Welcome to Kolkata

Welcome to the City of Joy! Kolkata is a wonderful city and the gateway to northeast India—one of the last great frontiers of the Foreign Service.  In joining the consulate you follow a long line of dedicated public servants, from the first U.S. consul, Benjamin Joy, appointed by President George Washington in 1792. You will find this an exceptional post with real opportunities to support our bilateral engagement, think creatively and support innovative programs, and advance U.S. interests in the region. And you will have fun, guaranteed. The City of Joy, and the Consulate, welcome you wholeheartedly.

                                                                                                   

Housing

Consul General’s Residence

The Consul General’s house has ample entertaining space, four bedrooms and a nice garden and is on the east side of the compound.

On-Compound Housing

There is a four-story apartment building within the consulate compound.  It has residential apartments and the American Club.  One of those apartments has 3 bedrooms and 3 baths and the other four apartments have 2 bedrooms and 2 baths.

  • The on-compound apartments are spacious, comfortable and have ample storage space.  However there is no elevator in this building.
  • Residents can walk to work
  • Close to Park Street (a hub of nightlife), popular shops, gyms and restaurants.

Off-Compound Housing

The consulate has leased apartments off-compound

  • These apartments generally have 3 to 4 bedrooms with equal numbers of baths.
  • Most apartments have marble or stone floors.
  • All of the residences are in the quieter parts of Kolkata. All apartments have 24-hour complex-provided security, and carport style parking.
  • The commute to the consulate takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes.  However, during rush hour commute is approximately 30 minutes. Occasionally longer commutes may occur, depending on the time of day or during the monsoons.
  • Most of the aparments are in the Ballygunge neighborhood, a popular neighborhood for expatriates. Ballygunge’s proximity to Tollygunge Royal Calcutta Golf Club, South City Mall and the Lakes is also a drawing point.

Apartment Furnishings

Furnishings in all of the consulate apartments include a refrigerator, microwave, vacum cleaner, distiller, washer and dryer, a few rugs, lamps, air-filters, dehumidifiers and furniture for living room, dining room, and bedrooms.
All quarters are air-conditioned and have phone lines. In addition, flats located at the compound have Consulate General telephone extensions and some 110 outlets. All leased apartments have 220V power outlets with transformers supplied as part of the furniture pool.

Cable Television and Internet Service

Residents generally subscribe to cable. The largest supplier is TATA Sky. They offer hundreds of channels including many in English (CNN, BBC, ESPN, etc.). There are many different as you go rechargeable service packages. Those packages include a minimal pay and can be recharged online. Usually people subscribe to an annual package costing approximately 100 USD a year. The system is PAL, so a US TV will not work. Most residents typically buy a multi-system TV or have two TVs. A range of TVs are widely available in Kolkata, including multi-system TVs.

The Consulate Systems Department will help all residents get an initial internet connection in their apartments. Currently all connections are with Airtel Broadband however as new service providers are growing in coverage, Post is looking at other options. The most frequently used programs cost between Rs 2000 to Rs 2500 per month. The service can be inconsistent but it is generally available. Speed is dependent on the plan that is purchased. The Consulate Systems Department will get in touch with you with available plans before your arrival at post. You can inform them about your preference and they will have the internet connection ready and working for you with the chosen plan before you you arrive at post. Those who download lots of big files or stream digital content like Apple TV may want to consider requesting an unlimited plan.

 

Traffic and Public Transportation

Taxis are readily available throughout the city and very reasonable. Public buses are also widely available but not recommended for safety and security reasons. The subway line that goes north to south through town is not convenient to the off-compound residences, but is to the on-compound residences.
Kolkata is a large city with exhaustive traffic especially during rush hours. Travel time can decrease sharply in the early morning (before 7:30AM) and at night (after 8:00PM). The extensive one-way system that changes direction in the middle of the day can make driving a challenge. Most families will find that having at least one vehicle is necessary to get around. Many will want to hire a driver rather than try to drive themselves in the erratic traffic.

