Kolkata, on the Road

Good morning kids and readers. Good morning teachers and dreamers.

Welcome to our journeys through India. At least through a small part of this diverse land. Together we will be exploring West Bengal. In particular its capital region, Kolkata and its suburbs.

Kolkata S Central

Each, and every one of us that has ever been outside their hometown (/village/city/cave?) is aware that in order to travel, we need at least some kind of infrastructure, and transport. Whether it’s walking or hover crafting, we need the means to move. And that is where we shall begin our journey.

Sealdah train station

By European standards, India is considered a developing country. Since we usually take into account only material development, this also applies to Indian infrastructure. To an average European the infrastructure here would appear obsolete, chaotic, and sadly lacking.

THE Bridge

Nevertheless, it is just one of the unique characteristics of this diverse land. Even though the whole way of life here may be pretty overwhelming and confusing to an European (being used to order, a LOT of space, and technological perfection), the locals have developed their own sense of how to travel, and move in crowds that would leave our infrastructure planners bitting the dirt under their feet.

IMG_0490

First of all, the traffic here is ruled by apparent anarchy. That is, to unknowing foreigners like me. In reality there are a lot of silent rules, passed down through the cultural environment. But if you keep your eyes open on the streets, observe a bit how people move, and have at least a decent guide, it can all become pretty simple and clear quite fast.

on the bus

There are a few such rules – or rather traditions – that help you move around as an uncivilised outlander. The most important thing – people walk, and drive anywhere, and everywhere there’s space. No waiting, it’s first come, first serve. The only recognised signal is honking. I’m starting my car, honk, I’m turning left, honk, I’m behind you, honk, I’m passing you, honk, you honk, I honk. After a while on a main road, it is honk honk honk honk honk honk honk honk honk. No reason to get intimidated or annoyed though, it is just a form of communication.

on the road

As a remnant from the British occupation of India, the people here also move on the left side of the road. Mostly. It is still up to you to find your own space.  There are also almost no traffic lights, and even so, only about one in ten is actually working. If you want to cross the road, you have to make an opening – but never jump in front of a moving car, they won’t stop!

crossroads

In crowds, touching and gentle pushing is common place. There is no personal space in the city or on public transport and if you’re here, you better get used to it, or you’re never getting anywhere. Everybody is walking at their own pace, and if you want to get ahead, you just gently nudge the people out of the way. If you get used to it, it actually becomes quite awesome, because you almost never have to stop. For anyone.

chaos

There is another thing that is good to know about roads and traffic in Kolkata. There is traffic police literally on every corner, and every street in the city. They don’t do much, except occasionally direct the traffic on more crowded streets – by Indian standards. Even there they usually just look for openings to help the drivers, and sometimes pedestrians to get through a particularly difficult crossroad.

police bridge box

The infrastructure here is majorly undeveloped, but even so there are many more transport options available here than in any European capital. In Kolkata you can travel by train, metro, busses, taxis, auto-rikshas, bicycle rikshas, hand rikshas, or even tram.

the tram

For rich, and unadventurous visitors the most obvious choice would be the taxi. There’s a ton of them, they’re cheap (compared to Europe), and the cars are straight from the sixties. It’s also the most comfortable way to explore Kolkata. The price starts at 25 Rs and up to 300-400, if you don’t leave the city, or circle around for a while. Just roll down your window, take some pictures, and enjoy.

haters hatin

Rikshas are the Asian version of a taxi. In Kolkata you’ve got three different kinds. Auto-riksha is the motorised one, and is basically just a smaller (and a more fun!) version of a taxi. It’s on three wheels, partially covered, with three seats in the back, and one in front, besides the driver. It’s about a third the cost of the taxi.

rikshas!

Then there’s also the bicycle, and hand rikshas. The first is a miniature chariot pulled by a bike, and the second by a walking/running man. They are even cheaper – and also look the part.

bike riksha

One of the cheapest – and most confusing – ways to travel through Kolkata is by bus. There’s tons of them, some with AC, some without, and of course with different prices. The difference is 5 Rs. And it’s almost impossible for an outlander like me to figure out what bus is going where. They all look the same. The only recognisable difference I’ve seen so far is the colour and how trashed does the bus itself look. I wouldn’t recommend them for beginners without a local guide you can trust.

