Our first flight landed in Delhi 30 minutes late, leaving our stopover time before heading to Kolkata to just under an hour to process our VISAs, collect our luggage, check into our next flight, get through security and board the plane. When we reached the check-in desk, the worried looking attendant mentioned to me “you might want to run”. So, in true British fashion, we walked. Briskly.
The first leg of my adventure is a family affair with my dad and I flying out to see my sister Eleanor and her new spouse Bibhu in North-East India. Eleanor had quit her London job 5 years ago and had jumped between the UK and India since before finding her feet landing firmly in Kolkata with Bibhu. We would be spending the first few days in the city before heading north towards Sikkim and Darjeeling at the foothills of the Himalayas.
With our body clocks truly scrambled, we took the first day easy with a tour around the town on the way to the Sikkim VISA office. Despite the heat, the city bustled with activity and the streets were crowded with stalls selling everything from fruit to Rubik’s cubes. Old colourful and majestic buildings sat alongside modern concrete blocks, and trees perched on the pathways. From one street to the next, the smells varied from a thousand spices to more questionable city odours.
We took the 5 rupee (£0.05) metro to reach the VISA office. There’s plenty of security procedures at the airports in India, and the metro stations are no different. There were X-Ray machines to scan all bags, and metal detectors for everyone to pass through. Unfortunately no one was looking at the screen for the X-Ray machine, and everyone ignored the wildly beeping metal detectors as hoards of people bustled through. At the other end of the metro, a bored-faced woman would wave a handheld metal detector in your general direction from about 10 feet away from you (thus detecting nothing), and everyone passed through without care. I thought the fully equipped soldiers sitting in a trench of sandbags was also a bit over the top, but at least it didn’t look like anyone was going to jump the barrier.
Our first accomodation was The Tollygunge Club, which is a famous hotel in South Kolkata. Like many Asian cities, the roads are brimming with traffic and car horns, although Tollygunge manages to block out all the noise behind the walls to maintain peace and quiet. It also somehow squeezes in 100 acres of land within the city, boasting a variety of plant life (imported from around the world), and provides a home to some exotic birds too.
It was the first time meeting my Brother-in-Law, Bibhu, and he welcomed me with a broad smile which he so often wore throughout the day. It felt like a strange colonial bubble in the Tollygunge, where expats and Indians indulged together on the fine drinks menu almost every evening. Family stories flowed alongside the whisky, and after just a few days, I felt like I had known Bibhu for a long time.
We also gorged ourselves different cuisines from Nepal, South India and Bengal.There hasn’t been a meal yet which hasn’t been delicious, and I think I could eat Momo (Nepalese dumplings similar to Japanese Gyoza) for the entire time here. Although I’m probably staying in the most luxurious hotel that I will experience on my trip, we head on Saturday to Sikkim, and I look forward to getting the opportunity to experience some more rural areas and simple living.