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Calcutta was the city we ended up in after Singapore, landing here in 1996 and staying for three years before moving onto Gao. A city that is alternately called the City of Joy and also the during the bygone days of the British, Calcutta was regarded as the second city of the British Empire (after London) and was aptly renamed City of Palace's and the Great Eastern Hotel was regarded as the "Jewel of the East", although now it is just a barren shell. Calcutta would have to be one of the worst cities to live in. It is a shame really in that at one stage it was classed so highly, but now the buildings are mostly overgrown, with only a very small number showing what they used to be like, the Grand being one of them. The only time to really get a glimpse of what Calcutta could be like is on a Sunday or a public holiday. In China I thought that the Communists did a very good job in keeping control and bringing in a general development of the peoples, but here, the city has just gone backwards. There are some grand old buildings here that date from the British time, but apart from this Hotel and one or two others, they are mostly in a very bad state of affairs, overgrown and half-tumbled down.
Marg was getting over a flu virus by the time we arrived in Calcutta on that first trip,while I had gouged my leg slightly at the Amber fort, but our stomachs were still OK, although we were eating less and less, due to not always stopping for lunch.Most of the food was OK, although you had to pick your places.The Hotels usually charged astronomical prices in the main cities, while the smaller hotels you skipped in the country towns, and found nicer restaurants near by! By this stage we were getting a little tired having been traveling by car for five days and sight seeing quite a lot, so onto Calcutta for three days of hopeful rest. Not to be!
Our Hotel was right in the middle of the city, and the room was not available, so round to a local guesthouse we went, which was filthy,smelly and otherwise totally unpleasant.It was probably here that my leg and a scratch on Margs? arm totally infected up, and Marg also got an ear virus, which was very painful for her. At the end of our India stay and we got caught with the bugs! The Fairlawn Hotel was very quaint when we finally moved in there the next day, with it being built in 1827 or so, was full of old artifacts, big, big rooms and set English style meals, which were appreciated at this stage of the trip. Calcutta, a city even more out of control than the others we had been to with many homeless people and beggars, terrific poverty, crowding, dirtiness, noisiness, pollution and general mayhem. Words sometimes fail to describe the sights and sounds of these cities, especially Calcutta, although we have met a lot of people who reckon Calcutta is their favourite city!
The roads are a mess with some of the most undisciplined drivers I have ever come across, the majority of cars are old and very polluting and there are people, people, people every where. They have very few road markings, and when they are there, every one ignores them anyway! I have been in countries where the driving is quite hair raising, but here the driving is chaotic. There are no rules, except that when you knock someone down, be prepared for your vehicle to be burnt, or if you hit another car, for the driver to come over and start beating up your driver! Needless to say, I like driving too much to ever want to drive here. On the roads, the lane driving is nonexistent, with vehicles all over, including coming the opposite direction on your side of the road.Horns are continually blaring, people wander onto the roads wherever and buses, other cars and anything else that is moving on the road continually cutting you off. In other words, very bad and undisciplined driving here, and its lucky that they donot kill more people on the roads than the relatively small total that they have now.
Behind the Grand Hotel we have the biggest market in Calcutta, where you can buy from fresh goods, provisions, flowers and so on, to materials and tourist needs. Across town there is the Fancy Market,which is supplied from the docks, so you can get all your imports there, or if your item is not available, then order it and somehow it will be bought in for you! There are actually some well-known brand name shops here, so you do not actually lacking for anything. After hours every space in front of these shops is filled with stalls selling all sorts of brick and brack, and many pavements have hawkers setup shop on them. It was actually easier to walk on the roadways than try to navigate through the pavements. There has now been a drive in the city to clear these Hawkers from the pavements and to clean up the streets a bit, but no provision have been made for the displaced people so again there is resistance there.There has been very little investment into West Bengal while the rest of the country has been moving ahead, so this was part of the drive to make the city more presentable to foreign investors.
While the manpower situation and the infrastructure is as it is, there will still be very little interest in Calcutta. Bribery is still a large part of life here, - we were lucky with the Oberoi having very good contacts at the airport, so my goods only cost about 15,000 rupees to get out, which is only about 500 dollars US. If you want your phone to work it will cost about 100 rupees a week. For a drivers license, the cost is about 1,000, and the list goes on. With the airport when we come in, we are actually met on the tarmac by the Oberoi people, who take our passports and in about five minutes we are shown through. On leaving, the passport and ticket go out ahead and we turn up about 30 minutes before the flight. If the flights are full and we have some one urgently traveling, we can 100% guarantee them a seat, and all this is arranged for the cost of a few free meals here and there.