Things to think about:

  • Most people at post hire drivers (it is recommended) so your car needs to be able to seat you and a driver comfortably.
  • Left-hand drive cars are now prohibited from being shipped to Kolkata/India.
  • Traffic here is very chaotic. No one acknowledges lane divisions and vehicles will squeeze and maneuver into any space they find available. Your car will get scratches, bangs, and dents.
  • During monsoon season the roads will flood so you might want to avoid low slung cars and consider an SUV type vehicle with high clearance.

Personally Owned Vehicle (POV)

If you ship your car, check on its progress by contacting the shipping department from time to time. Some decide to purchase new or buy cars from those leaving post. Please check with the CLO to see what type of vehicles are available for sale from departing officers, and talk to other officers about their experiences buying a car. Check out a guide to cars in India at http://www.iloveindia.com/cars.

What do you do for transportation while waiting for a car?
Officers can use Consulate transportation for a nominal fee to get to and from work for the first 30 days. For personal use, car hires are available on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis. Check with CLO for details.

Grocery

Come Prepared!  Retail in general is going through its boom these days and more variety of goods are available now compared to a year ago. Shopping in Kolkata is an adventure, and often great fun. But when you really NEED something (like pink Jell-O because that is the only thing your toddler wants for her birthday party) then India can be really frustrating – you are half way around the world and oh so far from the comforts of home. The best thing to do is to plan ahead. Sources of food include an American Costco-Style store called Metro, local markets, supermarkets like Spencer’s (http://www.spencersretail.com/), ACSA Co-op in New Delhi, and consumables shipments.
In-season fruits and vegetables are plentiful. Bananas, oranges and limes are always available. In winter, cauliflower, peas, beets, broccoli, red cabbage and squash are specialties. The Medical Unit recommends that all fruits and vegetables be washed and treated with a disinfectant solution.
Excellent and inexpensive beef, chicken and mutton are plentiful in the market. Pork may also be found but it is not as popular since it is not a part of the Hindu and Muslim diets. Fresh fish is reasonably priced in season. Shrimp, crabs and crayfish are available seasonally at slightly higher prices than the US. Fresh and packaged milk is widely available locally.

American Community Support Association (ACSA) Co-op in New Delhi
The commissary at the Embassy, New Delhi is a good place to order items you may not find in Kolkata. You can order limited varieties of beer, wine and liquor at pretty good prices from the commissary. It is strongly recommend that you look at the latest Commissary list that the CLO can send to you – this will give you an idea of what is available from the consumable items at the Commissary.

Orders are made each month from the ACSA Co-op for liquor, dry goods and frozen food. Orders to New Delhi take about 2-3 weeks. Nonperishable orders are sent by truck, and perishable orders are sent by air, adding the respective transportation charges to the cost. Those stopping in New Delhi on their way to Kolkata should join the Co-op and place an order at that time or you can sign-up through the management office specialist in Kolkata.

Consumables Shipment
Shipment of Consumables must:

  • Not arrive before employee arrives at post. Govt. of India does not allow clearance of cargo before employee’s arrival at post.
  • Import of beef, poultry and beef/poultry products are prohibited in India.
  • Individual importation of Consumables including liquor, wine, beer, cigarettes, food stuff / provisions are not permitted.
  • The Government of India imposes a special quota for Mission India. All consumable shipment including personal supplemental consumables will be accounted for against the all India consumables quota for the U.S. mission.
  • GSO/Shipping, New Delhi will process all Consulate consumable shipments with Delhi’s MEA. GSO/Shipping, Delhi requires a copy of the airway bill/Bill of Landing along with the inventory that includes content, quantity and value so that the necessary exemption from MEA Delhi can be obtained and sent back to post Kolkata for further clearance of the shipment.

For your information, a wide variety of these duty free supplies are available to be ordered and shipped to post from the Commissary at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. More Information can be obtained from Consumables for Kolkata on Kolkata’s Intranet share point.

