Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Kolkata, the New New Hip Place for Tourists
A couple of months ago, I noticed that there were more foreign tourists in Kolkata, in comparison to when we first arrived. Foreign tourists are easy to spot in Kolkata since the city is not as popular as New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai, Bangalore, etc.; and most have (myself included) pasty skin and look of bewilderment.
But the ones in Kolkata tend to stick out even more, since for some reason the tourists that are attracted to Kolkata are the crunchy-crunchy types or decide to discover their inner crunchy-crunchy when here.
I have to briefly explain the crunchy-crunchy, crunchy-creamy, creamy-crunchy, creamy-creamy theory for describing a person's congruity or discongruity between how someone appears and how they behave and think. Using peanut butter texture as the analogy, being crunchy is typically sticking out of the crowd, having some eccentric qualities. Creamy is blending in, being normal appearance or behavior. From my experience with the foreign service, many are the creamy-crunchy type able to blend in with the many different social groups in appearance, but need to be crunchy on the inside to survive this lifestyle.
But back to the tourists. A majority come to Kolkata for ashrams, yoga, Mother Teresa charities, and to stay at the ISKCON temple better known as the international headquarters of the Hare Krishnas. But I have been seeing more of what appear to be regular tourists walking around in tour groups and discovering their inner crunchiness.
A good example of this was when we ran into a group of about eight older, Italian tourists at the flower market, all decked out in recently purchased clothes. Most had on patchwork, baggy salwar pants with crazy combinations of mismatched shirts, hats, bags and scarves. No Kolkatan would dress like this and you know they would not be allowed on the streets of Italy in these combinations, but when a tourist in Kolkata you are free to be a crunchy-crunchy!
But back to Kolkata as a travel destination. So, it is easy to gauge if there are more tourists out and about the city. There have also been more articles on Kolkata written in the U.S. press including:
India rickshaw pullers see 'pretty bleak future,' Los Angeles Times
India lags behind in sanitation facilities, Los Angeles Times
Mmm, Kolkata: Eats on the streets and off the beaten path, Washington Post
A Walk in Calcutta, New York Times
Oh! Kolkata!, the Atlantic
To add more fuel to the fire, travel-writer extraordinaire, Paul Theroux, just released his latest novel, A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta. The novel is based in Kolkata and features a previous Public Affairs Officer as a fictional character. A fun read to get a glimpse of Kolkata and see how Theroux uses familiar landmarks in Kolkata for the story.
So Kolkata may be the secret, up and coming tourist hot spot. It definitely is like no other city in the world.
Image from latimes.com