India : Kolkata # 3: Out and About in the City

Getting around a city like Kolkata is frustrating for everyone involved.  Apart from the large numbers of pedestrians, there’s such a mix of types of transport all trying to share the road  – and no-one can go anywhere very fast.

P1000118  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000118 © DY of jtdytravels

There are, for example, at least 40,000 yellow taxis in Kolkata.  They invariably dominate the street scape.  These old Morris Oxfords, now called Ambassadors, are the backbone of the Kolkata taxi fleet.  It’s obvious, though, that not everyone wants to take a taxi… a ride on the top of a ute was the way to go for at least one young man!  Just as well the traffic is so slow.


P1000061  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000061 © DY of jtdytravels

The city authorities in Kolkata are phasing out the use of bicycles and rickshaws – supposedly to decrease congestion.   I’m not sure how, or  if, this will work.  It will put many men out of work and increase the cost of moving goods around the city.  It will inevitably increase the number of motor vehicles on the road into the bargain.  And what will that gain?  While other large cities are trying to reduce the numbers of cars in the city and encourage the use of peddle power, this city seems to be going against the flow.  It will end up as a stand still car park!


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P1000126 © DY of jtdytravels

It would seem, that scenes like this will soon be a thing of the past.

How will children like these get to school, I wonder?


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P1000112 © DY of jtdytravels

There are buses and trams but they are very overcrowded.


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P1000110 © DY of jtdytravels

Our guide, Shanti, told us about the underground rail system which is said to be most efficient.  We didn’t have a chance to test that statement.  But efficiency is not a word that can be said of the tram system which moves people at the extraordinary speed of 6km/h.  It’s a rather antiquated system.  I was told that one tram route was especially reopened for the festival after being closed for around 6 years.


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P1000132 © DY of jtdytravels

It’s probably just as well that trams move at not much more than walking pace in the crowded streets.  Note the ‘Ladies Special’ notice on the front windscreen.  The sign refers to the first bogie (or section) of the tram only but at least it gives a safe place for women to travel through the city.  And with the safety of women on public transport in India being brought into question over the last year, it’s probably a good idea.


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P1000165 © DY of jtdytravels

 There was plenty to see as our small tour bus made its way slowly through the streets.

Little green and yellow tuk tuks are still in use – but for how much longer?

Over-loaded trucks like this are a common sight in India.


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P1000077 © DY of jtdytravels

We did have a destination on this city visit: the vast Victoria Memorial Hall which stretches 103 m (338 ft) and is 56 m (184 ft) high.  Built to commemorate Queen Victoria, it was begun in 1906 and inaugurated in 1921.  Constructed of white Makrana marbles, it incorporates both British and Mughal elements in its design.  It’s used as a museum of artefacts and memorabilia relating to the time of British rule in India and of Queen Victoria, even though she never visited India.  We didn’t go inside; the queues waiting to go in were just far too long to make that worthwhile on our short one day visit to the city.


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P1000079 © DY of jtdytravels

Out in front is a very large and rather sombre statue of the Queen herself.


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P1000080 © DY of jtdytravels

Large statues of lions guard the entry to the gardens and building.


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P1000082 © DY of jtdytravels

The  Victoria Memorial is surrounded by large, cool gardens, enjoyed by many visitors.


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P1000111 © DY of jtdytravels

There are many reminders of the days of the Raj as you drive through this city.


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P1000128 © DY of jtdytravels

Some buildings of that period were very ornate and are still in relatively good repair.


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P1000045 © DY of jtdytravels

There’s not a lot of OH&S here for painters at work on maintenance of this old building !


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P1000123 © DY of jtdytravels

What must once have been a rather spectacular piece of architecture, is crumbling.

A pity, but I guess its restoration would be difficult and expensive.


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P1000124 © DY of jtdytravels

Another place we stopped at was a large colonial built palace which is now a museum.   The place is run by an extended family who can’t seem to agree on anything.  The result is that nothing is done to conserve the multitude of almost priceless artefacts collected by their ancestors – artefacts like metre high Ming vases, Belgium crystal chandeliers and an original Rubens,etc. etc.  It was rather depressing seeing all these treasures un-dusted, uncared for, partially covered up, and all definitely unloved.  We weren’t allowed to take photographs inside the museum, so the only photo I have of this palace is one of the exterior.  Even then, I was severely reprimanded for taking it – though it was taken across the fence line while I was standing in public space.


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P1000098 © DY of jtdytravels

Whilst on this city tour, we went down to the edge of the Hoogley River.  Here we saw a man who had recently lost a family member, possibly his father.  After taking a ritual bath in the river, he had his head shaved and then a white shawl-like garment was wrapped around his body.  This is a common death ritual in a family.


P1000099  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1000099 © DY of jtdytravels

For this ritual, the material is seamless and one continuous length.

Many come here to bathe in the river…

both for hygiene cleanliness and for spritiual cleanliness.


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P1000094 © DY of

One memorable and relativey quiet scene before we left the great metropolis of Kolkata,

was of the Howrah Bridge across the Hoogley River.

This was my second visit to Kolkata but I have also been to many other cities and states of India and, in the past, I lived and worked in Nepal.  I love this part of the world.  However, I still find it impossible to describe the place adequately to someone who has not previously visited the Indian sub-continent.  I hope the photos give some idea of the vibrant city that is Kolkata.

From here we flew to a very different destination; beautiful, mountainous, gentle Bhutan

and that will be the subject of my next set of musings.


All photography Copyright ©  David Young of  Jtdytravels

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