Kolkata & Delhi in 4 Days: Trip Report
This rather lengthy trip report is based on me and my wife’s trip to India this month. I have tried to include as much details as possible. I hope other travelers will find the information helpful. You can also checkout my one and a half day Delhi Itinerary as well.
My wife and I had been planning and saving for a month long India-Bhutan trip since mid-2014. We had everything figured out – I would have completed my MBA thesis by April 2015 and would enjoy a “self-inflicted” unemployment (read “vacation”) of 3 months. And my wife would leave her job in April after completing 2 years in that office, and make time to travel with me, before getting started on her own MBA. It all sounded too good to be true! And it was. Due to the country’s political situation, my MBA final exam got postponed by almost 2 months (thesis will take another 3 months after that). And my wife got a great job opportunity where she had to join by March. So when the time came, neither of us were able to make the trip we had planned for so long. In Bangladesh, getting a long vacation is extremely rare and it is almost certain that we will never be getting an opportunity to travel for one month straight again. It was so very depressing.
After couple of weeks of “running around the house with sad faces” we decided to make it work somehow, and not let the time go to a complete waste. We figured that, if we cut the trip’s length to 4-5 days we could at least “GO”. The beginning of May seemed like a good option. First our plan was to explore Kolkata, as Shakilah has never been there. Later we thought that we could probably go to Delhi as well, if we rushed, and if we traveled by air instead of road. It’s nothing compared to the original trip we had planned, but it’s something.
By the time Shakilah managed to take a leave for May 4, along with national holidays through May 1 to 3, we only had less than 6 days to make all the arrangements for the trip. We already had Indian Visa so we did not have to worry about that. The main problem was getting air tickets so close to departure – we planned for the 7 pm flight on April 30 with Bangladesh Biman. Biman’s online ticketing quota was full and as it was a weekend, most of the travel agents were unreachable too. I tried booking the tickets through some online travel agents, but either the tickets were unavailable or they would not accept my card (makemytrip, yatraa; they require 5 work days for international cards). I called Biman, trying to reserve the tickets. A very reluctant customer care operator told me that a few tickets are available but they will not reserve seats for anyone and told me to rush to the airport to make the purchase. As I live outside Dhaka, this was not the ideal situation for me. Anyway, as the evening turned into night, I reached the airport and suddenly remembered that for the last two years the airport has been closed for anyone without a passport and a ticket. I am so very thankful to the security persons at the three check-posts leading to the airport, who patiently listened to my plea and let me pass through. Without their help, this would be a story about my stupidity rather than a trip report.
So at the end of the day, we had confirmed seats for Dhaka-Kolkata-Dhaka, but did not have tickets for Delhi – 5 work day required for international cards. We decided to book Delhi flight from Kolkata Airport.
Flight to Kolkata
Shakilah was coming straight from the office and I was coming with the bags from home. Due to a huge storm I was so drenched and late that I would have missed the flight, but thankfully, the flight got delayed by 1 hour (later, another 30 minutes). So even after drying myself, exchanging dollars, having a snack we had some time to kill.
The flight was pretty ordinary and short one. Took around 40 minutes to reach the destination. The new Dash-8 aircraft, though pretty small, offered us the smoothest takeoff and landing I have ever experienced. 2 pieces of smallest dry-cakes and 1 hard cookie type thing were offered as the midflight refreshment. The only thing we could use was the miniature bottle of water which Shakilah kept in her hand-bag throughout the trip. I have seen domestic flights offering better (and less insulting) refreshments than this. I don’t know who comes up with these ideas. I have always been an advocate of Biman and defended them whenever someone badmouthed them, but I too was disappointed at this. Only a glass of water would have been better than this.
Kolkata (April 30 – May 1)
It was around 9pm Indian time and Kolkata was in the middle of a 24 hour strike when we landed. Being from the “land of strikes and lockdowns” we know that strikes generally die down after evening rush hour. But we decided to be “good tourists” and consult with a police officer who told us to not mind the strike and proceed as usual… so we did.
