Venturing Solo in Kolkata + Best Solo Travel Advise

by - April 29, 2018

Enjoying a cup of Butterscotch ice cream at Prinsep Ghat

Read: Kolkata Trip: The Planning and the Journey
          How I Used Six Modes of Transport to Reach the Village of Deulti (Day 1 Travelogue)

The six modes of transport we used and the 10 hours of staying outdoors tired me and my cousin. When we were in the train towards Howrah, exhausted from the adventures of a long day, my cousin announced that he had to gather exam notes the next day, because of which, I had to travel all by myself. I was thrilled, no doubt. But the first thought that struck my mind was where to go? Do I take the risky route and explore the forests of Taki (which is known as Mini Sunderban here) on the outskirts of Kolkata or wear a tourist's cap and explore the best of the city by taking metro rides and cabs? I didn't give this much a thought then and continued enjoying the present moment.

I was awakened by a deadly humid weather on the second day of the trip. It reminded me of Mumbai. It reminded me of my bed back at home when the afternoon naps often turned sweaty, restless evenings because the air conditioning effect had faded out by then. It reminded me of those who could not afford an AC unit and how they survived the heat.

That morning, we woke up late. It had turned afternoon by the time we left our beds. The weather was one of the worst. I'm sure the weather report had something similar to share. It was sunny, bright, humid. The humidity was so high that I was positive it would rain by the time it got dark. I felt uneasy and the need of a refreshing drink was excessive. I felt like drinking gallons of water and jumping in a pool with a shade on top. 

By the time I regained my senses, it was too late. Ishan had received exam notes by then and we had thought of diving in one of the pools at Aquatica water park. We checked the entry fee and to our disbelief, it was incredibly inexpensive! We were about to book our tickets online when we checked the time. It was 3:00 pm. The park shuts at around 5:30 pm. I could not surmise the fact that it was so late!  Where had the time passed by? We gave up the idea of doing anything, and I continued writing my blog and editing the Deulti vlog.

I was upset and angry at myself for wasting one precious day in Kolkata. Little did I know how much a day meant and how many things I could have done but missed for being a scrimshanker. I decided that no matter what, I was travelling solo the next day and exploring the city all by myself.

Nutella shake ahead of a board game in Bogglingames Cafe


Day 3
Where to go still remained unanswered. I was determined to explore the city alone. However, when I was planning, my cousin's roommates were around too. They helped me with places they'd been to and suggested many (Prinsep Ghat being one of those).
They had an exam the next day so it was pointless asking them to join me. But, one of his two roommates, Adwait, who is as old as me, was called by his former boss to visit her.

My cousin and Adwait worked in Bogglingames Cafe, which is a board game cafe in Kolkata. When Ishan had told me many months back that he worked in a gaming parlour, I had imagined something completely different. I had imagined a dark setting with video games and people playing while simultaneously battling their video game addiction. However, on reaching the cafe, the view in front was completely opposite. There was no dark room and there were no video games.

We left the house for the day's adventure by afternoon and then by walking towards the auto stand, took an auto to the Mahanayak Uttam Kumar metro station. According to the initial plan, I was to leave home with Adwait and he would get down at the Jatin Das Park station and I would get down at Esplanade station because I had plans of shopping at the markets there. However, he casually asked me if I would like to join him to the cafe and I thought, yes, why not?

So we stepped down together at the Jatin Das Park metro station and walked towards the cafe. The place had a wonderful sunlight peeping in thus making the cafe bright and cheerful. Two tables were occupied with people playing board games while simultaneously biting on their piece of garlic bread. The cafe looked interesting. One side of the wall was full of board games, with––I'm guessing––about 350 board games, which I had never even heard of, in varying fonts and widths.

Adwait and I entered the cafe and occupied one of the tables. His former boss, the owner of the cafe, was seated with two girls and was educating them about the game rules. We ordered a sandwich, a plate of Maggi, and a Nutella shake. The owner, who Adwait was referring to as Kirti ma'am, joined us shortly. She asked me about my whereabouts and on knowing I am a sister of one of her former employees, she was delighted. She suggested me Bengali cuisine restaurants like Kewpie's and 6 Ballygunge and for Chinese, to hit the Terreti Bazaar, which lies in the old Chinatown. For chaats, especially for a local dish named chilla, she asked me to go to the Vardaan market. She recommended a diner named Little Italy for its dozens of Pizza topping options. Amongst the places, she recommended  Prinsep Ghat in evening and Belur Math or Botanical Garden for its aesthetics.