Clothes

Western Wear
In general, the quality of the ready-made wear is inferior to what is available in the States. If you are taller or heavier than the typical Indian you will have a hard time finding ready-made wear. Bring a lot of business/business casual clothes from home. Remember to include clothes that will help you keep cool in the worst of the summer humidity. However, the clothes shouldn’t be too revealing as Kolkata is conservative. Men can get away with wearing shorts but women usually opt not to unless they are at a resort. A few business formal outfits are important for the occasional public or official function. You might want to bring at least one formal gown/suit for nice occasions. Kolkata has many country and sports clubs. Those interested in tennis, swimming, golf and horse-riding can bring appropriate attire, but there are many sports clothing stores in the city often at cheaper prices that the U.S.
The quality of the water is not at U.S. standards therefore clothes that are washed frequently may turn yellowish and get stained. Bring colorful clothing versus a lot of whites. The local drycleaners are adequate, but the quality of service is irregular and process used may cause damage.

Mostly light-weight summer clothing, is widely available in Kolkata for men, women and children. If larger sizes are required, it may be harder to find ready-made clothes, although more options are appearing in the stores. Having clothes made by a tailor is another popular alternative.

During the cooler months, or in over air conditioned spaces a sweater or lightweight jackets may be appropriate. Do remember to bring a winter jacket and cold weather clothes. You will be in lovely tropical India, but it can happen that life might call you unexpectedly back to winter weather. Northern India is also quite
cold during the winter. Travel to the hill stations in West Bengal call for a coat, raincoat, jacket and/or sweater, depending on the time of year. Snowfall can occur in these areas.

Men
During the warmest part of the year (March-June), light and cool clothing is highly recommended. Formal occasions may require a lightweight suit and tie. Wash-and-wear or other lightweight suits in cotton or blends are appropriate. Medium-weight suits are good for the cool season (November-February).

Business and casual clothing is readily available and cheaper than the U.S. Formal wear can be made from many tailors in Kolkata.

Women
Washable and easy-care cotton clothing are mostly worn for most daytime occasions during the warm months of the year. During the cool months cottons, lightweight woolens, synthetic fabrics and silks can also be worn. Bring casual, business and social wear with at least one formal outfit. Local tailors can make clothing from patterns or pictures with the local textiles that include cottons, cotton-blends, and silks. Pattern books are hard to find locally. Zippers, buttons, and thread are of lower quality.

Children
Bring underwear, swimsuits, and socks as these are not as widely available. Bring graduated sizes, tailor locally, or place catalog orders. Local baby supplies are expensive and may not be up to U.S. standards. There are several new stores that offer a wide variety of clothing, furnishings and shoes. Bring cotton or disposable diapers. Training pants are hard to find. Since most children are potty trained by 18 months in India, disposable diapers in larger sizes may be hard to find.

Indian Wear
India and Kolkata produces a wide range of ethic textiles and ready-to-wear garments that are exported around the world. Saris, brocades, cottons and Kashmir wool shawls are widely available. The best part of being in Kolkata is the range of Indian clothing: saris, salwar kameez, pashmina shawls, tie-dyed, block-printed, beaded, sequined, or mirrored tunic tops and skirts! If you are adventurous, there are a wide range of saris and salwar kameezes to either wear or use as fabric for clothes and furnishings.

Footwear

Shoes are widely available but usually not at U.S. quality, especially dress shoes for women and men. The selection of children’s shoes is improving but may not appeal to those who purchase high quality shoes in the U.S.  Bring lightweight, sturdy summer footwear. Flat, low-heeled shoes are necessary for the rough urban terrain. Relatively inexpensive sandals are available in smaller sizes, others can be made to order, but quality is inconsistent.  If you like sandals you’re in luck; beaded and sequined sandals can be purchased very cheaply. If you want good quality closed toed business/dress shoes, you should consider bringing them. If you have large feet (for women size 9 and above) you will have a hard time finding shoes in India. Name brand athletic shoes tend to be a little pricier here than in the States.