The big & shiny airport was almost empty. Clearing the immigration and claiming luggage took less than 15 minutes. Next on our agenda was to book Delhi tickets for the next day… hoping there is still some availability. The lady in the IndiGo ticketing counter, as well as anyone we met on the trip, was very helpful and genuine. Though the prices were up almost 4 thousand since last night, we were able to book tickets for the next day on a 2:30pm flight. Not sure if it was for the 5-day-rule, I could not pay with my card once again. And they would not accept dollars. So I had to get out of the airport to an ATM booth across the street to withdraw some cash. Does everyone in India face this problem with POS purchase with international cards?
By the time we got in a taxi, we were both very tired – Shakilah being in the office the whole day and I tackling a storm with 2 bags in hand. Anyway, the night ride in Kolkata was very refreshing. We rolled down the window of the classic yellow taxi to feel the cool breeze and to see the lights of Kolkata roll by. Being from Dhaka, we love cities where roads are big, where there are less traffic and less chaos. The smooth and overpriced 40 minute taxi ride was the perfect start to our third honeymoon! I have been to Kolkata before, and I realized that I missed this city – the very different Bengali accent, the ambassador cars, rows of small stones in the highway, the low skyline, alleyways with old houses – I missed them all. Kolkata seemed livelier than last time though… which is good.
Hotel Review: We already booked a hotel in Kolkata – Bawa Walson Spa‘O’tel in Sudder Street. It was a little pricy compared to the rates of other hotels in Kolkata, around $60. But it was a good hotel in a great location with a festive atmosphere. Park Street Metro station and Indian Museum is down the road and the New Market or Hogg Market is nearby. Along with traditional restaurants, McDonalds, Dominos, KFC all are within walking distances. The outdoor lounge and restaurant had a nice feel to it too. Our room was in the third floor in the north corner. The room was average in size but clean and well decorated. There was wifi, tv, ac and hot water – though it took us some time to figure out how the tap works & the AC remote died in the middle of the night! There was no safe in the room, I would have preferred a safe to keep our passports. Also, the window led to a building 3 feet away, so had to keep the curtains on. The complimentary breakfast was good, but very limited items. As we came in late at night and left the hotel next day, we had little interaction with the staff, they seemed helpful enough. If you don’t mind the price, this is a nice hotel to stay in. 7/10
Anyway, after checking in, freshening up, we were hungry and went out to have some dinner. It was past 11 and the kitchen in the outdoor lounge was closed. There was an Indian restaurant directly opposite to our hotel where, like all other restaurants, displayed a sign saying “No Beef” and “Veg/Non Veg Available”. The food there was absolutely fantastic. There we indulged ourselves with naan roti, vegetable and chicken curry and the total bill was only 60 rupee which is equivalent to less than 1 us dollar.
After a restful sleep, next morning we took the metro from Park Street to Rabindra Sadan. Metro is the cheaper and faster alternative to any other public transportations available. It only took us 5 rupees each and around 1 minute to reach the destination. In Bangladesh we don’t have a metro system (yet), so it was kind of exciting for us. Whenever we could we took the metro. In Kolkata there are only two metro lines, so not everyplace is reachable through it. But in Delhi, there are multiple lines crisscrossing the huge city, so almost any place can be accessed by this faster alternative. The only downside of metro is, you stay underground (or above, in Delhi) and you miss seeing the city roll by.
This area was quite beautiful – big roads, bigger trees & marvelous architecture. We decided to spend the morning exploring St Paul’s Cathedral and Victoria Memorial. Victoria Memorial was built in the honor of Queen Victoria in the then capital of British India. The purpose of this landmark was to reflect time and history to anyone seeking it. This building has been fulfilling this purpose ever since. Let’s keep in mind that this was May and the weather was hot and humid. This is NOT the ideal time to be traveling in South Asia. But fortunately, tasty and refreshing lemon soda stalls can be found everywhere in Kolkata. After having one from outside the cathedral, we head inside. It was as beautiful and grand as advertised. We took a moment to sit, relax and watch the pigeons and sparrows fly from one wall to another across the huge prayer room. We met a gentleman from Bengalore who came with a big group to see this cathedral & mother Teresa’s tomb. He was very friendly and invited us to visit Bengalore and Chennai the next time we visit India. He talked so passionately about the weather and nature of the south that we were completely sold on his invitation. Only if we had more time.
