Avoid Sudder Street - it is really nothing more than a gathering place for retro hippies looking for drugs and you are likely to be entrapped - or at very least harassed by touts. Local people resent this level of tourist.
The reason I put Beggars under warnings or dangers is because of some specific experiences with a particular category of beggars. Generally they are harmless and you do not need to be worried about them, however, from time to time, there are some beggars begging on the streets in the name of 'some' god with a very small wooden box in hand and if you don't pay them they open the box to show the very little (about 5 inches long) snake in it. Well those snakes are also harmless and look very feeble, so nothing to worry at all. But I guess there might be people like me who are dead afraid at the look of a snake (even of 5 inches length).
this has happened with me a couple of times and I have screamed but now, on looking back, I feel that there was no need at all. It was such a small little creature. If this happens to you, just walk away.
I hate to say this for the city I love so much. Kolkata is full of pickpockets and travellers need to be cautious about their precious things, belongings and purses. Even as a citizen here myself, I have had the bad experience twice, and I hate to say again, both times, it was in a metro, the rarest thing one would hear here. So be cautious, on the roads, transports, stations, markets etc.
Traffic is absolutely ridiculous here. Makes Shanghai look almost organized. We're talking incessant honking and literally bumper to bumper traffic. If you're one of the lucky ones walking rather than inside a car, bring a cloth to cover your nose/mouth. I couldn't take the exhaust fumes after a few minutes and I could actually feel the burning down my throat.
When walking in the older areas of Kolkata- beware the dreaded potholes! I turned my ankle really badly in one interesting little lane. There is not one square foot of pavement without cracks and potholes. We even saw uncovered manholes. A torch at night helps.- there are no streetlights in many older areas.
When hiring a taxi in Kolkata- make ABSOLUTELY sure that the driver is going to take you to the correct destination. When asked if they know where to go- they ALL say "yes yes"without hesitation, and the trusting passenger then ends up on the other side of town. This happened a few times to us, and believe me, its VERY frustrating. The traffic is shambolic- the taxis are NOT air-conditioned, and its purgatory being stuck in one of Kolkatas many traffic jams.
I am not sure if these "misunderstandings" are intentional-( the taxis are metered, so the fare goes up), but I will give the benefit of doubt.
We eventually resorted to grabbing someone nearby who could understand English (they are there!) and then getting them to explain in Bengali to the taxi-driver where we needed to be taken to. It was much easier that way.
Kolkata is reasonably safe, and in general the people are more friendly and helpful than in many of India's other large cities. One noted problem is the drug dealers around Sudder Street. However, as the dealers obviously do not want to draw undue attention to their activity, they are generally not persistent and rarely a threat.
But still you just have to take your chances, you have to carry your cash, passport, and cards in a secure money belt, with only enough cash for a few hours at a time in your wallet or other acccessible place. Some travelers recommend carrying an expendable wallet with a few ten rupee bills in it in an obvious place such as your hip pocket as a decoy to Delhi's ubiquitous pickpockets.
As a general rule, expect anyone handling your cash in Delhi to attempt to shortchange you; you may be favorably surprised once or twice during your visit. Learn the currency, count out your payment and change carefully, and be insistent in any dispute.
As with the whole of India, only drink bottled water and use it when you're cleaning your teeth. I kept a bottle with a bit of water in it beside the sink so as to remind myself to use it. Also, avoid ice and salads as they will probably have been washed in dodgy water. Its all common sense really but if you stick to it, you limit the chances of getting ill. A litre of water only costs from between Rs10 and Rs15 so its cheap and available everywhere.
I was expecting Sudder Street to be full of beggars, rubbish and other unsavoury types but it wasn't that bad. I only encountered a couple of beggars - women carrying babies and a couple of cripples. There was a pile of rubbish at the bottom end of the street near the Indian Museum but this was cleared up during my stay plus someone also moved on some homeless people who had camped out near the museum. Make sure you have your wits about you.