da bus

My all time favourite in India is the train. Trains like this went out of service in our part of the world at least 50 years ago and wouldn’t satisfy even half the safety, and comfort standards we have now. That is why they’re awesome. They’re almost completely metal, with doors open for the entire ride. You can hang through the door, and feel the wind on your face. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a long trip on an overly crowded train. They also have separate wagons for women, but it’s not a rule for them to be there. When they travel with a man at least.

i like trains

The pride of Kolkata’s public transport is the ‘newly’ built single metro line. It covers the city centre, and runs down south to New Garia. The construction was started in 1984, and every few years they add another stop to the line. Even though the wagons themselves look little better than the train, it is still a recent, and an unfinished project. The best part? Magnet coins used for tickets! Just be careful you don’t lose it, or you’re not leaving the metro station!

enter metro

There is much more to getting around in Kolkata, but I’ll leave the rest up to you, if you ever decide to visit. It is constantly changing anyway, so get to it and explore!

Imagine

Imagine a land far away. So far away that all our concepts about life begin to disintegrate. Our concepts of time, culture, religion, work, society, hygiene, politics, economy, nature, sustainability, poverty, and life itself. In a single point, the very concepts that define who we are, and how we interact with and within life. If you’re open to it, you might just reach it one day.

Finally, touchdown!

Imagine a land so far away that you have to travel back in our own time to reach it. Does it seem difficult? Well, allow me to welcome you to West Bengal, India. Welcome to the land where the old and traditional met, and crashed head on into the modernity that has been and still is being so powerfully enforced on the world as a whole.

Pialia train station

As the epicentre of this technological, scientific, and anti-cultural revolution, we Europeans are forced to bear a great pain of loss of our own identity as human beings inhabiting one of the most plentiful, and beautiful corners of the planet Earth. We forgot what it means to truly live of the land, what it means to be truly connected to each other through our own culture, how to use instead of abuse our environment, and most importantly what it means to truly live as yourself.

Pialia train station 2

We have, as a given, a giant boon of resources, and material wealth at our disposal. Even the poorest in our societies have access to internet, and facilities that we consider as basic – electricity, sanitaries, and even running (drinking!) water. On the other hand, we (for the most part) have no idea what it means to truly loose yourself in a giant boiling pot of everything, and being forced to bite, and claw our way out to find that sense of who we are again. Mostly due to the innate social security that our societies have forced on themselves. Almost no matter what we do, we will never fall into real poverty, and the motivation of struggle for survival has all but disappeared from our parts of the world.

Pialia farmland

It may not seem like much, but we Europeans now suffer greatly at a personal level, because of the mistakes we made in the past, and still seem hellbent on making. We rather publicly attribute the mistakes we made, and still seem hellbent on making, to what we now politely call the developing world. And as a punishment, we are imposing our own principles, and concepts of life on the peoples, and cultures of those developing regions. Which outnumber us by far.

Kolkata traffic

This agonising pain, that stems from the loss of our own selves, has been shaping our lives for a long time. This does not apply to everyone, but for the most part it has been passed down to our parents, and in turn, our parents have passed it down to us. And it seems that no matter where we go, this pain always seems to catch up with us sooner or later.

Homeless. Almost.

Most of us have been so deeply influenced by it, that we (sometimes unknowingly) pass it on to others. As if there would be no better way to live. But quietly, we are just seeking recognition, that the mistakes we (and our parents) have been making for hundreds of years were something else entirely. We choose to blindly follow the teachings that our societies pass on to us, and we do not rest until everyone else falls down so far, and hard that they blindly accept, and follow our own teachings.

Kolkata bank & policeIn this sense, Indian culture is one of the most interesting ones in the world. It is a place mired in tradition, and its own ways, as it has been for millennia, while it is also slowly absorbing our own, inherently imperialistic cultures.

Shop on the Go

It is one of the rare jewels of the world, where not much can move, but everything can change. It is a place of extreme poverty, and riches. It is a place where people live of the land, and know how not to waste, and use every material at their disposal on one hand, and a place of extreme pollution on the other. A place where gods are many, and they are one. A place of religion, and technology. A place of community, and division. It is a place where the middle ages have survived through centuries of social, and technological advances, and are still strongly holding on.

Bridge Business

This is the land of unlimited imagination, if only you have the eyes to see. Here, a person, no matter their origins, can as easily open their heart, and conquer themselves, as well as drown in an unending sea of confusion, struggles and challenges.

Rabbit & turtle

Which one will You choose to be?

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