Tell us your travel to and from Kolkata experience

If you get a chance tell us your travel experience to and from Kolkata


  1. vivek says:

    Travelling and food are two thing i cant live without. Few years back me and my fren went for a tour of India in my fren car. It was a wonderful experience with full of incidence, So i thought i can share some of it.
    We have traveled to Jaipur, Ajmer, Bhopal, kanpur, Delhi, Chennai, Hydrabad, Goa, Mumbai and lot more small city in between, My fren is a crazy driver he breaks the speed limit all the time, very lucky Indian Highway don’t have radar, on few occasion he went twice the speed limit, It does scare me before but i got used to his driving no point trying to explain to him safety of life is the 1st priority, he seems to like the rush of speed and enjoy being on the edge. We did get into trouble few time because of his thrill seeking adventure, just to give you 1 incident trust me it was like a movie.
    We were returning home it was a tiring drive, we went past Chilka lake, around 11pm 30km from the WB Border my fren was driving at 100+ km/h in the dark(no street light) he thought if he keep that speed he will be able to reach home by 1.30 or 2am. max . It was a rainy season and we had over whelming rain that year , many villages were flooded. and on this stretch the villager made temporary shelter on the highway blocking one side of the road completely and as a buffer they had put boulders to block the road , unfortunately it was the same side we were traveling. In fact my fren told me there is something not right ahead but still he kept the pace out of desperation. Suddenly without warning my fren slammed the brake hard the car started to skid he left the brake realign the car and slam the brake for the final time, we hit the boulder right on the wheel, the car went flying all four wheel in the air, luckily the car had some control over the steering so my fren manage to keep the car from overturning. We were alive without a scratch, people came running for rescue, they were surprise to see there was no driver inside because the driver was already inspecting the car outside. We were very lucky in this deserted stretch there was a dhaba on the opposite side. Well my fren tried to save a couple of hrs by driving fast we end up spending a day on that spot that because few local helped us. A day before on that same spot a fish supplier was rushing with his fresh fish to the market and he had fatal accident he didn’t survive.
    One more interesting incident happened somewhere in the state of UP. there was a marriage party held on the highway because the person concerned has his house next to the highway, so they block the road and made the highway a banquet hall. That’s why we call it “Incredible India”.
    If any one driving on Indian Highway my suggestion is, avoid driving in the night, you have to be alert and super alert if you are driving fast and always be prepared for the unexpected.

  2. rahul says:

    Hi Vivek,

    Thanks for sharing with some food for thought in conclusion to those who dare to risk their lives to the extremes as a challenge.

    It is not just “Incredible India” but “Shocking India” – where on the roads and in the highways everyday, so many precious lives are lost just because people do not heed to speeding limits, but take laws into their own hands and at their pleasure.

    It is better to arrive late safely than never.

    Hurry is the enemy of patience.

  3. ycl1688 says:

    Hi Vivek,

    Congratulation on your visits to different cities in India. You know how to enjoy life that is incredible.

    You did give us an incredible and vivid account of your travel.

    Speaking about patch dark no street light, few years ago it was in the city of Kolkata along Central avenue near Statesman house, we were going to the airport around evening, the hired private Ambassador driver was rushing and hit the tempo,
    it was nothing to the tempo but our car had a leaking radiator and the front passenger had a big bump on the forehead, I was at the backseat had an instinct to use my hands to hold my head steady. There was a policeman standing did not seem to care, I believe this kind of accident happens often. Once you know how to drive in Kolkata you can drive anywhere in the world.

    Anyways there were good bystanders came along to flag a taxi ( the day taxiwallahs were on strike) and help us on the way to first clinic to patch up the bump on the head, then to the airport. As always Kolkata is known for city of brotherly love, city of procession and city of joy. The next morning we woke up fresh and enjoying the orderly traffic in Singapore, what a contrast to Kolkata.

  4. vivek says:

    ThankS YCL….even i believe if you can drive in kokata you can drive anywhere, My fren say a good driver is the one who can glide the car smooth without any hiccup and be able to feel the road even when driving fast. Im learning from the master how to drive, i prefer driving smooth .

  5. ycl1688 says:

    Talking about traffic Taipei taxi drivers are all first class, the rest have all passed away in accidents.

    Just curious to know your friend’s car must be SUV ?

  6. vivek says:

    My fren has a Maruti 800 which he cant live without he treat his car like a wife, he like car so much, just an example if you put five very hot model next to a Ferrari or Lamborghini etc my fren wont blink to look at the models he will go straight for the cars.
    He drive his 800 like he is surfing in the sea. Smooth…………
    Im was glad he didnt have a SUV, im sure he would have set the road on fire and i wont be writing here.

  7. Vinod says:

    Sometime ago, I read an interesting article in Meiyang Chang’s blog on his travel experience in Kolkata. It is definitely worth sharing here.

