That may seem like a given to us here in America. We’ve all been on the duck tours of various cities or climbed to the top of a double decker for a tour along the Thames or boarded a bateau along the Seine. But there seems to be a dearth of organized tours in places that need them the most. And I put Kolkata at the top of the list.
Chaotic. Disorganized. A maze of human congestion.
No map can be of service. No GPS can possibly see every unnamed, snaking lane.
This is a city where directions are given thusly: You get off the main road, then go a few blocks. You will see Annapurna Sweets on the right and immediately after, there is a small lane. Take that until you see a house with blue window grills and turn left. Then stop at the corner snack stall and ask for Rajada. Hop on a rickshaw with him and he will bring you to our house. Third floor, West-facing. It will say Chatterjee on the mailbox.
Ooof, as goes the Bengali expression for frustration.
And this is a city foreigners are supposed to navigate? A city where even my 84-year-old aunt gets lost (and not because her memory is failing, either).
There are no street signs. Only cows and taxis and buses and rickhsaws and stray dogs and people. And people. And people. And cars. And cars. It took me three hours to travel four miles once. This is not a city where walks are pleasant.
My husband, Kevin, got ripped off in a taxi in New Delhi once. The man travelled less than a mile and was charged for 10 times that. And Delhi has street signs. Sort of.
Do you see where I am going with the moral of this story?
India is an unforgiving place for foreigners. Not only are most cities unnavigable but you can’t trust a soul to take you where you want to go without shelling the big buckeroos. Or rupees, in this case.
The government of West Bengal has come up with the idea of a government-guided tour of the city I so dearly love.
“The non-AC bus, which took streetchildren on a joyride on Monday, will start from the department of tourism office on Shakespeare Sarani daily at 8am. For a Rs 200 ticket (minus food), it will take passengers as far as Belur Math and Dakshineswar temple while covering routine city spots like Indian Museum and Mother House,” says the poorly-phrased Telegraph story. Mother House, of course, refers to Mother Theresa.
Key wording here: “non-AC.” Beware the “Oh Calcutta” heat. But at least the bus will take you from place to place without worries of getting lost or being penniless. All for Rs. 200. That’s less than $5, y’all.
Why it took so long for this brilliant idea, I do not know. But I have a feeling other big changes are in store for my hometown. More on that later.