We arrive to Kolkata City Centre in the early hours (2am). A time rarely witnessed by others. Normally with these rare opportunities I’d be snapping my camera at every corner. On this occasion I froze. The entire journey glued to the window, doing nothing, saying nothing. Fanfan the same. Our silence awkwardly ended by Fanfan on arrival at the hotel “It’s so sad”. I find no reply. Scenes like this leave me lost for words. Kolkata at night is grim. Trash covered streets, garbage eating dogs, pavements lined with homeless, mentally ill. A never-ending odor of fumes and burnt rubber. I wouldn’t say the streets appear dangerous; just completely dire. Being sure not to miss on all opportunities of photos I capture an image at our hotel gate in the tourist area of Sudder Street. We then rush check-in at the hotel and stand stunned in our room with ‘What the **** have we just done’ smeared all over our faces. That night we sleep fully clothed… While I expected to witness poverty in Kolkata I didn’t expect to see it so widespread. I certainly didn’t expect it in the tourist areas of Kolkata City Centre. At our hotel doorstep.
In the morning things are brighter; decay and desperation partially masked by busy street bustle. Where we stay on Sudder Street the scenes are lively, exciting and completely new to my eyes. The areas surrounding Sudder Street are considered the clean, tourist friendly areas of Kolkata City Centre; just don’t expect them to be clean or tourist friendly. If you have a comfort zone be sure to negate it before arrival. In Kolkata they don’t exist. Other than hotels, room service and (amazing) restaurants there are few comforts to be found. From first setting foot on the streets you will likely be hounded. Not so often by hard sell but more by begging, locals yank at clothes and rattle tins by your face, they help with the most menial tasks then pester you for payment. While my words seem harsh they are only honest. Please don’t expect to turn up, hand out money and solve India’s social problems. In many ways you will only make them worse.
Why Visit Kolkata?
Kolkata is far from a holiday destination; it is more of a ‘Welcome to the Real World’ destination. A world I first learned of 15 years ago in Grammar School. ‘The Slums of Calcutta’. A world I hoped never to meet face-to-face. To me poverty like this only exists in text books. It certainly doesn’t happen in the modern word. How wrong I was. Drive any direction in Kolkata City Centre and see for yourself. Pockets of desperation dotted throughout. In Kolkata life is a continuous struggle. Hard and in many case hopeless. This is what Kolkata will teach you and this is the reason you should go. You’ve lived in a house all your life? Lucky for some!