    Happy reading with compliments from Meiyang Chang.


    The last time I’d been to Kolkata, I’d seen the majesty of the city. This time round though, I saw what I have always seen in Kolkata, but for the first time I actually noticed it. A bid to escape the monotony of sitting at home brought me to some of the more frequented & crowded pockets of Kolkata. The entire atmosphere was overwhelming. Every inch of available space is usurped for one commercial purpose or another. Like Mumbai, the “criminally” empty spaces here are dotted with filthy eateries and stalls after stalls of stolen/cheap quality wares – toys, plastics, clothes etc (calling them stalls is an exaggeration, since they’re nothing more than a piece of cloth on the floor, wares displayed on it and a sheet of tarpaulin on the head to protect the vendor from sun and rain.) Kolkata is a sea of daily wage workers, carrying on their heads / carts virtually everything from coal to cement to underwear!!! In spite of the myriad range of shops around, it is extremely painful to locate cyber cafes, pharmacies & phone booths, for which I walk long and far without much success. It surprises me to see girls barely 5 years old manning cigarette & paan shops. The endless surge of laborers find succor on the footpaths which provides them with food and the tiniest of resting places. For them, it’s not important whether the spot is clean or not, whether there is the possibility of a hundred people walking over you. What is important is that there is a space, and it must be utilized well.

    It becomes an art to dodge people on the narrow footpaths crowded with stalls and hordes of people. Worse still is avoiding contact with people with heavy carts, cars, cycles, rickshaws, cows, among others, all on a single two-way traffic road 20 feet wide! In spite of all the chaos, people or vehicles rarely ever bang into each other, such is the efficiency (if you could call it that) of the pedestrian system. The same could be said about the serpentine driving manners of the city traffic. The traffic is among the worst in the country, but what makes it worse is the worm in every motorist’s head that it is their moral duty to blare the horn incessantly. You just realize how loud EVERYTHING is. It’s like being forced to stick your ears to a high-power loudspeaker – it’s loud and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. The deafening sound of the traffic is enough to drive anyone insane & give them a splitting headache, but the locals are accustomed to it & walk on nonchalantly. Kolkata is a city of sensory overload – too many sounds, sights, smells and sensations. The sound of the siren of an ambulance is omnipresent and ever audible. The aroma of fish, pakodas and kababs, plus the stench of the sewage. The humidity rise to the point of intolerability. In all this, you soothe your nerves with chai in clay pots and the ever-famous Kolkata rolls & soda-shikanji.

    Again and again, I find my senses assaulted in the most brutal of ways. Voices & hands are beckoning me to unbelievable deals. The buildings are majestic, relics of the colonial era; utterly neglected and the paint on the façade that has peeled off ages ago has never been relinquished since. Traces of past grandeur are all that remains – an illusion. The reality stinks as bad as the repulsive odor of urine that permeates almost all the buildings, as if every pore in the walls were bleeding urine. Offices and shops have been constructed upon existing structures. I see one such office with cubicles so tiny that I ponder whether the employees would die of suffocation or claustrophobia!!!! The boss’s office door has a beam of wood passing before it in such a way that anyone who desires to see the boss has to bend and bow, literally. I have my doubts that the beam had been placed by some sadistic ex-boss who desired to see his subservients bow before him. Later, I am told that that is not the case. The beam was actually one of the main supporting foundations of the building eons ago. Once they reconfigured the building to accommodate more businesses, this beam came in between but they couldn’t remove it, lest the whole building come crashing down. I am amused by the story!

    In most of merchant India of yore, appearances aren’t all that important and it is deemed OK to conduct businesses in shady alcoves & unattractive offices. The merchants are always draped in formal clothes, albeit very old fashioned and often unwashed or stained forever by the air of the city, with gold chains peeping out innocently through shirt buttons left open deliberately – to beat the heat & to display chest hair. Garbage is everywhere, and yet, ironically, mere meters away from all this filth & grime is located the All India Institute of Hygiene & Public Health, itself as shabby & filth laden as the BurraBazaar. The heat of the day has reduced me to a bumbling dehydrated idiot, and it just gets crueler with each passing day. It’s a bath in sweat after a morning bath and the done-to-death A/C shopping malls begins to sound like a good idea. It is easier to paste a smile on your face all day long like an idiot in Bangalore, but the sheer heat of Kolkata wipes it off your face! Increasing heat means more A/C’s, which consequently mean more CFC’s and even more heat – a vicious cycle from which it seems too late to get out of. Come evening and mosquitoes the size of dragonflies are eating me alive. I buy a really good looking imitation watch for a hundred bucks & immediately regret it as the watch literally comes apart in my hands, the battery chokes to death & the dials move at will or when I tilt the watch a bit!!!! It has been put to proper health now, but as to how long it will last, your guess is as good as mine.

