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03 December 2009

Maiden Voyage into Kolkata – Home of Mother Theresa, Adventure & Great Food

By Kathleen

On Nov 19, I took our inaugural flight to Kolkata accompanied by some of my Commercial team members and media. Setting foot to Kolkata and India soil for first time, frankly i didn’t know what to expect. To me, India has always been a mystical place with old world charm for the adventurous travellers and a fascination to me.

Arriving at the airport, the first thing that hit me was the rawness of the place. Its as if time had not quite passed. We were ushered through a section with some chaos for first time Kolkata newbies to fill the health forms. I soon discovered chaos is part of experiencing Kolkata, India. After making through immigration and customs with a group of AirAsia colleagues, media friends from Malaysia, I was greeted by curious Indian faces, kids, men, and women wrapped in array of coloured saris. Bright yellow Austin Ambassador taxis were quite a sight to behold lining in queues waiting for passengers. There are 50,000 of them plying the streets of Kolkata today! . And to my delight, a familiar splash of AirAsia red signage greeted me amidst the row of bland airport walls. Our brand new spanking AirAsia ticketing office stood boldly right smack in front of Kolkata airport and brought a pride that we have finally made arrived in India!

As we all made our way to our bus, little children were everywhere and they were quick to size the new unsuspected victims begging for some earnings. As I was struggling to dig for my wallet seeing this cute wide innocent eyed boy with an angelic smile, my colleague warned me against doing so seeing many kids clambering towards us as we made our way to board our bus.

Kolkata was my first entry to India. I was so captivated by the sights and sounds of Kolkata streets, lanes and building which exuded an old world charm its almost awe inspiring for a first time traveller like me. Its no wonder Kolkata has been dubbed as City of Joy and also home to Mother Theresa. For those who seek adventure and has appetite for travel, Kolkata is a must destination, just for experience.

We were very privileged to stay at the Taj Bengal, hailed as the best and finest hotel in Kolkata. I was extremely impressed with the friendly and stirling service by the hotel. Security was tight and well organised. The hotel contained an elegant charm wrapped with majestic splendour.

The Counsul of Malaysia in Kolkata was very gracious and hosted a welcome dinner for our working gang and media friends. Weather was cool and nice in the evening.

As it was my very first press conference I was hosting in India, I really didn’t know what to expect but I was really looking forward with a tinge of excitement. The turnout was massive and I could feel people were very excited with our AirAsia presence. According to our India PR agency, our media event had a record turnout of over 80 press/TV and a lot of guests from travel industry from Kolkata.

I felt a little strange standing on stage starring at a sea of Indian faces all starring back at me. I could feel some kind of buzz and never saw so many TV crew (about 30) all waiting to interview me and harassing the MC to cut short her babble. A lot of questions were posed by major Indian press all excited AirAsia’s finally connect Kolkata to Kuala Lumpur with our amazing low fares.

Rapidfire questions after questions were shot on our low cost model and future plans to strengthening our Indian network. I could feel the community was very grateful we chose to operate flight to Kolkata, 4th busiest metropolis city in India. My stomach was rumbling for food and before I could sit down to savour the Indian delights, the Malaysian media all gathered around me for more interviews..

At around 2pm, the last trace of media and my PR gang all headed for airport, I finally could sat down with some peace to slowly enjoy the spread of sinful Indian cuisine which was savoury and the thought of ghee and curry adding calories gave way to my gluttony and greed!

With less than half a day to explore Kolkata, I eagerly geared myself with my little digital camera and made my way to the famous Kali temple. The traffic reminded me of Hanoi. For some reasons, drivers in Kolkata loves to toot their horns. I lost count of the hundred of hoots our driver made and zipped through the chaotic journey. Streets with a lot of greenery, old shops and lots of people and bright yellow Ambassador taxis lined up the streets of Kolkata. We arrived a little street before the temple and I couldn’t wait to hop off the car. A maroon brand new car was having a blessing ceremony. I thought its a great idea and wonder why we don’t practise this in our part of the world. People were very curious with my Chinese face and I was busy and excitedly snapping the streets and faces of shops, people as we walked towards Kali temple. Interestingly, the lane was lined with small shops and a lot of men were taking their afternoon siesta, and idle men were hoisted together oblivious to the world around them.

We met a young 4th generation Brahmin priest, who greeted us at entrance of temple and warned cameras were prohibited to my dismay. We had to remove our shoes and it was a strange experience to walk barefooted within the temper amidst the dirty muddy grounds after some rain. Braving the dirt, I willed myself to ignore my city habits if I want to explore walking the grounds of sacred temple. There were a lot of worshippers, young and old in the temple.

After visiting the famous Kali temple, we made through the taffic to Victoria Memorial Hall. Bright silvery chariots were everywhere to entice tourists for the experience. I recommend a visit to capture the Victoria Memorial Hall, a beautiful Colonial architectural heritage, probably one of best legacy left behind by the British. Incidentally, i discovered Kolkata has the most colonial heritage buildings since it was the first resettlement area by the British. And English is a widely spoken language in India.

For those who have a penchant for shopping, the New Market is a great place to shop for cheap sarees, interesting knick knacks for the ardent shoppers. One can find a lot of kids peddling their wares and bargain, bargain to put your negotiating skills to test.

For first timers to India, my advice on food: drink from mineral bottled water, don’t consume ice nor eat from roadside stalls unless you have a strong stomach and avoid drinking from the tap! Best to pack some charcoal pills in case you are not used to India food or spice.

As I have only half a day to capture the sights of Kolkata which incidentally is home to one of world’s greatest saints, Mother Theresa. If I have time, I will definitely plan a holiday trip to Kolkata now that AirAsia operates daily flights to Kolkata, in addition to daily flights to Kochin, Trivandram and 2daily fights to Trichy. If you do plan to have a holiday, I will highly a trip to any of the 4 Indian cities. Experience Incredible India!