Edit Blog Post
Published: January 8th 2010
Leaving Hampi was the start of the trip north - and heading to the colder climates. The first leg was to Chennai by train - a nice relaxing 11 hour cross-country trip. Everytime you get off a train you manage to forget the tiny details that make it special - the smell of poo and wee whenever the train is slow-moving or stationery (because it goes straight out of the toilets and onto the tracks and sits steaming in the sun), the constant stream of unfortunates waving their various disabilities or very evident poverty under your nose begging for a few rupees, the fact that it doesn't matter if you've been allocated a seat, someone will inevitably be sitting/sleeping in it and will look horribly offended when you ask them to move, the way that Indians think it's perfectly acceptable to squeeze onto your seat with you just because your bottom doesn't cover the whole of the seat. Maybe it's a little like childbirth - you have to forget otherwise you'd never go through it again!
So we had a couple of days in Chennai, which was a nice enough place for a big city. It was quite busy though
not as manic as Mumbai and it was nice to be somewhere a little less holy than Hampi as it meant beer was more freely available. We did the usual round of temples and also had a visit to the cinema. We didn't go for the Bollywood movie - I'm saving that for Delhi! It was interesting though - we went to the English language screening of Avatar showing at a cinema complex. We treated ourselves to the top tier ticket costing all of about one pound and of course I went for the obligatory box of popcorn - butter - only of course this is India, so it wasn't a nice Butter syrup coating it was actually butter, melted and poured through the popcorn - disgusting, it was just eating popcorn dipped in fat, nice short-cut to a heart attack! Anyway the theatre was pretty big and it filled up quickly. I'm not sure what the certificate is on Avatar but in India there appeared to be no age restriction - there were kids of all ages, there wasn't even an issue for parents with babysitters because they just bring the babies with them - I'm not kidding, there
were at least 4 or 5 very small babies wailing at some point or other throughout the film. Which wasn't an issue because people also took mobile phone calls all the way through too, as well as shouting and wolf-whistling through various scenes. Oh, and there was an intermission! I found it all quite amusing but I think Hugh found it a bit distracting.
Also in Chennai we came across our second funeral of the trip (not sure if I even mentioned the first?). Anyway we were going along a main road in a rickshaw and I could see a big group of men coming towards us on the other side, pushing a float and throwing loads of flowers around so I asked the driver to stop so I could take some photographs, he just wiggled his head muttered something and stopped so I got out and started clicking away and as I was focussing on the 'float' I realised that I could see someone's bare feet sticking up and they were attached to a dead body.... I quickly put my camera away and asked the driver to hurry along quickly before we got lynched for being disrespectful.
From Chennai it was just a 2 hour flight north to Calcutta, but the temperature has dropped by about half I reckon. As the pilot mentioned that it was 16 degrees on landing, everyone started putting on hats, gloves, scarves, anoraks and ear muffs!
We settled ourselves in a hotel in traveller central in Calcutta and for the first time in 6 weeks were able to have a hot shower - it was lovely and I was in there so long I came out with wrinkled fingers & toes! That's about the only good thing to say about the accommodation but once you get used to scuttling of cockroaches for room-mates its not too bad (I am kidding, I HATE cockroaches and will never get used to them!) There is also a huge concentration of beggars around Sudder Street where we're staying and a lot of them are kids who you see sleeping on the streets, which is heart-breaking and I'm handing out rupees left, right and centre. We went out for a discovery walk around the city yesterday - it's pretty interesting, there's lots of old colonial buildings like The Victoria Memorial and a huge park area called
A close shave
street barber in Calcutta
The Maidan which is used by everyone to get away from the choking traffic. There were loads of cricket matches going on - small informal matches for kids and proper games, there were groups of kids in uniforms practising their marching (maybe cadets of some sort), there were gyppo's offering horserides on their ropey old nags, dancing monkeys wearing skirts, courting couples - a little like strolling around the Downs on a Saturday afternoon really! Bizarrely at the bottom end of the park I was actually reminded of the bottom end of Central Park in New York with the yellow taxi's and the horse and cart's taking the tourists around!
In the evening we wandered to an area called Park Street to eat and found a restaurant with live entertainment! I was gobsmacked when the band launched into their first song - Oh Carol! I'm not joking! They also covered various Hindu wailing type songs, Barbie Girl, Sailing and Lady in Red amongst others - a very broad catalogue.
On my final day in Calcutta I went to visit the Kali Temple which is a really ancient temple to the goddess Kali. I was taken around by a
priest (for a donation!) who explained that each morning they undertake a ritual sacrifice of goats (some days up to 20 of the poor things). He showed me where the sacrifices take place and sure enough there was plenty of evidence in the way of blood, ears and tails. Nearby was a little goat waiting to be washed and then given the chop - I didn't stick around for this bit. Apparently they then make a huge stew out of the goat meat and feed the poor each day. Unfortunately you're not allowed to take photographs inside the temple but it was really colourful (not just because of the blood and guts). The deity of Kali is represented by a black mask with three red eyes and is quite scarey looking. Before I left the priest also showed me a holy tree which had lots of little stones hanging off it - he explained that women pray at this tree for love and fertility and tie the stones to the tree with their hair pulled from their heads. I had a little look around but couldn't find any stones....... also before I left he gave me a blessing for safe
Left, Right, Left, Right
timing leaves a little to be desired...
travels - lots of Om Shanti and then tied some red and yellow strings around my wrist.
The last place I visited in Calcutta was an old cemetery which had huge gravestones and monuments. It was really old - some of them dating back hundreds of years, mostly British men, women and children. There was a really lovely poem on one of the graves - not sure if you can read it from the photograph but I thought it was lovely.
I did try to track down a place called the 'Motherhouse', which is where Mother Theresa started off the original Missionaries for Charities here in Calcutta but was unable to track it down, though there are plenty of the missionary nuns walking around in the white habits with blue trim.
Hugh and I part company here - he heads off to Darjeeling and tonight I'll be getting a night train to Varanassi, which I'm really looking forward to, so I'll leave this blog as a fairly short one but will have loads to update you on in the next one no doubt,
love to everyone,
Tot: 1.764s; Tpl: 0.018s; cc: 9; qc: 53; dbt: 0.011s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb