We got the train from Varanasi to Kolkata at 6pm on 15th April 2018 and arrived at 9:30am on the 16th! It was a long train journey but wasn’t too bad despite neither of us getting the best nights sleep. There are hardly any hostels in Kolkata as it’s not a massively visited part of India for tourists. I think this is because its far to the East of the country unlike many of the other popular places to visit such as Rajasthan and Mumbai which are on the west. We had found a hostel called Gala Time which wasn’t in a fantastic location (although it did have a metro station nearby) and didn’t have air conditioning so was very hot at night but it was cheap and offered a cheap breakfast where we got to eat loads of toast so it definitely did the job for our couple of nights there. We had chosen to make the journey across the country to Kolkata mainly because it gave us the cheapest flight back into Thailand where we were heading next. We were glad we made the trip though as Kolkata has some lovely things to see and we also got to go to an IPL game which was fantastic (more on that later).
After relaxing a bit from our train journey, we headed off to have a wonder around Kolkata. The main site in the city, and probably one of our favourite buildings in all of India, was the Victoria Memorial. The memorial was built between 1906 and 1921 in commemoration of Queen Victoria of England who died in 1901. At the time of building the memorial, Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) was the country’s capital but in 1912, before the memorial was finished, the capital was moved to New Delhi. This building is simply stunning and has all the grandeur of other beloved buildings in India and it is thought if this had remained the capital and if it was in memory of an Indian princess over a colonial queen, it would be a lot more well known. We walked around the memorial twice and nearly went back the next day to look at it again but we didn’t have time. The white marble of the place set in a large green park makes it fitting of somewhere in London and its a shame that it’s not more visited.
From the Victoria Memorial we walked through a series of parks and green common areas to get to the Eden Garden Cricket Ground where we would be going to see an IPL game that evening. Kolkata appears to have a lot of green, open spaces and parks which is really nice and gives the busy city (its population is around 4.4million) a more chilled vibe to it. Nearby to here there are a few streets (such as Park Street) full of shops and some food stands and restaurants and so we grabbed some food before the game and as it got dark we headed to the ground.IPL stands for the Indian Premier League and is probably one of the biggest cricket tournaments in the world. The IPL is Twenty20 cricket which is different to the longer test matches such as The Ashes as each side plays for a shorter amount of time – three hours instead of five days. This makes the game a lot more fast paced and exciting as each team doesn’t have as long to get runs and so they have to take more risks and really try and hit the ball as far as they can every time (sorry to people who know about cricket – I’m explaining it the best I can)! India isn’t the only place you can see a Twenty20 cricket game but it’s the most famous and most attended cricket tournament of them as players in the IPL teams come from all over the world, are the best of the best and are paid millions for the two or three months that the tournament is on for. Ben Stokes, an English cricket player was the most expensive to be bought this year (2018) at £1.3 million which is just an insane amount of money and he wasn’t the only one to be paid over £1 million or the most expensive player that’s ever been bought for an IPL tournament for the 11 years it’s been on for!
We went to see the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) play the Delhi Daredevils. It was so exciting to go to an IPL game because of the sheer number of people that were there and it’s an atmosphere we have both never experienced before. From walking to the event we were surrounded by people and everyone was trying to cover our faces in the team colours. In the stadium they were giving out banners and flags for KKR and so we were ready to support our new favourite team (our loyalty is easily bought I guess).Despite buying our seats online together we weren’t given seats next to each other, but after speaking to one of the stewards we were able to get moved to seats that weren’t just together but higher in the stands so that we could see better. Something we hadn’t seen before was that the cricket stadium had a big metal fence around the pitch which obstructed your view in the lower seats. I imagine it’s to stop people storming the pitches as the sheer volume of people would be impossible to stop but it was a shame and we were very thankful when we were moved higher into the stands. The stewards are also not like the stewards we had seen before and were more like security guards and even had sticks in case there was any trouble.
Kolkata batted first which was great as the crowd was so excited for them and was going wild every time a batsman hit a boundary (a four or six in cricket – Niall has taught me a lot). Everyone would jump in the air waving their flags and we would join in. Niall wasn’t waving his flag and so someone gave him one as they thought he didn’t have a flag so that he could celebrate with everyone which was very sweet. It was hot, sweaty and loud and absolutely amazing and we had the best evening there. An announcer would keep the momentum going and get people to shout chants such as “KKR! KKR!” Kolkata won too which made it even better and we were on a buzz for the rest of our time in Kolkata from having seen the game.
We didn’t get back until around 1am due to struggling to get a taxi after the game so we were quite tired the next day when we had to check out of our hostel as we would be getting a 4am flight the next night back to Thailand. The hostel let us store our bags there while we went out exploring and also let us shower before we went to the airport which was a godsend because Kolkata (and all of India by the time we were leaving) was incredibly hot with temperatures in the high thirty’s and low forty degrees Celsius.
The rest of the day we went out to explore more of Kolkata before going to the airport. We mainly walked around the market streets in the city to get a feel for the place. It was great to see Indian life being lived and we went down some of the busiest market streets of our trip having to avoid lots of shoppers and people pulling carts full of boxes of goods being delivered along the road. It was a great atmosphere and a good spot to people watch as we walked around.We went to the Marble Palace but you can only get in with prior permission from the government (or by giving a bribe to the guard) and we weren’t bothered about going in anyway so we didn’t see more than what we could from the street. It was funny though as the guard acted like the bribe we would have to give him was completely legit and said about how we could gain entrance without the permission and calling the bribe a ‘fee’ as we left… a nice little money maker for him really! The palace was actually a stately home over an actual palace with the features inside the home being made of marble (hence the name) and so I don’t think it was a massive loss that we didn’t seek the permission or pay the bribe to go in and see it.We walked around the more affluent area of town that showcased a lot of colonial architecture but this time (as opposed to Mumbai) the buildings were mainly red bricked with the Writer’s Building being a particular favourite of ours. This is the Secretariat Building of the Government of West Bengal (the state Kolkata is in). Originally though this housed writer’s from The East India Trading Company which is why it’s known as the Writer’s Building. It’s an enormous building that runs most of the length of the block at around 150m long and was very grand.Kolkata’s history is also very interesting. As one of India’s largest cities and it’s old capital, it has a rich political history and was a major player in the fight for Indian Independence as well as still speaking out on politics to this day. Whilst we were there we saw two protests, one of which must have involved thousands of people and meant roads were closed as well as there being lots of banners and lots of police. It was incredible to see really just due to the size of it but I have no idea what the protest was about and it was also odd because it meant we got a high concentration of people staring at us as the only white people in the area which was hard to ignore!We liked Kolkata. It was busy, lively and had some pretty architecture to see. It was also tropical and green which was nice to see amongst the houses and buildings throughout be city. It’s a shame, really, that it often gets overlooked on people’s travel itineraries of India but I’m glad it didn’t get overlooked for us.
Sending love x