We initially thought about seeing the mummy and the dinosaur bones in Indian museum too, but by the time we had enough of the magnificent Victoria Memorial, it was around 12 and we were running late for our 2:30pm flight. Rushing back to the hotel we took a taxi to the domestic terminal which took around 40 minutes. The taxi driver scammed us for 70 rupees extra saying that we had to pay for the toll and he doesn’t have any change. We didn’t have the time to argue.
Delhi (May 1 – May 3)
Our flight landed at around 5pm and we could feel the heat even in the afternoon (sun sets around 7:30pm). As our Delhi tour was not entirely confirmed even till the day before, we did not have much time planning for it. The tourist information booth at the Delhi airport helped us a lot in figuring out what we should do for the next day and how to visit most places given the short time. We collected detailed maps of the city, the metro lines and information about where to stay; Connaught Place for upscale hotels, Karolbagh for budget friendly accommodations and Paharganj for backpackers and hostels. We decided to give Karol Bagh a try. The agent at the information center did try to sell us hotel accommodation and some guided tours. It felt really bad refusing him as he had helped us with such good information but we like to travel independently.
Getting out of the airport, we soon found out that the taxies were only willing to take you if you stay at the hotel they will refer you to. We read online about “Delhi Scams” and had no plans to become a victim. So instead got a prepaid taxi from the designated booth for only 300 rupees, which I think was reasonable. The road to Karolbagh ran through a reserved forest and the central area Connaught Place which takes around 30 minutes. We sat back and enjoyed our first hour in Delhi. By the way the taxi driver dropped us at the wrong place! We ended up walking 4 blocks from where he told us the hotels would be. At that time for some reason the internet on my phone was not working properly so it took us some time to get where we wanted. By the time we checked in a hotel, it was dark and we were drenched in sweat.
Hotel Review: Hotels in Delhi seemed much more reasonably priced than in Kolkata. Hotel Surya International in Saraswati Marg Road offered everything and more than what is expected from a 1900 rupees per night hotel. Maybe we could have found a cheaper hotel if we looked a little longer, but we were completely happy with the choice. It was in a good location – near Karolbagh Metro & local bazaar. The rooms were bigger than the hotel we used in Kolkata, clean, decently decorated, had a safe, a mini bar and more complimentary items than we cared for. The complimentary breakfast had limited items but tasted very good and had some interesting local cuisine. The best thing about this hotel is the staff. They were very friendly and helpful. The only negative about this place was the poor wifi signal that we got from our room in first floor – but it is not worth complaining about. 9/10
At around 10pm we head out for some fresh air and most importantly, some food. We had not eaten all day (there was no snacks on the flight) and craved for some proper food. We found a nice little place at the end of the street called Boheme Café Bar. The place was cozy and perfect for a peaceful dinner. At first it felt a little awkward sitting in a bar given the fact that we don’t drink. Being Bangladeshi Muslims, it’s a rare sight seeing people drink publicly. We have been in bars in Nepal and Bangkok – but seeing people who look a lot like us, drinking in public, it was interesting. Anyway, what made the super tasty dinner more appealing, was the conversation with the Bangladeshi descendant Kolkatan waiter who served us. He was excited too, to see fellow Bangladeshis (and offered us mocktails, instead of cocktails!). On the way back, we took a small detour, taking a different road to our hotel. Anyway, we met another Bengali person on the street – a flower merchant. We chatted with him for a while about the city life before retiring to our hotel room and calling it a night.
Next day was a busy one with too many things to do so we started early. The transport for the day was the Metro. By the way, if we were impressed with the metro in Kolkata, we were “blown away” by Delhi’s. It was much newer, cleaner and more systematic and widespread. First stop was India Gate, President’s Hosue and the surrounding areas. We would have enjoyed this place more if the sun wasn’t so hot – but never the less, it was a great place. Bangladesh’s parliament building is very beautiful, but India’s was nothing less. Whether it has resemblance to Mughal or Greek architecture – I couldn’t tell, but it was fascinating.
