Published: April 5th 2010April 1st 2010 Happy April Fools Day!
aren't they cute?
Maybe the joke’s on us, or just maybe WE are the joke. Calcutta is all it is reputed to be. It’s a city of 13 million people, nearly all of whom seem to live in hopeless squalor. It’s hot, it’s muggy, and it’s loud. We thought that Saigon had lots of horn honking going on. There, it is a peaceful afternoon compared with Calcutta.
In Saigon, we said the motto seems to be “who needs turn signals when you have a horn?” Here, it’s “who needs brakes when you have a horn?” It seems that each encounter with another vehicle front, left or right deserves a persistent blast of one’s horn. Fortunately, our room is away from the street, but we just can’t escape it.
Most of the vehicles in Calcutta (Kolkata is the Indian spelling and pronounced KOL ku ta) are little yellow taxis manufactured in India. They sort of look like a cross between a 1953 Packard and a 1951 Ford, both of which would have been run through the shrink machine. Here, as in the last few countries we visited they drive on the left side of the road. Actually, they drive
how'd you like to be the guy hanging off the side?
anywhere they please - left, right, middle, sidewalk, etc.
In addition to the cute little taxis they have a considerable number of buses and trucks. The buses are full to overflowing with people hanging out the doors and windows, just to get a ride. Adventurers that we are, we didn’t brave the Calcutta buses. The trucks are almost universally the Tata brand. No, that’s not a body part, but I never did find out where the name came from. I noted on a couple of trucks that the left (passenger side) door has a hand lettered notation “halper” I also didn’t find out if this is their spelling of “helper” or if it is an invitation for me, Hal, to be the passenger or if it means something completely different. '
We took another tour, this time with a cab arranged by our hotel. We sat in air conditioned comfort (well, semi-comfort) as we cruised the streets and alleys of Calcutta. Actually, “cruised” is probably too generous a term as we spent a lot of our time waiting for traffic to clear punctuated by horn blasts. We were told at the front desk that our driver would be
is it me or is it helper?
able to explain all the sights he was taking us to see. He probably could and did. It’s just that he didn’t speak much English nor Spanish nor Bulgarian nor Pig Latin nor any other language that either of us understands.
After diving down narrow alleyways trying to avoid traffic jams for several hours, we asked that we be taken back to the hotel, considerably before our allotted 8 hours was used up. I’ve seen abject poverty before, but this beats anything I’ve ever experienced. The streets of Calcutta a laden with piles of rotting garbage, people wandering aimlessly, taxis by the bazillion all honking angrily and no traffic moving. Much of the living quarters (if you can call them that) would have to be upgraded significantly to become a tar paper shack.
Although it was midday on a workday we saw many shops that had closed and shuttered their door, at least for the time being. One shop between two of them with steel doors rolled down was apparently not affluent enough to afford a steel door, so he used burlap and twine to secure his goods left overnight. Not my idea of burglar-proof. But then, maybe
can't you just see Paul Blahrt, Mall Cop around the corner
he didn‘t have anything worth stealing. But, if it’s not worth stealing is it worth buying?
Interestingly enough, with all the rampant poverty, most of the people we’ve seen walking the streets seem to be well fed and in fact, a bit overweight. The street people are generally shabbily dressed, but those that would be the equivalent of our middle class are clean, pressed and stylish. Most of the women wear a three piece garment, with a long skirt, a form-fitting top that leaves the midriff bare and then a covering scarf that goes over the front and back and is quite flowing. This leaves the sides exposed and they all show off their “love handles.”
The one true tourist sight that we were able to visit was the Victoria Monument. It’s the one thing I really wanted to see and our driver seemed to be reluctant to take us there. He kept saying ”very hot” and making faces that indicated that we should not consider it. It’s true that it was very hot as it was the middle of the day, but when we had passed by it earlier in the morning, he said that we should
the only "real" tourist attraction we saw
come back later. As I read about it in the guidebooks, there is a better view in the evening when the monument is lit up. No thank you, we’ve seen enough of Calcutta to last a lifetime!
Our hotel accommodations included a dingy room and a vegetarian breakfast in the dining room. As many Hindus (the predominant religion in India) are completely vegetarian, not even eggs are eaten; this seemed to be the safest option for the hotel. Since we both eat meat, including pork, chicken and (gasp) beef, there was not much they could do for us.
However, the staff in the dining room offered to make a meal for me that consisted of ¬¬¬¬dosa, a thin crispy bread-like substance along with a couple of items offered on the breakfast buffet -
samber sort of like a soup and a coconut chutney that’s a little bit spicy. In order to not offend their hospitality, I also agreed to tea although I knew the caffeine would raise havoc with my blood pressure and pulse. Fortunately, it didn’t do to bad. When I asked if this is offered to all their guests, he replied, “No, is only for you.”
clockwise starting from the bottom dosa, sambar, coconut chutney, tea
I took that to mean that we are honored guests being Americans and all. I don’t they get too many here.