Published: April 16th 2008April 15th 2008
Quite a bit of time since I really wrote about what's happening - or at least it feels that way. Kolkata was very much about adjusting to India. Just cashing some cheques was a very bureaucratic process, involving being shepherded through dark and dingy offices to the appropriate official, completing the necessary Foreign Exchange forms, and then receiving a big brass numbered token, which I had to present to the cashier in another part of the bank. It was a sign of things to come.
Similarly a brief excursion into the market turned into a battle of wits with one of the numerous touts who attached himself to us. His technique was quite smooth. Walking up beside us casually, as if going in the same direction, in good English he asked "Excuse me, where do you come from?" This of course is a very standard conversation starter in India...so much so that jaded travellers will often eventually resort to outrageous answers...if only for variety. However I had just arrived so answered honestly. In fact any answer is sufficient for the touts purpose..he simply wants to engage your attention and start the conversation which after a couple of sentences invariably turns to him offering to be your guide - for free (yeah, sure....lol). This guy attempted to lend himself credibility by whipping out a laminated official-looking card and claiming to be employed officially as a free guide. Declining his kind offer we attempted to explore the market, but at every turn he was at our elbows, telling us some self-evident bit of trivia, and offering to show us the "best" shops. He was particularly adept at "shadowing" us from in front...so that if we DID stop at any shop he was there before us and could claim a commission from the shopkeeper from anything we bought ( a commission which of course would be factored in to the bargained price!)
I had to admire his persistence despite our brush-offs, but he became so annoying that we cut short our market stroll.
The train trip here was a fairly typical Indian rail experience. We lucky to be allocated seats on the SIDE of the aisle, not in a compartment. While this means you experience all the to-and-fro traffic, there are only two bunks, not three as in the compartments. So we did not have contend with negotiating with 4 other passengers about WHEN the seats would be turned to bunks.
The train (diesel-electric) of course is quite noisy - added to by the fact that it seemed to be almost continuously blowing its whistle. But it is possible to sleep quite well - at least if you are tired,