    The public transport system of every town and city has a story of its own to relate. Kolkata runs on the archaic support beam of its buses, carriers and rickshaws. Travel by the groaning, dark & dingy buses makes me thank the efficient & clean bus system in Bangalore. Autos, cabs and private vehicles offering transport on shared basis are in abundance and offer very reasonable rates for a good distance. Of course, maximum is the norm here, and autos plying with 8 passengers when it’s meant only for 4 are a common sight. The number of passengers usually depends on how generous or greedy the driver is feeling on the given day. All Govt. cabs here are Ambassadors – an ambassador invasion, to say the least. But what impressed me the most about Kolkata was its underground Metro service – the first in the country, and it shows in the falling paint of the coaches. Still, the stations are clean (apart from the inevitable paan stains) and the service very efficient, though very loud (as with everything else here) and ruling out any possibility of conversation. My friend & I stare blankly at each other for the duration of the journey…

    There’s a way in which every form of transport in Kolkata swerves uncontrollably from side to side, demanding a super sense of athletic balancing act from the passengers. Conversations of cricket are adrift everywhere, given the World Cup frenzy. In spite of that, children come out in the evenings to play football. Mind you, not cricket but football, the craze here. A group of girls are collecting donations for the Nandigram victims. The insincere smiles on their faces plant a doubt that the money collected is not going to be put to good use. Dwarfs. Eunuchs. Street barbers. Barbers flirting with the eunuchs. Truckfulls of Trinamool Congress cadres (Mamata Banerjee’s party). People playing cards outside what in the morning had been a fish market. The stench lingers on but most people are accustomed to it. In most other towns or cities, buying fish, if at all, is a morning affair, but the Kolkata fishes are not bound by time. They slither into the buyer’s bag anytime of the day – the staple diet for most inhabitants and akin to shopping for your daily aloo, doodh and other veggies. An entire street is dedicated to people selling only egg noodles, and there are innumerable stifled and openly displayed yawns. Scores of television, phone and electricity cables decorate the skyline. Blatant white faced lies are dished out to further businesses. Mother & children ravage the non-existent contents of their plate – there’s so little for some to eat that an empty plate & a full one look the same. It is a very disturbing sight. In the massive juggernaut of the crowd, they were just three souls groveling at our feet…

    I notice a unique system of buying vegetables online – literally!!!!! The flat owner lowers a bag on a nylon line till the ground where the vegetable vendor sits. The exchange of money for vegetables takes place through this online bag. I wondered whether this was because people were lazy to come down for the vegetables or whether it was something with casteism as I had read in a book recently. Fortunately, a friend assures its plain laziness. Meanwhile, the sunlight plays gently with the silvery surface of the lake. The two man made ponds outside the house are frequented by boys, men and women on a daily basis. It’s a free-for-all instant heat-beater! The women stay close to shore and bathe completely clothed. The men folk have no qualms about undressing and dive right in. The boys don’t know how to swim yet, so they improvise. They collect empty plastic bottles, thermocol blocks and make their personal floaters out of it. Sheer glee, noise and the pleasant splashing follows. The constant exercise has given the boys a well toned body and an enviable stamina. Unfortunately, as a result of their daily ablutions & clothes washing at the ponds, the water has turned a murky green brown.

    It was both amusing and disturbing to come back to Kolkata, and for many reasons. The thought struck me like a sledgehammer. Why do most young Chinese in Kolkata find participating in Chinese New Year celebrations a waste of time? The few times that I’ve been here at that time of year, the young crowd that I met had absolutely no interest in New Year festivities. When probed, they scowled that they’d rather spend that time in a pub guzzling down beer or in a disc, dancing the night away. They actually sneer at the non-Chinks who gather out of curiosity to witness the world famous dragon dance, as I had. What’s wrong with a slice of your own culture? Spending time with your own family? And what is wrong with someone else admiring what is yours? If one cannot respect what they have, at least another can. Does every celebration have to have drinks and dance? I don’t think so. Unless there is respect for one’s own culture, there can be no celebration without a tinge of guilt…

    Karnataka is so much better. I talk not only of Bangalore, but also of the villages and smaller towns which I’ve had the fortune to travel to for Dental Community camps and or personal trips. Would you believe me if I told you that the slums in Karnataka are cleaner than the city of Kolkata? Than most North Indian cities? Kolkata seems just like one big slum, and a dirty one at that. Open lakes and canals have been overrun by some Brazilian plant, rendering the water & sludge underneath invisible to the naked eye and creating a perfect death trap. There is an all pervading smell in the atmosphere that one can’t really explain. It’s not those of what a coastal city smell is made of. Flies and dogs hover around the mounds of trash, and among this are brought up the children of tomorrow – filth ridden but astonishingly resistant to most diseases. Obviously, something is very wrong with the civic sense of the people and the responsibilities of the Municipal corporations. What appalls me is the irresponsible habit of littering any & everywhere by people- even the educated ones. The Municipal Corporation comes later, but its first the responsibility of the public to maintain cleanliness. People here aren’t as courteous and the number of smiles on their faces are fewer and often forced ones. However, my previous image of Kolkata changed tremendously on this visit. No way is it a lazy, laid back city. There’s activity enough to give Mumbai a run for its money! Just before leaving the city, I try to lunch at a popular Chinese restaurant, but get there way past lunch hour. So I walk a bit, and reach another favorite – Sabir. The food there has to be savored to know why I love it so much. In all the grime, there are still a few saving graces.

