Our excursion to the Hare Krishna center never materialized. Instead, we spent our weekend making our way around Kolkata.

Getting around the city isn’t easy, though. Most major roads are completely gridlocked, even off peak hours. This – combined with the fact that Indian traffic is much like a game of Frogger mixed with playing chicken with a Tata truck – makes getting around an adventure. Every person forces their way. To pass you go into oncoming traffic and swerve back at the last second. Somehow, though, there aren’t too many accidents.

Here’s a guide to Kolkata traffic. Each conveyance has its own perils:

Private Car: This by far the most expensive and posh way to get around. They’re usually fixed rate so you don’t have to worry about haggling with the driver, and the ride is relatively comfortable. You still have to deal with the gridlock, though, and you still will be a tourist completely insulated from the local culture.

Cab: Expensive but often the best point-to-point transit method. Warning: your cab driver probably has no idea where you’re going either, and will probably pull over to ask for directions several times. You won’t be able to tell if he actually doesn’t know, or if he’s just strategically trying to run up the meter. Also, your cab driver may pull over to pee on the side of the road (see previous entry) or stop to buy chewing tobacco. This is par for the course. Also, don’t be too shocked if you play bumper cars a little bit with other cabs – minor accidents are no biggie. Once, our cab driver actually pulled over to change a tire; we helped much to the amusement of all passers by.

Auto(rickshaw): Autos are cheap, fast and usually run on standard routes. The bad thing is you can’t take them point-to-point, but they can be useful for getting to nearby places. These three-wheel contraptions wouldn’t fit more than a few people in the states, but the standard number seems to be six or seven here.  In the rural areas, that number can be bumped up significantly to accomadate . On a visit to a village last week I was in an auto with 9 other people: five in back, four in front with the driver sitting on the middle two. I had one cheek hanging outside the vehicle and watched as the ever-present Tata trucks passed on the right with less than a foot to spare.

Bus: Buses are cheap and they go everywhere. It might just take you a long time to get there.

Metro: Efficient, cheap and cool. Definitely the best way to get around. It’s too bad there’s only one line.

Bicycle rickshaw: cheap and surprisingly fast, but you are being pulled by another human being.

Everywhere you go, no matter by what method, you will attract attention. Staring isn’t considered impolite here, and people will often turn completely around – no kidding, 360 – to gawk. 

I have a friend who is blonde and has had more than her fill of unwanted male attention. Regularly, guys will stop in their tracks six or seven feet away, stand there and stare away, often while biting their lip. I know that sort of thing isn’t unique to India, but it’s defintiely frustrating for all the girls in our group.  

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