To make a long story short, we survived Kolkata. But oh, the honking!
We arrived just before noon, took a yellow Ambassador taxi to a part of town where there were a bunch of guesthouses, ordered lunch at a local Bengali restaurant, ate with our right hands, found a grungy, overpriced, but acceptable hotel for one or two nights, took a taxi to find the tourist train ticket booking office, stood in the wrong line for half an hour, discovered we were in the wrong line 5 minutes before closing time, ran next door to the right line, miraculously got two tickets on an overnight sleeper train to Mughal Sarai (about 12km from Varanasi) the following day, took a taxi back to our hotel, taxi driver INCREDIBLY let us off on the wrong street saying it was the right street, walked around for a while to get our bearings, got our bearings, stopped at a restaurant for dinner, exited the restaurant only to discover it was pouring, ran from awning to awning all the way back to our hotel, damp but not drenched.
My wager, when I suggested to Stephanie that we actually spend a day or two in Kolkata to acclimate ourselves, was that it wouldn’t be that different from any of the other places we’ve been. The honking is just like Vietnam, it feels as crowded as Hanoi or Saigon, it’s as dusty and hot as Cambodia, and the reckless driving is similar to Bali or the Philippines. Of course there are elements that are uniquely Indian, like the odd cow wandering in the middle of the road or the horse pulled carts, but I think all our previous travel experiences, combined, prepared us well for what we experienced on that first day in Kolkata.
On the second day I wanted a kati roll, the street food specialty of the city. It is made by frying an egg on a roti bread, topping it with onions, hot sauce, and a filling of your choice—chicken curry being the most popular. So we walked down to aptly-named Hot Kati Roll on Park Street, and I got one.