    There are, of course, more glamorous & cleaner parts of Kolkata. The upcoming New Kolkata is going to be a posh, well-planned extension with hopefully much lesser traffic congestion and more green blocks. That is the rosy picture of tomorrow’s Kolkata, but what I described here so far is the ground reality of most of today’s Kolkata, the real face of the city’s underbelly. There are flashes of optimism here and there. Just minutes away from BurraBazaar stand beautiful Victorian buildings, and these are well maintained, mainly since they’ve been taken over by privatized banks for their offices. The high ceilings, sturdy infrastructure, predominant stone & iron skeleton and unsurpassable beauty are some common features in these goliaths. You’d be excused if for a moment you felt you’d been transported into the glorious past. There are pockets of Kolkata where the roads are wide, clean and very well maintained. It’s like another city altogether!!!! This is what I’ve seen and it may differ from the other faces of Kolkata, but this is my account of the city.

    Posted by MeiYaNG CHaNG at Monday, May 07, 2007

  8. Calvin says:

    This is the to and from Kolkata travel experience of a Hong Kong Chinese blogger by name of dm who posted the following, which I found good reading:

    Calcutta is a city without a map, and once you wander off the main roads, the streets and alleyways lose their names. But I wanted to explore the city on foot. So I signed on with Martyn, an Australian expat tour guide who’s lived in Calcutta for 9 years, for a walking tour. Martyn is a tall, bearded guy who loves Calcutta, and is an expert at weaving through crowds and dodging beggars. He’s also unfazed by smells and mounds of garbage, and he is full of interesting Calcutta trivia—like the fact that it is against the law to carry meat on the Calcutta MTR.

    I tell him I have heard there is a Chinatown in Calcutta and I’d like to see it. He considers this for a moment. “There’s a Chinatown on the road to the airport, but it is just a string of Chinese restaurants and shoemakers, and it is relatively new. I don’t find it that interesting. But just north of your hotel is the old Chinatown. It’s mostly deserted as far as I can tell, but I know there are a lot of shops and buildings with Chinese signs on them.”

    Let’s go!

    We head to the old Chinatown area on foot along the main drag, which follows the route of the river. There are a few Chinese shops selling shoes along the way (since Hindus consider dealing with leather and cowhides unclean, the Chinese found an economic niche in the footware trade). Then Martin ducks down a side lane. “There’s one little Chinese restaurant down here,” he says. Turning a corner, I spot the lovely handpainted sign of the “Deih Lei Faan Dim”:

    There’s nobody inside the dark musty entryway. An Indian fellow lounging around by the door says he thinks the place is closed—for today or for good, it’s hard to say. It’s hot and humid. We move on. But I’m excited now, because I’ve noticed something important. The transliteration of the restaurant’s name—“D’Ley”—corresponds to the Cantonese pronunciation of the Chinese characters. Somewhere among the Indians thronging these dark back streets, there are people who speak Cantonese.

    Martyn suggests we try another area of alleys and little streets on the opposite side of the main road.

    It is a more open and light filled area, with larger, crumbling old buildings interspersed with empty lots filled with garbage and squatter shelters. Calcutta is an amazing wreck of a place. It has splendid architecture from several periods, because it was the capital of British India, and colonial India’s main trading city for more than a century. Both Indians and British made huge fortunes here, and built to impress. But then the British moved the capital to Delhi in the beginning of the 20th century, and Calcutta began a long decline from which it has never recovered.

    The city reminds me a little of Havana, or the Bund in Shanghai fifteen years ago. Large old mansions cut up into little apartments filled with squatters. Trees sprout from cracks in the walls of solid old Art nouveau and apartment houses with rococo facades. We pass one of these marvelous old semi-ruined buildings and I start to get excited again, for the sign over the entranceway reads “Nanking Restaurant.”

    On the second floor of the building I can see a large dining room. Inside the first floor are plastic chairs and tables, but even though it is lunchtime on a Saturday, there are no waiters or customers in sight. The place is covered with the grime of ages and feels abandoned, creepy. Then I notice that next door is an old, open bar-room that also has red plastic chairs and looks like an extension of the restaurant.

    A guy in an old dirty t-shirt who looks Chinese is in there, arguing with some Indian guys. From about 25 feet away I take a couple of snapshots.

