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India: Calcutta

A dirty wall in Calcutta
My first view of the backstreets of Calcutta, where even the idioms are smothered in grime

Calcutta has an image problem. Ask most people what springs to mind when you mention the capital of West Bengal, and the images are of black holes, excessive pollution, slums, Mother Theresa and human tragedy. The guidebooks recommend that if this is your first visit to India, you shouldn't make Calcutta your point of arrival. I can see why, but in my case it was exactly what I needed to blow the cobwebs of complacency away; it has to be the best introduction to a country I've ever experienced. I instantly found myself getting a buzz from travelling again...

Pilgrims bathing in the River Hooghly near Howrah Bridge
Devout pilgrims bathing in the River Hooghly near Howrah Bridge, 'devout' being the operative word
A man selling wares in Calcutta
Calcutta salesman

Images of Calcutta

How can you describe a mad place like Calcutta? I'll simply pick out some of the crazier things I saw as I wandered around the streets, getting splattered in mud, cow dung and exhaust fumes: