Kolkata is perhaps most famed for its poverty, so most people give it a miss. But don’t – it’s got a laid back vibe, it’s dirt cheap and there are some interesting colonial relics and other places to visit. Plus, if you’re interested in doing some volunteer work, Kolkata is home to the famous Mother Theresa Foundation. While there are loads of NGOs and volunteer organisations in India, Mother Theresa charges a minimal fee for participation (in exchange for a placement and accommodation). If you want to stay a while in India, volunteering at Mother Theresa long term – 6 months+ – is often free and you’ll get a basic roof over your head in return. Check out their website here. Smile NGO, which runs a school near Kolkata for slum kids, is also a good option and provides better accommodation and food for a slightly higher fee.
Tip: Kolkata doesn’t wake up until 11am or so, so enjoy a sleep in and plan your activities for later in the day. Taxis here are affordable and a good way to get around. And this is West Bengal, so don’t forget to try some of the famous Bengali sweets before you leave.
Pros: It’s not overflowing with package tourists. People are genuine and authentic, and it’s CHEAP! In case you hadn’t realised yet, I’m cheap too, so this was a big plus for me.
Cons: You’ll see the poverty reflected in the number of homeless people and beggars. But, this is the reality of India, and to me it doesn’t sit well to turn a blind eye to the parts of a country that aren’t so photogenic.