Kolkata: First Impressions
The first word that came to mind when arriving in Kolkata was “jumbled”. I’d prepared myself for the vibrancy, the noise (do those drivers ever stop beeping their horns?) and the Indian smells (some not so pleasant!), but what struck me was how jumbled everything looked…the roads, the people, the buildings!
The traffic was manic; we drove past crazy taxi drivers, cyclists, various Indian vehicles, cows (you name it!) all on the same road. Equally the people and their quality of life varied considerably. Seeing one person with his iPod and flashy phone walk past family after family living on the street was hard to register. The buildings seems ‘mish-mashed’ together: big office buildings surrounded by bamboo scaffolding next to tiny, run-down huts. It felt to me like the whole town was about to collapse – everything looked so thrown together. Kolkata comes across as a chaotic place yet I’m sure I will discover that it is an organised chaos!
Much greener than I had expected
Ordered chaos a little order and a lot of chaos
The overwhelming of the senses, sight, hearing, smell, taste and even touch.
The speed of the roads but also of how much we have to process.
The warmth and depth of our welcome and our hosts’ faith in Jesus.
Walking out on to the main street seemed like a different country. There are people and traffic everywhere you go. Some of the street children said hello to us and were really friendly. Walking along the main street we had to be careful not to walk on peoples homes!
Driving ( or in our case being driven) in Kolkata is certainly what I would class as an extreme sport! Rule? What rules? Essentially, know the width of your car because the lanes don’t exist; have nerves of steel and the patience of a saint.
I have also come to the conclusion that the hooters on cars are very expensive optional extras ergo drivers use them ALL the time to ensure they get money’s worth!
Airport looked like it should – something from the 60s? Very different from Dubai (which was very modern and very shiny). My first impression of Kolkata itself (as we were driven from the airport to the BMS Guest House) was the temperature (although it was relatively early in the morning) – not raining yet! Traffic everywhere – chaos (?), but no accidents witnessed. There didn’t seem to be any rules apart from ‘every driver for themselves’, although buses displayed signs reading ‘obey the rules of the road’. No-one seemed to give way. Horns of all types beep constantly possibly in annoyance, but as much as a warning to other vehicles. Possibly disorganised, although there were lots of officials – attempting to direct the traffic or sort of direct people across the road. Colour, crumbling, dust, crumbling yet once great buildings, dust, greenery – trees, colour, begging, slums, noise – bursting with life!
Kolkata traffic is very similar to Kampala’s but with fewer motor cycles and the taxis are yellow and black Ambasadors and not blue and white Toyotas! Auto rickshaws, some times called Tuk Tuks, are a new feature to the urban landscape for me and we actually saw two of the famous Kolkata rickshaw pullers, officially the use of human power to pull a rickshaw is illegal in India but they still ply their trade in Kolkata.