Out of the recommendations, I tried chillas and chaats outside Vardaan market, had a special veg. thaala at Kewpie's and spent my evening at the Prinsep Ghat.

The beautiful view of Vidyasagar Setu bridge and Hooghly River (which is one of the two distributaries of the Ganges)

After finishing the food, it was time for me to explore solo and for Adwait to head back home. I got down at the Maidan metro station to visit the Prinsep Ghat. My solo travel had begun. At the back of my mind I knew, if I succeed today, I'll move a step forward to accomplishing my dream.

I waited at the bus stop that was right outside the metro station. As buses drove by, I asked the conductors if the buses went to Prinsep Ghat and after hearing a negative response thrice, alas the fourth conductor told me I wouldn't find a direct bus from there. What next? I opened my Uber app.

I reached the ghat and my only aim then was to go on a boat ride. On enquiring, I learnt the boatsmen did not entertain single individuals, so I gave up the idea of boating. (Though one of the boatsmen said he would charge Rs. 400 for a half-hour ride and I was no way paying him that much.)

I thought of having chaat and watching the sun go down by sitting on the steps. I had a popular dish of puchka and it was so disgusting, I was grossed out after having four puchkas only. The man insisted on two more to complete one plate, which he said was for Rs. 20. But I told him I would pay the full amount but I was done eating puchkas. I was saddened since I had heard about puchkas from many people and it was a sheer disappointment.
Next, I bought an ice cream and walked towards the steps to enjoy it while looking at the sun.

The experience was absolutely different. People kept looking at me with confused faces as to what is an alone girl doing at a public gathering place like this. Some looked at me with awe and some with pride.

I could see young people dressed in ethnic clothes and when I had assumed it to be the general dress code here, I realized people were dressed like that due to the new year. It was Bengali New Year that day and hence I could see women dressed in beautiful traditional outfits with a bold eye makeup and an equally bold bindi. At that moment I wished my cousin and his roommates were with me; they would have enjoyed seeing fellow Bengali girls and who knows, woo one or two.

I felt a little out of the crowd because I was dressed in a button-down shirt and a pair of shoes.

I spent the rest of the evening on the steps looking at the sun descend down. As soon as I finished my ice cream and was convinced that the view ahead was worsening and realised the place did not have anything more to offer, I called an Uber for home.

Asked a kind girl to click a photo for me at Prinsep Ghat

However, while chitchatting with the driver, he suggested going to the Esplanade metro station instead of the Maidan because it was much nearer. I was delighted! I immediately thought of shopping at Esplanade market since that was a part of the original plan. The driver guided me really well.

I passed the horrifying dark lane to get to the road. And yet, I had not reached the market. I asked a lady about the New Market (which I referred to as the one below the Oberoi hotel) and she pointed it out to me. I just had to cross the busy road to get to the market.

Alas! I had reached. I did not find any western wear like t-shirts or shorts much but was stunned to see so many stalls selling kurtis. As I progressed further, I came across the popular cotton Bengali saree that my mom had asked me to bring from Kolkata. I asked the price and the seller replied with Rs. 200 for "these two piles" and Rs. 300 for "this pile", while moving his hands accordingly. I immediately called up my mom to ask if I should buy a saree for her and she was happy. I bought a light pink saree for Rs. 300. I had even liked the red and blue sarees, but my mom already has a red Bengali saree (my dad had bought for her) and I was not sure if she would adore the blue one as the print on it was checkered and I was slightly doubtful.

I continued my shopping spree and after reaching home realised I had purchased seven kurtis, one cotton saree, and one t-shirt (which was for Rs. 100 only).

The experience of shopping alone in a new city and in a market full of chaotic men, that too at night, was exhilarating. If you ask me what kept me going, I would undoubtedly have to say this: confidence. Being––or at least pretending to be––a tough girl helped me in the long run. I would walk with valour, with my shoulders backwards, chest pushed out in the front, almost like a bhai of that area. The more a person or a situation creeped me out, the more I walked with this stance. I knew one thing, if I showed them I was scared, they would use it as an opportunity to scare me further. Ain't nobody is doing anything with me. Ain't nobody is touching me inappropriately. I am Rutuja Bhagwat; I'll screw them if need be.

Watch the vlog:

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