    The t-shirt guy notices me taking pictures, and waves me away. I walk over to him, figuring I’ll introduce myself and ask him about the restaurant and its history, and whether we can take photos. As I get closer, I notice two things—one is that he is only partly Chinese. His face is odd-looking, pasty-white and nearly transparent. I get a strong whiff of cheap whiskey as the man scowls then starts to curse at me in English.

    “Let’s move on,” says Martyn in a low voice.

    When we are safely around the corner, he explains that a lot of these traders deal in bootleg whiskey and smuggled cigarettes. Taking pictures is probably not a good idea.

    “Come on,” says Martyn, “I’ll take you to my favorite building around here.”

    I follow him through the streets of this strange, lost-in-time Calcutta Chinatown.

    (to be continued ……..)

  9. Calvin says:

    This is the to and from Kolkata travel experience of a Hong Kong Chinese blogger by name of dm who posted the following, which I found good reading:

    Continuation of above:

    My guide, Martyn, doesn’t read Chinese, so he doesn’t know that a lot of the buildings here in Calcutta’s little Chinatown house family halls. (Tong wooi–the meeting halls-cum-recreation clubs that you find in nearly all overseas Chinese communities of any size). I spot a banner for one on this crumbling building at the end of a little alley and take a look inside. “Where are the Chinese people?” I ask an Indian guy lounging in the doorway. He shrugs and points upstairs.

    The stairs are wide–this is a factory or workshop building. We climb all the way to the top floor, and there, on a door painted red, are some faded fai chun, little Chinese paper banners put up for good luck in the new year.

    I hear nothing stirring within. I knock, and then hear footsteps. Then the door opens a crack. It’s an elderly Chinese man.

    “Hello,” I say in Cantonese, and apologize for barging in. “I have come from Hong Kong,” I begin.

    “Heung Gong!!?” the man says. “I used to live in Hong Kong. In Yau Ma Tei. Please come in. How is Yau Ma Tei?”

    We walk into a large, high-ceilinged room and I realize that this isn’t a family hall–or perhaps it was, but the only family here now is Mr. Chan and his wife. Their laundry is hanging in the space by the window. Scraps of wood take up one side of the room. The other wall is dedicated to an elaborate Chinese altar.

    Mr. Chan tells his story. He came from Guangdong to India, via Hong Kong in the 1950s. It was easier and cheaper to get to Calcutta than to go to the U.S. or Australia. And business was good. “I made furniture,” Mr. Chan says. “I still do.” He points at the wood pile.

    But business is not good anymore. Many of the community left India–his sons are in Canada. More Chinese moved out of this neighborhood into the new Chinese area by the airport.

    “But there are still a few of us left. Every morning we meet in the main road and sit outside and yam cha. If you come by 6am, you’ll find us there.”

    Mrs. Chan listens to our conversation, and she is looking a bit uncomfortable. I think that it is because she is still wearing her housedress, and that we have arrived unexpectedly. But then she says to me, “You be very careful about the water that you drink here. It is not good. If you drink the water it could be very dangerous. I would like to make you tea, but our water is not good.”

    She is apologizing to me for not being able to offer me a cup of tea. I feel bad for putting her in this situation by barging in. I make a little more polite conversation with Mr. Chan about Hong Kong, thank the two of them very much, and bid a quick farewell.

    Outside, Martyn says he knows of one more “big” Chinese building around the corner. We go there and its another tong wooi. We knock on the door, and it is opened by a Chinese man around forty who invites us into a big room with a large rosewood carved table. Several other men in their 40s are sitting around the table drinking tea and reading English-language newspapers.

    I ask them, in Cantonese, if this is a family association, and they answer me in English. “Yes it is, but there are not many left. We were all born in India and we speak English as well as Chinese. But we don’t read Chinese.”

    They invite me to sit down, and as we chat, the mystery of this abandoned Chinatown emerges.

    The men are the children of Chinese who came to Calcutta from Guangdong after the second world war. The Chinese did quite well there for a while. But then in 1962, India and China had a border war. Tensions against the Chinese community mounted. Some Chinese left India. Many were forcibly relocated by the government, sent to cities across India, outside of the Chinese enclaves.

    And the Indian government did one more thing: they forbid the teaching of Chinese in schools. That’s why these middle aged men are speaking in English and reading English newspapers, even as they sit in roughly handmade copies of Ming chairs at a big Chinese table.

    They are wah kiuh, not by choice, but by political force.

    I am feeling very melancholy, speaking with the Chinese men of Calcutta. But then a smiling old man walks into the room. “Would you like to visit the temple?” he asks in Cantonese.

    His name is Wong, “Wong wong, not three whack Wong,” he explains, letting me know which Chinese character is his surname.

    We walk upstairs. The temple takes up an entire room. There are hundreds and hundreds of tiny porcelain statues, along with huge ones of the goddess and the warrior. Incense burns, and there is a large platter of fresh fruit that Mr. Wong has just placed. He shows me the feather duster he uses to clean the statues, “every day.”

