Exiting from Kolkata airport into the Indian air was an assault on the senses I’ve experienced only once before. The last time I was in India!!
It was early evening by the time I collected my bags and headed into town to find my hotel. The road was filled Kolkata’s synonymous yellow taxi’s, it’s colourfully decorated old buses and what seems like a million autos (motorised Tuk Tuk). With horns blasting, they all battle for the fastest route on the road.
Sitting in the taxi there was nervousness in my belly. A combination of excitement, from being in India, from looking forward to being reunited with Boris and Kiwi Ted, and when I think of the extravaganza of foods about to be ingested, the inevitable case of Delhi belly that is destined to arrive.
The drive in from the airport gave me an insight to the coming weeks on the road. Chaos reigned, but a chaos that seemed to be orderly and understood, in an Indian way. Every driver knew the game. Drive fast, toot your horn incessantly, give no quarter unless the opposition was bigger than you, and pay no attention to any form of official road rules. The battle was on.
I checked into my hotel in the centre of town. I asked for a dinner recommendation and ended up at the Blue Sky Cafe. It was to become my regular hangout for the rest of my time in Kolkata. It’s ready supply of food, cool drinks and wifi keeping me going while I organised myself for the next leg of the journey.
The following two days centred around the decision of whom to use as my shipping agent in Kolkata. It’s a blurry world with many parties involved. Trying to decipher the in and outs of the process and the costs, was a challenge in itself. Eventually though after several quotes and many questions I made a decision. The price had reduced from an initial quote of $1500 to $800 USD. Still rather expensive to get my vehicle past customs I thought!!
With the decision made, the paperwork handed over and the deposit paid all I could do was wait. It was Thursday and with a little luck I might get Boris back by Monday. This soon proved to be pie in the sky sales talk. With a public holiday thrown in for good measure the days would tick by for over a week in the end, before I would get my hands on Boris.
The silver lining was that this gave me the opportunity to have a look around Kolkata and visit a number of its sights.
One evening a stroll down to the Hooghly riverfront lead me to the Millennium Park. Families and young couples were out in force. Enjoying the cool evening air as the sunset on the river. Nearby workers slowly made their way home across the river by boat. Everybody is very friendly, many saying hello and most smiling. The kids are curious and the odd cheeky one asks for some cash. I just ask them for some back!
The following day I walked to the Howrah Bridge and got a bus across. Then checked out the Howrah train station and finally caught a boat back across the river to Millennium park. It was a day to test many of the different forms of transport that kept the city moving.
On the weekend I joined the masses as they strolled around the central city parks, churches, art galleries and the Victoria Memorial. Having to stop for photos with the locals became a regular occurrence. Around the parks, football and cricket was being played into the evening as the last of the weekend sun disappeared.
A week after arriving I was still waiting for Boris. Everything pointed to Thursday being the day so I had a few more days to kill. So I continued to wander around the cities sights. I paid a visit to the Asiatic Society and the Survey of India building for West Bengal. Both have an extensive collection of suitably old stuff that fills their suitably old buildings. Where the visit to the Asiatic society was interesting and a blast into the past, the visit to the Survey was highly entertaining interlude.
After making my way inside I was questioned what I wanted. As I wasn’t sure exactly what they did, I had to extract the purpose of the building from my inquisitor. Turns out they held all the maps for the West Bengal region. So I said I wanted some maps and was subsequently pointed in the right direction. In the map office I walked up to the front desk, which was manned by five chaps sitting around not doing much. A common occurrence in India to be fair. I requested to see all the ancient maps from the 1800′s. After a little confusion on both sides a chap turned up with the only 2 ancient maps they had. Perfect, I’ll take them. We filled out all the paperwork required, as usual in triplicate. I paid my 14 rupees, said my thank you’s and left pretty happy with my efforts. Leaving the staff in much bemusement as to why a foreigner would want such things.
Another day I spent walking through the Park St Cemetery. A wonderfully Gothic cemetery where the trees and plants have slowly taken over. I love wandering around the streets watching the world go by. People in their everyday lives working, playing, laughing and yelling while all around the horns of very vehicle provide the background music to the show that India puts on every day.
The big day finally arrived. It was time to pick up Boris from the Container Freight Station (CFS) depot. I met with my agent and we headed to the depot. Pretty quickly we got Boris out of the container and checked he was still in good order and running ok. Then the fun began. Customs guy No. 1 showed up for a quick check. Then laughs when he sees my bill and offers his email address to chat more. Get the impression he is going to tell me I paid to much. Then customs guys No.2 and No.3 show up. The next stage turns into a bit of a farce as the customs guys have never filled in a carnet de passage (vehicle passport) document before . So it’s left to me, who has only done it once to explain what’s required. Slowly all the paperwork signed, stamped and approved. I arrived at 3.15 and finally exited around 7.15pm.
Hooray!! It’s great day getting Boris and Kiwi Ted back.
So on the 20th of September, ten days after arriving in Kolkata I departed the city at 5.30am. We were back on the road finally, 5 weeks after arriving in Kuala Lumpur. It felt great to be back on the road and the early morning start meant India was still waking up. The journey home was just beginning.
Kolkata is a vibrant city with plenty to see and do. I enjoyed my stay and it was an easy way to acclimatise to India, before heading back out on the road. However ten days was more than enough. I think 2 or 3 days would have be sufficient to be honest. The customs process slowed me that India operates at a different pace to many places.