The flight from KL was pretty much quick as i managed to sleep the whole time and the late night arrival and consequent few passengers around made the custom routine pretty smooth.
Not only the Airasia plane was pretty much empty, but the airport as well. It looked a bit different than my previous visit in 2010: it now has this minimal modern feel to it, but the pictures on the walls, the unmistakable smell of canphor balls and the tabla/flute background music are still remind the visitors that they entered the biggest democracy of the world!
When arriving in India at late night without any hotel reservation and a taxi pickup from your guesthouse , the safest thing to do is to go straight to the prepaid taxi boot and get a ticket to the city. There were different ones and i chose the one with the most reassuring name, something like “Police Pre Paid”. The fare to Sudder Street was 310INR (quite the regular price, 3£ for 1 hour taxi ride), but when i paid with a 500INR note, the famous crispy big yellow one that no one cannot notice, i’ve been given only 90 INR change. As this happens everytime, i thought it was a good situation to start refreshing my hindi, so i told the sleepy guy at the counter “ticket price tin sau das rupees hai, henna..?” (“ticket is 310 innit..?”): he nodded and said yes, pretending to be confused he said “han ji..” (“Yes sir”). So i had to point out that i was still 100INR short, and as for a miracle, he just made the classic surprised face and gave the right amount back to me….No matter how officialy prepaid your taxi is, late nigh indian airports can be tricky if you are a “gora” (white man).
After fet attempts and a bit of struggle, i managed to get rid of commission-thirsty touts and found a cheap basic single room at Hotel Maria, in Stuart lane, a small side alley of Sudder Street. The walls have been recently repainted and despite a subtle smell of insecticide, for 250INR a night (2.50£) i found this was a good option, especially when out there all the guest houses seemed to be either shut or full and stray dogs and pimps were hanging around in the dark !
Early wake the following morning to have a walk on the already busy streets of Kolkata. i was glad to see that despite the changes this planet is going through, India is pretty much presenting the same incredible street life: ramshackled old buildings, hanging electricy cables, dogs and rickshaws, people washing right on the sidewalk, street fruit sellers and people still asleep everywhere, while chai wallahas brew cheap creamy milk tea and tailors open their shops.
Had a bit of an hard time to get an ATM machine that would accept an international card, but at the end, Bank Of India did the job..plus giving me a good tip!