    He hasn’t been back to China for more than thirty years. But he keeps the candles burning, in Calcutta, for the gods of his ancestors.

    I light some incense for good luck on my return journey. I will be back in Hong Kong in a few days.

    On returning to Hong Kong:

    I’m back.

    The amount of time it should take a person to fly from India to Hong Kong is about 5 and a half hours. The amount of time it actually takes me is 24. Part of this has to do with the bizarre schedule of international flights out of Mumbai–they depart between 1 and 5 am. Which means that if you are connecting from a domestic flight elsewhere in India, which tend to fly during daylight hours, you are in for a long wait in Mumbai Airport.

    It’s an instructive 8 hour wait. I am traveling from the world’s worst airport to the world’s best. Mumbai Airport is squalid. There are more passengers waiting than there are chairs. No restaurants, only a little “Internet-Snack-Cafe” with three dirty tables and a couple of ancient computer monitors. I log in, and am greeted by a barrage of pop-up ads for porn sites. About 3 minutes later, I manage to get into Gmail, which loads at glacial pace. This, in India, the land of the IT revolution.

    Big black mosquitoes are checking out my exposed ankles under the computer desk. Mumbai Airport is bordered by one of the biggest slums in Asia. With visions of dengue and malaria dancing through my head, I quickly log off and head for the loo.

    In the women’s bathroom at Mumbai Airport, an attendant in a grubby sari hustles me into a reasonably clean toilet stall. When I emerge, she pushes a hunk of toilet paper at me while simultaneously turning on the sink faucet. As I turn to go, the same hand, palm outstretched, is shoved into my chest with a nasty grunt.

    At the other end of my journey, when I exit the Cathay Pacific flight and walk into the shiny, glassy cathedral of Chek Lap Kok airport, I feel like I’ve arrived in heaven or Oz. In the bathrooms, faucets turn on automatically, simply by waving your hands, and nobody’s demanding spare change for a towel. The arrival hall dazzles me with possibilities: I can buy shampoo at Watson’s! Get a fresh juice at MiX! Go yam cha at Meih Sam, Maxim’s!

    Meih sam. Beautiful heart. I am home.
    Faan laih la.

    While I was in India, a very nice young man, a recent business school graduate, cornered me at a party and started interviewing me as if he were a reporter, not an MBA. “You live in China, but you spend a lot of time in India. Here we feel like China is our competition. Since you have experience of both places, maybe you can tell me, which country do you think will win?”

    I hesitated. The first thing I wanted to say is, “I don’t live in China, I live in Hong Kong, which is a different thing altogether.” But I realized my questioner wasn’t interested in these subtleties. And that tact was required, since the MBA was so young and eager. So I observed, diplomatically, that the Chinese seemed to be good at some things, Indians at others, and they both had many hurdles to overcome in the rush to economic development.

    Later, I thought about the India-China thing. They’re both rapidly developing countries, each with a huge population of poor peasants at one end, and an entrenched elite at the other who are grabbing the lion’s share of the pie. And both are massively corrupt systems. (Every time I settled a bill in India, the proprietor offered to pad the receipt without my asking. When I’d refuse, they’d look at me like I was nuts.)

    But India is a place where family, caste, community and religion are still far more powerful than consumer culture. India never had a Cultural Revolution. If anything, it’s had the reverse–a deepening of religious and community divisions under the Hindu Nationalists. The cities are filled with temples and the temples filled with worshippers. Neighborhoods are segregated by religion, by caste and community. Mobility in this society depends almost completely on the circumstances of your birth. Successful politicians are the sons, daughters or wives of other successful politicians. Industrialists, ditto. Bollywood stars are the children of other Bollywood stars.

    The Cultural Revolution was a horrible, inhuman, devastating thing for China. But, paradoxically, it created a blank slate that now allows the Chinese to jump giddily into the dubious joys of consumer culture. (Another paradox–Mao wanted to make a Chinese socialist “New Man”. Instead, his insane purges of history, society and culture opened the door for the “New Consumer.”)

    Yeah, there’s still guanxi and the political elite of the CP to contend with. But the grip of the CP on Chinese life simply cannot compare with the thousand-year-old baggage of culture, religion and social classifications that India carries along with it on the road to modernity. China’s corruption and one-party rule are far more likely to be cast off someday than India’s ancient social systems.

    I love India. Its old and complex, living culture makes it a most fascinating place to travel. It is a democracy, where people are free to speak their mind, and give their votes to whomever–Hindu reactionaries or Communists or film stars. Indians will not give up their ceremonies, their customs, their taboos. Nor will they give up their freedom to make noise, squabble, hash out their differences in public. As a place to explore and enjoy, I’d head for India over China any day.

    But the very thing that gives India its character is what gives China its edge in this stupid development game. China will “win”. I just wonder what that “winning” is ultimately worth.

