Considered by many as India’s cultural capital, Kolkata is one of the country’s four major metropolitan cities. (It also goes by its former name, Calcutta.) As the capital of West Bengal, Kolkata is known for its rich culture, exciting festivals, mystical attractions, friendly townspeople, and a growing IT industry. Locals are known to be connoisseurs of Indian art and sports, and foreign travelers are said to never forget the beauty of the city after they visit. Below are important tips when getting around Calcutta.
As you visit the city for the first time, you will definitely be surprised to see the overabundance of yellow ambassador taxis on the streets, each fighting the usually crowded city traffic to get a fair share of passengers. These are metered taxis that could pick up or drop off passengers anywhere. They are easily available. You will also see a red taxi that is called “green taxi” for some reason (supposed reasons vary on this).
Taxis are metered but don’t be surprised if the drivers will ask for a few more Rupees on top. Fare is actually twice the meter reading plus Rs2.00, which means a meter reading of Rs20.00 is actually Rs42.00. There is a bigger surcharge when traveling outside the city or late at night. The most popular taxi companies are Orix and Megacabs.
Another way of getting around Kolkata on land is by Metro Railway, called simply by locals as “Metro”. This is India’s first underground rail and also the country’s cleanest and most reliable, although still very crowded as Indian railways are known to be around the world.
Also unique on Calcutta streets is the tram, which is the only tram system in all of India. It can take you to several spots in the city, although it is very slow, yet is still the most eco-friendly way of getting around an Indian city. The Calcutta Tramway is one of the oldest functioning electric trams in Asia.
Meanwhile, the cheapest and most popular way of getting around Calcutta on land is by the local bus. Just like taxis, buses are easy to hail since they will stop anywhere and anytime, whenever someone signals them for a ride. The routes are written in Bengali and English to make it easy for both locals and international tourists. Bus rides are not very comfortable, except for the air-conditioned deluxe buses that are operated by the Calcutta State Transport Corporation, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) and West Bengal Surface Transport Corporation (WBSTC).
Finally, the cheapest and most cultural way of getting around Calcutta is by taking a man-pulled rickshaw. It is quite a surprise that there is still a modern metropolis somewhere in the world where people get a ride on human-drawn carts. This is still a major form of transport, despite the ban that was imposed in November 2006. It is still the best way to fight off Kolkata traffic, which can get very thick. The ban on man-pulled rickshaws was apparently lifted as the 35,000-strong union of human-rickshaw pullers fought for their rights to continue working.