Lack of proper information is one negative point that one has to live with while visiting West Bengal. The place is very beautiful and green and full of helpful and nice people, but the tourist infrastructure is certainly lacking. The irony is that most of the time facilities are available but are not publicised well.
Reaching the holiday club – The various websites proclaimed that it is 60km from Kolkata on an air-conditioned bus service (every 2 hours), and ordinary bus services (quite frequently) are available. When we called up the resort, the manager advised us against using the regular bus service, because it may get too crowded. The charges for the ordinary taxi were quoted at R7 per kilometer (for 120 kilometers), which was quite reasonable. He did not know the times of the air-conditioned bus or even the place where the bus starts. He, of course, said that it is in the heart of the city. Well, this expression did not have any meaning when I was in Mumbai. Later, I was to hear this expression again and again. We were then directed to the city office. A phone call there and we knew that the heart of the city is Dharamtala, or Esplanade, but still, the times of the A/C bus was a mystery. After a second phone call, we came to know that there is a bus at around 3pm and the fare is around 40 rupees. This information was sufficient for us. In Mumbai, the taxis are available for R4.50 per kilometer, so we decided that we would go to Esplanade from the Howrah station. Look for the bus. If we get the bus, then it is okay, but otherwise, we would try to negotiate charges with tourist taxi operator. If the charges are around R 500 to 600, then we would go for it. If they were charging more than that, then we thought we would call up the city office of the holiday club and get a cab from there and shell out R900 at R7 per kilometer.
Our inquiries in the train depressed me further. Either the people had not heard of Raichak or, if they had heard, they had gone with friends or as a part of their company trip. They were not aware of the air-conditioned bus service at all. Most of the residents of Kolkata in the train advised against taking the taxi directly – "go to the prepaid booth, or else you will be cheated." We knew that the prepaid service in India is valid only within city limits. Raichak is in the 24 Parganas south district, outside the Kolkata city limits and in another district. I decided to go by my earlier plan and go to Esplanade from Howrah now by prepaid taxi and then try my luck there. I must confess that since I was with my wife and child, I was almost ready to call the holiday club office from the station itself.
The Howrah station has two buildings called the old building and new building. The Gitanjali express train from Mumbai goes to the new building. The prepaid booth had a very big crowd. I was almost 60th in the queue. There was an equally big queue for taking the taxi once you get the coupon. This was when I thought of becoming adventurous – a spirit we carried about during the entire trip. Though I was told that all yellow taxi drives are cheats, I went up to one of them. This driver, I found, had not heard of the place. I almost decided that he was cheating me by showing ignorance, but as soon as I told him that the place is around 16 kilometers prior to Diamond Harbour, he became interested. I told him to consult someone and also informed him that the distance up to the resort would be, at the most, 65 km from the station and that I wished to pay around 500 rupees. He went hither and thither, and I must say he was acting cautious and was almost taking me for a cheat. I went to get my family and he went to gather information. When we met after 5 minutes, he said that he would take 600 rupees. I immediately said 550, and the deal was settled. He said that I should note the meter reading as well as kilometer reading, and that if the distance was more than 65 kilometers, I would have to pay extra. The taxi was not well maintained, but the driver ensured that it would take me safely.
We went across the river from the new bridge, where there is a toll of R10. As soon as we crossed the bridge, we got the Diamond Harbour road. This driver was a bit wary of me and wanted to confirm. I asked him to stop the taxi so that I could take out the directions mentioned in the RCI confirmation voucher. There he saw one taxi driver who looked to be his friend. I think he went to him for guidance. He came back confident and told me that the other taxi fellow said that if he is afraid, then he can give the passengers (us) to him. On the way, when the taxi slowed down, I casually asked the distance, and this fellow said something that was making the total distance more than 65km. But by now, I was fully confident and told him that I would pay handsomely for the extra distance. We became friends thereafter for the entire journey. The distance was 58 kilometers, and I paid him R600.
Thereafter, I took the instructions of the native people with a pinch of salt a habit for the entire period - and it paid. I learnt that the people of West Bengal talk about everything that is good modestly and everything that is slightly bad vehemently. They probably want you to take back only the happy memories. I must advise to, in West Bengal, make a lot of inquiries and have a spirit of adventure. The directions may seem to be quite cumbersome and difficult, involving lots of changes, but the end result will generally be satisfactory.