As I stared out of the taxi whilst en-route from the airport to the city centre, it was inescapably obvious that India was going to be crazy different to SE Asia. And perhaps a welcomed change too. I had become overly familiar with the SE Asian style. I was very comfortable there.
I hadn’t booked a hotel and was hoping one of the numerous hotels around the Sudder Street and Park Street area would offer me some comfortable living space for cheap. I was wrong. By the time I was wondering the streets, it was about 7 pm. All the cheap places recommended in the Rough Guide to India were already full. A gentleman guided me to a hotel in the backstreets of Sudder Street. It was cheap enough, but it was fairly dire. I didn’t particularly want to keep wandering the streets in a new city/a new country for much longer at night so I accepted the room. After some pretty spectacular Indian dinner (having eaten way too much Dhal Bhat in Nepal) I walked around for an hour or two then called it a night early.
The full error of my choice was becoming apparent. The bed didn’t have any bed sheets, a few mice had run across the hallway as I entered the hotel that evening, and there was a lot of rubbish underneath by bed. Bad start. The receptionist didn’t understand enough English to understand that I requested bed sheets. So I got into my sleeping bag liner, set an alarm for 6 am and went to sleep. (The hotel was called Akash, I think, avoid it at all cost!)
The following morning I shot out of bed at 6. After a quick shower, I quickly packed my bag and had everything ready to go. I snuck out of the hotel and started looking for a new place to stay.
Morning Calcutta is well worth the early wake-up call. Calcutta is more of an afternoon and evening city. Before 1030, the city goes about its personal business – bar a few street vendors, it’s not ready for custom or service – oblivious to your presence. Men and women manually crank the public wells in the back streets of Calcutta, filling buckets to bathe themselves or brush their teeth. The streets are quiet and calm and the weather very pleasant.
Within an hour, I had found a significantly more comfortable hotel to stay for a 1000 Rupees / night (£10). It’s Sunflower Hotel on Royd Street. It was a lot pricier than what I thought India would be, but I guessed it was just because Calcutta was off the main tourist trail. I moved my things over quickly.
However, it didn’t take long to acclimatise to India. That day I felt a lot more at ease with the hustle and bustle of India. There were still some cultural quirks that would take me a while to get used to, but I felt comfortable that second day.
Over the coming few days, I would do some sightseeing, a lot of walking around, eating my body weight in Indian food and most importantly catching up with Upasika – whom I went to university with but hadn’t seen for a few years.