In India, the Highway Code consists of only one rule, the larger your vehicle, the more road you have. That's it. Its just recklessness fuelling the other ten million people on.
I'm impressed by the tenacity of our driver who has ingeniously managed to squeeze the saloon through a slight gap opened up between two battle scarred ancient local buses. The taxi - a bright yellow Ambassador, is built like a tank so we're not unduly worried, nevertheless the twists of shrapnel protruding from the adjacent metal carcasses skim eye-gougingly close to the backseat windows.
We travel along a two-lane freeway but it carries easily four times that amount, plus goats and the odd garbage-seeking cow.
The noise is ear-splitting.
Its 7am, Monday morning...Welcome to India my friend!
We've flown into Kolkata - not part of our original plan... We had hoped to be coming in overland through Nepal and thence through the hills of West Bengal, stopping off at Darjeeling but providence...nah our budget intervened so that little escapade was packed off to the Great Escapade graveyard in the sky. With little money left in our pot 'o' gold, the only option left was to fly direct from China.
Only this is never the easy option as we're both stinking yellow-bellied cowards when it comes to the wonder of flight. I spent the two, yes TWO, flights (we had to transfer at Kunming) rubbing my non-existent rosary beads (I'm not remotely Catholic but Methodism, even lapsed Methodism doesn't do comfort) and praying that the pilots were actually flying the plane, and not dealing up a fresh hand of hold em' whilst puffing on a meaty Havana as my sleep-deprived imaginings had it.
So we're here initially for a week, a brief primer to settle and then a longer visit after the hills. If the money situation is looking better we will be heading to Mumbai earlier.
This would be very nice.
So to Kolkata or Calcutta as formerly known. My general knowledge of this great east coast city is honestly pitiful. I know exactly this - it was home to one late Mother Teresa, a notorious hellhole of poverty and hunger, ex-capital of the British Raj...
Our temporary home is Sudder St - Kolkata's centrally located haven of budget hostelries, restaurants, travel agencies, exchange bureau and traveller's bars and cafes. It's a great place to find your feet and settle in. Rooms are 300rps (4.50 pounds app) cheap provided you don't mind sharing a bathroom and your bed with the obligatory budget bugs! (I recommend those off the main st, preferably with a courtyard to reduce street noise!)
We stayed at the Tourist Inn, three stories of colonial wreck dead centre, Sudder St and in our ignorance were ripped off for a big room with nay A/C. Wiser and cooler, following the break in Darjeeling. (Cold weather does wonders for the brain activity no!) We returned to the same hotel but bargained for a cheaper and naturally smaller pit which cost the not unholy price of 250rps (4.00pounds app) with common bath and toilet and ceiling fan.
The local cafes, Blue Sky and its opposite number Fresh & Juicy across the road are ok traveller hangouts providing the basics and a usually raucous atmosphere at decent prices. Blue Sky was good for a western style breakfast if you're craving decent coffee and toast.
Fresh & Juicy does excellent veggie dishes in the evening. 120rps (1.70 pounds app) for two dishes, rice, bread and drinks. There are plenty other quality cheap nooks in the area around Sudder, it's worth a rummage around the triangle encompassing the New Market, Mirza Ghalib Rd and Esplanade. Khalsa around the corner from the Fairlawn hotel serves up excellent chow with friendly service and explanation of dishes...