The labour problems of West Bengal (the state of Calcutta) are the worst in the country with extremely strong political unions and unrest right across the state. Most of the large industries have now moved out and business in general is dropping, as could be seen from the occupancy figures of the various Hotels. Most of the problems stem from the Bangladesh war of Independence when huge numbers of refugees crossed into West Bengal and settled in Calcutta, becoming street hawkers and day labourers for the most part. Secondly, with a Marxist State Government, anybody with any money did not show it, therefore buildings were not painted or repaired, old cars kept and not renewed and any wealth showing was actually inside peoples homes. Some of these places are extremely nice and certainly show large amounts of money being invested. Calcutta has some of the richest people in India living there, but you would not believe it by looking at the city. Peek behind some of their walled compounds and you will see some of it! Servants are of course a matter of par and are still treated very much like in the time of the Raj. I am sure that the Indians themselves are the worst culprits as far as trying to bring the living standards of their countrymen up to a reasonable level.
What money is given out by the Government, 90% or more will end up in somebodys pocket before the small remainder finds its way to the people actually in need. The Government here is actually like a Mafia and the majority of middle and upper classes do not vote at all! When there are literally millions of peasant voters to each vote of an educated person, you can imagine which way the politicians go. Appeal to the masses, organize mass rallies and make a lot of inflaming speeches, you do not actually have to worry about being accountable for great results. Just keep the masses in status quo. Calcutta also has some of the nicest people I have ever come across. The amount of invitations I received from my restaurant guests and the friends I made has been one of the highlights of my time there. These people are mainly better off than the average, but their friendship was very sincere and given freely. There were only a few times that I was actually able to take up their invites due to the nature and hours of my work, but all were regular guests of mine who I was able to make a special something for when they came to dine. One of the drawbacks of being a Chef is the hours kept, and if going out in the evening, do not expect a Chef to arrive before 11-30 p.m. at the earliest!
St Pauls cathedral in Calcutta was completed in 1847 after being in construction for over eight years. The tower and spire were mainly inspired by Norwich Cathedral but after the earthquake of 1934, the tower was rebuilt on the lines of Bell Harry at Canterbury. The Cathedral is quite well maintained these days and is accessible to the public with services held here regularly.
Nakhoda Masjid Mosque was in the past just a small mosque, but in 1926, a resident of Cutch, Abdar Rahim Osman built the present mosque, the biggest in Calcutta and was built in the style of Akbars tomb at Sikandra
Tipu Sultan Mosque on Lenin Salai was built in 1842 by the son of Tipu Sultan and is today one of 800 heritage buildings in the city of Kolkata that have been listed by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation
A view of the Victoria Memorial building located in the Maidan of Calcutta and is known as Calcutta's green lung. It was once forest, but was cleared to give Fort William a clear range of fire under the British!
Looking through the gate towards the Victoria monument and the bronzed Edward VII on his horse. This park was usually nice and quiet to go strolling around but came alive in the evenings with Calcuttians going about their recreation!
The Victoria Memorial built after the death of Queen Victoria and finished just before the capital shifted to New Delhi 
The Victoria Memorial whose inspiration was by Lord Curzon and whose foundation stone was tapped into place by George V on his excursion to Calcutta in 1906
Another view of the Memorial, which was opened in 1921. It also houses a museum where people can see quite a bit of the history of Calcutta and the men and women that made it.
One of the streets of Calcutta in a residential area close to where I lived for a few months. Footpaths were not a big issue in Calcutta as yo can see!
One of the market streets near the Hotel after a small shower of rain. During the monsoon, most of these streets become knee deep in water!
This picture is from the side of the Maiden or the large park in Calcutta and on one of the main streets. It adds a charm to Calcutta all of its own!
A view of the Howrah new bridge, the second main bridge in Calcutta and the fourth cantilever bridge in the world, was commissioned in February 1943, being built with 26,500 tons of steel
The Hoogly River bridge and at one stage I did a bridge to bridge walk, crossing this bridge and then strolling down the other side to the Howrah new bridge
Fishing and commerce boats down on the Hoogly River, which was an off shoot of the famed Ganges River and used to be a major shipping port until silting narrowed it down
The Oberoi Grand in the central area of Calcutta, and this place took up a whole block and yet, inside the garden rectangle, peace and tranquility reigned
The front entrance to the Grand and this was the place where in the fifties and sixties, there were dinner dances and concert evenings that were the talk of the town
The corridors of the Grand with its old style Hoteliering and its old world charm, also where I worked for three years
The swimming pool in the oasis of the Grand Calcutta, where you could not hear the traffic noise at all