Not many tourists go to Kolkata. I only met one other foreigner who had been there and there was only one hostel in the whole city but I knew I wanted to go. When you do a Google search there are even articles that come up titled ‘reasons why you should never go to Kolkata’ but it turned out to have my favourite chaotic streets of any of India’s mega cities that I’d been to.
It’s the former British colonial capital and for most westerners is known as one of the poorest cities in the world. The colonial buildings remain and poverty was certainly visible but the city is equally a modern and happening place with great restaurants and expensive shopping malls to rival Mumbai’s.
Lonely Planet states that it’s a city you feel rather than see and they couldn’t be more accurate. There’s not exactly a lot of tourist sights other than remnants of the British like the Victoria Memorial and of course, the famous Mother Teresa House, but it’s merely just walking the streets that is the best part.
It’s of course a city of contrasts like many other Indian cities. I could get the same meal on the street for less than a quarter of the price you’d pay in a restaurant. There are world class shopping malls and dirty, crowded marketplaces. There are fancy hotels with people living under tarps on the streets outside. There are businessmen catching the metro to work and old men pushing backbreaking carts along the streets. You can use an old British-era yellow taxi to get around or book an Uber on your phone. A weird and wonderful mix of old and new.
I ate the famous Kolkata biryani for lunch and dinner almost every day I was there. I walked for hours pushing my way past people scoffing down street food along uneven pavement and risked my life crossing the road in front of the unrelenting traffic. My face felt like it was covered in a layer of grime by the end of each day and there was rubbish lining every gutter of every street. So I can understand why some people don’t bother to go there but for me it was such a quintessential Indian experience and a city that had a bit of everything that this country is famous for.