A Stark Contrast
I left the shiny new airport in Bangkok and arrived in Calcutta at the dumpiest airport I've ever seen in a major city. The small international terminal was state of the art . . . for about 1961. No jetway, so we had to deplane out on the tarmac and walk in. Clearing immigration took about two minutes, so the law of averages meant, of course, that I had to wait at least half an hour to get my checked baggage off the barely-functioning carousel. Then it turned out there was no ATM in the international terminal and a hellacious line to change money at the one place still open for business at that hour on a Satuday night. So I hoofed it over to the domestic terminal and found an ATM and booked a taxi to my hotel.
On my way out of the the terminal I was besieged by men wanting to carry my bags and children begging for a handout. The taxi cab itself must have been fifty years old--no joke. And driving into the city I began to wonder if I should head back to the airport and leave this place. All I can say is that Calcutta at night looked like a post-apocalyptic nightmare: what a city might look like in a Mad Max movie. Traffic was chaos; apparently you can do whatever you want on the roads in India so long as you honk your horn repeatedly. Thus I was serenaded by a cacophony of horns throughout the 25-minute trip. The infrastructure of the city appeared to be falling apart. What was once the seat of the British raj seemed to be in shambles. Linguistic difficulties with the driver--who allegedly was speaking English--meant it took us a while to get to the destination, even though I had written down the address for him. My hotel turned out to be an oasis of peace in the center of a strangely disconcerting city.