The old hands always say book a pre-paid cab at Kolkata Airport - it's the safe and cheap way to get into the city. However it is illegal to import rupees into India so you have to change money in the airport in order to pre-pay your taxi. If you leave the airport for the ATM you can't get back in. The Forex desk in the airport won't change Scottish Banknotes, English fivers, Sterling Travellers Cheques or Canadian Dollars. The latter are about 30 years old and may not even be legal tender in Canada but D thought it worth a try.
This Indian catch 22 delivers you into the hands of the taxi touts who promise all sorts of undeliverables before guiding you to a rusting British Leyland clone and relieving you of lots of rupees. The amount demanded seemed extortionate for a short taxi ride but it was hot and there didn't seem to be much option. Our driver had his 12 year old son riding shotgun and carried the inevitable dashboard Ganesh.
We were surprised to hear from our driver that our trip would take well over an hour. When we hit the traffic we realised why. Nothing would move for several minutes and then everbody races at top speed for a few hundred yards till it grinds to a halt again. Last year we thought that Kolkata traffic was better behaved than elsewhere in India. We now realise that we had just got numb by the time we arrived here.
The Chrome describes itself (seriously) as "India's First Hip Hotel" so it seemed ideal for us. Strategically adjacent to the AJC Bose elevated traffic jam they made us very welcome at check in and even agreed to provide a letter to say that we were resident so we could buy a mobile phone SIM. We were too early for a room so we adjourned to the 24 hour coffee shop for another breakfast - toasted sandwiches this time.
We didn't have to wait long for a room and the chance of a few zzzzs. We were woken a couple of hours later by reception to say our letter was ready. Time to head out, pausing only to collect the all important piece of paper. Nobody at reception knew anything about it. Eventually it was produced and we set off to Sudder Street in the centre where there was a SIM card shop highly recommended on India Mike. Also it was very handy for the beer garden at the Fairlawn Hotel.
After a refreshment we went for a stroll up Chowringee to the tram terminus where we found a tram headed somewhere. We jumped onboard and set off on a mystery tour. Kolkata policeman have only one task which seems to be directing traffic in a way that will impede the progress of each and every tram. Still it gives plenty of time for all of the hawkers to ply their trade at road junctions. Eventually we broke free from the worst of the traffic and set off north along Rabindra Sarai through the bazaars. Forget "Delhi Tuk Tuk". D's next blockbuster will be an epic about Kolkata trams.
Eventually we get to the middle of nowhere (Chipur?) and have to get off. We find a taxi to take us to Sealdah station for the joyous experience of queuing for train tickets. D is exultant to learn that he has filled the form in correctly but dismayed when told that the tickets he wants count as Mumbai local and cannot be bought anywhere else. Another cab takes us back over to Chowringee where we revisit old friends at the New Cathay for supper. The place has been brightened up a little since last year which may not be a good thing but the food is still to our liking and there is 15% off beer. Then a cab home to bed and the discovery that somebody has forgotten the power lead for the net book.