Other Shopping…

Curtains and Bedding
You can easily have curtains made in Kolkata. Fabric selections are wonderful and the cost is about a quarter of what the same curtains would be in the States. Make sure you shop around and get references–some people have had beautiful fabric ruined by inexperienced tailors.

You will find some incredibly beautiful handmade/hand woven quilts, duvets, pillows etc. Quality varies so you really need to check the construction and some batik and block print fabrics will bleed, or fade when washed.

Furniture
There are a few fabulous furniture stores in Kolkata that have exquisite, high quality, antique/faux-antique style furniture. More of the generic furniture stores here have plywood furniture that really isn’t constructed to last. There are many restoration shops that refinish and reupholster. They will also take bits and pieces from several old pieces and make something completely new. Unfortunately the workmanship isn’t always as good as the idea. Ask around before buying or having anything made. Also, its good to remember that marble is very inexpensive here so you can have marble tops fitted on tables, dressers, etc.

Framing
There are several frame shops here that do a fabulous job at the fraction of the cost in the States. Most apartments and houses at post have plenty of wall space so bring along your artwork and give your home some character.

Jewelry
You can find some really good gemstones and high quality jewelry in Kolkata. That being said, the quality of stones and good workmanship depends on the store where you buy the jewelry from. The price for high quality jewelry is at par with U.S. prices.

Exercise

Kolkata is uncomfortably hot for about 6 months of the year. Even from October to April, while the weather is more pleasant (if at times wet), it is difficult to get outdoor exercise. Evening strolls are limited in most neighborhoods – Indians don’t think of sidewalks as places to walk, so you risk your life walking in most streets amidst the cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles, carts, and the occasional cow. There is a swimming pool at the CG’s residence (not configured for swimming laps) and a recently renovated gym at the Consulate. There are some nice local fitness clubs and yoga classes to join and private yoga instructors who will come to your home.

Bring specialized sports equipment and shoes. As mentioned earlier, sports clothing can be purchased locally, but as with other types of clothing larger sizes may not be available. Tennis balls and rackets are available locally. Squash balls may be difficult to obtain. Golfers may use either English or American-sized golf balls. Importation of firearms is prohibited.

Treadmills in India are expensive and not always the best quality, so if you like to run/walk you might consider investing in one before you come (check on the size of your house/ apartment first).

Social Clubs
Some Americans pay to join a private club for the social life, spa services and sports facilities. Many sports are available at social clubs — golf, tennis, swimming, horseback riding, rowing, squash, soccer and cricket. Squash is played on European-sized courts with English squash balls (softer than American balls). The Tollygunge Club (www.thetollygungeclub.com), about 30 minutes from central Kolkata, has two swimming pools, an impressive 18 hole golf course, clay court tennis, horseback riding and equestrian events, five bars, and two restaurants serving Indian and Continental food. The club enjoys a cosmopolitan membership and is popular with the local expatriate community.

The Saturday Club (www.saturday-club.com), approximately two blocks from the Consulate General, has clay tennis courts, a swimming pool, library, restaurant, and lawn. The South Club, near Forum Mall, is very popular with tennis players. The Bengal Club, located in the heart of the financial district, offers its older, conservative membership a quiet atmosphere for business luncheons and dinner parties. The Calcutta Club (www.calcuttaclub.org) is the most prestigious among Bengalis, and caters largely to the government and professional communities.

Other social and sports clubs include the Kolkata Swimming Club which has a large outdoor swimming pool, dining room and bar, south of the Consulate in an area called the “Lakes”. It is next to the Rowing Club which is on a small lake where members practice rowing and at times hold races. Close to the leased residences is The Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (www.ccfc1792.com) is great for sports enthusiasts. The Royal Calcutta Golf Club claims to have the oldest golf course in India (www.royalcalcuttagolfclub.com).

