Kolkata Travelogue

Kolkata part 1 – A new trip

A long due trip about which I hadn’t blogged; so here goes – these were in pre Covid days!

The metro ride to the airport is fairly predictable; we have a train every 5 minutes, and it takes about 20 minutes to get there – no need to worry about traffic.

The security queue in the airport was pretty long, and some of the directions were confusing; the boards said you have to put your mobile phones on the tray, but the security personnel near the conveyor belt kept repeating in Hindi, ‘keep your mobile phones in the bag’. For whatever reason, we always had North Indian security forces posted in the Chennai airport.
I met Aaron on the other side of the security check. We wouldn’t get any dinner in the flight, and so we opted for chicken momos in the airport – it was pretty spicy and pretty expensive as well; the prices seemed competitive with the food prices within the flight – only difference is that you won’t have any choice on the flight.

Panchami – day 1

Neither of us had check-in baggage since this was just a 4-day trip. So we headed directly to the Kolkata airport exit; Aaron started searching for taxis on Uber and Ola.
“380,” he said.
“Let’s just check if there are any government taxis there.”
There were a few shops near the exit, unlike the Chennai airport, where there was barely anything. I spotted a counter for AC taxis.
“1200,” the staff said after we told him our destination was near the Park Circus Maidan.
“480,” Aaron said.
“It’s going up!”
The Uber and Ola rates shot up to Rs. 600 within a few minutes. There was also an Ola counter within the airport where we enquired about the Ola pickup point.
When the Ola price came down to the 400s, Aaron booked a cab. After that, we noticed a long queue for taxis at another counter at the far end of the airport – this was probably the more affordable Government priced taxi stand, judging by the queue. But we stuck with the Ola booking since our cab was already on the way towards us.

When we stepped out of the airport, we were welcomed by a large digital screen with a photo of the Chief Minister (CM) of West Bengal. There were plenty of posters featuring her. And just like in most other Indian cities, we were also welcomed by the honking. On the road, we saw plenty of yellow-coloured taxis (the Ambassador taxis) – it’s been a while since I saw so many of them. It didn’t feel like it was 10:15 pm because there were plenty of people in the airport and lots of taxis plying.

During the taxi ride, we saw plenty of advertisements featuring Sourav Ganguly endorsing many products, and his popularity based on the number of posters in the city was second to the CM. We also noticed that some side roads were lit by decorative lights. We could spot at the end of some of these streets what are called ‘pandals’. A pandal is a small makeshift stage on which they keep sculptures or statues. On all the pandals, we saw sculptures of the goddess Durga along with a few other gods beside her on either side. We noticed these pandals on many streets, and they all looked very similar. I wondered if the festival was just about having many of these types of pandals all over the city. Perhaps I was judging too soon because we were viewing the pandals from very far away – maybe there was more to it than what we were witnessing at this hour?

The further we went from the airport, the more the number of hoardings. There were junctions where hoardings rose high enough to conceal the first floor of the building behind them! There were massive banners on the hoardings; for a long stretch, you would see the same banner repeated one after the other – ensuring that there was no way you would miss the company being featured on it! I felt uncomfortable seeing so many hoardings because it was only recently that we had a tragedy in Chennai where a hoarding collapsed on a 2-wheel rider leading to a fatal accident. I wondered if all these hoardings were just for the Durga puja festival or whether these always existed. One difference from Chennai though was that there weren’t many two-wheelers to be seen on the roads.

Our hotel (a Treebo outlet) gave us a cosy room with wooden panels; it felt like a room in a cottage. The first thing I do in a hotel is to check out the bathroom, and this one was clean, lengthy and spacious. We dumped our luggage and headed out for a walk; we also wanted to get something for dinner, but on the taxi ride, we noticed that restaurants were closed. It was close to midnight, so we wondered if we’d get anything. But Google said there were a few restaurants open till 4 am; so we followed Google.
We passed a bridge below which were parked buses and police vehicles – they were in an awful state; seemed abandoned, and I hoped that they weren’t in use. As we neared a traffic junction, we saw police volunteers in dark navy blue uniforms – for this hour in the night, we did spot a lot of cops on our walking trail. Their presence was definitely comforting – I wondered if this was usually the case or was it just because of the festival season that there were so many around.

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