Next we went to see Qutub Minar. It is in the south edge of the city and took around 25 minutes by metro. To me it was the most beautiful place of all the places we have been to in this trip. I had been to Qutub Minar when I was a little kid and the memory of it was like a tall tower in the middle of nowhere. I completely forgot about the amazing complex that surrounds the tower. This place is well preserved, clean, filled with history and it is a must visit place if you are in Delhi.
It was around 1:30pm. We decided that we will have lunch once we are in Chadni Chowk – which happens to be the metro station closest to the Red Fort. There are 19 stops between Qutub Minar and Chadni Chowk which took around 30 minutes. We were dehydrated, sun burnt and drenched. Luckily there was a McDonalds near the entrance of Red Fort where we could enjoy a meal and the AC. By the way, we do not have McDonalds back home so it was more fun.
Everything about the Red Fort is grand. And it speaks for itself about being the seat of a great emperor. Shakilah absolutely loves history, so this place was like a treat to her. The complex is huge and filled with royal houses, barracks, mosques, bath house, court house etc. There are three museums inside, which however, we did not find very interesting.
The area around Chadni Chowk is very busy, diverse and gives you a feel of the old Delhi. There are mosques (Muslim), temples (Hindu), gurdwaras (Sikh) all in the same street performing their rituals side by side. Getting out, we took a riksha to the nearby Jama Masjid – a huge Mughal Mosque still operational. To our surprise, we saw that there were many tourists inside Jama Masjid and the place was actually very tourist friendly. We decided to perform the afternoon prayer before heading back to the Chadni Chawk Metro Station. By this time it was a little over 7 and a Sikh Gurdwara started performing their live prayer service. The atmosphere was very spiritual inside.
As we found out, this was rush hour and getting on the metro was a hassle, even though it was all very systematic. What made things worse is when we found out we had lost our metro smart card. Anyway, when we left the metro station at Rajiv Chowk (Connaught Place) the jump from the old Delhi to the upscale New Delhi was prominent. This square was full of brand shops, international food chains, nice cars & young people. At that moment, we somehow missed the fact that the grand Guruduwara Bangla Sahib was nearby. Otherwise instead of spending half an hour in a coffee place, we would have went there.
We had enough of metro for today and took an auto-riksha (tuktuk) back to our hotel at around 9:30. Exhausted, we ordered room service, which was fantastic and also reasonably priced. We almost fell asleep while eating.
Half of the next day was as busy as the previous one. Our flight was at 3pm. We barely made the last two flights so we wanted to go to the airport a little early today. That day first we visited the Baha’I House of Worship also known as the Lotus Temple – a beautiful white marble made structure. I thought this temple resembled to the Sydney Opera House, though I have never been to Australia. After that we visited Humyun’s Tomb. The tomb can be reached by metro too but we decided to take the 15 minute auto (tuktuk) ride on the highway.
The complex actually contains a lot of tombs, probably of the persons close to Humayun. The Mughal’s pride themselves as Muslims and they helped a lot in spreading Islam in this region. Probably I am a muslim because of them. The architecture of the tomb complex is very beautiful indeed and worth seeing. But I think a tomb is supposed to be a symbol of modesty, not a symbol of pride. May Allah let the souls rest in peace. Anyway, we would have loved to spend more time there, explore the grounds more thoroughly or spend a quiet moment in the park, but were already running late. The auto back to our hotel took around 30 minutes.
We checked out from the hotel at 12:45pm, took a cab for 400 rupees, faced a lot of traffic (not sure why, midday) and it took us more than one hour to reach the airport – making us one of the last ones to check in for the flight – once again. My advice, if you don’t want to run madly through an unfamiliar airport, with your luggage, you better arrive at the airport atleast 2 hours before your flight.
Kolkata (May 3 – May 4)
Our plane landed in the middle of a small storm. So we hurriedly paid for a prepaid taxi to Esplanade. It was good to be back from the excruciating heat of Delhi to a much cooler weather in Kolkata. Also, we were able to speak Bangla again, which was nice, it felt closer to home! We were looking for a cheaper hotel this time. So decided not to go with the previous hotel we stayed in. I had chosen a hotel in Esplanade through internet, but it turned out to be crap. So we ended up looking for a while before checking in the Golden Apple Hotel in Sudder Street.
