Kolkata was in my mind since the time I reached Odisha (then Orissa). Studying for post graduation was a serious affair then; at least I had to show that it was something so severe. I held my nerve from all my travel desires and concentrated solely on the studies… Almost an year passed with assignments, classes, presentations, and group discussions. Finally the season of festivals arrived – Durga Pooja was a week away and we friends decided to explore Kolkata. Though we tried our best on the reservation counters and even at the private booking places, our luck was dull to have at least a reserved seat on any of the trains running to Howrah Station (Kolkata) via Bhubaneswar – I was preparing myself for my first journey to Kolkata.
Bhubaneswar railway station was lit with the illumination work done for the celebrations ahead. We were anxious yet perplexed. Purushotom Express was entering to the first platform from the darkest corner of that overly crowded railway facility. I was stuck in the middle of a gushing population, and even after ten minutes of pushing and pulling I could not even keep a feet on to that bursting train. The train whistled to signal its departure and a sudden thrust saw me standing in front of the toilet with my nose poked up in the air and cheeks pressed between the shoulders of two stout women. The women were beautiful but I was not in a condition to appreciate their charm.
Several kilometers of push and pull, sway and swing; I could keep my legs stable on the floor. When the train finally let me breathe ease and find a place to spread some newspaper on the floor for resting my back, a friend in our team informed, “the train will not go to Kolkata”.
“What?” I was taken aback.
“Yeah, it is a train to Delhi; we have to get down at Kharagpur,” he said.
While getting down to the third longest railway platforms in the world, I was not aware about its statistics. A coolie who was waiting on the platform picked our backpacks and hastened his way through the darkness. We called for his attention, but he didn’t bother to listen our screams. After several attempts, he stopped under a platform lamp and said something in the local language which we did not follow. A man who grasped the frustration on our face explained what the coolie wanted to convey – “there is a local train to Kolkata at 4:30 in the morning. If you go with him, he will help you to find seats for you in it.”
“What will he take for that?” A seat was badly in need for me to continue our punctured journey to Kolkata.
I was astonished by the charge the coolie wanted from us – just 25 rupees per seat. What stunned me was the distance he had to carry our backpacks and the pain he needed to take for just 25 rupees from a person, especially when his demand is at its peak. With an amazing vigour he leaped the platforms and threw himself into a running bogie.
In another 30 minutes we were inside the compartment of a local train to continue our journey to Kolkata. The hardened wooden seats were so soothing for our paining backbones. A hundred penetrating eyes and the head-spinning pungent smell in the compartment could not hold our eyes from the slumber they slipped into. Yet the hands were tight on our backpacks for keeping them from another rash encounter.
The usual 4 hours journey of the local passenger train was completed in 6 hours that day, and we reached the outskirts of Howrah station at 10:30 in the morning. The sun was bright and the people inside were impatient to escape that detention. A few of them who were hanging at the entrance loosen up their grip and enjoyed a free walk while we sat on our seats and cursed the railway system.
Another 30 minutes, and our old runner stopped and puffed on a platform whose number I don’t remember now. I could only recall my first step to the walkway within the compartment, and I saw myself on the shoulders of someone; at least I saved my time and efforts to find the exit. I could have been a victim of a stamped, but thanks to those strong shoulders.
That was my first journey to Kolkata, the City of Joy. Of course, Kolkata is the City of Joy in India. You will not find another city in India such vibrant and thrilling. You will surely be interested to read about the top 10 things to do in Kolkata.
Author: E Jey
Just a passionate traveler who loves scribbling his expeditions @ www.jauntmonkey.com, www.outonroads.com, and www.blogthatall.com