  10. ycl1688 says:

    Hi Calvin,

    Thanks for your contribution.

    The Hong Kong blogger mentiones

    “And the Indian government did one more thing: they forbid the teaching of Chinese in schools” this is not true. The govt never shut down Chinese schools
    during 62 war, even the one pro-communist Chung Kuo school at bow street.

    About mosquito, yes at Mumbai airport certain toilet, wall mirror has literally
    hundreds of mosquito on exhibition, makes my nerve chill. There is Hitchcock horror movie ‘The birds’. Maybe bollywood can make a picture out of mosquito horror.

  11. ycl1688 says:

    Hi Vivek,

    sounds like the very experience you have when you sit on your friend’s car

  12. Calvin says:

    Hi Ycl1688,

    I still remember in yonder days, there were 6 Chinese schools in Kolkata having their teaching curriculum in Chinese language – segregating the affiliations of the two political parties of China, i.e. Kuomingtang (Taiwan) and Communism (PRC).

    The schools with allegiance to Taiwan are Kin Kwok Primary School in Damzen Lane famous for cow-hide (housed within a Chinese temple and community hall); Moi Kong School in Central Avenue (behind Chandni Chowk Street) and housed within a Chinese temple, too; Sacred Heart Chinese School in Weston Street (side street of Bow Street) which housed a small Catholic chapel. Then in Tangra, there is the Pei May School.

    The other two schools that affiliate with PRC then were the Chinese Primary School (Chung Kok) in Bow Bazaar Street (a few blocks away from Bow Bazaar Street Post Office) and Hing Wah High School (located somewhere near Entally area of Lower Circular Road).

    During the 1962 days, the primary school in Bow Bazaar Street and high school in Lower Circular Road were shut down. During that time, there were fear of imprisonment and deportation anytime from the Chinese community by the Indians with accusations of links as Communist sympathisers, so closures were imminent.

    Now I wonder if most of the other schools still stand today against the test of time and history; and the dwindling Chinese population in Kolkata.

    The sun is setting gradually. I just hope that the community will stand tall against all odds to keep the remaining schools running.

    Of course, there are still a few Anglo-Indian schools pioneered by Chinese missionaries, Mr & Mrs David Lamb of Ling Liang Schools still exist in the city today.

  13. vivek says:

    Yes YCL, all the other fren say that very true its a roller coster ride. now my fren feel very sorry for the way he drove, now he says that he has become wiser and listen to his instinct, sometime because of too much in the head make him loose his instinct. Thank god i fell much safer now. I wonder how he can cross the speed limit again ?

  14. ycl1688 says:

    Hi vivek,

    At least your friend has calmed down a bit. Just remember on the way to darjeeling one can see writing mentioning ‘Better late than be Mr Late’.

    Hi Calvin,

    I believe Kin Kwok and sacred heart manage to survive with majority of Indian students.

    Moi kuang is closed. Reality is learning Chinese in Kolkata has no future for local chinese.

  15. vivek says:

    Hi Ycl, my fren learn things like a baby one small step at a time, im sure he will learn, We had a very bad experience in the small car on Indian Highway, In fact i have vowed not to go again on any tour on Highway if he doesn’t take a SUV.
    It is highly recommended not to drive on Indian highway in a small car. Any car with a bigger wheel is good and SUV are the best, It guaranty better chances of survival on bad impact and very comfortable while traveling, you can just glide over bad roads.
    The truck driver dont follow any rule on Indian highway, they put the high beam on and drive even when we use dipper to signal them the we are getting blinded (especially small car)by their high beam they are not bothered because our high beam doesn’t reach them. at one point my fren got so irritated that he stopped and collected papers from roadside, loosen the headlight and put the paper under the headlight to make the high bean= sky beam and the low beam = high beam, after that the Truck driver kindly obliged.
    The light dont blind you temporarily but regular expose to the light can damage your eyes. Would you believe my fren even tried sunglass in the night. Every time a truck comes by he put the sunglass.

  16. ycl1688 says:

    Hi Vivek,

    From my experience from kolkata to Bandel is part of GT road, there is no divided highway, when the truck rambling along your path does not matter how big your car is, chances of meeting your maker is huge. Laws of physics says
    a big object has bigger force.

    I don’t know if Halogen headlights will solve problems, now the latest is xenon ones with better visibility might help.

  17. ravi says:

    With reality that learning Chinese in Kolkata has no future for local Chinese:

    I fully support to convert all existing Chinese schools in Kolkata to either Indian or Anglo-Indian schools in order to provide “free education” to all Indians irrespect of castes, especially those children living in Tangra neighbouring slums – as a sign of support of the Nation Free Education Bill just passed in Lok Sabha recently with majority votes.

    This is to educate and bring Hope to many more Indian children with a bright future.

    After all, Hindi, Bengali and English will prevail over Chinese language.

  18. Varun says:

    It will be a noble cause of the Indian Chinese community to convert all their existing Chinese schools in Kolkata to Indian or Anglo-Indian medium teaching schools to benefit all Indians alike with equal opportunities.

    What more the WB Education Ministry will ask for ?

  19. ycl1688 says:

    Let us stay on our topic travel and talk about the education later.

  20. vivek says:

    Hi, Varun & ravi
    I totally dont agree closing down Chinese schools and converting them into other language school is a good idea, Kolkata is known for its multi culture. Im not saying this bcos im a big fan of chinese food and music. As an Kolkatan i fell proud of it diverse culture and it is the reason why food in kolkata is so unique. It is an only and truely cosmopolitan city in India. Let us preserve it.
    Yes Ycl the road to Bandel was a single 2 lane road and frequently there are accidents. I wish somebody start a ferry service from Babu ghat 2 bandel will be very exiciting.

  21. stephen says:

    Hi ravi, i was just curious and wanted to know the reason how hindi and bengali will prevail over chinese language.

  22. leon says:

    i feel kolkata still have lotsa room for developing tourism industries.

  23. ravi says:

    hi stephen,

    curiosity killed the cat – so the proverb says; let no one negate one’s viewpoint here. living in india is anyone’s choice and maybe by birth rights. my country india is the world’s largest democracy that embrace diversity. freedom to speak one’s mind without intimidation is one of the gems in constitution.

    india is my motherland and now a superpower; hindi is the national language and bengali is the language of west bengal state. chinese is the language of a minority group spoken by less than 0.5% of wb state. without prejudice, there is freedom to speak any foreign languages in our nation or state.

    within the chinese minority group mainly concentrated in tangra, it is reported that less than 5% can speak their mother tongue with only 1% who can also write.

    talk to the chinese-looking children, young men & women there and you will be given the straight answer they are indians not chinese and they don’t speak chinese.

    when asked about comparing between indian and chinese competition on favourite film stars, songs and games etc. (an example, beijing olympics competition), the answer to favour is india without second thoughts. most speak & write hindi, bengali and english but not chinese.

    children are the future of our tomorrow who set the trends forward. you be the judge.

  24. Varun says:

    hi vivek,

    we, indians, have not said anything about: reality is learning Chinese in Kolkata has no future for local chinese. this is a self-defeating distancing statement about learning chinese. like you, i like to preserve heritage and culture, hence like to see chinese schools remaining.

    imagine a scene when all chinese school classrooms in tangra are attended by only indian children to learn chinese; while all indian chinese children have opted out to anglo-indian or other schools because they see learning chinese has no future for them. isn’t that a mockery to the chinese community and shame the chinese school authorities. in that situation, conversion is inevitable.

    india is a country of diversity, all indians would like to preserve the special culture of chinese.

  25. vivek says:

    Dear Varun,
    I do understand that you never meant that as we both Indian feel proud 2 have chinese culture in kolkata. That was a positive critics to stimulate people.I was just expressing my views. I hope the chinese community take it seriously and preserve the 1000’s years heritage or else we Indian will have to do the job i think that will be a bit difficult to digest for the community….

  26. ycl1688 says:

    To all,

    The fact is my understanding the management of the Chinese schools involved has the right to do whatever they want with their properties. If the WB board of education will force schools to open the way some of you suggested, then Chinese Consulate will get involved I know they will stand firm, they will do whatever necessary.

    For very simple reason, if you are a landlord you have the right to let your room stay vacant, if govt forces you to rent out your room, that is Nazi way.

    Sorry to say we have discussed this enough, the horse is beaten to death already. Let this discussion come to an end.

  27. ycl1688 says:


    Thanks for keeping the board alive by your vast travel experience, sure the Babu ghat to Bandel ferry will be good. So does high speed train like ‘bullet train’ will be fine, since the daughter of bengal is the railway minister you can lobby for this idea, maybe one day one can travel from Howrah station to Mumbai in 10 hours, let us work for that. And your favorite chinese dish and music can be had on this train.

    Here is a clip of Chinese version of SRK

    Chinese Guy sings in China ? – Tuj Mein Rab Dikhta Hai,…….. Yaara, Main Kya Karun?? !!
    – Film: Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi


  28. vivek says:

    O I see you liked my ferry service idea, I liked your bullet train idea very much waiting for the day when it wll become a reality. Talk about my favourite dish makes my mouth water.
    Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is a great movie i have seen it 3 times. SRK is my favourite actor in the khan family. Salman khan i dont know why he is a super star, cant act or dance properly, he is in a wrong place should be in WWF.

  29. vivek says:

    Thanks for the link ycl, the clip was amazing. Never felt so touched chinese guy singing indian song, I thought i was the only great fan of chinese, feel ashame that chinese can sing indian song better than me let alone me singing chinese songs. Feel sory for myself.