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Kolkata: A Glimpse Into India

It was my first time traveling to India. The first stop of my month long trip around India is Kolkata. I didn't know what to expect aside from the stereotypes about India I've heard from friends. I kept an open mind on what to expect as the hours of my flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kolkata wilted away as the plane made its final descent.

Old Colonial Charm

Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is the capital of West Bengal. The English East India Company arrived in Kolkata's shores in 1690. From their arrival, the British began to exert their influence in the region. They built infrastructure and trade routes during their colonization. Visitors can clearly see the colonizers' influence as they walk around the city.

There were quite a number of buildings that reminded me of the old British colonial structures I saw in Myanmar. But despite the British's influence, the Indians kept their culture intact. Kolkata is a mix of British and Indian culture and history.

I became fond of the yellow, old school taxis that roamed around Kolkata at crazy speeds, sharp turns, and incessant honking (even if no other cars or people around). We rode one of these taxis when we left the airport, the car only had one side mirror and drove really fast, he made taxi drivers in the Philippines look tame in comparison.

I always pictured India as a country that makes summers in the Philippines feel like winter. I was completely surprised when we arrived to temperatures that dipped and hovered around 10 degrees (my trip to India was from January to February). An Indian friend told me to bring a jacket because the temperature would hit 10 degrees, but despite his warning I was still surprised by how cold it was.

Crazy drivers and poverty aside, it was quite pleasant walking around parts of the city where old colonial buildings were renovated and re-purposed.

Victoria Memorial Hall

The Victoria Memorial Hall was built from 1906 to 1921 to honor the late Queen Victoria. The Hall is now used as a prime tourist destination and museum for foreigners and locals alike.

The facade of the hall was impressive, but I can't say the same about inside. The hall contained information and timelines about the regions past all the way to its present; the arrival of the British to political turmoil to Indian independence to current events.

You could easily spend an afternoon just exploring the Victoria Memorial Hall and its surrounding area. I liked how there were a lot of locals visiting sites such as this it showed their interest in history, and also, it's probably a cheap but good place to hang out in or spend time with family. There is a huge price difference for tickets sold to foreigners and to locals.

*There is an entrance fee of INR 150 to enter the Victoria Memorial Hall

Culture Shock

I had to redefine some things I was accustomed to while traveling around Southeast Asia and at home, during my first few days in India. The Indians are completely different culturally from the Philippines. In my opinion, they're rougher around the edges, to put it lightly. 

Walking around the area near Sudder Street revealed another side of the city. Park Street was the more affluent area where there are more high-end restaurants, fast food chains, high rise buildings, and business establishments.

Locals went about their daily routines; getting a shave along the street, selling produce, and drinking chai (tea).

People, animals (from goats to cows), bicycles, trams, auto rickshaws, and cars all competed in Kolkata's streets. There was constant honking, speeding, and traffic violations (if there were rules at all). The abject poverty is in your face, beggars and the homeless are scattered all over the city. People littering and trash everywhere, even in parks. Lack of respect for personal space; people grab, push, stare, and not queue properly. The stereotypes about India are true but I kept an open mind and relished my stay in Kolkata, taking in the culture and history, and especially the food! People are generally nice, you'd have to dig through the layers first and smile.

spicy chicken dish

Dakshineswar Temple

Indians in Kolkata are devout Hindus. You could see cows and other animals wandering freely on the streets.

The Dakshineswar Temple was built in 1855. There were a lot of believers flocking to this temple during our visit.

There was a small bathing ghat in the temple, where people cleansed themselves.

Devotees lining up in one of the temple's entrances. It seemed like they were more devout than the Catholics in the Philippines.

After a couple of days in Kolkata, I was getting accustomed to the culture and people. I was ready to explore and discover more of what India has to offer as I headed north.

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