Getting around Kolkata (Calcutta)
Distances within Kolkata are generally too big to be able to cope here without transport, although many of the major sights are central and within walking distance.
Buses are chaotic and can get terribly crowded. Expect to see passengers hanging out of open doorways. A better choice are the slow, trundling trams which circle the city and include stops at Park Circus, Sealdah Railway Station and Howrah.
The Metro underground system (tel: +91 33 2226 4817; www.mtp.indianrailways.gov.in) has thankfully taken something of the congestion from the streets. The one track runs the length of the city, from Dum Dum train station (north) to Tollygunge (south) with stops including Kalighat, Park Street, Esplanade and Maidan. It is well run although often crowded (mainly during morning and evening rush hours), with segregated seats for men and women. New tracks are in the pipeline.
There are still some hand-pulled rickshaws mainly in market areas and some around Sudder Street, although there is talk of eventually banning them altogether. Cycle-rickshaws operate in a few areas outside the city centre. Auto-rickshaws (motorised three-wheelers) operate short (often fixed) journeys in city areas (not in the centre) and are cheaper than taxis; agree the fare before you zoom away and seek advice from locals as to what you should be paying before you get in.
Taxis run 24 hours; Kolkata taxi drivers are among the easiest to deal with in India and will almost always put on the meter (if not, ask). The driver should produce a chart at the end of the trip to convert the showing on older meters to current charges - older meters are four times the amount; newer ones are twice. Simply flag a taxi on the street or ask for one at your hotel.
Driving in Kolkata is not recommended for visitors – if you need to get around by car, hire one with a driver or take a taxi. Traffic is chaotic, and if you don't know your way around, you have little chance of reaching your destination.
Hiring a car with driver can easily be arranged through hotels or travel agents; it is insane to attempt to drive yourself unless you've got solid experience here. As the reliability of car hire companies tends to change in Kolkata, it's best to seek up-to-the-minute advice from your hotel, the tourist office, or a reputable travel agency.
Kolkata really isn't suitable for cycling newcomers as the traffic is far too dangerous.