We only had 1 full day in Calcutta but lucky for us, my dear friend Suma is from the city. She emailed a wonderful list of things to do and places to eat. We didn't have enough time but we did hit a few on the list.
We also tried the paneer and aloo rolls at Nizam's, another famous eatery (sorry no pics of that - we ate it too fast!). Yum. Despite Suma's strong suggestion we try the pani puri, we didn't have a chance to eat it. It will just have to wait until we return to India in October.
I shouldn't set any expectations for anywhere we go in India. The places I think I'll like, I don't. The places I think I'll hate, I like. In Calcutta's case, I wish I had more time there -- it's a really lovely city.
There seemed to be a warmth about Calcutta that we didn't find in Varanasi or Delhi. People were nicer and less aggressive. There was better infrastructure and less trash scattered about. I know these are not the only things to judge a city by, but I am a big fan of sidewalks and a certain amount of personal space. Brandon was however bummed there weren't really any cows in downtown.
We woke up at 3:30am the following morning to catch our flight to Bangkok. Everyone told us we had to be at the airport 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. This may have been true but we couldn't even go through the first line of security until 1.5 hours before our flight. There were cats in the lobby of the airport, which thrilled me, since I'm a cat-phile. I called my mom from a phone booth in the airport and got into a heated argument when it came time to pay. Usually when getting scammed in India, I fight back a little and then usually cave. Is it worth a couple dollars? But this time, I wouldn't have it. The booth operator tried to charge me for 10 more minutes than I was on the phone. Perhaps it was the morning making me grumpy, or the fact I was leaving the country within the hour, but I unleashed on him. It was his word against mine, 15 minutes or 25 minutes. But he got a nice expensive international call from me and he lied about the amount of time I was on the phone. I timed it because I didn't want to go over budget. I got his friend, the tea shop operator involved. I told the guy going into the booth behind me that the guy ripped me off. In the end, airport security got involved. I ended up paying 75 rupees more than I should have, but it was better than the 300 rupees extra he tried to charge me. It was a fantastic way to kill time before the flight -- as we boarded immediately after I paid.
I tell this long story about the scammer because it's one of the things that frustrates me about India. I don't mind paying too much for something as long as I have a choice. I don't mind aggressive touts because I get that they are making a living by being hard salesmen. It's up to me whether or not to listen to them or buy their stuff/tour/ride in their tuk tuk. But I don't like being scammed. In McLeod Ganj, I paid for our bus tickets with a 500 rupee note (~$10) and the guy handed it back to me and wouldn't take it because it was ripped. I handed him another 500 rupee bill and then realized, what a jerk, he switched my nice bill with a ripped one. I know the one I handed him wasn't ripped. It took me a few days to unload -- which I did at the post office - one of the only times I paid for anything with a pile of 500R notes -- and he didn't notice. We're on our guard for scams and we only learn new ones by falling for them first.
India is an incredible country in both positive and negative ways. Hopefully by the end of the trip I will be able to "English" it in a way that makes sense.
On to Bangkok!