Why should you visit Kolkata

48 hours Kolkata


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The renowned author and globetrotter worked for “Woche”, “Spiegel” and “Welt am Sonntag”. He has published several books and founded the online community “I like my style”. He has lived in Berlin again since 2011.

8 a.m .: pool

"Should they all be shot, these crows". The lady with a strong Bavarian accent calls this to her husband while she circles in the pool early in the morning. In fact, there is a flock of not exactly shy birds that populate the idyllic hotel garden when the hours are less busy. The crows flutter lazily from branch to parasol and back, scanning their territory for something to eat. In Indian mythology, they are considered harbingers of bad luck - it is said that a swarm was sighted in Mumbai before the terrorists came. But this morning there is nothing worse than a little bird droppings on the otherwise immaculate loungers. As soon as you sit on it, the staff will bring you a bottle of mineral water and sunscreen. The previous evening's arrival was delayed a little because all of the Business Class luggage was lost. The young man from the neighboring seat was a business student who traded diamonds as a part-time job. He had attended the elite universities on the east coast of the United States to decide where to graduate. He was visibly embarrassed by the failure of Air India. For me, the lost luggage is more of a relief: no charger, no ironed shirts, no documents to work through. So nothing speaks against spending the next two days with occasional jumps in the pool and the highly recommended cultural crash course on India, "Despite of the Gods", by British journalist Edward Luce. Except maybe the following:
 

12 noon: New Market

Street vendors sell clothes, spider-shaped massage devices, leather goods and dubious small electronics right in front of the Hotel Oberoi. In between, men who advertise their nearby cashmere shops and emaciated mothers with their babies in their arms, who urge tourists to press the empty milk bottle to their ribs, meander. The contrast to the babbling world of the hotel couldn't be more blatant. The step onto Jawaharlal Nehru Road is in this respect a healing shock. One block further is the New Market, which extends over several halls and floors. Every kind of Indian costume, fabric and jewelry can be found here; every European is immediately identified here as a potential pashmina buyer and is emphatically invited to one or the other booth. Please bring negotiating skills in your hand luggage. Also the ability to say no.
 

2 p.m .: Mother Theresa

The most holy saint of modern times came from Albania, but her name is inextricably linked with the misery of Calcutta (as it was then called). On the first floor of the Missionaries of Charity monastery, which you can only enter barefoot, a sculpture reminds you of her regular place: right next to the entrance to the prayer room, Mother Theresa crouched on a flat cushion until she was old and despite all her ailments. A couple of nuns are singing, the noise of the traffic comes in from outside, and even a brief visit shows humility. Anyone who has driven through Kolkata at night and seen hundreds of homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks has no doubt that their mission is still up to date.
 

4 p.m .: flower market

Even the facades of the poor and poorest shops are adorned with flowers in Kolkata, and they are indispensable for religious ceremonies and family celebrations. A continuous stream of flowers is delivered to the city from the surrounding area and sold here in a very small space, at the foot of the Howrah Bridge, over which two million people cross the river every day. Merchants balance bulging sacks, often larger than they are, on their heads and jostle through the narrow streets in which a layer of trampled flowers is rotting. The air is filled with the scent of flowers, incense candles and the aroma of compost. If you walk down to the Ganges through the ruins of the warehouses, you can watch traders and buyers bathing. They don't take off their clothes for this.
 

8 p.m .: smoking area

"Smoking is an insult" is what it says a little overdramatically on warning signs inside the hotel. A coffee house table with ashtrays was kindly provided in the garden. An industrialist's wife raves about the orphans in the Missionary of Charity: She is on her way back from Shanghai, where her daughter lives, and feels reminded of her own privileges in a healthy way by India. After 27 years, an Indian from Washington was able to persuade his American wife to visit his home country with him. "The corruption in this country is incurable," he says unmoved: "But I have given myself the habit of despairing about it."
 

11 p.m .: Tantra Club in the Park Hotel

If you visit the Park Hotel and are not careful, you will stumble into a kind of Irish pub with roaring live music. The Tantra (don't let the name put you off!) And Roxy clubs belonging to the hotel are much more recommendable. A mix of better-off young Indians, formerly they would have been called yuppies, and a couple of expats are listening to classics souped up with local flavor: "I got the power" with a little sitar. The mood is curious - a pair of Junya Watanabe's trousers is enough for a half-hour conversation - and a bit tense: the girls here usually have a companion who is on guard at the door when they go to the toilet.
 

Day 2 - 11 a.m .: Indian Museum

The museum is the ninth oldest in the world: it was founded in 1814 and moved to the current building in 1878. The visit is highly recommended. Some galleries are filled to the brim with exquisite sculptures: provocatively intertwined couples, various gods in interesting incarnations and a spectacular, centuries-old temple construction made of wood. In other halls there are countless minerals, unlabeled, stacked in floor-to-ceiling, dusty showcases. The guards over this gigantic collection of rubble sit barefoot on plastic chairs and doze off.

In the biological department, prepared fish are exhibited in jars with yellow encrusted closures. Half of the formalin has evaporated, so that the caudal fins stick out in the dry. One of the main attractions are similarly carelessly preserved freaks: goats with eight legs or two heads, with a deformed human baby in between. You would only have two hours
Time, this is how one could see at a glance the dichotomy of India in this museum: a tremendous wealth of history and culture - and almost tragically limited resources. In the room with fossils and prehistoric animal skeletons, three heads hang high up on the wall: "some extinct giraffes". An exhilarating farewell.

1 p.m .: Victorian Monument

After the Indian Museum, a tour of the nearby building that documents recent Indian history can only be a disappointment. So just say this: It looks great from the taxi.
 

2.30 p.m .: book market, coffee house

The textbooks required for studying in the nearby universities are of limited interest. In one of the alleys, however, I meet a bookseller as he is, well, in the book: When I asked about contemporary Indian literature, he piles more and more works on my lap, explains the biography and style of the authors. I can only resist the mixture of business acumen and literacy because I am sure that I will lose my luggage on the way back. The Coffee House on Bankin Chatterjee Street is busy and hectic, but an oasis compared to almost any other place in Kolkata.
 

4 p.m .: Lungi purchase

Lungi are the checkered scarves that can be worn as trousers wrapped around the waist and used for practically any other purpose. For locals they are about as prestigious as a roll of kitchen towels, I couldn't resist the countless checked variants of these practically indestructible fabrics. The state-licensed stores are considered reliable in terms of pricing and color accuracy. One of the branches is located two streets from the hotel on Neli Sengupta Sarani. You can hardly find a better souvenir for around one USD.

5 p.m .: Taxi to the airport

Be sure to book a normal yellow cab. The ceiling height is low, they don't have air conditioning, but you can inhale the farewell smog again while the rousing madness of this city goes by: the slums, the car dealerships, the rotten, crammed buses, the hand-drawn rickshaws, the mobile phone advertising. When you arrive at the airport you want to wash your hair.
 

8 p.m .: Finally Found

Countless calls to the airport ended up in nowhere. But now, in a room filled with hundreds of pieces of luggage, there is miraculously my lost bag somewhere. Because of the tedious pick-up formalities, I almost miss my flight. When four barefoot, long-bearded men maneuver a mysterious chest on a blanket through the scanner during the security check, the next visit is already firmly planned.

The original of this article appeared in the Kuoni publication "Link".
Photos: DER Touristik Suisse AG