Kolkata Trip: The Planning and the Journey

This could easily be the first time I have decided to do something impulsively and have actually done it. Since my cousin studies in Kolkata, I always had this city on my mind. I had fantasised taking a layover in Kolkata and then exploring the acclaimed hill station of West Bengal––the beautiful Darjeeling. The very thought of the milky fog, dense green trees, and having a cup of tea against a picturesque backdrop inclined me towards this eastern state. Since the plan got finalised, the thought of touching the eastern coast of India delighted me. I have never been to this side of my country––I have not even crossed or was not even lucky to witness the vast fields from a moving train. 

This is me, maidenly stepping on the eastern lands. I’m unsure of what I have in store. I’m about to explore the east in its raw glory.

Thrilled to start my first ever solo train journey. Photo clicked at CSMT, Mumbai

On a late afternoon, while my fingers were tired and brain exhausted from writing a lengthy blog post, a sudden thought of travelling beyond Maharashtra occurred. I was not in a position to invite others for this faraway trip as I had a travel planned in the month of June with a friend. So, what do I do and where do I go. Kolkata was always on my mind. I wondered, why not give it a shot? 

I asked my cousin if he was free on those dates. My cousin is a cricketer and April is a month of exams. Luckily he was free. I started digging out places––and not the touristy ones––but the places I loved. The places with mountains, lakes, beaches, rivers, and a blanket of trees. But before I got dreamier, I finalised the week and then the train tickets. My friend helped me book the tickets as we discussed it over a call for about 30 minutes while shifting the dates from the third week of April to the second. 

My parents warned me saying they would not let me go unless my ticket booking status is confirmed, which means, they would not entertain the waiting lists and the RACs. The reason for preponing the dates was because of the tickets. I wanted to travel before Kolkata's summer got deadlier––this eastern city is as humid as the western city of Mumbai––and since my dad was returning from Dubai in the fourth week of April, I had a semi-flexible schedule. The tickets were confirmed: I was leaving at 5:15 pm in a Howrah Duronto Express on 11th April and was coming back in a Howrah Mumbai Mail, about a week later. 

It was unbelievable! I had just planned a trip to Kolkata (and it took me just two days to take the decision). Due to my backpacking essentials video, the packing had begun about two weeks prior to travel. Initially, I was carrying my 60 L backpack, but then after looking at the videos on YouTube about minimalist packing, I was encouraged to carry a lighter pack. I took out my Echolac backpack, which is a mysterious one since I'm unaware when my dad purchased it. 

I have carried this backpack a number of times on my camping adventures and one-day trips. I cleaned the bag with a wet cloth and turned the smoky grey colour to a raven black. It needed a couple of stitches and a lace. The bag looked as good as new.

The next task was to select a day bag. I did not have a 20 L backpack and I thought I should buy one. I do have a 10 L backpack but even that’s on the verge of wearing out, so I thought of buying a new. I went with a Fastrack bag, which cost me around a grand.

The videos were shot and one of those was uploaded to YouTube, the bags were packed, the e-tickets printed, and the nails done. I left for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus at 3:00 pm from where my train departed. Anurag came to drop me off.

The train left on time and I was glad people around me were modest. There was a girl about my age who was on a call when I got there––rather, this young Bengali makeup artist was on a call throughout the journey. Next to her was an elderly lady, draped in a beautiful shining blue sari. Opposite to her were two elderly gentlemen. I thought the four belonged to one family but I later learnt that the girl was alone and the lady was with her husband. What troubled me were the three men on the side berths.

The men were decent and of age. They were discussing something related to their job. One of them sounded drunk and most frustrated amongst the three. They were continually talking about a few people from their workplace. Throughout the initial hour, all I could hear was how a certain Dubey was cunning.

The train took its pace and soon, the ISRTC staff came distributing refreshments in their yellow and green uniform. I thought the service was smart but the caps on their heads blocked their views to see passengers on the upper berths. And since I was one of those passengers, trying my best to call the staff with a soft "excuse me", I had to get into a constant battle to win their eyesight. 

