- 2 nights
- Bodhi Tree Guesthouse
Kolkata was the capital of British India prior to Independence, home of the East India Company, and also where Mother Theresa did a lot of good work and established herself in the helping of people that most people in society shunned. What’s there today is the second largest city in India – and a very culturally rich and vibrant city, home to the Bengali language, famous cuisine, and many remnants of British occupation, the most valuable being a venerable educational presence.
We stayed at the Bodhi Tree arthouse/guesthouse. Self labeled “peaceful retreat” in the city, we found the room to be beautifully decorated and the garden a nice place to have breakfast. The constant ringing of the doorbell and noisy staff quickly stole away our peace though. The guesthouse was located in the “posh” part of South Kolkata, the standards of posh being still very different to the West.
Sadly, we only allowed for a couple of days here before heading up to Darjeeling, so could not get a deep understanding of what the city was like. Being Gujarati, we had difficulty communicating in this Bengali city which was a quick reminder of how vastly India differs depending on where you go. We definitely saw the remnants of British occupation in the architecture of old buildings, the many surviving Ambassador taxis, the gardens of the city, and of course, the Victoria Memorial.
We enjoyed a side trip to a shopping mall, where Jyoti was happy to pick up an indian outfit for 400 Rs (~$8USD) and had it tailored while we waited for 1oRs ($.20usd!).
If it weren’t for this building being a reminder of those invasive British people (tsk tsk), then this building would receive much more attention as one of India’s finest. Unfortunately though, it is a monument to Queen Victoria, and therefore does not receive an adequate level of maintenance (particularly the wild gardens). We found the monument to be home to a great small museum dedicated to to the history of British occupation in India. Personally, we had held only negative perceptions of their presence in India prior to this visit, but were surprised to learn of the ways that India benefited from the British. The influence of the educational system is one, but others include the merging of the two cultures. There were, believe it or not, many British people who had a deep respect for the Indian way of life, including peaceful spirituality, respect for living beings, infamous hospitality, historically rooted philosophy and scriptures, and a highly intelligent people. When British intellect met with that of India, what resulted was good literature, media, and artistic output – there were many great people, both British and Indian, who helped bridge the chasm between the cultures and reflect on the best of each. This was particularly true towards the end of British occupation when the uprising of Indian people in asserting their own independence reached phenomenal heights in terms of patriotic Indian rhetoric and an unprecedented solidarity, particularly among Hindus and Muslims. It is one way of looking at how India came out stronger after years of being controlled and looted by the British.
Kolkata is famous for seafood, rice dishes, and Indian sweets. It is also home to the Kati roll (made popular by drunk, hungry, Indian college students at late night New Jersey food trucks). We survived on standard Indian vegetarian fare (available throughout India) – veg curries, daal, and roti (yum!) and Masala Dosas (super yum!). From a vegetarian perspective, Bengali food was not very accomodating, so we stuck with the popular dishes.
While we enjoyed the city, we did not find the Bengali people as welcoming as Gujaratis, and struggled a little to connect with them in the short time we had. We had an extremely difficult time at the Post Office, and were quickly reminded that despite India’s many charms, the lacking infrastructure and corruption is annoying. We were glad to escape North to the beautiful West Bengal hill station of Darjeeling – stay tuned!