I have no idea why the city is known as the "City of Joy" (I haven't read the book) and nobody cared to explain that to me either. But it is definitely a city of many colors. The people are lovely, the places are with so much history steeped into them and of course, it has its own cuisine!
I grew up reading books and stories from so many Bengali authors and Kolkata was often mentioned in them. I'd seen it in films and a few tv series. But I didn't know when I would be visiting this city. My parents had gone there a long time ago and my mom still brings up snippets from their trip. Then I've had friends from Kolkata whom I used to implore to bring me interesting things from Kolkata. So all in all, even though I had never been there, it felt like a familiar city.
Coming back to the present. Last year when two of my friends D and S decided to get married in Kolkata in January this year and graciously invited me too, I decided to take this opportunity even though I had originally planned to come home sometime around Holi. And as I expected, I didn't feel like a stranger there! So my feeling about knowing the city wasn't wrong. What I didn't know was the history of the city from the British times. As it so happened, during the British Raj, Kolkata was the capital city for some time in the 19th century. But of course, the ruling class usually doesn't mingle with the ruled, hence the city was divided into White Town (for themselves) and Black Town (for the natives). The White town is centered around what is called Dalhousie Square. And during the city walk the next day, I got to know that as people from other places like China etc. came for trading, they wanted to be closer to where the trade opportunity was - the White Town, but they weren't allowed to settle there, they squeezed themselves between the White and Black towns. Today probably Kolkata is the only city in India with a China Town, with a daily newspaper in Chinese!
Where did we stay
Most of us wedding guests were staying in a guest house in the Salt Lake City colony, which is a relatively new part of Kolkata. If you want to stay away from the hubub of the main city, in a quiet area, then this is your place. It's easy to get into the city using the autos/taxis from there. It provided breakfast. For lunch and dinner, there were several restaurants nearby to explore. There are also several good hotels also to choose from. At the guest house, it was around INR 3000 per night (around EUR 38/USD 43) for a big double room with attached bathroom. Breakfast was inclusive.
The morning after the wedding, I was ready to see the city of Kolkata with three other friends who had also come to attend the wedding. Without having a fixed plan, we just decided to immerse ourselves in the sights, sounds, smells of the city as it came.
How to Travel Around
One can rent the taxi from several agencies. You can hire the taxi for the whole day or you can use Uber/Ola apps to call the taxis to wherever you are. I'd booked a full day taxi that costed us around INR 1500 (around EUR 19 / USD 21) for 8 hours or 80km, whichever target is achieved first). Another set of friends had booked a taxi service specializing in sightseeing which is a bit more expensive (full day for INR 3000 for 1 guest + INR 500 per additional guest, Guide costs are additional if you want one). Good thing with the first option is that it's cheaper and you are flexible, while the second option is better if you want to see a lot of places in one day. You can also hail down a taxi if you see one (the yellow Ambassadors!). The sign of "No Refusal" will be understood by all of us who have the experience of being "refused" to be driven by the auto-rickshaws of Bangalore, simply because they are too busy going somewhere else except where you need to go :)! But with them, I don't know if they use the meter or not. I used them one time, just for the experience of sitting once again after a long time in an Ambassador car, at a pre-negotiated price.
So coming back to my trip, our driver was quite good and kept explaining what we were seeing on the way.
I don't know if it's always like that there but it was quite hazy. I think it was dust and exhaust fumes mingled together, making it very difficult to see the actual colors of the buildings! It's sad that we have so much pollution in our cities, and we just learn to live with it.