I had a mix of notions looking at the amount of food served on this journey. As soon as the train started, the passengers were given refreshments in the form of a small carton of mango juice, a chutney sandwich, a pack of roasted peanuts, and a cutlet. Even water bottles were distributed.

The only sugar and caffeine source: my favourite chai

Right when the passengers were done munching and settling back, the staff returned again. This time, they brought tomato soup and breadsticks. I was watching all this from the top. Then they started distributing small paper cups with a little pack along. It was tea time. I asked for a cup too. 

While booking tickets, I had assumed the one-way ticket to being around two grand but then had to settle with a costlier train, which was a grand more. During the checkout, there was an option to save money. The food charges were Rs. 450 per person. I thought of giving it a miss.
Therefore, when the ISRTC staff was serving food, I was looking at it like a hungry puppy looks at food. Whenever I craved for food, I gorged on the methi parathas and cheese sandwiches my mom had given to me. Trust me, they tasted even better on the train.

It was about 9:30 pm when the passengers collectively thought of calling it a day. After being satisfied with dinner, they started making their beds. I was still on the upper berth, wondering what kind of humans sleep so early. I worked for a while on the laptop and then watched The Seven Years Itch movie.

Next day, at 8:30 am, I was woken up with the morning hustle. The staff was serving breakfast and I took a cup of tea for myself. The journey continued and everything was amazing for a female solo traveller until a man was shifted from another bogie to mine. He was seated in my compartment, on the lower side berth.

Nothing alarming but the man kept looking at me continuously. Before the lights went out, he glanced at me fewer times but once it was dark and people went back to their beds, he kept staring. I generally become uncomfortable when people stare. May it be my lover or a roadside creep, I don't cherish stares. In order to block the view, I played several tricks: When seated, I kept a pillow on my lap and when rested on the back, I blocked his view by spreading out my blanket.

This man made my entire journey troublesome and I lost my peace, without a doubt. Later, on the evening of the second day, while I was sitting down with other passengers, he was right there. He had positioned his mobile in such a way that he could have easily photographed me. I was angry and questioned him,"Kya kar raha hai (What are you doing)?" On that, he showed me his screen and immediately replied that he was downloading a game.

I became so restless and irritated that I went up again. My bed looked like a cage.

Unfortunately, to add to the list, a tree was allegedly fallen on the tracks because of which our train was halted for over an hour. We were supposed to reach Howrah station at 7:50 pm but instead reached it three hours later.

The train crossed Jhargram, Kharagpur, and then Kolaghat. Soon, we reached Howrah...

I was delighted to finally move on to a stable land. My eyes turned to the glass window and I saw my cousin! He perfectly found not just my train or my bogie but even the door I was getting down through. I got off the train and hugged my cousin. Finally, I had stepped on the eastern land.

We started towards the exit and on the way, I couldn't help but look around. It was as though my one part of the brain was engrossed in a jolly conversation with my cousin and the other, constantly building images and observing people––their behaviour, their rush, their temperaments, their clothing, their appearance. I started to find some resemblance between the Howrah station and either of the stations back in Mumbai. To my surprise, the people were not any different and the hustle, similar.

We exited the chaotic railway station and stepped onto the wet roads outside. I could see a plethora of taxis. I smiled because I had just witnessed Kolkata's famous yellow taxis. They appeared like a hive of bees, buzzing around the entrance, eagerly looking out for their honey: the passengers.

We booked a cab and drove towards my cousin's house. On our way, we saw a glimpse of the Eden Gardens stadium and the cricket fan inside me celebrated. I even saw the tram tracks and promised to sit on one, no matter what. I saw the older Calcutta as well as the developed Kolkata. The 1-hour ride acted as a silent city tour in itself. Though the station was awake, the city was quiet.

Alas, I was stepping into my cousin's house, when a black furball came running. The puppy––my dear Mufasa––was so excited to see his master and another human. He started biting and chewing the bag-straps. My cousin introduced me to his roommates, Rohan and Adwait, amongst whom, I knew Rohan since Ishan's schooldays.

I freshened up and it was time to edit my first Kolkata vlog...

Watch the video: