Kolkata, née Calcuta, of black hole fame, the armpit of India, per many natives' opinions. From the moment you land, you can tell you;re in a city that hasn't quite made it to the 20th century. It's crumbling, crowded, medieval, frantic, poor, dirty and utterly charming. More than anywhere else in India, life is lived on the streets in Kolkata, and I liked it instantly.
Somehow, I could feel the weight of Empire here more than anywhere else in India. It was from this port that London drained much of the wealth out of India, as well as its food, leading to the death by starvation of two million citizens in WWII. There is an abundance of colonial architecture, grand homes and libraries, mixed in with the clamour of daily life in the metropolis on the Hooghly.
We stayed at the Oberoi - a oasis of colonial charm and solitude literally in the middle of the masses; on the sidewalk you are surrounded by street-hawkers and commotion, then you pass through the gates and the sound quickly fades as you walk to the main entrance. Inside you would never guess there are 14 million toiling souls on the other side of the walls.
Kolkata is known for its position in the Empire, separatist uprisings, communism and the angelic work of Mother Theresa. All together, it's a city unlike any other.
A chaotic welcome at Kolkata.
The view outside my room.
Our lobby - and how we saw Russ on most of the trip (he is newly iPhoned!).
Victoria Memorial, built to commemorate the death the Queen a continent away.
Kolkata's charming taxis, in their normal free-for-all state.
Health and safety does not rule over every public action; these workers painting the road median had nothing more than a paint can to separate them from the passing traffic.
Though the party lost the last election, communist flags still abound in many neighbourhoods.
The Kali temple!
A random street.
Many people don't have plumbing and rely on public pumps.
Instant commerce can spring up on any available space.
Outside the entrance to our hotel...
...and the centre of our hotel.
Me at Baan Thai - for two weeks' wages, a local can have a nice curry here.
Mother Theresa's final resting place.
With no plumbing in many homes, everything from shaving to bathing takes place in the streets.
Next door to the Jain temple.
A typical Kolkata block of flats.
Howrah Bridge - not quite the Bay Bridge...
Bathing and washing in the Hooghly.
Overfilled truck on the highway,
We enjoyed the service at the Oberoi very much.
Towards the airport there's endless construction, reminiscent of the Olympics-inspired development of East London.
And they stretch on and on.
This is my favourite such picture - it's the highway leading to the airport, on which a farmer was walking his herd.
Must watch out for hair fall!
I found the streets of Kolata fascinating and took dozens of pictures. Several are below, for those who are interested.