Citywide strikes happen frequently in Kolkata. In fact, there was one on my second day which both caused me a problem and helped me at the same time. The strikes are generally called by the Communist Party of India which has dominated politics in the city since independence and they affect everything - closure of shops and businesses and trains, taxi's buses and trams not to run. Basically just about everything that should be running or open, doesn't. I was warned about the strike the day before it happened by a guy in a hotel in Sudder St as I was walking around to find the best one to stay in as I was staying near Howrah station and the hotel was beyond being poor. He said that I probably wouldn't be able to find anywhere available on strike day as people would be staying in them as there all the transportation was on strike. He was right. On the morning of the strike I left my hotel and walked around and it was devoid of cars, buses or taxi's. Nothing was moving apart from people. I decided that I had no choice but to stick it out a further day. I had to walk all the way from Howrah station to BBD Bagh (the city centre) by crossing over on the Howrah Bridge which was eerily quiet (see photos). I then walked down main streets that only had guys playing cricket on them and people washing themselves. It was a bizzare sight but it helped me to see the city centre whilst it was quiet and relatively peaceful.
whist shopping (within one of the typical souvenier shops, i hasten to add) & making a very long story short, one young salesman asks me if I smoke? I tell him yes, at which point he pulls out this big hunk of hashish - and asks me if I want some!! (this is following our having discussed that I was a Police Officer!!) He tells me that it is "really good stuff" becase of the fact that Kolkata is on the border of Bangladesh, and though he pays about 900Rps (just over US$20) for it, he can sell it to Westerners for as much as US$100!! (though he is not a 'dealer' - according to himself) I kindly declined, but was curious as to the consequences of being caught with it in one's possession. according too him, it entails a journey to the Police Station, where you call a family member or friend, who then bails you out (at a fee) which goes directly into the pocket of the arresting Officer. There is no record of the arrest and everyone walks away happy, assuming that you, the arrestee, don't get lumped-up in the process. I was informed that Police beatings are frequent here in India - and the Police do not, generally, have a very good name. Actually, that's an understatement... i got the distinct impression that they are loathed... & seen as terribly corrupt.
it goes without saying... use your noggin... stay away from obvious trouble... and you'll be fine!
They all leer. ALL of them & they are not subtle in their approach either. I won't say that you get used to it, but somewhere along the way, you start to not think too much about it. It would be one thing if they were somewhat inconspicuous or 'covert' in their attempts to sneak in a quick glance, but alas! they make absolutely no bones about it... & stare directly at your breasts (or wherever) with no qualms whatsoever. it's not as if I'm venturing out in a bikini or form-fitting t-shirt. But what are you going to do? I just give them "that look" (!) though it doesn't seem to phase them.
decided to visit the local water-park, 'Aquatica' & should have known prior to going in, what to expect. But I guess that being in-the-know doesn't prepare you for the reaction that wearing a bikini brings. We were told there would be Indian women in swimming costumes/bathing suits. A big, fat lie. These women/girls go swimming in FULL salwar kameezes!! (long tunic-style top and long pants) Can you imagine?! No tan for you today! & the men are all jutting around in rented swim-shorts (I mean, renting your swimshorts?? after the guy who didn't take full advantage of the little plastic jug, just stepped out of them!) These shorts were white in colour & really rather transparent when wet... needless to say, left very little to the imagination. Now, I probably don't need to tell you that there were no Raoul Bova look-a-likes milling around this water park! But we girls were determined to get a tan & having paid our 200Rps entry fee (US$5) we busted out the bikinis! it was much the same as if we were fully dressed (if one can believe that) There was one idiot with camera, trying to take photographs but I put him straight. You also had a big group of teenage boys, who insisted on occupying EVERY sun-lounger beside us (sometimes with 2/3 per chair) but it wasn't all that bad. we were successful in getting that tan! It was so nice to feel that sun on your skin! On the parts that are forever covered up...
Dont you ever drink water from the public water filter. and I have been puke and left my empty stomuch of all the good meal I had last night before depart. wierd, as I have a very good meal in a very good restaurent. I cant help it.
This picture was taking while me and cecile from Belgium do the hiking to Kudlee Beach. Amazing, there was an Old Temple standing on the hill side.
Although the people of Calcutta are generally very friendly and helpful, it is still a very poor city. As such, you may be constantly bothered by beggars and tricksters - personally I found it really annoying, but it is not that different from any other part of India.
Kolkata is reasonably safe according to the hotel reception. And it is not dangerous to walk at nights, even though there are many people sleeping in the streets.