in the next post.