Calcutta, City of Joy



Arriving by car at 8 pm in a city of more than 12 million people is not a good idea. After our long drive from Darjeeling, we had decided to go straight to a "top end" hotel in order to have a good rest as well as to be assured we could safely park our car. We headed for the Fairlawn Hotel which is described by our Lonely Planet guidebook as being "a place in Calcutta where the Raj still lives albeit in a decidedly eccentric manner. Edmund Smith and his Armenian wife Violet still run the hotel more than 50 years after Independence. The hotel is crammed with memorabilia, chintz and prewar furnishings". This sounded good. At US$ 40 a night in Calcutta, it should have been. Unfortunately the hotel was also crammed with little white and blue KLM houses, signed pictures of the world's worst writers and an amount of prewar dust and dirt that made us think we should leave as soon as possible.



Our first visit that morning was one to the FRRO Foreigners' Registration Office to try to have our Indian visas extended. This gave us our first daylight sights of Calcutta as well as a taste of driving (or should we say horning) in a yellow Ambassador in the small streets around our hotel. In the larger streets, we would be competing for space with diesel belching busses (picture above).



Besides the image that we might have of it in the West and the real poverty we saw, Calcutta is also a very friendly city where a smile will nearly always be returned. Calcutta has always been acknowledged as the cultural capital of India. It is full of old British era buildings, some of which in a very poor state (especially the crumbling one topped with "Life Insurance" advert). We were impressed to walk passed the Writer's building where East India Company employees have now been replaced by West Bengal state employees specialising in "quintuplicate forms, carbon copies and red ink." We have never seen a larger number of cars belonging to one administration or the other than in West Bengal. 




The beautiful but very poorly maintained Indian Museum in Calcutta.


Calcutta's fleet of West Bengal Government cars : Ambassadors and drivers waiting to pick up their bosses.


We are doing well !

Calcutta to Jaipur Back to Trip page KM 125,417