Hotel Review: We paid 1800 rupee for the night in a delux room on 5th floor in Golden Apple Boutique Hotel. The lift will take you to the third floor and then you will have to take the stairs. The room was very small but clean & quiet. It had television, AC and wifi. The tap was supposed to have hot and cold water, but in the heat of the day, the “cold water” heats up naturally and the difference between cold and hot water is virtually none. And no breakfast. Apart from these, the hotel was a good find and I would recommend this hotel. If you are travelling with your significant other and want a budget accommodation, yet want to feel safe and cozy, this is a nice place in great location. There is also an open balcony with a round table in fifth floor, which is nice. We were really happy with the service we received at this hotel. After checking out at 2, we kept our luggage in their secured lobby for another 5 hours for free. We even were able to freshen up in the afternoon before picking up our bags. This saved us a lot of trouble and also money. I really appreciated this. 7/10
This was our last night in Kolkata (May 3). For the first time in this trip, we decided to relax for a bit. In the evening, at around 9pm, we head out for a casual stroll through the alleyways and closing shops of the new market area. We tasted some fantastic freshly squeezed iced mango juice from a street cart for just 30 rupees (last year it was 20 rupees). The tea in the clay cups was a treat too – you have to break the cups after finishing your tea. We had our dinner at the nearby Dominos Pizza. It was much tastier than Pizza Hut. I can’t wait for Dominos to set up shop in Bangladesh. At around half past eleven we returned to our hotel in a hand-pulled riksha. Dhaka is the city of Rikshas, but sitting in a high hand-pulled riksha felt strange.
Next morning, our last day at India, we took a bus to Babughat – we wanted to see the legendary Hawrah Bridge from Hooghly river. The road leads through Eden Garden – the second largest cricket stadium in the world. Being a huge cricket fan, I has very happy seeing this landmark. Anyway, the relaxing ferry ride took us to the grand Hawrah Railway Station. The view of the bridge from here was excellent. We took another bus (route#51) from Bus Depot Road to Belur Moth. This 40 minute bus ride allowed us to see more of Hawrah, the narrow streets and old houses and shops.
Entry at Belur Math is prohibited after 12 noon and fortunately for us, we reached the place at 11:55! Belur Math is a very beautiful temple made combining the architectural patterns of Islam, Hinduism and Christianity to emphasize unity and oneness. We would have loved to spend more time there, as it’s a big complex, but the place was vacated by 12:10. Leaving the place, we took a taxi across river to Dakshineswar Kali Temple – not many tourists here, most are pilgrims. Word of advice: if you are planning to visit this temple, wear socks. Otherwise you will have to walk barefoot on a brick surface – we got blisters all over our feet doing so and it wasn’t worth it. By the way, there is a ferry connecting Dakshineswar Temple to Belur Math which we didn’t know about up until then.
After spending a few minutes in Dakshineswar Temple, we took a taxi to Jorashako Thakurbari, Ravindranath Thakur’s home. As it was Monday the museum was closed, but upon request we were admitted inside the compound (not the museum). Shakilah being Tagore’s fan, was very excited seeing their house. We took the metro from Girish Park to Park Street on our way back. We checked out from the hotel at 2 and the hotel gladly kept our luggage till our return.
We discovered a gem this afternoon – Nizam’s Restaurant at the east side of New Market. This place seems shabby from outside but the food is so freaking amazing. Our Kolkata trip would have been incomplete if we did not try their Biriyani. Anyway, rest of the time we spent on shopping and walking around, so not much to write about that. And finally, having to rush for all the three previous fights, we were for once, on time for our flight. The flight was delayed by 1 hour and left the airport at 10:45pm.
We are very happy with how the trip went. All the people we met, all the places we visited – they all deserve a special place in our heart. Being from an ordinary Bangladeshi family, we cannot travel as much as we want, or whenever we want to. But we are happy and lucky to be able to do what we do. My aunt’s car came to the airport to pick us up. The quite midnight road in Dhaka was very welcoming. It’s good to be back home.