Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Exploring Kolkata - My Way

Have I ever lived in the city? Yes, when I was a kid, I lived in Kolkata for about a year-n-half. During those months I spent in the city, I never liked it, forget about loving it. It was a mess, I didn't have any friends, I was very young, constantly missed my hometown Delhi and every single day craved to go back. The fact that my Bangla was not perfect and had a strong north-Indian accent didn't help; it only made me an 'outsider' amongst my class mates, and though they found it amusing and interesting, I always felt weird. I didn't like that phase, and still don't.

One thing that I do like now is the Kolkata that I am beginning to see and understand. While earlier visiting Kolkata meant hopping from one relative's home to another and seeing Kolkata inside the walls and home decor of these rooms, I have now started discovering the city on my own terms. I don't have many friends in Kolkata, and most of the times that I've recently visited, I've stayed alone, in a quiet guest-house, alone, without friends, without anyone to show me around town. Of course I would have loved to be taken to places within the city that I've never seen or heard and so will never know of visiting, but I can't say that I don't like my own company while I'm there.

I don't know how safe or unsafe the city is for a woman on her own. On my part, I've not ventured out late alone, and the fact that the sun goes home really fast and early in Kolkata doesn't make matters any much easier. I can barely figure out when afternoon ends and when it's night!

Of course there have been the to-be-expected-in-India catcalls and stares and road-side comments by the Rasta Romeos, which girl doesn't face them in any part of India????!!! But while earlier I would have been hugely affected by these, now it doesn't bother me anymore...I believe in letting strays bark when they absolutely have to...so you see, that's another problem out of the way.

My usual way of traveling around the city is in those cute roly-poly yellow cabs and of course by foot. If I end up landing there in any month that's close to summers, I venture out on foot only in the evenings, rest of the time it's just cabs. I've traveled in a Kolkata bus and metro and even tram a long long time back, when there would be someone around to go along with me. Being severely claustrophobic doesn't help, and I consciously stay away from all forms of public transport save the taxi.

Another thing that I absolutely love while in Kolkata is relishing the local flavours (not just the fish and the sweets - I can't stand either of those much!), but I'm talking about stuff like rolls and mughlai paranthas and chop and begunis and jhaalmuri and the typical roadside Kolkata chowmein that you can only get in Kolkata - complete with kashundi and all!!!??? I love the experimenting, and even though my family tells me I should go easy and not go all out on hogging off the streets, I don't really ever listen ;-) Food off the streets and fashion off the streets is something I've always been fond of, and I know that for me, eating at a 5-star and buying the biggest of labels may be classy, I've done that, but it doesn't feel fun - quite empty and boring most of the time must say...so the good old rasta is where I'm back always...and in the bargain, I end up making friends of all the roadside vendors who work near the guest house where I live while on my alone trips. They always remember me whenever I come back to the city, down to the way I like my 'chowmein' done to how much extra green chillies I want added to my jhaalmuri...They always welcome me in their city with a big smile, and that always means a lot....

While I have consistently missed seeing the usual touristy spots in Kolkata, I do love exploring the streets and lanes of the city, looking at people as they go about their lives, oblivious to a camera poking out, a pair of eyes checking them out....I'm glad that each time I've taken out my cam and clicked random people anywhere, they've not minded....

I like Kolkata, and I'm beginning to love it......I'll tell you more about what I feel about this city, your city, and now slowly becoming mine, in a next post. As of now, I've just come back from a trip to Kolkata, and must now get back to some serious unpacking, while nursing a feeling of sadness and nostalgia...But then again, I have memories with me to cherish, don't I? I'll survive :-)

- Debolina Raja Gupta


  1. Just want to say your article is as astonishing.
    The clarity in your post is just great and i can assume you're an expert on this subject. Well with your permission let me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying work.

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  2. Anonymous...that's a lot of kind words. thnx :-) I'm not a travel expert, i just happen to share my travel experiences with others, who may or may not have visited Kolkata. I myself have visited Kolkata a few times, sometimes with others, sometimes entirely on my own, exploring it on my own, my own way. Glad you liked it :-)

  3. Hi

    Indeed very interesting blog post ! would like to share a similar experience here --- http://blog.travelnina.com/unseen-kolkata/

  4. Hey debolina.. i have stayed in kolkata for a year in 2008, and didnt like it when i was there. Now since i have read your blog, have started loving this city. Thanks for reminding me those beautifull memories.....


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