Celebrating Holidays

Kolkata’s largest religious groups are the Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, but many different religious activities can be found in the city. A Jewish synagogue is located across the street from the Catholic Cathedral of the Most Holy Rosary.

Kolkata has several Anglican churches in addition to the Cathedral of St. Paul Presbyterian and St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland. The most popular of the Roman Catholic churches is St. Thomas’ on Middleton Row. Other denominations represented are Methodist, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, Christian Scientist, Assembly of God, and Quaker. Many services are in English.

I highly recommend bringing theme paper products (plates, napkins, cups and decorations) as local products are not up to American standards. Whatever holidays you celebrate bring decorations, cookie cutters, and cooking items, whatever helps you keep alive the traditions you love! If you celebrate Christmas, try to bring an artificial tree. You can find artificial trees in Kolkata but availability and quality is questionable. You can purchase lights (220 volts) and some fun (if not a little tacky) Christmas ornaments. Huge 3-D paper Christmas stars are an inexpensive and colorful way to decorate. If you think you might need large pieces of wrapping paper, try to bring several rolls with you. The wrapping paper available locally is small and flimsy.

The toys stores here have most of the basics but Western toys are expensive. Most families order on-line for their kids. Whether it is Easter Eggs or Christmas presents, REMEMBER TO ORDER EARLY FROM THE STATES! It usually takes at least 2-3 weeks for packages from the States to arrive through the pouch.

Entertainment

Kolkata is known as the creative capital of India. Bengalis are lively, talkative, and outgoing people. During the cool season, Kolkata comes alive with Indian poetry, music, drama, painting, sculpture, and dance programs. The Calcutta School of Music presents occasional chamber music concerts. Visiting vocal, instrumental, and dance artists perform several times a year.

Kolkatans are avid film-goers, but most Hollywood movies have a short run in the theatres (owing to the competition from Hindi and Bengali films). The newspapers provide film times and locations as well as the website www.nowrunning.com/Showtimes/Kolkata. There are many theaters throughout Kolkata, including some brand new multiplexes. The Kolkata International Film Festival takes place every November, but tickets/festival passes must be obtained well beforehand. Additionally, the cultural societies (British Council, American Center, Goethe Institute, Max Mueller Bhavan, etc) often show films throughout the year.

CLO announces the advertisements and invites sent to Consulate. Moreover, local newspapers, especially The Telegraph and Hindustan Times have sections devoted to activities around town.

Staying in Touch

Mail
Shipping glass or liquid by mail is prohibited. Please consider shipping those types of items in your HHE. Incoming pouches/mail from the U.S. arrive at post twice a week and we send pouches out to the U.S. once a week. People (and businesses) can ship to you at post to the pouch address. If you order merchandise online and need to return an item, you may use the merchandise return label.

New homebound mail services at post have just commenced facilitated by ACSA (American Community Service Association) in Delhi. ACSA charges 260 rupees per kg for mail/packages outbound to the U.S. Commercial Express mail services such as DHL, BLUE DIRT are also available.

Before Departing for Post…
Share your contact information with all important family and friends. This may sound obvious, but if there is an emergency back home, it could be difficult to deal with the crisis and figure out how to dial internationally to India. So make it easy for your loved ones and give them the following information.

  • Your residential phone number, written out exactly as it would be dialed from the US.
  • The main phone number for the Consulate (+91 33 3984 2400)
  • The time difference in India (ex. “we are 9.5/10.5 hours ahead of EST”)
  • If your parents or other loved ones are especially anxious about your being so far away, it might be thoughtful to give them a dual time zone clock, set to Kolkata time, so that the time difference doesn’t feel so confusing.

A lot of people use Skype, FaceTime or Vonage to communicate cheaply with people back home. Actually, calling from India to the States is not very expensive even from your personal cellphone!

Looking Forward to Meeting You…

Hopefully this information will help you prepare for your adventure, and more importantly, to make you excited about your assignment in Kolkata. Take full advantage of all the opportunities that a lay ahead. Remember to get out of the office and explore!

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