India’s Third City Teeming With People & Crumbling British-Era Colonial Architecture
Taxi. Kolkata (Calcutta), India. October 15, 2012
Noun: Kolkata (Calcutta)
1. The capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. One of the largest cities in India and one of the largest cities in the world; located in eastern India; suffers from poverty and overcrowding.
I don’t remember much from my first and only other visit to Kolkata (Calcutta) back in late 2002. All I remember is wanting to leave. The city, & much like many Indian cities, can do that to you.
Kolkata, Take 2
My aforementioned first visit to Kolkata was almost exactly a decade ago. Back then, just like now, the city was my last stop in India, coming at the end of my first visit to the country, a 5-week west-to-east crusade, a large chunk of which I spent sheltering from India’s aggression on the beaches of Goa (the greenhorns I sported back then are well & truly gone). Back then I guess I was ready to leave the city, the centre of the third most populous metropolitan area in India, before I even arrived and thus didn’t give the city’s overbearingness a chance. Thankfully I did this time. Within a few hours of arriving here off the overnight train from Varanasi I had seen more of the city’s sights than I had after spending two days here back in 2002. And there’s plenty to see – the markets of Chowringhee & people watching on the streets or by the Hooghly River will keep most entertained. But it was the city’s fine collection of stunning colonial-era buildings that was the undoubted highlight of this trip to the city for me.
Of course this being India, most of the city’s colonial buildings are in dire need of a bit of upkeep, well overdue upkeep – a lick of paint here, a bit of crack-concealing plasterwork there. Just some basic TLC. Walking around the BBD Bagh area I couldn’t help but wonder why the Indians didn’t make more of an effort to preserve some of the treasures of the city, the treasures gifted to them by the British.
This visit to Kolkata wasn’t all about viewing grandiose &/or dilapidated colonial buildings. People watching came a close second, not surprising considering this is India after all.
An Unfair Rap?
Kolkata (Calcutta) gets a bad rap, & unfairly so in my opinion. Yes, its streets are a teeming, busy mass of human existence & poverty is never too far away. But it’s a likeable Indian city & given a chance it may surprise. It did me, but admittedly it needed two attempts to do so.