To welcome our India month, we would like to share with you a beautiful photo essay on street life in Calcutta, by James Knox of Flint Magazine.

My first experiences of Calcutta ensured I was on my toes from the get-go.

The train arrived early in the morning, so early in fact, that not a single guesthouse was willing to even acknowledge my incessant banging of their doors.

Not wanting to disturb the numerous pooches trying to sleep around me, I gave up hope of a bed, found some cardboard, and slept on the filthy streets for a few hours.

After a few hours of “sleep” a guesthouse worker took pity on me and offered a couch to rest my weary head on – of course this was not a gesture of good will, as I had been carefully identified as desperate enough to stay anywhere. As such, I was earmarked for a room in his establishment, a room unlike the ones I had dreamed of, whilst on the street.

The ‘’room’’ featured a bathroom with no windows, which on the plus side meant I did not have to see the inch think mould, rather just feel my way around it. Neither the toilet nor the shower functioned in any logical way. The mattresses featured concrete like padding and numerous smells not unlike those of sewers; which as it turns out was what flowed under the bed.

Not all of the toilets were broken, in fact, some worked fairly regularly, as I found out EVERY time one was flushed, and the room was filled with the sounds and smells that could only be described as apocalyptic.

It was only a matter of minutes until I decided this was a untenable situation, with no other rooms available in our guesthouse I checked the other nearby establishments, all were equally terrible, highly inflated shitholes, with no rooms available.

Depressed, I walked the streets hoping to be hit by a bus or fast moving taxi at the very least, in hope I would not be required to return to the festering stinkhole that was my room.

Whilst walking around aimlessly a police officer approached me, asking for bakshish (bribe money), without even bothering for some light chitchat, or at the very least a weak reasoning for the bribe, I was stunned. I countered his request with a stern no, and he went on his way, doing whatever the heck it is police do in this city.

It was these initial interactions with the locals that strangely endeared me to them, I immediately felt like I knew my place: not quite the bottom and far from the top.

During my stay in Calcutta I embarked on a photographic essay of the street life, as almost everything happens on the streets in this crazed city.

My aim was to capture the essence of Calcutta: the life, the inequality, the commerce and the abnormality.

The photos don’t require captions; they hold their own context, whilst allowing the viewer to imagine the sounds, the smells, and the reality within them.

Calcutta left me with so many impressions; some positive, some negative, most of them confused. In other words, it’s a must see destination.

Calcutta shoeshiner

Calcutta street typers

Calcutta crows on wall

Calcutta Taxi drivers

Calcutta street food

Calcutta wall

Calcutta street stall vendor

Calcutta street stall vendor

Calcutta man portrait

Calcutta man portrait

Calcutta traffic ice cream stall

Calcutta street boy

Calcutta Alleyway with rickshaws

Calcutta rubbish shop

Calcutta chai alleyway

Calcutta repair shop

Calcutta bridge club

Calcutta boys chai stall

Calcutta man shouting

Calcutta night slums

Calcutta bicycle rickshaw

Calcutta night traffic

James Knox is a freelance photographer and Editor In Chief of

This post is linked to Sunday Traveler


31 Responses

  1. Ryan

    Love the photos, and wow, what a raw experience he had on the street. Intense stuff!

    • Margherita

      Hey Ryan! Thanks, glad you liked the pics, will let James know!

    • Margherita

      Thanks Phoebe, glad you liked the pics!

  2. Corinne

    Calcutta seems overwhelming. I found New Delhi very overwhelming, and Varanasi. I loved getting out into the countryside where things are a bit slower. Your photos are very poignant.

    • Margherita

      Thanks Corinne. Glad you liked the pics, will let James know.

  3. Margherita

    Thanks for your comment Elena. Glad you liked the pics, will let James know.

  4. Anna | slightly astray

    I love the photographs (so powerful) and the post… but wow, what a horrible arrival experience. I’m not sure I could have stayed there, given your description of the room… I’m curious to know what you ended up doing, and how long you stayed 🙂

    • Margherita

      Thanks Anna. I will ask James how his Calcutta experience was, will let you know!

  5. Agness

    The photos of locals are full of emotions and mystery. Absolutely amazing! 🙂

    • Margherita

      Thanks Agness! Really happy you stopped by and liked the pics!

    • Margherita

      Thanks Jessica! I will let James know. I’m sure it was a very intense experience…

  6. Franca

    These amazing photos say more than any words, they are stunning and you can really see through them how Calcutta is.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Franca! I’ve told James about your kind comment and he’s really pleased. Thanks!

  7. Adelina | PackMeTo

    Wow what a welcome to the city. Your photos definitely do much of the story telling. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to handle the state of your guesthouse though.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Adelina! It’s a great photostory, I’ve told James you liked it!

  8. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    Wow, what an amazing photo essay. I feel like I’m right there with James, except that I’m smelling the freshly baked cookies in my kitchen instead of the sewery street. Great storytelling at the beginning really captured my attention.

    • Margherita

      Thanks Michele! I will let James know! Hope you enjoyed the cookies 🙂

  9. frankaboutcroatia

    James’s photos are beautiful. They really trasport me to Calcutta. OK, the introduction text at the beginning helped picture this city too. I don’t like rooms without windows. It makes me feel like air deprived. Even in winter, I always keep my window at least slightly open.

    • Margherita

      Thanks for your comment Frank! I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for James… but the streets of the city are amazing.

  10. Surya Bhattacharya

    I’m from Calcutta, though I’ve never lived there, and just go for visits. I hated the city all my life, believe me. The whole ‘Not a single guesthouse was willing to even acknowledge my incessant banging of their doors’ scenario is all too familiar. I’ve never had to experience it in a guest house, of course… But go to any shop while the shopkeeper is drinking his evening ‘cha’, and you will be asked to join him or just wait, but, nah, he’s not going to attend to you till he’s done.
    But a couple of years back, something changed and all that I hated about the city became exactly what I loved. I wrote about it a long time back, long before I started blogging, and I hate to plug my posts like this, but maybe you (and James) would have a better understanding of the city if you had a look 🙂

  11. James Knox

    Hello all,

    Just wanted to thank you for all of your positive comments for my photos.

    Calcutta was a highlight for me in what could only be considered a tumultuous year travelling this incredible country. At the time not finding a bed was a fairly unpleasant experience, yet it is a memory that will stay with me and a reminder of what it is like to not have the luxury of a bed in the first place.


    • Margherita

      Thanks james, it was great having you on my blog. Thanks for this amazing post and glimpse into the streets of Calcutta.